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Authors: Tennessee Williams

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When Moise returned to the room the skater's long legs had a scissor hold on my body, there was blood on the bed, the burning eyes had blurred with loving contrition.

Moise was the soul of sympathy and discretion. She made no reference to what she observed or what she had heard. She was almost soundless in her goings about the room, fetching a towel and glasses of red wine.

I recovered enough to say, when she offered me the red wine, “Do you think that'll put a little blood back in me?”

Well, actually, I hadn't bled all that much despite my defloration by the well-endowed light-colored black ice skater.

Now I know I have said that everything in the last fifteen years of my life might have been quite different if I had not had this experience which I have told you with that respect for reserve (?) which is the one thing that I hope may justify my claim to some distinction as a failed writer at thirty.

You may very well be warranted in demanding that I explain how such an apparently fairly commonplace experience could have changed my life since then. All right, I will try to explain. For thirteen years after that there was nothing of much importance in my life besides that ice skater and Moise and this practice of mine of trying to write things out in a long series of Blue Jay notebooks.

I may have been a chicken à la queen when the ice skater first saw me but I was not and never have been intended for the use that he made of me that first night, and as I ran my fingers down his silky thighs, I interrupted his whispers to ask, “Isn't it my turn now?”

“Baby, I never took the sheets in my life.”

“Yes, but your life isn't over.”

With strength from somewhere beyond me, I had extricated myself from his scissor hold and was moving gradually into the dominant position.

“Moise, this chicken is turning to a rooster. Have you got some lubricant in the room?”

“I think there's a bit of petroleum jelly under the bed,” she murmured vaguely. “Now please excuse me again. I want to finish a mural in the bathroom.”

Even with the lubricant on, I made him say
“Wow!”

“Too much?”

“Too soon, take it easier, love, yours wasn't the only cherry.”

Then, having been joined in wedlock by mutual penetration (a complete sort of wedlock that's often denied to straights), we went to his pad together. It was colder than Moise's, and far stranger, but again his entrance warmed an unheated space.

About the homelife, now, in Thelma, Alabama. You've doubtless surmised that I had a possessively devoted mother and a father that loved her but was brutal to me because, when he stumbled home drunk from the stave mill he worked for and the bar he frequented, he'd often find the bedroom locked against him and would break in the door and find my mother clinging to me on the bed as if I could protect her from his liquored ravishment of her.

One night when I was fifteen he snatched me off the bed and shouted, “Get the fuck out of here and don't come back here ever!” which is just what I did, heading North that night like a bird migrating instinctively that way.

They had no idea at home that I'd thumbed my way to New York till six months later when Lance discovered that I was listed among those listed by the Bureau of Missing Persons on a nationwide scale. Well, the Bureau never tracked me down but a few days later I wrote a letter to Mother, giving her Moise's address for mine, and then began the flow of Mother's letters pleading that I come home, which were delivered to me by Moise. At first she tried to get me back to Thelma with pitifully false enticements, such as “Your father is a changed man, quit drinking, and is anxious as me about you.” “Son, you must come home, you must continue your schooling and develop your talent, your English teacher has told me you write the most beautiful themes she's ever read in her thirty years of teaching.”

But then the tone of her letters changed into reproaches and into confessions of illness.

I couldn't read them alone, I would read them aloud to Moise and Lance.

“Son, you broke my heart and I can't recover, I have lost twenty pounds since you ran away to that city which I hear is a modern Babylon that will ruin you body and soul. The doctor says that my grief has affected my nerves and my heart and is bringing on female trouble.

“Son, you know you love Thelma and you are the star of my life which has not been easy. I'm selling garden products to send you bus fare back here and you couldn't be so heartless as not to return. But if you don't, I will catch a bus myself and come up there if it kills me. So far I haven't informed the truant officer, but you are a runaway schoolboy and can be arrested up there and brought home willing or not. Now please don't force me to do that but you know that I will if you don't. Meanwhile it is winter and you left in wrong clothes. Tomorrow I'm going to pack your corduroy suit and heavy things in a box and take them to the post office and mail them to you at that address you gave me which I suspect is a false one. Now, son, write me at once, say you're coming back to us, don't break the heart of your mother with time running out so fast.
Do not ignore this letter
,
I mean every word I say!
Your father sends his love. He comes straight home from the mill, never stops off at the bar, drinks nothing but milk and sweet cider.”

I read this letter to Moise and to Lance at Moise's.

Moise said, “Love, I think”

She didn't continue the sentence so I don't know what she thought, but Lance embraced me and said, “Child, think of them as dead without recollection!”

The letters kept coming from Mother but this was the last one I opened and read aloud or alone. I kept them all, though. They are still with me now. They are stacked up in a corner of the rectangle, turning yellow from time and damp, and unopened.

