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The Sunlight Dialogues

The Sunlight Dialogues

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The Sunlight Dialogues

4.5/5 (3 valutazioni)
1,018 pagine
27 ore
Sep 21, 2010



John Gardner’s sweeping portrait of the collision of opposing philosophical perspectives in 1960s America, centering on the appearance of a mysterious stranger in a small upstate New York town One summer day, a countercultural drifter known only as the Sunlight Man appears in Batavia, New York. Jailed for painting the word “LOVE” across two lanes of traffic, the Sunlight Man encounters Fred Clumly, a sixty-four-year-old town sheriff. Throughout the course of this impressive narrative, the dialogue between these two men becomes a microcosm of the social unrest that epitomized America during this significant historical period—and culminates in an unforgettable ending.  Beautifully expansive and imbued with exceptional social insight, The Sunlight Dialogues is John Gardner’s most ambitious work andestablished him as one of the most important fiction writers in post–World War II America.   This ebook features a new illustrated biography of John Gardner, including original letters, rare photos, and never-before-seen documents from the Gardner family and the University of Rochester Archives.


Sep 21, 2010

Informazioni sull'autore

John Gardner (1933–1982) was born in Batavia, New York. His critically acclaimed books include the novels Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues, and October Light, for which he received the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as several works of nonfiction and criticism such as On Becoming a Novelist. He was also a professor of medieval literature and a pioneering creative writing teacher whose students included Raymond Carver and Charles Johnson.

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Anteprima del libro

The Sunlight Dialogues - John Gardner

The Sunlight Dialogues

John Gardner

To Edmund Epstein


List of Characters



The Watchdog


When the Exorcist Shall Go to the House of the Patient …


Lion Emerging from Cage




Hunting Wild Asses




The Dialogue on Wood and Stone


The Kleppmann File


Like a robber, I shall proceed according to my will.


Poetry and Life


The Dialogue of Houses


A Mother’s Love


Nah ist—und schwer zu fassen der Gott


The Wilderness


The Dialogue of the Dead


Love and Duty


Benson versus Boyle


The Dragon’s Dwelling-Place and the Court for Owls


Workmen in a Quarry


Winged Figure Carrying Sacrificial Animal


The Dialogue of Towers




E silentio


Law and Order

A Biography of John Gardner





(All characters in this novel except for May Brumstead, Mr. Perkowski, Pete Mollman, and Dr. T. M. Steele, are purely fictitious.)

Fred Clumly (b. 1902), Chief of Police, Batavia, N.Y., 1957–1966

Esther Clumly, his wife

The Sunlight Man, a lunatic magician

The Hodge Family:

Arthur Hodge Sr, U.S. Congressman, builder of Stony Hill Farm

Will Hodge Sr, his eldest son, a Batavia attorney

Millie Jewel Hodge, Will Sr’s wife (divorced, 1964)

Clarence Jewel, her father

Gil, her favorite brother, a suicide at eighteen

Will Hodge Jr, son of Will Sr and Millie, a successful Buffalo attorney

Louise, his wife, mother of their children Madeline and Danny

Mary Lou Hodge Carter, daughter of Will Sr and Millie, wife of George Carter

Luke, Will Sr’s youngest son, a farmer

Arthur Hodge Jr, the Congressman’s second son, an electrician, a man of system; father of seven daughters

Ruth Hodge Uphill, the Congressman’s daughter, married to the brother of the Fire Chief in Batavia

Ben Hodge Sr, the Congressman’s fourth child, a farmer and man of religion

Vanessa, his wife

Ben Jr, his son; died in the Korean War

Nick and Vemon Slater, young Indians paroled into the custody of Ben Hodge Sr (The elder, Nick, was later transferred to Luke Hodge)

David, Ben Sr’s Negro hired boy, also a parolee



Dominic (Miller) Sangirgonio, Clumly’s right-hand man

Jackie, his wife

Tommy (Einstein), his son

Stan Kozlowski, Prowlcar 19; son of a farmer

Mickey Salvador, eighteen, a guard in the city jail

His mother

His grandmother, a seer

John (Shorty) Figlow, sergeant at the desk; a nervous man, unhappily married

Borsian, a State Trooper

Baltimore, Negro janitor in Batavia City Jail


Walt Mullen, Mayor

Judge Sam White, brother to Congressman Edward (Ted) White

Phil Uphill, Fire Chief Jerome Wittaker, Mayor Mullen’s assistant


R. V. Kleppmann, a confidence man and survivor

Mrs. Kleppmann, his wife Walter Boyle, a thief

Walter Benson, a good citizen living in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y.

Marguerite, his wife

Oliver Nuper, the Bensons’ boarder

Gretchen Niehaus, one of Nuper’s mistresses

Albert Hubbard, owner of a nursery inherited by his sons

The Woodworth Sisters: Agnes (deceased), Editha (aged 108, a poetess), and Octave (aged 97), daughters of Rev. Burgess Woodworth, original pastor of the Batavia First Baptist Church

Clive Paxton, owner of a trucking firm; father of Kathleen Paxton

Elizabeth, his wife

Professor Combs, her elderly lover

Freeman, a rootless wanderer


Merton Bliss, the last of the New York State liars

Robert Boas, a drunkard

May Brumstead, beloved matron of the Batavia Children’s Home

Ed Burlington, a news reporter, former Sunday School student of Mrs. Clumly

Helene Burns, a teacher; good friend of Taggert Hodge

Dr. Burns, a psychiatrist

Bill Churchill, a professional mourner

Edna, a madam

Bob Faner, next-door neighbor of Will Hodge Sr

Mr. Hardesty, neighbor of Luke Hodge

Pete Mollman, a publisher and printer in Millstadt, III.

Harold (Buz) Marchant, a Chicago physician, friend of Will Jr

Mrs. Palazzo, Will Hodge Sr’s landlady

Mr. Perkowski, a Batavia grocer

Jeff Peters, friend of Millie Hodge

Chief Poole, Batavia Police Chief when Clumly was young

Raymond, hired man to Will Sr when he ran Stony Hill

Solomon Ravitz, Buffalo TV personality

Dr. Rideout, Genesee County Coroner

Rosemary, a madam

The Runian Sisters, former occupants of Luke Hodge’s farmhouse; murdered by their nephew and hidden in the manure pile

T. M. Steele, well-known Batavia physician and surgeon

Walt Sprague, last of the true Upstate New York Republicans

Bob Swift, a foolish newsman

Rev. Warshower, Will Hodge Sr’s minister

Rev. Willby, Esther Clumly’s minister

The earth in its devotion carries all things, good and evil, without exception.



