Herzog by Saul Bellow


  "Go on, Jim."

  The Negro marked the places with red pencil, and went. Moses made a special effort to keep a neutral look-no defiance, no special pleading, nothing of the slightest personal color. He remembered that he once believed in the appeal of a direct glance, driving aside differences of position, accident, one human being silently opening his heart to another. The recognition of essence by essence. He smiled inwardly at this.

  Sweet dreams, those! If he tried looking into his eyes, the sergeant would throw the book at him. So Madeleine was coming. Well, let her come.

  Perhaps that was what he wanted after all, a chance to confront her. Straight-nosed and pale, he looked intently at the floor. June changed her position in his arms, stirring the pain in his ribs.

  "Papa's sorry, sweetheart," he said.

  "Next time we'll go see the dolphins. Maybe the sharks were bad luck."

  "You can sit down if you want," said the sergeant "You look a little weak in the legs, Moses."

  "I'd like to phone my brother to send his lawyer.

  Unless I don't need a lawyer. If I have to post a bond..."

  "You'll have to post one, but I can't say how big, yet. Plenty of bondsmen settin' here." He motioned with the back of his hand, or with a wag of his wrist, and Moses turned and saw all sorts of people ranged behind him, along the walls. In fact, there were two men, he now noticed, loitering near, bondsmen by their natty appearance. He neutrally recognized that they were sizing him up as a risk.

  They had already seen his plane ticket, his keys, pens, rubles, and his wallet. His own car, wrecked on the Drive, would have secured a small bond.

  But a rented car? A man from out of state, in a dirty seersucker, no necktie? He didn't look good for a few hundred bucks. If it's no more than that, he reflected, I can probably swing it without bothering Will, or Shura. Some fellows always make a nice impression. I never had that ability. Due to my feelings. A passionate heart, a bad credit risk. Asked to make this practical judgment on myself, I wouldn't make it any differently.

  It came back to him how he used to be banished to left field when sides were chosen in the sand lot, and when the ball came and he missed it because he was musing about something everyone would cry out, "Hey! Ikey-Moe. Butterfingers!

  Fucky-knuckles! You lookin' at the butterflies? Ikey-Fishbones.

  Fishbones!"

  Although silent, he participated in the derision.

  His hands were clasped about his daughter's heart, which was beating quickly and lightly.

  "Now, Moses, why you been carryin' a loaded gun. To shoot somebody?"

  "Of course not. And, please, sergeant, I don't like the kid to hear such things."

  "You the one that brought it along, not me. Maybe you just wanted to scare somebody. You sore at somebody?"

  "No, sergeant, I was only going to make a paperweight of it. I forgot to take out the bullets, but that's because I don't know much about guns so it didn't occur to me. Will you let me make a phone call?"

  "By and by. I ain't ready to. Sit down while I take care of other business. You sit and wait for the kid's mama to come."

  "Could I get a container of milk for her?"

  "Give Jim, here, two bits. He'll fetch it."

  "With a straw, eh, June? You'd like to drink it with a straw." She nodded and Herzog said, "Please, a straw with it, if you don't mind."

  "Papa?"

  "Yes, June."

  "You didn't tell me about the most-most."

  For an instant he did not remember. "Ah," he said, "you mean that club in New York where people are the most of everything."

  "That's the story."

  She sat between his knees on the chair. He tried to make more room for her. "There's this association that people belong to. They're the most of every type. There's the hairiest bald man, and the baldest hairy man."

  "The fattest thin lady."

  "And the thinnest fat woman. The tallest dwarf and the smallest giant. They're all in it. The weakest strong man, and the strongest weak man. The stupidest wise man and the smartest blockhead. Then they have things like crippled acrobats, and ugly beauties."

  "And what do they do, Papa?"

  "On Saturday night they have a dinner-dance. They have a contest."

  "To tell each other apart."

  "Yes, sweetheart. And if you can tell the hairiest bald man from the baldest hairy man, you get a prize."

  Bless her, she enjoyed her father's nonsense, and he must amuse her. She leaned her head on his shoulder and smiled, drowsy, with small teeth.

