Rabbit, Run 1960
Hearing this speech has made the sliding sickness in her so
steep that Janice wonders if she can keep her grip on the phone.
come over, Mother," she begs. "Please."
"I'll have a bite of lunch and
be over in twenty minutes. You go to bed."
Janice replaces the receiver
and looks around her with horror. The apartment is horrible.
Coloring books on the floor, glasses, the bed unmade, dirty dishes everywhere.
She runs to where she and Nelson crayoned, and tests bending over. She drops to
her knees, and the baby begins to cry. Panicked with the double idea of not
disturbing Nelson and of concealing Harry's absence, she runs to the crib and
nightmarishly finds it smeared with orange mess.
"Damn you, damn you,"
she moans to Rebecca, and lifts the little filthy thing out and wonders where
to carry her. She takes her to the armchair and biting her lips unpins the
"Oh you little shit," she murmurs, feeling that the sound of
her voice is holding off the other person who is gathering in the room. She
takes the soaked daubed diaper to the bathroom and drops it in the toilet and
dropping to her knees fumbles the bathtub plug into its hole. She pulls on both
handles as wide as they will go, knowing from experiment that both opened wide
make the right tepid mixture. The water bangs out of the faucet like a
She notices the glass of watery whisky she left on the top of the
toilet and takes a long stale swallow and then
puzzles how to get it off her
hands. All the while Rebecca screams as if she has mind enough to know she's
Janice takes the glass with her and spills it on the rug with
her knee while she strips the baby of its nightie and sweater. She carries the
sopping clothes to the television set and puts them on top while she drops to
her knees and tries to stuff the crayons back into their box. Her head aches
with all this jarring up and down. She takes the crayons to the kitchen table
and dumps the uneaten bacon and lettuce into the paper bag under the sink but
the mouth of the bag leans partly closed and the lettuce falls behind into the
darkness in back of the can and she crouches down with her head pounding to try
to see it or get it with her fingers and is unable.
Her knees sting from so
up and to her surprise sits flatly on a kitchen chair and looks at the
gaudy soft noses of the crayons poking out of the Crayola box. Hide the whisky.
Her body doesn't move for a second but when it does she sees her hands with the
little lines of dirt on her fingernails put the whisky bottle into a lower
cabinet with some old shirts of Harry's she was saving for rags he would never
wear a mended shirt not that she was any good at mending them.
shuts the door, it bangs but doesn't catch, and on the edge of linoleum beside
the sink the cork cap of the whisky bottle stares at her like a little top hat.
She puts it in the garbage bag. Now the kitchen is clean enough.
living-room Rebecca is lying naked in the fuzzy armchair with her belly puffing
out sideways to yell and her lumpy curved legs clenched and red. Janice's other
baby was a boy and it still seems unnatural to her, between the girl's legs,
those two little buns of fat instead of a boy's plump stub. When the doctor had
Nelson circumcised Harry hadn't wanted
him to he hadn't been and thought it was unnatural, she had laughed at him he
was so mad. The baby's face goes red with each squall and Janice closes her
eyes and thinks how really horrible it is of Mother to come and ruin her day
just to make sure she's lost Harry again. She can't wait a minute to find out
and this awful baby can't wait a minute and there are the clothes on top of the
television set. She takes them into the bathroom and drops them into the toilet
on top of the diaper and turns off the faucets.
The wavery gray line of
the water is almost up to the lip of the tub. On the skin quick wrinkles wander
and under it a deep mass waits colorless. She wishes she could have the bath.
Brimful of composure she returns to the living room. She tips too much trying
to dig the tiny rubbery thing out of the chair so drops to her knees and scoops
Rebecca into her arms and carries her into the bathroom held sideways against
her breasts. She is proud to be carrying this to completion; at least the baby
will be clean when Mother comes.
She drops gently to her knees by the
big calm tub and does not expect her sleeves to be soaked. The water wraps
around her forearms like two large hands; under her eyes the pink baby sinks
down like a gray stone. With a sob of protest she grapples for the child but
the water pushes up at her hands, her bathrobe tends to float, and the slippery
thing squirms in the sudden opacity. She has a hold,
feels a heartbeat on her thumb, and
then loses it, and the skin of the water leaps with pale refracted oblongs that
she can't seize the solid of; it is only a moment, but a moment dragged out in
a thicker time.
