Book III

He remembered that he had thrown the girl against the wall and he paused. The street was black. Great shadows balanced themselves on his eyes. "I have escaped from myself," he muttered.

He stood trying to remember himself. But his mind was like a night. Shapes tip-toed through its dark. A hooded figure loomed in his mind. It swung toward him as if it were flying out of his eyes. Other figures swept by. They assumed strange postures as they passed. His thoughts regarded them tiredly. He desired to join the figures fleeing out of him. Then he would vanish with them.

"I am too clever for that," he murmured aloud. "Yet it would be pleasing. To think in dark, hooded figures; ah- they have adventures I And I would sit like a night alive with witches."

He stared with a smile at the street.

"I no longer see or understand," he whispered. His hands felt his sides.

"Yet here I am. There is a life within me that I dare not enter. I must remember this. Write 'Forbidden' over its black doors. To succumb to my madness would be to lose it."

He resumed his walk.

"She intruded," he remembered. "Perhaps I have killed her. That would be pleasant. Except that she was necessary as an image. I am the mirror and she is an image alive in me. Her desire is a happy shadow I embrace."

Mallare's eyes opened to the night.

"Strange," he thought, "I see and yet what I look at remains invisible. But tonight outlines dance. The night is a maniac suffering from ennui. His dark eyes are weary with the emptiness they create. Vainly he searches for life, his eyes devouring it, and leaving only his own image for him to contemplate.

"I am not so mad as that. Or I, too, would sit like the night gorged with monotonous shadows. Instead, I translate. A memory of sanity gives diverting outline to the shadows in me. I am not a maniac like the night. My mind closes like a darkness over the world but I enjoy myself walking amid insane houses, staring at windows that look like drunken octagons, observing lamp posts that simper with evil, promenading fan shaped streets that scribble themselves like arithmetic over my face.

"These must be the things I look at. But they are my improvement. The world is not so outrageous if one is sufficiently mad to pull it into taffy shapes and incredible scrawls.

"But I must be warned. My madness sought to avenge itself at her intrusion. It overcame me with its anger. She was not content to let me possess the beautiful image of her. Although I have explained the thing to her clearly. It is possible she does not understand. I will talk to her again with greater lucidity. I will tell her that I do not desire her except as a dream for my mirror. But I have said that to her."

Under the green-white sputter of a street lamp, Mallare halted. His mind was preoccupied with unraveling the mystery of Rita. He stood, a tall figure without a hat, a slant of black hair across his forehead, and ignoring eyes. A beggar in a ragged overcoat shuffled, head down, toward him.

"She is only a child," Mallare thought, 'but it is evident that passion already lifts her breasts. Her simplicity is betrayed by incipient orgasms prowling for an outlet. This, she fancies, is love. It is fortunate she is a virgin. Still, I must not rely too greatly on that. For virginity is an insidious bed fellow for a maiden.

Forefingers and phallic shadows have ravished her in dreams. And if she is a virgin in spirit as well as body, she is still a woman- and therefore dangerous.

"Ah, what loathsome and lecherous mouths women are! Offering their urine ducts as a mystic Paradise! Stretching themselves on their backs and seducing egoists with the unctuous lie of possession. The mania for possession- that most refined of all instincts- the most heroic of insanities! How easily they circumvent it! To desire is merely to love. But to create in oneself the objects of desire- that is to be mad and above life. Beyond it.

"I must explain this to her. If she loves me well enough she will understand. All things are possible in love. I will explain to her that I possess her at will without the loathsome absurdities of sex."

The beggar paused and mumbled beside Mallare. Watery, reddened eyes waited patiently for the alms asked. Mallare had fallen into silence. He stood regarding the beggar intently. His thought labored for a moment, scratching in silence at doors swinging slowly shut. His thought withdrew and Mallare was alone.

He stood up tall and stern in a darkened chamber. His eyes stared intently at the figure of Rita. Her face, pale and alive, smiled imploring in the mendicant's place. He talked, but the beggar, still patient, heard no sound.

