Only five men in cellblock F applied for the course in banking. Nobody much took it seriously. They guessed that the Fiduciary University was either newborn or on the skids and had resorted to Falconer for publicity. The bounteous education of unfortunate convicts was always good for some space in the paper. When the time came, Farragut and the others went down to the parole board room to take the intelligence quotient test. Farragut knew that he tested badly. He had never tested over 119 and had once gone as low as 101. In the army this had kept him from any position of command and had saved his life. He took the test with twentyfour other men, counting blocks and racking his memory for the hypotenuse of the isosceles triangle. The scores were supposed to be secret, but for a package of cigarettes Tiny told him he had flunked out with 112. Jody scored at 140 and claimed he had never done so badly.
Jody was Farragut’s best friend. They had met in the shower, where Farragut had noticed a slight young man with black hair smiling at him. He wore around his neck a simple and elegant gold cross. They were not allowed to speak in the shower, but the stranger, soaping his left shoulder, spread out his palm so that Farragut could read there, written in indelible ink: “Meet me later.” When they had dressed they met at the door. “You the professor?” the stranger asked. “I’m 734–508–32,” said Farragut. He was that green. “Well, I’m Jody,” said the stranger brightly, “and I know you’re Farragut but so long as you ain’t homosexual I don’t care what your name is. Come on with me. I’ll show you my hideout.” Farragut followed him across the grounds to an abandoned water tower. They climbed up a rusty ladder to a wooden catwalk where there was a mattress, a butt can and some old magazines. “Everybody’s got to have a hideout,” said Jody. “This is mine. The view is what they call the Millionaire’s View. Next to the death house, this is the best place for seeing it.” Farragut saw, over the roofs of the old cellblocks and the walls, a two-mile stretch of river with cliffs and mountains on the western shore. He had seen or glimpsed the view before at the foot of the prison street, but this was the most commanding sight he had been given of the world beyond the wall and he was deeply moved.
“Sit down, sit down,” his friend said, “sit down and I’ll tell you about my past. I ain’t like most of the dudes, who won’t tell you nothing. Everybody knows that Freddy, the Mad Dog Killer, iced six men, but you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s in for stealing flowers from some park. He ain’t kidding. He means it. He really believes it. But when I have a buddy I tell him everything if he wants to hear it. I talk a lot, but I listen a lot too. I’m a very good listener. But my past is really my past. I don’t have no future at all. I don’t see the parole board for twelve years. What I do around here don’t matter much, but I like to stay out of the hole. I know there ain’t no medical evidence for brain damage, but after you hit yourself about fourteen times you get silly. Once I banged myself seven times. There wasn’t nothing more to come out, but I went on banging myself. I couldn’t stop. I was going crazy. That ain’t healthy. Anyhow, I was indicted on fifty-three counts. I had a forty-five-thousand-dollar house in Leavittown, a great wife and two great sons: Michael and Dale. But I was in this bind. People with your kind of life style don’t ever understand. I didn’t graduate from high school, but I was up for an office in the mortgage department of Hamilton Trust. But nothing was moving. Of course, my not having an education was a drawback and they were laying people off, left and right. I just couldn’t make enough money to support four people and when I put the house up for sale I discover that every fucking house on the block is on the market. I thought about money all the time. I dreamed about money. I was picking dimes, nickels and pennies off the sidewalk. I was bananas about money. So I had a friend named Howie and he had this solution. He told me about this old guy—Masterman—who ran a stationery store in the shopping center. He had two seven-thousand-dollar pari-mutuel tickets. He kept them in a drawer beside his bed. Howie knew this because he used to let the old man blow him for a fin. Howie had this wife, kids, a woodburning fireplace, but no money. So we decided to get the tickets. In those days you didn’t have to endorse them. It was fourteen thousand in cash and no way to trace it. So we watched the old man for a couple of nights. It was easy. He closed up the store at eight, drove home, got drunk, ate something and watched TV. So one night when he closed the store and got into his car we got into it with him. He was very obedient because I was holding this loaded gun against his head. This gun was Howie’s. He drove home and we lock-stepped him up to the front door, poking the gun into any soft part of him that was convenient. We marched him into the kitchen and handcuffed him to this big Goddamned refrigerator. It was very big, a very recent model. We asked him where the tickets was and he said they was in the lockbox. If we pistol-whipped him like he said we did, it wasn’t me. It could have been Howie, but I didn’t see it. He kept telling us the two tickets was in the bank. So then we turned the house upside down looking for tickets, but I guess he was right. So we turned on the TV for neighbors and left him chained to this ten-ton refrigerator and took off in his car. The first car we saw was a police car. This was just an accident, but we got scared. We drove his car into one of those car washes where you have to get out of the car when it hits the shower. We put the car in the slot and took off. We got a bus into Manhattan and said goodbye at the terminal.
“But you know what that old sonofabitch Masterman did? He ain’t big and he ain’t strong, but he starts inching this big, fucking refrigerator across the kitchen floor. Believe me, it was enormous. It was really a nice house with lovely furniture and carpets and he must have had one hell of a time with all those carpets bunching up under the refrigerator, but he got out of the kitchen and down the hall and into the living room, where the telephone was. I can imagine what the police saw when they got there: this old man chained to a refrigerator in the middle of his living room with hand-painted pictures all over the walls. That was Thursday. They picked me up the following Tuesday. They already had Howie. I didn’t know it, but he already had a record. I don’t blame the state. I don’t blame nobody. We did everything wrong. Burglary, pistol-whipping, kidnapping. Kidnapping’s a big no-no. Of course, I’m the next thing to dead, but my wife and sons are still alive. So she sold the house at a big loss and goes on welfare. She comes to see me once in a while, but you know what the boys do? First they got permission to write me letters and then Michael, the big one, wrote me a letter saying that they would be on the river in a rowboat at three on Sunday and they would wave to me. I was out at the fence at three on Sunday and they showed up. They were way out in the river—you can’t come too close to the prison—but I could see them and feel my love for them and they waved their arms and I waved my arms. That was in the autumn and they stopped coming when the place where you rent
boats shut down, but they started again in the spring. They were much bigger, I could see that, and then it occurs to me that for the length of time I’m here they’ll get married and have children and I know they won’t stuff their wives or their kids into no rowboat and go down the river to wave to old Daddy. So I ain’t got no future, Farragut, and you ain’t got no future either. So let’s go down and wash up for chow.”
Farragut was working then part-time with the greenhouse crew, cutting lawns and hedges, and part-time as a typist, cutting ditto sheets for the prison announcements. He had the key to an office near the squad room and the use of a typewriter. He continued to meet Jody at the water tower and later, when the afternoons got cold, in his office. They had known one another a month when they became lovers. “I’m so glad you ain’t homosexual,” Jody kept saying when he caressed Farragut’s hair. Then, saying as much one afternoon, he had unfastened Farragut’s trousers and, with every assistance from Farragut, got them down around his knees. From what Farragut had read in the newspapers about prison life he had expected this to happen, but what he had not expected was that this grotesque bonding of their relationship would provoke in him so profound a love. Nor had he expected the administration to be so lenient. For a small ration of cigarettes, Tiny let Farragut return to the shop between chow and lockup. Jody met him there and they made love on the floor. “They like it,” Jody explained. “At first they didn’t like it. Then some psychologist decided that if we got our rocks moved regularly we wouldn’t riot. They’ll let us do anything if they think it will keep us from rioting. Move over, Chicken, move over. Oh, I love you very much.”
They met two or three times a week. Jody was the beloved and now and then he stood Farragut up so that Farragut had developed a preternatural sensitivity to the squeak of his lover’s basketball sneakers. On some nights his life seemed to hang on the sound. When the classes in banking began, the two men met always on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Jody reported on his experience with the university. Farragut had boosted a mattress from the shop and Jody had hustled a hot plate from somewhere, and they lay on the mattress and drank hot coffee and were fairly comfortable and happy.
