Author's Note:

The Long Habit of Living is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The east wind raved like lunatics helpless without sedation. (things that are precious to me)

Some of the things that are precious to me are the drifts of language and imagery that float out of books and hang around me long after I've finished reading them.  At one time I was able to paper my bathroom walls with them, my closet doors and the bedroom door itself covered as well with the excerpts and banners of sentiments too painful to let go, sometimes too glorious to enjoy only by myself.  Sometimes it was just a part of a sentence, like from James Purdy's story "Mr. Evening" (1968):

"...then he was back in the chair again, the snow still pelted the shutters, 
and the east wind raved like lunatics helpless without sedation."  

There are far too many to put into one post.  I'm sharing now.

From Anita Brookner's novel Falling Slowly--

She herself had succumbed to more corrupt attractions which still aroused in her a mournful excitement.  She was not good enough for Rivers, that was it.  Sometimes she heard a wistful note in her voice when she was speaking to him, but only because her respect for him was so great.

If she were unavailable, and had made herself so, it was because she judged herself to be unsuitable.  ...It was the natural expression of a profound remorse.

From Edmond and Jules de Goncourt's novel Germinie Lacerteux

She suffered as though her honor were being torn piece by piece from her in the kennel.  But in proportion to her sufferings she pressed herself against her love and cleaved to it.  She was not angry with it, she uttered no reproach against it.  She clung to it by all the tears that it brought her pride to shed.

And, thrown back and riveted upon her shame, she might be seen in the street through which lately she had passed proudly and with head carried high, advancing furtively and fearfully, with bent back, an oblique glance, anxious to avoid recognition, and hastening her steps in front of the shops which swept out their slanders upon her heels.

James Purdy has become one of my favorites.  His complete short stories took me to places reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor, Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, and even James Baldwin.  He'd once said about his writing:

"I think I learned early on that the only subjects I could deal with were impossible.
...if I chose an easy subject, I couldn't write it because it wouldn't mean anything to me."

Here's an excerpt from Purdy's short story, "Short Papa" (1976)

"I've always wanted to do what was best, Lester," Mama went on, "but parents too are only after all flesh and blood as someday you will find out for yourself."

An excerpt from Purdy's short story "Eventide" (1956), about a mother's lament for a son who left her.

"It ain't like there bein' no way out to your troubles: it's the way out that kills you," Mahalia said.  "If it was goodbye for always like when someone dies, I think I could stand it better.  But this kind of parting ain't like the Lord's way."
She walked over to the chair where Plumy was and laid her hand on her.  Somehow the idea of George Watson's being dead so long and yet still being a baby a mother could love had a kind of perfect quality she liked.  She thought then quietly and without shame how nice it would be if T-boy could also be perfect in death, so that he would belong to her in the same perfect way as George Watson belonged to Plumy.  There was comfort in tending the grave of a dead son, whether he was killed in war or peace, and it was so difficult to tend the memory of a son who just went away and never came back.  Yet somehow she knew as she looked at Plumy, somehow she would go on with the memory of T-boy Jordan even though he still lived in the world.

An excerpt from Purdy's short story "Sound of Talking" (1955)
In the summertime, it helped to watch the swallows flying around when the pain was intense in his legs, or to listen to a plane going quite far off, and then hear all sound stop.  There was a relief from the sound then that made you almost think your own pain had quit.

She wanted him to want something so that she could want something, but she knew he would never want at all again.  There would be suffering, the suffering that would make him swell in the chair until he looked like a god in ecstasy, but it would all be just a man practicing for death, and the suffering illusion.

And why should a man practicing for death take time out to teach a bird to talk?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dear Lou, Please Kill the Cats - published by The Blotter Magazine

 The Blotter Magazine has just published my latest, "Dear Lou, Please Kill the Cats" 

"...I took the 7 train to Vernon Blvd/Jackson Avenue and then walked a couple blocks just north of the Long Island Railroad train yards.  My assignment was Henry’s apartment on 51st Avenue, in a bleak, forgotten part of Long Island City."  

"...Henry’s was an old closest-to-the-factory apartment which one could find easily in this industrialized part of Queens."

"...he remained in a godless, gas-lined, three-cat apartment with dusty, dirty, wall-to-wall carpeting and cheap motel furnishings that sent me back to the days of telephone cable spools used as tables and plaster images of conquistadors for that southwest motif circa 1960."

"What's the mirror for?" Owen asked.
"To keep an eye on the cats," I  said. 

Click here to read the story at The Blotter Magazine.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Return to Patrick Leigh Fermor - in the Trans-Carpathian forests

I want to take you back once again to Patrick Leigh Fermor. 

If you've read this blog before, you'll know that Fermor is a Titan in my canon.  His 1977 book, A Time of Gifts, which I read a few months ago, is quite literally a gift to the reader.  With an abundance of medieval history, art history, linguistics, and travelogue writing jewels, this is one of the best, one of the most beautiful, one of the most interesting books I've read in a long, long time.

