Author's Note: So, this is the whole story. Start to finish. I'm adding it as a separate chapter for anyone who added this story to their story alerts instead of just erasing the whole story and starting from scratch. If anyone is reading this for the first time just a quick thing: John Knowles' words are contained in these ' ' apostrophe things. I tried to keep it as consistent as possible so I'm sorry for any discrepancies (and any other errors, for that matter) but I wanted this to be as readable as possible!
P.S. Beta'd by my good friend Desdemona Kakalose
I suppose it all started when Finny was in the hospital. I started having time to think about things more. 'I spent as much time as I could alone in our room, trying to empty my mind of every thought, to forget where I was, even who I was. One evening, when I was dressing for dinner in this numbed frame of mind, an idea occurred to me, the first with any energy behind it since Finny fell from the tree. I decided to put on his clothes. We wore the same size, and although he always criticized mine he used to wear them frequently, quickly forgetting what belonged to him and to me. I never forgot, and that evening I put on his cordovan shoes, his pants, and I looked for and finally found his pink shirt, neatly laundered in a drawer. Its high, somewhat stiff collar against my neck, the wide cuffs touching my wrists, the rich material against my skin excited a sense of strangeness and distinction; I felt like some nobleman, some Spanish grandee' even though I'd called Finny a fairy when he'd put on the same shirt and now the overwhelming shirt made me think that it was Finny clinging to me himself.
'But when I looked in the mirror it was no remote aristocrat I had become, no character out of daydreams. I was Phineas, Phineas to the life. I even had a humorous expression in my face, his sharp, optimistic awareness. I had no idea why this gave me such intense relief, but it seemed, standing there in Finny's triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the confusions of my own character again.
I didn't go down to dinner. The sense of transformation stayed with me throughout the evening, and even when I undressed and went to bed. That night I slept easily, and it was only on waking up that this illusion was gone, and I was confronted with myself, and what I had done to Finny.
Sooner or later, it had to happen, and that morning it did.'
Finny was better, and Dr. Stanpole told me I could visit him for a while; he'd been asking for me. Dr. Stanpole also said that Finny would even be walking again, but not anytime soon. This hit me harder than anything the good doctor said while he walked me to the infirmary. Sports were Finny's life; what would he do without them? There wasn't much time for thinking as I was left alone in Finny's room.
'Phineas lay among pillows and sheets, his left leg, enormous in its white bindings, suspended a little above the bed. A tube led from a glass bottle into his right arm. Some channel began to close inside me and I knew I was about to black out.
"Come on in," I heard him say. "You look worse than I do."'
This made me think about putting on his clothes, looking and feeling like him. I really needed to tell him about the tree, about how I purposefully jounced it, how it had all been my fault. But then words about his clothes, about him, about my newly-found confidence, formed on the back of my tongue, formed a knot of apprehension in my stomach, and blurred the edge of my vision even more with black. I sat down in the chair next to Finny's bed and studied him silently. 'He seemed to have diminished physically in the few days which had passed, and to have lost his tan. His eyes studied me as though I were the patient. They no longer had their sharp good humor, but had become clouded and visionary.' Perhaps this would give him an open mind… 'After a while I realized that he had been given a drug. "What are you looking so sick about?" he went on.' It was now or never, I thought.
'"Finny, I—"' Then suddenly, all the words left, I couldn't force any more sound from my lips and every previous thought I'd had about the tree and about how I might have intentionally moved it so he'd fall left my brain. I knew I couldn't have done that to Finny, my Finny. I continued to look at his shining face, and I wanted to touch it. There was no way I could have done something to deliberately harm Finny, no way. His eyes were still on me, pinning me to the seat, making me feel as if I were bound and gagged. We sat in silence, with my eyes averted and letting his eyes slide over me, causing a blush to creep up my neck and face. I don't know what he was thinking, but inside me there was a pressure building.
Finally, I had to do something.
"Finny." It wasn't a confession. This was more of a declaration, a whispered promise of something more to come. What more was to come? I questioned myself.
At this point, I was standing above Finny's bed, hovering over his incapacitated form, and could not stop myself from reaching out, from touching his face and soothing him with incoherent words and smoothing his pallid cheek with my thumb. A blissful smile slowly spread across his lips as he closed his eyes softly and he reached up to grab my wrist to keep my hand where it was; I knew at that moment that it was the beginning—of what, I was not sure.
After that, I went about my studies, wondering when Finny was going to get out of the infirmary and go back to classes. I was in the middle of a French translation when the door swung open. I didn't look up, expecting Leper.
"Mr. Forrester," it was one of the nurses I'd seen milling about in the infirmary while I had been visiting Finny. "Dr. Stanpole has asked that you pack all of Phineas' things. He's going home."
"He's leaving?" I asked, surprised and a bit disappointed already by the thought.
"Yes. Dr. Stanpole seems to thinks it's best." She stuck around only long enough for me to agree.
I brought all of Finny's things down to him in his brown suitcase.
"Thanks, ol' pal. I sure do appreciate this." Finny's smile was wide and I couldn't help but smile back as I stood by the doorway. Still in his bed, he sat watching me with an odd expression, making me a bit uncomfortable.
Not sure of what else to do, I brought his suitcase over to him. He chuckled darkly to himself.
"It's going to take some time to get used to this." He said, avoiding eye contact with me. It frustrated me to no end. Why won't he look at me? My head was screaming as I stared at him as he stared at his bound leg.
There was a strange silence that fell over the room, allowing my mind to wonder back to what had happened the last time I'd been in the infirmary room with him. After a while, I couldn't really stand to continue standing there so I sat in the chair next to the bed and began awkwardly fiddling with the hem of my shirt.
More time passed between us and still neither of us said anything, something odd for Finny—someone who never stopped talking. I got tired of sitting there so uncomfortably and began to pace beside the bed. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw him look up at me.
"Gene." He said, grabbing my wrist and forcing me to stop moving. "Gene, I…" now he was staring right into my eyes, making my collar a little tighter with nerves.
"Finny…" I cut him off, trying to tug my hand back and found myself caught completely off guard by the strength he actually had. I yanked back even harder and nearly fell on my ass when he let go.
"Um, Phineas?" My face burned with chagrin and I cleared my throat, not able to meet his eyes.
"Yes?" he mumbled, peeking up with the same level of embarrassment.
"Um…I think it's time for you to go…" I didn't want to end our meeting if this was going to be the last time I was going to see him for an indeterminate amount of time but I had to escape the thoughts going through my head at Phineas' touch.
"You're probably right, Gene. Why don't you go fetch the doc?" He seemed downtrodden and I avoided looking at him, instead stooping to pick up his suit case and find the doctor.
Outside, there was an ambulance that took Phineas back to Boston.
'The Summer Session closed, officially came to an end. But to me it seemed irresolutely suspended, halted strangely before its time. I went south for a month's vacation in my home town and spent it in an atmosphere of reverie and unreality, as though I had lived in that month once already and had not been interested by it the first time either.' Things felt wrong without Phineas there.
During the month off, I had a lot of…uncomfortable dreams. The figure in the dreams was rather vague—as dreams often are—but it was very obvious to me who it was when I woke up one too many times with Phineas' name on my lips and come on my legs and bed sheets. If he ever came back to school, I'd be royally fucked.
'At the end of September I started back towards Devon on the jammed, erratic trains of September, 1942. I reached Boston seventeen hours behind schedule; there would be prestige in that at Devon, where those of us from long distances with travel adventures to report or invent held the floor for several days after vacation,' but I planned to keep my head down this time around. I had no desire to say a word to anyone about my travels. It's not as though I'd paid much attention to them anyway; my mind had been clouded—just like during the summer vacation—with thoughts of Phineas. Who would want to hear what I had been thinking about him?
'Peace had deserted Devon. Although not in the look of the campus and village; they retained much of their dreaming summer calm. Fall had barely touched the full splendor of the trees, and during the height of the day the sun briefly regained its summertime power. In the air there was only an edge of coolness to imply the coming winter.
But all had been caught up, like the first fallen leaves, by a new and energetic wind. The Summer Session—a few dozen boys being force-fed education, a stopgap while most of the masters were away and most of the traditions stored against sultriness—the Summer Session was over. It had been the school's first, but this was its one hundred and sixty-third Winter Session, and the forces reassembled for it scattered the easygoing summer spirit like so many fallen leaves.
The masters were in their places for the first chapel, seated in stalls in front of and at right angles to us, suggesting by their worn expressions and careless postures that they had never been away at all.
