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Книга Dhalgren. Содержание - IV: In Time of Plague

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He stepped backward from the heat, and backward again. (Where was Lanya?) But was too distraught to turn his head. Everything meant, loudly and insistently, much too much: smoke, untwirling over twigs; the small stone biting his heel; the hot band from the fire across his lowered forehead; the mumblings around him that rose here, fell there.

Milly stood a few feet in front of him, bare legs working to a music he couldn't hear. Then John crashed down, crosslegged in the leaves, beside her, fiddling absently with the blades around his hand.

A while ago, he realized, he had thought once again: Please, I don't want to be sick again, please, but had hardly heard the thought go by, and could only now, disinterestedly, discern the echo.

Something, or one, was, about to emerge into the clearing — he was sure; and was equally sure that, naked and glistening, it would be George! It would be June!

"Isn't this stupid," someone Kidd couldn't see was saying, "when I could be in Hawaii—?"

Tongue tip a pink bud at the corner of his lips, John stared at Milly's shifting calves. He raised his bladed hand (a reflection crossed his chin), and, with a sharp, downward sweep, cut.

Milly gasped, bit off the gasp, but made no other sound. She did not step, she did not even look.

Astounded, Kidd watched blood, in a torrent wide (the thought struck irrelevantly amidst his terror) as a pencil run down her heel.

IV: In Time of Plague

"Look, leave me alone…"

"Come on; come—"

"Tak, will you get your fuckin' hands—"

"I'm not after your tired brown body. I just want to get you to the bar where you can sit down."

"Look, please I'm…"

"You're not drunk; you say you're not stoned or anything, then you damn well better sit down and relax!" Tak's beefy hand clamped his shoulder. (Kidd took three more unsteady steps.) "You were staggering around there like you were half in some sort of trance. Now come on with me, sit down, have a drink, and get yourself together. You sure you didn't take anything?"

The ornate orchid at Tak's belt clashed the simple one at Kidd's.

"Hey, look! Just come on and leave me alone… Where's Lanya?"

"She's more likely to find you at Teddy's than wandering around out in the dark. You come on."

In such colloquy they made their hesitant way from park to bar.

Kidd swayed in the doorway, looking at rocking candle flames, while Tak argued with the bartender:

"Hot brandy! Look, just take your coffee-water there, in a glass with a shot of…"

June? Or George?

Paul Fenster looked up from his beer, three people down (Kidd felt something cold but manageable happen in his belly at the recognition), and came over to stand behind Tak; who turned with two steaming glasses.

"Huh…?"

"So. I've found somebody here I know." Fenster was buttoned halfway up the chest in a red, long-sleeve shirt. "I didn't think I was, and it's my first night back."

"Oh." Tak nodded. "Yeah. How you doing? Hey, I gotta bring a friend a drink. Um… Come on." Tak lifted the brandy glasses over some woman's shoulder, stepped around some man. Fenster raised his chin, watching.

Tak came across to Kidd. Fenster came behind.

"Here's your brandy. This is Paul Fenster, my favorite rebel-who-has-managed-to-misplace-his-cause."

"That's what you think." Fenster saluted with his beer bottle.

"Well, he didn't misplace it, actually. It went somewhere else when he wasn't looking. Paul this is the Kid." (Kidd wondered if he were projecting Tak's lack of enthusiasm.) "Come on over and sit down."

"Hello." Kidd nodded toward Fenster, who wasn't looking at him, hadn't heard him, apparently did not recognize him. Well, he didn't feel like talking anyway, so could be amused at Fenster's obliqueness.

"Come on, come on." Tak headed them toward a booth, glanced apprehensively at Kidd again.

Gesturing with his bottle, Fenster continued: "Oh, there's a cause all right! Maybe you've lost ninety-five per cent of your population, but you're still the same city you were before—"

"You weren't, here, before." Tak sat at the outside edge of the seat, so that Fenster had to sit across the table. Then Tak slipped over, making room for Kidd, who noted the whole maneuver and wondered if Fenster had.

Kidd sat. Tak's leg immediately swung against his in warm, if unwanted, reassurance.