Then she has Becky squeezed in her hands and it is all
right. She lifts the living thing into air and hugs it against her sopping
chest. Water pours off them onto the
bathroom tiles. The little weightless body flops against her neck and a quick
look of relief at the baby's face gives a fantastic clotted impression.
A contorted memory of how they give artificial respiration pumps
Janice's cold wet arms in frantic rhythmic hugs; under her clenched lids great
scarlet prayers arise, wordless, monotonous, and she seems to be clasping the
knees of a vast third person whose name, Father, Father, beats against her head
like physical blows.
Though her wild heart bathes the universe in red,
no spark kindles in the space between her arms; for all of her pouring prayers
she doesn't feel the faintest tremor of an answer in the darkness against her.
Her sense of the third person with them widens enormously, and she
knows, knows, while knocks sound at the door, that the worst thing that has
ever happened to any woman in the world has happened to her.
"On behalf of Daniel Boone," Rabbit says,
"I thank you."
"It's wrong," Jill goes on gently, "when
you say Americans are exploiters, to forget that the first things they exploit
are themselves. You," she says, lifting her face, her eyes and freckles and
nostrils a constellation, "you've never given yourself a chance to think,
except on techniques,
basketball and printing, that served a self-exploitative purpose. You carry
an old God with you, and
an angry old patriotism. And
now an old wife."
He takes breath to protest, but her hand begs him to
let her finish.
"You accept these things as sacred not out of
compassion or faith but fear; your thought is frozen because the first moment
when your instincts failed, you raced to the conclusion that everything is
nothing, that zero is the real answer. That is what we Americans think, it's
win or lose, all or nothing, kill or die, because we've never forged the
leisure in which to take thought. But now, you see, we must, because action is
no longer enough, action without thought is violence. As we see in Vietnam."
He at last can speak.
"There was violence in Vietnam before we
ever heard of the fucking place.
You can see by just the way
I'm sitting here listening to this crap I'm a pacifist basically."
He points at Skeeter. "He's the violent son of a bitch."
you see," Jill says, her voice lulling and nagging, with just a teasing ragged
hem showing of the voice she uses in bed, "the reason Skeeter annoys and
frightens you is you don't know a thing about his history, I don't mean his
personal history so much as the history of his race, how he got to where he is.
Things that threaten you like riots and welfare have jumped into the newspapers
out of nowhere for you. So for tonight we thought we would just talk a little,
have a kind of seminar, about Afro-American history."
face is shedding its shell of scorn and writhing as if to cry. He has taken his
glasses off. He is reaching toward Jill for
the marijuana cigarette, keeping
his eyes on Rabbit's face. Rabbit is frozen, his mind racing. Nelson. Put him
to bed. Seeing too much. His own face as he listens to Skeeter feels weak,
shapeless, slipping. The beer tastes bad, of malt. Skeeter wants to cry, to
yell. He is sitting on the edge of the sofa and making gestures so brittle his
arms might snap off. He is crazy.
"So what did the South do? They said
baboon and lynched and whipped and cheated the black man of what pennies he had
and thanked their white Jesus they didn't have to feed him anymore. And what
did the North do? It copped out. It pulled out. It had put on all that muscle
for the war and now it was wading into the biggest happiest muck of greed and
graft and exploitation and pollution and slum-building and Indian-killing this
poor old whore of a planet has ever been saddled with, right? Don't go sleepy
on me Chuck, here comes the interesting part. The Southern assholes got
together with the Northern assholes and said, Let's us do a deal. What's all
this about democracy, let's have here a dollar-cracy. Why'd we ever care, free
versus slave? Capital versus labor, that's where it's at, right? This poor cunt
of a country's the biggest jampot' s ever come along so let's
eat it, friend.
