POINTS 19 was published in the spring of 1954. The new cover design that debuted with POINTS 17 once again highlighted the contents that included a long critical essay on George Orwell by Otto Friedrich and the second short story by Alexander Trocchi to be published by Vail. We have included selections from two works that provide some background and explication on Alexander Trocchi for those wishing to delve further into this writer. We have also included a scan of the opening page of the second installment of Philippe de Pirey’s first hand account of the French campaign in Indo-China (Vietnam) for those wishing to seek out this account. The translation from the original French was made by Jacqueline Vail, Sindbad’s wife at the time. Additional biographical details on some of the contributors will be found at the end of this post.
(inside front over)
(inside back cover)
NOTES BY THE EDITOR – Sindbad Vail
SONNET – Les Brown
THE FROG LADY – H. E. Francis
TWO POEMS – David Gascoyne
GEORGE ORWELL – Otto Friedrich
THE BATHROOM IN BUDAPEST – John Goodwin
JIMMY McGEE – A. G. Gamble
THE NIGHT OF THE CONFUSED IMAGE – Matthew Fitzsimon
PETER PIERCE – Alexander Trocchi
OBERON TO GREENSLEEVES – Christopher Logue
OPERATION WASTE – Philippe de Pirey
NOTES BY THE EDITOR
POINTS tries to come out four times a year and it usually does not. I think it is easier to bring out the magazine than to write an editorial. I've been told to try and be original for once and not write one; but then I do so little writing and it is so nice to see one's name in print, even in ones own magazine.
In the last issue (N° 18) I recounted the history of the magazine and it is to be wondered about what I can write now. It was supposed to be an editorial to end editorials, but nothing ever ends. The reactions to the last issue were interesting. For the fifth anniversary naturally enough I wanted to make it the best one yet, and perhaps apart from the ever recuring printing mistakes it was. It was a number that I liked even after five proof (sic) readings. No one liked all of it, but then less people than usual disliked most of it; and what else can one hope for? Curiously the poetry received the only plug in the local press, which rather irritated me as I'd always paid less attention to poetry than anything else. Now of course I've been morally driven to keep up the "standard" of the poetry and that fact might make it decline.
By the time we've hit the stands Spring will be well upon us. We’ve been looking forward to that season more than ever this year, even though we will be invaded by tourists, lots of Germans. Naturally we are not tourists anymore, we've been here a very long time. Perhaps it was not noticed that in the last issue we had taken a slight position, we had done superficially what the French call to become engage. We had reprinted extracts from a war diary that were not flattering to either war or war-makers. In this issue we are concluding these extracts and are in fact publishing even more unsavoury details. Our article on George Orwell pushes us slightly further into a position. I don't think we'll ever become entirely committed; its not too safe these days, but slight manifestations of dubious courage will occasionally be displayed. Of course we will never go much too far; France is too pleasant a country to live in for that.
There are about 12,000 Americans residing in and around Paris now, not counting the military, and even more British. Yet magazines such as this one sell very badly here. Most of our sales are in the U. S. A. and Britain. The British and American residents here, apart from those living or appearing in the immediate vicinity of St. Germain des Pros, are singularly uninterested in such activities as ours. Even the "artists" in the Montparnasse area have their own little world, and that certainly is not far away. In fact I believe that most Anglo-Americans living here might as well be in Bournemouth or Providence, R.I. A great part of their time is spent with bridge clubs, social lunches, church bazaars, chamber of commerce meetings. Legion masquerades etc. All of this "'us" left bankers despise and are no doubt equally despised, if not ignored by the "others" (right bankers).
There is not really in Paris a clique of writers, painters, or musicians. There are a few groups who meet in cheap cafes and drink beer or coffee. This is not the age of pernod saucer pilers our fathers remember so fondly. Occasionally there is a slight amount of drinking, but it's the exception and not the rule. The reason I'm sure is not moral, just financial. Of course we do hang about a lot and chat and chat, but there is not a hell of a lot of "literary" hell-fire spouting. We do discuss a certain amount of politics. If we were heard in our excited tense moments we would not be merely un-American or un-French, but un-World, and expedited by both sides to the moon. Sentimentally though, if analysed, the conversations do tend towards the left, as is inevitable, though if boiled down further it is neutralistic. It is doubtful if anyone really wants the revolution, as after such an event, all persons still at large would have to work a little more. The Anglo-Americans are really a pretty chauvinistic lot. They read the Paris edition of the "New-York Herald Tribune" occasionally, and the more serious the "Monde". It is a sad fact that there is too much sticking to one's own languagemen. Some of us don't even speak French at all or know any Frenchmen, or read any French hooks. The young French of our type are too serious to us and surely can't think much of our "literary" capacities. Of course most of the G.l. Bill of Rights students over here since the war were a joke. Few French students given our opportunities would have wasted them so freely.
All in all it is a little disappointing. I wonder how many of us will do anything of value eventually? A few hard working souls will no doubt violently contradict me, but they are exceptions. I think I can safely say that the majority of the "expatriates" (overused word) don't give the impression of being endowed with talents or gifts, let alone hard working energy.
I’m envied for living here by many friends in England and America. I'm very happy to live here and would not wish to do otherwise, but it is not the paradise imagined by many, anymore than their own environment is, unless they put a hell of a lot into it. Isn't that the same anywhere?
Even after his death in 1984, Alexander Trocchi, the author of Cain's Book was not allowed to rest in peace - his ashes mysteriously disappeared - and later, many of his papers were burned in a fire for which no cause was ever found, just as Cain's Book itself had been burned in 1963 by order of the courts. So Trocchi's remains are nowhere or everywhere. It is strangely appropriate as an end point. Or a beginning . . .
