Hearing this speech has made the sliding
sickness in her so steep that Janice wonders if she can keep her grip on the
"Don't come over, Mother," she begs. "Please."
have a bite of lunch and be over in twenty minutes. You go to bed."
Janice replaces the receiver and looks around her with
apartment is horrible.
Panicked with the double idea of not disturbing
Nelson and of concealing Harry's absence, she runs to the crib and
nightmarishly finds it smeared with orange mess.
"Damn you, damn you,"
she moans to Rebecca, and lifts the little filthy thing out and wonders where
to carry her. She takes her to the armchair and biting her lips unpins the
"Oh you little shit," she murmurs, feeling that the sound of
her voice is holding off the other person who is gathering in the room.
She takes the soaked daubed diaper to the bathroom and drops it in the
toilet and dropping to her knees fumbles the bathtub plug into its hole.
She notices the glass of watery whisky she left on the top of the
toilet and takes a long stale swallow and then
puzzles how to get it off
All the while Rebecca screams as if she has mind enough
to know she's filthy.
Janice takes the glass with her and spills it on the rug with her knee
while she strips the baby of its nightie and sweater.
Her head aches
with all this jarring up and down.
Her knees sting from so much
up and to her surprise sits flatly on a kitchen
Hide the whisky.
Her body doesn't move for a second
but when it does she sees her hands with the little lines of dirt on her
fingernails put the whisky bottle into a lower cabinet with some old shirts.
She shuts the door, it bangs but doesn't catch, and on the edge of
linoleum beside the sink the cork cap of the whisky bottle stares at her like a
little top hat.
She puts it in the garbage bag.
Now the kitchen
is clean enough.
In the living-room Rebecca is lying naked in the fuzzy
armchair with her belly puffing out sideways to yell and her lumpy curved legs
clenched and red.
Janice's other baby was a boy and it still seems
unnatural to her, between the girl's legs, those
two little buns of fat
instead of a boy's plump
When the doctor had
Nelson circumcised Harry hadn't wanted him to as he hadn't been and thought it
was unnatural, she had laughed at him he was so mad.
gray line of the water is almost up to the lip of the tub.
she could have the bath.
Brimful of composure she returns to the living
She tips too much trying to dig the tiny rubbery thing out of the
chair so drops to her knees and scoops Rebecca into her arms and carries her
into the bathroom held sideways against her breasts.
She is proud to be
carrying this to completion; at least the baby will be clean when Mother comes.
She drops gently to her knees by the big calm tub and does not expect
her sleeves to be soaked.
The water wraps around her forearms like two
large hands; under her eyes the pink baby sinks down like a gray stone.
With a sob of protest she grapples for the child but the water pushes
up at her hands, her bathrobe tends to float, and the slippery thing squirms in
the sudden opacity.
She has a hold, feels a heartbeat on her thumb, and
then loses it, and the skin of the water leaps with pale refracted oblongs.
Then she has Becky squeezed in her hands and it is all right. She lifts
the living thing into air and hugs it against her sopping chest.
Water pours off them onto the bathroom
The little weightless body flops against her neck.
contorted memory of how they give
pumps Janice's cold wet arms in frantic rhythmic hugs.
Though her wild
heart bathes the universe in red, no spark kindles in the space between her
arms; for all of her pouring prayers she doesn't feel the faintest tremor of an
answer in the darkness against her.
Her sense of the third person with
them widens enormously, and she knows, knows, while knocks sound at the door,
that the worst thing that has ever happened to any woman in the world has
happened to her.
Jill goes on gently, "Americans are exploiters.
The first things they exploit
Lifting her face, her eyes fixed and her freckles a
constellation, "You've never given
yourself a chance to think, except on
techniques, basketball and printing. You carry
an old God with you, and
an angry old
patriotism. And now an old wife."
He takes breath to protest, but
her hand begs him to let her finish.