"That's not what I mean," Fenster said. "Bellona was… what? Maybe thirty per cent black? Now, even though you've lost so many people, bet it's closer to sixty. From my estimate, at any rate."

"All living in harmony, peace, and brotherly love—"

"Bullshit," Fenster said.

"— with the calm, clear, golden afternoon only occasionally torn by the sobs of some poor white girl dishonored at the hands of a rampaging buck."

"What are you trying to do, show off for the kid there?" Fenster grinned at Kidd. "I met Tak here the first day I got to Bellona. He's a really together guy, you know? He likes to pretend he's short on brains. Then he lets you hang yourself." Fenster still hadn't recognized him.

Kidd nodded over his steaming glass. The fumes stung; he smiled back and felt ill.

"Oh, I'm the God-damn guardian of the gate. I've spoken to more people on their first day in this city than you could shake a stick at." Tak sat back. "Let me clue you. It's the people I take time to speak to again on the third, fourth, and fifth day you should watch."

"Well, you're still kidding yourself if you think you don't have a black problem here."

Tak suddenly sat forward and put his worn, leather elbows on the table. "You're telling me? What I want to know is how you're going to do anything about it sitting up there on Brisbain Avenue?"

"I'm not at Calkins' any more. I've moved back to Jackson. Down home again."

"Have you now? Well, how did your stay work out?"

"Hell — I guess it was nice of him to invite me. I had a good time. He has quite a place up there. We got into a couple of talks. Pretty good, I think. He's an amazing man. But with that constant weekend bash going, thirty-eight days a month it looks like, I don't know how he has time to take a leak, much less write half a newspaper every day, and run what's left of the God-damn town. I outlined a couple of ideas: a switchboard, a day-care center, a house-inspection program. He says he wants to cooperate. I believe him… as much as you can believe anybody, today. Since there's as little control around here as there is, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets more done than you'd expect, you know?"

Tak turned his hands up on the table. "Just remember, nobody voted him up there."

Fenster sat forward too. "I've never been that down on dictators. Long as they didn't dictate me." He laughed and drank more beer.

Brandy sips dropped in hot knots to Kidd's stomach and untied. He moved his leg away from Tak's. "Did you talk to him about that Harrison article?" Kidd asked Fenster.

"George Harrison?"

"Yeah."

"Hell, that's just a whole lot of past noise. There're real problems that have to be dealt with now. Have you ever walked up Jackson Avenue?"

"I've crossed it."

"Well, take a good look around it, talk to the people who live there before you go on to me about any of that George Harrison horseshit."

"Paul here doesn't approve of George." Tak nodded deeply.

"I don't approve or disapprove." Fenster clinked his bottle on the wood. "Sadism simply isn't my bag. And I don't hold with anybody committing rape on anybody. But if you want to associate with him, that's your problem, not mine. I think making all that to-do over it is the worst sort of red-herring."

"If you're back down on Jackson, then you got him for a nextdoor neighbor; so you're more or less stuck with associating with him, huh? I just have to be friendly in the bar." Suddenly Tak slapped the table edge: "You know what the problem is, Paul? George is nicer than you."

"Huh?"

"No, I mean: I know you both, I like you both. But I like George more."

"Hell, man, I seen those posters Reverend Amy's giving out. I know what you guys in here like—"

"No," Tak said. "No, you're missing the point."

"Like hell I am— Hey, you know?" Fenster turned to Kidd. "Have you ever read those articles, the ones in the issue about the riot, and the other issue with the interview?"

"Huh? No, but I heard about them."

"Tak hasn't read them either."

"I've heard enough about them," Tak echoed.

"But here's the point. Everybody's heard about the articles. But since I've been here, I've only talked to one person who actually says he read them."

"Who?" Tak asked.

"George Harrison." Fenster sat back and looked satisfied.

Kidd tilted his brandy. "I met somebody who read them."

"Yeah?" Fenster asked. "Who?"

"The girl he screwed. And her family. Only they didn't recognize her in the pictures." From something that happened on Fenster's face without destroying the smile, Kidd decided maybe Fenster wasn't so bad after all.

"You met her?"