In an apse of the church sat their wives and children, the objects during the tedious winter months of our ceaseless, ritual speculation (Why did he ever marry her? What in the world ever made her marry him? How could the two of them produce those little monsters?). The masters favored seersuckers on this mild first day, the wives broke out their hats. Five of the younger teachers were missing, gone into the war. Mr. Pike had come in his Naval ensign's uniform; some reflex must have survived Midday. His face was as mild and hopeless as ever; mooning above the snappy, rigid blouse, it gave him the air of an impostor.
Continuity was the keynote. The same hymns were played, the same sermon given, the same announcements made. There was one surprise; maids had disappeared "for the Duration," a new phrase then. But the continuity was stressed, not beginning again but continuing the education of young men according to the unbroken traditions of Devon.
I knew, perhaps I alone knew, that this was false. Devon had slipped through their fingers during the warm over-looked months. The tradition had been broken, the standards let down, all rules forgotten. In those bright days of truancy we had never thought of What We Owed Devon, as the sermon this opening day exhorted us to do. We had thought of ourselves, of what Devon owed us, and we had taken all of that and much more. Today's hymn was Dear Lord and Father of Mankind Forgive Our Foolish Ways; we had never heard that during the summer either. Ours had been a wayward gypsy music, leading us down all kinds of foolish gypsy ways, unforgiven. I was glad of it, I had almost caught the rhythm of it, the dancing, clicking jangle of it during the summer.
Still it had come to an end, in the last long rays of daylight at the tree, when Phineas fell. It was forced on me as I sat chilled through the chapel service, that this probably vindicated the rules of Devon after all, wintery Devon. If you broke rules, then they broke you. That, I think, was the real point of the sermon on this first morning.
After the service ended we set out seven hundred strong, the regular winter throng of the Devon School, to hustle through our lists of appointments. All classrooms were crowded, swarms were on the crosswalks, the dormitories were as noisy as factories, every bulletin board was a forest of notices.
We had been an idiosyncratic, leaderless band in the summer, undirected except by the eccentric notions of Phineas. Now the official class leaders and politicians could be seen taking charge, assuming as a matter of course their control of these walks and fields which had belonged only to us. I had the same room which Finny and I had shared during the summer, but across the hall, in the large suite where Leper Lepellier had dreamed his way through July and August amid sunshine and dust motes and windows through which the ivy had reached tentatively into his room, here Brinker Hadley had established his headquarters. Emissaries were already dropping in to confer with him. Leper, luckless in his last year as all the others, had been moved to a room lost in an old building off somewhere in the trees towards the gym.
After morning classes and lunch I went across to see Brinker, started into the room and then stopped. Suddenly, I did not want to see the trays of snails which Leper had passed the summer collecting replaced by Brinker's files. Not yet. Although it was something to have this year's dominant student across the way. Ordinarily he should have been a magnet for me, the center of all the excitement and influences in the class. Ordinarily this would have been so—if the summer, the gypsy days, had not intervened. Now Brinker, with his steady wit and ceaseless plans, Brinker had nothing to offer in place of Leper's dust motes and creeping ivy and snails.
I didn't go in. In any case I was late for my afternoon appointment. I never used to be late. But today I was, later than I had to be. I was supposed to report to the Crew House, down on the banks of the lower river.' I had been distracted by a distant, happy memory of Finny, something I thought of every time I came upon this river, now.
'Phineas in exaltation, balancing on one foot on the prow of a canoe like a river god, his raised arms invoking the air to support him, face transfigured, body a complex set of balances and compensations, each muscle aligned in perfection with all the others to maintain this supreme fantasy of achievement, his skin glowing from immersions, his whole body hanging between river and sky as though he had transcended gravity and might by gently pushing upwards with his foot glide a little way higher and remain suspended in space, encompassing all the glory of the summer and offering it to the sky.
Then, an infinitesimal veering of the canoe, and the lines of his body would break, the soaring arms collapse, up shoot an uncontrollable leg, and Phineas would tumble into the water, roaring with rage.' I smiled at the thought and walked on.
On my way back from the House I noticed 'someone coming toward me along the bent, broken lane which led to the dormitory, a lane out of old London, ancient houses on either side leaning as though soon to tumble into it, cobblestones heaving underfoot like a bricked-over ocean squall—a figure of great height advanced down them toward me. It could only be Mr. Ludsbury; no one else could pass over these stones with such contempt for the idea of tripping.
"Just one moment, Forrester, if you please." Mr. Ludsbury's voice was bass, British, and his Adam's apple seemed to move as much as his mouth when he spoke.' I waited patiently and silently for him to carry on.
'"There's a long distance phone call for you," he continued in the tone of the judge performing the disagreeable duty of telling the defendant his right. "I've written the operator's number on the pad beside the telephone in my study. You may go in and call."
"Thank you very much, sir."
He sailed on down the lane without much further reference to me, and I wondered who was sick at home.
But when I reached his study—low-ceilinged, gloomy with books, black leather chairs, a pipe rack, frayed brown rug, a room which students rarely entered except for a reprimand—I saw on the pad not an operator's number from my home town, but one which seemed to interrupt the beating of my heart.
I called the operator, and listened in wonder while she went through her routine as though this were just any long-distance call, and then her voice left the line and it was pre-empted, and charged, by the voice of Phineas.
"Happy first day of the new academic year!"'
"Thanks, thanks a lot, it's a—you sound—I'm glad to hear your—"' I stumbled over my own words, not really sure what to say to Finny at this moment.
'"Stop stuttering, I'm paying for this. Who're you rooming with?"' The question made me feel guilty. You, if I hadn't pushed you out of a tree. I thought.
'"Nobody. They didn't put anyone else in the room."
"Saving my place for me! Good old Devon."' He sounded fond but his tone quickly changed. '"You wouldn't have let them put anyone else in there, would you?' Gene, no one else thinks of you the way I do, they shouldn't be allowed to take you away from me."
I was infinitely grateful that this wasn't a face-to-face conversation or Finny would have seen the incredible blush that jumped into my face at his words and I wouldn't have been able to hide the strange feeling I got in my stomach either. Plus, I was mortified to find myself so easily aroused when Finny so much as spoke to me; after all, I had been dreaming about that same voice for a month straight.
'"No, of course not.' I couldn't stand sharing another room with anybody but you…" I said, truthfully.
'"That's why I called up. I knew that if you'd let them put anybody else in the room in my place, then you really were crazy. But you didn't, I knew you wouldn't…"' after that, I stopped listening to his words and concentrated heavily on his voice, imagining his beautiful lips forming vowels and consonants and pushing them through to a sound with his tongue, allowing my hand to travel down into my pants, palming the tent forming there.
"Gene? Gene? What are you doing over there? You're breathing's just gotten really heavy." Finny sounded worried and I was impossibly more embarrassed than I already had been, caught pleasuring myself while Finny spoke to me.
"Finny, ah! Finny, just keep talking. It doesn't matter what you say. Just keep talking!"
"Um, hell no. I'm paying for this, Gene. All for nothing…" I know he continued to rage at me for wasting his money, even though he was the one who made the decision to make the call in the first place, but I didn't hear it anyway; I was busy pumping my hand as hard and fast I could, unabashed at the time.
It didn't take long before I felt myself lose it, making a mess of my trousers and almost screaming into the phone, heaving for breath as the line went silent.
"Oh my God, Gene did you just—" quickly coming back to the present and realizing what I'd just done—in Mr. Ludsbury's office, with Finny on the telephone—I slammed the receiver down, ending any possibility of Finny's magnificent voice reaching my ears.
Hoping Mr. Ludsbury was somewhere on the other side of campus by that point, I dashed from the office, praying that no one saw me or stopped me on the way back to my room.
Once in the safety of my and Finny's room and in a clean set of pants, I thought back to our conversation…trying to think of what Finny had said. I recalled he asked about sports but I was distracted and didn't answer. I figured he'd be disappointed with me when he learned that I was simply a crew manager. It was 'as though when Dr. Stanpole had said, "Sports are finished" he had been speaking of me.' It was almost as if that part of Finny was also a part of me and when he'd lost sports, I'd lost them too. An image of Finny in bed came to mind, and I instantly thought of what had just happened on the phone with him. I was embarrassed but not embarrassed enough for me to stop thinking about it. It was as if 'I had lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first: to become part of Phineas.
Brinker Hadley came across to see me late that afternoon. I had taken a shower to wash off the' stickiness clinging to the inside of my thighs.
'I washed the traces off me and then put on a pair of chocolate brown slacks, a pair which Phineas had been particularly critical of when he wasn't wearing them, and a blue flannel shirt. Then, with nothing to do until my French class at five o'clock, I began turning over in my mind the question of' what to do about Finny.
