Enderby's supper was interrupted by two telephone calls. During the stew course (two cans of corned beef, frozen onion rings, canned carrots, a large Chunky turkey soup, p^at'e, a dollop of whisky, Lea and Perrin's, pickled cauliflowers, the remains of the spongemeat and the crinkle-cut potato bits) Ms. Tietjens sobbed to him briefly without preamble: I'm sick, I tell ya, I'm all knotted up inside, I'm sick, sick, there's something wrong with me, I tell ya; and Lloyd Utterage confirmed the impending fulfilment of his threat, so that Enderby was constrained to tell him to come along and welcome, black bastard, and have an already bloody sword stuck into his black guts. Enderby placidly ended his meal with the French ice cream (brought to near melting in a saucepan over a brisk flame) with raspberry jam spread liberally over, spooning the treat in on rich tea biscuits he ate as he spooned. Then he had some strong tea (six Lipton's bags in the pint alabama mug) and lighted up a White Owl. He felt pretty good, as they said in American fiction, though distended. All he needed now, as again they would say in American fiction, and he laughed at the conceit, was a woman.
A woman came while he was making himself more tea. He was surprised to hear the doorbell ring with no anterior warning on the intercommunication system from the black guard below. Every visitor was supposed to be screened, frisked, reported to the intended visited before actually appearing. The woman at the door was young and very attractive in a reactionary way, being dressed in a bourgeois grey costume with a sort of nutria or coypu or something coat swinging open over it. She wore over decently arranged chastaigne hair a little pillbox hat of the same fur. She was carrying a handful of slim volumes. She said:
"Or Professor, according to the nature of. How did you get here? You're not supposed just to come up, you know, without a premonition."
"A forewarning from the gunman."
"Oh. Well, I said it was a late visit from one of your students and that you were expecting me. It is all right, isn't it?"
"Are you one of my students?" Enderby asked. "I don't seem to-"
"I am in a sense. I've studied your work. I'm Dr. Greaving."
"From Goldengrove College."
"Oh very well then, perhaps you'd better. That is to say." And he motioned courtlily that she should enter. She entered, sniffing. "Just been cooking," Enderby said. "My supper, that is to say. Can I perhaps offer?"
In the sitting room there was a small table. Dr. Greaving put down her books on it and at once sat on the straight-backed uncomfortable chair nearby.
"Whisky or something like that?"
"Water." Now in, she had become vaguely hostile. She looked up thinly at him.
"Oh, very well. Water." And Enderby went to get it. He let the faucet run but the stream did not noticeably cool. He brought some back warmish and put the glass down with care next to the slim volumes. He saw they were of his own work. British editions, American not existing. "Oh," he said. "How did you manage to get hold of those?"
"Paid for them. Ordered them through a Canadian bookseller. When I was in Montreal." Enderby now noticed that she had taken out of her handbag a small automatic pistol, a lady killer.
"Oh," he said. "Now perhaps you'll understand why they're so keen down below on checking visitors and so on. Why have you brought that? It seems, to say the least, unnecessary." He marvelled at himself saying this. (Cinna the poet: tear him for his bad verses?)
"You deserve," she said, "to be punished. Incidentally, my name is not Dr. Greaving. But what I said about being a student of your work is true."
"Are you Canadian?" Enderby asked.
"You seem to be a big man for irrelevancies. One thing you're a big man in." She drank some water, keeping her eyes on him. The eyes were of a kind of triple-sec colour. "You'd better bring a chair."
"There's one in the kitchen," Enderby said with relief. "I'll just go and-"
"Oh no. No dashing into the kitchen to the telephone. If you tried that anyway I'd come and shoot you in the back. Get that chair over there." It was not really a chair. It was a sort of very frail Indian-style coffee table. Enderby said:
"It's really a sort of very frail. It belongs to my landlady. I might." He was really, to his surprise, quite enjoying this. It seemed quite certain to him now that he was not going to die of cancer of the lung.
