"There's only one good aspect to it," says Joe. "You may get his job. And if you have any luck, maybe you'll fall down the elevator shaft and break your neck too. We'll buy you a nice wreath, I promise you that."
Toward dawn we're sitting on the terrasse of the Dôme. We've forgotten about poor Peckover long ago. We've had a little excitement at the Bal Nègre and Joe's mind has slipped back to the eternal preoccupation: cunt. It's at this hour, when his night off is almost concluded, that his restlessness mounts to a fever pitch. He thinks of the women he passed up earlier in the evening and of the steady ones he might have had for the asking, if it weren't that he was fed up with them. He is reminded inevitably of his Georgia cunt – she's been hounding him lately, begging him to take her in, at least until she can find herself a job. "I don't mind giving her a feed once in a while," he says, "but I couldn't take her on as a steady thing… she'd ruin it for my other cunts." What gripes him most about her is that she doesn't put on any flesh. "It's like taking a skeleton to bed with you," he says. "The other night I took her on – out of pity – and what do you think the crazy bitch had done to herself? She. had shaved it clean… not a speck of hair on it. Did you ever have a woman who shaved her twat? It's repulsive, ain't it? And it's funny, too. Sort of mad like. It doesn't look like a twat any more: it's like a dead clam or something." He describes to me how, his curiosity aroused, he got out of bed and searched for his flashlight. "I made her hold it open and I trained the flashlight on it. You should have seen me… it was comical. I got so worked up about it that I forgot all about her. I never in my life looked at a cunt so seriously. You'd imagine I'd never seen one before. And the more I looked at it the less interesting it became. It only goes to show you there's nothing to it after all, especially when it's shaved. It's the hair that makes it mysterious. That's why a statue leaves you cold. Only once I saw a real cunt on a statue – that was by Rodin. You ought to see it some time… she has her legs spread wide apart… I don't think there was any head on it. Just a cunt you might say. Jesus, it looked ghastly. The thing is this – they all look alike. When you look at them with their clothes on you imagine all sorts of things: you give them an individuality like, which they haven't got, of course. There's just a crack there between the legs and you get all steamed up about it – you don't even look at it half the time. You know it's there and all you think about is getting your ramrod inside; it's as though your penis did the thinking for you. It's an illusion! You get all burned up about nothing… about a crack with hair on it, or without hair. It's so absolutely meaningless that it fascinated me to look at it. I must have studied it for ten minutes or more. When you look at it that way, sort of detached like, you get funny notions in your head. All that mystery about sex and then you discover that it's nothing – just a blank. Wouldn't it be funny if you found a harmonica inside… or a calendar? But there's nothing there… nothing at all. It's disgusting. It almost drove me mad… Listen, do you know what I did afterwards? I gave her a quick lay and then I turned my back on her. Yeah, I picked up a book and I read. You can get something out of a book, even a bad book… but a cunt, it's just sheer loss of time…"
天快亮时我们坐在多姆饭店的露天咖啡座上，早已把可怜的佩克奥弗忘得干干净净。我们在“黑人”舞厅里乐了一下，乔的思想又回到那个永恒不变的消遣上来了—女人。到了这个时辰他的一夜休息时间已快结束，他的烦躁不安也达到了狂热程度。他想到今夜早些时候放过去的女人和那些一叫就来、关系稳定的情侣，可惜他对她们已感到厌烦了。这也不可避免地使他想起他的格鲁吉亚女人- 最近她一直在追逐他，乞求他收容她，至少直到她找到工作。他说，“我不在乎偶尔请她吃一顿，可我不能长期养着她……她会把别的女人都赶走的。”这个女人最使他不快的是身上一点肉也没有。他说，“就像抱着一具骷髅上床一样。那天夜里我出于同情收留了她。你知道这个发疯的婊子替自己干了什么？她把那个地方全刮光了……上面一点儿毛也没剩下，叫人反感，是吗？也挺好玩的，像是疯了。它不再像女人的下体了，倒像一只死蛤或是别的什么。”他向我描述好奇心激发起来后他如何下床去找手电筒。“我叫她叉开两条腿，把手电照在上面。当时你若看到我就好了……真是好玩极了。它叫我激动起来，竟把她全忘了。我一辈子从来没有这样认真地看过一个女人的下体，你会以为我从前从来没有看过。我越看越觉得没劲，它只是告诉你那儿没有什么，尤其是剃过以后，是毛使它变得神秘起来了。这就是为什么一座雕像打动不了你的原因，只有一次我在一座雕像上看到过一个真正的女人下体—那是罗丹的作品。以后你也该看看……她的腿叉得很开……我记得这个雕像没有脑袋，你可以说只有一个下体。老天，看起来可怕极了，问题在于她们全都是一模一样。她们穿着衣服时你看到她们会产生各种想法，你会给予她们一种个性，而她们当然是没有个性的，不过只是两条大腿之间有一道缝而已。你会生它的气，甚至不愿再看它一眼。这是一场幻觉，你为虚无缥缈的东西发脾气……为一道长毛的缝或一道没有毛的缝发脾气，这是完全没有意义的，所以它吸引我去看，我仔细看它，准看了十分钟或是更长时间。你这样以超然的态度看着它，脑子里便会产生一些古怪的念头。性本来是十分神秘的，接着你发现这也没有什么 -只是一个空洞而已。如果你发现里面有一支口琴不会觉得好玩吗？或是一本日历？可是里面什么也没有……什么也没有。它令人厌恶。它差一点儿叫我发疯……喂，你知道我后来干了什么？我同她很快睡了一次便转过身去背对着她，对了，我拿起一本书看。你可以从书中学到点儿什么，即使是一本坏书……可是一个女人，那纯粹是浪费时间。
It just so happened that as he was concluding his speech a whore gave us the eye. Without the slightest transition he says to me abruptly: "Would you like to give her a tumble? It won't cost much… she'll take the two of us on." And without waiting for a reply he staggers to his feet and goes over to her. In a few minutes he comes back. "It's all fixed," he says. "Finish your beer. She's hungry. There's nothing doing any more at this hour… she'll take the both of us for fifteen francs. We'll go to my room… it'll be cheaper."