But Jody spoke skeptically to Farragut about the university. “It’s the same old shit,” said Jody. “Success School. Charm School. Elite School. How to Make a Million School. I been to them all and they’re all the same. You see, Chicken, banking arithmetic and all that shit is done by computers today and what you have to concentrate on is to inspire the confidence of the potential investor. That’s the big mystery of modern banking. For instance, you come on with the smile. Every class I took begins with lessons in this smile. You stand outside the door thinking about all the great things that happened to you that day, that year, for your whole life. It has to be real. You can’t fake this selling smile. I mean you remember a great girl who made you happy or winning a long shot if you ever had one or a new suit or a race you won or a great day when you really had everything going for you. Well, then you open the door and go in and smack him with this smile. Only they don’t know nothing, Chicken. I mean about smiling. They don’t know nothing at all about smiling.
“It’s all right to smile, I mean you have to smile to sell anything, but if you don’t smile in the right way you get terrible lines on your face like you have. I love you, Chicken, but you don’t know how to smile. If you knew how to smile you wouldn’t have those wrinkles all around your eyes and those big, disgusting cuts like scars on your face. Look at me, for example. You think I’m twentyfour, don’t you? Well, I’m actually thirty-two, but most people when they’re asked to guess my age put me down for eighteen or nineteen at the most. That’s because I know how to smile, how to use my face. This actor taught me. He was in on a morals charge but he was very beautiful. He taught me that when you use your face you spare your face. When you throw your face recklessly into every situation you
come up against, you come out looking like you do, you come out looking like shit. I love you, Chicken, I really do, otherwise I wouldn’t tell you that you got a ruined face. Now watch me smile. See? I look real happy—don’t I, don’t I, don’t I?—but if you’ll notice, I keep my eyes wide open so I won’t get disgusting wrinkles all around the edges like you have and when I open my mouth I open it very, very wide so that it won’t destroy the beauty of my cheeks, their beauty and smoothness. This teacher from the university tells us to smile, smile, smile, smile, but you go around smiling all the time like he teaches us to, you get to look like a very old person, a very old and haggard person who nobody wants anything to do with especially in the line of banking investments.”
When Jody talked scornfully about the Fiduciary University, Farragut’s attitude seemed parental, seemed to express some abiding respect for anything that was taught by an organization, however false the teaching and however benighted the organization. Listening to Jody describe the Fiduciary University as shit made Farragut wonder if disrespect was not at the bottom of Jody’s criminal career and his life in prison. He felt that Jody should bring more patience, more intelligence, to his attacks on the university. It may have been no more than the fact that the word “fiduciary” seemed to him to deserve respect and inspire honesty; and in its train were thrift, industry, frugality and honest strife.
In fact, Jody’s attacks on the university were continuous, predictable and, in the end, monotonous. Everything about the school was wrong. The teacher was ruining his face with too broad and committed a smile. The spot quizzes were too easy. “I don’t do no work,” Jody said, “and I always get the highest marks in the class. I got this memory. It’s easy for me to remember things. I learned the whole catechism in one night. Now, today we had Nostalgia. You think it’s got something to do with your nose. It don’t. It’s what you remember with pleasure. So what you do is your homework on what the potential investor remembers with pleasure and you play on his pleasant memories like a fucking violin. You not only stir up what they call Nostalgia with talk, you wear clothes and look and talk and use body language like something they’re going to remember with pleasure. So the potential investor likes history, and can’t you see me coming into the bank in a fucking suit of armor?”
“You’re not taking it seriously, Jody,” Farragut said. “There must be something worthwhile in it. I think you ought to pay more attention to what is useful in the course.”
“Well, there may be something in it,” Jody said. “But you see, I had it all before in Charm School, Success School, Elite School. It’s all the same shit. I had it ten times before. Now, they tell me a man’s name is for him the sweetest sound in the language. I know this, when I was three, four years old. I know the whole thing. You want to hear it? Listen.”
Jody ticked off his points on the bars of Farragut’s cell. “One. Let the other fellow feel that all the good ideas are his. Two. Throw down a challenge. Three. Open up with praise and honest appreciation. Four. If you’re wrong admit it quickly. Five. Get the other person saying yes. Six. Talk about your mistakes. Seven. Let the other man save his face. Eight. Use encouragement. Nine. Make the thing you want to do seem easy. Ten. Make the other person seem happy about doing what you want. Shit, man, any hustler knows that. That’s my life, that’s the story of my life. I’ve been doing all this ever since I was a little kid and look where it got me. Look where my knowledge of the essence of charm and success and banking dumped me. Shit, Chicken, I feel like quitting.”
“Don’t, Jody,” said Farragut. “Stay with it. You’ll graduate and it’ll look good on your record.”
“Nobody’s going to look at my record for another forty years,” said Jody.
He came one night. It was snowing. “Put in for sick call tomorrow,” Jody said. “Monday. There’ll be a crowd. I’ll wait for you outside the infirmary.” He was gone. “Don’t he love you no more?” asked Tiny. “Well, if he don’t love you no more it’s a weight off my shoulders. You’re really a nice guy, Farragut. I like you, but I got no use for him. He’s blown half the population and he’s hardly begun. Last week, the week before last—I can’t remember—he did this fan dance on the third tier. Toledo told me about it. He had this piece of newspaper pleated, you know, like a fan and he kept switching it from his cock to his asshole and doing this dance. Toledo said it was very disgusting. Very disgusting.” Farragut tried to imagine this and couldn’t. What he felt was that Tiny was jealous. Tiny had never experienced the love of a man. Tiny was insecure. He made out his sick-call slip, put it between the bars and went to bed.
The waiting room at the infirmary was full and he and Jody stood outside where no one could hear them. “Now, listen,” Jody said. “Now, before you get upset listen to me. Don’t say nothing until I stop talking. I quit the university yesterday. Now, don’t say nothing. I know you’re not going to like it because you got this father image thing about me being a big success in the world, but wait until I tell you my plan. Don’t say anything. I said don’t say anything. Graduation is planned. Nobody but us in the school knows what’s going to happen, but you will in a few days. Listen to this. The cardinal, the cardinal of the diocese, is going to come here in a helicopter and present the diplomas to the graduating class. I’m not shitting you and don’t ask me why. I guess the cardinal’s some kind of a relation to somebody in the university, but it’ll be great publicity and that’s what’s going to happen. Now, one of the dudes in the class is the chaplain’s assistant. His name is DiMatteo. He’s a very close friend to me. So he’s in charge of all those dresses they wear on the altar, you know. So what he’s got is a red one, in my size, a perfect fit. He’s going to give it to me. So when the cardinal comes there’ll be a lot of confusion. So I’ll hang back, hide in the boiler room, get into my red dress, and when the cardinal celebrates mass I’ll get my ass on the altar. Listen. I know what I’m doing. I know. I served on the altar beginning when I was eleven. That was when I was confirmed. I know you think they’ll catch me, but they won’t. At mass you don’t look at the other acolytes. That’s the thing about prayer. You don’t look. When you see a stranger on the altar you don’t go around asking who’s the stranger on the altar. This is holy business and when you’re doing holy business you don’t see nothing. When you drink the blood of Our Savior you don’t look to see if the chalice is tarnished or if there’s bugs in the wine. You get to be transfixed, you’re like transfixed. Prayer. That’s why it is. Prayer is what’s going to get me out of this place. The power of prayer. So when the mass is over I’ll get in the helicopter in my red dress and if they ask me where I’m from I’ll say I’m from Saint Anselm’s, Saint Augustine’s, Saint Michael’s, Saint Anywheres. When we land I’ll get out of my robes in the vestry and walk out on the street. What a miracle! I’ll panhandle subway fare up to 174th Street, where I got friends. I’m telling you this, Chicken, because I love and trust you. I’m putting my life in your hands. Greater love hath no man. But don’t expect to see very much of me from now on. This dude with the red dress likes me. The chaplain brings him in food from the outside and so I’m taking the electric plate. I may never see you again, Chicken, but if I can I’ll come back and say goodbye.” Jody then put his hands on his stomach, stooped and, groaning softly with pain, went into the waiting room. Farragut followed, but they didn’t speak again. Farragut complained of headaches and the doctor gave him an aspirin. The doctor wore dirty clothes and had a large hole in his right sock.
