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Something Happened

Something Happened

Something Happened 52


  I want to keep my dreams.

  Ball-bearing roller skates. I melt.

  I want to keep my dreams, even bad ones, because without them, I might have nothing all night long.

  I miss my father, they told me. As if I didn't know. (I miss my boy now too. He is pulling away from me. He does his homework in his room without my help and doesn't talk to me anymore about what is happening to him at school. I don't know if he's more unhappy or less.) They didn't tell me anything I didn't know. They couldn't help. They said I was perfectly normal--which was the most deplorable thing I have ever been told! With time and much treatment, that condition might be remedied. They envied my sex life. (So do I.) The pity, we agreed, is that I don't enjoy it more.

  (The company takes a strong view against psychotherapy for executives because it denotes unhappiness, and unhappiness is a disgraceful social disease for which there is no excuse or forgiveness. Cancer, pernicious anemia, and diabetes are just fine, and even people with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease may continue to go far in the company until they are no longer allowed to go on at all. But unhappiness is fatal. If my daughter or son were to commit suicide, that would be overlooked, because children do things like that, and that's the way kids are. But if my wife were to jump to her death without a prior record of psychiatric disturbance, did it only because she was unhappy, my chances for further advancement would be over. I'd be ruined.) I have acrimony, they told me (which is also normal. I have more pain than acrimony. My mind is a storehouse of pain, a vast, invisible reservoir of sorrows as deep as I am old, waiting always to be tapped and set flowing by memory. I can discharge acrimony. I can only experience pain).

  There are times when I am attacked from within by such acrimonious enmity toward people I like who have suffered serious personal tragedies or business failure that if something (or someone else) inside me were to give voice to the infamous words that leap to mind, I would be put away and reviled, with no possibility ever of absolution or apology. (The tragedies of people who are not close to me move me distantly, if at all.) "Good for you! It serves you right!" I want to sneer.

  (I want to spit.)

  I'm afraid sometimes I might. (I have sat at tables with men I've known a long time and have wanted to touch their hand.) It's not I who wants to kick Kagle in the leg. New people are hatching inside my head always, whether I want them to or not, and become permanent residents the moment I take note of them. We are often at cross purposes. They have time. They have time to work without interruption at whatever it is they came there to do, and they saunter away with great self-possession into darknesses I've not been able to penetrate. They weave back and forth in droves through a labyrinth whose tunnels I've never seen. I have a small cemetery there lying on a diagonal with orderly rows of identical headstones, an image left by a photograph, perhaps, or the reduction of one actually seen long ago. People may be buried there. Every once in a while startled three-dimensional thoughts, fancies, or series of new old recollections go flying across my mind like flocks of sparrows and disappear in unlit underground holes. I can summon them back when I want to if I can remember to make the effort, but only one at a time. The man who wants to make me kick Kagle in the leg is a worldly, relaxed fellow with black silk socks and a gray pinstripe suit. He's a man about my own age with neatly trimmed white hair. He is little, of course; he has to be to fit inside. (Even all those sinister and gigantic ogres who've been menacing me in my nightmares all my life have been small; it's just that I am so much smaller.) He seems to know his way about the stone passageways of my brain much better than I do, for he reappears in different settings, often reading a newspaper with one ankle crossed comfortably over his knee, biding his time. He thinks he's got more time than I have. (He hasn't.) I think there's a sauna, for many of the more affluent, better-bred occupants of my thoughts seem the type that likes to scorch itself leisurely after playing squash. I suspect there's a homosexual haunt located somewhere secret. Tiny shops are all about at which wicked contraband is exchanged by grimy, unshaven men who know how. Grimy, unshaven men expose themselves to me and to children of both sexes and go unpunished. All crimes go unpunished.