I'm including in today's post excerpts from the book for your enjoyment, your education, and your empowerment, along with some pictures to help illustrate where he's talking about and what he's talking about.

And so we begin...

[While hiking along a stretch of the River Danube in Austria, about 16 miles from the current Slovakian  border, Fermor approaches the town of Petronell.  And so we learn of the The Miracle of the Thundering Legions.]

Arch of Titus

" I approached the little town of Petronell, by wondering what a distant object could be that was growing steadily larger as I advanced.  It turned out to be a Roman triumphal gateway standing in the middle of a field like a provincial version of the Arch of Titus; alone, enormous and astonishing.  

Petronell-Carnuntum, Austria

The vault sprang from massive piers and the marble facings had long fallen away, laying bare a battered and voluminous core of brick and rubble.  Rooks crowded all over it and hopped among the half-buried fragments that scattered the furrows.  Visible for miles, the arch of Carnuntum must have amazed the Marcomanni and the Quadi on the opposite side of the bank.
A Marcomanni warrior (second century A.D.)

The Quadi (second century A.D.)
Marcus Aurelius wintered here three years, striding cloaked across the ploughland amid the hovering pensees, alternately writing his meditations and subduing the barbarians on the other side of the Danube.  His most famous victory--fought in a deep canyon and celestially reinforced by thunder and hail--was known as the Miracle of the Thundering Legions." (p. 234) (See the end of the post for an explanation of the Miracle of the Thundering Legions.)

The Edge of the Slav World

[Fermor wanders into a "lively drinking-hell" in rural Czechoslovakia.]

"...Enmeshed in smoke and the fumes of plum-brandy with paprika-pods sizzling on the charcoal, they were hiccupping festive dactyls to each other and unsteadily clinking their tenth thimblefuls of palinka: vigorous, angular-faced, dark-clad and dark-glanced men with black mustaches tipped down at the corners of their mouths.  Their white shirts were buttoned at the throat.

They wore low-crowned black hats with narrow brims and high boots of shiny black leather with a Hessian notch at the knee.  Hunnish whips were looped about their wrists.  They might have just dismounted after sacking the palace of the Moravian kral."  (p. 242)

[ On the next day, and down the street Fermor was in another tavern...]

"...the tow-haired Slovaks drinking there were dressed in conical fleece hats and patched sheepskin-jerkins with the matted wool turned inwards.  They were shod in canoe-shaped cowhide moccasins.  Their shanks, cross-gartered with uncured thongs, were bulbously swaddled in felt that would only be unwrapped in the spring.  Swamp-and-conifer men they looked, with faces tundrablank and eyes as blue and as vague as unmapped lakes which the plum-brandy was misting over.  But they might just as well have been swallowing hydromel a thousand years earlier, before setting off to track the cloven spoor of the aurochs across a frozen Trans-Carpathian bog."  (p. 242) 

Prague Under Snow

Church of St. George
[Fermor takes a tour of the Hradschin, the citadel that dominates the capital city of Prague.  Within the citadel's walls, one finds the church of St. George.]

"They separated, converged again, and crossed each other and as they sped away, enclosed slender spans of wall like the petals of tulips; and when two ribs intersected, they might both have been obliquely notched and then half-joggled together with studied carelessness.  They writhed on their own axes and simultaneously followed the curve of the vault; and often, after these contorted intersections, the ribs that followed a concave thrust were chopped off short while the convex plunged headlong and were swallowed up in the masonry.  The loose mesh tightened as it neared the rounded summit and the frantic reticulation jammed in momentary deadlock. 
Inside the cathedral at Hradschin

 Four truncated ribs, dovetailing in rough parallelograms, formed keystones and then broke loose again with a wildness which at first glance resembled organic violence clean out of control.  But a second glance, embracing the wider design, captured a strange and marvellous coherence, as though petrifaction had arrested this whirling dynamism at a chance moment of balance and harmony,"  (p. 257)
Inside the Trans-Carpathian forest (Hungary, Romania, Ukraine)

Fermor, Patrick Leigh.  A Time of Gifts, New York: New York Review Books, 2005.

[The Miracle of the Thundering Legion:  The story is that the Romans, entangled in a defile, were suffering from thirst. A sudden storm gave abundance of rain, while hail and thunder confounded their enemies, and enabled the Romans to gain an easy and complete victory. This triumph was universally considered at the time, and for long afterwards, to have been a miracle, and bore the title of "The Miracle of the Thundering Legion." The pagan writers ascribed the victory to the magic arts of an Egyptian named Arnuphis who prevailed on Mercury and other gods to give relief, while the Christians attributed it to the prayers of their brethren in a legion to which, they affirmed, the emperor then gave the name of "The Thundering." (Courtesy of NNDB Mapper)]

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Bringing forth what is within me. The YEAR in BOOKS: 2015.