"You have followed me," said Mallare inside his chamber. "Very well. It is useless to explain matters to you. You pursue me with your lecherous body. I have warned you. Now I will kill you. I will take your throat in my hands and that will be an end of you. You will fall down."

The beggar uttered a cry of terror. Mallare's hands had reached suddenly to his throat and their fingers, like inviolable decisions, closed on it. The ragged one screamed. A man with a slant of black hair across his forehead who had stood smiling at him had without sound or warning reached out his hands to murder him. The beggar gasped and writhed, his eyes staring with horror into the immobile face of his assailant. And within himself Mallare continued the strange conversation.

"You see how simple it is," he said. "After you are dead I will continue to enjoy for a time the uninterrupted image of you. You will haunt my thought until you grow dim. But I will possess the vanishing shadow. . . . But now you die."

Mallare tightened his hold on the beggar's neck and the man's cries ended. His head fell forward. Mallare held the dead figure erect, shaking it gently and smiling at the one in his thought.

"Ah, Rita," he whispered, "it is over now."

His hands released the throat they were holding. The beggar fell to the ground. Mallare stared at the body and then knelt beside it. His hands passed over the dead face.

"Poor Rita," he continued. "No longer dangerous."

He bent over and kissed the matted hair of the dead man.

"Death," he said aloud as he rose "is an easy friendship. You would have been sorry a moment ago. But now you are neither sorry nor glad. See, your body is a humble little gratitude."

Mallare walked away. His thought, like a cautious monitor, re-entered the doors that had closed upon it.

"Curious," he said aloud, "she followed me and I killed her. Madness is, alas, too logical. I remember almost nothing of the incident. It is a part of the shadows not of me. Still I know it exists. My hands feel tired. But there is nothing to regret. She came too close. And now she lies dead in a strange street. They will find her and perhaps ask me about it. What do I know? Nothing. My memory is innocent. It is after all my superior. I must remain, unquestioning, at its side. This is a pact."

He returned to his home. The familiar room greeted him like a friendship. He sat down and closed his eyes. Goliath had gone to bed. And she was no longer here.

His hands felt tired. He was alone again. But he would remember her. Eyes like conquered Satans. They would crawl again like spiders through his brain. Breasts like little blind faces raised in prayer. Her body fluttering like a rich curtain before the door of enchantments. These were still his.

"Tomorrow, Rita," he murmured aloud to his thoughts.

A figure stirred on the couch. She had watched him come in, his hair disheveled, his body dragging. Her eyes had followed him as he sat down. But she had waited motionless. Perhaps he had come back to kill her. She lay shivering. Then his voice called her name.

Standing slowly, Rita waited. He was asleep but he had called her. She moved cautiously over the heavy carpet. Mallare opened his eyes. He looked at the burning-eyed figure of the girl his hands remembered having killed in the strange street.

"A hallucination," his thought muttered. "But the dead do not come back."

The scene under the green-white street lamp played its swift detail through his mind again. He remembered the white throat, the pale, imploring face. A shudder passed his heart. He had murdered her. Yet here she stood once more, looking at him.

Mallare smiled.

"Ah," he thought. "Mad, completely mad. Yet it is not as unpleasant as I feared. Why, indeed, am I startled? This is what I desired. To create for myself out of myself. And here my phantoms have become so rich and strong that they confront me. I desired to be God. And I have answered my own prayer. It is an illusion. Its substance is only the life my madness gives it. Yet I, who am the companion of my madness, may enjoy it."

Rita shivered again as he laughed.

"Come closer," he whispered to her. "Or are you too timorous a hallucination, Rita? Come closer and let me see. What a curious sensation! To caress the figures of my madness! Then there is no longer any sanity in me. For my fingers are aware of hair. Ah, dear child, Mallare is completely mad since at last his senses betray him. But they betray him sweetly. For though I babble to myself you have no existence, though I smile at the thought of caressing a phantom, my senses derive a mysterious pleasure from this contact with nothingness. Curious . . . curious . . . come closer, Rita. Now smile at me. Yes, your lips move. You are an automaton born of my words. Give me your hand. It is warm and trembling. Ah, my phantom is in love with me. But that love, too, is an illusion I create. No, do not come too close. Let me grow accustomed first to my madness. You are happy,eh? How marvelous your eyes! They were beautiful before when they crawled like round spiders through my brain. But elusive. They fled from me, my madness pursuing them into dark, empty corners.

