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Authors: Henry Miller

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She was trying desperately to retrieve
the situation. I could almost hear her think.

“Couldn't you give them a check?” she begged.

At this Carl burst out laughing. He was about to say we had no check book when I interrupted him, saying: “Sure, that's an idea . . . we'll give each of you a check, how's that?” I went into Carl's room without another word and got out an old check book of his. I brought him his beautiful Parker pen and handed it to him.

At this point Carl displayed his astuteness. Pretending to be angry with me for having uncovered his check book and for meddling in his affairs, he said:

“It's always like this.” (In French, of course, for their benefit.) “I'm the one who always pays for these follies. Why don't you hand out your own checks?”

To this I replied as shamefacedly as I could that my account was dry. Still he demurred, or pretended to.

“Why can't they wait until tomorrow?” he asked, turning to Adrienne. “Won't they trust us?”

“Why should we trust you?” said one of the girls. “A moment ago you pretended
you had nothing. Now you want us to wait until tomorrow. Ah, no, that doesn't go with us.”

“Well, then, you can all clear out,” said Carl, throwing the check book on the floor.

“Don't be so mean,” cried Adrienne. “Give us each a hundred francs and we won't speak about it any more.
Please
!”

“A hundred francs
each
?”

“Of course,” she said. “That's not very much.”

“Go ahead,” I said, “don't be such a piker. Besides, I'll pay you back my half in a day or two.”

“That's what you always say,” Carl replied.

“Cut the comedy,” I said, in English. “Write out the checks and let's get rid of them.”

“Get rid of them? What, after giving them checks you want me to throw them out? No sir, I'm going to get full value for my money, even if the checks are no good.
They
don't know that. If we let them off too easy they'll smell a rat.

“Hey,
you
!” he shouted, waving a check at one of the girls. “What do I get for this?
I want something unique, not just a lay.”

He proceeded to distribute the checks. It looked comical, handing checks around in the raw. Even had they been good, the checks, they looked phony. Possibly because we were all naked. The girls seemed to feel the same way, that it was a phony transaction. Except for Adrienne, who believed in us.

I was praying they'd put on an act rather than force us to go through with the “fucking” routine. I was all in. Dog tired. It would have to be a tall performance, on their part, to make me work up even the semblance of a hard-on. Carl, on the other hand, was behaving like a man who had genuinely doled out three hundred francs. He wanted something for his money, and he wanted something exotic.

While they were talking it over among themselves I climbed into bed: I was so far removed, mentally, from the situation, that I fell into a reverie about the story I had begun days ago and which I intended to resume writing on waking. It was about an axe murder. I wondered if I should attempt to compress the narrative and concentrate
on the drunken murderer whom I had left sitting beside the headless body of the wife he had never loved. Perhaps I would take the newspaper account of the crime, telescope it, and begin my own rendition of the murder at the point, or moment, when the head rolled off the table. That would fit in nicely, I thought, with the bit about the armless, legless man who wheeled himself through the streets at night on a little platform, his head on a level with the knees of the passers-by. I wanted a bit of horror because I had a wonderful burlesque up my sleeve which I intended to use as a wind up.

In the brief interval of reverie allotted me I had regained the mood which had been broken days ago by the advent of our somnambulistic Pocahontas.

A nudge from Adrienne, who had made a place for herself beside me, roused me. She was whispering something in my ear. Something about money again. I asked her to repeat it, and, in order not to lose the thought which had just come to me, I kept repeating to myself—“Head rolls off table—head rolls off . . . little man on wheels
. . . wheels . . . legs . . . millions of legs. . .”

“They would like to know if you wouldn't please try to dig up some change for a taxi. They live far away.”

“Far away?” I repeated, looking at her vacantly. “How far away?” (
Remember
—wheels, legs, head rolls off . . . begin in the middle of a sentence.)

“Ménilmontant,” said Adrienne.

“Get me a pencil and paper—there, on the desk,” I begged.

“Ménilmontant . . . Ménilmontant. ..” I repeated hypnotically, scrawling a few key words, such as rubber wheels, wooden heads, corkscrew legs, and so on.

“What are you doing?” hissed Adrienne, tugging at me violently. “What's the matter with you?


