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Part 8 Chapter 3

Around noon next day I knock at his door. He's up already and lathering his beard. Can't tell a thing from the expression on his face. Can't even tell whether he's going to tell me the truth. The sun is streaming in through the open window, the birds are chirping, and yet somehow, why it is I don't know, the room seems more barren and poverty-stricken than ever. The floor is slathered with lather, and on the rack there are the two dirty towels which are never changed. And somehow Carl isn't changed either, and that puzzles me more than anything. This morning the whole world ought to be changed, for bad or good, but changed, radically changed. And yet Carl is standing there lathering his face and not a single detail is altered.

"Sit down… sit down there on the bed," he says. "You're going to hear everything… but wait first… wait a little." He commences to lather his face again, and then to hone his razor. He even remarks about the water… no hot water again.

"Listen, Carl, I'm on tenterhooks. You can torture me afterward, if you like, but tell me now, tell me one thing… was it good or bad?"

He turns away from the mirror with brush in hand and gives me a strange smile.

"Wait! I'm going to tell you everything…"

"That means it was a failure."

"No," he says, drawing out his words. "It wasn't a failure, and it wasn't a success either… By the way, did you fix it up for me at the office? What did you tell them?"

I see it's no use trying to pull it out of him. When he gets good and ready he'll tell me. Not before. I lie back on the bed, silent as a clam. He goes on shaving.

Suddenly, apropos of nothing at all, he begins to talk – disconnectedly at first, and then more and more clearly, emphatically, resolutely. It's a struggle to get it out, but he seems determined to relate everything; he acts as if he were getting something off his conscience. He even reminds me of the look he gave me as he was going up the elevator shaft. He dwells on that lingeringly, as though to imply that everything were contained in that last moment, as though, if he had the power to alter things, he would never have put foot outside the elevator.

She was in her dressing sack when he called. There was a bucket of champagne on the dresser. The room was rather dark and her voice was lovely. He gives me all the details about the room, the champagne, how the gar?on opened it, the noise it made, the way her dressing sack rustled when she came forward to greet him – he tells me everything but what I want to hear.

It was about eight when he called on her. At eight thirty he was nervous, thinking about the job. "It was about nine when I called you, wasn't it?" he says.

"Yes, about that."

"I was nervous, see…"

"I know that. Go on…"

I don't know whether to believe him or not, especially after those letters we concocted. I don't even know whether I've heard him accurately, because what he's telling me sounds utterly fantastic. And yet it sounds true too, knowing the sort of guy he is. And then I remember his voice over the telephone, that strange mixture of fright and jubilation. But why isn't he more jubilant now? He keeps smiling all the time, smiling like a rosy little bedbug that has had its fill. "It was nine o'clock," he says once again, "when I called you up, wasn't it?" I nod my head wearily. Yes, it was nine o'clock. He is certain now that it was nine o'clock because he remembers having taken out his watch. Anyway, when he looked at his watch again it was ten o'clock. At ten o'clock she was lying on the divan with her boobies in her hands. That's the way he gives it to me – in driblets. At eleven o'clock it was all settled; they were going to run away, to Borneo. Fuck the husband! She never loved him anyway. She would never have written the first letter if the husband wasn't old and passionless. "And then she says to me: 'But listen, dear, how do you know you won't get tired of me?' "

At this I burst out laughing. This sounds preposterous to me, I can't help it.

"What did you expect me to say? I said: 'How could anyone ever grow tired of you?' "

And then he describes to me what happened after that, how he bent down and kissed her breasts, and how, after he had kissed them fervidly, he stuffed them back into her corsage, or whatever it is they call these things. And after that another coupe of champagne.

Around midnight the gar?on arrives with beer and sandwiches – ............

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