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Книга Dhalgren. Содержание - 7

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"Thanks, no," the man said. "I don't drink."

"I do," the woman said and reached out a clinking arm.

"Good." Kid nodded and gave her the bottle. He left them while she was still uncapping it, wondering where, over the last few moments, he had misplaced Lanya and Denny.

He heard their laughter some twenty feet behind him.

He turned to face the dark; and realized how dark it was.

"You scared?" Denny laughed. "There ain't nothing to be scared of."

Lanya said: "I'm not scared. Unlike you, I don't believe in ghosts."

Kid turned on his lights.

Lanya gave a little shriek and fell into Denny's arms, both of them blue and helpless with hysterics;

"Are you drunk?" Kid asked.

"No," she said. "I'm not drunk," and began to laugh again.

"She smells like she's drunk," Denny said.

"How would you—" Still laughing, she straightened up and nearly tripped at the curb.

Which started all three of them off again.

When they were halfway down the next block, Denny asked: "You like your party?"

"Yeah," Kid said. "I wish I'd gotten a chance to say good night to the old girl with the crab cakes and the blue hair. She was my favorite."

"Ernestine? She's priceless!" Lanya said. "Where's my harmonica?"

Kid pawed in his pocket. Beside the mouth organ and the envelope, there was grit at the bottom. The metal was so warm on bis hand it might have been artificially heated.

He gave her the harp.

She played three chords, walking beside him, then started some improvisation in long, platinum notes that took her two, three, four steps ahead.

Denny had turned on his lights (and apparently turned off her dress). Her back was silver, and as she played she trod the joined shadows of herself.

Between two notes, something crackled at Kid's hip: The envelope. He pushed thick fingertips into his pocket to feel the folded edge.

Copperhead, the girl in maroon jeans tucked tightly under his arm, bobbed into the dim penumbra. "Hey, Kid!" He grinned, broad-nosed, freckle-lipped, and bobbed out.

Kid fantasized a conversation: Copperhead, did Mr Calkins ever hire you to keep people away from his place? I mean, were you working for him that first day you guys beat me up? No, he didn't want to know.

Behind Kid, Angel, Glass, and Priest were in altercation.

"No!" Glass interrupted himself at some request from Dollar. "What do you want any for? You just got through tellin' us how it makes you sick."

"What I wanna know…" Angel said, thickly. "No, wait, man. Let him have it. Let the dumb white motherfucker get sick if he want to — Now, what I want to know is, where do all these niggers come from?"

"Louisiana," Priest said, "mostly. But there're a lot of guys here from Chicago. Like you. Illinois, anyway."

I just don't like, Kid thought, the idea of not wanting to know anything. He looked around luminous dark. "Hey, Copperhead?"

But Copperhead's arachnid, scales bright as the undersides of submerged rose leaves sheened with air, ballooned ahead, drifted away. The legs, rigorous and hirsute, with a faint indigo after-image, deviled Kid's eyes behind sliding striations.

What he'd expected most from this evening — information about Calkins — the whole over-determined matrix seemed bent on denying him.

A gorgeous bird collapsed near him. Ahead, among a dozen others, a scorpion flickered. Harmonica music was drowned in breaking glass and laughter: someone had dropped the bottle. The bird ignited again; Kid glanced around to see the pavement glisten.

They exhaust my eyes. My ears are on fire. There is nothing left to watch but fire and the night: circle within circle, light within light. Messages arrive in the net where discrete pulses cross. Parametal engines of joy and disaster give them wave and motion. We interpret and defeat their terms by terminus. The night? What of it. It is filled with bestial watchmen, trammeling the extremities and the interstices of the timeless city, portents fallen, constellated deities plummeting in ash and smoke, roaming the apocryphal cities, the cities of speculation and reconstituted disorder, of insemination and incipience, swept round with the dark.

7

Lights doused, scorpions crowded up the nest's stairs.

He stood on the street, while she laughed sadly: "Hell, then — I might as well have gone back with Madam Brown—"

He said: "I just want to check out that place we saw down the street that was on fire. I'll be right back—"

Gangling D-t hooked one brown arm around Denny's neck, rested two brown fingers on Lanya's silver, and said: "I'll take care of 'em for you, Kid. Now you don't worry."