For many years Trocchi had been ostracised by the literary establishment. He was regarded as dangerous, an anarchist, one who might suddenly begin to inject himself with heroin in public, or make love to someone's wife on the sofa. Or begin a revolution. Or something equally unexpected and embarrassing. Then, too, he was ignored by some Scots because of the heat of his headline-making exchanges with Hugh MacDiarmid at the Edinburgh Festival in 1962. MacDiarmid, hardly an establishment figure himself, had not read a word of Trocchi's work, but had dismissed him (and William Burroughs) in a drunken aside as 'cosmopolitan scum'.
When Trocchi received a Writer's Grant of £500 from the Arts Council in 1970, which rescued him from considerable debt, the tabloid newspapers decried this on their front pages as 'Money for Junkies' and 'Cash for Drug Fiends'. But Trocchi's notoriety as a heroin addict with a twenty-five year addiction should not be allowed to obscure the versatility and quality of his literary talent. As editor of Merlin, the influential Paris quarterly magazine (1952-55), his friends included Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Robert Creeley, Eugene lonesco, and Pablo Neruda.
Trocchi was the foremost British writer of the Beat era, the first 'prophet of permissiveness', leader of the British cultural underground and a prime mover of many of the cultural events which characterised the 1960s and 70s, including the sigma project and the London anti-university movement. He sacrificed his own literary output between 1963 and 1977 to sigma - an iconoclastic and diffuse 'movement', even by the standards of the sixties. In the fifties he had been a prominent figure in the expatriate literary circles of Paris - the only British member of the Situationist International, and one of the founders of the Beat community in Venice West in California.
First and foremost however, he was a brilliant novelist, whose novels explored and ultimately rejected the basic rules of novelwriting, and the conventions associated with producing literary 'product'. From his earliest days at Glasgow University, where he had been described as 'a student manifestly of genius', he was at all times an innovator, outrageous, larger-than-life.
This collection of his writing includes some published essays and short stories, and previously unpublished fiction. Trocchi has left behind work of quality. The Reader has been compiled in tandem with my full-length biography (Alexander Trocchi:The Making of the Monster, Polygon, 1991) to make better known the work of one of Scotland's most deserving talents. While his novel, Cain's Book - described by Edwin Morgan and others as one of the twenty greatest modern Scottish novels – is still in print as are Young Adam and Sappho of Lesbos, most of the material in this collection will be new even to those already aware of the dozen or so books Trocchi published in his lifetime.
Beckett was perhaps the biggest single influence on his writing, although, while Beckett moved inwards, almost beyond the scope of language, Trocchi took Beckett's original 'outsider' or existentialist stance and moved outwards until his canvas encompassed the entire political situation of the Western World. His commitment to social change concentrated on undermining fixed patterns of thought and response, which, he believed, were restricted by the terms of expression of their own consciousness. All of Trocchi's work contains elements of rejection of the status quo; the political and moral establishments; what Trocchi called the 'Auntie (or Grannie) Grundys' or the 'bow-leggeds of Grundy'. This is accomplished subtly, from within, by concealing it in narrative guise or in the plot, where the expected regular certainties are overwhelmed by elements of nihilism. He referred to himself in his notes as 'a polluter of the wells', and a cultural subversive, whose aim was the undermining of all fixed assumptions, accepted forms, traditions, stereotypes, but R.D. Laing was not alone in regarding him as 'an ultra-conservative counter-revolutionary', and 'a romantic Utopian'.
The first section of the Reader opens with episodes set in Glasgow from an unpublished autobiographical novel which describes his childhood and early romances, and in which his own persona is named 'Nicolas'. His older brother Jack and his cousin Victor both feature under their real names. The eldest of the three brothers, Alfred, died in the Isle of Man in 1971. Jo Christie, his best friend from school days at Hillhead High School (and Cally House, Gatehouse of Fleet whence they were evacuated during the early days of the war), was in real life Cecil Strachan, and while the real-life counterparts of Mollie, Isobel and Sylvia are unknown, his first wife Betty or Elizabeth is often given her real name, although she also appears as 'Judith'. In the two short stories and prose piece which follow, 'Nicolas' is living variously in a cottage at Garronhead near Balfron in the Campsie Fells and in a flat in Glasgow with Betty. Thus far, we have a reasonably accurate record of Trocchi's early life and first marriage. The short story 'Peter Pierce', written at a later date in Paris, is also set in a Scottish milieu and has been described as his best short story. It prefigures the mood of Young Adam, the novel which he began at Garronhead in 1948 and which saw critics compare him to Camus and Chekhov.
© Andrew Murray Scott 
(Alexander Trocchi and Richard Seaver)
Alexander Trocchi Recollections
as interviewed by Allan Campbell & Tim Niel
How did Cain's Book come in to being and what was your involvement?
I left Paris in the mid-Fifties and came back to the United States. Alex stayed on for several more years, a couple at least, and then I was out of the United States but not in Paris for a couple of years after that. When I came back I joined Grove Press and learned that Alex was now in the United States. He was living on a scow, plying the trade up and down the Hudson River. He was actually the captain of a scow which is one of those barges which brought merchandise up or garbage or whatever it was and it provided him with room and sufficient money to keep body and soul alive. He was deeply into drugs at that point. When I met him I found him quite unchanged, actually. Still utterly charming, tall, hawklike, bright, but slightly ravaged in the face, and he brought to us at Grove, probably through my connection, he brought this portion of a novel called Cain's Book, which was the story of life on a barge and the drug scene in New York and I would suspect that he brought us thirty to forty pages. The publisher at Grove Press was a man named Barney Rosset and I brought these pages to Barney and I said this man is extremely talented and this is the best writing about drugs I've seen since... since William Burroughs. To make a long story short, we signed up the book for a very modest advance and we got Trocchi a contract and a first payment. The second payment was due only upon completion of the book.