Jody didn’t return and Farragut missed him painfully. He listened through all the million sounds of the prison for the squeak of basketball sneakers. It was all he wanted to hear. Soon after their parting at the infirmary he was given the ditto sheet to type announcing that His Eminence Cardinal Thaddeus Morgan would arrive at Falconer by helicopter on the twenty-seventh of May to present diplomas to the graduating class of the Fiduciary University. He would be assisted by the governor and the commissioner of correction. Mass would be celebrated. Attendance at the ceremony would be mandatory and cellblock officers would have further information.
Toledo mimeographed the ditto but he didn’t overdo it this time and there was no blizzard of paper. In the beginning the announcement had almost no impact at all. Only eight men were going to be graduated. The thought of Christ’s Advocate descending from heaven onto the gallows field seemed to excite no one. Farragut, of course, went on listening for the squeak of basketball sneakers. If Jody came to say goodbye it would probably be the night before the cardinal’s arrival. That gave Farragut a month of waiting to see his lover and then for only a moment. He had to settle for this. Jody, he guessed, was thrashing around with the chaplain’s dude, but he did not experience any real jealousy. He could not honestly guess at whether or not Jody’s plans to escape would succeed since both the cardinal’s and Jody’s plans were preposterous, although the cardinal’s plans were reported in the newspaper.
Farragut lay on his cot. He wanted Jody. The longing began in his speechless genitals, for which his brain cells acted as interpreter. The longing then moved up from his genitals to his viscera and from there to his heart, his soul, his mind, until his entire carcass was filled with longing. He waited for the squeak of basketball sneakers and then the voice, youthful, calculatedly so perhaps, but not too light, asking: Move over, Chicken. He waited for the squeak of basketball sneakers as he had waited for the sound of Jane’s heels on the cobbles in Boston, waited for the sound of the elevator that would bring Virginia up to the eleventh floor, waited for Dodie to open the rusty gate on Thrace Street, waited for Roberta to get off the C bus in some Roman piazza, waited for Lucy to install her diaphragm and appear naked in the bathroom door, waited for telephone bells, doorbells, church bells that told the time, waited for the end of the thunderstorm that was frightening Helen, waited for the bus, the boat, the train, the plane, the hydrofoil, the helicopter, the ski lift, the five o’clock whistle and the fire alarm to deliver his beloved into his arms. It seemed that he had spent an inordinate amount of his life and his energies waiting, but that waiting was not, even when no one came, an absolute frustration; it took some of its nature from the grain of the vortex.
But why did he long so for Jody when he had often thought that it was his role in life to possess the most beautiful women? Women possessed the greatest and the most rewarding mysteriousness. They were approached in darkness and sometimes, but not always, possessed in darkness. They were an essence, fortified and besieged, worth conquering and, once conquered, flowing with spoils. At his horniest he wanted to reproduce, to populate hamlets, towns, villages and cities. It seemed to be his desire to fructify that drove him to imagine fifty women quickening with his children. Women were Ali Baba’s cave, they were the light of the morning, they were waterfalls, thunderstorms, they were the immensities of the planet, and a vision of this had led him to decide on something better when he rolled naked off his last naked scoutmaster. There was a trace of reproach in his memory of their splendor, but reproach was not what he meant. Considering the sovereignty of his unruly cock, it was only a woman who could crown that redness with purpose.
There was, he thought, some sameness of degree in sexual possession and sexual jealousy; and accommodations and falsehoods were needed to equate this with the inconstancy of the flesh. He had often overlooked anything expedient in his loves. He had desired and pursued women who charmed him with their lies and enchanted him with their absolute irresponsibility. He had bought their clothes and their tickets, paid their hairdressers and their landlords and, in one case, a facial surgeon. When he bought some diamond earrings he had deliberately judged the sexual mileage he could expect from these jewels. When women had faults he often found them charming. When, while dieting rigorously and continuously talking about their diet, they are found eating a candy bar in a parking lot, one is enchanted. He did not find Jody’s faults enchanting. He did not find them.
His radiant and aching need for Jody spread out from his crotch through every part of him, visible and invisible, and he wondered if he could bring off his love for Jody in the street. Would he walk down the street with his arm around Jody’s waist, would he kiss Jody at the airport, would he hold Jody’s hand in the elevator, and if he refrained from any of this wouldn’t he be conforming to the cruel edicts of a blasphemous society? He tried to imagine Jody and himself in the world. He remembered those pensions or European boardinghouses where he and Marcia and their son sometimes spent the summer. Young men, women, and their children—if they were not young they were at least agile—set the tone. One avoided the company of the old and the infirm. Their haunts were well known
and word got around. But here and there, in this familial landscape, one saw at the end of the bar or the corner of the dining room two men or two women. They were the queers, a fact that was usually established by some conspicuous dynamism of opposites. One of the women would be docile; the other commanding. One of the men would be old; the other a boy. One was terribly polite to them, but they were never asked to crew in the sailboat races or take a picnic up the mountain. They were not even asked to the marriage of the village blacksmith. They were different. How they gratified their venereal hungers would remain, for the rest of the company, acrobatic and bizarre. They would not, as the rest of the company did, inaugurate the siesta with a good, sweaty fuck. Socially the prejudice against them was very light; at a more profound level it was absolute. That they enjoyed one another’s company, as they sometimes did, seemed astonishing and subversive. At one pension Farragut remembered, the queers seemed to be the only happy couple in the dining room. That had been a bad season for holy matrimony. The wives wept. The husbands sulked. The queers won the sailboat race, climbed the highest mountain and were asked to lunch by the reigning prince. That was an exception. Farragut—extending things out to the street—tried to imagine Jody and himself at some such pension. It was five. They were at the end of the bar. Jody was wearing a white duck suit that Farragut had bought him; but that was as far as he could go. There was no way he could wrench, twist, screw or otherwise force his imagination to continue the scene.
If love was a chain of resemblances, there was, since Jody was a man, the danger that Farragut might be in love with himself. He had seen self-love only once that he could remember in a man, someone he had worked with for a year or so. The man played a role of no consequence in his affairs and he had, perhaps to his disadvantage, only casually observed this fault, if it was a fault. “Have you ever noticed,” the man had asked, “that one of my eyes is smaller than the other?” Later the man had asked with some intensity: “Do you think I’d look better with a beard, a mustache perhaps?” Walking down a sidewalk to a restaurant, the man had asked: “Do you like your shadow? When the sun is behind me and I see my shadow I’m always disappointed. My shoulders aren’t broad enough and my hips are too wide.” Swimming together, the man asked: “Frankly now, what do you think of my biceps? I mean do you think they’re overdeveloped? I do forty push-ups every morning to keep them firm, but I wouldn’t want to look like a weight lifter.” These questions were not continuous, they were not even daily, but they came often enough to appear eccentric and had led Farragut to wonder, and then to the conviction that the man was in love with himself. He spoke about himself as some other man, in a chancy marriage, might ask for approval of his wife. Do you think she’s beautiful? Do you think she talks too much? Don’t you like her legs? Do you think she ought to cut her hair? Farragut did not think that he was in love with himself, but once, when he got off the mattress to piss, Jody had said, “Shit, man, you’re beautiful. I mean you’re practically senile and there isn’t much light in here, but you look very beautiful to me.” Bullshit, said Farragut, but in some part of the considerable wilderness that was himself, a flower seemed to bloom and he could not find the blossom and crush it with his heel. It was a whore’s line, he knew, but he seemed helplessly susceptible. It seemed that he had always known he was beautiful and had been waiting all his life to hear this said. But if in loving Jody he loved himself, there was that chance that he might, hell for leather, have become infatuated with his lost youth. Jody posed as a youth, he had the sweet breath and the sweet-smelling skin of youth, and in possessing these Farragut possessed an hour of greenness. He missed his youth, missed it as he would miss a friend, a lover, a rented house on one of the great beaches where he had been a young man. To embrace one’s self, one’s youth, might be easier than to love a fair woman whose nature was rooted in a past that he could never comprehend. In loving Mildred, for example, he had had to learn to accommodate her taste for anchovies at breakfast, scalding bath water, tardy orgasms, and lemon-yellow wallpaper, toilet paper, bed linen, lampshades, dinner plates, table linen, upholstery and cars. She had even bought him a lemonyellow jockstrap. To love oneself would be an idle, an impossible, but a delicious pursuit. How simple to love oneself!