Denny, looking even sadder, said: "If you go down there, you better be careful…"

And Kid walked for fifteen minutes, turned one corner, turned another, turned another and thought: If the wind changes, I'll die!

He squinted in the heat.

The smoke! The smoke will be enough to kill me! How did I…?

White fire, a flap with yellow and orange, engulfed the upper stories. Night roared in the street. He heard something huge fall behind one of the façades and edged along the brick, thinking: It could jump the street…

A flicker between the cobbles:

As his bare foot touched one, he saw that water, running between the humped stones, had made all the alley a web of light. He sprinted to the left. Smoke rolled to his right, pulled away from more fire beating up about the high masonry. This was what he had seen between the lions of August…? This is what they had watched from Calkins' gardens…?

Not this gorge of flame!

It couldn't be this big:

Cold puffed against his cheek.

More heat, then cold again; his sweaty jaw dried.

Cool air ran around his bare foot, but the stones under it were warm.

A hot gust flapped his vest out; a cold one pushed it back.

Ahead fifty feet stood a figure, black with the fire behind it, dim with the smoke before.

Oh, Christ, he thought, I can hear them calling me in the crackling around—

Kid spun:

The blind-mute's sockets were the perfect hollows of Spalding balls pressed into dough. The gaunt, brick-haired woman pulled her coat together and blinked. The heavy blond Mexican, one hand around her shoulder, the other touching the shoulder of the blind-mute, breathed loud as the holocaust; their faces were slathered in raging copper.

The eyes of the Mexican and the woman were scarlet blanks.

Kid felt his features wrinkle on the bone. His shoulders pulled so tight the flesh creased between them. The ball of his foot, working the wet stone, stung.

No! he thought; he was trying to think: Why?

He remembered the warehouse and wondered: Is this terror habit?

Their lids slipped on the glass in lazy blinks: The woman and the Mexican were… watching him! The blind-mute's mouth was open; his face turned, tilting and tasting the smoke.

The three reached the sidewalk — now they turned away — huddled. Flames — or a dog — barked. A smoky tarpaulin rolled between them.

Kid stepped back, expecting fumes.

But some gust shredded the billow, tossing off dark fluff. And they were gone, down some burning alley.

Kid turned and hurried forward.

"Hey!" a familiarly mauled voice ahead called. "Is that you… Kid?"

Kid slowed closer.

Shifting bronzes slicked the black face. Uncertain light made it look (Kid had never thought this before) like there was grey in that snarled wool. The temples were hollow, as on a very thin man, Kid thought; but not like somebody with that jaw, those arms, (one sleeve had been cut from the shoulder of the green shirt, leaving a frayed rim: The other was just rolled up tight so the veins lay on the blocked flesh like black twine.) "What you doing out here, boy? Ain't this—" and made no gesture, but swayed (the orange construction boots wide in the wet net) so that his whole body indicated the holocaust—"something?" George got his thumbs under his belt to tug at his canvas pants and laughed. "We all been down at the Reverend's prayer meeting. Now look at it." Black fingers hit Kid's shoulder, clamped. "Look at it, will you?"

Kid turned, staring.

"They burned the whole damn thing up tonight."

"What in the… I mean how did it…?"

George tugged Kid's shoulder. A few feet ahead, the paving sank under a puddle like a hole in hellroof. "Niggers done set the whole of Jackson to burning, don't it look like?" They walked. "Ain't got no water now, when the pipe broke. Shit."

Kid's bare foot struck a tepid pool; it shook like goldleaf.

"You scared?" George's fingers were hard, hot and tight. "Nothing going to hurt you. Look at that burn, burn up like a motherfucker; it's beautiful, huh? Like walking on the sun." He smiled on big, yellow teeth in gums mottled pink and grey like a dog's. "Get its light from the sun and shine all night." His lids narrowed on eyes, blood-webbed and tan. "It burn and it burn and it don't never stop. It send the folk all down running through the city of the sun," or at least that's what Kid thought he said. "Nobody's here." George looked around. "The niggers all going to starve to death. Shit. Everybody going to starve."