'But Brinker came in. I think he made a point of visiting all the rooms near him the first day. "Well, Gene," his beaming face appeared around the door. Brinker looked the standard preparatory school article in his gray gabardine suit with square, hand-sewn-looking jacket pockets, a conservative necktie, and dark brown cordovan shoes. His face was all straight lines—eyebrows, mouth, nose, everything—and he carried his six feet of height straight as well. He looked but happened not to be athletic, being too busy with politics, arrangements, and offices. There was nothing idiosyncratic about Brinker unless you saw him from behind; I did as he turned to close the door after him. The healthy rump, and it is that, without any sense of derision at all, that I recall as Brinker's salient characteristic, those healthy, determined, not over-exaggerated but definite and substantial buttocks.
"Here you are in your solitary splendor," he went on genially. "I can see you have real influence around here. This big room all to yourself. I wish I knew how to manage things like you." He grinned confidingly and sank down on my cot, leaning on his elbow in a relaxed, at-home way.' I knew by the way he was looking at me that he had caught me staring at him. There was that glint in his eyes. And he was charmingly handsome, in his own way, as he looked up at me that way. It made me squirm and there was a warm pit in my stomach. I stood in front of him and all I could think of at that moment was kissing him, lying in his arms. I didn't know why the impulse came to me. But it did not repulse me. It seemed like the thing to do and, judging by that beseeching look, Brinker wanted it too. Or maybe more.
And before I had time to finish my sentence or really even contemplate doing what I was considering doing, Brinker had grabbed the back of my head forcefully. My face was inches away from his and I could feel his breath on my lips. An excited, nervous shiver forced through my stomach and limbs pulling me towards him, my lips moving the fractional space to make contact with his. As a kid, I'd imagined what it was like to kiss someone and since I figured it would be a woman because that was the thing to do, I imagined soft, yielding lips. Brinker's lips were neither soft nor yielding. They were rough, worn from the sun and cold air. I tried to stick my tongue in his mouth but he fought me, bit me, and forced his tongue down my own throat. I had started on top but before long, I was beneath him and he was ravaging me.
From there, it didn't take long to escalate; we were both unclothed and we were rutting wildly together, my thoughts fleetingly going over the fact that I'd just taken a shower and would need another one.
I'd fallen asleep, my head resting on Brinker's bare chest and my muscles were pretty sore. Stretching, breaking up the lactic acid, I woke Brinker from his own sleep and began to re-dress. Glancing at my watch, I realized I'd only been asleep for a little under an hour, giving me still plenty of free time before French.
'"I feel like a smoke, don't you? Let's go down to the Butt Room."' I suggested lazily, pulling the flannel over my head, mussing my hair further.
'"Yes, yes. To the dungeon with you."' He chuckled throatily, rolling off the bed and locating his own clothing.
In a way, 'the Butt Room was something like a dungeon. It was in the basement, or the bowels, of the dormitory.' It wasn't a great place to be. 'The school's policy, in order to discourage smoking, was to make these rooms as depressing as possible. The windows were small and dirty, the old leather furniture spilled its innards, the tables were mutilated, the walls ash-colored, the floor concrete.' It was a good place to get rid of thoughts and just stare at the walls while you clouded your mind with the smoke from your cigarettes.
'"Here's your prisoner, gentlemen," announced Brinker to the other ten boys already in the room, seizing my neck and pushing me into the Butt Room ahead of him' playfully like we hadn't just had sex, like those kinds of words weren't supposed to get me hot all over. "'I'm turning him over to the proper authorities."
"What are the charges?"
"Doing away with his roommate so he could have a whole room to himself.'" Brinker winked almost lasciviously at me but it seemed to go unnoticed by the rest of the guys. "'Practically fratricide."'
But that really hurt me. For months now, I couldn't deal with the thought of what I'd done to Finny, and here Brinker was, making a mockery of the whole situation. How dare he?
'With a snap of the neck I shook his hand off me, my teeth set, "Brinker…"
He raised an arresting hand. "Not a word. Not a sound. You'll have your day in court."' No one else in the room knew it, but with Brinker's words he was taunting me, reminding me of everything we had just done—he was the dominant one—and telling me that he had every intention of doing it again. And, as long as Finny wasn't coming back, so did I.
But now I needed to get him to shut up about Finny. I couldn't talk about it.
'"God damn it! Shut up! I swear to God you ride a joke longer than anybody I know."' Oh God. Did I just mention Brinker and riding in the same sentence, out loud? 'It was a mistake; the radio had suddenly gone quiet, and my voice ringing in the abrupt, releasing hush galvanized them all.
"So, you killed him, did you?" a boy uncoiled tensely from the couch.
"Well," Brinker qualified judiciously, "not actually killed. Finny's hanging between life and death at home, in the arms of his grief-stricken old mother."' By then, I was seething with anger, barely restraining the urge to punch Brinker's face and run back up to my room. The only way to get out of it without physical violence and letting everyone know I had purposefully allowed Finny to fall was to play along.
'"I didn't do hardly a thing," I began as easily as it was possible for me to do, "I—all I did was drop a little bit…a little pinch of arsenic in his morning coffee."
"Liar!" Brinker glowered at me. "Trying to weasel out of it with a false confession, eh?"
I laughed at that,' but all I could think was shut up shut up shut up. Stop talking about this!
'"We know the scene of crime," Brinker went on, "high in that…that funereal tree by the river. There wasn't any poison, nothing as subtle as that."
"Oh, you know about the tree," I tried to let my face fall guiltily, but it felt instead as though it were being dragged downward. "Yes, huh, yes there was a small, a little contretemps at the tree."
"Tell us everything," a younger boy at the table said huskily,' conspiratorially. 'His attitude seemed to me almost obscene, the attitude of someone who discovers a sexual secret of yours and promises not to tell a soul if you will describe it in detail to him.' Please tell me he didn't pick up on Brinker's innuendos…I prayed silently. I could hardly decide which would be worse.
'"Well," I replied in a stronger voice, "first I stole all his money. Then I found that he cheated on his entrance testes to Devon and I blackmailed his parents about that, then I made love to his sister in Mr. Ludsbury's study, then I…"' it looked like the boys around the room were buying it, like they were all part of some joke. '"then I…" I only had to add, "pushed him out of the tree," and then chain of implausibility would be complete, "then I…" just those few words and perhaps this dungeon nightmare would end.
But I could feel my throat closing on them; I could never say them, never.' I cared too much about Finny. I couldn't lie about these things and throw in that last truth.
'"French, French," I exclaimed. "Enough of this contretemps.' I've got to get to French." 'And I went out.
Going up the stairs I heard a voice from the Butt Room say, "Funny, he came all the way down here and didn't even have a smoke."'
But, all was forgotten. 'The daily lists of appointments lengthened with the rays of the receding autumn sun until the summer, the opening day, even yesterday became by the middle of October something gotten out of the way and forgotten, because tomorrow bristled with so much to do.
There was the local apple crop, threatening to rot because the harvesters had all gone into the army or war factories. We spent several shining days picking them and were paid in cash for it and the novelty and money of these days excited us.
Is the core
of the war
Life at Devon was revealed as still very close to the ways of peace; the war was at worst only a bore, no more taxing to us than a day spent at harvesting in an apple orchard.
Not long afterward, early even for New Hampshire, snow came.' And just like that, the gypsy days were completely left in the past.
'The school was thinly blanketed that night, but the next morning, a bright, almost balmy day, every flake disappeared. The following weekend, however, it snowed again, then two days later much harder, and by the end of that week the ground had been clamped under snow for the winter.
In the same way the war, beginning almost humorously with announcements about maids and days spent at apple-picking, commenced its invasion of the school. The early snow was commandeered as its advance guard.
Leper Lepellier didn't suspect this. It was not in fact evident to anyone at first. But Leper stands out for me as the person who was most often and most emphatically taken by surprise, by this and every other shift in our life at Devon.
The heavy snow paralyzed the railroad yards of one of the large towns south of us on the Boston and Maine line. At chapel the day following the heaviest snowfall, two hundred volunteers were solicited to spend the day shoveling them out as part of the Emergency Usefulness policy adopted by the faculty that fall. Again we would be paid. So, we all volunteered, Brinker and I and Chet Douglass and even, I noticed, Quakenbush.
But not Leper. He generally made little sketches of birds and trees in the back of his notebook during chapel, so that he had probably not heard the announcement. The train to take us south to the word did not arrive until after lunch, and on my way to the station, taking a short cut through a meadow not far from the river, I met Leper.
"You think there's a path through those woods?" he asked in a mild tentative voice when I got near. Leper did not switch easily from one train of thought to another, and even though I was an old friend who he had not talked to in months I didn't mind his taking me for granted now, even at this improbable meeting in a wide, empty field of snow.
"I'm not sure, Leper, but I think there is one at the bottom of the slope."
"Oh yeah, I guess there is.'" I couldn't help staring at him.