"You accept these things as
sacred not out of love or faith but fear;
your thought is frozen
because the first moment when your instincts failed,
you raced to the
conclusion that everything is nothing, that
zero is the real answer. As we see in
He at last can speak.
"There was violence in Vietnam before
we ever heard of the fucking place.
You can see by just the way I'm
sitting here listening to this crap I'm a pacifist basically."
points at Skeeter. "He's the violent son of a bitch."
"But you see,"
Jill says, her voice lulling and nagging, with just a teasing ragged hem
showing of the voice she uses in bed, "the reason Skeeter annoys and frightens
you is you don't know a thing about his Afro-American history."
Skeeter's face is shedding its shell of scorn and writhing as if to
He has taken his glasses off.
He is reaching toward Jill
for the marijuana
cigarette, keeping his eyes on Rabbit's face.
Rabbit is frozen,
his mind racing. Nelson. Put
him to bed. Seeing too much.
His own face as he listens to Skeeter
feels weak, shapeless, slipping.
The beer tastes bad, of malt. Skeeter
wants to cry, to yell.
"So what did the South do? They said baboon and
lynched and whipped and cheated the black man of what pennies he had and
thanked their white Jesus they didn't have to feed him anymore.
did the North do? It copped out. It pulled out. It had put on all that muscle
for the war and now it was wading into the biggest happiest muck of greed and
graft and exploitation and
pollution and slum-building and Indian-killing this poor old whore of a planet
has ever been saddled with, right?
The Southern assholes got together
with the Northern assholes and said, Let's us do a deal. And that was the
1876. Far as the black man goes, that's the '76 that hurt, the one a
hundred years before was just a bunch of English gents dodging
Rabbit is Rich
Janice has on underpants beneath her
nightie but no bra and in the bright light her nipples show inside the cloth
with their own pink color, darker, more toward wine.
She is saying,
"It's a hard age. They seem to
have so many choices and yet they don't. They've been taught by television
all their lives to want this and that and yet when they get to be twenty they
find money isn't so easy to come by after all. They don't have the
opportunities even we had."
In bed, perhaps it's the rain that sexes
him up, he insists they make love, though at first Janice is reluctant.
"I would have taken a bath," she says, but she smells great, deep
jungle smell, of precious rotting mulch going down and down beneath the ferns.
When he won't stop, crazy to lose his face in this essence, the cool
stem fury of it takes hold of her and combatively she comes, thrusting her hips
up to grind her clitoris against his face and then letting him finish inside
her beneath him.
Lying spent and adrift he listens again to the rain's
sound, which now and then quickens to a metallic rhythm on the window glass,
quicker than the throbbing in the
iron gutter, where ropes of
"This is horrible," Nelson announces from the
sofa. "What'd we drag this poor guy in here for anyway? Pru and I didn't ask to
be married in a church, I don't believe any of that stuff."
don't?" Harry is shocked, hurt.
"Come off it, you know you are,
everybody knows it down deep."
"Nobody knows for sure," Pru points out in a
Nelson asks her furiously, "How many dead people have you
Even as a child, Harry remembers, Nelson's face would get white
around the gills when he was angry.
He would get
nervous stomach aches, and clutch at the edge of the banister on his way
upstairs to get his books.
They would send him off to school anyway.
Harry still had his job at Verity.
Janice was working part-time
at the lot.
They had no babysitter.
School was the babysitter.
Her voice presses into his ear. "I want to
do something for you so you won't forget me, something you've never had with
anybody else. I suppose other women have sucked you off?"
He shakes his
head yes, which tugs the flesh of her breast.
"How many have you fucked
up the ass?"
He lets her nipple slip from his mouth. "None. Never."
"You and Janice?"
"Oh God no. It never occurred to us."
"Harry. You're not fooling me?"
How dear that was, her
From talking to all those third-graders.
"No, honestly. I thought only queers ... Do you and Ronnie?"
"All the time. Well, a lot of the time. He loves it."