Riding horses in a back pasture, gone wild. Woods. Inside, on a hill, a house as black as dinosaur bones. Grass grows up through the driveway’s broken asphalt, but there is a car. This is the house of the oldest Judge in the world. The Judge has company.

"Take any ordinary man, give him a weapon—say, x caliber— (he chuckled wickedly) —put him in the middle of a wilderness with enough ammunition to fire three times in four directions—these are Holy numbers—and behold! you’ve created order." He blew out smoke like dust.

As to that, Fred Clumly said, I wouldn’t know. He had turned his badge in long ago, and even before that he had found the opinions of his friend the Judge, if the Judge was his friend, obscure. It was now no longer necessary to figure out what the Judge was saying. Clumly was retired. In Batavia, opinion was divided, in fact, over whether he’d gone away somewhere or died.

The Judge leaned forward, parting the yellow tobacco smoke with the side of his hand, so that Clumly could make out somewhat more clearly the great gray concrete head and the glint of the eyes. The world is a vast array of emblems, he said, exactly as the old hermetic philosophers maintained. I state it for a fact. His large fist closed.

Clumly nodded thoughtfully for a long time, his shrivelled head bobbing like a dried pod on his frail stick of a body. As to that— he said.

The Judge sighed and, like an old, slow lizard, withdrew to the gloomy secretness of his smoke. They were both silent for a long time. The room grew darker, as the time of day required. The Judge said, What ever happened to that boy of yours—the religious one—what’s-his-name’s son, your top man?

We lost track of him, Clumly said. Went away, I heard. A town like this—

Tragic, said the Judge, nodding.

The former Police Chief scowled, considering. As to that—

They all go away somewhere, sooner or later, the Judge said. I’ve been watching it eighty-some years. Do you know where they go?

Clumly shuddered. They’d been through this many times.

Entropy! the Judge squealed. Then he laughed, as soundless as a snake.

Maybe, Clumly said.

The Judge asked kindly, Your wife?

Dead, Clumly said.

The Judge nodded once more, remembering. There’s some meaning in that. He took a long, slow drag on his pipe, casting about like an old woman in an attic for the meaning.

I doubt it, Clumly said.

I don’t suppose you ever hear of that magician, the Judge said then, —the one you had in jail that time.

Dead too, he said.

Pity. He rubbed his hands together clumsily.

You could not see either one of them clearly in the yellow smoke from the Judge’s pipe and Old Man Clumly’s cigar. The bars on the window of the Judge’s room were as vague as lampposts bathed in fog, and the whiskey in his glass was gray. The male nurse who looked after him stood in the doorway cleaning the fingernails of his right hand with the thumbnail of his left. He was not listening. In the dusk outside, four miles away, a traffic light changed, and a police car started up, clean and precise as a young child’s tooth. The policeman, driving, waved to a man he knew on the sidewalk, and the man waved back with a smile. It was like a salute. The tyrannic scent of May was in the air; it was the time when young hearts blossom and burgeon, and boys try to think of heroic deeds. But it was winter in the Judge’s room, for nothing in this world is universal any more; there is neither wisdom nor stability, and faithfulness is dead. Or, at any rate, such was the Judge’s solemn opinion. But Clumly would say, Well, so— and would say no more.

It was good of you to visit, the Judge said.

No trouble, Clumly said. A man—

Well, nevertheless, the Judge said. He raised the glass of gray whiskey. Good whiskey, he whispered with deep satisfaction, without tasting it.

Mmm, Clumly said.

The room grew darker. The Judge half-closed his eyes and thought about it. Well, nevertheless, the Judge said, we’ve had some times, we’ve done some tricks. He chuckled. We’ve seen some curious things.

Clumly nodded, mechanical as an old German clockmaker’s doll. His mind was a blank.

Later, after Fred Clumly was gone, the Judge said to his bored attendant, I made that man. I created him, you might say. I created them all. The Mayor, the Fire Chief, all of them. I ran this town. I made them, and then when the time came I dropped a word in the right place and I broke them. He smiled and his gold teeth gleamed. The attendant looked at him indifferently, as if from infinitely far away, and the Judge sipped his whiskey again, uneasy. His spotted hand shook. One time in a nightmare he’d dreamed his attendant had shot him in the back. I like you, the Judge said suddenly. You’re like a son to me!

As to that, the attendant said, I’m what I am.

The Judge was not certain afterward that this was what he really said, and probably it was not.


The Watchdog

His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant,

they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark. …

—Isaiah 56:10


In late August, 1966, the city jail in Batavia, New York, held four regular prisoners, that is, four prisoners who were being kept on something more than an overnight basis. Three had been bound over for trial; the fourth was being held, by order of the court, until the County could administer a psychiatric examination. The identity of this fourth prisoner was not yet known. He seemed to be about forty. He’d been arrested on August 23rd for painting the word love in large, white, official-looking letters across two lanes of Oak Street, just short of the New York State Thruway. As the police were in the act of arresting him he had managed to burn all the papers in his billfold (dancing up and down, shaking like a leaf), and he refused to say now a halfway sensible word about himself, except that he was an anarchist, a student. His face was slightly disfigured by what looked like a phosphor burn—the kind men get in wars. Whether he was actually a student (he was an anarchist, all right) there was no way of telling. He seemed too old for that, and there was no college in Batavia; but the town was not large and they knew he was not from there. There were of course plenty of colleges elsewhere in Western New York, and there was always the possibility that he’d come from someplace far away. The Chief of Police—it was then Fred Clumly—would sit in his office in front of the cellblock and talk about it with whoever happened to be there—one of his men or Judge Sam White or May Bunce from Probation. I think he’s from California, Clumly would say. But he wouldn’t say why. It’s the way he talks, he would explain, squinting, sitting with his bare white elbows planted on the desk like trees. Clumly’s whole body was creased and white and completely hairless. He’d had a disease when he was in the Navy, years ago. Aside from the whiteness and the hairlessness, his only remarkable features were his large nose, which was like a mole’s, and his teeth, which were strikingly white and without a flaw. The whiteness, the hairlessness, the oversized nose all gave him the look of a philosopher pale from too much reading, or a man who has slept three nights in the belly of a whale.

