Tropic of Cancer  北回归线

Something about this remark made him look at me uneasily. He took a big gulp of the Pernod and then, turning to me like an injured dog, he said: "I know I oughtn't to trust you with all that money, but… but… Oh, well, do what you think best. I don't want her to kill herself, that's all."


"Kill herself?" I said. "Not her! You must think a hell of a lot of yourself if you can believe a thing like that. As for the money, though I hate to give it to her, I promise you I'll go straight to the post office and telegraph it to her. I wouldn't trust myself with it a minute longer than is necessary." As I said this I spied a bunch of post cards in a revolving rack. I grabbed one off – a picture of the Eiffel Tower it was – and made him write a few words. "Tell her you're sailing now. Tell her you love her and that you'll send for her as soon as you arrive… I'll send it by pneumatique when I go to the post office. And tonight I'll see her. Everything'll be Jake, you'll see."


With that we walked across the street to the station. Only two minutes to go. I felt it was safe now. At the gate I gave him a slap on the back and pointed to the train. I didn't shake hands with him – he would have slobbered all over me. I just said: "Hurry! She's going in a minute." And with that I turned on my heel and marched off. I didn't even look round to see if he was boarding the train. I was afraid to.


I hadn't thought, all the while I was bundling him off, what I'd do once I was free of him. I had promised a lot of things – but that was only to keep him quiet. As for facing Ginette, I had about as little courage for it as he had. I was getting panicky myself: Everything had happened so quickly that it was impossible to grasp the nature of the situation in full. I walked away from the station in a kind of delicious stupor – with the post card in my hand. I stood against a lamppost and read it over. It sounded preposterous. I read it again, to make sure that I wasn't dreaming, and then I tore it up and threw it in the gutter.


I looked around uneasily, half expecting to see Ginette coming after me with a tomahawk. Nobody was following me. I started walking leisurely toward the Place Lafayette. It was a beautiful day, as I had observed earlier. Light, puffy clouds above, sailing with the wind. The awnings flapping. Paris had never looked so good to me; I almost felt sorry that I had shipped the poor bugger off. At the Place Lafayette I sat down facing the church and stared at the clock tower; it's not such a wonderful piece of architecture, but that blue in the dial face always fascinated me. It was bluer than ever today. I couldn't take my eyes off it.


Unless he were crazy enough to write her a letter, explaining everything, Ginette need never know what had happened. And even if she did learn that he had left her 2,500 francs or so she couldn't prove it. I could always say that he imagined it. A guy who was crazy enough to walk off without even a hat was crazy enough to invent the 2,500 francs, or whatever it was. How much was it, anyhow?, I wondered. My pockets were sagging with the weight of it. I hauled it all out and counted it carefully. There was exactly 2,875 francs and 35 centimes. More than I had thought. The 75 francs and 35 centimes had to be gotten rid of. I wanted an even sum – a clean 2,800 francs. Just then I saw a cab pulling up to the curb. A woman stepped out with a white poodle dog in her hands; the dog was peeing over her silk dress. The idea of taking a dog for a ride got me sore. I'm as good as her dog, I said to myself, and with that I gave the driver a sign and told him to drive me through the Bois. He wanted to know where exactly. "Anywhere," I said. "Go through the Bois, go all around it – and take your time, I'm in no hurry." I sank back and let the houses whizz by, the jagged roofs, the chimney pots, the colored walls, the urinals, the dizzy carrefours. Passing the Rond Point I thought I'd go downstairs and take a leak. No telling what might happen down there. I told the driver to wait. It was the first time in my life I had let a cab wait while I took a leak. How much ran you wast a that way? Not very much. With what I had in my pocket I could afford to have two taxis waiting for me. I took a good look around but I didn't see anything worth while. What I wanted was something fresh and unused – something from Alaska or the Virgin Islands. A clean fresh pelt with a natural fragrance to it. Needless to say, there wasn't anything like that walking about. I wasn't terribly disappointed. I didn't give a fuck whether I found anything or not. The thing is, never to be too anxious. Everything comes in due time.


We drove on past the Arc de Triomphe. A few sightseers were loitering around the remains of the Unknown Soldier. Going through the Bois I looked at all the rich cunts promenading in their limousines. They were whizzing by as if they had some destination. Do that, no doubt, to look important – to show the world how smooth run their Rolls Royces and their Hispano Suizas. Inside me things were running smoother than any Rolls Royce ever ran. It was just like velvet inside. Velvet cortex and velvet vertebrae. And velvet axle grease, what! It's a wonderful thing, for half an hour, to have money in your pocket and piss it away like a drunken sailor. You feel as though the world is yours. And the best part of it is, you don't know what to do with it. You can sit back and let the meter run wild, you can let the wind blow through your hair, you can stop and have a drink, you can give a big tip, and you can swagger off as though it were an everyday occurrence. But you can't create a revolution. You can't wash all the dirt out of your belly.


When we got to the Porte d'Auteuil I made him head for the Seine. At the Pont de Sèvres I got out and started walking along the river, toward the Auteuil Viaduct. It's about the size of a creek along here and the trees come right down to the river's bank. The water was green and glassy, especially near the other side. Now and then a scow chugged by. Bathers in tights were standing in the grass sunning themselves. Everything was close and palpitant, and vibrant with the strong light.


Passing a beer garden I saw a group of cyclists sitting at a table. I took a seat nearby and ordered a demi. Hearing them jabber away I thought for a moment of Ginette. I saw her stamping up and down the room, tearing her hair, and sobbing and bleating, in that beastlike way of hers. I saw his hat on the rack. I wondered if his clothes would fit me. He had a raglan that I particularly liked. Well, by now he was on his way. In a little while the boat would be rocking under him. English! He wanted to hear English spoken. What an idea!


Suddenly it occurred to me that if I wanted I could go to America myself. It was the first time the opportunity had ever presented itself. I asked myself – "do you want to go?" There was no answer. My thoughts drifted out, toward the sea, toward the other side where, taking a last look back, I had seen the skyscrapers fading out in a flurry of snowflakes. I saw them looming up again, in that same ghostly way as when I left. Saw the lights creeping through their ribs. I saw the whole city spread out, from Harlem to the Battery, the streets choked with ants, the elevated rushing by, the theaters emptying. I wondered in a vague way what had ever happened to my wife.


After everything had quietly sifted through my head a great peace came over me. Here, where the river gently winds through the girdle of hills, lies a soil so saturated with the past that however far back the mind roams one can never detach it from its human background.


Christ, before my eyes there shimmered such a golden peace that only a neurotic could dream of turning his head away. So quietly flows the Seine that one hardly notices its presence. It is always there, quiet and unobtrusive, like a great artery running through the human body. In the wonderful peace that fell over me itseemed as if I had climbed to the top of a high mountain; for a little while I would be able to look around me, to take in the meaning of the landscape.


Human beings make a strange fauna and flora. From a distance they appear negligible; close up they are apt to appear ugly and malicious. More than anything they need to be surrounded with sufficient space – space even more than time.


The sun is setting. I feel this river flowing through meits past, its ancient soil, the changing climate. The hills gently girdle it about: its course is fixed.