I think, if memory serves, it took another two years before we actually got the completed book. Alex would come in with five, ten, eight, four pages at a time and hope to get fifty bucks or fifty dollars or seventy-five dollars or thirty dollars or whatever the exchequer would bear, clearly to support his drug habit but it made the novel inchingly slow and more and more formless so my job was to try and stitch this together, because many of the pages were superb but where they fit and how they fit and to get Alex to sit down and make them fit was ... was a painful job, so I can't say that there was any real close relationship, although I was his editor at that point, the relationship, the close relationship that had existed between us in Paris, was almost totally, if not totally gone.
Cain's Book took a long time between inception and completion. Over two years as I recall. Maybe longer. But it was in stark contrast to Alex's earlier facility to turn out a book, even Young Adam, I suspect, was written in a month, maybe six weeks, and it came out sparkling. Here pages came out sparkling but it was painful to see that his ability to produce had been... had been condensed so that he couldn't write more than a page or two a week. But my job was to try and say Alex, what we need now is a scene about this. Joe Necchi, who was clearly an autobiographical character, based on Trocchi's New York and earlier life, was a fascinating protagonist, in that the drug scene in the 1960s in New York was a very important scene. Drugs were, for the first time in America, or the first time certainly since World War II, a major concern and a major factor and Alex was writing about that scene like nobody else. It was also an enormously introspective book. Much more so than Young Adam and Necchi's reflections about himself and about his earlier life and about where he was going and what he was doing, what he was involved in, both his life as a drug addict and the total immersion in the drug scene was... absolutely mesmerising and absolutely... authentic.
Did he make claims that he was writing something new?
He did claim that he was writing a new kind of novel. Cain's Book was a radical book, even in the context of the Sixties where a great deal of radical writing was going on. I think it was partly because Alex was not able to function the way he had before. The facility was gone, the... the scintillating intelligence - because Alex was extraordinarily bright and his mind was like a steel trap. It was clearly affected by the drugs and the continuity was affected by the drugs. So Cain's Book is a book of discontinuity. It's small scenes stitched together, so that it really comes off as a novel, but it was hard to do and I think he made claims for the discontinuity as a new kind of literature, or a new departure for himself, but I think its essence was ... the fact was, that was all he could do, so it was easier to justify it as a new kind of literature. It was clearly the end of his writing as well. Because it was... it was a train slowing down. The later portions of the book were much slower to come into being than the earlier portions of the book.
What happened to Trocchi the writer?
I think that if Alex were here he 'd say that he stopped writing because he had nothing further to say. I think the fact of the matter was he was incapable of writing because of drugs. Period, end of sentence. He took in later life, as you know, to doing miniature paintings which would take him months to produce and I believe are not wonderful an. He had dried up and the focus was all inward and self-destructive. Alex was an enormously self-destructive person. Even in the early days one saw that. He would do things to alienate Jane who was his sustenance and his great love and then try and get her back but having done his best to alienate her. He did that with his friends and acquaintances. And ultimately he did it to Merlin which was nonetheless his vehicle into the world of literature, politics, writing.
What was the root of that self-destructiveness?
Alex was a sincere and total rebel against the establishment, however you want to define the establishment, whether it's the Scottish establishment, whether it's the French establishment, the English establishment, the American establishment. The establishment for him was anathema and to be brought down at all costs. I think that many rebels in France - Artaud, a great poet, a great rebel – ultimately do themselves in by the force of their rebellion. There's only so much energy against the whole establishment that you can expend without trying to call on other resources. In Artaud's case, and in Trocchi's, it was drugs, and in both instances I think that the drugs took control. Alex was a man very much in control of himself and his environment when he was younger. When he was deeply into drugs, drugs were in control of Alex.
Do you think he genuinely saw the taking of drugs as a legitimate move of some kind?
My strong suspicion is that being into drugs, you then have to find the justification for being in drugs and therefore you find whatever premise suits your purposes. He did form a kind of magnificent empty political movement, based on rebelling against everything, to justify his stance on drugs or the fact that he was stilled by drugs. I wrote an introduction to a reissue of Cain's Book about ten years ago, slightly longer because Alex was still alive, and I sent it to him and it's really quite a laudatory introduction in my view. Kind, but I did deplore the fact that Alex's great talent... in my view, he did himself in because he deprived, I think, the English language of maybe a masterpiece but certainly several good books. Alex wrote me a scathing letter back saying who was I to judge? Was I God to judge his life? If he took drugs it was because he planned to take drugs and needed to take drugs and that was his fulfillment and drugs brought him to the illumination that he was looking for in life which he had not had without them so buzz off already. Buster. I mean it was, I think I still have that letter, but it was... it was... I think it was the last communication between us.
How was Cain's Book greeted, particularly in America? People such as Mailer spoke highly of it.
Cain's Book had a number of very good reviews, including a review in the New York Times. It did not sell massively well but it sold respectably. I would suspect that in the hardcover edition it sold between ten and fifteen thousand copies, which is certainly not bad and in subsequent paperback editions it has probably sold another fifty to sixty thousand copies and it remained in print almost without exception for most of the next twenty years. So... Trocchi was a name known in America. He was known from Paris, he was known from Merlin, so he did get about, despite his stint on the scow. He was a figure, he lived for a year or so in 14th Street up here in a huge loft, and his writing appeared in the Evergreen Review, excerpts of Cain's Book were greeted with enthusiasm when they appeared at least in two issues of the Evergreen Review. So that he was not totally unknown by the time Cain's Book appeared. There was a literary ripple and . . . and Mailer among others, touted it very highly. Burroughs certainly touted it highly and a number of other literary figures called Cain's Book one of the major books of that year.
Trocchi lost thousands of dollars through bootleggers, which is still going on today. How did that come about?
