Read The Song of the Flea Online

Authors: Gerald Kersh

The Song of the Flea (10 page)

BOOK: The Song of the Flea
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“Yes; in my room.”

In
your
bedroom.
Your
visitor
was
a
lady
?

“Yes.”

This
lady

your
visitor

was
she
your
mistress?

“No. She had been, but wasn’t any more.”

This
lady,
who
had
been
your
mistress
but
wasn’t
any
more:
you
were
fond
of
her,
no
doubt?

“No; I disliked her.”

You
disliked
her.
You
exhausted
yourself
walking
from 
pawn
shop
to
pawnshop
to
buy
a
tin
of
strawberries
for
an
ex-mistress
whom
you
disliked

having
taken
that
woman
to
your
room.
Is
this
what
you
are
telling
me
?

“I suppose so—yes.”

Think
carefully,
Mr.
Pym.
Having
taken
to
your
bedroom
a
young
woman
for
whom
you
had
no
regard,
you
knocked
at
a
door
and
borrowed
a
tin-opener
from
Mrs.
Greensleeve,
whom
you
had
never
met.
Yes?

“Yes.”

In
order
to
open
a
tin
of
strawberries
which
you
could
ill
afford?

“That is so.”

Why
did
you
buy
this
tin
of
strawberries?

“I took a fancy to it.”

Yet
you
did
not
eat
these
strawberries?

“No.”

Why
not?

“I hadn’t a tin-opener.”

Mr.
Pym!
You,
a
hungry
man,
spend
some
of
your
last
pennies
on
a
tin
of
strawberries
because
you
‘fancy
them’,
as
the
saying
is.
You
do
not
eat
your
strawberries
because
you
have
not
got
a
tin-
opener.
The
woman,
Win
Joyce

whom
you
say
you
disliked

came
to
your
room
on
your
invitation.
You
knocked
at
your
neighbour’s
door
and
borrowed
a
tin-opener
from
Mrs.
Greensleeve.
Is
that
so?

“Yes.”

For
the
woman
you
disliked?

“I suppose so—yes.”

You
say
yes.
Why
did
you
do
it
?

“I don’t know; I can’t say. I am made that way, I suppose.”

You
are
made
that
way,
you
suppose.
Later,
Mrs.
Greensleeve
having
been
the
victim
of
an
accident,
you
spent
ten
shillings
on
grapes
—black
grapes

and
stayed
by
her
bedside
in
the
Lazarus
Infirmary.
Did
you
or
did
you
not?

“I did.”

After
Mrs.
Greensleeve
died,
did
you
agree
to
pay
Messrs.
Ongar
&
Hole
fifteen
pounds
to
bury
her
respectably?

“Yes.”

Why
did
you
do
that?

“I promised her that she wouldn’t be buried in a pauper’s grave.”

Why
did
you
promise
her
that?

“I don’t know.”

Where
did
you
get
the
money,
Mr.
Pym?

“I’d rather not say.”

The
money
was
given
to
you
by
the
stepfather
of
Win
Joyce.
Is
that
so?

“Well, yes.”

Having
walked
your
feet
raw
to
redeem
a
pawned
typewriter,
you
invited
an
ex-mistress
whom
you
disliked
and
distrusted
back
to
your
room.
She
stole
this
typewriter.
Agreeing
not
to
prosecute
her
for
the
theft,
you
accepted
a
sum
of
money
from
her 
step
father
?

“Yes, but——”

Please
answer
the
question.

“Yes.”

Do
you
believe
in
God,
Mr.
Pym?

“I don’t know.”

Have
you
any
respect
for
the
Church
?

“Not much.”

You
have,
I
believe,
on
several
occasions
made
mock
of
Christian
burial.
“A
racket”
was
the
term
you
employed,
I
think?

“That is correct.”

You
have
also
said

and,
I
think,
believe

that
it
does
not
matter
how
the
corruptible
flesh
goes
back
to
the
elements.
Do
you
believe
that?

“I do.”

You
have
even
attacked
in
writing—potentially
in
print

the
necessary
processes
of
burial.
Have
you
or
have
you
not
?

“I have.”

Why,
then,
did
you
do
what
you
have
done
to-day?

“The old lady wanted it that way. I gave her my word of honour.”

