We’re proud to present “A Perfect and Unmappable Grace” Jack Haringa, from the pages of Bandersnatch, where, as Booklist puts it, “the editors had Carroll’s irreverent surrealism in mind when they asked contributors for their most avant-garde stories . . . the authors’ whimsical revelries with language and imagery provide mind-befuddling satisfaction.” I hope you agree!
A Perfect and Unmappable Grace
by Jack Haringa
A rapping, distant and muffled. Then pounding. A shout. Blankets tangling around thin ankles, hand fumbling for the watch. More pounding. Is that a four? Fingers drop the timepiece, skim the table for wire and glass. Papers, magazines sliding to the floor. The spectacles cling to his ears. Stone. Stone.
He shoves his arms into the robe, yanks the bedroom door open. The hall light casts spindly shadows up the staircase. Shuffling to the edge of the landing, listening.
“Open the damn door, Stone.”
Bare feet seek their way from riser to riser. He knows the voice, hears others behind it. Why didn’t they use the bell, he wonders. The bell grinds as a prelude to more pounding, but muffled by a coat hung across its box.
“I’m coming. Stop it. I’m coming.” Softer, “Idiots.”
The pre-dawn cold drafts under the door and across his bare toes, bringing the hour into focus at last. He has barely finished sliding back the last bolt when the door swings inward, and he must dance back to avoid skinned knuckles, a broken foot. Three men stand at the threshold, propping up a fourth.
“You’ll wake the dead, and my neighbors with them. Can you not telephone? Make an appointment like normal men of business? “ His hands flitter at the visitors, then up to his head to smooth the halo of gray, unruly from sleep.
“No time for niceties, Doctor.” One man steps in, his hat brim so low the hall light reveals only a sharp chin, a thin twist of mouth, the point of a nose. Bromberg.
Stone moves aside, leaving room for the other two ambulatory men to haul their groaning companion into the foyer. They look like a vaudeville act, one tall and one short flanking a boneless drunk. The middle man’s coat opens to reveal a stained shirt, garish in the hall light until they trudge to the back of the house with him.
Stone leans out the door to see if any lights have appeared in the windows across the street, but there is nothing. A light rain patters through the pines to his left. Beneath them ticks a large engine, disembodied in the moonless night. To his right a field of shadowy stones.
“This is an emergency.” Stone turns to find the man has removed his hat. He looks remarkably clean-shaven for this hour, but his eyes are bloodshot and underscored with purplish circles. “See what you can do, but do it fast.”
“Why can’t you kill one another in the daytime?” Stone mutters, closing the door and bolting it.
He moves past the waiting room and into a pantry, slips a record from its sleeve and onto the turntable. The needle lands lightly on the disk, and Adderley teases the first notes of “Bohemia After Dark” from his horn. Stone’s fingers tap at his breast, following Kenny Clarke’s beats, as he drifts back into the hall to the door under the stairs.
By the time he reaches the basement, the wounded man has stopped groaning. They’ve splayed him on a table, one arm outstretched to the wall as if in supplication, the other clutched to his chest. His hands are already bluing, but his face has taken on the hue of a farm-fresh egg. The two who carried him have moved to opposite corners of the room and like defeated boxers stare sullenly at their shoes, their hands, anywhere but at the center of the ring. The music is softer here but still insistent, and Bromberg slaps his hat against his thigh.
“Why always with the schwartze music, Stone?” He looks to the ceiling for the hidden speakers.
“It calms the patient,” he explains. “Steadies the nerves.” He snaps gloves on his unflinching hands, trades his bathrobe for a lab coat, slips his bare feet into a cold pair of rubber-soled shoes. Bromberg turns away from the table, gestures to his men who slouch to him.
Stone peels the gunsel’s shirt from his bloody skin. Two wounds seep black blood across the man’s abdomen, one just below the solar plexus and another three inches to the left of his navel. Stone shakes his head, shrugs, clears his throat. Reaching under the table he pulls up a mask and the hiss of gas fills the rests between jazz notes. The mask fits smoothly over the gunsel’s face, and the man’s shallow breaths slow. Over to the sink, collecting sponges and a rinse bottle in a kidney tray, back to the table. Cleaning away the thick blood and visceral fluid to the soft touch of Horace Silver on the ivories. Revealing skin now approaching the shade of a ripe Bosc pear.