It was of course not true that the prisoner’s way of talking was noticeably Californian. But Clumly hated California, or anyway felt alarmed by it. He would sit with his Look magazine, at home in his livingroom, squinting irascibly, fascinated, at the blurry color photograph of a waitress with breasts completely bare, smiling, standing in what looked like a kind of cardboard window, holding out a coffeepot to Clumly. Clumly’s wife was a blind woman with bright glass eyes and small, pinched features and a body as white as his own. Her small shoulders sagged and her neck was long, so that her head seemed to sway above her like a hairy sunflower. He minded the way she filled her teacup, one finger over the rim to watch the level, and he minded the way she talked to herself perpetually, going about the house with her lips moving as though she were some kind of old-fashioned priestess forever at her prayers, or insane. Also, she whined. But Clumly was not bitter. Nobody’s life is perfect, he sometimes said to himself, which was true.

Also, he said to Mickey Salvador, the new man, what makes me think California is that beard.

Like the riots, Salvador said.

That’s it, Clumly said. You ever see a beard like that around Batavia?

Only Old Man Hoyt, Salvador said.


And Walazynski.

Correct, Clumly said. It was all coming clearer in his mind.

And that Russian guy. Salvador tugged at his collar and stretched his neck, thinking. "Brotski. The one that sells Watchtower." He laughed. With the leather pants.

Clumly scowled, and Salvador stopped laughing.

I was out to L.A. once myself, Salvador said. I wish to hell I’d got up to San Francisco.

A little daintily, Clumly picked up the half-smoked cigar from his ashtray, pressed the end firm, and lit it.

Salvador said, My brother Jimmy had a beard once. It came in red. Jesus to God.

But Clumly was shaking his head, gloomy. San Francisco, he said. What’s this country coming to?

I guess they all got beards in Vietnam there. But I guess that’s different. My old lady’s got a moustache. Shit, my old lady got hair all over her, just like a monkey. Salvador looked thoughtful.

California, Clumly said solemnly. That’s what he’ll be. But on his hands, where the flesh had not been damaged, the prisoner had no tan, and that was strange. He had large white hands like those in pictures of King David in the Bible. The tip of the cigar was sharp and acid on Clumly’s lip and he thought again of quitting, but he knew he wouldn’t. It passed through his mind that there was a beach somewhere in California where there was a car, a 1935 model, he couldn’t remember what make it was, and inside the car a couple of lovers made out of old wire in the back seat, and some ladies’ underpants. It was supposed to be an art work. Clumly had used it in a speech to the Rotary once. A sign of the times. That’s it, he said. That’s where he’s from all right.

Monkeys, Salvador said. Shoo!

That night Chief Clumly stood for a long time at the door of the cellblock looking at the scarred and bearded prisoner. Then he went out to his car and sat there awhile, brooding, half-listening to the radio, and then he drove home, shaking his head, thinking. He was sixty-four, and he’d lived in Batavia his whole life, except for the three years he’d spent in the Navy, and half of that he’d spent staring at a hospital wall down in Texas.

It’s a funny business, he said aloud, above the noise of the police radio. He searched for words, squinting into the half-dark of the treelined street. (He was driving down North Lyon now, past tall, narrow, two-story houses with porches that went the full width of each house, old latticework at each end of the porches, and here and there a bike leaned up against the steps. Even with their lights on, the houses looked abandoned, like habitations depopulated by plague. You had a feeling there would be dragons in the cellars, and upstairs, owls. The curtains in the livingroom windows were drawn, and there was no one out, not a car on the street except his own. No light showed but the incorporeal glow of television sets. On some of the lawns there were bushy evergreens, and yet he could remember when all this was new, the lawns plain and bare, the trees along the sidewalks all small and straight and as self-conscious-looking as the new, white houses, now gray or dark green or fading yellow. He could remember when the evergreens were six feet tall, full of colored lights at Christmas, and the snow on the lawns reflected the light, pale blue and yellow and pink. He’d driven a Wonder Bakery truck in those days—Good Bread for Six Reasons—and before that he’d been the Watkins man—panaceas and potions—for the Indian Reservation.) But no words came, only the light of a cat’s eyes beside the curb. At LaCrosse he slowed almost to a stop and turned. The houses were older, even taller here, like old-time castles. They stood in the cool, cavernous gaps between oak trees a century old. He went up the gravel driveway to where his garage sat half-hidden under burnt-out lilacs and surrounded by high weeds. In the glow of the headlights, the weeds looked chalky white and vaguely reminded him of something. It was as if he expected something terrible to come out from their scratchy, bone-dry-looking obscurity—a leopard, say, or a lion, or the mastiff bitch that belonged to the Caldwells next door. But nothing came, and only the deepest, most barbaric and philosophical part of Chief Clumly’s mind had for a moment slipped into expectancy. He put the car away, locked the garage, and walked around to the front of the house for the paper. It took him awhile to find it. The trees blocked the light from the streetlamp, and as usual there were no lights on in the house. He’d told her and told her about that. He found the paper by the side of the porch steps, almost under them, where you’d swear the little devil could never have put it except on purpose. Then, very slowly, weary all at once, he went in, unfolding the paper as he went. Funny business, he said again thoughtfully, as he locked the front door behind him. He could hear her in the kitchen. The house smelled of stew with cabbage in it.

Is that you, Fred? she whined.

He held his nose lightly with his left hand and thought, as he’d occasionally thought before, how weird it would be if it were not him but some stranger, some lunatic escaped from the hospital up in Buffalo. The man would stand smiling, not answering, his glistening eyes bugging out like a toad’s, surprised at the sound of a voice in the unlighted house, and after a moment she would appear in the near-darkness at the diningroom door, her high, chinless head alert and listening, white as death.

Fred? she called again, is that you, Fred?

Just me, Clumly said, calm. He snapped on the lights.