"Say, 'what are you doing anyway?" he asked mildly and curiously.
"Going to work on the railroad." He kept gazing mildly and curiously at me. "Shovel out those tracks. That work that they talked about at chapel this morning. You remember."
"Have a nice day of it, anyway," he said.
"I will. You too."
"I will if I find what I'm looking for—a beaver damn. It used to be up the Devon a ways, in a little stream that flows into the Devon. It's interesting to see the way beavers adapt to the winter. Have you ever seen it?"
"No, I never have seen that."
"Well, you might want to come sometime, if I find the place."
"Tell me if you find it."
With Leper it was always a fight, a hard fight to win when you were seventeen years old and lived in a key-up, competing school, to avoiding making fun of him. But as I had gotten to know him better this fight had been easier to win.'
We were all tired at the end of that day.
'Walking back to the school grounds from the railroad station in the descending darkness we overtook a lone figure sliding along the snow-covered edge of the street.
"Will you look at Lepellier," began Brinker irritably.' He was such a bastard.
'"Who does he think he is, the Abominable Snowman?"
"He's just been out skiing around," I said quickly. I didn't want to see today's strained tempers exploding on Leper. Then as we came up beside him, "Did you find the dam, Leper?"
"You know what? I did find it," his smile was wide and unfocused, as though not for me alone but for anyone and anything which wished to share this pleasure with him, "and it was really interesting to see. I took some pictures of it, and if they come out I'll bring them over and show you."
"What dam is that?" Brinker asked me.
"It's a…well a little dam up the river he knows about," I said.
"I don't know of any dam up the river."
"Well, it's not in the Devon itself, it's in one of the…tributaries."
"Tributaries! To the Devon?"
"You know, a little creek or something."' Brinker was trying real hard to prove his dominance over me and all I wanted to do was protect Leper. I liked the kid.
'"What kind of dam is this, anyway?"
"Well," he couldn't be put off with half a story, "it's a beaver dam."
Brinker's shoulders fell under the weight of this news. "That's the kind of place I'm in with a world war going on. A school for photographers of beaver dams."
"The beaver never appeared himself,"' Little 'Leper offered.
Brinker turned elaborately toward him. "Didn't he really?"
"No. But I guess I was pretty clumsy getting close to it, so he might have heard me and been frightened."
"Well," Brinker's expansive, dazed tone suggested that here was one of life's giant ironies, "There you are!"
"Yes," agreed Leper after a thoughtful pause, "there you are."
"Here we are," I said, pulling Brinker around the corner we had reached which led to our dormitory. "So long, Leper. Glad you found it."
"Oh," he raised his voice after us, "how was your day? How did the work go?"
"Just like a stag at eve," Brinker roared back,' trying to hold back a laugh and dipping in to peck at my lips with his own, out of sight of Leper. 'Out of the side of his mouth, to me,' he muttered '"Everybody in this place is either a draft-dodging Kraut or a…a…" the scornful force of his tone turned the word into a curse' and he pulled away from me '"a nat-u-ral-ist!" He grabbed my arm agitatedly. "I'm giving it up, I'm going to enlist. Tomorrow."' I felt something in my stomach bottom out. A million different scenarios started going through my head. What if I never saw him again? What if he got captured by the enemy? What if he went MIA? What if he died?
"Forrester," Brinker's voice was loud in my ear, we were near my room and he looked at me with a half expectant expression. He knew I was thinking about something hard but he didn't want to ask. I looked up into his eyes. "Invite me in." was all he said. And I did. Gladly.
I woke up later, my muscles limp and throbbing from exertion, sweat causing a strange, sticky coolness on my skin. I thought back to earlier as I had lain there, watching Brinker snore lightly, about enlisting, about death.
'The war would be deadly. But I was used to finding something deadly in things that attracted me; there was always something deadly lurking in anything I wanted, anything I loved. And if it wasn't there, as for example with Phineas, then I put it there myself.'
That night 'was a night made for hard thoughts. Sharp stars pierced singly through the blackness, not sweeps of them or clusters of Milky Ways as there might have been in the South, but single, chilled points of light, as unromantic as knife blades. Devon, muffled under the gentle occupation of the snow, was dominated by them; the cold Yankee stars ruled this night. They did not invoke in me thoughts of God, or sailing before the mast, or some great love as the crowded night skies at home had done; I thought, instead, in the light of those cold points, of the decision facing me.
Why go through the motions of getting an education and watch the war slowly chip away at the one thing I had loved here, the peace, the measureless, careless peace of the Devon summer?' The summer spent with Finny and his gypsy ways. 'Others, the Quackenbushes of this world, could calmly watch the war approach them and jump into it at the last and most advantageous instant, as though buying into a stock market. I couldn't.
There was no one to stop me but myself. Putting aside soft reservations about What I Owed Devon and my duty to my parents and so on, I reckoned my responsibilities by the light of the unsentimental night sky and knew that I owed no one anything. I owed it to myself to meet this crisis in my life when I chose, and I chose now.'
After my long and lonely walk, 'I bounced zestfully up the dormitory stairs. Perhaps because my mind still retained the image of the sharp night stars, those few fixed points of light in the darkness, perhaps because of that the warm yellow light streaming from under my own door came as such a shock. It was a simple case of a change of expectation. The light should have been off.' I had turned it off before I left. I remember. 'Instead, as though alive itself, it poured in a yellow slab of brightness from under the door, illuminating the dust and splinters of the hall floor.
I grabbed the knob and swung open the door. He was seated in my chair at the desk, bending down to adjust the gross encumbrance of his leg, so that only the familiar ears set close against his head were visible, and his short-cut brown hair. He looked up with a provocative grin, "Hi pal, where's the brass band?"
Everything that had happened throughout the day,' throughout that session, 'faded like that first false snowfall of the winter. Phineas was back.' Instantly, at the sound of his voice, I thought back to the phone call we had shared a while back and I wondered if Finny knew what had been going on.
'"I can see I never should have left you alone," Phineas went on before I could recover from the impact of finding him there, "Where did you get those clothes!" His bright, indignant eyes swept from my battered gray cap, down the frayed sweater and paint-stained pants to a pair of clodhoppers. "You don't have to advertise like that, we all know you're the worst dressed man in the class."' A slight thrill went through me when he called me a man. I was hardly a man but he thought of me as one.
'"I've been working, that's all. These are just work clothes."
"In the boiler room?"
"On the railroad. Shoveling snow."
He sat back in the chair. "Shoveling railroad snow. Well that makes sense, we always did that the first term."
I pulled off the sweater, under which I was wearing a rain slicker I used to go sailing in, a kind of canvas sack. Phineas just studied it in wordless absorption.' I felt my face heat up at his appraisal. '"I like the cut of it," he finally murmured.' I was confused by his tone but 'pulled off that off revealing an Army fatigue shirt my brother had given me. "Very topical," said Phineas through his teeth. After that came off there was just my undershirt, stained with sweat. He smiled at it for a while and then said as he heaved himself out of the chair, "There. You should have worn that all day, just that. That has real taste. The rest of your outfit was just gilding that lily of a sweat shirt."' My stomach was fluttering nervously and I felt myself heat up, sweating even more in just my undershirt.
'"Glad to hear you like it."' I swallowed nervously. At that point, Phineas reached 'for a pair of crutches which leaned against the desk' and stood.
'I took the sight of this all right, I had seen him on crutches the year before when he broke his ankle playing football. At Devon crutches had almost as many athletic associations as shoulder pads. And I had never seen an invalid whose skin glowed with such health, accenting the sharp clarity of his eyes, or one who used his arms and shoulders on crutches as though on parallel bars, as though he would do a somersault on them if he felt like it. Phineas vaulted across the room to his cot,' and sat down heavily there. He shed his crutches once again and looked up at me expectantly.
"I missed you, Gene," he admitted, now not able to look at me. I was nearly shaking with nervous energy and I felt that energy propel my stiffly uncooperative legs forward, towards Finny.
"I missed you, too," I whispered, one of my shaking hands reaching down to his face much in the same way I had done when Finny was in the infirmary last session, but rather than grabbing my arm he reached up and placed a hand on my shoulder. At first, his hand was soft and unassuming, resting on my shoulder like that but it quickly turned into what felt like a claw, dragging my upper body towards his. I nearly fell but my hands slipped to either side of Phineas' lap to support myself while both of his hands found themselves on either side of my face. We were about eye level with each other and all Phineas really had to do was pull my face a few more inches forward until our noses were touching. Boldly, more boldly than he already was being, he tilted his own face so our noses wouldn't bump and his lips could reach mine. Just the chaste contact was enough for a moan to escape my mouth and his inexperienced tongue to sneak its way between my open lips. At first, all I could really do was move my lips in the only way I knew how—awkwardly and sloppily—but then it occurred to me: the lips that were pressing against mine and slobbering all over my lips were the same lips I'd been dreaming about wrapping around my cock for over a month. Reality smashed down on me hard and I moved away. He looked up at me, a look of dejection behind his eyes.