He makes preliminary probes at the wounds, checks the man’s pulse, shakes his head again. He does not bother to touch any instruments.
“Mr. Bromberg?” Stone looks up, and the three men pull apart guiltily. Bromberg approaches the table slowly, raises an eyebrow. “This man, he is dead already. He is just not yet aware of the fact.”
“Do something for him.” Bromberg will not meet Stone’s eyes.
“Do what? He should have been brought to a hospital. In Newark, perhaps? Or Elizabeth? Somewhere closer to the action as you say, yes? Not driven through the country to my home. Even if I were equipped to treat him, it is too late.”
“Doctor,” anger in his voice as he works the brim of his hat in his frustrated hands, then softening, “Eddie, please. There has to be something.”
“So it is ‘Eddie’ tonight? All right, Samuel. Do you see the color of the blood there? A rupture in the intestine, sepsis inevitable. And here, this wound leads straight to the liver. What shall we put in its place? I do not have an extra available.” Stone turns to a tray and fills a syringe. “He is already in shock. The best I can do is make it painless.”
“And after that?” Bromberg looks up now, his eyes clear of whatever had held them down—disgust, sentiment, remorse?
“After that, my . . . other services are available.”
Bromberg nods once to Stone. Smooths his hat and sets it low over his brow. His men drift across the room silently, each giving a furtive glance to their former companion before following their boss up the stairs.
* * *
Stone finds the envelope on the kitchen table. Within it a packet of mimeographed sheets, a reel of tape, a smaller envelope holding five worn bills. False dawn lightens the sky now, revealing impressions in the dirt of his driveway as the only external evidence of Bromberg’s visit. He bolts the door again, considers and rejects the notion of climbing the stairs to his bedroom. The body will wait, secure in the basement’s enormous cooler. A repeated click and hiss reminds him the music has fallen silent.
Back in the pantry he draws a thick 78 from a browning sleeve and places it on the turntable. A piano, lonely in the echo of a poor recording space, emerges above the spit and crackle. Stone sings to himself as he turns into the kitchen to make coffee.
“Zeigt sich der Tod einst, mit Verlaub,” he murmurs, thinking of poor Mileva, “und zupft mich: ‘Brüderl, kumm!’, /da stell ich mich im Anfang taub /und schau mich gar nicht um.”
He chuckles, pours coffee, sobers when he draws the papers out of the envelope. A concertina wheezes accompaniment on the record as he starts to read. If Death should come, indeed, he thinks, rapidly turning the pages. They say the Old Man wasn’t dumb at the end, though the stupid nurse spoke no German. The papers are dense with scribbles and formulae, crabbed writing in two languages. He runs a fingertip over the thick blot of an atomic doodle.
Scooping the money and reel into the pocket of his robe, he stands to refill his cup. Back through the hall, checking the basement door, then mounting the stairs to his office. He fits the reel on the player, loops the tape to the second spool. Headphones press his still-wild hair to his skull. He closes his eyes and presses play.
“Unity,” says a voice.
* * *
That night he dreams of Burgholzi’s dark and narrow halls, of ice baths and the taste of rubber. Mileva’s face wavering at the end of his bed, growing thinner as she whispers “Tete” over and over to him. Eating parfaits in the refectory, a view over the gardens and their shuffling haunts, his brother straightening his tie and saying farewell. The old microscope they allowed him, a seething drop of water trapped in the slide, a mystery unfolding under the battering of a strobe. A tower of journals collapse over him with an electric crackle.
He starts awake in the dark, scratching at his temples, the bedclothes in a twist around his feet. From the desk in the next room, the ungainly clatter of the telephone. Bromberg on the line.
* * *
Stone is able to repair two of the three more men Bromberg brings him that week. The third is dead before they even get him to the basement.