He sat picking at his food, across from her, saying nothing while he ate, as usual. If there were hairs in the stew, he did not notice. Years ago—so long ago he could hardly remember it—he’d said something to her once about a hair in some food, and it had set off a terrible scene. She’d cried and cried, and she’d locked herself in the bathroom and said she was going to kill herself. I’ll cut my throat with a razorblade, she said. Where are the razorblades? And he’d stood bent over outside the bathroom door calling to her through the keyhole, begging her not to; he’d even sobbed, but purposely, hoping to persuade her, not really from grief. She had complained that he didn’t love her, she was a burden to the world; and even as he reasoned and pleaded with her Clumly had realized, calmly, sensibly, that all she said was, well, sad but true. But in the same rush of clear-headed detachment he had recognized, like Jacob of old when he found he’d got Leah, whose arms were like sticks and whose mouth was as flat as a salamander’s, that he’d have to be a monster to tell her the truth. What would the poor woman do, no beauty any more, without a skill or a talent in the world? He’d made a mistake in marrying her, one he might never have made if he’d been a few years older when they met, but his mistake, nevertheless. A mistake he was stuck with. He’d been twenty when they met, and she’d been eighteen. He was in the Navy, just getting his eyes opened. He’d gone to his first house of prostitution when they’d put in at the Virgin Islands, and they all sat in one small room with a radio playing foreign music, three other sailors and himself and the four brown, queerly familyless women (it seemed to him) in their slippery dresses and no underwear, their black hair as slick as silk—all of them drinking sludgy black stuff which smelled like Luden’s Cough Syrup, but which they said was rum. He felt caught in an ominous spell. They looked like gypsies with crowns of plastic flowers in their hair. The room smelled rotten, the drink was poison, and touching the woman he had happened to end up with thrilled and repelled him—she was thirty if she was a day. Vockshy, Vasty, her name was. Something. Before long, whether from the poisonous drink or from Presbyterian shame, Clumly was vomiting in the street more violently than he would have thought possible for a human. He had to stand watch bent double the next day, and ever since that night his liver had been bad and whenever he was tired he’d walk slightly bent at the waist. Nevertheless, this is living! he’d thought. Work like the devil, play like the devil, they said on the ship. Bam. When he went back to the whorehouse, Vockshy or Vasty was occupied, he had to take a different girl. This queerly upset him. And then, home on leave, he’d found the pale and musing blind girl standing there soft as a flag beside an oak tree with burning green leaves—or, rather, the nearly blind girl: at that time she had sight enough to be put in charge of younger children from the Blind School, to lead them around laughing like circus people in time of pestilence, help them with their schoolwork, or, like the eldest orphaned child, punish them when they were bad. They were playing in the shaded hollow below her, and she, standing by the oak tree, was watching and listening and smelling the wind, she said. Her talk was like poetry in those days. She’d grown out of that later, as one does. Her voice was as soft as a southern breeze on the Mediterranean, so soft Clumly had to lean toward her to hear—blushing, twisting the sailor’s hat in his hands. And so for two weeks they met every day, as if by accident, to walk and talk among the large trees or make pictures in the dirt with sticks or stones, or to listen to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoon (the thought of her breasts beneath the brassiere and high-collared blouse made him pale), and when he had to leave again she promised she would write. Eventually they’d gotten married. She seemed saintlike to him, and noble as a queen. He felt such an ache of tenderness for her, such reverence, almost, for what he called then her quiet courage, he could hardly sleep nights. He wrote to her constantly, slavishly, after the first two weeks, before he’d even thought about marrying her, and the letters that came to him from her (on pink or blue scalloped paper, awkwardly typed because she couldn’t see well enough to read over what she’d written or even make sure what she said made sense) he read over and over and kept at the head of his bunk where he could smell them as he went to sleep. The others had teased him some, but not for long. People could say what they liked about them, sailors were the gentlest people in the world. Even now it could make his eyes mist, thinking about sailors. It was the sea that did it, old and bottomless with mystery, as people say, capable at times of unbelievable rage, and capable, too, of a peace that baffled you. As he’d tried to explain to Mayor Mullen once, to a man locked up in a steel ship, the sea was, well, really something. It changed you. Especially at night. Then the sickness had come, turning Fred Clumly to a grublike, virtually hairless monster, and he’d stopped writing, hoping to spare her. But his parents had sought her out and spoken to her, of course. She’d written to his buddy. Dog, they called him. He looked like a fancy dog with a too-erect head and large pink eyes. (Clumly could no longer remember the boy’s real name. Walter Brown?) Dog had told her how it was with Clumly—how he felt about her and how he felt about, poor devil, himself. And so Clumly’s love had bravely borrowed the money for a bus trip to Texas. You look as beautiful as ever to me, she said in her soft voice, and they both wept. Her voice was unmysterious, faintly alarming. Dog came to the hospital and wept too. She read to him from a book in braille about Sir Lancelot, some story of adventure and romance so touching and foreign to them both that it made them blush and stop the reading for a while from embarrassment and fear. They were married, soon afterward, there in the hospital. That was all far in the past now, nearly forgotten; and even that night when she’d locked herself in the bathroom he could remember the beginning of it all no more clearly than one remembers a dream days later. She’d been plain to start with, except for her chestnut-colored hair. As she grew older she grew pinched and sickly-looking as a witch, and her hair became streaked with wiry gray. She began to tipple wine a little when he wasn’t at home. Standing at the bathroom door that night, calling to her through it, he saw the years stretched out before him like a cheap hall rug in a strange and unfriendly hotel, and he thought—with such violence that it made him shaky—how it had felt to be totally free, standing looking down at the prow of a ship dimly lighted at night, with the ocean stretching away on all sides ambiguous as an oracle and glinting with unearthly silver, as calm and steady in its rhythm as the blood in your veins. Though he’d firmly put it behind him, he had not in all his years forgotten that vision, that temptation. One’s struggle with the devil never ends. But he’d made her come out of the bathroom at last, groaning and stretching out her arms to him, and if there were hairs in the food tonight, or last night, or sometime last year, Clumly did not know it. If her slip showed or she smelled of wine, he did not notice it. Chief of Police Fred Clumly had renounced the world.

She said, You look tired, Fred. Clumly’s wife went out of her way to find phrases like "you look" or "I see that …" They all did that, blind people. He had a theory it was something they taught them at the Blind School, the same as they taught them to walk slightly faster than normal people, with their heads drawn back so they wouldn’t hit first with their chins.