"It has its charms."
"Doesn't it hurt? I mean, he's big."
"At first. You use Vaseline. I'll get ours."
"Thelma, wait. Am
I up to this?"
She laughs a syllable. "You're up."
She slides away
into the bathroom and while she is gone he stays enormous.
and anoints him thoroughly, with an icy expert
Thelma lies down beside him with her back turned, curls forward as if
to be shot from a cannon, and reaches behind to guide him.
It seems it won't go, but suddenly it does.
The medicinal odor of displaced Vaseline reaches his nostrils.
The grip is tight at the base but beyond, where a cunt is all velvety
suction and caress, there is no sensation:
a void, a pure black box, a casket
of perfect nothingness.
He is in that void, past her tight ring of
He asks, "May I come?"
sounds faint and broken.
spine and shoulder blades are
It takes only a few thrusts, while he rubs her scalp with one
hand and clamps her hip steady.
"O.K.," he says. "Thank you. That I
"I feel embarrassed. What does
it do for you?"
"Makes me feel full of you. Makes me feel fucked up the
ass. By lovely Harry Angstrom."
"Thelma," he admits, "I can't believe
you're so fond of me.
Rabbit at Rest
Everything falling apart, aeroplanes,
bridges, eight years under
Reagan of nobody
minding the store, making money out of nothing,
running up debt,
trusting in god.
"You weren't quite yourself today,"
Bernie admits. " You got
girlfriend trouble or something?"
he once read a history of
Talmudwood about their womanizing.
Groucho Marx, the Warner
Brothers, they went crazy out there with the
sunshine and swimming pools
and all the Midwestern shiksas who'd do anything to be movie stars.
Janice would get back at ten-thirty at the earliest.
plenty of time to see this through.
He relaxes back into his pillows.
Good he had that nap this afternoon.
"Is that how you see it?" he asks.
"He was a shit to you?"
"Absolutely. Terrible. Out all night doing God
knows what, then this snivelling and begging for
forgiveness afterwards. I hate that worse than the chasing; my father was a
boozer and a chaser, but then he wouldn't whine to Mom about it, he'd at least
let her do the whining. This immature dependence of Nelson's was totally
outside my experience."
Her cigarette tip glows.
concussion of thunder steps closer.
Pru's presence here feels hot in Harry's mind, she is awkwardly big and
all sharp angles.
Her talk seems angular and tough, the gritty Akron
toughness overlaid with a dismissive vocabulary learned from professional
He doesn't like hearing his son called immature.
knew him for some time out at Kent," he points out, almost
"Harry, I didn't," she says, and the cigarette tip loops
through an agitated arc.
"I thought he'd grow, I never dreamed how
enmeshed he was, with you two. He's still trying
to work out what you two did to him, as if you were the only parents in the
world who didn't keep wiping their kid's ass until he was thirty.
A thing that goes fast with coke
is shame; these women that are hooked will do anything. I say to him,
You're not going to give me AIDS from
one of your coke whores. So he goes out again. It's a vicious circle. It's
been going on for years."
"How many years, would you say?"
she shrugs her shoulders, Ma's old bed shakes.
"More than you'd think.
That crowd around Slim was always
doing pot and uppers - gays don't give a
damn, they have all this money only for themselves. Maybe two years ago
Nelson became a big enough user on his own to need to steal. At first he just
stole from us, money that should have gone into the house and stuff, and then
he started stealing from you - the company. I hope you send him to jail."
She has been cupping her hand beneath the cigarette, to catch the ash,
and now she looks around for an ashhtray and sees none and finally flips the
butt toward the window, where it sparks against the screen and sizzles out on
the wet sill.
Her voice is hoarsening and finding a certain swing,
a welling up.
scared to fuck him, I'm scared to be legally associated with him. I've wasted
my life. My husband hates me and I hate
him and we don't even have any money to split up! I'm scared - so scared.
And my kids are scared, too.