And then there was to think upon the courting of death and death’s dark simples, that in covering Jody’s body he willingly embraced decay and corruption. To kiss a man on the throat, to gaze into a man’s eyes with passion, was as unnatural as the rites and procedures in a funeral parlor; while kissing, as he had, the tight skin of Jody’s belly, he might have been kissing the turf that would cover him.
With Jody gone—with the removal of this erotic and sentimental schedule—Farragut found his sense of time and space somewhat imperiled. He owned a watch and a calendar and his surroundings had never been so easily catalogued, but he had never faced with such deep apprehension the fact that he did not know where he was. He was at the head of a slalom trail, he was waiting for a train, he was waking after a bad drug trip in a hotel in New Mexico. “Hey, Tiny,” he would shout, “where am I?” Tiny understood. “Falconer Prison,” he would say. “You killed your brother.” “Thanks, Tiny.” So, on the strength of Tiny’s voice, the bare facts would return. In order to lessen this troubling sense of other-ness, he remembered that he had experienced this in the street as well. The sense of being simultaneously in two or three places at the same instant was something he had known beyond the walls. He remembered standing in an air-conditioned office on a sunny day while he seemed, at the same time, to be standing in a shabby farmhouse at the beginning of a blizzard. He could, standing in a highly disinfected office, catch the smell of a woodbox and catalogue his legitimate concerns about tire chains, snowplows and supplies of groceries, fuel and liquor—everything that concerns a man in a remote house at the beginning of a tempest. This was a memory, of course, seizing someplace in the present, but why should he, in an antiseptic room in midsummer, have unwillingly received such a memory? He tried to track it down on the evidence of smell. A wooden match burning in an ashtray might have provoked the memory, and he had been skeptical about his sensual responsiveness ever since he had, while watching the approach of a thunderstorm, been disconcerted by a wet and implacable erection. But if he could explain this duality by the smoke of a burning match, he could not explain that the vividness of his farmhouse memory deeply challenged the reality of the office where he stood. To weaken and dispel the unwanted memory, he forced his mind beyond the office, which was indeed artificial, to the incontestable fact that it was the nineteenth of July, the temperature outside was ninety-two, the time was three eighteen and he had eaten for lunch scallops or cod cheeks with sweet tartar sauce, sour fried potatoes, salad, half a roll with butter, ice cream and coffee. Armed with these indisputable details, he seemed to scourge the farmhouse memory as one opens doors and windows to get the smoke out of a room. He was successful at establishing the reality of the office and while he was not truly uneasy about the experience, it had very definitely raised a question for which he had no information at all.
With the exception of organized religion and triumphant fucking, Farragut considered transcendent experience to be perilous rubbish. One saved one’s ardor for people and objects that could be used. The flora and fauna of the rain forest were incomprehensible, but one could comprehend the path that led to one’s destination. However, at Falconer the walls and the bars had sometimes seemed to threaten to vanish, leaving him with a nothingness that would be worse. He was, for example, waked early one morning by the noise of the toilet and found himself among the receding fragments of some dream. He was not sure of the depth of the dream—of its profundity—but he had never (nor had his psychiatrists) been able to clearly define the moraines of consciousness that compose the shores of waking. In the dream he saw the face of a beautiful woman he enjoyed but had never much loved. He also saw or felt the presence of one of the great beaches on a sea island. A nursery rhyme or jingle was being sung. He pursued these receding fragments as if his life, his self-esteem, depended upon his bringing them together into a coherent and useful memory. They fled, they fled purposefully like the carrier in a football game, and one by one he saw the woman and the presence of the sea disappear and heard the music of the jingle fade away. He checked his watch. It was three-ten. The commotion in the toilet subsided. He fell asleep.
Days, weeks, months or whatever later, he waked from the same dream of the woman, the beach and the song, pursued them with the same intensity that he had in the beginning, and one by one lost them while the music faded. Imperfectly remembered dreams—if they were pursued—were a commonplace, but the dispersal of this dream was unusually deep and vivid. He asked himself, from his psychiatric experience, if the dream was in color. It had been, but not brilliantly. The sea had been dark and the woman wore no lipstick, but the memory was not limited to black and white. He missed the dream. He was genuinely irritated at the fact that he had lost it. It was, of course, worthless, but it seemed like a talisman. He checked his watch and saw that it was three-ten. The toilet was still. He went back to sleep.
This happened again and again and perhaps again. The time was not always precisely three-ten, but it was always between three and four in the morning. He was always left irritable at the fact that his memory could, quite independently of anything he knew about himself, manipulate its resources in controlled and repeated designs. His memory enjoyed free will, and his irritability was increased by his realization that his memory was as unruly as his genitals. Then one morning, jogging from the mess to shop along the dark tunnel, he heard the music and saw the woman and the sea. He stopped so abruptly that several men banged into him, scattering the dream galley-west. That was that for the morning. But the dream was to reappear again and again in different places around the prison. Then one evening in his cell, as he was reading Descartes, he heard the music and waited for the woman and the sea. The cellblock was quiet. The circumstances for concentration were perfect. He reasoned that if he could pin down a line or two of the jingle, he would be able to reassemble the rest of the reverie. The words and the music were receding, but he was able to keep abreast of their retreat. He grabbed a pencil and a scrap of paper and was about to write down the lines he had captured when he realized that he did not know who or where he was, that the uses of the toilet he faced were completely mysterious, and that he could not understand a word of the book he held in his hands. He did not know himself. He did not know his own language. He abruptly stopped his pursuit of the woman and the music and was relieved to have them disappear. They took with them the absolute experience of alienation, leaving him with a light nausea. He was more shaken than wounded. He picked up the book and found that he could read. The toilet was for waste. The prison was called Falconer. He was convicted of murder. One by one he gathered up the details of the moment. They were not particularly sweet, but they were useful and durable. He did not know what would have happened had he copied down the words of the song. Neither death nor madness seemed involved, but he did not feel committed to discover what would happen if he pieced the reverie together. The reverie returned to him again and again, but he shrugged it off vigorously since it had nothing to do with the path he took or his destination.
“Knock, knock,” said the Cuckold. It was late, but Tiny hadn’t called lockup. Chicken Number Two and the Mad Dog Killer were playing rummy. Television was shit. The Cuckold came into Farragut’s cell and sat in the chair. Farragut disliked him. His round pink face and his thin hair had not been changed at all by prison. The brilliant pinkness of the Cuckold, his protuberant vulnerability—produced, it seemed, by alcohol and sexual embarrassment—had not lost its striking hue. “You miss Jody?” he asked. Farragut said nothing. “You score with Jody?” Farragut said nothing. “Hell, man, I know you do,” said the Cuckold, “but I don’t hold it against you. He was beautiful, he was just beautiful. Do you mind if I talk?”
“I’ve got a cab downstairs, waiting to take me to the airport,” said Farragut. Then he said, sincerely, “No, no, no, I don’t mind if you talk, I don’t mind at all.”