Il est fou
” she exclaimed, rising from the bed and throwing up her hands in despair.


Où est l'autre
?” she demanded, looking for Carl.


Mon Dieu
!” I heard her say, as though from afar, “
Il dort
.” Then, after a heavy pause: “Well, that beats everything. Come, let's get out of here! One is drunk and the
other is inspired. We're wasting time. That's how foreigners are—always thinking of other things. They don't want to make love, they want to be titillated . . .”

Titillated
. I wrote that down, too. I don't remember what she had said in French, but whatever it was, it had resuscitated a forgotten friend.
Titillated
. It was a word I hadn't used for ages. Immediately I thought of another word I only rarely used:
misling
. I was no longer sure what it meant. What matter? I'd drag it in anyway. There were lots of words which had fallen out of my vocabulary, living abroad so long.

I lay back and observed them making ready to leave. It was like watching a stage performance from a box seat. Being a paralytic, I was enjoying the spectacle from my wheelchair. If one of them should take it into her head to throw a pitcher of water over me, I wouldn't stir from the spot. I'd merely shake myself and smile—the way one smiles at frolicsome angels. (Were there such?) All I wanted was for them to go and leave me to my reverie.
Had I had any coins on me I would have flung them at them.

After an aeon or so they made for the door. Adrienne was wafting a long distance kiss, a gesture so unreal that I became fascinated by the poise of her arm; I saw it receding down a long corridor where it was finally sucked through the narrow mouth of a funnel, the arm still bent at the wrist, but so diminished, so attenuated, that it finally resembled a wisp of straw.


Salaud
!” shouted one of the girls, and as the door banged shut I caught myself answering: “
Oui, c'est juste. Un salaud. Et vous, des salopes. Il n'y a que ça. N'y a que ça. Salaud, salope. La saloperie, quoi. C'est assoupissant
.”

I snapped out of it with a “Shit, what the hell am I talking about?”

Wheels, legs, head rolling off . . . Fine. Tomorrow will be like any other day, only better, juicier, rosier. The man on the platform will roll himself off the end of a pier. At Canarsie. He will come up with a herring in his mouth. A Maatjes herring, no less.

Hungry again. I got up and looked for the remnants of a sandwich. There wasn't a crumb on the table. I went to the bathroom absent-mindedly, thinking to take a leak. There were a couple of slices of bread, a few pieces of cheese, and some bruised olives scattered about. Thrown away in disgust, evidently.

I picked up a piece of bread to see if it were eatable. Someone had stamped on it with an angry foot. There was a little mustard on it. Or was it mustard? Better try another piece. I salvaged a fairly clean piece, a trifle soggy from lying on the wet floor, and slapped a piece of cheese on it. In a glass beside the
bidet
I found a drop of wine. I downed it, then gingerly bit into the bread. Not bad at all. On the contrary, it tasted good. Germs don't molest hungry people, or inspired people. All rot, this worrying about cellophane and whose hand touched it last. To prove it, I wiped my ass with it. Swiftly, to be sure. Then I gulped it down.
There
! What's to be sorry about? I looked for a cigarette. There were only butts left. I selected the longest one and lit it. Delicious aroma. Not that toasted
sawdust from America! Real tobacco. One of Carl's
Gauloises Bleues
, no doubt.

Now what was it I was thinking about?

I sat down at the kitchen table and swung my feet up. Let's see now . . . What was it again?

I couldn't see or think a thing. I felt too absolutely wonderful.

Why think anyway?

Yes, a big day.
Several
, indeed. Yes, it was only a few days ago that we were sitting here, wondering where to go. Might have been yesterday. Or a year ago. What difference? One gets stretched and then one collapses. Time collapses too. Whores collapse. Everything collapses. Collapses into a clap.