Another year come and gone, another year’s worth of wonderful books read with pleasure, amazement, stimulation, learning, and some even with a drudgery.

In the Gnostic Gospel According To Thomas, Jesus supposedly says, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."  These books, like so many of the ones that came before them, have helped to bring forth what is within me.

FICTION in chronological order:
Alan Furst, Blood of Victory. One of my favorite contemporary authors.
Naguib Mahfouz, Miramar and The Thief and the Dogs.  Nobel prize-winning Egyptian author.
Colm Toibin, The Heather Blazing.
Anita Brooker, Leaving Home.  Another contemporary favorite.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind.  Very exciting, interesting story for the book lover in you. 
Alan Furst, Dark Voyage.
Jack London, Martin Eden.  An extraordinary novel, which I think most college students should read. Lots of quotable moments.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Violins of Saint-Jacques.
Eric Ambler,  A Coffin for Dimitrios (that genre I like so much...pre-World War II international political military spying, before the world became the insidious uneasy place it is).
James Baldwin, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone started out well but got very lost very fast.
Alan Furst, The Foreign Correspondent (yes, I love Alan Furst novels and with their rich history and local color of Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s, they are very good). 
Baroness Orczy, The [Old] Man in the Corner, detective thriller a precursor to that genre of fiction that gave us Nero Wolfe books, is a series of seemingly unrelated tales, all surprising and all very intelligent.
Voltaire, Candide Zadig & Other Stories was hilarious, bizarre, and very beautifully Voltaire.
 Kobo Abe, The Ruined Map was arch; a private detective backdrop with weird turnings.  
Gustave Flaubert, Bouvard and Pecuchet, unfinished yet brilliant.
Hubert Selby, The Room (god awful).
Jose Saramago (one of my heroes), Raised from the Ground.  A very beautiful novel, timeless in its depiction of men and women bound to the land, and the cruelty they endure from the power of the landowning elite and the government (based on events in Portugal prior to the revolution, or one of them at least).
Anita Brookner, Strangers.   "Fate is rarely kind, and nature never."
Alan Furst, The Spies of Warsaw (they keep getting better; not the spies, the books).
Anthony Trollope,  Dr. Wortle’s School, an appropriate morality novel eyebrow raising in its time I’m sure about relationships, loyalty, honor, trust.  
Anita Brookner, Latecomers.
Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash. outrageous, funny, and baroque (in a good way) novel of Los Angeles’ future.
Philipp Meyer, The Son.  Ambitious, interesting, well-research and captivating gets a high recommendation from me.
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was at times funny but mostly, being mixed with historical background of the Dominican Republic--which was far from being a republic, it was average.  
Alan Furst, Spies of the Balkans, was another foray into history with suspense as its train ride.
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland, bland portrayal of two Bengali Indians and the struggles with normality vs. defiance; yes, it was bland.
Simone de Beauvoir, The Blood of Others (de Beauvoir never disappoints me; she is another one of my heroes).
Tariq Ali, Redemption, was so well-written and scary in its portrayal of political fraud and humiliation (kind of redundant, true).
Jean Rhys, Quartet
Penelope Fitzgerald, The Blue Flower, a novel about the 18th century German poet Novalis.  It doesn’t end happy.  Think Goethe’s Werther
David Sedaris, Barrel Fever, so funny, it had me in constant stitches. 
Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie.
Orhan Pamuk,  A Strangeness in My Mind   My main man, his latest novel. A beautiful book of modern Turkey, covering several decades in the life of one Mevlut, a man of melancholy nature  but immense self-respect.  It is not easy nor profitable being a good man.
Philipp Meyer, American Rust, was one that I could not put down, but I did, because I had to go to sleep you know.  This is a hard story about Pennsylvania and how American industry big shots turned their backs on labor and gave us a wasteland in the Northeast.  But there’s more to it than that.  His characters are incredibly sympathetic even though at times incredibly irritatingly dumb.
Lionel Shriver, Big Brother examines the menace of food, what depression does to you with food as its ally, and then the dangers of the fast-cure methodologies that leave your body and psyche scarred, as if you didn’t already have enough to begin with.
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea.  This book was written in a Faulknerian confusion without William Faulkner’s adeptness with language and literary style.  I don’t recommend it.

NONFICTION in chronological order.
Drink Time by Delores Payas, a memoir of her visits to one of my favorite writers, the great travel writer, historian, linguist, bon vivant Patrick Leigh Fermor.
In Siberia by Colin Thubron. A book that gives you an intimacy with “the cold facts” of Russia.
Allison Bartlett, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, about a conman and the rare books he stole.
Martin Short, I Must Say.  Kept me laughing while at the same time giving pause at some of the unusual kindness one can find in the entertainment industry.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, his trilogy about trekking across Europe as a young man right before the Second World War--Between the Woods and the Stream; A Time of Gifts (which is one of the best books I’ve ever read); and The Broken Road.   A Time to Keep Silence was about his stays in various European monasteries.  I loved this book.
David Cannadine, The Undivided Past.  Says The Guardian: “...elegantly written and stimulating book is a useful reminder that some historians have been willing servants to political projects of all kinds. “
Jennet Conant, The Irregulars.  This is a great book about the British MI6 people who tried their best to keep Americans interested in England right after Hitler's declaration of war and his invasion. Brilliant.  And such a small, small world it is.
Michael Lewis, Flash Boys.  A fascinating expose on the “esoteric, highly technical world of high-frequency trading” who rip off investors and destabilize the global financial system. 
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. “the long-buried roots of Christianity, a work of luminous scholarship and wide popular appeal.”