On the way to the hotel the girl is shivering so that we have to stop and buy her a coffee. She's a rather gentle sort of creature and not at all bad to look at. She evidently knows Van Norden, knows there's nothing to expect from him but the fifteen francs. "You haven't got any dough," he says, mumbling to me under his breath. As I haven't a centime in my pocket I don't quite see the point of this, until he bursts out: "For Christ's sake, remember that we're broke. Don't get tenderhearted when we get upstairs. She's going to ask you for a little extra – I know this cunt! I could get her for ten francs, if I wanted to. There's no use spoiling them…""Il est méchant, celui là," she says to me, gathering the drift of his remarks in her dull way.
"Non, il n'est pas méchant, il est très gentil."
She shakes her head laughingly. "Je le connais bien, ce type." And then she commences a hard luck story, about the hospital and the back rent and the baby in the country. But she doesn't overdo it. She knows that our ears are stopped; but the misery is there inside her, like a stone, and there's no room for any other thoughts. She isn't trying to make an appeal to our sympathies – she's just shifting this big weight inside her from one place to another. I rather like her. I hope to Christ she hasn't got a disease…
In the room she goes about her preparations mechanically. "There isn't a crust of bread about by any chance?" she inquires, as she squats over the bidet. Van Norden laughs at this. "Here, take a drink," he says, shoving a bottle at her. She doesn't want anything to drink; her stomach's already on the bum, she complains.
"That's just a line with her," says Van Norden. "Don't let her work on your sympathies. Just the same, I wish she'd talk about something else. How the hell can you get up any passion when you've got a starving cunt on your hands?"
Precisely! We haven't any passion either of us. And as for her, one might as well expect her to produce a diamond necklace as to show a spark of passion. But there's the fifteen francs and something has to be done about it. It's like a state of war: the moment the condition is precipitated nobody thinks about anything but peace, about getting it over with. And yet nobody has the courage to lay down his arms, to say, "I'm fed up with it… I'm through."
No, there's fifteen francs somewhere, which nobody gives a damn about any more and which nobody is going to get in the end anyhow, but the fifteen francs is like the primal cause of things and rather than listen to one's own voice, rather than walk out on the primal cause, one surrenders to the situation, one goes on butchering and butchering and the more cowardly one feels the more heroically does he behave, until a day when the bottom drops out and suddenly all the guns are silenced and the stretcher bearers pick up the maimed and bleeding heroes and pin medals on their chest. Then one has the rest of his life to think about the fifteen francs. One hasn't any eyes or arms or legs, but he has the consolation of dreaming for the rest of his days about the fifteen francs which everybody has forgotten.
It's exactly like a state of war – I can't get it out of my head. The way she works over me, to blow a spark of passion into me, makes me think what a damned poor soldier I'd be if I was ever silly enough to be trapped like this and dragged to the front. I know for my part that I'd surrender everything, honor included, in order to get out of the mess. I haven't any stomach for it, and that's all there is to it. But she's got her mind set on the fifteen francs and if I don't want to fight about it she's going to make me fight. But you can't put fight into a man's guts if he hasn't any fight in him. There are some of us so cowardly that you can't ever make heroes of us, not even if you frighten us to death. We know too much, maybe. There are some of us who don't live in the moment, who live a little ahead, or a little behind.
My mind is on the peace treaty all the time. I can't forget that it was the fifteen francs which started all the trouble. Fifteen francs! What does fifteen francs mean to me, particularly since it's not my fifteen francs?
Van Norden seems to have a more normal attitude about it. He doesn't care a rap about the fifteen francs either now; it's the situation itself which intrigues him. It seems to call for a show of mettle – his manhood is involved. The fifteen francs are lost, whether we succeed or not. There's something more involved – not just manhood perhaps, but will. It's like a man in the trenches again: he doesn't know any more why he should go on living, because if he escapes now he'll only be caught later, but he goes on just the same, and even though he has the soul of a cockroach and has admitted as much to himself, give him a gun or a knife or even just his bare nails, and he'll go on slaughtering and slaughtering, he'd slaughter a million men rather than stop and ask himself why.
As I watch Van Norden tackle her, it seems to me that I'm looking at a machine whose cogs have slipped. Left to themselves, they could go on this way forever, grinding and slipping, without ever anything happening. Until a hand shuts the motor off. The sight of them coupled like a pair of goats without the least spark of passion, grinding and grinding away for no reason except the fifteen francs, washes away every bit of feeling I have except the inhuman one of satisfying my curiosity. The girl is lying on the edge of the bed and Van Norden is bent over her like a satyr with his two feet solidly planted on the floor. I am sitting on a chair behind him, watching their movements with a cool, scientific detachment; it doesn't matter to me if it should last forever. It's like watching one of those crazy machines which throw the newspaper out, millions and billions and trillions of them with their meaningless headlines. The machine seems more sensible, crazy as it is, and more fascinating to watch, than the human beings and the events which produced it. My interest in Van Norden and the girl is nil; if I could sit like this and watch every single performance going on at this minute all over the world my interest would be even less than nil. I wouldn't be able to differentiate between this phenomenon and the rain falling or a volcano erupting. As long as that spark of passion is missing there is no human significance in the performance. The machine is better to watch. And these two are like a machine which has slipped its cogs. It needs the touch of a human hand to set it right. It needs a mechanic.