Cal stood on the neat porch and kept his finger on the bell until the harsh overlight flashed on and the night bolt rasped and Mrs. Bacon looked out. “I want to see Abra,” Cal said. Her mouth dropped open in amazement. “You want what?” “I want to see Abra.” “You can’t. Abra’s gone to her room. Go away.” Cal shouted, “I tell you I want to see Abra.” “You go away or I’ll call the police.” Mr. Bacon called, “What is it? Who is it?” “Never you mind--go back to bed. You aren’t well. I’ll handle this.” She turned back to Cal. “Now you get off the porch. And if you ring the bell again I’ll phone the police. Now, get!” The door slammed, the bolt scraped, and the hard overlight went off. Cal stood smiling in the dark for he thought of Tom Meek lumbering up, saying, “Hello, Cal. What you up to?” Mrs. Bacon shouted from inside. “I see you. Go on now! Get off the porch!” He walked slowly down the walk and turned toward home, and he hadn’t gone a block before Abra caught up with him. She was panting from her run. “Got out the back way,” she said. “They’ll find you gone.” “I don’t care.” “You don’t?” “No.” Cal said, “Abra, I’ve killed my brother and my father is paralyzed because of me.” She took his arm and clung to it with both hands. Cal said, “Didn’t you hear me?” “I heard you.” “Abra, my mother was a whore.” “I know. You told me. My father is a thief.” “I’ve got her blood, Abra. Don’t you understand?” “I’ve got his,” she said. They walked along in silence while he tried to rebalance himself. The wind was cold, and they quickened their steps to keep warm. They passed the last streetlight on the very edge of Salinas, and blackness lay ahead of them and the road was unpaved and sticky with black ’dobe mud. They had come to the end of the pavement, to the end of the streetlights. The road under their feet was slippery with spring mud, and the grass that brushed against their legs was wet with dew. Abra asked, “Where are we going?” “I wanted to run away from my father’s eyes. They’re right in front of me all the time. When I close my eyes I still see them. I’ll always see them. My father is going to die, but his eyes will still be looking at me, telling me I killed my brother.” “You didn’t.” “Yes, I did. And his eyes say I did.” “Don’t talk like that. Where are we going?” “A little farther. There’s a ditch and a pump house--and a willow tree. Do you remember the willow tree?” “I remember it.” He said, “The branches come down like a tent and their tips touch the ground.” “I know.” “In the afternoons--the sunny afternoons--you and Aron would part the branches and go inside--and no one could see you.” “You watched?” “Oh, sure. I watched.” And he said, “I want you to go inside the willow tree with me. That’s what I want to do.” She stopped and her hand pulled him to a stop. “No,” she said. “That’s not right.” “Don’t you want to go in with me?” “Not if you’re running away--no, I don’t.” Cal said, “Then I don’t know what to do. What shall I do? Tell me what to do.” “Will you listen?” “I don’t know.” “We’re going back,” she said. “Back? Where?” “To your father’s house,” said Abra.
The light of the kitchen poured down on them. Lee had lighted the oven to warm the chilly air. “She made me come,” said Cal. “Of course she did. I knew she would.” Abra said, “He would have come by himself.” “We’ll never know that,” said Lee. He left the kitchen and in a moment he returned. “He’s still sleeping.” Lee set a stone bottle and three little translucent porcelain cups on the table. “I remember that,” said Cal. “You ought to.” Lee poured the dark liquor. “Just sip it and let it run around your tongue.” Abra put her elbows on the kitchen table. “Help him,” she said. “You can accept things, Lee. Help him.” “I don’t know whether I can accept things or not,” Lee said. “I’ve never had a chance to try. I’ve always found myself with some--not less uncertain but less able to take care of uncertainty. I’ve had to do my weeping--alone.” “Weeping? You?” He said, “When Samuel Hamilton died the world went out like a candle. I relighted it to see his lovely creations, and I saw his children tossed and torn and destroyed as though some vengefulness was at work. Let the ng-ka-py run back on your tongue.” He went on, “I had to find out my stupidities for myself. These were my stupidities: I thought the good are destroyed while the evil survive and prosper. “I thought that once an angry and disgusted God poured molten fire from a crucible to destroy or to purify his little handiwork of mud. “I thought I had inherited both the scars of the fire and the impurities which made the fire necessary--all inherited, I thought. All inherited. Do you feel that way?” “I think so,” said Cal. “I don’t know,” Abra said. Lee shook his head. “That isn’t good enough. That isn’t good enough thinking. Maybe--” And he was silent. Cal felt the heat of the liquor in his stomach. “Maybe what, Lee?” “Maybe you’ll come to know that every man in every generation is