  Vile these evil, sordid, miniature human beings who populate my brain, like living fingers with faces and souls. Some wear hats. People suffer. I suffer. Children wander. Women weep. Mothers lie on deathbeds. I am afraid--I have been afraid--a screaming, wailing, or sobbing might start at any instant inside my ears, be taken up by other tortured voices from within, and never stop. I would not know if I was imagining it. It would not matter. I would hear it. Minikins move, and I can feel them, and dirty, cynical old men with sharp crutches and pointy beards pass with insinuating glints in their cruel, unscrupulous eyes. They hurt. Ugolino eats a head: mine (that son of a bitch).

  No one will help. (Only my wife's sister verges close enough to that delicate nerve of truth we want unbared, but her front is callous, her motives unkind, and I want to hit her.) "Give the kid away," she as much as commands with taunting relish in her rasping, obtrusive way, attacking, pressing her advantage, and we must unite to resist her and beat her back.

  "Good for you! It serves you right," is what I hear her snarling invidiously at us in my own voice and words. "I'm glad it happened. Ha, ha. I'm glad it happened to you because I know you, instead of to people I don't know who live far away."

  I want to hit her because I feel she sees inside me and steals my thoughts, compelling me to repudiate them.

  We want to get rid of him. We want to give him away. And need people in positions of respectable authority to tell us. We haven't nerve to do it alone. What will people we know think of us?

  Unfeeling.

  Inhuman.

  We want to give him away and are afraid.

  (Other people we hear about in Connecticut, New York, Long Island, and New Jersey intend to keep theirs. Why?) "Don't," my wife's sister has warned consistently almost from the first day there was no longer any doubt (which was too soon). "Do it fast. Don't be hypocrites. The longer you wait, the worse it's going to be for everybody."

  That suggestion was monstrous. (Hypocrisy was easier.)

  "Don't say that again!" my wife flares up at her that last time. "I don't ever want to hear you say anything about it again to us, or I won't let you come here. I mean that."

  "I've had it," I roar at my wife afterward. "I don't ever want to hear her talk about him again. Or about any of the other kids either. I'll throw her out if she does. If you won't tell her I will."

  "I did tell her. You heard me. Did you think that was easy?"

  "You're only reacting that way because you know I'm right," her sister had responded self-righteously.

  "She was only trying to be helpful," my wife continues repentently. "Now I'm sorry I yelled at her."

  "No, she wasn't. Do you think she was trying to be helpful? I wish she'd move to Arizona with your mother."

  "Her store is here."

  She is a seamy, murky inner lining of my wife's character that my wife has never been able to look at without retreating immediately into remorse. She is another underside of my own (that I am able to show often at home to my family and reveal to myself in daydreams with vindictive jubilation) just as Derek also is, in my occasional wish to be speechless and powerless again and wholly dependent once more on parents and big brothers and sisters. (Except that I would not want to be sent away to a home.) Everyone around me now reminds me of me. Even Kagle reminds me of me. (Green doesn't. I admire Green. Arthur Baron doesn't; I find I don't identify as readily with my betters or with people who have more attractive qualities than my own. Only with people who are worse.) Arthur Baron never mentions Derek to me. Andy Kagle does, and I hate him for it. (I could have killed him when he showed up at the house Sunday without invitation to tell me, unctuously and pretentiously, that it was God's will. I wanted to hit him too.) I resent it blazingly when anyone talks to me about him (and want to kill them), although I also hope that everyo
ne in the world will join together soon at the identical moment to tell me: "Give the kid away."

  That isn't going to happen.

  I don't have to poll the members of my family to find out what we want. Even my fair-haired, lovable, good-hearted, sensitive boy, who is appalled by the alternatives, really doesn't mean it when he pleads: "Don't."

  He means:

  "Please."

  "But please whisk him away too swiftly for the eye to see or the mind to record and remember."

  Kagle called from the filling station in town with the lie he just happened to be driving through and would like to say hello to the family. He looked haggard. There were sleepless shadows under his eyes and it was all he could do to force even a nervous smile.

  "You hear things," he confided. "This time I'm really worried. Has anyone said anything about me?"

  "I hear you've been to Toledo again."