You screw your black
labor and we'll screw our immigrant honky and
Mongolian idiot labor and,
whoa-heel Halleluiah, right? So the Freedman's Bureau was trashed and the
military governors were chased back by crackers on horses who were very big on
cutting up colored girls with babies inside 'em and Tilden was cheated out of
the Presidency in the one bonyfidey swindle election you can find admitted in
every honky history book. Look it up, right? And that was the
1876. Far as the black man goes, that's the '76 that hurt, the one a
hundred years before was just a bunch of English gents dodging
is Rich 1981
Janice has on underpants beneath
her nightie but no bra and in the bright light her nipples show inside the
cloth with their own pink color, darker, more toward wine. She is saying, "It's
a hard age. They seem to have so many
choices and yet they don't. They've been taught by television all their
lives to want this and that and yet when they get to be twenty they find money
isn't so easy to come by after all. They don't have the opportunities even we
In bed, perhaps it's the rain that sexes him up, he insists they
make love, though at first Janice is reluctant.
"I would have taken a
bath," she says, but she smells great, deep jungle smell, of precious rotting
mulch going down and down beneath the ferns. When he won't stop, crazy to lose
his face in this essence, the cool stem fury of it takes hold of her and
combatively she comes, thrusting her hips up to grind her clitoris against his
face and then letting him finish inside her beneath him.
Lying spent and
adrift he listens again to the rain's sound, which now and then quickens to a
metallic rhythm on the window glass, quicker than the throbbing in the iron
gutter, where ropes of water twist.
The earth is hollow, the dead roam through
caverns beneath its thin green skin.
"This is horrible," Nelson
announces from the sofa. "What'd we drag this poor guy in here for anyway? Pru
and I didn't ask to be married in a church, I don't believe any of that stuff
"You don't?" Harry is shocked, hurt.
"No, Dad. When
you're dead, you're dead."
"Come off it, you know
you are, everybody knows it down deep."
"Nobody knows for sure," Pru points out
in a quiet voice.
Nelson asks her furiously, "How many dead people have
Even as a child, Harry remembers, Nelson's face would get
white around the gills when he was angry. He would get nervous stomach
aches, and clutch at the edge of the banister on his way upstairs to get his
books. They would send him off to school anyway. Harry still had his job at
Verity and Janice was working part-time at the lot and they had no babysitter.
School was the babysitter.
......... The top photo, flash lit in this
same room, on this same satiny bedspread, shows Cindy naked, lying legs spread.
Her pubic hair is even darker than he imagined, the shape of it from this angle
a kind of T, the upright of the T infolded upon a redness as if sore, the
underside of her untanned ass making a pale blob on either side. At arm's
length he holds the glazed picture closer to the bedside light; his eyes water
with the effort to see everything, every crease, every hair. Cindy's face, out
of focus beyond her breasts, which droop more to either side than Harry would
have hoped, smiles with nervous indulgence at the camera. Her chin is doubled,
looking so sharply down. Her feet look enormous. In the next shot, she has
turned over, showing a relaxed pair of buttocks, fish-white with an eyelike
widening staring from the crack.
voice presses into his ear. "I want to do something for you so you won't forget
me, something you've never had with anybody else. I suppose other women have
sucked you off?"
He shakes his head yes, which tugs the flesh of her
"How many have you fucked up the ass?"
He lets her
nipple slip from his mouth. "None. Never."
"You and Janice?"
"Oh God no. It never occurred to us."
"Harry. You're not
How dear that was, her old-fashioned "fooling." From
talking to all those third-graders.
"No, honestly. I thought only
queers ... Do you and Ronnie?"
"All the time. Well, a lot of the time.
He loves it."
"It has its charms."
it hurt? I mean, he's big."
"At first. You use Vaseline. I'll get
"Thelma, wait. Am I up to this?"
She laughs a syllable.
She slides away into the bathroom and while she is gone he
stays enormous. She returns and anoints him thoroughly, with an icy expert
touch. Harry shudders. Thelma lies down beside him with her back turned, curls
forward as if to be shot from a cannon, and reaches behind to guide him.
It seems it won't go, but suddenly it does. The medicinal odor of
displaced Vaseline reaches his nostrils. The grip is tight at the base but
beyond, where a cunt is all velvety suction and caress, there is no sensation:
a void, a pure black box, a casket of perfect nothingness. He is in that void,
past her tight ring of muscle.
He asks, "May I come?"
Her voice sounds faint and broken. Her
spine and shoulder blades are
taut. It takes only a few thrusts, while he rubs her scalp with one hand and
clamps her hip steady with the other. Where will his come go? Nowhere but mix
with her shit. With sweet Thelma's sweet shit. They lie wordless and still
together until his prick's slow shrivelling withdraws it.
says. "Thank you. That I won't forget."
embarrassed. What does it do for you?"
