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THE WINTER AFTER THIS SUMMER

Stanley Ellin

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When the winter after this summer is over,

the twenty-first year of this war will be completed.

THUCYDIDES

for Janie

Contents

PART ONE Daniel Egan

PART TWO Barbara-Jean Avery

PART THREE Michael Avery

PART FOUR Daniel Egan

PART ONE

Daniel Egan

ONE

It began as it would end, with a Messenger calling for me.

In the hottest June of the hottest 1953 that I can remember he wandered downstairs and upstairs crying through the house for Egan—Egan—Daniel Egan, while I roosted in the upper bunk of the least room on the topmost floor of Stowe Hall and listened. Outside, lawn mowers chattered. Outside, footsteps crunched on gravel and then stopped. Someone said: “I’m all screwed up. How do you figure daylight-saving time on a sundial?” and someone else said: “Don’t worry about it, we’ll get a court. But, for God’s sake, will you play the lousy net when I’m at the base line? Play the net!” and they went off to play the net and the base line.

Inside, the Messenger plaintively called my name. Inside, water hissed in the lavatory next door where Maunsell Davis was shaving his goatish face. Then the water was turned off, and the face appeared before me, half-lathered, dripping bright red drops of blood.

“Somebody’s looking for you, Egan,” said Maunsell Davis. “Why don’t you tell him you’re here?”

So they handled it in Stowe Hall unlike Iobacchoi, where each man tended his own accounts. But he was all Stowe Hall, was Maunsell Davis, and all pre-med. A literal mind in a sound body. I had been rooming with him for thirty-six hours, and knew, even while he was whittling his jaw in the lavatory, that thirty-seven would be one too many.

I said: “Why the hell don’t you mind your own business, Davis? If the man’s bothering you, tell him to go away.”

He looked shocked, this bleeding pre-med from Terre Haute. There were pictures of his mother and father on the dresser, twin blocks of granite, and they looked shocked, too. They narrowed their goaty eyes at me and pursed their little mouths and let me know it.

“Well, that’s a fine way to talk, Egan,” said Maunsell Davis. “I wasn’t the one invited you in here.”

And then the Messenger was there looking at us. “Egan,” he said, “didn’t you hear me calling you? And what is this? Aren’t you even dressed yet? I told you to be there at two; it’s after that now.”

If he said so, it was so. And if I asked him how much after, he would know to the minute. Up from the New York Times, through Madison Avenue, and into his mission as director of public relations for the University he was always on the ball. Always looking at his wrist watch. Always getting things done despite the uncertain material he had to work with. And poor Bertram Roebuck, seersuckered, Ivy-beleaguered, and sweating, never had more uncertain material to work with than he did now.

I said: “I’ll be ready in a few minutes. Just leave me alone, and I’ll meet you there,” and Roebuck said with great cunning, “No, I’ll wait right here.” He looked at Maunsell Davis. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to Egan privately. We’ll be out of here right away, anyhow.”

“Fine,” said Maunsell Davis, “the sooner the better,” and slammed the door behind him as he left.

Roebuck regarded the door speculatively. “What’s that all about?” he said. “Have they been giving you a bad time here?”

“No.” I slid down from the bunk and started to dress while Roebuck sat down on a chair to watch. The way he kept those bright, stupid eyes fixed on me made me think of the kind of guard they put on someone who’s being made ready for execution.

“Have you seen the papers?” he asked.

“No.”

“No? Well, this thing is all over them. It’s fantastic how they’re giving it the front page. New York, Chicago, the Coast—absolutely fantastic. Trouble is, everything else is so quiet right now. The election’s over, the inauguration’s over, the war is just about over—so something like this can get all the play. And, of course, from the angle of the reading public Ben Gennaro was as much of a hero as they could ask for, and what happened to him—Say, I hope you don’t mind my talking about it like this, do you?”

“Why? Would it make any difference if I did?”

“No, I suppose it wouldn’t. But let me straighten you out, Egan, in case you’ve got the idea I’m some kind of insensitive hulk who doesn’t understand what you’re going through.”

“I never said that.”

“You don’t have to. As it happens, I do understand, and that’s one reason I’ve arranged things this way. Right now there are a dozen reporters and photographers waiting in the Administration Building to get this story straight. If you want them chasing you around the campus or ringing your doorbell all day when you get back home, that’s up to you. But you’re a fool if you resent a chance to get everything cleared up at a nice, well-arranged press conference. I’ve handled hundreds of these things in my time. You can take my word for it, you’re in good hands.

“As far as the publicity goes, all right, it’s an uncomfortable spot to be in, but I’m not the one who put you there. And you’ll be surprised to find how short people’s memories are. The day after Ben’s funeral the whole thing’ll be forgotten. Not by anyone close to him, of course, but by the great unwashed. That’s how it goes. They eat sensation along with their Wheaties every morning, but it’s got to be fresh sensation. Now, when you look at it from that angle can you give me any reason why you shouldn’t co-operate?”

It was nice to know that he cared. I said: “Am I being given a choice?”