"It's time for bed." I explained, moving to find some sheets for his bed.
Finny quickly recovered.
"'What is all this crap about no maids?"
"No maids," I said. "After all, there's a war on."
"Is there?" he murmured absently. I didn't pay any attention; he was always speaking when his thoughts were somewhere else, asking rhetorical questions and echoing other people's words.' I bet I could guess where his thoughts really were but I ignored that thought as I helped him sit on my bed while I made his bed for him. 'He wasn't a bit sensitive about being helped, not a bit like an invalid striving to seem independent. I put this on the list of things to include when I said some prayers, the first in a long time, that night in bed. Now that Phineas was back it seemed time to start saying prayers again.
After the lights went out, the special quality of my silence let him know that I was saying them, and he kept quiet for approximately three minutes. Then he began to talk; he never went to sleep without talking first.' Poor nervous fellow. It felt like this time he was just talking to cover up how odd he felt. I didn't respond and 'he was still talking when I fell asleep.
The next morning, through the icy atmosphere which one window raised an inch had admitted to our room, he woke me with the overindignant shout, "What is all this crap about no maids!" He was sitting up in bed, as though ready to spring out of it, totally and energetically awake. I had to laugh at this indignant athlete, with the strength of five people, complaining about the service. He threw back his bedclothes and said, "Hand me my crutches, will you?"
Until now, in spite of everything, I had welcomed each new day as though it were a new life, where all past failures and problems were erased, and all future possibilities and joys were open and available, to be achieved probably before night fell again. Now, in this winter of snow and crutches with Phineas, I began to know that each morning reasserted the problems of the night before, that sleep suspended all but changed nothing, that you couldn't make yourself over between dawn and dusk. Phineas however did not believe this. I'm sure that he looked down at his leg every morning first thing, as soon as he remembered it, to see if it had not been totally restored while he slept. When he found on this first morning back at Devon that it happened still to be crippled and in a cast, he said in his usual self-contained way, "Hand me my crutches, will you?"
Brinker Hadley, next door, always awoke like an express train. There was a gathering rumble through the wall, as Brinker reared up in bed, coughed hoarsely, slammed his feet on the floor, pounded through the freezing air to the closet for something in the way of clothes, and thundered down the hall to the bathroom. Today, however, he veered and broke into our room instead.
"Ready to sign up?" he shouted before he was through the door. "You ready to en—Finny!"
"You ready to en—what?" pursued Finny from his bed. "Who's ready to sign and en what?"
"Finny. By God you're back!"
"Sure," confirmed Finny with a slight, pleased grin.
"So," Brinker curled his lip at me, "your little plot didn't work so well after all."' Rat bastard! Couldn't he see I already felt bad enough as it was?
'"What's he talking about?" said Finny as I thrust his crutches beneath his shoulders.' I hoped to God Finny wasn't thinking this was some weird, convoluted plot to get him in my bed or something stupid like that or that I had intentionally jounced the tree like Brinker was oh-so-tactfully referring to.
'"Just talking," I said shortly,' trying so hard to cover my ass. '"What does Brinker ever talk about?"' Choke on that, cocksucker! I thought I had him beat with the logicality of that statement.
'"You know what I'm talking about well enough."
"No I don't."
"Oh yes you do."' Now I wasn't sure to which thing he was referring to but it seemed like he'd be satisfied if I owned up to either thing.
'"Are you telling me what I know?"
"Damn right I am."'
Jealous sonuvabitch, I just barely stopped myself from saying out loud.
"What's he talking about," said Finny.
The room was bitterly cold. I stood trembling in front of Phineas, still holding his crutches in place, unable to turn and face Brinker and this joke he had gotten into his head, this catastrophic joke.' I was so close to Phineas it was painful and I just wanted Brinker to go away, but first I'd have to get the upper hand.
'"He wants to know if I'll sign up with him," I said, "enlist." It was the ultimate question for all seventeen-year-olds that year, and it drove Brinker's insinuations from every mind except mine.' I just wanted to get past the incident. Phineas never had to know. I didn't intend to do it again.
'"Yeah," said Brinker.
"Enlist!" cried Finny at the same time. His large and clear eyes turned with an odd expression on me. I had never seen such a look in them before.' I knew what it meant; I knew he didn't want me to go. I didn't know to what extent he didn't want me to go. 'After looking at me closely he said, "You're going to enlist?"' I thought, perhaps, I heard the tinge of sadness taint his question.
'"Well I just thought—last night after the railroad work—"
"You just thought you might sign up?" he went on, looking carefully away.' I knew he was hurt and he was trying not to show it.
'Brinker drew one of his deep senatorial breaths, but he found nothing to say.' He must have felt whatever it was that was between Finny and I and knew it wasn't really appropriate to comment. 'We three stood there shivering in the thin New Hampshire morning light, Finny and I in pajamas, Brinker in a blue flannel bathrobe and ripped moccasins. "When will you?" Finny went on.
"Oh, I don't know," I said. "It was just something Brinker happened to say last night, that's all."
"I said," Brinker began in an unusually guarded voice, glancing quickly at Phineas.' There was something in his eyes too: betrayal. '"I said something about enlisting today."
Finny hobbled over to the dresser and took up his soap dish. "I'm first in the shower," he said,' dropping the subject in his usual Phineas fashion.
'"You can't get that cast wet, can you?" asked Brinker.
"No, I'll keep it outside the curtain."
"I'll help," said Brinker.' I couldn't help the stab of insane jealously I felt at his words.
'"No," said Finny without looking at him,' causing me to release a breath I hadn't known I had been holding, '"I can manage all right."
"How can you manage all right?" Brinker persisted aggressively.' I moved myself slightly forward, angling myself towards Brinker, between him and Finny. I didn't like the tone he was using with Phineas and I was preparing to throw myself at Brinker in case he thought to get violent—something I'd never seen him as.
'"I can manage all right," Finny repeated with a set face,' possibly feeling my possessively protective stance.
'I could hardly believe it, but it was too plainly printed in the closed expression of his face to the mistake, too discernable beneath the even tone of his voice: Phineas was shocked at the idea of my leaving' and my heart swelled a bit at the epiphany. 'He needed me. I was the least trustworthy person he had ever met. I knew that; he knew or should know that too.' I had tried to tell him. I hadn't the heart to do it and that was even worse. 'But there was no mistaking the shield of remoteness in his face and voice. He wanted me around. The war then passed away from me, and dreams of enlistment and escape and a clean start lost their meaning for me.' Phineas was the absolute most important thing to me at that moment.
'"Sure you can manage the shower all right," I said, "but what difference does it make? Come on. Brinker's always…"' What was Brinker always? Always trying to steal intangible things from people? Probably… '"Brinker's always getting there first. Enlist! What a nutty idea. It's just Brinker wanting to get there first again. I wouldn't enlist with you if you were General MacArthur's eldest son."
Brinker reared back arrogantly.' I had cut him significantly, in a way I didn't think was possible coming from me. I suppose I had a mean streak. '"And who do you think I am!" But Finny hadn't heard that. His face had broken into a wide and dazzled smile at what I had said, lighting up his whole face.' At that moment, I knew I had no reason to be jealous of Brinker. Finny was mine. '"Enlist!" I drove on,' my pride swelled at Finny's reaction to my attempted humor, '"I wouldn't enlist with you if you were Elliott Roosevelt."
"First cousin," said Brinker over his chin, "once removed."' Touché.
'"He wouldn't enlist with you," Finny plunged in,' sticking up for me and, in a way, staking his claim, '"if you were Madame Chiang Kai-shek."
"Well," I qualified in an undertone, "he really is Madame Chiang Kai-shek."
"Well fan my brow," cried Finny,' doing his best Scarlet O'Hara impression which was really not that good but it gave us a laugh, '"who would have thought that! Chinese. The Yellow Peril, right here at Devon."' I almost couldn't suppress my laughter at his Southern falsetto.
And just like that, 'Brinker Hadley had been tagged with a nickname at last, after four years of creating them for others and eluding one himself.' And that was one of the last times I saw Brinker. He left our room after that and went to enlist himself. Within a week, he was gone. The Yellow Peril off to fight the Yellow Peril.