I'm trash and they're trash
and they know it."
"Hey, hey," he has to say. "Come on. Nobody's
But even as he says it he knows this is an old-fashioned idea
he would have trouble defending.
Without God to lift us up and make
us into angels we're all trash.
Her sobbing is shaking the bed so
badly that in his delicate postop state he feels queasy.
To quiet her
big body he reaches out and pulls her toward him.
As if expecting his
touch, she huddles tightly, though a
blanket and a sheet are between them, and continues sobbing in a bitter,
lower register, her breath hot on his chest, where a pajama button has come
undone. His chest. They want to carve it up.
"At least you're healthy,"
he tells her. "Me, all they need to do is nail down the coffin lid. I can't
run, I can't fuck, I can't eat anything I
like, I know damn well they're going to talk me into a bypass. You're
scared? You're still young. You've got lots of cards still. Think of how scared
In his arms Pru says in a voice gone calm again, "People have
bypass operations all the time."
"Yeah, easy for you to say. Like me
telling you people are married to shits all the time. Or you telling me people
have their kids turn out to
be dope-addict embezzlers all the time."
A small laugh. A flash of
light outside and, after some seconds, thunder. Both listen.
"Does Janice say you can't fuck?"
"We don't talk about it. We just
don't do it much lately. There's been too much else going on."
"What did your doctor
"I forget. My cardiologist's about Nelson's age, we were all
too shy to go into it."
Pru sniffs and says, "I hate my
She seems to him to be
unnaturally still, like a deer in oncoming headlights.
He lets the hand
of the arm around her broad back move up across the bumps of the quilted robe
and enter the silken cave at the nape of her neck, to toy with the warm hair
"I know the feeling,"
aware through the length of
his body of a cottony sleepiness waiting to claim.
She tells him, "You
were one of the things I liked about Nelson. Maybe I thought Nelson would grow
into somebody like you."
"Maybe he did. You don't get to see what a
bastard I can be."
"I can imagine," she says. "But people provoke you."
He goes on, "I see a lot of myself in the kid."
The nape of her
neck tingles under his fingers, the soft hairs rising to his electricity.
''I'm glad you're letting your hair grow long," he says.
gets too long."
Her hand has come to rest on his bare chest, where the
button is unbuttoned.
Not waiting too long to think about it, he with
his free hand lifts hers from his chest and places it lower, where an erection
has surprisingly sprouted from his half-shaved groin.
His gesture has
the pre-sexual quality of one child sharing with another an interesting
discovery - a stone that moves, or a remarkably thick-bodied butterfly.
The eyes widen in the dim face inches from his on the pillow.
He lets his face drift, on
the tide of blood risen within
him, across those inches to set their mouths together, carefully testing
for the angle, while her fingers caress him in a rhythm slower than that of his
As the space narrows to
nothing he is watchful of his heart, his accomplice in sin.
kiss tastes to him of the fish she so nicely prepared, its lemon and chives,
and of asparagus.
Rain whips at the screen.
The leak onto the
windowsill accelerates its tapping.
A brilliant close flash shocks the
air everywhere and less than a second later a heart-stopping crack and
splintering of thunder crushes the house from above.
As if in overflow
of this natural heedlessness, Pru says "Shit," jumps from the bed, slams shut
the window, pulls down the shade,
tears open her bathrobe and
sheds it, and, reaching down, pulls her nightie up over her head.
tall pale wide-hipped nakedness in the dimmed room is lovely much as those pear
trees in blossom along that block in Brewer last month were lovely, all his it
had seemed, a piece of Paradise blundered upon,
"I know how to inflame a cunt.
I shoot hot bolts into you, Tania.
I make your ovaries
Your Sylvester is a little
He feels something does he?
He feels the
remnants of my big prick.
I have set the shores a little wider.
I have ironed out the wrinkles."
- Henry Valentine Miller,
Tropic of Cancer, 1934
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