A Decidedly Absurd Adventure
I awoke at dawn. The rose-colored ﬁrmament looked into my eyes. Everything was beautiful, round. “0-90 is to come tonight. Surely I am healthy again.” I smiled and fell asleep. The Morning Bell! I got up; everything looked different. Through the glass of the ceiling, through the walls, nothing could be seen but fog — fog everywhere, strange clouds, becoming heavier and nearer; the boundary between earth and sky disappeared. Everything seemed to be ﬂoating and thawing and falling. . . . Not a thing to hold on to. No houses to be seen; they were all dissolved in the fog like crystals of salt in water. On the sidewalks and inside the houses dark ﬁgures, like suspended particles in a strange milky solution, were hanging, below, above, up to the tenth ﬂoor. Everything seemed to be covered with smoke, as though a ﬁre were raging somewhere noiselessly.
At eleven-forty-ﬁve exactly (I looked at the clock particularly at that time to catch the ﬁgures, to save at least the ﬁgures), at eleven-forty-ﬁve, just before leaving, according to our Table of Hours, to go and occupy myself with physical labor, I dropped into my room for a moment. Suddenly the telephone rang. A voice — a long needle slowly penetrating my heart:
“Oh, you are at home? I am very glad! Wait for me at the corner. We shall go together. . . . Where? Well, you’ll see.”
“You know perfectly well that I am going to work now.”
“You know perfectly well that you’ll do as I say! Au revoir. In two minutes! . . .”
I stood at the corner. I had to wait to try to make clear to her that only the United State directs me, not she. “You’ll do as I say!” How sure she is! One hears it in her voice. And what if . . .?
Unifs, dull gray as if woven of damp fog, would appear for a second at my side and then soundlessly redissolve. I was unable to turn my eyes away from the clock. . . . I seemed myself to have become that sharp, quivering hand that marked the seconds. Ten, eight minutes . . . three. . . two minutes to twelve. . . . Of course! I was late! Oh, how I hated her. Yet I had to wait to prove that I . . .
A red line in the milky whiteness of the fog — like blood, like a wound made by a sharp knife — her lips.
“I made you wait, I think. And now you are late for your work anyway?”
“How . ..? Well, yes, it is too late now.”
I glanced at her lips in silence. All women are lips, lips only. Some are rosy lips, tense and round, a ring, a tender fence separating one from the world. But these! A second ago they were not here, and suddenly . . . the slash of a knife! I seemed even to see the sweet, dripping blood. . . .
She came nearer. She leaned gently against my shoulder; we became one. Something streamed from her into me. I felt, I knew, it should be so. Every ﬁber of my nervous system told me this, every hair on my head, every painfully sweet heartbeat. And what a joy it was to submit to what should be. A fragment of iron ore probably feels the same joy of submission to precise, inevitable law when it clings to a lodestone. The same joy is in a stone which, thrown aloft, hesitates a little at the height of its ﬂight and then rushes down to the ground. It is the same with a man when in his ﬁnal convulsion he takes a last deep breath and dies.
I remember I smiled vaguely and said for no reason at all, “Fog . . . very.”
“Thou lovest fog, dost thou?”
This ancient, long-forgotten thou — the thou of a master to his slave — penetrated me slowly, sharply. . . . Yes, I was a slave. . . . This, too, was inevitable, was good.
“Yes, good . . .” I said aloud to myself, and then to her, “I hate fog. I am afraid of fog.”
“Then you love it. For if you fear it because it is stronger than you, hate it because you fear it, you love it. For you cannot subject it to yourself. One loves only the things one cannot conquer.”
“Yes, that is so. That is why . . . that is precisely why I . . .”
We were walking — as one. Somewhere beyond the fog the sun was singing in a faint tone, gradually swelling, ﬁlling the air with tension and with pearl and gold and rose and red. . . . The whole world seemed to be one unembraceable woman, and we who were in her body were not yet born; we were ripening in joy. It was clear to me, absolutely clear, that everything existed only for me: the sun, the fog, the gold — for me. I did not ask where we were going; what did it matter? It was a pleasure to walk, to ripen, to become stronger and more tense. . . .
“Here . . .” I-330 stopped at a door. “It so happens that today there is someone on duty who . . . I told you about him in the Ancient House.”
Carefully guarding the forces ripening within me, I read the sign: “Medical Bureau.” Only automatically I understood.