  "They aren't even talking to me about the convention. By now they usually give me a theme."

  "Maybe they don't have one."

  "I have to meet with Horace White. With him and Arthur Baron. I never have anything to do with Horace White."

  "Maybe he's got some ideas."

  "Two on one," Kagle chirps at me with a wink, as soon as my wife starts back into the house again.

  "Coons?"

  He misses my irony.

  "Not for me. Not in Toledo. I've got good connections there. You ought to tag along sometime. I'll take good care of you."

  "Should I ask him to stay for dinner?" my wife asks.

  "Don't."

  "He looks so unhappy."

  "He wants to drive around."

  "I don't even care," Kagle says, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth, drying his lips. "I'm getting tired of doing the same thing anyway. Where's the kids? I'd like to say hello to them before I go."

  "Out playing."

  "What about the little one? The one with the brain damage?"

  "He's resting. He has to."

  "You know, you shouldn't blame yourself about your boy," Kagle tells me, twisting himself back into his car. "I don't blame myself about my leg. It was God's will."

  "Sure, Andy," I reply with a nasty smile, gritting my teeth. "And you don't worry about your job. If you lose it, it's God's will."

  "Heh-heh," he comments hollowly.

  "Heh-heh."

  "Why didn't you let him stay?" my wife asks.

  "I didn't want him."

  It is God's will.

  I've got Kagle's job.

  "You were with Andy Kagle today," my wife says. "How can you tell?"

  "You're walking with a limp. Is his leg getting worse?"

  "No, why?"

  "His limp is worse than ever. You're almost staggering."

  I straighten myself from a position characteristic of one of Kagle's and lean in a slouch of my own against the newel post of the staircase leading to the second floor.

  "No. He's the same."

  She looks at me askance. She's been drinking wine again while helping the maid prepare dinner. Her bleary eyes are tense and patient. (I cannot meet them.) She senses something, and moves ahead carefully with mixed curiosity.

  "Then you must have been with him a long time."

  "I got his job."

  "Did you?"

  "I was promoted today."

  "To what?"

  "Kagle's job."

  "Kagle's?"

  "It finally went through."

  "Was that the job?"

  "Congratulate me."

  "Did you know it was his job?"

  "No."

  "Yes, you did."

  "I had a hunch."

  "What happened to him?"

  "Nothing."

  "What will? I saw the way he looked."

  "He was fired."

  "My God."

  "I fired him today. He doesn't know that yet. But I think he does."

  "You fired him?"

  "I had to, God dammit. He won't be fired. He'll be transferred somewhere else until he quits or retires. I can't keep him around. I couldn't use him after he's been in charge. He's embarrassing. He's sloppy. He'll run my work down."

  "He's got two children."

  "So have I."

  "You've got three."

  "So?"

  "You're forgetting Derek again."

  "So?"

  "You're always forgetting Derek."

  "So?"

  "So's your old man." She is drunk and she is defiant.

  "What the hell else am I supposed to do?"

  "I'm better than you," she tells me.

  "You want a new house, don't you? You liked the idea that I was getting a better job, didn't you?"

  "I used to think I wasn't," she continues. "But I am. You like to think you're better than me. But you're not. I'm the one who's better."

  "Yeah? And you'd be even better still if you'd lay off the wine in the afternoon."

  "Your mother was right."

  "Leave her out of it."

  "You're just no good."

  "I told you to leave her out of it."

  "I never thought I was."

  "You're always bothering me about money, aren't you?"

  "No, I don't."

  "The hell you don't."

  "And neither do they. We don't bother you about money that much."

  "And you wonder why I don't tell you I love you, don't you?"

  "I never thought I was good at anything." There is undisguised scorn, calm, measured contempt that I've never seen in her before. "You don't help much there."

  "Kagle isn't sore at me. Why are you?"

  "Isn't he?"

  "No. In fact, he's the one who recommended me to replace him."

  "No, he didn't," she jeers, with a curling lip and a belittling shake of her head. "You knew months ago. He just found out."