“No, as a matter of fact, you’re not. But that’s because there’s more to consider here than you or me, or any little personal problems. There’s the University, Egan. It’s been here two hundred years, and it’ll be here another two hundred, if—if, my friend—it gets proper alumni support. The Committee on Gifts and Bequests has a tough job to do. It isn’t made any easier by having something in the wind that could discourage the alumni from shelling out when the time comes. That might sound pretty crass and materialistic to you, Egan, because you’re a bright young fellow full of idealistic poop, but one of my onerous duties is to work with the Committee, and that’s why I’m telling you you have no choice in the matter. As far as that goes, you ought to be properly grateful to the alumni, Egan. If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be any University here. You’d be going to State College just the way I and the rest of the common herd did. Does that answer your question?”

It did. His official title was director of public relations, but in reality he was, as Ben used to call him to his face, the publicity man, the king of the bull-throwers. And it was easy to see why he was blowing off this way. He had been trapped by vanity into taking a job with the University, but he was alien to the decorum it preached and peddled. What he needed was the rousing, carefree atmosphere of some coed college full of luscious drum majorettes. Getting camera shots up from the ground at a crotch straining against silk panties was his medium, and what, he must have mourned many a time, was he doing in this Episcopal and wholly masculine limbo?

More than that, he had been living off Ben for two years, and now there were lean years ahead. Ben had been hard for him to take, but he had made great copy. Where was the copy coming from now that Ben was gone, and there were no drum majorettes in sight? It was enough to make you cry.

I said: “Will Ben’s family be there?”

“No, that was cleared up this morning. They’re all at the hotel now. His mother’s taking it hard, but the rest of them seem to be bearing up all right. His sister asked about you, by the way. Say, have you been drinking?”

I shook my head.

“Well, you look pretty green and glassy-eyed to me. Here, let me smell your breath.”

I was surprised to see that he meant it. He got up from his chair and came over to me, and I said with as much control as I could, “God damn it, do you think I have to be drunk to look like this after what happened?”

He didn’t even have the sense to look embarrassed. “Don’t be so touchy, Egan. All I said was that you looked terrible.” One of Davis’ towels was on top of the dresser, and he handed it to me. “Go on, freshen up some. Use plenty of cold water; maybe that’ll help. And whatever you do, don’t take that tone with those reporters. Keep your voice down, don’t make any wisecracks or sarcastic remarks, because every word you say can be printed as fact. And those photographers are quick on the trigger, so don’t let them catch you smiling.”

“Smiling at what?”

“I know, I know, but you’d be surprised the way people can get caught smiling at the damndest times. Something happens, somebody says something, and there you are. And the way it looks in the papers, you could be laughing because you’ve just heard your mother dropped dead. Remember that.”

“I’ll remember it.”

“All right then. I’ll wait for you while you’re in the can, but if you’re not out in five minutes I’m coming in after you. We’re half an hour late as it is, and they don’t even have an air-conditioner in that room.”

When I went into the lavatory, Davis, who was sitting there on one of the cans reading a soggy magazine, did not look up or say anything to me. He was not a prepossessing figure at best. Seen this way with a scrap of toilet paper stuck against a nick on his chin he looked more than ever like an abstracted goat. Still, willingly or unwillingly, he had allowed me to share his room for a day and a night; we had broken bread together—a sandwich that he had brought from the cafeteria for my breakfast—and it was not altogether his fault that he looked the way he did, and spoke with a querulous twang that grated on the nerves like a file drawn over the teeth, and expressed only trite thoughts in dull words. Or dull thoughts in trite words. Not his fault at all, if you took into account those two pictures on his dresser. So when I had finished washing up I said, “The room’s all yours, Davis. It was decent of you to let me bunk with you.”

He did me the favor of lowering the magazine and looking up at me. “Go to hell,” he said.

“I’m on my way now,” I told him.

Considering what Ben was—had been—the field house or the gym would have seemed the place for a press conference. I don’t know why Roebuck had wangled the Founder’s Room for it; I suppose he thought that this sanctum sanctorum, this tabernacle to the hallowed past, might, through the sweet majesty of its paneled walls, its Chippendale, its Copley portrait of the Founder over the marble-fronted fireplace, lead his reporters to spurn the coarse typewriter for the gracious quill. It was quite possible that he thought this. He had the small, devious mind for it.

Whatever his intentions, the only one among the crowd in the room who didn’t look hot and bored was Noel Claiborne, who looked cool and bored. He was standing with Ossie Detzendorf in front of the fireplace under the Copley, and I thought, what a wonderful subject he would have made for Copley, the patrician snottiness of him, the fine-hewn profile of him. The later Copley, of course. The one who took off when the vulgar Revolution washed its bloody, muddy waters through the Boston streets, and who wound up in England painting pretty pictures where he didn’t have to smell the plebs. That was the Copley who would never have painted the Founder that the early Copley did, hard-eyed and soft-lipped in his clerical robe and stock, a man who relished his roast beef and Madeira as much as he relished his Bible, and who fathered thirteen, three of whom lived past their first year. They made giants in those days; now they made Noel Claiborne.