“I scored with a man,” said the Cuckold. “That was after I had left my wife. That time I found her screwing this kid on the floor of the front hall. My thing with this man began in a Chinese restaurant. In those days I was the kind of lonely man you see eating in Chinese restaurants. You know? Anywhere in this country and in some parts of Europe where I’ve been. The Chung Fu Dynasty. The One Hung Low. Paper lanterns with teakwood frames all over the place. Sometimes they keep the Christmas lights up all year round. Paper flowers, many paper flowers. Large family groups. Also oddballs. Fat women. Square pegs. Jews. Sometimes lovers and always this lonely man. Me. We never eat the Chinese food, we lonely men. We always have the London broil or the Boston baked beans in
Chinese restaurants. We’re international. Anyhow, I’m a lonely man eating the London broil in a Chinese restaurant on the strip outside Kansas City. Any place that used to have a local option has a place outside the town limits where you used to have to go for liquor, cunt, a motel bed for a couple of hours.
“The place, this Chinese restaurant, is about half full. At a table is this young man. That’s about it. He’s good-looking, but that’s because he’s young. He’ll look like the rest of the world in ten years. But he keeps looking at me and smiling. I honestly don’t know what he’s after. So then when I get my pineapple chunks, each one with a toothpick, and my fortune cookie, he comes over to my table and asks me what my fortune is. So I tell him I can’t read my fortune without my glasses and I don’t have my glasses and so he takes this scrap of paper and he reads or pretends to read that my fortune is I am going to have a beautiful adventure within the next hour. So I ask him what his fortune is and he says it’s the same thing. He goes on smiling. He speaks real nicely but you could tell he was poor. You could tell that speaking nicely was something he learned. So when I go out he goes out with me. He asks where I’m staying at and I say I’m staying at this motel which is attached to the restaurant. Then he asks if I have anything to drink in my room and I say yes, would he like a drink, and he says he’d love a drink and he puts his arm around my shoulder, very buddy-buddy, and we go to my room. So then he says can he make the drinks and I say sure and I tell him where the whiskey and the ice is and he makes some nice drinks and sits beside me and begins to kiss me on the face. Now, the idea of men kissing one another doesn’t go down with me at all, although it gave me no pain. I mean a man kissing a woman is a plus and minus situation, but a man kissing a man except maybe in France is a very worthless two of a kind. I mean if someone took a picture of this fellow kissing me it would be for me a very strange and unnatural picture, but why should my cock have begun to put on weight if it was all so strange and unnatural? So then I thought what could be more strange and unnatural than a man eating baked beans alone in a Chinese restaurant in the Middle West— this was something I didn’t invent—and when he felt for my cock, nicely and gently, and went on kissing me, my cock put on its maximum weight and began pouring out juice and when I felt of him he was halfway there.
“So then he made some more drinks and asked me why I didn’t take off my clothes and I said what about him and he dropped his pants displaying a very beautiful cock and I took off my clothes and we sat bare-ass on the sofa drinking our drinks. He made a lot of drinks. Now and then he would take my cock in his mouth and this was the first time in my life that I ever had a mouth around my cock. I thought this would look like hell in a newsreel or on the front page of the newspaper, but evidently my cock hadn’t ever seen a newspaper because it was going crazy. So then he suggested that we get into bed and we did and the next thing I knew the telephone was ringing and it was morning.
“It was all dark. I was alone. I had a terrible headache. I picked up the telephone and a voice said, ‘The time is now seven-thirty.’ Then I felt around in bed to see if there was any evidence of a come but there wasn’t. Then I went to the closet and looked at my wallet and all the money—about fifty dollars—was gone. Nothing else, none of my credit cards. So the hustler had teased me, given me a Mickey Finn and taken off with my money. I lost fifty dollars but I guessed I’d learned something. So while I was shaving the phone rang. It was the hustler. You’d think I’d be angry with him, wouldn’t you, but I was all sweetness and friendliness. First he said he was sorry that he made my drinks so strong I had passed out. Then he said I shouldn’t have given him all that money, that he wasn’t worth it. Then he said he was sorry, that he wanted to give me a marvelous time for free, and when could we meet. So I knew he had teased me and stoned me and robbed me, but I wanted him badly and I said I would be in at about half-past five and why didn’t he come around then.
“I had four calls to make that day and I made them and I made three sales, which was good for that territory. I was feeling all right when I got back to the motel and I had some drinks and he came in at half-past five and I mixed his drinks this time. He laughed when I did this but I didn’t say anything about the Mickey. Then he took off his clothes and folded them neatly on a chair and he took off my clothes with some assistance from me and kissed me all over. Then he got a look at himself in the big mirror on the bathroom door and this was the first time I ever saw a man who was narcissistic, what they call. One look at himself naked in the mirror and he couldn’t get away. He couldn’t get enough of it. He couldn’t tear himself away. So then I figured out my options. I had cashed a check and I had about sixty dollars in my wallet. I had to hide this. While he was loving himself I was worried about money. Then when I saw how deep he was, how really absorbed he was in the way he looked, I picked my clothes up off the floor and hung them in the closet. He didn’t notice me, he didn’t see anything but himself. So there he was, fondling his balls in the mirror, and there I was in the closet. I took the cash out of my wallet and stuffed it into the toe of my shoe. So then he finally separated from himself in the looking glass and joined me on the sofa and loved me up and when I came I nearly blew my eyeballs out. So then we got dressed and went out to the Chinese restaurant.
“When I got dressed I had some trouble getting into my shoe with the sixty dollars in the toe. I had credit cards to pay for dinner. When we walked to the restaurant he said why are you limping and I said I wasn’t limping, but I guessed he knew where the money was. They took Carte Blanche at the restaurant and so I wasn’t a lonely man in a Chinese restaurant anymore, I was an old queer with a young queer in a Chinese restaurant. I’ve been looking down my nose at couples like this all my life, but I’ve felt worse. We had this very big, very good dinner and so then I paid the check with my Carte Blanche and he said didn’t I have any cash and I said no, I’d given it all to him, hadn’t I, and he laughed and we went back to my room although I was very careful not to limp and wondered what I would do with the sixty dollars because I wasn’t going to pay him that much. So then I hid my shoe in a dark corner and we got into bed and he loved me up again and then we talked and I asked him who he was and he told me.
“He said his name was Giuseppe or Joe but he changed it to Michael. His father was Italian. His mother was white. His father had a dairy farm in Maine. He went to school but he worked for his father in his time off and he was about nine when the chief at the dairy farm started to blow him. He liked it and it got to be a daily thing until the dairy chief asked him if he would take it up the ass. He was eleven or twelve then. It took four or five tries before he got it all the way in but when it worked it felt wonderful and they did this all the time. But it was a very hard life going to school and working on the farm and never seeing anybody but the dairy chief so then he began to hustle, first in the nearest town and then the nearest city and then all the way across the country and around the world. He said that that’s what he was, a hustler, and that I shouldn’t feel sorry for him or wonder what would become of him.
“All the time he was talking I listened very carefully to him, expecting him to sound like a fairy, but he never did, not that I could hear. I have this very strong prejudice against fairies. I’ve always thought they were silly and feeble-minded, but he talked like anybody else. I was really very interested in what he had to say because he seemed to me very gentle and affectionate and even very pure. Lying in bed with me that night he seemed to me about the purest person I have ever known because he didn’t have any conscience at all, I guess I mean he didn’t have any prefabricated conscience. He just moved through it all like a swimmer through pure water. So then he said he was sleepy and tired and I said I was sleepy and tired and he said he was sorry he robbed me of the money but he hoped he’d made it up to me and I said he had and then he said that he knew I had some cash in my shoe but that he wasn’t going to steal it and that I shouldn’t worry and so we fell asleep. It was a nice sleep and when we woke in the morning I made some coffee and we joked and shaved and dressed and there was all the money in my shoe and I said I was late and he said he was late too and I said late for what and he said he had a client waiting in room 273 and then he asked did I mind and I said no, I guessed I didn’t mind, and then he said could we meet at around half-past five and I said sure.