  "You're getting good at this."

  "You taught me."

  "At least you got something."

  "But now I know I'm better than you are, aren't I?"

  "Amn't I. There's no such construction as 'aren't I.' "

  "Puddy poo."

  "What'd you say?"

  "Puddy poo."

  "Where'd you get that from?"

  "From you. You say it in your sleep."

  "I'm going upstairs. I can't take this."

  "Puddy poo. What about dinner?"

  "Count me out. I'll celebrate upstairs alone. I've got to start working on my speech."

  "What speech?"

  "The big speech I'm going to have to make to open the convention. I'm head of the department now. That might not mean much at home but it means a hell of a lot there. I run the whole show. I can do what I want."

  "Can you get Andy Kagle his job back?"

  "Fuck you," I tell her.

  "You're just no good, are you?"

  "I told you. I warned you. I don't want you ever to say that to me again."

  "I'll say anything I want," she shouts back at me heatedly. "I'm not afraid of you."

  "Yes, you say that to me often," I remind her.

  "And then you sober up, and discover that you are."

  She shatters. "You bastard." The tears form quickly and are streaming down her face. "You won another argument, didn't you?"

  I don't feel I've won. I feel I've lost as I mount the stairs wearily. It's been a harrowing day at the office. The meetings were concluded at five to allow the rumors to spread and percolate through the company overnight. Kagle lingers later than the rest of us to confirm them appreciatively.

  "I want you to know I had a big hand in it," he tells me. "I fought for you with Arthur Baron when he asked me to recommend someone who I thought could really handle it. They were thinking of someone like Johnny Brown or one of the branch managers. I told them you knew more about it than any of them. Now I'll be free to do the kind of troubleshooting work I like. Don't be afraid of any of it. I'll be around to help you all I can."

  No, he won't.


  "Thanks, Andy. What's that you've got there?"

  "It's a perpetual-motion machine Horace White gave me. I'll bet you'd never be able to figure out how it works if you didn't know where the battery was hidden."

  (Batteries run down. He'll have about ten days after the convention and then he'll have to take a leave of absence for a few weeks and move. Or retire. I have a plan.) "What about me?" I maintain to Johnny Brown, who blocks my path skeptically with smoldering belligerence, his muscled jaws knotted for combat (and I wonder, perhaps, if he might not mercifully end my suspense by giving me my punch in the jaw right at the start). "You could have knocked me over with a feather when they told me, I was so surprised."

  "I heard the good news the little birdies are chirping." Ed Phelps chortles to me softly by way of offering congratulations.

  I elude Green. I don't see Red. I feel tense and exhausted on the train ride home. I could use one of my wife's tranquilizers. Even before I walk in the house I am feeling sorry for myself and don't know why. I go to our bathroom for a tranquilizer before I enter my study and close the door.

  "What's wrong with Daddy?" I hope the children are murmuring downstairs in grave consternation, along with Derek's nurse, and that Derek too can perceive in some way that I am upstairs in my study with the door closed.

  "He isn't feeling well," I hope my wife replies with sharp compunction.

  I would like to feel that the closed door of my study or office produces the same ominous, excluding effect on others that the closed doors of certain people still create in me. (I am still affronted that my daughter always keeps the door to her room shut when she's inside. My boy does that too, now.) I'm sorry I ever told my wife what I think my mother said to me before she died. (I'm also sorry I said "puddy poo" in my sleep. Now she'll have that on me, also.) I don't know what ever made me feel I could trust her. (A man must make a resolution never to reveal anything personal to his wife.) I was not even sure my mother said it. I wasn't sure she recognized me for more than an instant the last few times I went to visit her in the nursing home or remembered I was there as I sat at her bedside without talking for the twelve, then ten, minutes I stayed. I brought no more gifts of spicy meats and fish and honeyed candies; she couldn't eat. I gave her no gossip. She couldn't hear. I was not even certain most times that she was able to see anyone sitting there when her eyes were upon me.