On the window-sill an early bird was tweeting. Pleasantly, drowsily, I remembered sitting thus on Brooklyn Heights years ago. In some other life. Would probably never see Brooklyn again. Nor Canarsie, nor Shelter Island, nor Montauk Point, nor Secaucus, nor Lake Pocotopaug, nor the Neversink River, nor scallops and bacon, nor finnan haddie, nor mountain oysters. Strange, how one can stew in the
dregs and think it's home. Until someone says Minnehaha—or Walla Walla.
Home
. Home is if home lasts. Where you hang your hat, in other words. Far away, she said, meaning Menilmontant. That's not far. China now, that's really far. Or Mozambique. Ducky, to drift everlastingly. It's unhealthy, Paris. Maybe she had something there. Try Luxembourg, little one. What the hell, there are thousands of places, Bali, for instance. Or the Carolines. Crazy, this asking for money all the time. Money, money. No money. Lots of money. Yeah, somewhere far, far away. And no books, no typewriter, no nothing. Say nothing, do nothing. Float with the tide. That bitch, Nys. Nothing but a cunt.
What a life
! Don't forget—
titillated
!

I got off my ass, yawned, stretched, staggered to the bed.

Off like a streak. Down, down, to the cosmocentric cesspool. Leviathans swimming around in strangely sunlit depths. Life going on as usual everywhere. Breakfast at ten sharp. An armless, legless man tending bar with his teeth. Dynamite falling through from the stratosphere. Garters
descending in long graceful spirals. A woman with a gashed torso struggling desperately to screw her severed head on. Wants money for it. For what? She doesn't know
for what
. Just money. Atop an umbrella fern lies a fresh corpse full of bullet holes. An iron cross is suspended from its neck. Somebody's asking for a sandwich. The water is too agitated for sandwiches. Look under S in the dictionary!

A rich, fecundating dream, shot through with a mystic blue light. I had sunk to that dangerous level where, out of sheer bliss and wonder, one lapses back to the button mold. In some vague dreamy way I was aware that I must make a herculean effort. The struggle to reach the surface was agonizing, exquisitely agonizing. Now and then I succeeded in opening my eyes: I saw the room, as through a mist, but my body was down below in the shimmering marine depths. To swoon back was voluptuous. I fell clear through to the bottomless bottom, where I waited like a shark. Then slowly, very slowly, I rose. It was tantalizing. All cork and no fins. Nearing the surface I was sucked under again, pulled
down, down, in delicious helplessness, sucked into the empty vortex, there to wait through endless passages of time for the will to gather and raise me like a sunken buoy.

I awoke with the sound of birds chirping in my ear. The room was no longer veiled in a watery mist but clear and recognizable. On my desk were two sparrows fighting over a crumb. I rested on an elbow and watched them flutter to the window, which was closed. Into the hallway they flew, then back again, frantically seeking an exit.

I got up and opened the window. They continued to fly about the room, as if stunned. I made myself very still. Suddenly they darted through the open window. “
Bonjour, Madame Oursel
” they cheeped.

It was high noon, about the third or fourth day of spring . . .

—Henry Miller
New York City,
June, 1940.
Rewritten in Big Sur, May, 1956
.

MARA-MARIGNAN

It was near the Café Marignan on the Champs-Elysées that I ran into her.

I had only recently recovered from a painful separation from Mara-St. Louis. That was not her name, but let us call her that for the moment, because it was on the Ile St. Louis that she was born, and it was there I often walked about at night, letting the rust eat into me.

It is because I heard from her just the other day, after giving her up for lost, that I am able to recount what follows. Only now, because of certain things which have become clear to me for the first time, the story has grown more complicated.

I might say, in passing, that my life seems to have been one long search for
the
Mara who would devour all the others and give them significant reality.

The Mara who precipitated events was neither the Mara of the Champs-Elysées nor the Mara of the Ile St. Louis. The Mara I speak of was called Eliane. She was married to a man who had been jailed for passing counterfeit money. She was also the mistress of my friend Carl, who had at first been passionately in love with her and who was now, on this afternoon I speak of, so bored with her that he couldn't tolerate the thought of going to see her alone.

Eliane was young, slim, attractive, except that she was liberally peppered with moles and had a coat of down on her upper lip. In the eyes of my friend these blemishes at first only enhanced her beauty, but as he grew tired of her their presence irritated him and sometimes caused him to make caustic jokes which made her wince. When she wept she became, strangely enough, more beautiful than ever. With her face wreathed in tears she looked the mature
woman, not the slender androgynous creature with whom Carl had fallen in love.

BOOK: Quiet Days in Clichy
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