'But in' that 'week I had forgotten that, and I have never since forgotten the dazed look on Finny's face when he thought that on the first day of his return to Devon I was going to dessert him.' Especially after I'd kissed him the way I had. 'I didn't know why he had chosen me, why it was only to me that he could show the most humbling sides of his handicap. I didn't care.' I had my Finny back and I knew he cared about me. That was the most important thing. 'The war was no longer eroding the peaceful summertime stillness I had prized so much at Devon, and although the playing fields were crusted under a foot of congealed snow and the river was now a hard gray-white lane of ice between gaunt trees, peace had come back to Devon for me.' Phineas had come back for me and I wasn't going to do anything to mess it up this time.
'"I like the winter," Finny assured me for the fourth time, as we came back from chapel that morning.
"Well, it doesn't like you."' I assured him. At Devon, 'everywhere except the dormitories, the floors and stairs were of smooth, slick marble.
"The winter loves me," he retorted, and then, disliking the whimsical sound of that, added, "I mean as much as you can say a season can love. What I mean is, I love winter, and when you really love something, then it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love."' I stopped dead in my tracks, my stomach on the ground and my heart in the back of my throat. Did he just insinuate what I think he insinuated? I thought, looking at him carefully. In the time Phineas had been back, we had spent time alone and wound up kissing more and more. I was reluctant to do much else though. I didn't want to hurt him more and cause him to heal more slowly. I had wanted to do a lot more but it was best for Finny if I didn't.
Finny ignored my questioning look and continued to hobble down the path.
'We were descending a sloping path towards our first class' when Phineas spoke again.
'"Do you have a class?" he said as we reached the steps of the building.
"So do I. Let's not go."
"Not go? But what'll we use for an excuse?"
"We'll say I fainted from exertion on the way from chapel," he looked at me with a phantom's smile, "and you had to tend to me."' There was something mischievous about the way he said this last. I pictured myself…tending to Phineas' needs and it didn't involve bandages or bringing him hot chicken broth.
"This is your first day back, Finny. You're no one to cut classes."' I tried weakly, not even convincing myself.
'"I know, I know. I'm going to work. I really am going to work. You're going to pull me through mostly, but I am going to work as hard as I can. Only not today, not the first thing. Not now, not conjugating verbs when I haven't even looked at the school yet. I want to see this place, I haven't seen anything except the inside of our room, and the inside of chapel. I don't feel like seeing the inside of a classroom. Not now. Not yet."
"What do you want to see?"' I almost regretted the question as soon as it was out of my mouth but fortunately Phineas had the good sense not to say anything funny.
'"Let's go to the gym."'
I knew no one would be there. My stomach twisted itself into a butterfly knot at that thought.
'The gym was on the other end of the school, a quarter of a mile at least, separated from us by a field of ice. We set off without saying anything else.' Neither of us really knew what to say and nothing I was thinking would have been particularly appropriate. I was nervous; my hands were shaking as I tried to keep them mostly still at my sides while we walked. It was hard to gauge how Finny was feeling.
'By the time we had reached it sweat was running like oil from Finny's face, and when he paused involuntary tremors shook his hands and arms. The leg in its cast was like a sea anchor dragged behind. The illusion of strength I had seen in our room that morning must have been the same illusion he had used at home to deceive his doctor and his family into sending him back to Devon.' A wave of guilt hit me as I wondered if he came back just so he could be with me. I brushed it off before it could take hold of me.
'We stood on the ice-coated lawn in front of the gym while he got ready to enter it, resting himself so that he could go in with a show of energy. Later this became his habit; I often caught up with him standing in front of a building pretending to be thinking of examining the sky or taking off gloves, but it was never a convincing show. Phineas was a poor deceiver, having had no practice.
We went into the gym, along a marble hallway, and to my surprise we went on past the Trophy Room, where his name was already inscribed on one cup, one banner, and one embalmed football. I was sure that this was his goal, to mull over these lost glories. I had prepared myself for that, and even thought of several positive, uplifting aphorisms to cheer him up. But he went by it without a thought, down a stairway, steep and marble, and into the locker room. I went along mystified beside him. There was a pile of dirty towels in a corner. Finny shoved them with a crutch. "What is all this crap," he muttered with a little smile, "about no maids?"
The locker room was empty at this hour, row after row of dull green lockers separated by wide wooden benches.' Wide enough to lie down on. 'The ceiling was hung with pipes. It was a drab room for Devon, dull green and brown and gray, but at the far end there was a big marble archway, glistening white, which led to the pool.
Finny sat down on a bench, struggled out of his sheep-lined winter coat, and took a deep breath of gymnasium air.' I took the coat from him and spread it out next to him and then sat on his opposite side. I took a deep breath too. 'No locker room could have more pungent air than Devon's; sweat predominated, but it was richly mingled with smells of paraffin and singed rubber, of soaked wool and liniment, and for those who could interpret it, of exhaustion, lost hope and triumph and bodies battling against each other. I thought it anything but a bad smell. It was preeminently the smell of the human body after it had been used to the limit, such a smell has meaning and poignance for any athlete, just as it has for any lover.' Both, really. And I wanted Finny to use my body to the limit but I didn't want to say it, even really to myself.
We sat in silence, an unusual occurrence for Finny. I was taken by surprise when I felt Finny's hand cover my own on the bench in between us. I looked up at him and he stared intently into my face. His hand moved mine from the bench to his thigh. My face was hot and I could feel my hands starting to sweat but still Phineas didn't break eye contact, challenging me to do something. With the taciturn dare ringing in my head, I moved my hand further up his leg. Phineas took this as an invitation and pulled me into a fierce kiss by the back of my head.
I'm not entirely sure how it happened but Phineas managed to successfully maneuver into a supine position on the bench, cushioned by his own coat, with me on top of him and between his legs. We couldn't do much more than grope and kiss because of Finny's leg and, for the moment being, it was good enough for both of us. I sat up again and swung my legs back over the side of the bench.
'Phineas' remained laying down and 'looked down here and there, at the exercise bar over a sand pit next to the wall, at a set of weights on the floor, a the rolled-up wrestling mat, at a pair of spiked shoes, kicked under a locker.
"Same old place, isn't it?" he said, turning to me and nodding slightly,' acting as if he hadn't just been ravished by my hands and lips. Nonchalant asshole.
'After a moment I answered in a quiet voice, "Not exactly."
He made no pretense of not understanding me. After a pause he said, "You're going to be the big star now," in an optimistic tone, and then added with some embarrassment, "You can fill any gaps or anything." He slapped me on the back,' having switched gears so quickly almost as if nothing had just happened, '"Get over there and chin yourself a few dozen times. What did you finally go out for anyway?"' I was exhausted and I really didn't want to do chin-ups at that moment.
'"I finally didn't go out."
"You aren't," his eyes burned at me from his grimacing face, "still the assistant senior crew manager!"' he practically screamed like my sports career somehow reflected on him. And I had the feeling that soon was going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and he'd already gotten the idea in his head before he could even consult with me.
'"No, I quit that,'" I said, a bit defensively, '"I've just been going to gym classes. The ones they have for guys who aren't going out for anything."'
He sat up completely and looked at me. 'Joking was past; his mouth widened irritably. "What in hell," his voice bounded on the word in a sudden rich descent, "did you do that for?"
"It was too late to sign up for anything else," and seeing the energy to blast this excuse rushing to his face and neck I stumbled on, "and anyway with the war on there won't be many trips for the teams. I don't know, sports don't seem so important with the war on."' And they didn't seem as important without you around…I omitted.
'"Have you swallowed all that war stuff?"
"No, of course I—" I was so committed to refuting him that I had half-denied the charge before I understood it; now my eyes swung back to his face. "All what war stuff?"
"All that stuff about there being a war."
"I don't think I get what you mean."
"Do you really think that the United States of America is in a state of war with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan?"
"Do I really think…" My voice trailed off.
He stood up, his weight on the good leg, the other resting lightly on the floor in front of him. "Don't be a sap," he gazed with cool self-possession at me, "there isn't any war."
"I know why you're talking like this," I said, struggling to keep up with him. "Now I understand. You're still under the influence of some medicinal drug."
"No, you are. Everybody is." He pivoted so that he was facing directly at me. "That's what this whole war story is. A medicinal drug. Listen, did you ever hear of the Roaring Twenties?" I nodded very slowly and cautiously. "When they all drank bathtub gin and everybody who was young did just what they wanted?"
"Well, what happened was that they didn't like that, the preachers and the old ladies and all the stuffed shirts. So then they tried Prohibition and everybody just got drunker, so then they really got desperate and arranged the Depression. That kept the people who were young in the thirties in their places. But they couldn't use that trick forever, so for us in the forties they've cooked up this war fake."
"Who are they, anyway?"
"The fat old men who don't want us crowding them out of their jobs. They've made it all up. There isn't any real food shortage, for instance. The men have all the best steaks delivered to their clubs now. You've noticed how they've been getting fatter lately, haven't you?"