They have come before midnight, interrupting Stone at the reel-to-reel with a desperate grinding of the bell. He answers the door still clutching a sheaf of mimeo pages, sounds muted with the echo of that gruff, pure voice. They shove past him, barreling through the foyer and down the steps.
Stone takes one look at the man on the table and shakes his head. There is a tidy hole above his right temple, a ragged exit behind his left ear. Stone imagines the gunsel sitting in a car or at a table in a Brooklyn eaterie, shocked to see the devil with a gun in the doorway. He still wears an expression of puzzled surprise.
“Samuel, this is beyond . . . ” Stone begins, but the gangster cuts him off. It is the first time Bromberg has pulled a gun in Stone’s home, the first time he has even shown he carries one. He waves it wildly, threatening the speakers from which the Prez leaps in. Stone steps cautiously to the bench, flicks a switch that cuts the music off in mid-solo.
“Schvag! You know who I work for?” Bromberg is ranting, his breath short gulps, blood leaking from the sleeve of his jacket. “I can have you shipped back to Zurich in a fucking box, Eddie. A fucking box.”
Whatever war is being waged in the New York streets, it is taking a toll on Bromberg’s conscience, his consciousness unwilling to hear that voice yet. “Look at all this shit in here. I paid for all this, every last lens and drop of formaldehyde. And what I do to get those shtik dreck papers you want. And now? Kuck ind faall, is all you tell me? Gonif! Momzer!”
The edges of his thin lips have turned purple, his too-wide eyes twitch in their sockets. Stone can almost smell the bennies on his breath, beneath the sour scent of drying adrenaline.
“Samuel. Sam. Sammy.” Stone holds his hand out to Bromberg, coaxing him to the operating table. The gangster’s heart is as raw as the back of the dead man’s head. He lays his other hand on the corpse’s chest, hears Bromberg shuffle forward. “Look at this boy. Who is he to you? Is he still here? You tell me.”
“Not gone! Not! My niece, my sister’s girl, this is her husband. What do I say to her? He can’t be gone.”
“Put down the gun, Sammy. Who are you going to shoot here? You have too much brain, too much soul for this shtarker business.” Stone takes Bromberg’s hand, guides it to close the young man’s eyes, smooth his face. “Look at him, Samuel. Not at the wound, but at the beauty. The ratios. Look at the unity of his features. The symmetry. When nature speaks to us in the language of mathematics, we hear God’s voice.”
Bromberg cannot stop stroking the boy’s face. His breath hitches high in his chest, and Stone pulls a stool from the bench to place behind him. Bromberg sinks to the seat, his hand still on the dead man’s cheek. Stone takes the gun from a limp hand, eases the suit jacket off to expose a raw wound in his forearm.
“There is a mistake being made.” Stone’s voice is soft but clear as he pours whiskey into a tumbler, presses the drink into the hand of Bromberg’s uninjured arm. He cleans the wound, applies procaine, begins to sew. “Many mistakes, of course, but the great mistake now is we look out, not in. A dog orbits the earth, we look for holes in space, we listen to the howl of distant stars in hopes of hearing a divine whisper.”
Bromberg may or may not be listening to the words. The voice quiets him at least, even if the meaning is lost. Stone sings softly, “Doch sagt er: /‘Lieber Valentin, mach keine Umständ, geh!’, /da leg ich meinen Hobel hin /und sag der Welt ade.”
“What’s that song?” Bromberg mumbles. The adrenaline has burned through him. “You sing it so often.”
“A little German tune my mother sang to me. This part is a carpenter being called by death:
“If Death should come to take me off
And twitch me, ‘Brother, come!’
I’d not so much as turn around,
But stand there, deaf and dumb.
But if he said, ‘Dear Valentine,
Allow me, after you!’,
Why, then I’d put my plane away
And bid the world adieu.”
Bromberg is crying now. Stone wraps a bandage lightly over the sutures and drapes the suit coat back over his shoulder. He stands beside the operating table again, gazing at the boy, who looks even younger now with eyes closed and expression blank. Bromberg looks up but says nothing.