The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard de Voto by Wallace Stegner.  Bernard DeVoto—novelist, critic, historian, editor—was an outsider both in his native Utah (where he was baptized a Catholic) and in the East, despite his Harvard education.  A scholar of extraordinary breadth of interest and knowledge, he ranged widely in his writings, contributing in the major subdivisions of anthropology, history, sociology, and psychology.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Blue Monday Review - September 2015 - a good issue, yes?

[Left] Here's the cover of the Blue Monday Review, September 2015, in which, yes, is my short story "General Mouse."

[Below] The author enjoying the tactile experience of a good literary magazine.

[Below] Title page of the story.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

General Mouse - a short story, now appearing in the Blue Monday Review

"General Mouse" one of my most recent short stories, is now published in the latest issue of Blue Monday Review.  Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2015.

     “They have lost their minds.”
     He was twisting the neck of a large clear plastic garbage bag and winding a tie around it, all the while looking at men’s and women’s bottoms leaking out over plastic chairs with cranky old wooden seats, breasts resting fully on formica table tops, faces hung with the sad thick layers of gluttony.
     “They have lost their minds,” he said to himself. “Saint Anthony, pray for them, they are so fat, they eat themselves sick. How do they sleep at night? Where do they go, these Americans, but from one meal to the next? Even their souls are fat, so when they die, how will they rise to heaven? They will sink to hell. Their addiction to liberty has set their minds free. They are too free.”

  Click here for the link to BMR's website and get the full issue and read the story.

If you'd like a Adobe Digital Editions copy, email me and I'll send you one.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Guilt isn't going to erase the damages or the mistakes. Make amends is what I say...I say look at it in relation to the future, not the past...That's why I'm here...It's a good lesson, no?

This excerpt from The Long Habit of Living is taken from Chapter XI.  The main character, Owen, is walking with his fiance and his best friend, Sarah and Walter, and they encounter Father Banier (a priest who has been sent by the region's cardinal to investigate the activities of the resident village priest, Father Revenant). 

Later we wandered back along the outskirts of a just harvested field of lavender.  It lay in waiting to be plowed under.  Acres of cut plants lay snipped in perfect rows; we stood and looked over the field, as if witnesses to an orderly mass execution.  When we found the road back up the hill toward Cadenet's climbing streets, we were met by a meditative Father Banier, alone, wearing civilian clothes, a baseball cap and sunglasses.  Looking up, he waved and, with a subdued interest, walked toward us, greeting each of us in turn as sincerely as if we were the last people on earth.
                "Don't you think it feels like that here?" he asked.  "Like we’re the survivors of a post-apocalytic world?  I thought by going outside the town, and taking a walk, I would encounter somebody.  But there's no one here."
                Owen complimented Banier and his Atlanta Braves cap; that with his fair complexion and red hair he looked like he actually came from Georgia.
                "And the Braves are favored to win the pennant this year.  I'm an American League man myself," said Owen.
                "It was all I could find," said Banier, pointing up.  "The sun..."
                "Yes the sun.  You'll get used to it," said Owen, smiling at Sarah and me.  It was a strange turn of phrase for him to use at that time, in that place.  Owen told him we were heading home and that he was welcome to join us.  Banier was very grateful, since he had a few questions to ask Owen, relative to his assignment of Father Revenant.
                "This is an unusual part of France," Banier said as he walked.  "I'm from Grenoble and I've spent most of my time in the north, Paris usually, or in Belgium, or even sometimes in Nantes, which is in the west.  This is too Mediterranean for me.  It's too hot."
                "I kinda like it," said Owen.  "The heat’s like a ghost who won’t go away.  Always around you, in front of you, behind you.  And as for people, in New York, you're lucky if you can cross the street without getting hit by a bus or falling into a manhole.  Here, I'm lucky if I find a car."