"Makes me feel full of you.
Makes me feel fucked up the
ass. By lovely Harry Angstrom."
"Thelma," he admits, "I can't
believe you're so fond of me.
at Rest 1990
Everything falling apart, airplanes,
bridges, eight years under Reagan of nobody minding the store,
making money out of
up debt, trusting in
He used to fuck Jill that crazy summer, though he could tell
she didn't much like it. Too young to like it.
"You weren't quite
yourself today, my friend," Bernie admits. "You got
girlfriend trouble or something?"
are: he once read a
history of Talmudwood about their womanizing. Harry Cohn,
Groucho Marx, the Warner
Brothers, they went crazy out there with the sunshine and swimming pools and
all the Midwestern shiksas who'd do anything to be movie stars - participate in
orgies, blow a mogul while he was talking on the telephone - yet his golf
partners are all married to the same women, forty, fifty years, women with big
dyed hair and thick bangles and fat brown upper arms who can't stop talking
when you see them all dolled up at dinner,
Bernie and Ed and Joe
sitting smilingly silent beside them as if all this talking their women do is
sex, which it must be - pep, life. How do they do it? Wear life like a
ready-made suit that fits exactly.
"I guess I told you," Harry tells
Bernie, "my son and his
family are visiting."
"There's your problem, Angstrom: you felt guilty
horsing around with us. You should have been entertaining your loved ones."
Janice is working at the dining-room table, making
lists for herself to memorize. When she looks up, her eyes have a rubbed
frowning look and her mouth is open a dark slot. He hates to see it, hates to
see her struggling so hard not to be dumb.
get back at ten-thirty at the earliest. There was plenty of time to see this
through. He relaxes back into his pillows. Good he had that nap this afternoon.
"Is that how you see it?" he asks. "He was a shit to you?"
"Absolutely. Terrible. Out all night doing God knows what, then this
begging for forgiveness afterwards. I hated that worse than the chasing; my
father was a boozer and a chaser, but then he wouldn't whine to Mom about it,
he'd at least let her do the whining. This immature dependence of Nelson's was
totally outside my experience."
Her cigarette tip glows. A distant
concussion of thunder steps closer.
Pru's presence here feels hot in Harry's mind, she is awkwardly big and all
sharp angles in the sac of his
consciousness. Her talk
seems angular and tough, the gritty Akron toughness overlaid with a dismissive
vocabulary learned from professional copers. He doesn't like hearing his son
"You knew him for some time out at Kent," he points
out, almost hostilely. "You knew what you were taking on."
didn't," she says, and the cigarette tip loops through an agitated arc.
"I thought he'd grow, I never dreamed how enmeshed he was, with you
two. He's still trying to work out what you
two did to him, as if you were the only parents in the world who didn't
keep wiping their kid's ass until he was thirty. I tell him: Get real, Nelson.
Lousy parents are par for the course. My God. Nothing's ideal. Then he gets
sore and tells me what a cold fish I am. He means sex.
A thing that goes fast with coke is
shame; these women that are hooked will do anything. I say to him, You're
not going to give me
AIDS from one
of your coke whores. So he goes out again. It's a vicious circle. It's been
going on for years."
"How many years, would you say?"
shrugs her shoulders, Ma's old bed shakes.
"More than you'd think. That
crowd around Slim was always doing
pot and uppers - gays
don't give a damn, they have all this money only for themselves. Maybe two
years ago Nelson became a big enough user on his own to need to steal. At first
he just stole from us, money that should have gone into the house and stuff,
and then he started stealing from you - the company. I hope you send him to
jail, I really do."
She has been cupping her hand beneath the
cigarette, to catch the ash, and now she looks around for an ashhtray and sees
none and finally flips the butt toward the window, where it sparks against the
screen and sizzles out on the wet sill. Her voice is hoarsening and finding a
certain swing, a
"I have no use for him any more. I'm scared to fuck
him, I'm scared to be legally associated with him. I've wasted my life. You
don't know what it's like. You're a man, you're free, you can do what you want
in life, until you're sixty at least you're a buyer. A woman's a seller. She
has to be. And she better not haggle too long. I'm thirty-three. I've had my
shot, Harry. I wasted it on Nelson. I had my little hand of cards and played
them and now I'm folded, I'm through. My husband hates me and I hate him and we
don't even have any money to split up! I'm scared - so scared. And my kids are
scared, too. I'm trash and they're trash and they know it."
he has to say. "Come on. Nobody's trash."