“Numbers and nature. Nature and numbers. Fibonacci knew. Mendel had an inkling. Binet and even star-struck Kepler. It’s no accident that Fuchs’s first name was Lazarus. Immortality must come from within, not without, in a body of perfect unity. All forces together.” Bromberg is lost, but Stone forges on. “The mystic rhythms are internal, Samuel; they are the secret voice of the heavens in our blood. The music of the spheres can only be heard by the cerebral hemispheres, our eternal cranial convergence of harmonies. God’s symphony sings in ourselves, not in the stars. The Old Man was right about many things, but he spent too long looking up.”
Stone stops, allows a smile to brush his lips. He turns to the two men in the shadows, snaps his fingers at them. “Wrap your friend in a winding sheet. Mr. Bromberg will be taking this one home with him.”
He leaves the three gangsters in the silent glare of the operating room.
* * *
Stone cannot sleep that night or the next. He buries himself in papers, the blue of the mimeos smudging his fingertips, shirtfront, even the corners of his mouth. He wonders distantly how much of the ink he has ingested in licking his fingertips to turn the pages. On his journey through the notes he is joined only by the proxy voices of men who poison themselves to find beauty: Long Tall Dex, “Sweets” Edison, Bird, Prez.
For a week he does not see or hear from Bromberg. He can imagine the niece’s grief, her anger, but cannot conceive of Bromberg’s guilt or how he will react to it. There will be revenge, no doubt, and more blood in the streets of the Heights, or Hackensack, or wherever it is Bromberg prowls. He has never felt guilt, has always been the deceived and not the deceiver. He saw it in Mileva’s eyes at the end of every visit she made to Burgholzi, often in the slump of Hans’s shoulders. Bromberg’s remorse will shroud him even as he seeks revenge.
And so Stone is not surprised to receive a call on the eighth day. But he does not expect the strange marriage of panic and elation in Bromberg’s voice.
“Be ready, Stone. I heard you. I kept hearing you, even after I left. And then today, there she was. Right in the middle of the fucking street. I’m on my way.”
The sun is still setting when he hears the crush of tires in the driveway. Through the parlor window he sees Bromberg emerge from the absurdly long Lincoln Mark IV, the chrome of its rocket-inspired fins catching the last orange rays. It is black, of course, funereal in its presence. Bromberg opens the rear door and leans in, pulls back with a woman in his arms.
There are no gunsels to help him tonight.
She has been covered with a light blue blanket that reaches from hairline to ankle. Her dark brown hair holds auburn streaks; her feet are bare. Stone runs his hands through his hair, unlocks the door, ushers them inside.
Bromberg’s expression shifts from tense to exultant and back again as he bears the woman down the hall and into the basement. Stone hurries to keep up, pausing only to place the needle back on its rest and stop the turntable.
The woman looks small on the operating table, superimposed as she is on the images of the countless men who have bled and wept and died there. Stone considers that a woman has never laid on that table under his care, has never ventured into this basement in the years he has owned the house. He hesitates at the foot of the stairs, watching the dark, thin gangster fuss over her.
“She fell out of the sky, Eduard. Out of the sky. Right in front of me.”
“You mean she’s a suicide? She jumped?” Stone feels disappointed at this banality.
“No, no. From the sky she came. I know it sounds like michigas, but it’s true. And you must look at her. Perfection. Measure it. Get your instruments.” Bromberg keeps rolling forward on the balls of his feet then dropping back to his heels. His fingers move incessantly along the hem of the blanket that hangs over the table. He looks like some child magician eager to reveal a trick.
Stone draws a tray with him to the table, inhales in preparation for a sigh. Stops. He sniffs again, licks his lips. The lightest scent of lilac underscored with citrus fills his nostrils. It is the smell of his childhood garden in Zurich, down to the slight damp of the Sihl not far away.
“You smell the sea, too? The Zatoka Gdanska? And lemonade? Just like in summer when I was a boy.” Bromberg takes the edge of the blanket at the woman’s brow and lifts it slowly. Stone cannot help but hold his breath.
