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Part 8 Chapter 6

They look so absolutely peaceful and contented, as if they had been dozing there for years, that suddenly it seems to me as if we had been standing in this room, in exactly this position, for an incalculably long time, that it was a pose we had struck in a dream from which we never emerged, a dream which the least gesture, the wink of an eye even, will shatter. But more remarkable still is the remembrance that suddenly floats up of an actual dream which occurred only the other night, a dream in which I saw Van Norden in just such a corner as is occupied now by the handle bars, only instead of the handle bars there was a woman crouching with her legs drawn up. I see him standing over the woman with that alert, eager look in his eye which comes when he wants something badly.

The street in which this is going on is blurred – only the angle made by the two walls is clear, and the cowering figure of the woman. I can see him going at her in that quick, animal way of his, reckless of what's going on about him, determined only to have his way. And a look in his eyes as though to say – "you can kill me afterwards, but just let me get it in… I've got to get it in!" And there he is, bent over her, their heads knocking against the wall, he has such a tremendous erection that it's simply impossible to get it in her. Suddenly, with that disgusted air which he knows so well how to summon, he picks himself up and adjusts his clothes. He is about to walk away when suddenly he notices that his penis is lying on the sidewalk. It is about the size of a sawed off broomstick. He picks it up nonchalantly and slings it under his arm. As he walks off I notice two huge bulbs, like tulip bulbs, dangling from the end of the broomstick, and I can hear him muttering to himself "flowerpots… flowerpots."

The gar?on arrives panting and sweating. Van Norden looks at him uncomprehendingly. The madam now marches in and, walking straight up to Van Norden, she takes the book out of his hand, thrusts it in the baby carriage, and, without saying a word, wheels the baby carriage into the hallway.

"This is a bughouse," says Van Norden, smiling distressedly. It is such a faint, indescribable smile that for a moment the dream feeling comes back and it seems to me that we are standing at the end of along corridor at the end of which is a corrugated mirror. And down this corridor, swinging his distress like a dingy lantern, Van Norden staggers, staggers in and out as here and there a door opens and a hand yanks him, or a hoof pushes him out. And the further off he wanders the more lugubrious is his distress; he wears it like a lantern which the cyclists hold between their teeth on a night when the pavement is wet and slippery. In and out of the dingy rooms he wanders, and when he sits down the chair collapses, when he opens his valise there is only a toothbrush inside. In every room there is a mirror before which he stands attentively and chews his rage, and from the constant chewing, from the grumbling and mumbling and the muttering and cursing his jaws have gotten unhinged and they sag badly and, when he rubs his beard, pieces of his jaw crumble away and he's so disgusted with himself that he stamps on his own jaw, grinds it to bits with his big heels.

Meanwhile the luggage is being hauled in. And things begin to look crazier even than before – particularly when he attaches his exerciser to the bedstead and begins his Sandow exercises. "I like this place," he says, smiling at the gar?on. He takes his coat and vest off. The gar?on is watching him with a puzzled air; he has a valise in one hand and the douche bag in the other. I'm standing apart in the antechamber holding the mirror with the green gauze. Not a single object seems to possess a practical use. The antechamber itself seems useless, a sort of vestibule to a barn. It is exactly the same sort of sensation which I get when I enter the Comédie Fran?aise or the Palais-Royal Theatre; it is a world of bric a brac, of trap doors, of arms and busts and waxed floors, of candelabras and men in armor, of statues without eyes and love letters lying in glass cases. Something is going on, but it makes no sense; it's like finishing the half empty bottle of Calvados because there's no room in the valise.

Climbing up the stairs, as I said a moment ago, he had mentioned the fact that Maupassant used to live here. The coincidence seems to have made an impression upon him. He would like to believe that it was in this very room that Maupassant gave birth to some of those gruesome tales on which his reputation rests. " They lived like pigs, those poor bastards," he says.

We are sitting at the round table in a pair of comfortable old armchairs that have been trussed up with thongs and braces; the bed is right beside us, so close indeed that we can put our feet on it. The armoire stands in a corner behind us, also conveniently within reach. Van Norden has emptied his dirty wash on the table; we sit there with our feet buried in his dirty socks and shirts and smoke contentedly.

The sordidness of the place seems to have worked a spell on him: he is content here. When I get up to switch on the light he suggests that we play a game of cards before going out to eat. And so we sit there by the window, with the dirty wash strewn over the floor and the Sandow exerciser hanging from the chandelier, and we play a few rounds of two handed pinochle. Van Norden has put away his pipe and packed a wad of snuff on the underside of his lower lip. Now and then he spits out of the window, big healthy gobs of brown juice which resound with a smack on the pavement below. He seems content now.

"In America," he says, "you wouldn't dream of living in a joint like this. Even when I was on the bum I slept in better rooms than this. But here it seems natural – it's like the books you read. If I ever go back there I'll forget all............

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