It's *peers cautiously out of writer's bunker* summer outside, apparently, so I'm launching a Super Soaraway Summer Special Offer. If you've already pledged to 'Quays' but would still like to help us reach our ever-closer funding target, then (a) THANKS! and (b) talk a friend into pledging for one of the £100+ rewards, and I'll double up on the reward!
Whether it's an original cartoon they're after, or a mentoring programme, or a crossword or a quiz, or some help with a novel or short story, if they pledge on your recommendation then YOU get a reward, too! That's two for quite literally the price of one. Let's call it the Pester A Pal scheme. So get pestering!
While I'm here, I thought I'd share another extract from the book. This is Tom in the Meuse-Argonne, 1918, getting to know his brothers in arms.
“Sure. Quays’s had ‘em all over New York. Every girl in the city’s had a share. Quays the tease, Quays the squeeze. Ain’t that right? Yes-please Quays.”
“These goddamn greasy bastards, all the same. Say they’ve come to America for the work. Sure! It’s the American snatch they come for.”
“Say, how’s the snatch down there in Spain, Quays? Furlough in three weeks. Figure I might take a bus down there, make a change from these uppity French, these snooty French dolls, huh?”
“You’re kidding, buddy – these bastards cross the whole Atlantic to get away from the Spanish snatch.”
“Hey, Quays, maybe I could look up your mother down in Spain there, how is she, what does she charge? Does she give a doughboy discount?”
“No American snatch left in fucking New York, anyway – Eyetie snatch, Polack snatch, Kraut snatch – ”
Tom looked sleepily up from Epitaph of A Small Winner and said: “You guys can go and fuck yourselves.”
Horris and Kennedy laughed.
“That it, Quays? – you leave a blonde Kraut sweetheart behind in America?”
“Jesus.” Horris was a heavyset Hoosier who wore a crewcut so short that, with his cap on, he looked as though he was bald. He threw down the shirt he was making a clumsy job of darning. “What d’you call it? – cohorting with the fucking enemy – ”
“Consorting, you illiterate son of a bitch. Besides – besides, there wasn’t a war then. And besides that, she wasn’t blonde.”
Tom hated himself as soon as he said it. More than that, he hated the compulsive intimacy of the trench. Horris’d told him that back in Mishawaka he’d once been caught stealing underwear from his schoolteacher’s laundryline. Tom’d told Kennedy that in 1917 he went to a whorehouse on Old Slip and paid a girl fifty cents to tell him if he had a little dick (“I asked for an older girl – I thought it’d be less embarrassing that way, Christ – but I guess they thought it was funny to send me this little kid who was younger than I was,” he told Kennedy. “She was nice, though. She said I oughtn’t boast, but she’d seen littler.”). Kennedy (with tears in his eyes) had told Tom that at night he’d think about Fanny Brice while he was jerking off.
“So?” Tom’d asked. Kennedy had turned a tragical look on him.
“She’s a fucking Jewess, Quays,” he quavered. “If anyone asks, I say I think about Florence la Badie. But I don’t.”
Tom didn’t know if it was because you didn’t know what else to say or because you wanted to say it and there wasn’t anybody else to say it to. He set aside his book and rubbed his eyes.
“She was brunette? Jeez.” Kennedy was rubbing his hands together like a housefly rubs its forelegs. “So d’you have a picture? Let’s see.”
“No. No picture.”
“Kennedy, she was only a kid. C’mon. I don’t – y’know, I don’t want to – ”
“How far’d she let you get, Quays, this dark-haired Kraut princess?” Horris, seated on an upturned bucket, had his hands planted on his knees. His adam’s apple bobbed in the deep muscle of his neck. “What d’they call them, what’s the word? – yeah, this fraulein,” he said.
“Jesus, it doesn’t take much, you only have to, you only need to mention a girl in this place and – ”
“Does she write? Tell her to send a picture,” Kennedy insisted.
“She doesn’t write.”
“The bitch. These krauts – ”
“They took her away.”
“Who took her away?”
“They took her away and they threw her in the fucking loony bin,” Tom said. “She was fourteen years old.”
“Jesus,” Kennedy hissed. Horris’s adam’s apple bobbed again.