His tone took it thoroughly for granted that I had. For a moment I was almost taken in by it. Then my eyes fell on the bound and cast white mass pointing at me, and as it was always to do, it brought me down out of Finny's world of invention, down again as I had fallen after awakening that morning, down to reality, to the facts.
"Phineas, this is all pretty amusing and everything, but I hope you don't play this game too much with yourself. You might start to believe it and then I'd have to make a reservation for you at the Funny Farm."
"In a way," deep in argument, his eyes never wavered from mine,' and it was sexy to see him that intense. I felt a wave of desire looking at him like that but I pushed it away, "the whole world is on a Funny Farm now. But it's only the fat old men that get the joke."
"Yes, and me."
"What makes you so special? Why should you get it and all the rest of us be in the dark?"' I could feel my temper rising and my blood starting to simmer.
'The momentum of the argument suddenly broke from his control. His face froze. "Because I've suffered," he burst out.
We drew back in amazement from this. In the silence all the flighty spirits of the morning ended between us. He sat down and turned his flushed face away from me.' Of all the things he was embarrassed in front of me about, this was not one I would have suspected. We sat in more silence 'without moving for as long as my beating nerves would permit, and then I stood up and walked slowly toward anything which presented itself. It turned out to be the exercise bar. I sprang up, grabbed it, and then, in a fumbling and perhaps grotesque offering to Phineas'—my friend, my lover, my burden—'I chinned myself. I couldn't think of anything else, not the right words, not the right gesture. I did what I could think of.
"Do thirty of them," he mumbled in a bored voice,' though I was not fooled by his bravado.
'I had never done ten of them. At the twelfth I discovered that he had been counting to himself because he began to count aloud in a noncommittal, half-heard voice.' He was trying so hard to be disinterested. 'At eighteen there was a certain enlargement in his tone, and at twenty-three the last edges of boredom left it; he stood up, and the urgency with which he brought out the next numbers was like an invisible boost lifting me the distance of my arms, until he sang out "thirty!" with a flare of pleasure.' I never thought the sheer sound of someone else's voice could push me to such great heights that I never even expected of myself.
Then 'the moment was past. Phineas I know had been even more startled than I to discover his bitterness in himself. Neither of us ever mentioned it again, and neither of us ever forgot that it was there.
He sat down and studied his clenched hands. "Did I ever tell you,' he began in a husky tone,' one that did strange things to my stomach, '"that I used to be aiming for the Olympics?" He wouldn't have mentioned it except that after his confession he had to say something very personal, something deeply held. To do otherwise, to begin joking, would have been a hypocritical denial of what had happened, and Phineas was not capable of that.
I was still hanging from the bar; my hands felt as though they had sunk into it. "No, you never told me that," I mumbled into my arm.
"Well I was. And now I'm not sure, not a hundred percent sure I'll be completely, you know, in shape by 1944. So I'm going to coach you for them instead."' I felt a pang in my chest at his words.
'"But there isn't going to be any Olympics in '44. That's only a couple of years away. The war—"
"Leave your fantasy life out of this. We're grooming you for the Olympics, pal, in 1944."
And not believing him, not forgetting that troops were being shuttled toward battlefields all over the world, I went along, as I always did, with any new invention of Finny's. There was no harm in taking aim, even if the target was a dream.
But since we were so far out of the line of fire, the chief sustenance for any sense of the war was mental. We saw nothing real of it; all our impressions of the war were in the false medium of two dimensions—photographs in the papers and magazines, newsreels, posters—or artificially conveyed to us by a voice on the radio, or headlines across the top of a newspaper. I found that only through a continuous use of the imagination could I hold out against Finny's driving offensive in favor of peace.' Needless to say, my defense was weak.
'But of course I didn't believe him. I was too well protected against the great fear of boys' school life, which is to be taken in. Along with everyone else except a few professional gulls such as Leper, I rejected anything which had the smallest possibility of doubt about it. So of course I didn't believe him. But one day after our chaplain, Mr. Carhart, had become very moved by his own sermon in chapel about God in the Foxholes, I came away thinking that if Finny's opinion of the war was unreal, Mr. Carhart's was at least as unreal. But of course I didn't believe him.' I couldn't.
'And anyway I was too occupied to think about it all. In addition to my own work, I was dividing my time between tutoring Finny in his studies, being tutored by him in sports,' and occasionally kissing him until we were both dizzy. 'Since so much of learning anything depends on the atmosphere in which it is taught, Finny and I, to our joint double amazement, began to make flashing progress where we had been bumblers before.
Mornings we got up at six to run. I dressed in a gym sweat suit with a towel tucked around my throat, and Finny in pajamas, ski boots and his sheep-lined coat.
A morning shortly before Christmas vacation brought my reward. I was to run the course Finny had laid out, four times around an oval walk which circled the Headmaster's home, a large rambling, doubtfully Colonial white mansion. Next to the house there was a patriarchal elm tree, against the trunk of which Finny leaned and shouted at me as I ran a large circle around him.
The plain of snow shone a powdery white that morning; the sun blazed icily somewhere too low on the horizon glimmer all around us. The northern sunshine seemed to pick up faint particles of whiteness floating in the air and powdering the sleek blue sky. Nothing stirred. The bare arching branches of the elm seemed laid into this motionless sky. As I ran the sound of my footfalls was pitched off short in the vast immobile dawn, as though there was no room amid so many glittering sights for any sound to intrude. The figure of Phineas was set against the bulk of the tree; he shouted now and then, but these sounds too were quickly absorbed and dispelled.
And he needed to give no advice that morning. After making two circuits of the walk every trace of energy was as usual completely used up, and as I drove myself on all my scattered aches found their usual way to a profound seat of pain in my side. My lungs as usual were fed up with all this work, and from now on would only go rackingly through the motions. My knees were boneless again, ready any minute to let my lower legs telescope up into the thighs. My head felt as though different sections of the cranium were grinding into each other.
Then, for no reason at all, I felt magnificent. It was as though my body until that instant had simply been lazy, as though the aches and exhaustion were all imagined, created from nothing in order to keep me from truly exerting myself. Now my body seemed at last to say "Well, if you must have it, here!" and an accession of strength came flooding through me. Buoyed up, I forgot my usual feeling of routine self-pity when working out, I lost myself, oppressed mind along with aching body; all entanglements were shed, I broke into the clear.
After the fourth circuit, like sitting in a chair, I pulled up in front of Phineas.
"You're not even winded," he said.
"You found your rhythm, didn't you, that third time around. Just as you came into that straight part."' I was amazed at Finny's uncanny ability to know at exactly what point exactly what he described had actually happened.
'"Yes, right there."
"You've been pretty lazy all along, haven't you?"
"Yes, I guess I have been."
"You didn't even know anything about yourself."' I got the feeling Phineas thought he knew a lot more about me than I knew about myself.
'"I don't guess I did, in a way."' I concede, in a bit of a stupor at what had just occurred.
'"Well," he gathered the sheepskin collar around his throat,' and I almost wanted to tear it away again and ravish him right there but I ignored the urge, '"now you know. And stop talking like a Georgia cracker—don't guess I did!" Despite the gibe he was rather impersonal towards me' and that made me want to do something to him to get more of a reaction. ' He seemed older that morning, and leaning quietly against that great tree wrapped in his heavy coat, he seemed smaller too. Or perhaps it was only that I, inside the same body, had felt myself all at once grown bigger.
We proceeded slowly back to the dormitory.' It felt like Finny was hanging back intentionally, like he was anticipating something and he wanted to drag it out.
When we finally got to the room, Phineas closed the door very deliberately behind us. He leaned on one crutch, letting the other balanced precariously under his forearm as he began to remove his sheepskin coat. I moved to take it and set it down on his desk. I expected Finny to sit back down after removing the coat but he kept his arms right where they were and his trembling fingers were trying to unbutton his shirt as deftly as he could. He wasn't making eye contact with me but his movements were deliberate and resolute.
"Finny, what are you doing?" I tried to break his concentration.
"Gene," his voice was pleading but he didn't stop unbuttoning and didn't make eye contact still.
"Gene, I need you to do this with me." He looked up at me, his head bowed and his eyes peeking up at me from under his brow. Deliberately, he moved his arms away from his crutches, causing both of them to fall away with a loud clatter and the shirt fell away as well. He took only a few steps towards me and I knew he wouldn't be able to get much further by himself. I rushed towards him and helped him to sit down on his bed and when I tried to move my hands away from him, he grabbed them and held them in that familiar way, but there was a tremor in his grip. Phineas was nearly helpless and couldn't make all his decisions for himself but when it came to me touching him, he knew exactly what he wanted and when he wanted it. This time felt different than the other times: Finny wanted more than he'd ever wanted before.