But even as he says it he
knows this is an old-fashioned idea he would have trouble defending. We're all
trash, really. Without God to lift us up and make us into angels we're all
Her sobbing is shaking the bed so badly that in his delicate
postop state he feels queasy. To quiet her big body he reaches out and pulls
her toward him. As if expecting his touch, she huddles tightly, though a
blanket and a sheet are between them, and continues sobbing in a bitter, lower
register, her breath hot on his chest, where a pajama button has come undone.
His chest. They want to carve it up.
"At least you're healthy," he
tells her. "Me, all they need to do is nail down the coffin lid. I can't run, I
can't fuck, I can't eat anything I
like, I know damn well they're going to talk me into a bypass. You're scared?
You're still young. You've got lots of cards still. Think of how scared I
In his arms Pru says in a voice gone calm again, "People have
bypass operations all the time now."
"Yeah, easy for you to say. Like
me telling you people are married to shits all the time. Or you telling me
people have their
kids turn out to be dope-addict embezzlers all the time."
laugh. A flash of light outside and, after some seconds, thunder. Both listen.
She asks, "Does Janice say you can't fuck?"
"We don't talk
about it. We just don't do it much lately.There's been too much else going on."
"What did your doctor say?"
"I forget. My cardiologist's about
Nelson's age, we were all too shy to go into it."
Pru sniffs and says,
"I hate my life."
She seems to him to be unnaturally still, like a
rabbit in oncoming headlights. He lets the hand of the arm around her broad
back move up across the bumps of the quilted robe and enter the silken cave at
the nape of her neck, to toy with the warm hair there.
"I know the
feeling," he says, content to toy,
aware through the length
of his body of a cottony sleepiness waiting to claim him.
him, "You were one of the things I liked about Nelson. Maybe I thought Nelson
would grow into somebody like you."
"Maybe he did. You don't get to see
what a bastard I can be."
"I can imagine," she says. "But people
He goes on, "I see a lot of myself in the kid."
The nape of her neck tingles under his fingers, the soft hairs rising
to his electricity.
''I'm glad you're letting your hair grow long," he
"It gets too long."
Her hand has come to rest on his bare
chest, where the button is unbuttoned. He pictures her hands with their
pink-knuckled vulnerable raw look. She is left-handed, he remembers.
The oddity of this excites him
further. Not waiting too long to think about it, he with his free hand
lifts hers from his chest and places it lower, where an erection has
surprisingly sprouted from his half-shaved groin.
His gesture has the
pre-sexual quality of one child sharing with another an interesting discovery -
a stone that moves, or a remarkably thick-bodied butterfly.
widen in the dim face inches from his on the pillow. Tiny points of light are
caught in her lashes. He lets his face drift, on the tide of blood risen within
him, across those inches to set their mouths together, carefully testing for
the angle, while her fingers caress him in a rhythm slower than that of his
As the space narrows to nothing he is watchful of his
heart, his accomplice in sin. Their kiss tastes to him of the fish she so
nicely prepared, its lemon and chives, and of asparagus. Rain whips at the
screen. The leak onto the windowsill accelerates its tapping. A brilliant close
flash shocks the air everywhere and less than a second later a heart-stopping
crack and splintering of thunder crushes the house from above.
As if in
overflow of this natural heedlessness, Pru says "Shit," jumps from the bed,
slams shut the window, pulls down the shade,
tears open her bathrobe and
sheds it, and, reaching down, pulls her nightie up over her head. Her tall pale
wide-hipped nakedness in the dimmed room is lovely much as those pear trees in
blossom along that block in Brewer last month were lovely, all his it had
seemed, a piece of Paradise blundered upon, incredible.
"I know how to inflame a cunt. I
shoot hot bolts into you, Tania, I make your ovaries incandescent. Your
Sylvester is a little jealous
now? He feels something does he? He feels the remnants of my big prick. I have
set the shores a little wider. I have ironed out the wrinkles. After me you can
take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards." - Henry Valentine
Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 1934
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