"But now I have grown cleverer. It is necessary to be superbly clever in order to fool one's senses like this. But take off your clothes, little one. I want to see how clever I am. Has my phantom, a body, too, or is it only a face and an illusion of fabric I have created? Your velvet dress, Rita, take it off. Ah, what a virginal phantom."

Rita, trembling before the gleam of the eyes that had opened to her, listened anxiously. An ecstasy drifted like a cloud over her senses. He had touched her. His hands had passed over her head as she had dreamed they might. His eyes were smiling with intimacy at her face. But he had warned her never to speak. She must not spoil it by speaking. She stood swaying before him.

"Your velvet dress," he repeated.

Her hands reached dreamily to her body. He would see now how beautiful she was. The men in the caravan had called her beautiful. But she had run from them. That was long ago. Now she would show him how the skin of her body looked, how her breasts made pretty curves, and how she had washed herself in the perfumes he had given her.

"Ah," murmured Mallare, his eyes filling with wonder. "How incredibly clever my madness has become! My little phantom undresses. Illusion- yet my conveniently stupid senses are deceived. But what delicious deception! See, her throat and breasts are white. Her body is white. I may reach out and touch the flesh of her thighs. I am as indecent as God for I have given her sex. But what a plagiarist I am! My phantom is as charming and naive as an art student's copy. Still, she is not a woman and therefore not hateful. Without life, even this may be considered entertaining."

His hands moved cautiously over her body, his fingers slipping experimentally over the flesh of her buttocks and thighs.

"Interesting," he smiled. "Like St. Anthony I create obalisques for my seduction. Ah, but there is a difference. This is mine . . . mine !"

His eyes gleamed with a quick frenzy at the naked figure.

"Speak. I desire you to speak, little one. If I can believe in the illusion of flesh and eager eyes, then I can believe in the illusion of sound. Come speak. I am at the mercy of my madness. If you speak to me, little one, I will understand. My stupid senses that retain their earthly logic will be ravished at the sound of your voice. But I will chuckle at my cleverness. Tell me, are you mine? Can you say,'I am yours'? Can you give yourself to me and deceive me with the beautiful illusion of submission? Tell me. Speak to me."

Her eyes burning toward him, Rita nodded her head.

"Yours," she whispered. "Whatever you say, I am."

"Clever, clever," Mallare muttered, "it speaks to me and I hear. It says 'yours.' I become too involved. Or perhaps this is only a dream. Of course, what else can it be? Part of me has fallen asleep and is dreaming. And because I am mad I fancy myself awake. And my senses obey me. Desire whispers to them, 'Hear voices. See flesh. Feel desire,' and like five little awkward masochists they prostrate themselves before my madness.

"But my senses are of no great interest. There is this other- this mania of possession of which passion, compounded of all the senses, is but an unimportant fragment. I am a man with a woman inside him. I possess the secret of the hermaphroditic Gods. I am complete."

Rita kneeled beside him and his hands stroked her black hair. Her face remained raised in adoration. Mallare, observing her eyes, nodded satisfactions at them.

"Who but Mallare could have done this?" he whispered aloud to her. "Mallare, infatuated with himself, desires still a further adoration. So he creates infatuated phantoms. I am tired now. My hands are tired. Return, little one, to the couch of my madness and sleep for a time in its shadows."

Mallare shut his eyes and his hands dropped to his side. Rita arose and smiled at him. He had spoken strangely, but his words were no longer mysteries since he had caressed her. She would lie now at his feet as she had dreamed of doing. She stretched herself out on the thick carpet.

Her childish mind fondled its unexpected memories. He had looked at her body and spoken beautiful words to it. She remembered the talk of the old ones of the caravan. A woman belongs to a man. This meant that she belonged to him. She had said, "Yours."

Her face smiled itself to sleep.

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