He looked at me and through me as I came up to him, and I saw with pleasure that his fair smooth skin had a bruised look to it. I had been lurching sick, half blind when I had done that. I had not even been sure I had managed to do it, so it was good to see the evidence at hand. Or fist. It must have surprised him more than it hurt him when it happened. Bound to, y’know, when instead of going into an empty room with a silver-mounted pistol to blow my brains out, I had tried to knock his out. Although what would have come out of his shell-like skull had I succeeded is hard to conjecture. Probably a pallid ooze stained with blue blood.

He looked at me and through me, and Ossie Detzendorf, who was certainly the best football coach the University had as long as Ben was on the team, looked at me and said, “This is a terrible thing, Egan. I’m sick about it.”

“Yes,” I said, “I know,” and I did. He had been living off Ben the way Roebuck had, and more luxuriously at that. Few of the alumni would recognize Roebuck’s name, but all knew Detzendorf’s. Glory be for winning teams, said they, and without Ben to make miracles for him on blazing autumn Saturdays he had cause to weep. He had hated Ben as much as Ben had hated him, but de mortuis was the word now, and, for God’s sake, somebody do something. Find me another curly-haired hero who can make everybody’s all-American, because they don’t hang the losing coaches in effigy here. They hang them by their own thick red necks.

The yawn of reporters gathered around us, and Roebuck said to them, “Well, you’ve already had a chance to talk to Ben’s family, and now these people here may help you round out the picture of the—ah—tragedy. I guess you all know Oscar Detzendorf, our football coach and one of Ben’s best friends in the University. And this is Noel Claiborne, president of Iobacchoi, where the—ah—sad event happened, and this is Daniel Egan, who was Ben’s roommate. Now, if you have any questions—”

They had questions.

“Hey, Egan, where’ve you been hiding out?”

“Who put you in cold storage, Egan? What are they afraid of around here?”

“Was Gennaro drunk when it happened?”

“What’s the stuff in the local paper about an orgy in that frat house?”

Noel Claiborne’s aristocratic nostrils flared. “That is gross libel. You gentlemen ought to know that there are local idiots who think every fraternity party is an orgy, and a local press that panders to that idiocy. Our party was certainly not an orgy. It was the annual celebration we hold at the end of each spring term and entirely respectable. Not only was my sister there, but Ben’s as well. I don’t think we’re quite degenerate enough to run wild with our families on the scene. Not quite.”

A flash bulb went off, and while we were blinking at it someone behind the photographer said, “What’s this Iobacchoi, anyhow?”

Claiborne said: “The name comes from a Greek fraternal order of the classic age. We have twenty-four members and no national affiliations. We also happen to be the oldest fraternity in the University.”

“Strictly the élite?” someone asked with unmistakable intent, but Claiborne had not been elected Arch-Bacchos without reason.

“Iobacchoi does not practice discrimination,” he said. “Catholics and Jews are on our membership rolls right now. Ben Gennaro himself was a devout Catholic.”

A devout football star, he meant. The greatest. And with a sister who by fluttering long, dark lashes could warm even the Claiborne cockles. As for Jack Goldfarb, Iobacchoi’s pet Jew, he may not have played football or had a sister, but he didn’t have to. His father was governor of the state and not likely to be unseated during Claiborne’s administration.

“What about you, Egan?” a reporter said. “You were sleeping in the same room as Gennaro when the fire started. If he wasn’t drunk, how come he didn’t get through that window along with you?”

A flash bulb went off in my face.

“Hey, Egan, didn’t you even try to get him out of bed?”

Another flash bulb went off in my face. Flash bulbs don’t make any noise, yet these thundered inside of my head. I twisted away from them, closed my eyes against their light, and Roebuck said loudly, “Now, fellows, fellows, let’s not cut throats here. I asked Egan to do you this favor—”

“Who’s doing who favors, Roebuck?”

“Go on, let the kid speak for himself.”

“Hey, Egan, give us the full face, kid. How about the fire? When did you first know about it?”

Roebuck gripped my arm. “What’s the matter?” he whispered hoarsely. “You can talk, can’t you? That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?”

I couldn’t talk.

“You made that deposition for the medical examiner, didn’t you?” said Roebuck. “Just tell them the same thing.”

They were close around me now, pressing in from all sides. “What about it, Egan? When did you first know about the fire?”

I said: “I heard some noise. Yelling. I woke up and I could smell the smoke.”

“Then what?”

“Then I opened the door, and I saw all the smoke and some flames coming up the stairway. So I went out of the window. It’s only on the second floor, so I hung on the sill by my hands and then dropped down. That’s all.”

“What do you mean, that’s all? What about Gennaro? Didn’t you know he was in the room with you?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? Didn’t you go upstairs with him when the party was over?”

“Yes.”

“Didn’t you see him sleeping there in the bed next to yours?”

“I don’t know.”

I don’t know. I don’t know what I knew when flame shot up in front of me and rancid smoke boiled over me and voices bellowed and cried out in terror from a distance and there was an open window and a soft, cool, black night welcoming me. I don’t know if I saw him there and left him in a panic, or saw him there and wanted him dead, or didn’t see him there. I don’t know because I wasn’t meant to know, and I couldn’t make them understand that.