               Banier asked politely how Sarah and I felt about the Vaucluse region.  Our reiteration of Owen's sentiments metaphorically dug our feet firmly into the French soil.  As we came upon our property, the priest expressed genuine approval of Sarah's landscaping of the back yard and he was surprised to find the two caves so well preserved.
                "And at no extra cost in the rent?" he asked playfully.
                Using a guiding tactic that seemed almost instinctive to his profession, and a suggestion of the highest confidence between counselor and client, Banier steered Owen from us and toward the furthest end of the yard.  There, as Owen related to Sarah and me later during our supper, Banier began the interview.  He played with the rim of his cap.
                "Has it been difficult, adjusting yourself to France?" asked Banier.
                "Except for the language, no, not really," Owen smiled.
                "I've never been to the United States," said Banier.  "The closest time was a visit to Montreal.  I have family in Quebec.  And, oh, this is interesting," his demeanor perked up.  "I have an uncle and aunt in Washington, D.C.  My uncle is a professor.  His wife...I don't know what she does.  What does the wife of a university professor do?"
                "Plan ways to leave her husband," suggested Owen.  "I don't know.  What university?"
                "George Washington," was the reply.
                Owen recognized the institution and spoke briefly about their basketball team, "The Colonials," and the university's excellent proximity to the avenues of power, both in geographical and human terms.
                "Father Revenant has spent time in North America," said Banier.  "You know that, yes?  Do you know a lot about Fr. Revenant?"
                "I'm not his biographer," Owen smiled.  "We've talked."
                "He thinks very highly of you," Banier said.
                "He's a good man," Owen replied.
                "Is he a good priest?"
                "That's hard to say," said Owen.  "I'm not a good Catholic."
                "Why, because you don't go to church?"
                "No," replied Owen.  "Because of a lot of things."
                "Perhaps Father Revenant can help you along those lines," suggested Banier.
                "He hasn't overlooked me," said Owen.
                "No, of course not," returned the priest.  "But you know that I have talked to a number of people about him since the reception in my honor at Monsieur Ebert's.  Not a great report card, I'm sorry to say.  Of course, Decaux, the postmaster, loves him and the butcher…"
                "Yes, Meroux.  He liked him," said Banier.  "But I really wanted to wait and hear from you.  You are the one whose point of view would be the most interesting."
                "Why's that?"
                Banier waited a few moments before answering.  Owen stepped back in his mind in order to observe who it was that was addressing him.  In a moment, it came to him.  This priest, this red-haired Catholic priest was a product of connections.  He was an excellent example of good breeding and the possession of relatives and social equals in the most strategic back rooms.  Each family member had placed him- or herself in the right hallway; had said the right things; had eaten the right foods; had paid the right compliments.
                Although a career in the priesthood didn't necessarily bring with it financial or marital success, it could bring further connections to the other members of the family.  Owen believed that Fr. Banier, though he would never dream of hurting anyone or that he would never turn toward cruelty as a personality buffer, nevertheless belonged to the "network;" as if he were an Oxford man or a floating Brahmin in cosmopolitan society.  He would move swiftly and pleasantly through cities and situations thanks to the network.  His dignified yet compassionate stance put Owen off somewhat, since he had never enjoyed the consequential vibrations emitted by a life without anxiety.  I on the other hand found the red-haired priest interesting.
                "I'll tell you why I wanted to hear from you," Banier said.  "You are his friend.  You are a Catholic although not a good one.  And you are an American.  I thought your perspective might add a freshness to the interviews with the locals."  Owen remained silent.  "When I spoke to Monsieur Ebert, he talked more about you than about Fr. Revenant.  You have mutual interests.  Monsieur Ebert of course enjoyed speaking in philosophical tomes.  He is after all a writer.  But that's beside the point.  It was you I wanted to reference.  It was your opinion of Fr. Revenant's habits that I wanted to hear, ever since you and your friend kept such an eye on him at the reception.  And I'm glad that you did.  I've been given only the best words about you and your friends.  Your presence in Cadenet has been a much talked about subject.  As you know, you are well-regarded among the members of the chess Club.  That in itself can recommend you to the Chamber of Deputies," he laughed.  "Maybe you can have an influence on Fr. Revenant?  Maybe you can help him along those lines?!"
                They both listened as birds in the trees above them became noisy and appeared to be fighting.  Banier returned to the business at hand.
                "I also have a conscience," he said.  "And I have to answer to a Cardinal.  I'm a good priest, and I can't lie about what I've seen here."
                Banier jumped off the wall and faced Owen.
                "I don't know if you'll remember me in the years to come," he said.  "But if you do, and you think of the reception and my time here in Cadenet, please don't remember me for the wrong reasons."
                He shook Owen's hand.
                "Fr. Banier," began Owen.  "There's nothing you, the Cardinal, nor the Pope need to worry about when it comes to Cadenet."
                "I hope you're right," Banier said.  "Goodbye."
                After supper, while I cleared the table, I asked Owen how he felt during that conversation.
                "To tell you the truth, Walt, I didn't know what the hell was going on.  Who was giving the answers and who was asking the questions?  I don't know."  He looked at Sarah.  "Am I wearing a collar or what?"