In the 1960s, the books that Alex had written for Girodias were not available here but there were a number of censorship battles fought in the United States. The first of which was Lady Chatterley in 1959-60, the second was Henry Miller in the early Sixties, followed by the battle over Naked Lunch. All these were lengthy legal battles but once those legal battles were won, which they were, and Maurice Girodias moved to the United States, he began to reissue some of his earlier Paris Olympia Press editions in New York and most, if not all of those, were out of copyright because he had not properly copyrighted them when they were first published. That's a Catch 22 because you weren't allowed to copyright dirty books and then you were penalised because, since they were out of copyright, you could not protect them in any way, but some of those Girodias books, including Alex's, were indeed pirated by a number of other publishers on the West Coast. Some here in New York, who simply took them and reset them and never paid a penny to Alex or to Girodias. Girodias made some effort - as did Grove Press, because some of the Grove Press books were equally pirated - made efforts to stop the pirates or to get money from them, but these were people who would pop up at a post office address and print fifty thousand copies and then disappear into the night so there was never any way you could really track them down and nab them. So Alex, yes, lost, if royalties had been paid on the books that he wrote, he would have been a relatively wealthy man.
You've said that Trocchi was not contrite. What did you mean by that?
Alex had a lot to atone for, I would think. Again, I'm not playing God but... if one looks at the history of those he cheated, start with George Plimpton, who lent him considerable sums of money, got him out on bail, posted bail for him and Alex fled into Canada, leaving George holding the bag for, I would suspect, a couple of thousand dollars which, in those days, was a lot of money for anybody. And his family. Lyn, his wife, whom he got into drugs and who died as a result of it; his children. It's a pretty sad spectacle and yet Alex, in my correspondence with him or talking with him, never felt the least responsible for any of that, and certainly not the least contrite. He still felt that he was a major figure, a major talent, and that... the end of that justified whatever means, including his personal life, which was, I would say, a disaster.
What was Lyn Trocchi like?
Lyn was a very pretty, very young girl from a middle-class Long Island family. I don't remember how they met but they were living together and ... my first memory of them as a couple was in the loft up on 14th Street when I went up to gather a few pages of Cain's Book one afternoon and the first time I had gone up to the loft was mid-afternoon and the place was in a total shambles. Needles all over the place, beds unmade, both Lyn and Alex sitting in a chair looking as though they were staring into space for ever and I realised that... that Lyn already was, you know, was a lost soul. So I really didn't know her except as Alex's very pretty girlfriend and subsequent wife but someone who, while she was still in her teens, was completely drugged out.
Can yon trace any of the story of Trocchi's departure from the States?
Cain's Book really is the book of a pursued person, a man who is increasingly going underground because the Feds are after him, whether it was the FBI or the drug enforcement folk or whoever it was. I suspect it was the FBI because, although he always denied it, Alex was certainly dealing in drugs and that is where you got into real trouble. Using drugs was a problem enough but dealing in drugs could get you into real trouble and many years in prison, especially in those days, probably today still. But as I recall Alex was being pursued and he was dodging the Feds and he and Lyn knew that people were after him. Lyn lived on Long Island and had gone back to see her parents and I think they both had actually gone back when they realised that the FBI or whoever the Feds were, were really moving in to arrest them.
Alex, as I recall, jumped on a train somewhere out on mid-Long Island, leaving Lyn behind, and literally escaped. Now there's where George Plimpton can fill you in because George was involved. As I recall Alex left the country wearing two of George's suits... but he really left the country to avoid going to jail. He would have been arrested, he would have been in jail had he not really run for the border at that point.
Looking back, what were your feelings about the man and his works.
Alex was, as I said, a brother to me in Paris. We were extremely close, we shared thoughts, hopes, aspirations, writing ambitions, we had a common cause which was the magazine, which we both very strongly believed in as did the others around us, Christopher [Logue] and Austryn Wainhouse, Patrick [Bowles]... but I think Alex and I were more focused on it than the others and believed in it... believed in it more. Alex was a great charmer, a great friend to be with. Scintillating conversationalist, someone who provoked you to think sharper yourself. He was close to brilliant and in the two year span we were extreme... as close as I have probably been to any other male person in my life, aside from my children, but that translated not into I think the work of which Alex was clearly fully capable. I think his work is secondary, I think Cain's Book remains an interesting... I think it will last in a minor way. I think some of his other writing may, when culled, be of interest to future literary historians but I don't think he wrote the major works of which he was capable.
© Allan Campbell & Tim Niel
My only contact with the outside world during my period of 'retirement' was through the ragman. He lived in a room above mine at the back of the house. He was called Peter Pierce.
He was a small man with an obvious limp. His brown-bristled chin was as sharp as a knife and it was always tilted to enable him to see better with his one eye. His other eye had been removed by a surgeon, skillfully, in an operating theatre which he described to me. The blind side of his face had a vacant, stricken look, almost supplicating, like the profile of a saint in an early Renaissance painting. Where the eye should have been was a concave tube of flesh, an empty socket, shiny and violet-pink, which looked as though it had been made by somebody pressing his thumb downward and inward from the bridge of the nose where the skin had a hurt, stretched appearance. He was really very ugly.
I told him I had to stay out of the way for a while because some men were looking for me. I had put something over on them and I had to lie low for a while. I told him I would pay him something if he would buy my food for me each day. He said there was no need for that. He would do it anyway out of friendship. But as he always insisted that I eat the evening meal with him, I said I would pay for it for the two of us, and he agreed to that. We ate upstairs in his room and sometimes he brought a bottle of beer.
His room was crammed with an assortment of junk. A bundle of assorted rags, old newspapers tied neatly into bales, pots, vases, busts, broken clocks, and stacks of books. I was glad of the books. I borrowed a few each day to read while he was out on his rounds.