. . . A glass room, ﬁlled with golden fog; shelves of glass, colored bottles, jars, electric wires, bluish sparks in tubes; and a male Number — a very thin flattened man. He might have been cut out of a sheet of paper. Wherever he was, whichever way he turned, he showed only a proﬁle, a sharply pointed, glittering blade of a nose, and lips like scissors.
I could not hear what I-330 told him. I merely saw her lips when she was talking, and I felt that I was smiling, irrepressibly, blissfully. The scissors — like lips glittered and the doctor said, “Yes, yes, I see. A most dangerous disease. I know of nothing more dangerous.” And he laughed. With his thin, ﬂat, papery hand he wrote something on a piece of paper and gave it to I-330; he wrote on another piece of paper and handed it over to me. He had given us certiﬁcates, testifying that we were ill, that we were unable to go to work. Thus I stole my work from the United State; I was a thief; I deserved to be put beneath the Machine of the Well-Doer. Yet I was indifferent to this thought; it was as distant from me as though it were written in a novel. I took the certiﬁcate without an instant’s hesitation. I, all my being, my eyes. my lips, my hands, knew it was as it should be.
At the corner, from a half-empty garage, we took an aero. I-330 took the wheel as she had done before, pressed the starter, and we tore away from the earth. We soared. Behind us the golden haze, the sun. The thin, blade-like proﬁle of the doctor seemed to me suddenly so dear, so beloved. Formerly I knew everything revolves around the sun. Now I knew everything was revolving around me. Slowly, blissfully, with half-closed eyes. . . .
At the gate of the Ancient House we found the same old woman. What a dear mouth, with lips grown together and raylike wrinkles around it! Probably those lips have remained grown together all these days; but now they parted and smiled.
“Ah! you mischievous girl, you! Work is too much for you? Well, all right, all right. If anything happens, I’ll run up and warn you.”
A heavy, squeaky, opaque door. It closed behind us, and at once my heart opened painfully, widely, still wider. . . . My lips . . . hers. . . . I drank and drank from them. I tore myself away; in silence I looked into her widely open eyes, and then again. . . .
The room in half dusk. . .. . Blue and saffron-yellow lights, dark green morocco leather, the golden smile of Buddha, a wide mahogany bed, a glimmer of mirrors. . . . And my dream of a few days before became so comprehensible, so clear to me; everything seemed saturated with the golden prime juice of life, and it seemed that I was overﬂowing with it — one second more and it would splash out. . . . Like iron ore to a lodestone, in sweet submission to the precise and unchangeable law, inevitably, I clung to her. . . . There was no pink check, no counting, no United State; I was myself no more. Only, drawn together, the tenderly sharp teeth were there, only her golden, widely open eyes, and through them I saw deeper within. . . . And silence. . . . Only somewhere in a corner, thousands of miles away it seemed, drops of water were dripping from the faucet of the washstand. I was the Universe! . . . And between drops whole epochs, eras, were elapsing. . . .
I put on my unif and bent over I-330 to draw her into me with my eyes — for the last time.
“I knew it. . . . I knew you,” said I-330 in a very low voice. She passed her hand over her face as though brushing something away; then she arose brusquely, put on her unif and her usual sharp, bite-like smile.
“Well, my fallen angel, you perished just now, do you know that? No? You are not afraid? Well, au revoir. You shall go home alone. Well?”
She opened the mirror door of the cupboard and, looking at me over her shoulder, she waited. I left the room obediently. Yet no sooner had I left the room than I felt it was urgent that she touch me with her shoulder — only for one second with her shoulder, nothing more. I ran back into the room, where, I presumed, she was standing before the mirror, busily buttoning up her unif; I rushed in, and stopped abruptly. I saw — I remember it clearly -— I saw the key in the keyhole of the closet, and the ancient ring upon it was still swinging, but I-330 was not there. She could not have left the room as there was but one exit. . . . Yet I-330 was not there! I looked around everywhere. I even opened the cupboard and felt of the different ancient dresses; nobody. . . .
I feel somewhat ridiculous, my dear planetary readers, relating to you this most improbable adventure. But what else can I do since it all happened exactly as I relate it? Was not the whole day, from early morning, full of improbable adventures? Does it not all resemble the ancient disease of dream seeing? If this be so, what does it matter if I relate one absurdity more, or one less? Moreover, I am convinced that sooner or later I shall be able to include all these absurdities in some kind of logical sequence. This thought comforts me as I hope it will comfort you.
. . . How overwhelmed I am! If only you knew how overwhelmed!