  The room was hot and close. Herzog, sitting off to one side, took in the case of the two men who had come up in the elevator with him. A pair of plainclothesmen giving testimony-the Vice Squad, he soon realized. They had brought a woman too. He hadn't noticed her before. A prostitute? Yes, obviously, for all her respectable middle-class airs. In spite of his own troubles, Herzog looked on and found himself listening keenly. The plainclothesman was saying, "They were having a hassle in this woman's room."

  "Sip your milk, June dear," said Herzog.

  "Is it cold? Drink it nice and easy, darling."

  "You heard them from the corridor?" said the sergeant.

  "What's it about?"

  "This fellow was yelling about a pair of earrings."

  "What about earrings? The ones she's wearing? Where'd you get them?"

  "I bought them. From him. It was just business."

  "On payments, which you didn't make."

  "You were gettin' paid."

  "He was takin' it out in trade. I see," the sergeant said.

  "The way it figures," said the plainclothesman, explaining with a heavy, dull face, "he brought this other fellow along and after she did the trick he tried to get the ten bucks for himself because she owed him on the earrings. She wouldn't give up the money."

  "Sergeant!" the second man pleaded. "What do I know! I'm from out of town."

  From the town of Nineveh, with those twisting swarthy brows. Moses watched with interest, whispering occasionally to the child to divert her attention. The woman looked oddly familiar, despite her smeary makeup, emerald eye shadow, dyed hair, the thickening pride of her nose. He wanted very much to ask her a question. Had she attended Mc Kinley High School? Did she sing in the Glee Club?

  Me too!

  Don't you remember? Herzog? Herzog who gave the class oration-who spoke on Emerson?

  "Papa, the milk won't come."

  "Because you've chewed the straw. Let's get the kinks out of it."

  "We got to get out of here, sergeant," said the jewel salesman. "We got people waiting for us."

  The wives! thought Herzog. The wives were waiting!

  "You two fellows related?"

  The jewel salesman said, "He's my brother-in-law, just visiting from Louisville."

  The wives, one of them a sister, were waiting. And he, too, Herzog, was waiting, light-headed with anticipation. Could this really be Carlotta from the Glee Club who sang the contralto solo in "Once More with Joy" (from Wagner)? It was not impossible. Look at her now. Why would anyone want to give a broad like this a bang? Why! He knew well enough why. Look at the heavy veins in her legs, and look at those breasts, huddled together.

  They looked as if they had been washed but not ironed.

  And that slightly herring-eyed look, and her fat mouth. But he knew why. Because she had dirty ways, that was why. Lewd knowledge.

  At this moment Madeleine arrived. She came in, saying, "Where is my child... to was Then she saw June on Herzog's lap and crossed the room quickly. "Come here to me, baby!" She lifted the milk container and put it aside, and took up the girl in her arms. Herzog felt the blood beating in his eardrums, and a great pressure at the back of the head. It was necessary that Madeleine should see him, but her look was devoid of intimate recognition.

  Coldly she turned from him, her brow twitching. "Is the child all right?" she said.

  The sergeant motioned to the Vice Squad to mak
e way. "She's fine. If she had even a scratch on her we'd have taken her to Michael Reese."

  Madeleine examined June's arms, her legs, felt her with nervous hands. The sergeant beckoned to Moses. He came forward, and he and Mady faced each other across the desk.

  She wore a light blue linen suit and her hair fell loose behind her. The word to describe her conduct was masterful.

  Her heels had made a commanding noise clearly audible in this buzzing room. Herzog took a long look at her blue-eyed, straight, Byzantine profile, the small lips, the chin that pressed on the flesh beneath. Her color was deep, a sign with her that consciousness was running high. He thought he could make out a certain thickening in her face- incipient coarseness. He hoped so. It was only right that some of Gersbach's grossness should rub off on her. Why shouldn't it? He observed that she was definitely broader behind. He imagined what clutching and rubbing was the cause of that. Uxorious business-but that was not the right word.... Amorous.

  "Is this the girl's daddy, lady?"

  Madeleine still refused to grant him a look of recognition. "Yes," she said, "I divorced him. Not long ago."