Why?

“I was sorry for her.”

Could
it
possibly
matter
to
Mrs.
Greensleeve
if
her
dead
body
was
thrown
into
a
cheap
grave
or
a
dear
one,
in
an
oak
or
a
pine
coffin,
with
or
without
brass
handles?

“No; but I’d given her my word of honour.”

You
are
a
man
of
your
word
then,
Mr.
Pym?

“I am.”

Have
you
not,
on
several
occasions,
promised
a
tradesman
that 
you
would
pay
him
to-morrow
or
the
day
after,
and
then
defaulted?
Think
again,
Mr.
Pym.

“When I said I’d pay I meant to pay—I thought I’d be able to pay——”

You
are
lying!

“I am not! I will pay everything I owe——”

I
put
it
to
you
that
you
are
a
self-deceiver,
Mr.
Pym,

pre
sumptuous
,
wrong-headed
man,
drunk
with
vanity
and
blind
with
self-esteem

a
cheap
little
romantic

a
Quixote
of
the
back
streets,
a
sordid
Quixote
without
the
saving
graces
of
courage
and
honesty.
You
are
a
thief
of
the
meanest
kind!

“Sir!”

Yes;
you
are
a
would-be
robber.
You
have
attempted
to
pilfer
a
feeling
of
nobility.
Ah!
You
hang
your
head.
You
do
not
deny
it,
eh?

“No; I hang my head. I don’t deny it … But … but …”

Never
mind
the
“but,
but”,
Mr.
Pym.
Go
to
your
room
now
and
sit
down
and
work.
Work,
Mr.
Pym

work!
Grow
great
and
wealthy
and
afford
to
be
a
benefactor
in
your
own
right,
you
shoplifter
in
the
bargain-basement
of
magnanimity

you
grubby
Robin
Hood
in
borrowed
Sherwood-green,
who
take
from
the
poor
to
give
to
the
dead!
Go
back
where
you
belong,
and
work!

“Yes, sir.”

Pym slunk home like a criminal. The detective-sergeant was waiting for him.

“You made a nice mess of yourself,” he said.

“Oh, God! What now?”

“What did you want to withdraw that charge for, for Christ’s sake? Now you’ve committed a misdemeanour. If you know that a felony has been committed and conceal it, without being in any way a party to it, you commit the misdemeanour of misprision of felony. You compounded a felony—that’s what
you
did.”

“But surely …!” cried Pym, “they can’t do anything to me for that!”

“They can give you up to two years in jail, you know,” said the detective-sergeant. “It is a misdemeanour at Common
Law for a person, for any reward or advantage, to agree not to prosecute any person for felony. You see what I mean.”

“What am I to do, for the love of God?”

“Oh,
I
should think you’ll be all right. Now keep calm—calm, do you hear?—Stop that laughing and
keep
calm!
Hysterics’ll get you nowhere. Will you stop it? Now, look—I’ve
got
to do this——”

Having received a stinging slap in the face, Pym hiccuped, shuddered back to sanity and said: “Thanks. Thanks. I wish I knew exactly what I’ve done.”

“You’ve just been soft,” said the detective-sergeant.

“You said something about Two Years. I couldn’t do it—I
couldn’t!”

“Now then, now then, take it easy! I don’t imagine for one moment that it’ll come to that in your case. Take it easy, now!”

“I wish to God I was dead and buried!” cried Pym.

“All in good time. Take it easy; take it easy. Come along now; pull yourself together and let’s talk it over. What do you say?”

“Go and try and be decent to people!” cried Pym. “See where it gets you! Under the circumstances, I’ve always been more or less honourable. You can ask anybody you like. I’ll never try to do anyone a good turn again as long as I live!”

The detective-sergeant said: “Now blow your nose, blow your little nose, son—
that’s
the style, a
good
blow—and tell us all about it….”

Pym looked out of the window. The world was squalid and mean—a bad little world under a stained sheet of sky blotched with the traces of a furtive couple of clouds that had met and were parting in a hurry behind the sun’s back. Filthy sky! Sordid sky! Brothel-sky! Scummy sky of dirty water ringed with greasy sediment stuck with strange coarse hairs!
Lodging-house
sky! Heaven of mucus and spittle and dirty linen, dripping … dripping….

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