                "It is some world out there, eh!" exclaimed Monsieur Meroux, later, dealing cards around a table.  "You're not getting paid to wear a priest's collar, Owen.  So forget about it."
                In a back room at night, behind the closed-up shop of the butcher, there were sitting Meroux, Owen, Mr. Benoit, Ebert and Sgt. Félix Genargues at a table ready to play poker.  Money lay in piles before them as Ebert smoked his double cigarettes.
  Meroux clasped an unlit cigar between his teeth.  Félix chewed gum and Mr. Benoit feasted on chocolate covered raisins.  Owen's vices weren't on the table: he counted the number of seconds Ebert held the smoke in his lungs; he counted how many times Félix looked at his watch before he continued stacking his coins; he watched Meroux become acquainted with the cards; he counted Benoit's raisins and how after each toss into his mouth Benoit would count the bowl to see how many he had left.  Glasses of amber beer stood in front of each of them.  It was homemade beer from Gerard's restaurant.
                The first hand was an easy one.  Each player expected Meroux to win since he was the dealer and because he enjoyed a reputation of good luck in cards, meats, and the ladies of the town.
                "You know," Meroux said, "choosing the right piece of meat is like making love.  If you practice and pay attention, you automatically focus on the pleasure of others.  It can bring you years of pleasure in return.  Owen!  You are a lucky man.  Sarah is very particular about her market.  To me she comes.  She knows what she likes.  She knows what is good, no?"
                Owen agreed and thanked him, remembering what Sarah had said of Meroux earlier.
                "That says something about her."
                "What does that say?" asked Benoit.
                "I won't say it here," replied Meroux.  "It is Monsieur Owen's privacy we are discussing.  How's the beer?" he asked them.
                Owen and the others concurred it was an excellent batch.
                "It's as close as I'll get to Gerard's place.  Buying his beer," said Meroux.
                "Meroux," said Owen.
                "Why don't you ever go there?  Or even to the Mauvais Marin?"
                "Oh, non, non, jamais in restaurants.  I never eat in restaurants," Meroux said lecturing and playing his hand.  He won.
                "I can't bear the thought of a stranger overcooking my meat.  The sensitivity of most chefs today is a sin."
                He patted his gut several times.  His smooth, dark Arab skin and brilliant eyes were offset by the light-colored clothing he wore.  To me, he often looked like an onyx suspended in a chamois cloth.
                "Makes me sick," Meroux continued.  "You should come to my house, Owen.  Come by at the end of summer.  I have a delicious fox to cook for you and the beautiful Sarah.  You are familiar with Camus?"
                "Yes," replied Owen, dealing the cards and wondering how that fit into the conversation.  "I like him very much."
                "Ah!  Good," said Meroux.  "Camus, Algeria, and I, same town.  Same loss of innocence," he squeezed Owen's upper arm and smiled.  "You know, Camus liked a good fox stew.  But his favorite dish was couscous."
                "Simple tastes for a complex man," mused Ebert.
                "A saint," blurted Meroux.  "He would've been invited to Fr. Revenant's soiree."
                "Oh," remarked Ebert.
                "A common man," grunted Meroux.  "I am too common, no?"
                "What're you trying to say, Meroux?" asked Owen.
                "His feelings are hurt," said Benoit.
                "We had an impression to make," said Ebert.
                "On a priest?" Meroux exclaimed.
                "I had to be selective," Ebert insisted.  "I had to make a good showing, a Who's Who."
                "And am I a disgrace?  Am I a man who could not be trusted?" asked Meroux.  "I give you your meat!"
                "We drew lots," said Ebert, staring at his cards, avoiding the butcher's eyes.
                "And I wasn't in it, eh?"
                "I'll make it up to you," said Ebert, throwing in a coin.
                "A couple bottles of Irish whisky," pronounced Meroux.
                "Done," said Ebert.
                "You heard about Decaux?" Félix asked the group, breaking free of Ebert and Meroux.
                "He's got his transfer!" Benoit said with anticipation.
                "No, no, I mean about his wife," said Félix.
                "What about her?" asked Ebert, throwing down his cards.
                Benoit and Félix folded.  Owen and Meroux raised each other twice with Meroux winning the hand.
                "She's trying to get rid of him," said Félix.
                "Who?" asked Benoit.
                "Decaux's wife!  Who else," replied Félix, exasperated.  "She uses the salt routine from Haiti.  Sprinkles it down after he leaves the house, then sweeps the floor after him.  He's not supposed to come back."
                "Why?" asked Owen.
                "She blames him for their children's problems," said Félix.
                "I love to take Georges's money," Meroux said.  "And it's no surprise to take yours, Owen."
                "You don't know him," said Benoit.
                "He's un rat de bibliothèque, no? A bookworm," replied Meroux.  "Just like Georges.  What does he know about poker?"
                That was the last hand Meroux would win.  Perhaps Owen did read a lot, but he played poker like he played chess; unannounced, unprepossessing, quietly, roguishly.  He'd perfected his card playing skills with repetitious determination while he was growing up with Sylvester and spending time with his grandfather, an ardent poker player himself.  It wasn't that Owen won so much, it was that he won so unsuspectingly.