"Bring it. Sit on it." He did. He sat on its edge, pity to damage so frail a, horrible though he had always thought it. He said:
"Now what I can do for you, Miss er?"
"I'm not," she said, "going to tolerate any more of this persecution. And it's Mrs., as you perfectly well know. Not that I'm living with him any more, but that's another irrelevance. I'm not going to have you," she said, "getting into my brain."
Enderby gaped. "How?" he said. "What?"
"I know them by heart," she said, "a great number of them. Well, I don't want it any more. I want to be free. I want to get on with my own things, can't you see that, you bastard?" She pointed the little gun very steadily at Enderby.
"I don't understand," Enderby said. "You've read my things, you say. That's what they're for, to be read. But there's no er compulsion to read them, you know."
"There's a lot of things there's no compulsion for. Like going to the movies to see a movie that turns out to be corruptive. But then you're corrupted, just the same. You never know in advance." As this seemed to her ears apparently, as certainly to his, to be a piece of neutral or even friendly expository talk, she added sharply, with a gun gesture, "You bastard."
"Well, what do you want me to do?" Enderby asked. "Unwrite the damned things?" And then, this just striking him, "You're mad, you know, you must be. Sane readers of my poems don't-"
"That's what they all say. That's what he said, till I stopped him."
"How did you stop him?" Enderby asked, fascinated.
"Another irrelevance. Don't you bastards ever think of your responsibility?"
"To our art," Enderby said. "Oh my God," he added in quite impersonal distress, "do you mean there's to be no more art? Aye, by St. Anne," he added, seeing that mad was a very difficult term to define, "and ginger shall be hot in the-"
"There you go again. Decent people suffer and you sit on your fat ass talking about art."
"That's just low abuse," he frowned. "Besides, I don't think you could call this really sitting." She had, he could see, beneath the peel of the mad hate, a sweet face, a Catholic face, ruined, God help the girl, ruined. "No, no," he said in haste. "Relevance is what is called for. I see that." And then: "Look. If you shoot me, it won't make any difference, will it? It won't destroy the words I wrote." And then: "What intrigues me, if that doesn't sound too irrelevant a term, is how you got to know them in the first place. My poems, I mean. I mean, not many people do. And here you are, young as I see, also beautiful if I may say that without sounding frivolous or irrelevant, knowing them. If you do know them, that is, of course, I mean," he ended cunningly.
"Oh, I know them all right," she cried scornfully. "I see lines set up at eye level in the subway. There's one in fifteen-foot-high Gothic letters just by the Port Authority. They get sort of stitched into that Times Square news-ticker thing."
"Interesting," Enderby said.
"There you go," she gun-pointed. "Interesting. So tied up in yourself and your so-called work you're just interested. Interested in how it happened, and all that crap about youth and beauty and the other irrelevancies."
"They're not irrelevant," Enderby said sharply. "I won't have that. Beauty and youth are the only things worth having. Dust hath closed Helen's eye. And they go. And here you are, saying they don't matter. Silly bitch," he attempted, not sure whether that would pull the trigger.
"That bastard introduced me to them, if you must know," she said, not listening. "It started off when we were on our honeymoon and it was in the morning and he giggled and said the marriage contract was designed in spite of what the notaries think to be by only one pen signed and that is mine and full of ink. But he didn't, oh no, just giggled."
"A mere jeu d'esprit," Enderby mumbled regretfully, remembering his own honeymoon when he didn't either, just giggled.
"That's how that bastard started me off. Anything to make me suffer, bastard as he was."
"That doesn't sound like a North American idiom," Enderby said in wonder. "That's more the way they speak where I come from."
"Yes. Possession, isn't it? Takeover. Bastard."
"Well, blame him, not me. I mean, damn it, it could have been William Shakespeare, couldn't it? Or Robert Bridges, bloody fool, not worthy of him. And thy loved legacy, Gerard, hath lain Coy in my breast. Bloody evil idiot. Or Geoffrey Grigson."