"Yeah." Kidd drank. "You probably will too. Everybody keeps telling me how small the city is. Hey, Tak, thanks for the drink." He started to stand.

Tak said, "You sure you're all right, Kidd?"

"Yeah. I feel better." He nodded at Fenster, then walked, relieved, to the bar.

When Jack said, "Hey, how you doing?" Kidd started. His relief, the shallowest of things, vanished.

"Hello," he said. "Fine. How you been?"

"I been fine." Jack's shirt was wrinkled, his eyes red, his cheeks unshaven. He looked very happy. "I just been fine. How are you? And your girl friend?"

"I'm fine," Kidd repeated, nodding. "She's fine."

Jack laughed. "That's great. Yeah, that's really great. Say, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Frank." Jack stepped back.

"Hello." With a high, bald forehead and neck-length hair, Frank had apparently decided to grow a beard perhaps a week ago: I give them to you crossed, I take them uncrossed… yes, that was who it was. Only he had put on a green shirt with milky snaps instead of buttons; and washed his hands.

"This," Jack explained to Frank, "is the friend of Tak's I was telling you about who writes the poems. Only I can't remember his name."

"Kidd," Kidd said.

"Yeah, they call him the Kid." Jack continued his explanation. "Kid, this is Frank. Frank was in the army, and he writes poems too. I was telling him all about you, before. Wasn't I?"

"Yeah, I've seen you around the park." Frank nodded. "Jack was telling me you were a poet?"

Kidd shrugged. "Yeah. A little."

"We been drinking," Jack continued his explanation, "all afternoon."

"And it's night now." Frank grinned.

"This God-damn city. If you wanna stay drunk, it sure is the place to come. You can buy drinks at the God-damn bars and you don't have to pay no money. Or anything. And anyplace you go, people always got stuff to smoke or to drink. Jesus." He burped. "I gotta go water the garden. Be back in a minute." He stepped away and headed for the john.

Kidd felt a wave of disorientation, but the phrases he'd prepared before broke through: "You been looking out for nature boy?"

"He's sort of looking out for me," Frank said. "We're both army deserters. Him, a little more recently. Only I think Jack's getting homesick."

Kidd swallowed. "For the army?" And felt better.

Frank nodded. "I'm not. I left about six months ago. Happy I'm here. I'm getting a chance to write again, and it's a pretty together place."

"You," and at the reiteration he felt toward Frank sudden, surprising, and total distrust, "write poems?" So he smiled.

Frank smiled back and nodded over his glass: "Well, I've been sort of lucky about getting things published, really. The book was just an accident. One of the west coast little magazines puts out good editions of people who contribute. I was lucky enough to get selected."

"You mean you have a book?"

"No copies in Bellona." Frank nodded. "Like I said, even that was an accident."

"You been writing a long time, then."

"Since I was fifteen or sixteen. I started in high school; and most of what you write back then is crap."

"How old are you now?"

"Twenty-five."

"Then you've been one for a long time. A poet. I mean it's your job, your profession."

Frank laughed. "You can't make a living at it. I taught for a year at San Francisco State, till I went into the army. I like to think of it as a profession, though."

Kidd nodded. "You got a lot of poems in magazines and things?"

"Three in the New Yorker about a year ago. Some people think that's my crowning achievement. Two in Poetry, Chicago, before that. There're a few others. But those are the ones I'm proud of."

"Yeah, I used to read that magazine a lot."

"You did?"

"It's the one that used to have the little curlicue horse a long time ago? Now it just has funny pictures on it. I read it every month in the library, at school. For years."

Frank laughed. "Then you're doing better than am."

"I've seen the New Yorker," Kidd said. "But I neve read it."

Frank's expression changed slightly and noncomittally.

"And I've never published any poems at all," Kidd said. "Anyplace. I've only been a poet a little while, couple of weeks. Since I came here. You probably know lot more about it than I do."

"About getting things published?"

"That too. I mean about writing them, though. It's hard."

"Yes, I guess it can be."

"It's about the God-damned hardest thing I've eve done."

Frank laughed and rubbed his young beard. "Sometimes. You've… only been writing — poems, for a few weeks? What made you start?"

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