He told me that he liked reading himself but that he couldn't read much because with only one eye he found it a bit of a strain. He was sorry about this because one of the busts he had was a bust of Carlyle, and he had noticed that there were some of his books in the pile. He asked me if I didn't think that having a life-size bust in front of you of the man whose books you were reading wouldn't give you a clearer impression of what the man was like who wrote the books. I said I had never thought about it but that I supposed there was something in what he said, for the books a man writes are part of his behaviour. He nodded his head eagerly. He said he wouldn't mind, sometime, if it wouldn't bore me, hearing what Carlyle had written, because ever since he had had the bust he had wondered. If I would read to him he would be very grateful.
But we agreed to leave it off for a while, for at least a week, because that week his round was on the other side of the town and by the time he got back and cooked supper for us there was only enough time left to check up on what he'd collected and sort the rags and papers into bundles. I suggested that I could do the baling during the day while he was out collecting. He was delighted about this.
That night, before I went downstairs to my own room, he had cooked some kippers for us, and afterward, while we sat back and drank the beer which he'd bought, he suggested that he would be willing to have me as a partner in the business. I could do the sorting and baling like I said, and he would do the collecting and the selling. The proper disposal of the goods was important, he said, but for the moment at least he himself would attend to that, I wouldn't need to go out of the house at all.
There was only one thing. He could use a bit more capital because sometimes he couldn't afford to buy what he was offered.
I said it seemed only fair to me that I should put some capital into the business because, after all, he was doing the hard work and there was already a lot of stock in the room.
In the future we can use your room too, he said.
That had not occurred to me but I agreed because, although some of the stuff that he brought in smelled rather strongly, I didn't see how I could reasonably object to the arrangement.
I asked him then how much he thought would be fair for me to pay into the business.
He considered that for a few moments and then he asked me if I thought six pounds would be too much.
I told him that I thought it was quite reasonable, and so I gave him the money and he insisted on giving me a receipt on which he stated that I was now a full partner in the business. He always liked to have things in writing, he said, if it were in any way connected with business. You knew where you stood then. And he asked me whether I was satisfied with the receipt. He was looking at me questioningly.
I told him I was and I suggested that as I would be doing the baling we ought to store the paper in my room and the miscellaneous stuff in his. I think he was glad I suggested that, because while I was speaking I noticed he was eyeing the busts as though he feared I were going to suggest that he should part with them. But when I was returning to my own room he insisted that I should take one of the busts with me because he had noticed my room was pretty bare. A man likes an ornament, he said.
I thanked him and said that I would begin the baling next day.
In the morning, one of the first things which gradually took shape in the growing light was the bust of the nameless man, one of whose ears was broken off and whose vacant eyes were toward me as I fell into sleep.
In the days that followed, I spent part of my time baling paper.
It was not long before I realized that it was not a nourishing business, that the stock upstairs in Peter's room was the accumulation of many months' work, and that day by day he added very little to what was already there. At first I suspected he was no longer bringing back all he collected and that he was disposing of the greater part of it without my knowledge, and before he returned home in the evening. As he had told me he kept accounts, I asked to see those for the past six months, thinking that the sudden decline in the business would show and that when I pointed it out to him he would realize that I wasn't a person to be trifled with. I expected him to be reluctant to show me his books and if he were, or if he refused outright to do so, I would know immediately that my suspicions were correct.
But it didn't happen like that. He was actually pleased when I asked him. He confided in me that he had been wondering, over the past few days, if he had made a mistake in accepting as a partner a man who was so foolish as to put up capital without wanting to see the books of the business in which he was investing. That had not seemed very businesslike to him.
I was taken back by his directness and admitted that I had been guilty of an oversight when I made my original investment. I hastened to add that I was not usually like that and was so on that occasion only because he was my friend and because I had trusted him implicitly.
He looked at the floor while I said this, and when he saw that I hadn't anything further to say he said that it was very kind of me to trust him in that way on such a short acquaintance, that that thought - and he felt ashamed of himself - had not occurred to him, which only went to show that his first impression of me had been correct, that I was a man of feeling.
I thanked him for saying so.
He said that on the contrary I had every right to be angry with him. He felt thoroughly ashamed of himself. It was unpardon- able of him to have judged me at all, and it was criminal of him to have overlooked the most important factor in the situation. He hoped I would forgive him, that he hadn't lost my friendship because of it.
I assured him there was no danger of that, that to turn away from him on such a flimsy pretext would be to commit a much greater impetuosity of judgment than he had been guilty of.
He looked at me for a few moments without speaking and then he said that I was very young to speak so wisely, that it had taken him much longer to learn that lesson, and that even now, as I had seen, he was sometimes guilty of falling into his old ways.
We didn't speak for some time after that. Neither of us felt there was anything to be added. And then, suddenly, he remembered that I had asked to see the books of the business. He hoped that I would not find them too untidy and that, if there were any mistakes, I would not be too embarrassed to point them out. He found close work very difficult with only one eye and that not as good as it used to be. He limped over to the wardrobe and brought three massive ledgers out from the interior. They were half-bound in faded red leather with the numbers, 1,2, and 3 inscribed in gold on their spines. It was only then that it occurred to me that he must have been a very old man.
I don't suppose you'll want much more than a glance at the first two, he said. There's not much of interest for you there. Two of the busts, I think, and some odd bits and pieces and a few of the books that didn't get sold the last time I had a clearance.
I asked him what period the three ledgers covered.
He didn't remember exactly, he said, but we could soon look and see because he had always taken great care to enter the correct dates.
We opened the first ledger. The pages were yellow with age and the ink had faded to an anonymous, neutral, sepia colour. The date at the top of the first page was '15th August, 1901'.
Ascension Day, he said. I should have remembered. I bought very little as you can see for yourself.
Under the date was the following inventory:
One clock (broken) .......... 3d.