"Shakespeare's dead," she said reasonably. "So may the other two be, whoever they are. But you're alive. You're here. I've waited a long time for this."
"How did you know I was here?"
"Irrelevant irrelevant. It was announced, if you must know, after a talk show this evening that you were going to be on tomorrow night."
"Recorded it too early. Take too much for granted. I'm not. It's all been changed now."
"And I called them and they said you wouldn't be on and they'd never have you on. But they gave me your address."
"The swine. They're not supposed to. Address a private thing. Sheer bloody vindictiveness." He fumed briefly. She smiled thinly in scorn and said:
"Self self self. Self and art. You bastard."
"Oh," Enderby said, "get the bloody shooting over with. We've all got to die sometime. You too. They'll send you to the chair, or whatever barbarity they have now. I don't believe in capital punishment. I cancelled this long poem about Pelagius. I won't write the Odontiad. I've nothing on hand. Come on, get it over."
"Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. What you're going to do is to grovel. And after that I may or I may not-"
"May not what?"
"You're not going to have a nice easy martyrdom. I know men. You'll be glad to grovel."
"Grovel grovel grovel," Enderby growled like a tom turkey. "Artists are expected to grovel, aren't they? While the charlatans and the plagiarists and the corrupters and the defilers and the politicians have their arseholes licked. What do you want me to do-eat the bloody things? I've just had supper, remember. And," cunningly, "you won't want to turn me into Jesus Christ, will you?"
"And, moreover, if I may say so, I don't see how you're going to make me grovel. Your only alternative is to use that bloody thing there. Well, I don't mind dying."
"Of course you don't. Enderby flopped over his slim volumes, blood coming out of his mouth. Not that that would ever get into books. I'd make sure of that. There are no martyrs these days. Except blacks."
"All right, then. I'm going to get up now, this bloody thing's uncomfortable anyway, and walk into that kitchen there, and get the block guard on the blower, tell him to bring the cops along." Cops was the only possible word, a thriller word. Okay buster you call the cops.
She kept shaking her head all the time. "Glad to grovel, glad to. I've seen it before. With him. I have six rounds in here. I'm a good shot, my father taught me, my father, worth ten of you, you bastard. I can nip at bits of you. Nip nip nip. Make you deaf. Make you noseless. Give you a fucking anatomical excuse for being sexless."
"Where did you get that idea from? Who taught you that? Who's been talking-"
"Look," Enderby said, wondering whether, to be on the safe side, to make a good act of contrition or not. "I'm getting up." He got up. "That's better. And I'm going to go, as I said I would, to-"
"You won't make it, friend. Your anklebone will be shattered."
He realised bitterly that he did not want his anklebone shattered. Good clean death, yes. Altogether different, by George. "Well, then," he said. And then: "They'll come up, in. Pistol shots. Break the door down."
"Do you honestly believe that, you innocent bastard of an idiot? This is not safe little England. Do you honestly think that anyone would care?" She shook her head at his lack of cisatlantic sophistication. "Listen, idiot. Listen, bastard."
Enderby listened. Of course, yes. You got used to it in time. In time it was just a decoration of the silence. Silence in a baroque frame. I say, that's good, I could use that. He heard the whining of police cars and the scream of ambulances. And then, from the west, bang bang. Yes, of course.
"But," she said, "we'll make sure, won't we? Go over there and turn on the TV. Turn it on loud. Keep going round the dial till I tell you to stop." Enderby moved with nonchalance, but only to sit down on a pouffe. Much much better. He said, with nonchalance:
"You do it. Play Russian roulette with it. That's Nabokov," he said in haste, "not me. Pale Fire," he clarified.