refired. Does a craftsman, even in his old age, lose his hunger to make a perfect cup--thin, strong, translucent?” He held his cup to the light. “All impurities burned out and ready for a glorious flux, and for that--more fire. And then either the slag heap or, perhaps what no one in the world ever quite gives up, perfection,” He drained his cup and he said loudly, “Cal, listen to me. Can you think that whatever made us--would stop trying?” “I can’t take it in,” Cal said. “Not now I can’t.” The heavy steps of the nurse sounded in the living room. She billowed through the door and she looked at Abra, elbows on the table, holding her cheeks between her palms. The nurse said, “Have you got a pitcher? They get thirsty. I like to keep a pitcher of water handy. You see,” she explained, “they breathe through their mouths.” “Is he awake?” Lee asked. “There’s a pitcher.” “Oh, yes, he’s awake and rested. And I’ve washed his face and combed his hair. He’s a good patient. He tried to smile at me.” Lee stood up. “Come along, Cal. I want you to come too, Abra. You’ll have to come.” The nurse filled her pitcher at the sink and scurried ahead of them. When they trooped into the bedroom Adam was propped high on his pillows. His white hands lay palms down on either side of him, and the sinews from knuckle to wrist were tight drawn. His face was waxen, and his sharp features were sharpened. He breathed slowly between pale lips. His blue eyes reflected back the night light focused on his head. Lee and Cal and Abra stood at the foot of the bed, and Adam’s eyes moved slowly from one face to the other, and his lips moved just a little in greeting. The nurse said, “There he is. Doesn’t he look nice? He’s my darling. He’s my sugar pie. “Hush!” said Lee. “I won’t have you tiring my patient.” “Go out of the room,” said Lee. “I’ll have to report this to the doctor.” Lee whirled toward her. “Go out of the room and close the door. Go and write your report.” “I’m not in the habit of taking orders from Chinks.” Cal said, “Go out now, and close the door.” She slammed the door just loud enough to register her anger. Adam blinked at the sound. Lee said, “Adam!” The blue wide eyes looked for the voice and finally found Lee’s brown and shining eyes. Lee said, “Adam, I don’t know what you can hear or understand. When you had the numbness in your hand and your eyes refused to read, I found out everything I could. But some things no one but you can know. You may, behind your eyes, be alert and keen, or you may be living in a confused gray dream. You may, like a newborn child, perceive only light and movement. “There’s damage in your brain, and it may be that you are a new thing in the world. Your kindness may be meanness now, and your bleak honesty fretful and conniving. No one knows these things except you. Adam! Can you hear me?” The blue eyes wavered, closed slowly, then opened. Lee said, “Thank you, Adam. I know how hard it is. I’m going to ask you to do a much harder thing. Here is your son--Caleb--your only son. Look at him, Adam!” The pale eyes looked until they found Cal. Cal’s mouth moved dryly and made no sound. Lee’s voice cut in, “I don’t know how long you will live, Adam. Maybe a long time. Maybe an hour. But your son will live. He will marry and his children will be the only remnant left of you.” Lee wiped his eyes with his fingers. “He did a thing in anger, Adam, because he thought you had rejected him. The result of his anger is that his brother and your son is dead.” Cal said, “Lee--you can’t.” “I have to,” said Lee. “If it kills him I have to. I have the choice,” and he smiled sadly and quoted, “ ‘If there’s blame, it’s my blame.’ ” Lee’s shoulders straightened. He said sharply, “Your son is marked with guilt out of himself--out of himself--almost more than he can bear. Don’t crush him with rejection. Don’t crush him, Adam.” Lee’s breath whistled in his throat. “Adam, give him your blessing. Don’t leave him alone with his guilt. Adam, can you hear me? Give him your blessing!” A terrible brightness shone in Adam’s eyes and he closed them and kept them closed. A wrinkle formed between his brows. Lee said, “Help him, Adam--help him. Give him his chance. Let him be free. That’s all a man has over the beasts. Free him! Bless him!” The whole bed seemed to shake under the concentration. Adam’s breath came quick with his effort and then, slowly, his right hand lifted--lifted an inch and then fell back. Lee’s face was haggard. He moved to the head of the bed and wiped the sick man’s damp face with the edge of the sheet. He looked down at the closed eyes. Lee whispered, “Thank you, Adam--thank you, my friend. Can you move your lips? Make your lips form his name.” Adam looked up with sick weariness. His lips parted and failed and tried again. Then his lungs filled. He expelled the air and his lips combed the rushing sigh. His whispered word seemed to hang in the air: “Timshel!”
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