What is the crime, Egan?

The crime is in betraying Benedetto Gennaro.

Are you sure?

No.

What is the crime, Egan?

The crime is in not remembering.

Non me ricordo, Benedetto, you scorched and strangled hero. I do not remember, and that is the way you would have wanted it. A Daniel come to judgment.

They crowded around me and jabbered at me. One of them stepped back to make a small cleared space between us, and kneeled down, and aimed his camera at me. I had room to swing my leg, and I swung it as hard as I could. The camera flew out of his hands, struck him alongside the face, and bounded into the air. Everyone ducked, and the camera hit the floor with a noise of metal and shattering glass. Someone put a hand against my chest and pushed hard so that I fell back against the fireplace. It was not the photographer. He ran to his camera, picked up its dented remains and looked at them with awe. “My God,” he said, not believing the horrid sight. “Look at that. Three hundred dollars. Look at that.”

Roebuck pulled out a handkerchief. He mopped his brow. “That’s all right,” he said. “I’ll take care of that. It’s all right.”

The photographer stood up fondling his camera. “He’ll take care of it,” he said. “My God, look at that. Three hundred dollars.”

“Don’t anybody want to ask me any questions?” said Ossie Detzendorf. “Do you all know what Ben’s loss means to us here?”

Across the hall from the Founder’s Room was the Dean’s office. Outside the office was the garden where generations of deans’ wives had snipped and clipped and plucked. Through the open window of the office, between the slats of the swaying Venetian blind, came the scent of fresh-blooming roses, the smell of damp earth, the flickering of butter-colored sunlight.

My dossier on the desk, Dr. Sprague’s face, the somber portrait by Eakins on the wall behind him all brightened and darkened in the changing light. Dr. Sprague said: “Sometimes I wonder. At your age to equate idealism with naïveté—is that what you’ve gained from us in three years? And I meet more and more of that attitude lately. Why, I wonder. Have we failed you in some way, or can it be that you’ve failed us? It seems to me as unnatural to have a generation of old idealists and youthful cynics as to have the son die before his father. Yet, that’s what we have, Daniel. It’s all around us. You’re not as unrepresentative as you’d like to think you are.”

I said: “Maybe I’m not. But if you take someone like Swift—”

“No, let’s not have Swift. Let’s not have any display of erudition, Daniel, because I know quite well that you’re just as good a student in literature as you are totally inept in your other subjects. I don’t need any demonstration of your talents. I was talking about your attitude.”

“I don’t think it’s any different from the attitude your generation had.”

“Then you know very little about my generation, Daniel. We were not cynical, we were iconoclastic, and that is something considerably different. Yes, we had our War, too, and what it did was to open our eyes to what Victorianism and Edwardianism represented. Or, perhaps, misrepresented. But, may I ask, what particular idols do you propose to destroy?”

“None,” I said. “I’ve already destroyed the only one that seemed to matter around here.”

Dr. Sprague turned his chair away from me. He looked at the window where the Venetian blind gently swayed back and forth. “Yes,” he said at last, “after you had your telephone conversation with your father yesterday I had a long talk with him, too. He said just what you did now. He seemed to think that we were wreaking vengeance on you for the accident. And strangely enough, he seemed to think we were justified.”

“That’s the way he is,” I said.

“And that’s the way you are, too, Daniel, because I don’t think he believed me any more than you do now. But I want you to know—you must know—that whatever the opinions of your fraternity brothers or the student body or whatever the innuendoes published in any newspaper, they have nothing to do with the case. No one would ever be asked to leave here for such a reason.”

“Not even for the good of the University?”

“Yes, I recognize that phrase; I’m not altogether unfamiliar with Mr. Roebuck’s peculiar idiom. But not even for the good of the University, Daniel. Only for your own good.”

I got up. When I had entered that office three years before and seen the Eakins there I had secretly taken possession of it, the way you will sometimes with a picture when it hits you hard in the diaphragm at first look. It hurt to give it up now, especially to someone like Sprague, who would rather have it behind his back than before his face. It was the portrait of Dr. Flexner, Gorham Professor of Chemistry, commissioned by the faculty, and then buried away in a basement for forty years, because it was, I suppose, too harsh and unflattering for the genteel faculty eye to bear. Then someone had the sense to take it out of the dark and hang it, and there it was, a magnificent Eakins, one of the finest, the picture of a tired old man with an embittered mouth and a coarse nose with a pattern of veins showing on it and fine eyes with some of Tom Eakins’ soul in them. I hated to leave it and the Copley and some other things, but I was not being offered any choice. All I was being offered was the knowledge that it’s not wise to secretly take possession of people like Ben Gennaro who will die before their time, or pictures like these which must be yielded up before mine.

“Well,” I said to Dr. Sprague, “I think I’ll take the late train out tonight. For my own good, of course.”