Rags (various) ............ 1d.
One etching of a castle (unknown) signed
'E. Prout' and dated 1872 (interesting) ¾d.
Total 4 ¾d.
That etching, he said. I almost decided to specialize in art works, etchings, and busts, you know. You'll notice I didn't buy anything for two days after that. I had to think. He drew a half-smoked cigarette from his vest pocket and lit it. I decided against it, he went on after he had lit it, yes, I decided against it. He turned over the pages of the first ledger away from his decision and then he said I could look through the first two at my leisure the following day, that it was the third one which concerned us. The first entry was dated '28th October, 1940'.
Hallowe'en, he said. The war was on.
It didn't take me long to notice that on many days he didn't appear to have bought anything at all. I questioned him about it. He mumbled something about having enough, about not wanting to overstock himself. I turned quickly to recent business. The articles bought consisted mostly of old paper and rags, but even those he appeared to buy in ludicrously small quantities. It occurred to me that it was strange, considering the present limited business, that he should have decided to take on a partner, especially one like myself who was willing only to bale and pack what he collected, and I could think of no earthly reason why he should want more capital for a business which had not only begun to dry up over the last few years but which he didn't appear to have any intention of expanding.
He was watching me apprehensively, his head tilted like a bird's, his elbows stuck to his thin knees as he leaned forward in his chair and followed my progress from page to page; occasionally he made a vague reference to how he had disposed of this item or that, pointing to where it was recorded with the forefinger of his right hand. He apologized more than once for his handwriting, which was most exact and copperplate. He appeared, in spite of his modesty, to be the perfect clerk. What struck me as absurd was the inordinate care which he lavished on the most trivial transactions.
I asked him as casually as I could in what direction he intended to expand the business with the capital which I had invested. He considered the question for a moment before answering, and then he said that of course there were a number of possibilities, but that the main thing for any business, especially of this nature, was to possess an adequate reserve of floating capital. You never knew, he said, when you would require it.
I admitted that that seemed reasonable enough but pointed out that if we could judge from the records over the last few years we were hardly likely to be called upon to produce so much money at one time.
He said that that was as it might be but that it didn't prove anything. The very next day he might go out and find that he needed not six pounds but seven. He was obstinate in his refusal to draw any conclusions from the fact that during the past few years he had never bought more than three shillings' worth of goods in one day, and he gradually became more irritable when he realized that I wasn't satisfied with his explanations. I could feel his resentment as I turned back idly over the pages of the third volume, and, not wanting to quarrel with him, I suggested that there would be plenty of time in the future for us to discuss the business and that for the moment I was quite satisfied and felt like going to bed. His irritation left him immediately I said this, and he suggested that I should have a cup of cocoa before I went downstairs.
He boiled water on a little alcohol burner whose flame was blue and almost transparent, as though there were no density of heat there to raise the temperature of the uncovered water. The little pot was perched precariously on three flame-blackened tin spokes and it steamed gently, for a long time, below boiling point. The light in the room was a poor one. The wallpaper, dark during the day - heavy fawn anastomosed by tendrils of flowers, berries, leaves, all brown ~ was darker now, dark at the corners to the point of extinction; and as Peter stood watching the flame and the pot of water as though he knew what to expect, yet inquisitive - bending low to consider the flame and then peering into the pot - and nervous at the same time, I had the feeling of not belonging there ... of being a disruptive influence in a place whose century and whole orientation were not mine, stared at by the ridiculous busts with no eyes and with three massive and indecipherable ledgers on the table in front of me which were indecipherable not because I could not add or subtract or follow the entries but because, having done so, I was unable to grasp their significance: I could see right through them, and having done so had an irresistible feeling that I had somehow missed the point. Peter still tended the flame and seemed preoccupied. He did not speak. If it had not been for a nervousness which seemed to attach to his gesture of waiting I would have thought that he had forgotten I was in the room with him. But as it was, it was obvious that he hadn't. It occurred to me that for some reason or other he did not trust himself to speak. His lips were set over the pale pink gums in which a row of brown stakelike teeth were embedded, unevenly, and in the lower jaw only. He was making cocoa. He wanted to be involved in that to be free of me. Simultaneously, he wanted to be doing something for me. I supposed it was his way of showing his disapproval and of signifying at the same time that in spite of it he still considered himself my friend, my partner. I wondered if he realised how unfamiliar everything was to me. I was aware of nothing familiar in the room. Everything - Peter himself, the miscellaneous objects - was trivial, gratuitously so, and yet, somehow, because he was so clearly involved, portentous. It was like a puppet show, but, disturbingly, the puppets moved by themselves. I could see only from the outside. I watched him grow impatient. And then, after a moment's hesitation, he stirred the brown powder into the water. While he was doing it, the realization came to me that that was not the best way to make cocoa, that cocoa tended to form into lumps if sprinkled into hot water, and I wanted to tell him about it and then found that I could not because unaccountably it came over me that I must be wrong. And yet all the time that I didn't speak I knew that I was not.
Here it is, he said at last, removing it from the flame. He went on stirring it as he carried it steaming and still unboiled to the table. You can put the books on the floor, he said. I'll put them away afterward.
I put the ledgers, one on top of the other, at my feet, and he placed two cups in front of us and filled them with the cocoa which was thin and watery like tea, on the surface of which the pinheads of undissolved powder which I had predicted when I watched his ineffectual efforts to stir it in, floated like minute balls of dark wet sand. He spilled a little on the table and wiped it away with a crumpled red handkerchief which he found in the side pocket of his jacket.
Bad pourer, he said apologetically.
It's not sweetened, he said then. I haven't got any sugar.
I said that it didn't matter, that that was the way I liked it, and we sat opposite one another waiting for it to cool a little, before we drank. He said that he liked cocoa because it made him sleep well, that sometimes in the middle of the night because of his insomnia - his mother too had been troubled by insomnia – he would work a bit on the ledgers.