  "Does he live in Massachusetts?"

  "I don't know where he lives. It's none of my business."

  Herzog marveled at her. He could not help admiring the perfection of her self-control. She never hesitated. When she took the milk from Junie she knew precisely where to drop the container, though she had been only an instant in the room. By now she had certainly made an inventory of all the objects on the desk, including the rubles, and the gun, of course. She had never seen it, but she could identify the Ludeyville keys by the round magnetic clasp of the ring, and she would realize the pistol belonged to him. He knew her ways so well, all her airs, the patrician style, the tic of her nose, the crazy clear hauteur of the eyes. As the sergeant questioned her, Moses, in his slightly dazed but intense way, unable to restrain associations, wondered whether she still gave off those odors of feminine secretions-the dirty way she had with her. That personal sweet and sour fragrance of hers, and her fire-blue eyes, her spiky glances and her small mouth ready with any wickedness would never again have the same power over him. Still, it gave him a headache merely to look at her. The pulses in his skull were quick and regular, like the tappets of an engine beating in their film of dark oil. He saw her with great vividness-the smoothness of her breast, bared by the square-cut dress, the smoothness of her legs, Indian brown. Her face, especially the forehead, was altogether too smooth, too glabrous for his taste. The whole burden of her severity was carried there. She had what the French called le front bombe; in other terms, a pedomorphic forehead.

  Ultimately unknowable, the processes behind it.

  See, Moses? We don't know one another.

  Even that Gersbach, call him any name you like, charlatan, psychopath, with his hot phony eyes and his clumsy cheeks, with the folds. He was unknowable.

  And I myself, the same. But hard ruthless action taken against a man is the assertion by evildoers that he is fully knowable. They put me down, ergo they claimed final knowledge of Herzog. They knew me! And I hold with Spinoza (i hope he won't mind) that to demand what is impossible for any human being, to exercise power where it can't be exercised, is tyranny. Excuse me, therefore, sir and madam, but I reject your definitions of me. Ah, this Madeleine is a strange person, to be so proud but not well wiped-so beautiful but distorted by rage-such a mixed mind of pure diamond and Woolworth glass. And Gersbach who sucked up to me. For the symbiosis of it.

  Symbiosis and trash. And she, as sweet as cheap candy, and just as reminiscent of poison as chemical sweet acids. But I make no last judgment.

  That's for them, not me. I came to do harm, I admit. But the first bloodshed was mine, and so I'm out of this now. Count me out. Except in what concerns June. But for the rest, I withdraw from the whole scene as soon as I can. Good-by to all.

  "Well, he give you a hard time?" Herzog who had been listening subliminally heard the sergeant put this question.

  He said tersely to Madeleine, "Watch it, if you please. Let's not have unnecessary trouble."

  She ignored this. "He bothered me, yes."

  "He make any threats?"

  Herzog waited, tense, for her reply. She would consider the support money-the rent. She was canny, a superbly cunning, very canny woman. But there was also the violence of her hatred, and that hatred had a fringe of insanity.

  "No, not directly to me. I haven't seen him since last October."

  "To who, then?" The sergeant pressed her.

  Madeleine evidently would do what she could to weaken his position. She was aware that her relations with Gersbach offered grounds for a custody suit and she would therefore make the most of his present weakness-his idiocy. "His psychiatrist," she said, "saw fit to warn me."

  "Saw fit! Of what!" said Herzog.

  Still she spoke only to the sergeant. "He said he was concerned. Doctor Edvig is his name if you want to talk to him. He felt it necessary to advise me ..."

  "Edvig is a sucker-he's a fool," said Herzog.

  Madeleine's color was very high, her throat flushed, like pink-like rose quartz, and the curious tinge had come into her eyes. He knew what this moment was to her-happiness! Ah, yes, he said to himself, Ikey-Fishbones has dropped another pop fly in left field. The other team is scoring-clearing all bases. She was making brilliant use of error.

  "Do you recognize this gun?" The sergeant held it in his yellow palm, turning it over with delicate fingers like a fish-a perch.

