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Книга Dhalgren. Содержание - VI: Palimpsest

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VI: Palimpsest

"… just watch out. Oh, yeah, you just better watch out. I know. I know." He wagged his finger, backed away, talked Spanish. Then: "They gonna get you—"

"Look, man," Kid said. "Will you—"

"It's all right. It's all right. You just watch out, now. Please? I'm sorry. I'm sorry." His thick neck sweated. He tugged at the wool. "I'm sorry. You just lemme 'lone, huh? They gonna…" Suddenly he looked around, turned, and lumbered into the alley.

"Jesus Christ." A smile hovered about Denny's face. "What… was that about?"

"I don't know." One book had fallen on the sidewalk. The other leaned against the curb.

"I mean this guy just comes up and starts to push you like that. I thought you were gonna hit him." Denny nodded heavily. "You should've hit him. Why'd he just want to come up and start messing on us like that?"

"He didn't mess on you any." Kid picked up the books and put them back under his belt.

"He's just crazy or something, huh?"

"Come on," Kid said. "Yeah, he's… crazy."

"Jesus Christ. That's really funny. You ever see him before?"

"Yeah."

They walked.

"What was he doing then?"

"Just about the same thing… one time. The others? He was pretty normal."

"A nut," Denny pronounced, and scratched his groin inside both pants pockets. "She lives over there. I thought you knew already. She didn't tell you?"

"No."

Denny wrinkled his nose. "All this shit in the air. I don't think it's very healthy, you know? What's the matter?"

Kid had stopped, to hook up a section of the chain across his stomach. A glass circle distorted the pad of his thumb into a zebra's flank: dirty troughs whorled the flesh.

"She lives right over there," Denny reiterated, warily.

"All right."

In step, they angled into the street.

"She got a nice place."

A tension held, suspended: Kid wished he could examine it more closely: defract, reflect, magnify…

They turned the corner and went down the empty street. "Looks like rain, doesn't it?" Denny said.

"It always looks like rain."

"It doesn't feel like rain."

"It never feels like rain."

"Yeah, you know, that's right?" Denny hopped up the concrete steps, holding the aluminum rail. "It never does!"

Kid followed, surveying the three-story facade. Denny thumbed the bell.

"They live on the top floor. The first two floors are empty so people won't think anyone's in the building."

"It's a good idea not to attract attention, I guess." Kid contemplated asking who was the rest of "they" when footsteps clacked on a stairway.

"Who is it?" asked a woman. Voice familiar? He wondered from where.

"I'm a friend of Lanya's. I'd like to see her."

The peephole darkened. "Just a second."

The door opened. "You know, I didn't recognize your voice at first," Madame Brown said. "How have you been, Kid?" She took in Denny: "Hello. It's nice to see you again… Denny, isn't it?" Her neck glittered.

"Lanya's living with you?" Kid, shocked, was unsure why.

"Um-hm. Why don't you come inside?"

Somewhere above the first landing, Muriel barked.

"Hush!" Madame Brown commanded the air. "Hush, I say!"

The dog barked three times more.

"Come in, come in. Pull the door behind you. It locks itself."

They followed her up the steps.

"I think," she let fall behind, "Lanya's asleep. Even with her school we've both been having an incredible time keeping to any sort of schedule. I don't know when she went to bed. I suspect it was rather late."

"She'll want to see me," Kid said. He frowned at the back of Madame Brown's red rough hair.

"Oh, I'm sure she will."

They rounded the first landing.

Muriel, visible now, barked again.

"Hush! Now hush up! These are people you know, dear. It's Kid. And Denny. You played with Denny for hours the last time he was here. Don't carry on like that." She reached for the dog's muzzle; Muriel quietened. "Did I say Lanya was asleep? I doubt it after all that. Naughty! Naughty!"

Denny was looking up and down and sideways — not like somebody who'd played there for hours. Candlesticks were everywhere: three on a small table beneath a framed portrait, an iron brace full in the corner, two more on the windowsill between white curtains dulled by the sky behind.

"You got electricity here?" Kid asked.

"In two rooms," Madame Brown explained. "Oh, the candles? Well, we're so near Jackson, we thought we better have them around, just in case."