TWO

That was Monday, and since nearly everyone had headed for home as soon as exam week was over Saturday afternoon, it was not too bad crossing the Arts and Sciences quadrangle. There were only a few men in sight, and I didn’t recognize any of them. It was different walking up the hill to Iobacchoi. Halfway up the hill was the Deke house, and outside it were some whilom familiars. A few of them were loading the station wagon parked there, and one pair was putting a golf ball at a coffee cup on the lawn. I stopped short involuntarily, and thought about crossing over to the other side of the street, and then was sorry I had stopped. I knew they had already seen me, and to hell with them. I started walking again, not too fast, not too slow, just walking, smiling a little at my own gay thoughts, trying to get down the gob of saliva stuck in my throat.

Stu Clark was one of the men loading the station wagon, wearing dirty fatigues and with his battered Air Force cap on the back of his head in case anyone might forget that he had been in Korea. The last time I had seen him, he had been sitting on my bed in the Iobacchoi house arguing with Ben, both of them with their hands zooming this way and that to show how you take off from a MIG that’s sneaked up on your tail. One difference between them was that Ben had come home with nine kills and a metal plate where his kneecap used to be, and Stu had come home with a Good Conduct Medal and a beat-up Air Force cap. There were other differences, too, but that was the one that used to amuse Ben.

Just before I passed the station wagon Stu was loading he backed out of it and turned around, so we were face to face and there was no way of avoiding the issue. “How’s everything, Stu?” I said.

He wasn’t a fast thinker, and his round baby-face wasn’t equipped to express much more than apathy or drunken pleasure, but now he shaped it into something that might have been loathing, and managed with a little more effort to come up with an appropriate insult.

“Run along, boy,” he said.

I took one step toward him, and this time I stopped short with a purpose. “Go on,” I told him pleasantly, “my father can lick your father any time.”

He looked at me as if I were crazy, and then looked at the others for confirmation of this. They stood frozen into a tableau around us, their faces registering concern. Only Bannerman, who had been one of the team putting the golf ball, came across the lawn, with the golf club over his shoulder, and pushed between Stu and me, shouldering us apart. “You heard the man, Egan,” he said. “You’re not deaf, are you? Why not run along, and we’ll all stay out of trouble.”

That was too bad, because I had always liked Bannerman. As editor of The Quill he ran the best literary magazine of any college in the country and was already slated for a job on the editorial board of the University Quarterly when he got his degree. More than that, every time he turned down something I submitted to The Quill he did it in a way that had me eager to try again, and I needed that feeling. But not any longer.

I reached over his shoulder and lifted Stu’s cap off his head, and when Stu grabbed at it I held it out of his reach. “What’s wrong?” I said. “All I want to do is count the bullet holes in this thing. Didn’t anybody around here ever wonder how many of them there were?”

Before Stu could try to do what I was hoping he would, Bannerman hooked the cap out of my hand with the golf club, and with his other hand shoved me in the chest. It seemed to me then that most of that day had been spent with someone’s hand on my chest shoving me away from critical situations. “Nobody’s wondering about anything, Egan,” Bannerman said. “Not around here they’re not. So you can take that chip off your shoulder and play with it over at the Back house. They’ll explain the whole thing to you there.”

“Yellow bastard,” said Stu.

I was glad he had said it. I went for him so hard that I took Bannerman along with me, and the three of us landed sprawling in a heap together. But Stu and I were up first, and I hit him viciously enough—two or three shots in the middle of his blubbery face—to send him sprawling on his back. He got up as I lunged at him and grabbed me around the knees, and this time when we went down everybody else landed on top of us. I didn’t know who was hitting me on the neck or twisting one arm behind my back and didn’t care. I had one arm free, and even in the blur and the confusion I could swing it at Stu’s face with its popping eyes and teeth showing until I was dragged away and heaved to my feet.

I stood there trying to catch my breath, every part of me starting to hurt all at once, and a taste of blood in my mouth. Stu sat spraddle-legged on the ground, gasping, his face already starting to show the lumps under the skin, his eyes glassy.

“Yellow bastard,” he whispered, and spat at me.

Bannerman grabbed my arm, but he didn’t have to. I had tried to make my point and failed, and that was all there was to it. I didn’t want to play the game any more. I just wanted to go away from there.

I pulled free of Bannerman’s hand and made my way up the rest of the hill, hurting inside and out. Hurting and hating, and unable to do anything about it. No one could, least of all myself. Myself with my late afternoon shadow long before me, and blood dribbling down my chin and marking the trail with little drops along the way, until I pulled out my handkerchief and wiped my mouth and chin with it, and my forehead and the back of my neck, all of which hurt.

The Iobacchoi house stood on the crest of the hill, its rear windows overlooking the lake far below, its portico facing the road, so that the brethren gathered before it must have had a good view of the proceedings. It was the first time I had seen the house since the fire, and it was painful to look at it now. It was a handsome building designed in the Federal style, and deserved better than what had happened to it. The portico and columns hadn’t been touched by the fire, but the side wall facing the road was charred in places and scabrous, all the windows smashed, and shards of broken glass on the ground among pieces of luggage and clothing scattered there. There had been two days to start clearing up the mess, but for some reason or other nobody had.