Aye-uh, he said. Tired. Gets harder every year. For all his annoyance, he spoke kindly, as was right. He glanced at her. She was shaking her head, the eyes turning with the face, and he looked down again.

After a moment she said—too loudly, as always, as though her voice had to be loud to get past the darkness she inhabited—Vanessa Hodge called.

Mmm, he said. He pushed the last of the gray stew against his bread and put it in his mouth, then wiped his hands on his napkin.

It’s about those Indian boys you’ve got locked up. Hodges are their guardians, you know. Or they used to be. Poor Hodges.

He pushed the plate away and drew the coffeecup closer.

It’s been terrible for the Hodges. Poor Vanessa’s not up to snuff since that little stroke or whatever it was, and she’s not getting any younger. Even when things are running smoothly, she doesn’t get around like she used to. She said they’d come in at all hours of the night, and sometimes their drunken friends with them. She said one night last winter Ben found that oldest boy lying on his bed just as naked as the day he was born, not a cover on him. She said when Ben touched him he thought he was dead. As cold as clay. She said Ben said he never knew before that when they say ‘ stone drunk’ that’s exactly what they mean.

Clumly sucked in the lukewarm Sanka and said nothing. He minded the way she went on and on and the blankness of her face, as though it were not a woman talking but the face of a horse on the merry-go-round, but though he minded, even now after all these years, he did not think about it. He was thinking of the bearded one from California. Could be he really was a little crazy. You heard sometimes about people going crazy from a bad burn. He prattled and babbled from morning to night, bothering the guards, bothering the other prisoners, and when he saw you watching him he made faces, or said a prayer for you, or he jerked up his hands like an animal about to claw you. But it didn’t really seem like lunacy to Clumly. It seemed like an act, no less an act than those magic tricks he did, and the fact that the man went on with it day after day made Clumly uneasy. What went on inside their minds, people like that? Oh, they’d find out he was sane all right. Clumly would bet ten dollars on that. He was sane but he didn’t think the same as other people. He was up to something. Over and over, the past few days, Clumly had found himself going over the jail routine, as if expecting a break—he felt like a man told to lock up Houdini—or searching his brain for where he’d seen before that face he knew he had never before laid eyes on. He waited for trouble from the prisoners, but there was nothing, and he knew all the while that there would be nothing. This morning, a little surprised at himself, he’d checked the pistol he hadn’t had out of its holster for God knew how long. His hand was shaking like an old, old man’s.

She was saying, The oldest one would come wake them up at three in the morning, just as drunk as could be, and he’d say, ‘ It’s all taken care of now. He’ll be a different person tomorrow.’ Three in the morning. Imagine. Poor Ben has to get up at dawn to milk the cows.

That’s all over, Clumly said abruptly. They’re out of the Hodges’ hands.

It’s that bad? she asked. Her face drooped to a pattern of upside-down V’s.

Aye-up. He finished the Sanka and pushed away the cup.

She poured herself more tea and said nothing for a moment, merely moved her lips, talking to herself. He was aware that he’d cut her off curtly. Her life wasn’t perfect either, God knew. At last, since life must go on, she said, You’re still keeping that madman, I suppose?

Still keeping him, he said. To keep her from saying more he opened the paper.

But she said, I don’t suppose he’s dangerous.

Not there in the bucket, he said.

She raised her teacup, distressed by his tone, and she touched a button on her blouse with her left hand. He watched her drink and then lower the cup again slowly, lowering her left hand to the saucer to guide the cup down. He felt sorry for her, fleetingly, and looked up at the light above the table, then down at the Daily News. At first, because he’d been looking at the light, it seemed that the paper was empty, no news whatever today, neither good tidings nor bad. But after a moment he could see once more, vermillion print that gradually settled to black. There was a picture of a wrecked tractor-trailer and the Thruway behind it, a hundred yards or so away. He’d heard it all on the police radio this morning. He turned to the comics and read them slowly and solemnly, word for word. Then he read the obituaries.

Clive Paxton died, he said.

No! she said.


She had heard he was ailing. He’d left a pretty penny to his sons and that poor sad daughter of his, you could bet on that. They didn’t live here any more, they’d moved away to places like Florida and California and Paris France. Poor Elizabeth, she said. Clumly made himself a note to send flowers.

He was in bed ahead of her, as always. He lay in the dark listening, his mind almost comfortably blank at last. He heard the water running in the sink, the noise she made brushing her teeth, the clatter of, perhaps, the soap dish falling, and, after a while, the flush of the toilet. She came through the darkness of the hall and opened the door very quietly, to keep from waking him in case he should be asleep. He listened to her taking out the bobby pins, dropping them softly one by one in the chipped seashell on her dresser. At last she turned down the covers on her side (he lay with his back to her) and climbed into bed. He didn’t need to watch to see it all in bitter clarity: her long skinny legs, more agile than his, as ghostly white as the white silk nightie, the long, webbed feet as limber as the feet of an ape. Her lips would still be moving. Or had they stopped? He had a feeling she was looking at him with her blind eyes, as she did sometimes—watching him with every nerve in her body. He lay motionless. She drew the sheet and coverture to her bony chest and lay still on her back, her head pressed firmly into the pillow, her nose, even sharper when her eyes were out, pointing at the ceiling. She looked like a chicken in bed. He lay on his side with his hands folded, his small, close-set eyes fixed on the wallpaper a foot away, staring at it as a mouse would stare at a place where he once saw a cat. Through the springs of the mattress he could hear their two heartbeats, his own slow and awesome as the nightlong pounding of a big ship’s engines on a calm sea, hers quick and light as squirrel feet. He was imagining it, he knew. She lay as motionless as a dead chicken. It wouldn’t surprise him if, turning, he found that her feet were sticking in the air.

Fred? she said.

He thought of the rouged, naked breasts of the waitress with the coffeepot. But the image no longer stirred him. He saw himself walking along a beach where the sand was tiny grits of color, blue and green and deep red and yellow, like minute pieces from a stained-glass window. Four men who looked vaguely like Mayor Mullen sat scowling, watching him approach, with towels around their waists. He looked toward the sea and wide green sky, distressed.