"Bastard," she said. But she got up and walked towards him, pointing her little gun. It was a nice little weapon from the look of it. She had delightful legs, Enderby saw regretfully, and seemed to be wearing stockings, not those panty-hose abominations. Suspenders, what they called garters here, and then knickers. He was surprised to find himself, under the thick hot Edwardian trousers, responding solidly to the very terms. Camiknicks. Beyond his pouffe, she moved sidelong to the television set. She then switched on and turned the dial click click click with her left hand, looking towards Enderby and pointing her weapon. Enderby sat on his pouffe calmly, hands about his knees. She had been drawn now into a harmless area of entertainment. It was sound she was choosing, she would be in charge of the visual part. A new kind of art really, pop and audience participation and so on, gestures of creative impotence. There was a swift diachronic kaleidoscope of images and a quite interesting synthetic statement: Thats it I guess its quality for you and for your so send fifteen dollars only its Butch you love isnt it I guess so emphatic denial issued by. Then she came to a palpable war film and, eyes uninterested still, turned up the noise of bombardment. Enderby said:
"That's much too loud. The neighbours will complain."
"What?" She hadn't heard him. "Now," coming towards him, pointing. Enderby could see, in black and white, brave GIs in foxholes. Then grenades were thrown lavishly by the undersized enemy. "Take your clothes off."
"Everything off. I want to see you in your horrible potbellied hairy filthy nakedness."
"How do you know it's-" And then: "Why?"
"Degradation. The first phase."
"No. Ow." She had fired the little gun but it had not hit Enderby. It had merely whistled past him at very nearly ear level. He saw her there, a kind of numinous blue smoke before her, and smelt what seemed rather appetising smoked bacon. And thus he faced the breakfast of his death. He turned his head to see that the spine of a large illustrated volume on his landlady's shelves now looked disfigured. It was called Woman's Bondage. He had dipped into it once-a very humourless book, not about sex after all. She had timed the firing very felicitously, as though she knew the war film by heart. A village had gone up very loudly into the air. But now there was a love scene between a GI and a woman in a nurse's uniform, her hair crisp in a wartime style.
"Go on. Take them off."
Enderby was wearing neither jacket nor tie. It was, of course, very hot. He was, God knew, often enough naked in here, but he was damned if he was going to be told to be naked.
"Go on. Now." And she prepared to aim.
"It is, after all, quite-I mean, I meant to do this anyway. I normally do, you see. But I'm doing it because I want to. Do you understand that?"
Enderby took off his waistcoat and then his shirt. He smelt his axillary fear very clearly.
"Oh dear," Enderby said with mock-humorous exasperation. "You are a hard little taskmistress."
"I've not even started yet. Go on."
In socks and underpants Enderby said: "Will that do?"
"Well, if I'm disgusting why do you want to-"
"Go on. To the horrible disgusting limit."
There was an ugly violet glass vase on the mantelpiece. She hit it very neatly as thunderous strafing was resumed on the screen. But at once a commercial break broke in. In unnatural high colour a smirking naked-shouldered woman made love to her slowly floating hair. Weave a circle round him, girls. No, not that. They wouldn't have the bloody sense. Sighing, Enderby stripped down to the limit. His phallus too palpably announced its interest in that camiknick business. He was, as they had so often told him in critical reviews, very much a belated man of the thirties. Sonnet form and so on. The television screen homed to fried chicken. Enderby hid the thing with his hands.
"Well, it was your idea, not mine."
"Now," she ordered. "You're going to piss on your own poems."
"I'm going to what?"
"Urinate. Micturate. Squirt your own filthy water on your own filthy poems. Go on."
"They're not filthy. They're clean. What stupid fucking irony. All the genuinely filthy pseudo-art and not-art that's about, and you pick on honest and clean and craftsmanlike endeavour-"
The weapon (in thrillerish locution: Enderby saw the word in botched print at the very moment of firing) spoke again. That frail Indian-type table thing proved itself very frail, tumbling over as though fist-hit in aesthetic viciousness. Enderby's phallus rose a few more notches. He said: "That's three. That means only three left."
"It's enough. Next time I promise it's going to be some of that ugly filthy fat hairy blubbery bloated-" She spoke out of smoke.