There's always something to do, you know, he said.
He liked to make all the entries with a soft pencil first, a 3b, because it rubbed out easily, and then only afterward, when he had rechecked his figures and studied the inventory, to go over it in ink. For this latter operation he liked to use a penholder and a steel nib selected from an old lozenge box in which he kept many nibs of various thicknesses, shapes, and pliabilities, each of which, after it had been used, was wiped carefully on a penwiper which he had made himself out of four absorbent pieces of rag, circular in shape, and sewn together at the centre with a trouser button at either side. He wanted to show me his nibs, he said, and he got up with his cocoa untouched and went over to the wardrobe. He returned with a cardboard shoe box which he placed on the table in front of him as he sat down again. From the shoe box he took the lozenge box and from the interior of that, which had been lined with tissue paper, he poured a small heap of pen nibs onto the table. As they tinkled onto the wood his eyes lit up. The nibs were gold and silver and blue and brown. He selected one of the gold ones, which had two tubes on its underside, and passed it over to me, smiling.
It's a new-fangled one, he said. His tone was deprecatory. It's supposed to hold enough ink for five hundred words. It always blots.
He said that it was a good thing that he made a practice of testing all new nibs before he risked using them on the ledgers, and I agreed with him.
It always blots, he said again. I don't know why I keep it. I've been meaning to throw it away ever since I got it.
But he took it back from me, nevertheless, and dropped it back into the lozenge box. He went on to explain the merits of each nib, holding them up in turn for me to look at them, but without allowing me to touch them. This reluctance to let me look at them for myself annoyed me slightly. I don't know why, unless it was because it seemed to prohibit my becoming as interested as he was. Whenever I made a gesture to accept whatever nib he was holding up to the light for me to examine, the spear or spade-shaped point, the contour of the slit or hole, he moved it hastily back toward the lozenge box and dropped it in. I became more and more exasperated and finally, having had enough of it, I said rather rudely that his cocoa was getting cold.
He pricked back his ears momentarily, as though he hadn't caught what I said, and then all of a sudden he smiled and thanked me for reminding him. He didn't like it too hot but he didn't like it too cold either, he said. And then, after taking two or three tentative sips and showing his toothless upper gum, he confided that he always selected the nib he was going to use on a particular occasion with great care. It was more exact that way, he said. Although I couldn't quite follow what he meant, I said that I supposed it was and he said again. Oh yes, it's more exact.
After that, we drank for a while without speaking.
He closed the lozenge box and returned it to the shoe box whose other contents he had taken great care to hide from me, and then, as though he had forgotten that he had asked me before, he asked me what I thought about the ledgers. He hoped I was satisfied with them, he said, and when I said I was, he nodded his head and said that he had known all along that I would be, but that it was a relief to have my personal assurance on the point. Apart altogether from the fact that I was his partner and that naturally he wanted me to be satisfied, he was glad to have had an opportunity to hear a second opinion. He had always considered that important although, up till then, he had not had sufficient confidence in anyone to show the ledgers. One had to be careful.
I agreed. I asked him what reason he had for trusting me.
It was hard to say, he said. But he had felt quite sure from the beginning.
I thanked him without enthusiasm. I was tired. I had finished my cocoa, which I hadn't enjoyed. As I stood up to go, I wondered what his attitude toward me would be if he knew that I was wanted by the police. I was no longer surprised by his lack of comment on the fact some men were supposed to be looking for me. He accepted it, believed it, and there the matter ended for him. He was not interested.
Nothing could have suited me better.
When we said good night he shook my hand warmly and said that he would be going out as usual the next day. And then, looking round and scratching his head, he said something about having a clearance soon.
I said that I trusted his judgement, that he had had more experience after all, and that seemed to please him. He leaned over the bannister solicitously as I went downstairs to my room.
I was bored and restless. I read a book for a while and afterward fried an egg. I wasn't hungry. But to prepare it and then to eat it gave me something to do. When I had finished I spent five minutes cleaning the frying pan with old newspapers. They were more than ten years old, yellow, and the urgency of the print seemed futile, like poses in an old snapshot.
I had been over three weeks in the house, and I had already decided that it would be safe to leave the town by train the next day. I had said nothing of my intentions to Peter. Somehow, I felt, he wouldn't be convinced. During three weeks I had come to realise that the world of police and petty criminals like myself, indeed the entire world, did not exist for him, or only in a strange, oblique way. It was not that he would have worried about my safety. He was hardly conscious of my danger. I felt merely that my decision to leave him and our partnership would be beyond his comprehension. At the same time, I was inquisitive to know what he did during the long hours he was supposed to be out collecting rags and papers. It was that which decided me to follow him.
It was after ten o'clock on the following morning when I heard him come downstairs past my landing and go out. My own bag was already packed, and I had left a short letter for him thanking him for his kindness and apologizing for my sudden departure. I was able to watch him from the window. He hesitated on the street outside and then, as though something had just occurred to him, he made off to the left up the street. He was carrying a small brown paper bag and he was not walking quickly.
A few moments later I was following him at a distance of about twenty yards. The first thing that struck me was that he didn't appear to be going anywhere in particular. He frequently turned off at right angles, almost recrossing his path, and he hesitated for a long time at each major crossing. From behind, his thick gray trousers had a corrugated appearance. They were too long in the legs for him. His feet made a shuffling sound as they walked, clad in warped brown shoes whose uppers were broken and split. He wore a navy-blue serge jacket, which was gone at the cuffs and elbows, and a ridiculously wide-brimmed gray fedora hat. I wondered what was in the paper bag. I trailed him closely. In that way, I felt, the people would notice him rather than me - the hat, the paper bag, the shambling, corrugated walk.