Five of them were standing in front of the house when I walked up, Noel Claiborne and Bobby Ingle, the commanding officers, and Llewelyn, Garret, and Chandler, the troops in the rear ranks, all watching me guardedly as I approached and passed by and went up the steps of the portico and opened the door, their heads all turning in unison like spectators at a tennis match.

“Where do you think you’re going, Egan?” said Ingle. He and Claiborne walked up the steps, and the rest, good soldiers all, followed them.

I turned and looked at him. “I want to get some stuff from my room. Any objections?”

“You’re not supposed to go fooling around in there until the insurance people look the place over.” Ingle was always a great man for the rules. “You can just leave everything where it is until you get the word.”

I didn’t bother to answer him. I went inside, leaving the door open behind me, and looked around. It was strange how the fire had worked over one half the building and left the other half untouched. To my left, the dining room and living room beyond it were unmarked; even the party decorations and crepe paper twined all around their ceilings were there as they had been on Saturday night. But to my right the game room was a shambles, burned litter all over the floor, the walls blackened and peeling. And the staircase ahead of me, barred by a rope hung across the bottom, was charred in places and sagging in the middle. The lower part of the balustrade was completely gone; the upper part hung out over the hallway looking ready to fall off at a touch. I stepped over the rope and started up, pressing close against the wall when the stairs suddenly creaked and swayed underfoot.

The rest of them had silently followed me inside. They stood at the foot of the stairway watching me, and Noel Claiborne said, “Don’t be a damn fool, Egan. The fire department put that thing there. Those stairs aren’t safe.”

I went up to the second floor, feeling the stairway dip and lurch every time I put my weight down, and turned down the hallway to my room. To the room Ben and I had shared. The top hinge of the door had been knocked off; the door with its panels smashed out hung inside the room leaving the way open. I didn’t want to go in, but I went in. There was a scorched smell all around me, but the room had not been touched by the flames. My bed was nearer the door, and beyond it was Ben’s, and looking at it I felt a horror rising in me and cold sweat breaking on my forehead so that when I drew my hand over it the hand came away dripping wet.

I looked at the bed, empty now and forever of Ben Gennaro, and for all that my muscles tightened and strained and were waiting to be driven I could not drive myself past the bed to the shattered window. I thought, all I have to do is walk past the bed and live over again one minute of my life, and that is the purge. But I could not. The horror gripped me like an ague, so that my teeth chattered with it and the sweat poured from me. I moved back a step and struck the door with my shoulder. Enough of the spell was broken so that I could force myself to turn away and go to the closet and take my suitcase from it. There was an acrid smell in the closet, and it clung to the suitcase when I opened it on the floor before my dresser. I emptied the dresser drawers into the suitcase, and the smell was stronger than ever now. Then I went out of the room and down the stairs, never looking back.

Claiborne and the others were still there at the foot of the staircase, but when I walked past them and went into the kitchen they didn’t follow. I washed at the kitchen sink from the thin trickle of cold water which was all the tap yielded, and changed my clothes. The smell in the kitchen was not acrid; it was foul from the refuse heaped high in the two disposal cans. I took the two cans out into the back yard and emptied them into the dump box and brought them back into the kitchen. Then I picked up the suitcase and went through the hallway to the front door.

The quintet trailed after me out the door to the portico.

“Now wait a second, Egan,” said Ingle. “We’ve got something we’d like to talk to you about.”

“Yes?”

“It’s about something important,” said Ingle.

“All right, it’s about something important,” I said. I put down the suitcase and waited.

Ingle looked unhappily at the silent conclave around us and cleared his throat. “Well, I’m in a spot, Egan. I mean, we’re all in a spot. When I took over collecting funds for the house I got your uncle’s word he’d give two thousand dollars this fall, and your father said he’d be good for five hundred. That’s a lot of money, Egan. I mean, when I took over the job of raising funds I counted on certain people, and now I don’t know.”

I suddenly found myself enjoying this. “Don’t know what?”

“Well, the way things stand now, that’s what. After what happened do you think your folks will still contribute like they said they would? I mean, this is a very serious thing for the house, Egan. Hell, I don’t have to tell you about it.”

“No,” I said seriously, “I guess you don’t. And you want to know what I think, Ingle?”

“What?”

“I think you’re a venal, humorless, bucktoothed little bastard, that’s what I think.”

“I told you you’d be a damn fool to talk to him about it,” Noel Claiborne said contemptuously to Ingle. Then he said to me, “And nobody here wants your opinion about any of us, Egan. We’ve already gotten a pretty good notion of it by now.”

“Maybe so, but that doesn’t happen to be only my opinion of Ingle,” I said. “Why, Ben told me the same thing about him after one look.”

Ingle went white. “The hell he did. Ben was too big a man to go around talking like that. You know it, Egan. And what right do you have to drag his name into this? Especially you!”

Ted Chandler stirred himself. “Why, God damn it, Ben was the biggest thing ever happened to this house. He was a big man every which way.”

“How many football players you know ever got on the cover of Time, Egan?” said Olin Garret. “And when they came out here to get Iobacchoi into the story did you see the way Ben handled them? And did you see what he said about the house? Everybody whose name got into that story was Ben’s friend, whether you like it or not.”