“So he went his way and I went mine and I made five sales that day and I thought that he wasn’t only pure, he was lucky, and I felt very happy coming back to the motel and I took a shower and had a couple of drinks. There was no sign of him at half-past five and no sign of him at half-past six or seven and I guessed he’d found a customer who didn’t keep his money in his shoe and I missed him, but then sometime after seven the phone rang and I slid a base to get it, thinking it was Michael, but it was the police. They asked if I knew him and I said sure I knew him, because I did. So then they asked could I come down to the county courthouse and I asked what for and they said they’d tell me when I got there so I said I would be there. I asked the man in the lobby how to get to the county courthouse and he told me and then I drove there. I thought perhaps he’d been picked up on some charge like vagrancy and needed bail and I was willing, I was willing and eager to bail him out. So when I spoke to the lieutenant who called me he was nice enough but also sad and he said how well did I know Michael and I said I’d met him at the Chinese restaurant and had some drinks with him. He said they weren’t charging me with anything but did I know him well enough to identify him and I said of course, thinking that he might be in some line-up although I had already begun to sense that it would be something more serious and grave, as it was. I followed him down some stairs and I could tell by the stink where we were going and there were all these big drawers like a walk-in filing cabinet and he pulled one out and there was Michael, very dead, of course. The lieutenant said they got him with a knife in the back, twenty-two times, and the cop, the lieutenant, said he was very big in drugs, very active, and I guess somebody really hated him. They must have gone on knifing him long after he was dead. So then the lieutenant and I shook hands and I think he gave me a searching look to see if I was an addict or a queer and then he gave me a broad smile of relief which meant that he didn’t think I was either although I could have made this all up. I went back to the motel and had about seventeen more drinks and cried myself to sleep.”
It was not that night but sometime later that the Cuckold told Farragut about the Valley. The Valley was a long room off the tunnel to the left of the mess hall. Along one wall was a cast-iron trough of a urinal. The light in the room was very dim. The wall above the urinal was white tiling with a very limited power of reflection. You could make out the height and the complexion of the men on your left and your right and that was about all. The Valley was where you went after chow to fuck yourself. Almost no one but killjoys strayed into the dungeon for a simple piss. There were ground rules. You could touch the other man’s hips and shoulders, but nothing else. The trough accommodated twenty men and twenty men stood there, soft, hard or halfway in either direction, fucking themselves. If you
finished and wanted to come again you went to the end of the line. There were the usual jokes. How many times, Charlie? Five coming up, but my feet are getting sore.
Considering the fact that the cock is the most critical link in our chain of survival, the variety of shapes, colors, sizes, characteristics, dispositions and responses found in this rudimentary tool are much greater than those shown by any other organ of the body. They were black, white, red, yellow, lavender, brown, warty, wrinkled, comely and silken, and they seemed, like any crowd of men on a street at closing time, to represent youth, age, victory, disaster, laughter and tears. There were the frenzied and compulsive pumpers, the long-timers who caressed themselves for half an hour, there were the groaners and the ones who sighed, and most of the men, when their trigger was pulled and the fusillade began, would shake, buck, catch their breath and make weeping sounds, sounds of grief, of joy, and sometimes death rattles. There was some rightness in having the images of the lovers around them opaque. They were universal, they were phantoms, and any skin sores, or signs of cruelty, ugliness, stupidity or beauty, could not be seen. Farragut went here regularly after Jody was gone.
When Farragut arced or pumped his rocks into the trough he endured no true sadness—mostly some slight disenchantment at having spilled his energy onto iron. Walking away from the trough, he felt that he had missed the train, the plane, the boat. He had missed it. He experienced some marked physical relief or improvement: the shots cleared his brain. Shame and remorse had nothing to do with what he felt, walking away from the trough. What he felt, what he saw, was the utter poverty of erotic reasonableness. That was how he missed the target and the target was the mysteriousness of the bonded spirit and the flesh. He knew it well. Fitness and beauty had a rim. Fitness and beauty had a dimension, had a floor, even as the oceans have a floor, and he had committed a trespass. It was not unforgivable—a venal trespass—but he was reproached by the majesty of the realm. It was majestic; even in prison he knew the world to be majestic. He had taken a pebble out of his shoe in the middle of mass. He remembered the panic he had experienced as a boy when he found his trousers, his hands and his shirttails soaked with crystallizing gism. He had learned from the Boy Scout Handbook that his prick would grow as long and thin as a shoelace, and that the juice that had poured out of his crack was the cream of his brain power. This miserable wetness proved that he would fail his College Board exams and have to attend a broken-down agricultural college somewhere in the Middle West…
As the day of the cardinal’s arrival approached, even the lifers said they had never seen such excitement. Farragut was kept busy cutting dittos for order sheets, instructions and commands. Some of the orders seemed insane. For example: “It is mandatory that all units of inmates marching to and from the parade grounds will sing God Bless America.” Common sense killed this one. No one obeyed the order and no one tried to enforce it. Every day for ten days the entire population was marshaled out onto the gallows field, the ball park, and what had now become the parade grounds. They were made to practice standing at attention, even in the pouring rain. They remained excited, and there was a large element of seriousness in the excitement. When Chicken Number Two did a little hornpipe and sang: “Tomorrow’s the day they give cardinals away with a half a pound of cheese,” no one laughed, no one at all. Chicken Number Two was an asshole. On the day before his arrival, every man took a shower. The hot water ran out at around eleven in the morning and cellblock F didn’t get into the showers until after chow. Farragut was back in his cell, shining his shoes, when Jody returned.
He heard the hooting and whistling and looked up to see Jody walking toward his cell. Jody had put on weight. He looked well. He walked toward Farragut with his nice, bouncy jock walk.Farragut much preferred this to the sinuous hustle Jody put on when he was hot and his pelvis seemed to grin like a pumpkin. The sinuous hustle had reminded Farragut of vines, and vines, he knew, had to be cultivated or they could harass and destroy stone towers, castles and cathedrals. Vines could pull down a basilica. Jody came into his cell and kissed him on the mouth. Only Chicken Number Two whistled. “Goodbye, sweetheart,” he said. “Goodbye,” said Farragut. His feelings were chaotic and he might have cried, but he might have cried at the death of a cat, a broken shoelace, a wild pitch. He could kiss Jody passionately, but not tenderly. Jody turned and walked away. Farragut had done nothing with Jody so exciting as to say goodbye. Among the beaches and graves and other matters he had unearthed in seeking the meaning of his friendship, he had completely overlooked the conspiratorial thrill of seeing his beloved escape.
Tiny called the lockup for eight and made the usual jokes about beauty sleep and meat-beating. He said, of course, that he wanted his men to look beautiful for the cardinal. He pulled the light switch at nine. The only light was the television. Farragut went to bed and to sleep. The roar of the toilet woke him and then he heard thunder. At first the noise pleased and excited him. The random explosions of thunder seemed to explain that heaven was not an infinity but a solid construction of domes, rotundas and arches. Then he remembered that the flier had said that in case of rain the ceremony would be canceled. The thought of a thunderstorm inaugurating a rainy day deeply disturbed him. Naked, he went to the window. This naked man was worried. If it rained there would be no escape, no cardinal, no nothing. Have pity upon him, then; try to understand his fears. He was lonely. His love, his world, his everything, was gone. He wanted to see a cardinal in a helicopter. Thunderstorms, he thought hopefully, could bring in anything. They could bring in a cold front, a hot front, a day when the clearness of the light would seem to carry one from hour to hour. Then the rain began. It poured into the prison and that part of the world. But it lasted only ten minutes. Then the rain, the storm, swept mercifully off to the north and just as swiftly and just as briefly that rank and vigorous odor that is detonated by the rain flew up to and above where Farragut stood at his barred window. He had, with his long, long nose, responded to this cutting fragrance wherever he had been—shouting, throwing out his arms, pouring a drink. Now there was a trace, a memory, of this primitive excitement, but it had been cruelly eclipsed by the bars. He got back into bed and fell asleep, listening to the rain dripping from the gun towers.