Two rooms away, unlit: a wall of books, a desk, an easy chair.

"That's my office in there," Madame Brown commented on Kid's stare.

Which brought his eyes to more candleholders in the next room. "Um… this is really a nice place."

"There're some marvelous houses all through this area, if you just look. They're not hard to find at all. Though I suppose we were lucky with this one. Most of the furniture was already here."

"The rent must be a steal," Kid said, "if you don't mind the neighborhood."

"Oh, we don't pay any—" After an emotionless moment (Kid stopped and Denny bumped into him) she laughed, loudly, shrilly. "By the way, congratulations on your book! Mary Richards showed me a copy the other day. She just tells everybody about how she knows you now."

"Yeah?" He'd intended the smile to be cynical; but pleasure pushed him into joyous, goofy sincerity. "She does?"

"She reads people passages out loud after dinner. I'm sure if you came by, you'd get a positively ebullient welcome." She raised an eyebrow. "You really would."

"Maybe from her," Kid said. "Not from him. Don't you think those people are…?" and, watching her, decided to let it drop.

But she took it on:

"What is it that writer all you youngsters were reading here a few years ago was saying: 'The problem isn't to learn to love humanity, but to learn to love those members of it who happen to be at hand.'

Collected Poems 1930–1950, Stones, Pilgrimage, Rictus, The Dynamic Moment, A Sense of Commencement and The Charterhouse of Ballarat, all by Ernest Newboy, were book-ended at the back of the desk with two African statuettes. The last three volumes together were twice as thick as the first four.

"Well, they're not at my hand. I mean, I don't hold your friends against you. I got some pretty strange ones myself."

"I didn't think you did, which is one of the reasons I like you. And they haven't done anything to me…yet."

The "yet" challenged him to possibilities. It also tested his reticence. So he asked, "How'd you and Lanya get… together here?"

"Oh, she's a fine roommate! Energetic, lively… It's nice to have someone so sharp around. When I had to leave my other place-but you weren't here for that. You could have helped us move. I was being terrorized to death. Nothing had happened, definitively, but I had to move. Lanya helped me find this place. I've always liked her and… well, I suggested that we share. It's worked out very nicely, I think. The school is only a couple of blocks from here. The few patients I've taken on—"

The bell rang.

"One now. You know—" as she moved around them toward the hall—"I really thought that's what you were. When I came down to let you in." She waved toward another hallway. "Lanya's room is down there. Go in and wake her up. I know she wants to see you." They heard her gait go from the hallway's measured rush to the stairwell's hurried canter.

Denny said, "Nice, huh?" softly, then sucked at his upper lip where pale hairs stabbed about in reddened flesh. "You want to … go to her room?"

"Yeah."

"Okay." Denny went into the corridor.

There were no bulbs in the elaborate ceiling fixture. An immense painting (Denny-tall by Kid-long), bordered in gilt, looked, as they passed in shadow, completely black.

"That door," Denny said.

It was ajar.

"Go in, go on in," Kid said. Denny didn't; so Kid did.

Warm air puffed at his face. The burning here had a hint of gas — in front of a tile fireplace a heater flickered and hissed through its lower grille.

She slept on a daybed, under a pink blanket. Before a huge canvas with violent colors and no frame, arms of vegetation, white and purple, bent over her from a dozen pots, spidered in the bay window, or bung from the mantle.

"Christ, it's hot!" Denny said. "How she sleep in here?"

"Go on," Kid said. "Wake her up."

Denny frowned at him.

"I want to watch," Kid said.

Denny's tongue pushed out his lower lip a moment. He stepped forward—

Her cheek was flat on the pillow, and both bare shoulders touched the sheet. Her hand near her face bent sharply at the wrist. One heel, greyed at the rim, stuck out, toes turned in.

— put one knee on the mattress (she went Uhhhh, turned her face down, and her heel pulled under the cover), swung the other over to straddle her and grabbed her head.