                "No one to blame at Decaux's except the kids themselves," said Meroux, looking at his cards, discarding, and realigning his newly drawn ones.  "A rotten bunch they are.  Merde.  These cards are a pity."
                "Want to hear the latest?" asked Félix, tossing his cards.
                "More horrors?" Ebert said.
                "Decaux's daughter," continued the policeman.  "She left her husband.  A three-time loser if you ask me.  The husband.  First wife dies in a crash outside Carpentras.  Squashed like a bug between a van and a truck.  Messy.  She left him with a little girl to take care of.  The second wife--is that Owen who is winning the pot?"
                "It would appear as much," said Ebert.
                "--The second wife beats the little girl daily.  So they divorce.  Enter Decaux's kid.  She's sitting one night playing cards with Baou.  He's her friend from way back, you know.  They grew up together, yes?"  Félix placed his two index fingers together and tapped them against each other twice.  "They're playing chess.  You have played Baou yet, Owen?  No?  Oh well, at her feet is her Labrador bitch and a litter of six puppies, sucking on those teats like there's no tomorrow.  She's going to sell them come market day next month.  So the husband comes in, watches them play, and out of the blue tosses a dead mouse onto the table, next to the captured pieces.  He says, Here, this is for you.  Sell it at the market."
                Benoit, Owen, and Ebert all groaned with disgust as Meroux slid the next pile of coins toward Owen.  (The strangest thing of all, Owen told me later, was that although they said nothing, the men were getting madder and madder as he began to win pot after pot of money, once Meroux had made the fatal "bookworm" remark.)
                "Baou gets up," continued Félix, "the table nearly falls over.  He says, ‘What the hell are you doing, you dirty fuck?’  And the husband, he laughs.  He laughs.  Now, you know Baou, he doesn't take shit from anyone.  He pushes the husband.  He wants to fight him.  But the husband walks away.  Baou pushes him again.  No dice.  He's not going to fight a cop.  Next day, the kid comes crying to Decaux.  'The dirty bastard! The cocksucker! I'll kill him!  I'll kill him!'  You see, after she went to work, the husband came home for lunch and took the pups out back, filled a tub with water, and drowned them all.  Baou and I arrested him yesterday."
                "Disgusting," said Ebert.
                "A strange world out there," said Meroux.
                "I'm never leaving Cadenet," pronounced Benoit.  "Fuck everyone.  I'm staying put."
                "Why did he do it?" Owen asked.
                "Why?" repeated Félix.  "He hates Decaux's daughter because she loves him and pities him.  He hates Baou.  He hates his life.  That's the worst part.  When a man hates his life, he's a dangerous man."
                “An honest man, nevertheless,” said Ebert.
                "Félix will have to arrest you, Owen," said Meroux, "if you keep winning."
                "This is going to be embarrassing," said Félix.  "I'll have to face my wife with empty pockets."
                "I lost more than half my money," said Ebert.  "You are a surprise, Owen."
                "And myself," added the wobbly Benoit.  "I could give you my raisins if you like."
                The French had come to play cards that night, Ebert had explained later on, with the preordination that Owen would be easy to beat.  He was an American in France.  They believed Americans were predictable.  Never subtle:  They were classless players from the former colonies.  When Owen began to strip them of their money, he did so without ego, without fanfare.  His raises were never loud and exacting, yet he managed, through skillful playing, to have taken all of their money by the time most of the beer had run out.  At the night's end, their opinions of Americans, especially those of Owen, were dramatically changed.  They gave themselves over to Owen's successes in the chess Club as a matter of intellectual brilliance.  But that same brilliance, they were sure, couldn't possibly transfer over to playing poker.  Poker, they believed, was a game of guts.  Owen's guts, they now understood, were tough.  They stood up, toasted the victor with the last of their beer, and allowed Meroux to serve them some of the sliced shoulder of roast pork, stuffed with herbs and wrapped in cabbage, and which had been simmering all day in white wine.
                "I don't understand something, Meroux," said Owen.
                "Speak away," the butcher replied as he prepared dishes for all of his friends.
                "You're cooking pork?"
                "Surprised, yes?" said Meroux, and he placed a dish in front of Benoit who had in turn handed Félix's plate to Meroux.  "Cooking but not eating.  I am a Catholic years ago."
                "Here we go again with the story," moaned Félix, his plate in front of him.  He handed Ebert's to Meroux and began to eat.
                "It's not a bad story," said Ebert, "as stories go."
                "It's never ending," said the policeman, looking at his watch.
                "Are you on duty?" Owen asked him.
                "Naturally," replied Félix.
                "It borders on the maudlin, true," admitted Ebert.  "But…."
                "Thank you, Georges.  Well, for the sake of Monsieur Owen, I will say that it all began in '61.  We were fighting for independence from France.  You know the history, Owen.  We were under the rule of France for over a hundred years; enough was enough.  A hundred-thousand Muslims died; ten-thousand French; and we were the barbarians.  There were outrages committed by both sides.  Terrorist bombings.  Tortures.  You read Camus, so you know the debate.  I don't have to tell you about his problems with the Left."