Kid's lips were hot. He closed his mouth, his teeth, closed his lips again because they had come open. "There was this old black woman," Kid said. They passed a smoking (or was it steaming?) grate. "She broke into the school to steal food. She said there wasn't any more food in—"

The street sign said:

CUMBERLAND PARK

They passed around. The other extension of the L-shaped sign said:

JACKSON AVENUE

George nodded heavily.

Twenty yards ahead, a ton of fire fell onto the side walk.

"What…" Kid began, "What are you doing here?" while he tried again to reconstruct the steps coming: D-t had said—

"There may…" George's face lined over, straining at reason. "There may be people in there. We got to go help them."

"Oh," Kid said with the thought: He's crazy, which is like (with the afterthought) the pot calling the kettle a rusty son of a bitch.

They walked through the sun.

George was still laughing.

"What…?" Kid asked, expecting no answer.

George said: "You ain't scared?"

"I think," Kid said, "if somebody jumped out right now and went boo, I would shit."

"Watch it," George pushed Kid away, but Kid wasn't sure from which piece of rubbish about them.

I just may live to be an old man, and live through the process called dying, then I won't be living any more, no matter what revelations I do or do not go through here, Kid thought and grew cold. He looked up; fire rip-sawed the night.

"You think we going to get out of this alive?" George still grinned.

What, Kid wondered, has June got to do with his moment in this man's life? The fire and her hair are two different golds! And yet she circles…! Kid's eyes went round. "There—!" He pointed. "It isn't burning down that way! We can go—"

"Boy, there may be people in here, burning up alive!"

"You think there're people?"

"Well, we ain't going to know unless we look."

"Okay," Kid said because there was nothing else to do.

A charred six by six lay across the gutter. Kid stepped over it.

On the cobbles, puddles lay under it, alive and molten.

Water, Kid thought as they walked between two, is molten ice. It was that hot.

"Hey, George! George?… You hear something up there?"

"Where?"

VII: The Anathёmata: a plague journal

[We do not know who typed this transcript, nor if every relevant entry was included, nor, indeed, the criteria for relevance. Previous publication of Brass Orchids possibly weighted the decision not to include their various drafts here. (The fate of the second collection we can only surmise.) Generous enough with alternate words, marks of omission and correction, the transcriber still leaves his accuracy in question: Nowhere in the transcript is there a formal key.]

it into her shoulder and tore /it/ out.

Dragon Lady let go all her breath in some way still not a scream. Nightmare danced back across the kitchen twisting his orchid, (jerking a little); as though/I think I think he was trying to under stand what he'd done. Dragon Lady threw herself at him, cutting for his face and kicking. (I kept thinking Thinking: There's an art to these Weapons I don't begin to understand.)

He fought himself away, bleeding from the jaw and neck.

She flung herself again. I thought she was trying to was going to /would/ be impale[d].

Her white jeans were bloody to the knee. A good deal of the blood was his.

Copperhead, like a in delayed reaction, said, "Hey…" with a voice I'd never heard: he was scared to death.

Raven, Thruppence, and D-t hit the doorway [and] one another/ anothe[r], peering, over each one another's shoulders. (Thinking:! used to break up Dollar's scuffles, but I would no more get into this than chop off my thumb.)

Nightmare flailed backward out the screen door, H his forearm/ going/ making a cracked the on the jamb.

Everybody poured after them — somebody knocked something off the sink. I heard a garbage bag fall and tear under someone's boots. Two of the little boys (Woodard and Stevie) were holding hands and butting their shoulders against each other, Rose, the youngest (seven?), and brightest girl, was right up there up trying to see with everybody else. She went through the door with me.

Horsing around in the yard with Nightmare, Raven, Filament, and Glass, tripped and scratched my calf on the edge of the steps. Later, Lanya came into the loft and saw me. "Hey," she said. "You should put something on that. Don't play with it that way. You've practically rubbed it raw. You don't want it to get infected."

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