But late in April that year my mother arrived at Moise's. She'd come up on a bus line called the Gray Goose and she collapsed at the door on Bleecker when Moise opened it for her. Moise supported her to the bed and gave her an aspirin and a toddy and then she rushed over to the warehouse and said, “Your mother is here in a dreadful condition, you have got to come with me.”

I said, “I can't.”

She kept saying, “You've got to, you know you've got to!” And she caught hold of my arm and wouldn't let go of it till I went along with her like a marching convict on his way to death row.

Mother was sitting up on Moise's bed when I got there. She had on her good dress, the one that she wore to the Baptist Church in Thelma, but it was terribly wrinkled from the long bus trip and it was now too big for her. I stood there looking in silence as she cried out to me, attempting to get off the bed and toppling back down and babbling away about the reforms of my father and how I was missed by everybody in Thelma and she removed from her purse two return tickets to it on the Gray Goose bus line.

I crossed to Moise's table and stood there drinking her white port till I was able to look again at the babbling ghost of my mother. When I looked at her I said, “You've took off a lot of weight, Mother.”

“Son, you know I have worked myself to the bone with the garden products and selling them to the markets. The whole garden's full of products, tomatoes, pole beans, cabbages, carrots, rutabagas and”

She stopped for a moment to breathe, and I wonder if maybe I might not have gone back with her if she hadn't begun to reproach me when she had caught her breath.

“Your father has quit drinking and you have started. You stood at that table drinking liquor till you could turn to face me, your eyes red with the liquor. Now, son, don't bother to pack, we are leaving this awful place right away for the Gray Goose station.”

Then I panicked and I ran to the door and out of it, and to my horror, I was pursued by my mother. I looked back and saw she had outrun Moise and was babbling crazily and staggering this way and that. I turned every corner I came to and still she followed. Then I heard a policeman's whistle and I looked back once more. She had fallen onto the sidewalk and was being arrested as drunk.

Still she shouted, “Catch him, catch him, he is my son, a truant!” not understanding that it was her being caught, not me.

I have heard people say they can't sleep alone and others say they can't eat alone or drink alone or simply not live alone or die alone. I have heard many people say they can't do almost anything alone but I have never heard a writer say that he can't write alone. In fact most writers I've known, despite my instinctive aversion to knowing others engaged in the same kind of existence, preferring to know painters and hustlers and practically anything but lawyers and persons who enforce law and others who have commitments to order, an exciting number of whom have recently been exposed as compulsive violators of the same

I know when a sentence is going on too long for the mental breath of a reader not to mention a writer so let me complete what I had started to say and leave it there and go on. I have never known a writer to say that he can't write alone. Now how is that for a simple declarative sentence?

Nevertheless I have always regarded writing as the loneliest occupation this side of death and yet I have the distinction of being a writer who prefers not to write alone, especially after midnight, and I know that there is a contradiction lurking in that statement but I think it belongs there. I think that many contradictions, whether disguised as paradoxes or not, belong where they are because of the contradictions of that four-letter word to which I prefer the synonym of existence and the contradictions of character and of meaning, the contradictions are practically infinite this side of death and I am also aware that I have made three references to death on a single page or surface for words. I think it must be because I am writing alone after midnight. The tick of a clock is the most uncompanionable noise in existence. I call it noise, not sound. It jars the senses more than a garbage truck at this hour. It is so assertively. And I am aware that that is an adverb without a noun to belong to, there are very few violations of law and order in writing which I commit without knowledge. Moise once said, “You are cunning!” and she didn't mean cute. I think it is probably the only thing she has ever said to me which was not intended to be a comfort to me and yet in a way it provided me with a comforting reassurance since I have long, if not always, understood that cunning belongs to the animal side of a man that helps him survive under circumstances not favorable to his survival.

If you begin to write not alone, as I did with Lance the skater and continued for such a long time to, you are not likely to use a typewriter not only because the clatter of typewriter keys is also a noise, not a sound, worse than garbage trucks past midnight, but because you have discovered the purest delight of living which is companionship while doing that thing which you care about even more than lovemaking. . . .

I am writing alone at one twenty-seven
A.M.
in this hooked rectangle flimsily sectioned off from the desolation of a disused warehouse. Of course I have written alone but less than comfortably always. I have always preferred the presence of a companion. I think, in a way, that is the excuse for the Blue Jay and that I have now accepted it as the only reward in my case.

But when a piece of writing begins to sound like an incantation, you turn it gracefully there as a practiced skater turns unless you are Gertrude Stein who has forsaken existence or Alice B. Toklas and I am not her, either, although I do sometimes wear a little mustache and take an interest in cooking, at least enough to know when something is on the back burner, and when there is little to cook.

I have mentioned the time, still passing, and the fact that I'm writing alone this passing moment now being announced by the one-legged clock by the bed. I am drunk. I am stoned. I'm alone. You name it, I am possibly it, and there is another contradiction, for I am not alone, I'm with the clock.

BOOK: Moise and the World of Reason
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