It occurred to him suddenly that he was hungry. Ravenous. He thought of going down to the refrigerator, or to the cellar, where he had, if he remembered right, two cases of Carting’s Beer.

Do you hear something, Fred? she asked softly.

There was someone in the yard. He heard it distinctly, or felt it through the walls and beams of the house and the dark packed earth below the grass. Both of them lay perfectly still. Minutes passed. Now the prowler was inside, feeling his way through the cluttered blackness from the cellar door toward the stairs that led up to the pantry. There were snakes down there, and spiders, and long, lean rats. He’s fished one out of the cistern a month ago. The prowler stood listening at the door to the pantry, head bent almost to the porcelain knob. Then nothing, not a sound for fifteen minutes. It came to him that his wife was asleep, he’d only imagined that she’d spoken to him. There was no one in the cellar, not the bearded, disfigured magician, as he’d thought, and not anyone else. In the gaunt, high-gabled wooden husk they were alone, as usual. He could just make out the darker places on the wallpaper, the crooked trail of vines and the large gray smudges, diagonally receding, a foot apart. Roses.

Hours later he awakened with a start, hungry. The night was silent. If I just had a sandwich, he thought. He could taste it. There was bologna—he could eat a whole package of it— and there was lettuce, crudely torn apart and somewhat wilted, thrust into a Baggie and tucked in the crisper drawer. And cheese, and salad dressing. Perhaps a little chicken. There was a pocket of water in his cheek and he swallowed, and he thought again of the beer. He’d have done it once, when he was younger; would have sat up in bed and slipped his feet over the side and would have gone down to stuff himself. But it was bad for you, that kind of thing. Not just because it made you fat, made your heart work harder than an old heart should, but bad in ways more insidious—the same as buying without shopping first for a reasonable bargain, or buying what you didn’t need, or not buying at all, on the other hand, because your mind was too much on the column of numbers written under Deposits in your bank book. He’d thought all that out long ago—it might as well have been centuries—and he knew he was not going down to the refrigerator, however seductive the images coming unbidden into his head. Again the thought of the coffeepot and the waitress came sliding into his mind. Now he was angry. A man sixty-four years old needed his sleep. What was wrong with him? he wondered. But the question was not difficult. Every nerve in his body was jangling because of that prisoner. Or partly that. He’d been nervous for months, to tell the truth; the prisoner was the final straw. What he needed right now was a pill.

Before he knew he would do it he swung out of bed and then padded, jaw clenched, to the bathroom to get the sleeping pills. At the bathroom door he paused, scowling; then, furtively, he went on to the head of the stairs. Not a sound behind him. Softly, like a man drawn by voodoo, he went down, avoiding the steps that squeaked, and felt his way to the kitchen.

He ate by the light from the refrigerator door. Then, stuffed, dry of throat and as hungry as ever, he went soundlessly down the cellar steps, lighting his way with the flashlight he kept at the top of the stairs for when fuses blew. In the flashlight’s dim glow the damp stone walls of the cellar were like walls of a dungeon. Drafts moved through the dark like fish. The air was moist and chilly. He thought he heard a rat scamper, but the next instant he wasn’t sure. He stood for a long time with his hand on the neck of the bottle, undecided whether to open it or not, his eyes tightly focused on a cobweb. It seemed to him, in the back of his mind, that here in the cellar, if he listened hard, he could hear what was happening in every house in the city: lovers talking on livingroom couches, murderers climbing through kitchen windows, cats eating mice, old men at Doehler-Jarvis shoveling coal.

Abruptly, awake and trembling from the cold, he put the bottle back and turned to go up. When he reached the livingroom he found that his wife had gotten up, as she did sometimes when she couldn’t sleep or woke up nervous. She had gotten out her sewing, a kind of dress she’d been working on, if he wasn’t mistaken, for years.

Good night, he said. He kissed her forehead.

Good night, dear, she said.

Clumly went up.


He felt better in the morning, as he always did, at least for a little while. Not because he had slept well but because it was morning. The world had expanded, warmed, gotten back its good sense. While Esther fixed breakfast he went out to stand on the front porch in his uniform, his hands behind his back, pot belly comfortably protruding, and he sucked in the clean, cool air. He faced the round orange sun that hung just clear of the trees and housetops four blocks away, at the end of the street which began just opposite his yard, and he said, like an old king satisfied with his accomplishments, Ah. The music of songbirds rose all around him like bubbles in a cup of ginger ale, a battle of sparrows and robins against jays. He watched Ed Wardrop start up his car and light a cigarette and pull out from the curb, and when the car turned onto LaCrosse and he saw Ed duck his head and glance over to see if he was there as usual, he nodded solemnly and waved, a little like the Pope. The younger Miss Buckland came out and called her cat.

He had papers up to his eyebrows down at the station, but they’d waited this long, he decided. They could wait one day more. It was a day for inspections, and for trying to talk with that lunatic, and this afternoon was Albert Hubbard’s funeral. (Flowers for Paxton, he reminded himself.) As a man got older he spent more and more of his time at funerals, or sending out funeral flowers, or standing in the hush where old friends were laid out in their livingrooms or at Turner’s or Burdett’s or Bohm’s.

Fred Clumly enjoyed funerals. It was a sad thing to see all one’s old friends and relatives slipping away, one after the other, leaving their grown sons and daughters weeping, soberly dabbing at their eyes with their neat white hankies, the grandchildren sitting on the gravestones or standing unwillingly solemn at the side of the grave while they lowered the coffin. But it was pleasant, too, in a mysterious way he couldn’t and didn’t really want to find words for. There stood the whole family—three, four generations—the living testimonial to the man’s having been; all dressed in their finest and at peace with one another; and there stood his business acquaintances and his friends from the church, the schoolboard he’d once been a member of, all quarrels forgotten; and there stood his friends from the Dairyman’s League or Kiwanis or the Owls or the Masons. The coffin rolled silently out of the hearse, and his friends, brothers, sons took the glittering handles and lowered him slowly onto the beams across the hole and then stood back, red-faced from their life’s work as truckers or farmers, or sallow-faced from the bank or grocery store or laundry. And there it was, a man’s whole life drawn together at last, stilled to a charm, honored and respected, and the minister took off his black hat and prayed, and Clumly prayed, with tears in his eyes and his police cap over his fallen chest, and so, with dignity, the man’s life closed, like the book in the minister’s hands.