“She was nuts?” Horris asked.
“No. It was – political.”
“Oh this gets better and better,” Kennedy said. Kennedy was twenty-eight but his voice was a kid’s voice – his voice had a warble like a kid of sixteen’s. “Quays’s sweetheart is an anarchist Kraut booby who’s barely out of diapers and – ”
Horris butted in: “Shut up, Kennedy.”
“I don’t like to talk about her,” Tom said. He didn’t know if that was true. He’d never tried to talk about her.
“I stood by.”
“You stood by?”
“I just stood by. I was just a kid, I could say. I could say: I was fourteen, for Christ’s sakes, I was just a kid, and the guy had a gun – but Yes could’ve said that too, she could’ve just stood by – ”
“But she didn’t, huh?” Horris had folded his hands together now and hunkered forward with his elbows on his knees.
“No. No she didn’t.”
“Something like that.”
“I don’t know. Crazy. Fourteen years old – and they, they took her away. And I just hid, Horris, I just – I just stood by, is all I did.”
Horris shrugged one shoulder. Tom looked down at his hands and wondered why they were so steady, how they dared to not tremble, and wondered why his voice, too, was steady, and wondered why the hell, anyway, he was talking about Yes to this fat Hoosier Horris.
“They sent her to Taconic,” he said. “Then they sent her to Blackwell’s Island. Ah, hell – what do they think is going to happen to girls in those goddamn places?”
Kennedy looked up and wiped a hand across his jaw: “What does happen to ‘em?”
“They get ideas, I guess. And also they know that they’re already, they’re already finished – my God, what do they think is going to happen, why do they put them in there?”
“And your girl?”
“Yes wasn’t my girl,” Tom said automatically. Then he smiled. Then he said: “She wrote – pamphlets. Wild stuff – I mean, to you guys the Fifteenth Amendment is wild stuff, I guess – ” he smiled again and Horris smiled back – “but the stuff she wrote. Oh, you know. Burn the factories, shoot the President, bomb the churches. Anarchism – pacifism.” He stopped, and laughed, and covered his face with his hand. “Pacifism. Christ. Christ, I hope she doesn’t know I’m here.”
“So where is she now?”
“I don’t know where she is,” he said slowly. “Just like she doesn’t know where I am. I know she went crazy – I mean, they said she was crazy – and they sent her someplace for, for that. I guess she’d say the same about me.” Tom looked up: all he could see beyond the lip of the trench was an unbroken petrol-blue sky. The knowledge of where he was was suddenly heavy on him. “Yeah – if you asked her, I guess she’d say: old Tom Quays, he went crazy – he went crazy and they sent him somewhere – “
Tom looked at Horris and down at his hands again and still he didn’t understand why they didn’t shake. His head felt clear – Christ, his head felt empty.
“Artillery,” Kennedy chirped.
“Fuck.” Horris got to his feet and absentmindedly picked up his Springfield. It got so you hardly noticed it, Tom thought. Or at least it got so that he hardly noticed it. An indistinct mutter of shell-fire from somewhere away to the east.
Horris’s heavy left hand played anxiously along the stock of his Springfield as he spoke: “Maybe that’s the French at Soissons. Soissons maybe or Rhymes. Christ fellers I hope it is. If it ain’t then I guess maybe it’s Blank Mont. Jesus, fellers. Or it might be fucking Binarville – yeah, I guess it’s Binarville all right, there ain’t enough wind to carry a noise like that from Blank Mont anyway, and if it’s Binarville then now we’re for it, fellers, if it’s coming from Binarville, ‘cause if it is then it sure as hell ain’t the fucking French.”
Tom stood up from the bunk and took up his own rifle. He was about to move out after Horris, into the trench, when Kennedy took hold of his elbow. He looked at Kennedy and Kennedy again wiped his hand across his jaw.
“C’mon then, Quays,” he said. “This German girl, this anarchist of yours, how far’d she let you get? How far’d she let you get, huh, this crazy Kraut girl of yours?”
Kennedy died in a shell-hole at the Moulin de l’Homme Mort and Tom thought of him every time he told Colman Smith, who never fought in a war, that by Christ he should’ve been in the goddamn trenches, ‘cause he’d’ve fitted right in.
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