Enderby took up the top book with his right hand, his left hand still serving pudeur. It was Fish and Heroes, he saw tenderly. He couldn't open it one-handed, so he turned his bottom towards her and gave both hands to leafing the few but thickish leaves. By God what a genius he had then.
Wachet auf! A fretful dunghill cock
Flinted the noisy beacons through the shires.
A martin's nest clogged the cathedral clock.
Still, it was morning. Birds could not be liars…
And what would Luther have done in these circumstances? He was a great one for farting and shitting, but only on the Fiend. Piss on that Bible, Luther. Unthinkable. But then (O my God, poem there to be written, meaning have to live?) he might have thought: only a copy, the Book subsists above the single copy, I must live, spread the Word, the mature man gives in occasionally to the foolish, evil, mad. Luther lifted up his great skirts, disclosing a fierce red thursday, and pissed vigorously on a mere mess of Gothic print. Here stand I, I can in no wise do otherwise. Enderby said loudly:
"I can see what you're looking at," she said. "That sonnet about the Reformation." She knew the bloody book so well, it seemed such a pity. The television film showed a whining GI, cap tucked in epaulette, whining: "Can't we talk this thing over, Mary?"
"Oh, all right then," Enderby said wearily. And he turned his nozzle, with some slight muscular effort, onto the page. "See," he said. "I'm doing my best. But nothing will come. It stands to reason nothing will come. Stand, blast you, is the operative word."
And then, Luther throwing, but it was an inkpot, they showed you the inkstained wall in Wittenberg, Enderby threw the book, which fluttered vogelwise, towards her. Instinctively she shot at it. He had known, somehow, she would. He strode, heavily naked, balls aswing, weapon pointing, through the smoke and the echo of noise. And yet God has not said a word. She aimed straight at him, saying, "If you think you're going to be a fucking martyr for art-"
"Said that already," Enderby said, and he grasped her wrist at the very instant of her firing vaguely at the ceiling. The noise and smell were surely excessive. He had that damned gun now, a dainty hot little engine. She clawed at his buttocks as he went to the window partly open for the heat. Threw the bloody thing out. "There," he said. Luther, he remembered for some reason, had married a nun. Christ's lily and beast of the waste wood. This girl now beat at him with teeny fists. Enderby had had a good supper. He saw the two of them in the little mirror above a bookshelf devoted to psychology deeply Jewish and anguished. He had his glasses on, he observed, would not indeed have been able to observe otherwise, otherwise, of course, naked. He gave her a push somewhere around the midriff. She ended up crying on a pouffe.
Enderby took off his glasses and placed them carefully on top of the television set, which, well into the noise of impending victory, he clicked off. "You and your bloody guns," he said. "Get you into a bloody mediaeval monastery full of great ballocky monks, that would teach you. Flabby, indeed. Blubber, for Christ's sake. Silenus, Falstaff." This was for his own benefit. "Think of those, blast you." His heart seemed to be pumping away very healthily. Noise of impending victory. Not with a whimper but. "Blaming me, indeed. Blaming poor dead Hopkins. As though I held the nuns down for them."
"Go away. Get away from me."
"I live here," Enderby said. "Sort of." And then he pulled, two-handed, at the hems. Cry, clutching heaven by the. That was just to get a rhyme with Thames. Rhine refused them, Thames would ruin them. Francis Thompson a far inferior poet. Hopkins appeared an instant, open-mouthed, clearly seen moaning at another's sin, though in the dark of the confessional. "You did it," Enderby said. "So fagged, so fashed, indeed. Get away for a bit, can't you?" Hopkins became a pale daguerreotype, then was washed completely out. The skirt was elasticated at the waist and pulled down with little difficulty. In joy, Enderby saw the tops of stockings, suspenders, peach knickers.
"You filthy fucking-"
"Oh, this is all too American," Enderby said. "Sex and violence. What angel of regeneration sent you here?" For there was no question of mumbling and begging now. Enderbius triumphans, exultans.