Her skin is a blend of copper and gold, entirely flawless. Slight epicanthic folds shape her eyes; her lips are full and deeply red, though Stone sees no trace of make up; her cheekbones are high and well-defined. She does not breathe.
Stone leans closer and Bromberg follows. Each takes a wrist, but neither can find a pulse. Stone puts his head gently to her soft, cool breast, hears no stirring within. Feels for rhythm in the chest, the ankle, the throat. Nothing. Gently rolls her onto her side, sees no contusions to indicate impact, feels no broken bones, notes no lividity. On to her arms, legs, and toes to seek evidence of injection. Cannot smell anything over the persistent olfactory memories of Valentinstrasse.
“Out of the sky she fell, Eduard, I tell you truly.” Bromberg drifts to the bench and pours a drink. Stone considers for a moment taking the gangster’s gun and killing him with it, wonders where the thought originates.
“Extraordinary,” Stone whispers, looking at the woman’s face again.
“How did she die?” Bromberg wonders aloud.
“I see nothing to indicate a fall but for some pieces of gravel in her hair.” He looks at his instruments, shakes his head. “Further examination is needed.”
“I will watch.”
Stone expects such a response and only shrugs. He draws the blanket completely off her body, leaving her naked. “Where are her clothes, Samuel?”
“She fell naked. From the sky.” Stone looks up to find Bromberg transfixed by the woman’s body, his eyes racing up and down her from feet to throat again and again. He tries to bring the glass to his lips and misses. Whiskey spills down the front of his suit, staining his tie, but he takes no note of it, continues until the glass is empty. Bromberg’s eyes jerk from side to side, trying to take in the entirety of the woman. He breathes more heavily, almost panting, and flecks of white spittle cling to the corners of his mouth.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. So so so so so so sorry. So. So.” Bromberg begins to shake, his trembling swiftly becomes a vibration beyond any seizure Stone has ever witnessed. As drawn as he is to the woman’s exposed skin before him, he feels he must bear witness to whatever it is that is happening to the gangster.
Bromberg shudders and falls to the cold floor, but Stone makes no move to help him. He watches Bromberg thrash for just over a minute before the man grows still, blood seeping from his eyes, nose, and ears. The last sound he makes is a long sibilance.
Stone traces a finger along the woman’s arm. He is mindful not to try to apprehend all of her at once, to take each part of her in turn. This will take him the rest of his days, he knows. He lifts one of her eyelids tentatively, feeling something like fear at the thought of her eye. He gasps when he sees it. A thousand formulae rush across his retina, reflected from the vermillion nautilus of her iris.
He steps back, gives thanks, breathes deep, and loses himself in her infinite curves.
* * *
Hardcover / $19.95 / 196 pp. / ISBN 978-0-8095-7266-3
* * *
Jack M. Haringa: A Short Test
Part I: True/False Questions.
1. The first name on his birth certificate is actually Johannes.
2. His main babysitter claimed to live in a haunted house, a house directly across the street from the Haringas.
3. Both Cole Porter and Abbie Hoffman attended Jack’s high school alma mater.
1. As a security guard, he was forced to attend how many performances of Cats, leading to a life-long hatred of Andrew Lloyd Weber? a) 1-3 b) 3-5 c) 5-7 d) Sweet Christmas, make it stop!
2. Which of the following authors did not graduate from his college alma mater? a) Harold Bloom b) Richard Farina c) Thomas Pynchon d) Kurt Vonnegut.
3. Jack is the product of: a) a genetic experiment gone horribly awry b) an antique dealer and a Congregational minister c) the elderly Nabokov and a Swiss lady of the evening d) a Dutch industrialist and an American au pair.
Part III: Short Answer.
1. Who is the historical figure at the center of “A Perfect and Unmappable Grace,” and why should we care?
2. Based on this quiz, explain why Jack should get out of the classroom and/or house more often; use specific examples.
3. What might be the influence of Jack’s four years living in Japan on his fiction or, more generally, his psyche?
4. Why does he live and work in Worcester, Massachusetts?