                Meroux was referring to Camus' unequivocal denunciation of terrorism.  Camus--Owen told me years ago while we were still in college--an Algerian-born Frenchman, argued against both the Left and the Right political activists who would support terrorism in the name of justice.  He refused to accept the maxim that one's brother was to be sacrificed rather than one's principles.  Meroux claimed him for his own, as did Félix's family.  They (Félix's family) didn't take up arms against the Algerian fighters nor did they support them against the French government.  But Meroux felt, as did Camus, that it didn't mean principles were without meaning.
                "The French," explained the butcher, "came to the point of despising their political opponents so, that they would welcome a foreign dictator instead of accepting defeat by any enemy in their own house.  I think that is how they came to their demise.  You see, Owen, I was a part of that cruelty.  My comrades and I destroyed a little place outside of Biskra.  It was supposed to be a French army intelligence post.  It wasn't.  They were all civilians.  We killed most of them.  They had nothing to do with the war, the poor saps.  Whole families were burned alive in their houses.  Just shot up and burned out.  It was a mess.  Your country thought My Lai was a disaster." 
He shook his head and at last lit his half-cigar.  "Americans were such innocents.  We left and drove south to Tozeur and Touggourt.  When I came back to that town, assigned to a reconnaissance unit, I realized what had been done.  These were French people.  They were Algerians.  They were my brothers, Owen, I murdered my brothers.  I hid my face in shame.  I ran behind a wall and prayed on my knees to the souls of their ancestors for forgiveness.  I was wrong.  My countrymen were wrong.  The French were wrong.  We were all madmen.  But these poor people were dead.  How was I going to accept all that killing?  How much more was I going to allow happen?
                "One of the families we killed was the Genargues, Félix's family.  He was hiding in a well, terrified.  He was only 15 years old and had watched his people being massacred.  I saw the same thing done to Arabs.  They slaughtered us; we slaughtered them.  One night, he slipped into camp, got hold of a gun, and began shooting everything in sight.  Before he could be gunned down, I found him and knocked him to the ground.  My men wanted to kill him but I wouldn't have it.  He was a boy.  He survived.  He deserved that much from us, don't you think?  He was half-crazy come to think of it.  I sent him with a safe conduct to Oran.  But before I did, I looked into his eyes.  I listened to his voice.  Here was Algerian killing Algerian.  I was Arab, he was French.  But we were still brothers, no?  We lived together, one country!  So I asked him, 'What can I do, Félix?  What should I do?'
                "He stared long and hard at me, because I knew he hated me.  He said I believed Allah had the power to forgive, no?  And I wanted the forgiveness of men.  If I wanted that forgiveness, right now, and especially from him, then I should be prepared to confess to men and accept whatever came from their absolution.  My family were fellahin, villagers from Oran, and were westernized for decades.  I knew what I was getting myself into.  I couldn't turn back.  How could I?  So I accepted the sacraments and here I am.  Only my wife and son are Muslim."
                "You the only one carrying the burden?" asked Owen.
                "I gave the order to destroy the village," said Meroux.
                Except for Owen, everyone in that back room knew the story by heart.  Its conclusion still left them silent with reverence.  Meroux had killed innocent people for his principles; his brother had killed other brothers; the cost of that decision would be the surrender of his faith.  
                During the ride to back Ebert's house and then on to la Fontaine, Félix explained to Owen that Cadenet might be tiny in comparison to his beloved Manhattan, but it was not without its drama.  Meroux, after establishing his first charcuterie in Marseille, paid for Félix's travel and vocational training, enabling him to become a respected agent de police.  Their friendship moved with them as they both eventually settled in the Vaucluse.
                In front of la Fontaine, Félix sat with Owen for a moment before letting him out of the police car.  He unwrapped another stick of gum and chewed.
                "Many men," began Félix, "use violence to support their moral reflexes."
                "Are you asking me if I'd go along with that?" Owen said.
                 "A policeman entering into morality is dangerous," said Félix.
                "You seem to think everything's dangerous," smiled Owen.
                "Comes with the territory." Félix stretched his arms forward and then reclined against the head rest.  “You have used violence to settle your morality, Monsieur Owen?”
                “Somebody’s been talking to you.”
                “No, no, you are here, you are sick, when you could be sick in your own country.”
                Owen looked at him without answering.
                "I don't believe in beating one's breast everyday.  You know, mea culpa, mea culpa.  This country has been filled with guilt, and guilt isn't going to erase the damages or the mistakes.  Make amends is what I say.  Clean it up.  I say look at it in relation to the future, not the past.  That's what Meroux thought, too.  That's why I'm here.  It's a good lesson, no?"