Poor Albert Hubbard. He’d inherited his nursery business from his father and he’d built it up little by little for years, and then, maybe fifteen years ago now, he’d taken in his oldest son and, soon after that, his second oldest. The youngest had moved to Syracuse. Some kind of engineer. The sons had big ideas, and it must’ve been hard on poor old Albert. They filled up two acres with their greenhouses, and they bought up farmland for a half-mile in either direction. They could no more pay for it than fly. It’s the twentieth century, they said. They’d been away to college and learned about economics. You just keep up the interest, they said, don’t you worry about the principal. Old Albert got crankier and crankier. When Clumly would stop by he’d be potching along among the bins of plants, more plants than any ten nurseries could sell, and he’d be wearing the same old felt hat he’d worn twenty-five years ago, or it looked the same, and he’d have on the same old overalls and hightop shoes and his applepicker’s bib.

Don’ you worry your head about them aphids, he’d squeak, mimicking his sons, tipping his head down and looking up from under his shaggy eyebrows at Clumly. We spray around here by the schedule, see, and if the aphids don’t know what the schedule is, don’t you worry, them plants is insured.

Well, times change, Clumly would say.

Pah! Times change! Why this next Depression’s gonna make that last one look like Heaven’s own feast for the blessed. He’d move down a plant, shaking his head. Wal, mebby I’ll be dead by then. I hope so.

Now he was. Soul rest in peace.

A jay walked up to the porch steps as though Clumly were not there. Morning, young fella, Clumly said. The bird looked at him, intelligent, about to speak. Then Esther called, and Clumly went in to eat.

You look fresh as a daisy, Esther said. Even when she spoke cheerfully, it was a whine.

I still get around, he said. He began on his eggs.

Prowlcar 19. Kozlowski. Father had a farm out on Tinkham Road. Clean little house, clean little barn, Holstein cows and sheep and a couple of work-horses standing around the willow trees by the pond behind the barn. The old woman had expected her son to take over when the old man had died—buried alive when a pea-vine wagon turned over on him, six months ago now—another poor mortal ground under by the load—but Kozlowski had other ideas. He hated farming. Hated being tied down to the milking three-hundred-and-sixty-five days every year, hated trying to outguess the weather, hated more than anything else the everlasting tedium of setting out fenceposts, cleaning stables, unsnarling rope and old harness leather and baling twine, or mending bags, or crawling out of bed to run after the cows when they got through the fence and took off at a run through some neighbor’s cornlot, no more knowing where they were going than how to spell. He was a small man, with a red face and small red hands and hair the color of dust. He hardly ever spoke. Thoughtful. He sat in the prowlcar, sheepish-looking as usual, waiting for Clumly to catch up.

Clumly locked his car door and hurried to the back drive gate where Kozlowski waited. Morning, Stan.

Kozlowski grinned.

Mind if I ride around? Clumly asked. He felt exhilarated, like a man slightly drugged.

That all you got to do?

Clumly laughed grittily and went around the front of the car to the rider’s side, patting the fenders as he passed. Kozlowski watched him get in and smiled dutifully when the door slammed shut, but he was thinking his own thoughts.

How’s it going? Clumly said.

Kozlowski shrugged. He pulled out onto the street. The radio sputtered. He stopped for the Main Street light.

Lot of the boys get annoyed when I come ride around with them, Clumly said. The car smelled richly of new gas. He’d just been to the pump, Clumly deduced. He sat back more and reached inside his jacket for a cigar. They get the wrong idea, you know. Cigar?

Kozlowski shook his head. The light changed. He started up.

Clumly chuckled. I drove prowlcar for seventeen years. You cognizant of that?

No fooling, Kozlowski said.

Yessir. Well, I was younger then. But I’ll tell you one thing. We worked like the devil in those days. Eight P.M. till eight A.M. in the morning, that was my hours for I don’t know how long. And the pay? Son, you couldn’t get a garbage man for the pay we got then. Nine dollars a day. Just as true as I’m setting here. He opened the glove-compartment and looked inside, then closed it again.

Garbage men make a lot of money, Kozlowski said.

A car shot past them and abruptly slowed down, no doubt noticing that they were police. Clumly leaned forward to watch the driver, then leaned back, letting it go. Well, I kept my nose clean, Clumly said, and I put in an hour’s work for an hour’s pay. I worked up through the ranks.

Kozlowski nodded.

Life’s been good to me, Clumly said. It was a good cigar. The day would be another scorcher, but the breeze coming in through Clumly’s window still had the scent of morning in it, even here in the middle of town. He said: But I miss the old days, that’s the truth. I don’t say I’d give up what I’m making and go back to patroling—both jobs have their remunerations. But you’re freer out on patrol, I will say that. Nobody watching you all the time, keeping you honest. He shot a glance at Kozlowski.

I don’t mind it, Kozlowski said.

Of course you don’t, Clumly said heartily. He shifted in the seat, trying to get more comfortable, then closed his eyes a minute. Well, a lot of the boys get the wrong idea, he said. The way I figure, we do this job of ours together. A man can’t run a police force if he doesn’t trust his men.

Kozlowski nodded again. He turned down Jackson and crossed the one track remaining from the days when the New York Central depot used to be here in the center of town. Clumly pointed to the square brick house on the left. Know that place? It used to be Edna’s. House of ill repute.

I’ve heard that, Kozlowski said.

That’s it, Clumly said. We run her out of business a dozen times. Maybe two dozen times. Sent her up the river and I don’t know what all. But she always came back, just as regular as tomorrow. It was a kind of joke around town for a good long while. Lot of people used to think it was a good thing to have a place like that, and I know cops that would turn their heads and not notice when she was set up again till sooner or later a complaint come in. They weren’t crooks, you know. They weren’t taking bribes, nothing like that. They just had a theory, that was all. Well, takes all kinds.

They came to the end of South Jackson and began the loop back in. Kozlowski said, What kind were you, Chief?


You close her down?

Clumly inspected his cigar. "Son, I closed her out."

Kozlowski smiled ruefully.

Wouldn’t you done the same thing in my place? Clumly said.