“Why, God damn it,” said Ted Chandler, who learned hard but never forgot a good line, “Ben was a big man every which way.”

“Leave Ben out of this,” Claiborne said to them. “If Egan’s got the idea Ben was his private property, that’s his business. It won’t be the first time he was wrong about something.”

“It’s too bad Stu Clark didn’t knock your brains put down there,” Ingle the Lion-hearted told me. “Those Dekes should have taken you apart piece by piece, the way you went looking for trouble. We saw what happened.”

“That’s right, Egan,” said Olin Garret. “You plan to fight your way through every house around here before you go? What kind of name do you want to give us?”

I said slowly and distinctly, “Ben thought every one of you was a joke. And football. And the University. But most of all he thought you and your Mickey Mouse Club and everything you ever said and did was one great big joke. That’s what made him a big man. And that’s what you can carve on a paddle and hang over the fireplace. Ben was a big man because he thought you were all a load of crap. And when he said it to your faces and you laughed along with him, he knew he was right. Just the way I knew it and Claiborne here knew it, too, if he’s as smart as I think he is.”

They looked as if they had been struck to stone. Only Claiborne said to me, “I didn’t ask you to be my spokesman, Egan. I don’t need anyone for that, but if I did, you’d be the last one I’d call on.”

Ted Chandler struggled out of his stupefaction. “Why, God damn it, Egan, how would you like to go down on the grass with me and say that whole thing over again? I’m asking you how you’d like it.”

“I’d like it,” I said, and picked up the suitcase. “But if we went down on that grass, Chandler, I’d kill you, and then what would your girl friend say? The last time I saw you two together she needed every bit of you.”

“Why, God damn it—!” said Chandler, but he didn’t struggle very hard to get away from Ingle’s restraining hands, and Ingle, it might be said, was just about half Chandler’s size. I went down the steps of the portico, and this time only Claiborne followed me. He walked silently by my side, stopping once to snap off the head of a dandelion. As we reached the road he said abruptly, “They’re sending the body home by train tomorrow. The services are going to be held on Wednesday.”

“I know.”

“Are you going to be there?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think I am.”

Claiborne thought that over and then nodded. “That’s probably just as well. The whole house will be there—we’re having the libation ceremony afterward—and I wondered—”

“I’ve been kicked out of the house, remember? And you don’t have to wonder. I won’t be there to bother anybody.”

“Yes,” said Claiborne. “And in case you hadn’t heard about it, I’m driving the Gennaros up to Maartenskill tomorrow morning. Mr. Gennaro’s in no shape to drive, of course, so I offered to do it. Representing the house, naturally.”

Representing himself, he meant. And since there was no way of leaving Papa and Mama Gennaro out of the picture he’d put them in the back seat while Mia sat in the front with him. And, when she became sleepy as she always did on a long drive, she would put her head on his shoulder. Even having Papa and Mama in the back looking at her wouldn’t stop her from doing that. I had taken the family on long drives several times. I knew my Mia.

“There’s a detour a few miles past Kingston,” I said. “Turn off on to thirty-two there, and it’ll take you right into Maartenskill.”

“I’ll do that.” He stopped at the edge of the road, and I stopped, too, because it was evident that he still had something to say to me. He said it at last. “You know, Egan, that remark you made about the way I felt—I mean, about feeling that the house somehow sold out to Ben’s glory—well, I want you to know you’re wrong about it. Completely wrong.”

“The hell I am,” I said, and left him there.

THREE

Faculty Row started beyond the stadium at the far end of the campus, and Dr. McGhan’s house was near the end of Faculty Row, a long walk from Iobacchoi into the sunset. Winter or summer, it was easy to pick out McGhan’s house from any on the street. In the winter it was the only one there with unshoveled snow always covering its sidewalk, and in the summer it was the one with the unkempt lawn. Sometimes—either when I felt guilty at having imposed on the McGhans so much, taking up their time, drinking their beer, eating their dinner, or when I was just overcharged with pointless energy—I would take out the lawn mower from their garage and mow the lawn for them. They would thank me for that, but I had the feeling that it never made any difference to them whether the lawn was tended or not.

When I walked up I could see that no one had bothered to take out the mower since I had last been there two weeks before. There would have been small point to it, anyhow. The older kids, Heather and Maureen, were sitting in the middle of the lawn with pails and shovels, digging holes in it, and Dorothy McGhan was sitting on the top step of the porch with the baby over her shoulder, watching them.

There were times when I had daydreams about Dorothy, especially during the Christmas season when McGhan was off at a Modern Language Association conference somewhere, or Easter Week when he was out of town at some intercollegiate committee meeting, and Dorothy was left alone with the kids in that big house. I would picture myself dropping in to spend the evening with her, then the hour would grow late, and instead of leaving I would work around to a proposition in an intense but gentlemanly way, and she, wary but interested, would succumb.