Farragut got what he had bargained for: a day of incomparable beauty. Had he been a free man, he would have claimed to be able to walk on the light. It was a holiday; it was the day of the big Rugby game; it was the circus; it was the fourth of July; it was the regatta; and it dawned as it should, clear and cool and beautiful. They had two pieces of bacon for breakfast, through the bounty of the diocese. Farragut went down the tunnel to the methadone line and even this rat tail of humanity seemed to be jumping with high spirits. At eight they stood by their cell doors, shaved, wearing their white shirts and some of them with ointment in their hair, you could tell by the clash of perfumes that floated up and down the cellblock. Tiny inspected them and then there was, as there is for any holiday or ceremony, time to kill.
There was a cartoon show on television. They could hear whistles blowing on other cellblocks and guards with military backgrounds trying to shout their men into sharp formations. It was only a little after eight then and the cardinal wasn’t expected until noon, but men were already being marched out onto the gallows field. The walls checked the force of the late spring sun, but it would hit the field by noon. Chicken and the Cuckold shot dice. Farragut killed the time easily at the top of his methadone high. Time was new bread, time was a sympathetic element, time was water you swam in, time moved through the cellblock with the grace of light. Farragut tried to read. He sat on the edge of his bunk. He was a man of forty-eight, sitting on the edge of his bunk in a prison to which he had been
unjustly confined for the murder of his brother. He was a man in a white shirt sitting on the edge of a bunk. Tiny blew his whistle and they stood at attention in front of their cells again. They did this four times. At half-past ten they were lined up two by two and marched down the tunnel, where they formed up in a pie-shaped area marked “F” with lime.
The light had begun to come into the field. Oh, it was a great day. Farragut thought about Jody and wondered if he didn’t bring it off would he get cell lock or the hole or maybe seven more years for attempted escape. So far as he knew, he and the chaplain’s dude were the only ones in on the plot. Then Tiny called them to attention. “Now, I got to have your cooperation,” Tiny said. “It ain’t easy for any of us to have two thousand shit-heads out here together. The tower guards today is been replaced with crack shots and, as you know, they got the right to shoot any inmate they got suspicions about. We got crack shots today so they won’t be no spray firing. The leader of the Black Panthers has agreed not to give the salute. When the cardinal comes you stand at parade rest. Any of you ain’t been in the service, ask some friend what parade rest is. It’s like this. Twenty-five men has been picked to take the Holy Eucharist. The cardinal’s got lots of appointments and he’s going to be here only twenty minutes. First we hear from the warden and then the commissioner, who’s coming down from Albany. After this he gives out the diplomas, celebrates mass, blesses the rest of you assholes and takes off. I guess you can sit down if you want. You can sit down, but when you get the order for attention I want you all straight and neat and clean with your heads up. I want to be proud of you. If you have to piss, piss, but don’t piss where anybody’s going to be sitting.” Cheers for Tiny and then most of them pissed. There was, Farragut thought, some universality to a full bladder. For this length of time they perfectly understood one another. Then they sat down.
Somebody was testing the public address system: “Testing, one, two, three. Testing, one, two, three.” The voice was loud and scratchy. Time passed. God’s advocate was punctual. At a quarter to twelve they got the command for attention. They shaped up nicely. The sound of the chopper could be heard then, bounding off the hills, loud at low altitudes, faintly, faintly in the deep river valley; soft and loud, hills and valleys, the noise evoked the contour of the terrain beyond the walls. The chopper, when it came into view, had no more grace than an airborne washing machine, but this didn’t matter at all. It lofted gently onto the target and out the door came three acolytes, a monsignor in black, and the cardinal himself, a man either graced by God with great dignity and beauty or singled out by the diocese for these distinctions. He raised his hand. His ring flashed with spiritual and political power. “I seen better rings on hustlers,” Chicken Number Two whispered. “No fence would give you thirty. The last time I hit a jewelry store I fenced the lot for—” Looks shut him up. Everybody turned and put him down.
The crimson of the cardinal’s robes seemed living and pure and his carriage was admirable and would have quelled a riot. He stepped out of the helicopter, lifting his robes not at all like a woman leaving a taxi but like a cardinal leaving his airborne transport. He made a sign of the cross as high and wide as his reach and the great spell of worship fell over that place. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Farragut would have liked to pray for the happiness of his son, his wife, the safety of his lover, the soul of his dead brother, would have liked to pray for some enlargement of his wisdom, but the only word he could root out of these massive intentions was his Amen. Amen, said a thousand others, and the word, from so many throats, came up from the gallows field as a solemn whisper.
Then the public address system began to work so well that the confusion that followed could be heard by everyone. “Now you go first,” said the commissioner to the warden. “No, you go,” said the warden to the commissioner. “It says here that you go.” “I said you go,” said the commissioner angrily to the warden, and the warden stepped forward, knelt, kissed the cardinal’s ring and, standing, said: “The graciousness of Your Eminence in endangering life and limb in order to come and visit us in the Falconer Rehabilitation Center is greatly appreciated by me and the deputy wardens, the guards and all the inmates. It reminds me of how when I was a little boy and sleepy my father carried me from the car into the house at the end of a long trip. I was a load to carry, but I knew how kind he was being to me, and that’s the way I feel today.”
There was applause—exactly the noise of water striking stone—but unlike the indecipherable noise of water, its intent was clearly grateful and polite. Farragut remembered applause most vividly when he had heard it outside the theater, hall or church where it sounded. He had heard it most clearly as a bystander waiting in a parking lot on a summer night, waiting for the show to break. It had always astonished and deeply moved him to realize that so diverse and warlike a people could have agreed on this signal of enthusiasm and assent. The warden passed the public address system to the commissioner. The commissioner had gray hair, wore a gray suit and a gray tie, and reminded Farragut of the grayness and angularity of office filing cabinets in the far, far away. “Your Eminence,” he said, reading his speech from a paper and evidently for the first time. “Ladies and gentlemen.” He frowned, raised his face and his heavy eyebrows at this error of his speech writer. “Gentlemen!” he exclaimed. “I want to express my gratitude and the gratitude of the governor to the cardinal, who for the first time in the history of this diocese and perhaps in the whole history of mankind has visited a rehabilitation center in a helicopter. The governor sends his sincere regrets at not being able to express his gratitude in person, but he is, as you must all know, touring the flood-disaster areas in the northwestern part of the state. We hear these days”—he picked up a head of steam—“a great deal about prison reform. Best sellers are written about prison reform. Professional so-called penologists travel from coast to coast, speaking on prison reform. But where does prison reform begin? In bookstores? In lecture halls? No. Prison reform, like all sincere endeavors at reform, begins at home, and where is home? Home is prison! We have come here today to commemorate a bold step made possible by the Fiduciary University of Banking, the archdiocese, the Department of Correction and above all the prisoners themselves. All four of us together have accomplished what we might compare—compare only, of course—to a miracle. These eight humble men have passed with honors a most difficult test that many well-known captains of industry have failed. Now, I know that you all have, unwillingly, sacrificed your right to vote upon coming here—a sacrifice that the governor intends to change—and should you, at some later date, find his name on a ballot I’m sure you will remember today.” He shot his cuff to check the time. “As I present these coveted diplomas, please refrain from applause until the presentation is completed. Frank Masullo, Herman Meany, Mike Thomas, Henry Phillips…” When the last of the diplomas had been presented, he lowered his voice in a truly moving shift from secular to spiritual matters and said, “His Eminence will now celebrate mass.” At exactly that moment Jody came out of the boiler room behind the bench, genuflected deeply at the cardinal’s back and took his place at the right of the altar, the consummate figure of a tardy acolyte who has just taken a piss.
Adiutorium nostrum in Nomine Domini. The raptness of prayer enthralled Farragut as the raptness of love. Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus et dismissis pecatis tuis. Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus et dismissis pecatis vestris perducat vos ad vitam aeternam. Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem pecatorum nostrorum tribuat nobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus. Deus tu conversus vivificabis nos. Ostende nobis, Domine misericordiam tuam. On it drummed to the Benedicat and the last Amen. Then he performed another large cross and returned to the helicopter, followed by his retinue, including Jody.