  The radiance of her look as it rested on the gun was deeper than any sexual expression he had ever seen on her face. "It's his, isn't it?" she said. "The bullets, too?" He recognized the hard clear look of joy in her eyes. Her lips were pressed shut "He had it on him. Do you know it?"

  "No, but I'm not surprised."

  Moses was watching June now. Her face was clouded again; she seemed to frown.

  "Did you ever file a complaint against Moses, here?"

  "No," said Mady. "I didn't actually do that."

  She took a sharp breath. She was about to plunge into something.

  "Sergeant," said Herzog. "I told you there was no complaint. Ask her if I've ever missed a single support check."

  Madeleine said, "I did give his photograph to the Hyde Park police."

  He warned her that she was going too far.

  "Madeleine!" he said.

  "Shut it up, Moses," said the sergeant. "What was that for, lady?"

  "In case he prowled around the house. To alert them."

  Herzog shook his head, partly at himself. He had made the kind of mistake today that belonged to an earlier period. As of today it was no longer characteristic.

  But he had to pay an earlier reckoning. When will you catch up with yourself! he asked himself. When will that day come!

  "Did he ever prowl?"

  "He was never seen, but I know damn well he did. He's jealous and a troublemaker. He has a terrible temper."

  "You never signed a complaint, though?"

  "No. But I expect to be protected from any sort of violence."

  Her voice went up sharply, and as she spoke, Herzog saw the sergeant take a new look at her, as if he were beginning to make out her haughty peculiarities at last. He picked up the Ben Franklin glasses with the tablet-shaped lenses. "There ain't going to be any violence, lady."

  Yes, Moses thought, he's beginning to see how it is. "I never intended to use that gun except to hold papers down," he said.

  Madeleine now spoke to Herzog for the first time, pointing with a rigid finger to the two bullets and looking him in the eyes. "One of those was for me, wasn't it!"

  "You think so? I wonder where you get such ideas? And who was the other one for?" He was quite cool as he said this, his tone was level. He was doing all he could to bring out the hidden Madeleine, the Madeleine he knew. As she stared at him her color receded and her nose began to move very slightly. She seemed to realize that she must control her tic and t
he violence of her stare. But by noticeable degrees her face became very white, her eyes smaller, stony. He believed he could interpret them. They expressed a total will that he should die. This was infinitely more than ordinary hatred. It was a vote for his nonexistence, he thought. He wondered whether the sergeant was able to see this. "Well, who do you think that second imaginary shot was for?"

  She said no more to him, only continued to stare in the same way.

  "That'll be all now, lady. You can take your child and go."

  "Good-by, June," said Moses. "You go home now. Papa'll see you soon. Give us a kiss, now, on the cheek." He felt the child's lips.

  Over her mother's shoulder, June reached out and touched him. "God bless you." He added, as Madeleine strode away, "I'll be back."

  "I'll finish bookin' you now, Moses."

  "I've got to post bond? How much?"

  "Three hundred. American, not this stuff."

  "I wish you'd let me make a call."

  As the sergeant silently directed him to take one of his own dimes, Moses still had the time to note what a powerful police-face he had. He must have Indian blood-Cherokee, perhaps, or Osage; an Irish ancestor or two. His sallow gold skin with heavy seams descending, the austere nose and prominent lips for impassivity, and the many separate, infinitesimal gray curls on his scalp for dignity. His rugged fingers pointed to the phone booth.

  Herzog was tired, dragged out, as he dialed his brother, but far from downcast. For some reason he believed he had done well. He was running true to form, yes; more mischief; and Will would have to bail him out. Still, he was not at all heavy-hearted but, on the contrary, felt rather free. Perhaps he was too tired to be glum. That may have been it, after all-the metabolic wastes of fatigue (he was fond of these physiological explanations; this one came from Freud's essay on Mourning and Melancholia) made him temporarily light-hearted, even gay.

  "Yes."

  "Will Herzog in?"

  Each recognized the other's voice.

  "Mose!" said W.

  Herzog could do nothing about the feelings stirred by hearing W. They came to life suddenly at hearing the old tone, the old name. He loved Will, Helen, even Shura, though his millions had made him remote.

 
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