It was a fine morning and the streets were quite crowded. Sometimes, momentarily, I lost sight of him, and once I nearly lost him altogether when he turned a corner suddenly without my noticing him. I hesitated at the crossroads and was about to go off in the wrong direction when I saw him coming back along the pavement toward me. I stepped back out of sight into a shop doorway, and a moment later he was hesitating at the corner a few yards away. Finally, he crossed the street and followed the main thoroughfare toward the park.
As I followed him into the park, I wondered what possible motive he could have for going there. The park was almost empty. Most men of my age were at work, and those who weren't were conspicuous. I was rather annoyed with myself for following him there. Two young men and a girl passed me on the footpath - students, I supposed, because they were carrying books. When they saw me they stopped laughing, and for a moment I thought they had recognised me. But then they were past me and laughing again, the voice of one of the men coming back to me, high, artificial, and excited, as though he were mimicking someone, and then the girl's laughter again. I turned to watch her. She was walking between them, swinging a potshaped handbag on a long leather strap, in flat shoes and summer dress, and strikingly blond, her hair rising gracefully from her neck in a ribboned horsetail. She was slim-hipped and desired obviously by both of them. It struck me suddenly how foolish I had been to be alarmed. Apart from some policemen, there was no possibility of anyone's recognising me.
Peter was climbing a patch which led uphill, more like a windmill than a man. There was something unsettling about him. I was not able to put my finger on it until later. What was familiar was the familiarity of limbs out of control, of something missing which should have been there, the absence of which, more telling than what remains, strikes at one deeply, almost personally, making one feel that one is face to face with the subhuman. The dead are like that, and the maimed, and Peter was. As he moved upward toward the skyline, a triangle of white morning light dangled between the raking black legs, and the hoop of his back and his arms twisted horizontally like a tuberous root above them, and the head, a nob under the broad hat rim, looked in no direction as though direction were irrelevant now, and the park and the traffic beyond on the road and the people who walked there were irrelevant too, all except the gratuitous movement in which he was involved and which was not his own because the man was absent from it.
When I came to the crest of the hill I looked down on the duck-pond. He was there, leaning forward across the railing, in one of his hands the brown paper bag from which he extracted bread which he fed gently to four squawking ducks. He was too engrossed in what he was doing to notice me. I watched for a few minutes without moving, and then, as I did not wish him to recognise me, I turned and walked slowly away. It was nearly noon. The train left from the Central Station in fifty minutes. I would be able to catch it. My last sight of Peter sticks in my memory. He had removed his wide-brimmed hat and was mopping with his red handkerchief his forehead beneath his thin wind-blown hair.
© The Estate of Alexander Trocchi
Notes on the some of the other contributors:
H. E. Francis was born in Rhode Island in 1924. His stories had been published in PRAIRIE SCHOONER, FOUR QUARTERS, FOUR WINDS and THE FOLIO, He was a Fullbright scholar at Pembroke College, Oxford where he produced Maxwell Anderson’s “Winterset” and did a series of one act plays, one of which he wrote there called “The White Dress.” “The Frog Lady” would be included in Vail’s collection of short stories drawn from those appearing in POINTS over the years.
JOHN GOODWIN. Born New York, N.Y. in 1919. Published poetry while still in 'teens in SCRIBNERS MAGAZINE and NEW ENGLISH WEEKLY. Contributed to ZERO during stay in France (1948-49). Published in STORY, Martha Foley's BEST SHORT STORIES '47, NEW DIRECTIONS, K, STORY ANTHOLOGY, TIMELESS STORIES (edited by Ray Bradbury) and NEW WORLD WRITING. His novel "The Idols and the Prey" was published by Harpers (New York 1953) and by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London 1954). At present working on a play. Has also had one man shows of paintings in Los Angeles, New York and Haiti.
Otto Friedrich Is Dead at 66; A Prolific Author and Editor
By ROBERT McG. THOMAS Jr
Published: April 28, 1995 NYT
Otto Friedrich, a prolific magazine writer and author who turned out sprightly journalism for Time magazine by day and a succession of elegant histories, biographies and other works of nonfiction by night, died on Wednesday at North Shore University Hospital in North Shore, L.I. He was 66 and lived in Locust Valley, L.I.
The cause was lung cancer, a disease diagnosed two weeks before, said his oldest daughter, Liesel Lucas. She said her father, once a heavy smoker, had given up cigarettes 20 years ago.
Mr. Friedrich was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard, where his father was a political science professor. He took a while to find his literary stride. His career took him from the copy desk at Stars and Stripes to a top writing job at Time, with stops in between with the United Press in London and Paris and with The Daily News and Newsweek in New York.
But it was the seven years he spent with The Saturday Evening Post, including four as its last managing editor, that established Mr. Friedrich as a writer to be reckoned with.
When the venerable magazine folded in 1969, Mr. Friedrich, who had seen the end coming and kept meticulous notes, delineated its demise in a book, 'Decline and Fall," which was published by Harper & Row the next year. Widely hailed as both an engaging and definitive account of corporate myopia, the book, which won a George Polk Memorial Award, is still used as a textbook by both journalism and business schools, his daughter said.
From then on, Mr. Friedrich, who had tried his hand as a novelist in the 1950's and 60's and written a series of children's books with his wife, Priscilla Broughton, wrote nonfiction, turning out an average of one book every two years.
They include "Clover: A Love Story," a 1979 biography of Mrs. Henry Adams; "City of Nets: Hollywood in the 1940's" (1986); "Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations," (1989); "Olympia: Paris in the Age of Manet," (1992), and "Blood and Iron," a study of the Von Moltke family of Germany that is being published this fall.
He wrote his books, as well as reams of freelance articles and book reviews, while holding down a full-time job with Time that required him to write in a distinct style far different from the one he used at home.