There was a comic element in the daydreams, too. I could imagine everything in a nice orderly progression up to a point, and then the picture would come apart. I could see us walking up the stairs together and going into the bedroom. We would undress in half-darkness, she would be in my arms, those magnificent breasts pressed tight against my chest, we would be on the bed writhing tighter and tighter against each other, and then, damn it, in my fancy I would hear the baby in the next room start to cry. And Enid at a year old had a frantic bellow which was enough to shatter any daydream. Or, still in my mind’s eye, Heather and Maureen decided they needed a glass of water, as they usually did three or four times an evening when I baby-sat for the McGhans. Which all adds up to the weakness of daydreams that are too literal.

I walked up to the porch, and Dorothy said, “Hello, Danny. Lyle’s inside working. Don’t worry about bothering him; he ought to knock off now, anyhow.”

“I don’t have much to bother him about,” I said. “I’ve been given my walking papers. I just wanted to say good-bye.”

“Yes,” said Dorothy placidly. “I know.”

That was Dorothy. She had met McGhan six years before when he had gone for an operation to the hospital in town where she was a nurse, and a week after he left the hospital they were married. If anyone was surprised by that, or by the way the babies started coming in rapid succession, it wasn’t Dorothy. She was one of those people who naturally and effortlessly live lives of noninvolvement. She was serenely interested in anything which concerned her or went on about her, but that was all. I had known her for three years, and shouldn’t have expected a more emotional response to my own little crisis. But I had expected it. And I felt distinctly wounded when I went into the house.

I could hear McGhan in his study typing away furiously, and when I pushed open his door he waved a friendly hand at me as a signal that he would be finished right away, and that I was to sit down and wait. It was always something to see McGhan typing. The machine was a small portable, which he banged so hard that it kept skidding away from him, and he would make frequent lunges at it to drag it back into position. When he stopped typing for a moment to read what he had written, he would work the fingers of one hand through his red beard and loudly slap the table in a steady rhythm with the other hand. At the end of each page he would rip the sheet out of the typewriter and fling it on the floor, and, because the table was a litter of magazines and manuscript pages, he would have to dig through the pile to find a fresh sheet of paper and carbon. It was like watching a cyclone in action to watch him at work, and to be with him when he was in a state of what might be called passivity in anyone else, was like being in the eye of a cyclone with the pressure falling around you.

The magazines which littered the table and floor were, from what I could see, mostly true-confessionals with lurid covers, which meant that he had already started his summer stint. He had the curious knack of being able to write highly successful true-confessional stories along with the things he occasionally did for Accent and the Kenyon Review and the University Quarterly, and every summer he would turn out ten or twelve confessionals which, he said, kept him out of economic bondage. He and Dorothy weren’t extravagant—they made no effort to keep up appearances as most others did on Faculty Row—but they had no idea how to keep accounts or figure out where the money went, and no intention of doing anything about it. So the anonymous confessional writing for a few weeks every summer came in very handy. Nor did McGhan ever make a secret of it. I think, if anything he was rather proud of it. “Panem et circenses,” he liked to say. “These are what the University thrives on, and where others supply the bread, I supply the circuses.”

He was, in fact, the most popular instructor in the English Department. He was hot-tempered, dogmatic, sometimes incoherent, and a cruel marker, but always with a well-founded answer to a direct question and always exciting to listen to. So his lectures were jammed, and there were more applications each term for his seminars than places in the room. And the sardonic manner, the red beard and disheveled mop of flaming red hair, the willingness to challenge the status quo, and the unabashed talent for writing torrid confessional stories were all splendid advertisements for him. He had a good deal of the circus about him, all right, but there was substance under it, too.

When he stopped typing and leaned back in his chair looking at me expectantly I said, “I thought I’d find you in the department office, but they told me you left early.”

“Yes, I make a point of leaving early once I start posting marks.” He bent over and picked up a glass from the floor. There was nothing left in it but a couple of olives, and he popped these into his mouth and talked around them. “Saves me the trouble of facing anguished students and heartbroken parents. Wives, too, for that matter. That’s something I never had to worry about before the G.I. Bill—the weeping wife cradling her young and telling me that if I didn’t up her husband’s mark a notch, there was a divorce in the offing. Adds an interesting court-of-domestic-relations note to the office, having women crying and babies pissing all over it.” He picked up the glass and spit the two olive pits into it. “God knows how many marriages I saved in my time. Anyhow, I gave you an A. You probably saw it on the bulletin board.”

“No, I didn’t look at the bulletin board.”

“So much for my kindly works. Williamson gave you an A too. He told me the Medieval Lit paper you turned in was one of the best he’s seen in a long time. Not that he’s any judge. I think he was surprised that you bothered to turn in any paper at all. Come into the kitchen with me. I need a refill.”

I followed him into the kitchen. The sink was full of dirty dishes and he put the glass down among them. Then he opened the refrigerator and took out an uncapped milk bottle full to the brim with martinis, and, from force of habit, took out a bottle of beer as well. When I said, “I think I’ll have a martini instead,” he hesitated, then put back the bottle of beer. “Well, considering the occasion—” he said.

There were no clean glasses on the shelves. McGhan finally took down two coffee cups, poured about an inch into one for me, and a good deal more into the other for himself. He dropped two olives into each, said, “That’s to make it honest,” and took a long drink.