The props kicked up a cloud of dust and the engine ascended. Someone put a recording of cathedral bells on the public address system and up they went to this glorious clamor. Oh, glory, glory, glory! The exaltation of the bells conquered the scratching of the needle and a slight warp in the record. The sound of the chopper and the bells filled heaven and earth. They all cheered and cheered and cheered and some of them cried. The sound of the bells stopped, but the chopper went on playing its geodetic survey of the surrounding terrain—the shining, lost and beloved world.
The cardinal’s helicopter landed at La Guardia, where two large cars were waiting. Jody had seen cars like this in the movies and nowhere else. His Eminence and the monsignor took one. The acolytes filled the second. Jody’s excitement was violent. He was shaking. He tried to narrow his thinking down to two points. He would get drunk. He would get laid. He held to these two points with some success, but his palms were sweaty, his ribs were running with sweat and sweat ran down his brows into his eyes. He held his hands together to conceal their shaking. He was afraid that when the car reached its destination he would be unable to walk as a free man. He had forgotten how. He imagined that the paving would fly up and strike him between the eyes. He then convinced himself that he
was playing a part in a miracle, that there was some congruence between his escape and the will of God. Play it by ear. “Where are we going?” he asked one of the others. “To the cathedral, I guess,” he said. “That’s where we left our clothes. Where did you come from?” “Saint Anselm’s,” said Jody. “I mean how did you get to the prison?” “I went out early,” Jody said. “I went out on the train.”
The city out of the car windows looked much wilder and stranger than beautiful. He imagined the length of time it would take—he saw time as a length of road, something measured by surveyors’ instruments—before he could move unself-consciously. When the car stopped he opened the door. The cardinal was going up the steps of the cathedral and two of the people on the sidewalk knelt. Jody stepped out of the car. There was no strength at all in his legs. Freedom hit him like a gale wind. He fell to his knees and broke the fall with his hands. “Shit, man, you drunk?” the next acolyte asked. “Fortified wine,” said Jody. “That wine was fortified.” Then his strength returned, all of it, and he got to his feet and followed the others into the cathedral and to a vestry much like any other. He took off his robe and while the other men put on ties and jackets he tried to invest his white shirt, his issue fatigues and his basketball sneakers with respectability. He did this by bracing his shoulders. He saw himself in a long glass and he saw that he looked emphatically like an escaped convict. There was nothing about him—his haircut, his pallor, his dancy step—that a halfblind drunk wouldn’t have put down as a prison freak. “His Eminence would like to speak to you,” the monsignor said. “Please follow me.”
A door was opened and he went into a room a little like the priest’s front parlor at home. The cardinal stood there, now in a dark suit, and held out his right hand. Jody knelt and kissed the ring. “Where are you from?” the cardinal asked. “Saint Anselm’s, Your Eminence,” said Jody. “There is no Saint Anselm’s in the diocese,” said the cardinal, “but I know where you’re from. I don’t know why I asked. Time must play an important part in your plans. I expect you have about fifteen minutes. It is exciting, isn’t it? Let’s get out of here.” They left the parlor and the cathedral. On the sidewalk a woman knelt and the cardinal gave her his ring to kiss. She was, Jody saw, an actress he had seen on television. Another woman knelt and kissed his ring before they reached the end of the block. They crossed the street and a third woman knelt and kissed his ring. For her he wearily made a sign of the cross; and then they went into a store. The acknowledgment of their arrival was a matter of seconds. Someone of authority approached them and asked if the cardinal wanted a private room. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I’ll leave it up to you. This young man and I have an important appointment in fifteen minutes. He is not wearing the right clothes.” “We can manage,” the authority said. Jody was measured with a tape. “You’re built like a tailor’s dummy,” said the man. This went to Jody’s head, but he definitely felt that vanity was out of place in the miracle. Twenty minutes later he walked up Madison Avenue. His walk was springy—the walk of a man going to first on balls, which can, under some circumstances, seem to be a miracle.
It was an August day; a dog day. Rome and Paris would be empty of everyone but tourists, and even the Pope would be taking it easy in Gandolfo. After the methadone line, Farragut went out to cut the big lawn between the education building and cellblock A. He got the mower and the gas tank out of the garage and joked with the Mad Dog Killer. He started the motor with a rope pull, which brought on memories of outboard motors on mountain lakes in the long ago. That was the summer when he had learned to waterski, not at the stern of an outboard, but at the stern of a racer called a Gar-Wood. He had Christianiaed over the high starboard wake—bang—onto a riffled and corrugated stretch of water and then into the dropped curtain of a rain squall. “I have my memories,” he said to the lawn mower. “You can’t take my memories away from me.” One night he and a man named Tony and two girls and a bottle of Scotch raced eight miles down the lake at full throttle—you couldn’t have heard thunder—to the excursion boat pier, where there was a big clock face under a sign that said: THE NEXT EXCURSION TO THE NARROWS WILL BE AT…They had come to steal the big clock face. It would look great in somebody’s bedroom along with the YIELD sign and the DEER CROSSING treasure. Tony was at the helm and Farragut was the appointed thief. He vaulted the gunwale and began to pull at the clock face, but it was securely nailed to the pier. Tony passed Farragut a wrench from the toolbox and he smashed the supports with this, but the noise woke some old watchman, who limped after him while he carried the clock face to the Gar-Wood. “Oh, stop,” the old man shouted in his old man’s voice. “Stop, stop, stop. Why do you have to do this? Why do you have to destroy everything? Why do you have to make life hard for old men like me? What good is it, what good is it to anybody? What are you doing except to disappoint people and make people angry and cost people money? Stop, stop, stop. Just bring it back and I won’t say nothing. Stop, stop….” The noise of the motor, when they escaped, overwhelmed the old man’s voice, but Farragut would hear it, more resonant than the Scotch and the girl, for the rest of that night and, he guessed, for the rest of his life. He had described this to the three psychiatrists he had employed. “You see, Dr. Gaspoden, when I heard the old man shouting ‘Stop, stop,’ I understood my father for the first time in my life. When I heard this old man shouting ‘Stop, stop,’ I heard my father, I knew how my father felt when I borrowed his tails and went in to lead the cotillion. The voice of this old stranger on a summer night made my father clear to me for the first time in my life.” He said all this to the lawn mower.
The day was shit. The air was so heavy that he would put visibility at about two hundred yards. Could it be exploited for an escape? He didn’t think so. The thought of escape reminded him of Jody, a remembrance that had remained very light-hearted since he and Jody had passionately kissed goodbye. The administration and perhaps the archdiocese had finessed Jody’s departure and he was not even a figure in prison mythology. DiMatteo, the chaplain’s dude, had given Farragut the facts. They had met in the tunnel on a dark night when Farragut was leaving the Valley. It was no more than six weeks after Jody’s flight. DiMatteo showed him a newspaper photograph of Jody that had been sent to him in the mail. It was Jody on his wedding day—Jody at his most beautiful and triumphant. His stunning brightness shone through the letterpress of some small-town newspaper. His bride was a demure and pretty young Oriental and the caption said that H. Keith Morgan had that day married Sally Chou Lai, the youngest daughter of Ling Chou Lai, president of the Viaduct Wire Factory, where the groom was employed. There was nothing more and Farragut wanted nothing more. He laughed loudly, but not DiMatteo, who said angrily, “He promised to wait for me. I saved his life and he promised to wait for me. He loved me—oh, God, how he loved me. He gave me his golden cross.” DiMatteo lifted the cross out of the curls on his chest and showed it to Farragut. Farragut’s knowledge of the cross was intimate—it may have borne his tooth marks—and his memories of his lover were vivid, but not at all sad. “He must have married her for her money,” said DiMatteo. “She must be rich. He promised to wait for me.”
John Cheever (1912-1982) was an American short story writer and novelist. His compilation of stories, The Stories of John Cheever, a bookshelf staple, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle award. While mostly known for writing about America’s upper middle class, in 1977 he published what many hail as his masterpiece, Falconer, a novel based on his time teaching writing courses at Sing Sing prison.