Sure, Kozlowski said seriously. That’s my job.

Correct, Clumly said. But he smiled ironically. He looked at the radio speaker, paying no attention. After a moment he said, I don’t know if you’d close her or not, Kozlowski. But I’ll tell you this. Lot of times when things are pushing the way they are, more work to get done than an ordinary human can do in the hours he’s got, a man can slide into thinking there’s nothing to watch for but what he sees posted on the board. I don’t mean the board’s not important. What you see on that board is unusually important, that’s why it’s posted there. It’s like— He paused, half-closing his eyes, crafty. It’s like a farmer, he said. When a man’s got wheat to get in before the rain, he gets his wheat. But it don’t mean he forgets about his milking for a while.

Yes sir, Kozlowski said.

Clumly studied him. Put it this way, he said. How come you don’t close down that house on Harvester?

The blush was unmistakable and, in spite of himself, Clumly smiled again. Kozlowski waited, maybe thinking he hadn’t heard right. Clumly threw the cigar out the window and folded his hands. Turn right, he said. Kozlowski turned.

I guess it surprises you, Clumly said happily. (There’s a dance or two in the old dame yet, he thought.) "Maybe scares you a little. I imagine I’d feel the same way, if I was in your place. I imagine you wonder how the old bastard knows. You see all those papers piled up on my desk, you hear how I have to get around to the schools and make speeches to the kids about crossing the street, you see I’ve got worries coming out of my ears—that damned trouble with the dogs, and this plague of stealing this past two months, and now these fires, and the Force in need of men so bad it’s a wonder we don’t every one of us throw up our hands. Well I’ll tell you something. My job is Law and Order. That’s my first job, and if I can’t get that one done, the rest will just have to wait. You get my meaning? If there’s a law on the books, it’s my job to see it’s enforced. I’m personally responsible for every cop in my Department, and for every crook in the City of Batavia. That’s my job. I’m aware as you are there are differences of opinion about some of the laws we’re paid to enforce, but a cop hasn’t got opinions. Don’t you forget it. Some fool makes a law against planting trees and you and me will be out there, like it or not, and we’ll shut down Arbor Day."

Still Kozlowski said nothing. He was passing the ice plant, closed for over a year now. There were a couple of bicycles leaning against the fence. He glanced at Clumly, and Clumly pretended not to see. Two more blocks, Clumly said. You know the place as well as I do, son.

Kozlowski nodded. After a minute he said, You gonna raid her right now? In the morning?

Clumly compressed his lips, checked for an instant. But the hunch was strong.

You think too much, Kozlowski, he said. It’s a bad habit, for a cop. Oh, I don’t blame you, you understand. Man can’t help feeling uneasy sometimes in this business. But I’ll tell you something. This is a democracy. You know how democracy works, son? Bunch of people get together and they decide how they want things, and they pass a law and they have ’em that way till they’re sick of it, and then they pass some other law that’s maybe wrong some other way. It’s like a farmer, Clumly said. "Say he sets his alarm clock wrong and he gets up an hour too early, and then he sends his dog out after the cows for milking. You follow me? Well now the dog knows it’s an hour too early, and he ain’t happy about it, but he goes. Well, we’re the Watchdogs of Society. We do our job or we’re no use."

Cowdogs, you mean, Kozlowski said.

Correct, Clumly said. Same thing.

Shall I turn on the siren, Chief? Kozlowski said.

Clumly scowled, annoyed, and said, Negative. He hated a man who would sass you right out. But Kozlowski was young, another of the new ones. He’d let it pass. The car pulled over and Clumly opened his door quietly. He hung motionless an instant, no longer sure of his hunch; but his doubt passed. You go first.

It was a low, dark-green house set back in the shadow of maple trees. The grass needed cutting, between the bare patches, and the plants were dead in the green metal boxes on the porch. There was a rusted car up on blocks to the right of the house, a legacy from some previous tenant. Weeds had grown up through the floorboards, and you could see them through the windshield like patient, brainless creatures waiting for a ride. They were people turned into thistles, maybe. The shades were drawn on all the house windows you could see from the street, and one of the windows had a pane of cardboard in it. There was a Negro child sitting on the porch roof of the house next door.

Looks like business hasn’t been good, Kozlowski said. You remember the warrant?

Just ask her if you can come in, Clumly said.

According to the law— Kozlowski began.

Clumly flushed. They didn’t need a warrant if she invited them in, and Kozlowski knew it. Just ask her.

Kozlowski nodded and adjusted his cap. Positive, he said. He went up on the porch, Clumly a little behind him, and rang the doorbell.

Better knock, Clumly said. Those doorbells never work.

Kozlowski knocked. Casually, Clumly stepped to the left of the door where she wouldn’t see him at once when she opened up. Kozlowski touched his cap again as if thinking of taking it off, then changed his mind. After a long moment he knocked a second time, more firmly, then folded his red hands behind him. There wasn’t a sound from inside the house, and they went on waiting, Clumly gazing down the street toward the grocery store at the corner of Harvester and Main, where there were more Negroes. A smell of pigweed came from the end of the porch. At last, though still there had been no sound, the doorknob turned and the door opened three inches. Clumly sidled back farther along the wall.

Yes? she said.

Kozlowski bent toward her, apologetic as a funeral director. It’s nothing serious, ma’am. Do you mind if I come in?

Clumly held in a smile, standing with his back against the cool wall of the house. Kozlowski would make a good cop, one of these days. She was going to let him in.


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3 valutazioni / 3 Recensioni
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Recensioni dei lettori

  • (5/5)
    A stunning work --- Outrageously Realistic -- Surreal Truth.
  • (4/5)
    I loved it for about the first 400 pages or so and then I started to lose interest. I'm not sure if it was my own fault or the book's, but there are parts of this book that are wonderful. Ostensibly, it is about the 1960's and the counterculture, and struggles against it in a truly pastoral Batavia, New York. I bizarre magician/criminal (?) comes to town and turn everything upside down. As I've said, I think there are parts of this book that deserve a lot of praise, but as a whole I didn't quite get it. It doesn't quite hold together. Certainly worth reading, however.
  • (5/5)
    What a romp of a philosophical novel!That is, such was my impression nearly 30 years ago. I have not read it since.