"Hey…" One arm shot out and waved. "God damn, let go of my…" She got over on her back. "What are you doing, huh… Oh, hey…" The arm came back and locked around Denny's thigh. "Look, babes, I'm sound asleep, huh?…"

Denny shook her head again—

"Oh, come on…"

— and laughed. "Kid said I should wake you up."

"Huh?"

"He wanted to watch."

"With binoculars from the roof across the street?"

"He's right here."

"Where?" She pushed herself up and looked around Denny's leg. "Hey!" Then a smile poured into her face, mixing with the sleep like milk poured into water, while her eyes cleared like jade.

"I brought you something," Kid said.

"Him?" She laid her head on Denny's hip. "I like him. He's great and it's very sweet of you. But I'm awfully sleepy."

"Not that." Kid pulled out the books. "These." He sat down on the bed.

Her T-shirt was torn at the side and he could see the place her breast started, and then the nipple under cloth. (He contemplated the difference in the two colors for which even he could only think of the word white.)

"What are—?" Then she let go of Denny who sat down, shaking the bed. "Oh!" She took them from him, grinning.

"What are those, anyway?" Denny asked.

"Kid's poems!" Lanya said.

"I guess one of those can be for you."

"Yeah?" Denny asked. "Why didn't you give it to me before, then?"

Lanya gave Denny his book and opened hers. "It really looks nice… I think you sat on this one a while, though."

"You're not mad at me now?" Kid asked.

"Was I ever?"

"Sometimes I think you're stranger than I am."

"Women's Liberation has really lost us the prerogative of changing our minds, huh?" She sighed. "Enough people will be glad to see it go."

"Hey," Kid asked, "are you balling Madame Brown?"

"No!" Lanya looked up from the book, surprised. "What gave you that idea?"

"I don't know." Kid shrugged. "She likes chicks, and, well, you're here—"

Lanya frowned. The book slapped the blanket. "Can't two people just be friends in this city?"

"You should be balling her." Denny didn't look up from his.

"Why?" Lanya demanded.

"Cause she's your friend." Denny said.

Lanya's frown lingered a moment. Then she laughed. "What are you, the Counter-Culture Dale Carnegie? Hey, move off my foot, huh?"

Denny moved. "You write all this stuff?" He turned another page, turned back to the cover, opened it again. He turned another page, closed it, opened it. "Hey, this is the thing they keep on advertising in the God-damn newspaper, huh?"

"Sure is." Lanya turned another page too. "Oh, you're a doll to bring me this." She glanced at him, looked back. "I… I'm afraid I have a confession, though."

"What…?"

"I've already given away about twelve copies each to practically everybody I know. And I think I have about half the poems down by heart — I knew them before they were published, really."

"That's all right." Kid tried to discover whether that made him feel bad or good.

"I was going to ask you to write something in the copy I've been holding onto for myself. But this one's mine now." She held it up to her nose. "It smells like you. That's much better than an autograph, I think."

Denny closed his book for the sixth time and sniffed it. "You like the way Kid smells?"

"Mmmmmm." Lanya put her arm around Kid's chest and tugged him backward. "Don't you?"

"It gives me a hard-on," Denny said, "sometimes. But I don't know whether I like it."

Kid lay back. "I guess that's nice you've been giving them out. I didn't know you could get hold of it that long. No, you're going to tell me about some more days I missed. How do you get this jungle to grow in here?"

"It's all coleus," she said. "They'll grow any place."

"Creepy." Kid said. "You've got it like a fucking jungle."

"Plants are relaxing."

"Long as they don't take a bite out your hand when you're trying to water them." Through the variegated purple, he focused on the plaster ceiling (another white than either cloth or flesh). "Do I know Wally Efrin?"

"Wally? Of course you do. He was in the park commune. Why?"

"We murdered him yesterday."

He thought she might move suddenly; she didn't. "What?"

"Yesterday, one of our more retarded honkeys beat in his head with a pipe: to death. You were there. It was happening downstairs in the kitchen while we were out on the balcony."

"It was Dollar." Denny said.

"Lord…" she whispered, grave with shock.

"Dollar was the one you were talking to who was so—" Denny went on.

Till she interrupted: " — I remember Dollar. Wally?"

"Which one was Wally?" Kid closed his eyes.

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