Carefully, he let me go so he could hoist his bad leg up onto the bed and then his good leg after it. He was lying face-up on his bed, looking up at me. He grabbed back onto my shirtfront. After surveying my eyes for hints, he pulled me down, between his legs, kissed me harder than usual. It felt urgent and frantic. I pulled my face away.
"Finny, are you all right?"
"Gene. Please?" was all he could say before he pulled me back down into his fevered kissing. I couldn't say no to that and he didn't intend to let me get away so I shifted positions slightly and let myself do what I wanted to do. Beneath me, he was shirtless and my hands couldn't refrain from touching him with that kind of temptation. Finny was moaning and panting and I was trying to stay clear-headed but my resolve was weak; before I knew what I was doing, I was letting myself rut helplessly against him, not thinking about the pain I could be causing his leg if I did that. His noises changed slightly, sounding more distressed and I realized I was hurting him. I sat up.
"Gene, no!" He couldn't meet my eyes, staring across his own chest and through the space between his own body and my groin where I was now between his legs. "Gene, I need you to…to…"
He couldn't bring himself to say it but I knew what he wanted.
"You want me to…" I gestured to his general crotch area. He bit his lip and nodded, still not meeting my eyes.
Uncoordinatedly, I began to unfasten his trousers and help him shimmy out of them. There was much pain in his face, judging by the way he was practically biting his lower lip off when he moved around too much.
"Finny, I don't want to hurt you—"
"I don't care, Gene!" He interrupted, finally staring me down. Red-faced and determined, Finny was panting and working and pulling down his own drawers. I took mercy on him and helped him remove them as easily as I could.
My body was overheated, my ears were burning and lying prone before me was a nearly-helpless Phineas. He was putting in so much effort to get into that position that I was even more embarrassed to find he was not at all aroused even though he seemed rather adamant about what was already shaping into an…awkward situation between us. It was just as embarrassing to me as it was for him.
"Gene," he panted, "please take off your clothes. It'll make this easier." His pale, thin hands reached up and clasped in my shirt front and then tried to move to unbutton it.
"I'll do it, Finny," I whispered pulling back just out of his reach, sitting back on one leg I had tucked underneath me on the bed to undo the buttons with my shaking hands. With a few deep breaths and the conscious effort to keep my hands as steady as possible given the circumstances, I got my shirt off and then stood off the bed to remove my shoes and pants. And before I could allow myself to think about whether or not I should expose myself as wholly as Phineas was exposed before me—now much more aroused than he had been to start with, to my relief, or was it apprehension?—I slipped out of my drawers and the slight, throaty gasp that escaped from Phineas' lips went straight to my head. I gave Finny one more chance out of what he was asking.
"Are you sure—"
"For chrissake, Gene, if you don't get over here and fuck me now…" He trailed off when he saw my eyes widen in shock but he knew I would do it. I would do anything that Phineas asked me to.
I don't know why he asked me to do it. It was painful for me. It was more than painful for him. I don't know if he felt anything he thought he might feel. But Phineas spent most of the time shivering and sweating and trying his hardest to pretend that he wasn't in as much pain as I knew he was in. I wondered if it would ever get any better, if it would ever get any easier, if there was a way to make it easier. There was a vague sense in me that it probably could be enjoyable on some level at some point. I just didn't know if I wanted to try enough with Finny to get to that point.
Things were much stranger following this incident. Beforehand, the natural order of things was the unspoken concept that Phineas thought he was my keeper. But, after giving up himself to me the way he had, he was almost relinquishing some of his control. I had been the one who was in absolute power at that point and that just wasn't the way things were supposed to be between us.
Before I let the equilibrium I had created between us fall to pieces, I had to let myself forget about what happened and immerse myself in what happened before that. And my mind immediately went back to Finny's ludicrous theory that the war was just something made up by a bunch of fat white men who were all having a laugh at everyone else's expense while they stuffed themselves with the best meats in the country. Though, it was an appealing theory. I wished it were true.
In the days following, I spent much time in the Butt Room, trying to get the latest news from the war; I was disconnected from it otherwise. One of those days, Leper—who didn't really smoke, he just sometimes found himself down there to chat about the war or whatever it was that day—had a hold of the paper and in his small voice he read aloud a passage about an attempt on Hitler's life.
Later that day, Finny, being a non-believer of the war, remarked to me that 'if someone gave Leper a loaded gun and put it at Hitler's temple, he'd miss.' I felt offended for Leper but didn't say much. Things were still weird between me and Finny and I didn't want to push it. He made it very clear to me that he didn't want to hear anything about the war 'and since little else was talked about in the Butt Room he soon stopped going and stopped me from going as well—"How do you expect to be an athlete if you smoke like a forest fire?" He drew me increasingly away from the Butt Room crowd, away from Chet and all other friends, into a world inhabited by just himself and me, where there was no war at all, just Phineas and me alone among all the people of the world, training for the Olympics of 1944.
Saturday afternoons are terrible in a boys' school, especially in the winter. There is no football game; it is not possible, as it is in the spring, to take bicycle trips into the surrounding country. Not even the most grinding student can feel required to lose himself in his books, since there is Sunday ahead, long, lazy, quiet Sunday, to do any homework.
And these Saturdays are worst in the late winter when the snow has lost its novelty and its shine, and the school seems to have been reduced to only a network of drains. During the brief thaw in the early afternoon there is a dismal gurgling of dirty water seeping down pipes and along gutters, a gray seamy shifting beneath the crust of snow, which cracks to show patches of frozen mud beneath. Shrubbery loses its bright snow headgear and stands bare and frail, too undernourished to hide the drains it was intended to hide. These are the days when going into any building you cross a mat of dirt and cinders led in by others before you, thinning and finally trailing off in the corridors. The sky is an empty hopeless gray and gives the impression that this is its eternal shade. Winter's occupation seems to have conquered, overrun and destroyed everything, so that now there is no longer any resistance movement left in nature; all the juices are dead, every spring of vitality snapped, and now winter itself, an old, corrupt, tired conqueror, loosens its grip on the desolation, recedes a little, grows careless in its watch; sick of victory and enfeebled by the absence of challenge, it begins itself to withdraw from the ruined countryside. The drains alone are active, and on these Saturdays their noises sound a dull recessional to winter.
Only Phineas failed to see what was so depressing. Just as there was no war in his philosophy, there was also no dreary weather.' 'All weathers delighted Phineas. "You know what we'd better do next Saturday?" he began in one of his voices, the low-pitched and evenly melodic one which for some reason always reminded me of a Rolls-Royce moving along a highway. "We'd better organize the Winter Carnival."'
I didn't even really hear what he was saying at first, I was so concentrated on his tone. It was enough to get me excited just sitting there in our room, both of us 'on either side of the single large window framing a square of featureless gray sky. Phineas was resting his cast, which was a considerably smaller one now'—thank God, meaning he was healing—',on the desk and thoughtfully pressing designs into it with a pocket knife.' I don't know why, but watching him do this was really turning me on, imagining Finny tracing—not with the knife—patterns onto my chest after a particularly pleasant bout of lovemaking. It was then I resolved that Finny and I had to work on making sex more pleasant. And the best way to do that is practice. But I had to get him to go along with it so it was important to placate him for the moment being. '"What Winter Carnival?" I asked', not completely interested but enough for him to think I was.
'"The Winter Carnival. The Devon Winter Carnival."
"There isn't any Devon Winter Carnival and never has been."' I rolled with it. I knew he'd like a response like that.
"There is now. We'll have it in that park next to the Naguamsett. The main attraction will be sports, naturally, featuring I expect a ski jump—"
"A ski jump! That park's as flat as a pancake."' I egged him on.
'"—and some slalom races, and I think a little track. But we've got to have some snow statues too, and a little music, and something to eat. Now, which committee do you want to head?"' He went on, my comments adding fire to his fervor. He was getting worked up and it was prevalent in his voice, getting me worked up as well.
'I gave him a' crooked 'smile. "The snow statues committee."
"I knew you would. You always were secretly arty, weren't you?"' And judging by the way that I was intently imagining Finny drawing the star he was carving into his cast on to my body with his tongue, I would say I was arty.
Finny looked like he was about to say something but he was interrupted by my presence right by his side and my hand slipping his knife out of his hand.
"I am a bit arty," I admitted, setting the knife down on the windowsill and helping him stand out of his chair.
"That's good," he said as I sat him down on his bed and began to unbutton his pants. He was trying not to be distracted but I saw his eyelids flutter closed and then snap back open. '"I'll organize the sports,"' he got out as I helped him get into a laying position on his bed and then began taking off my own pants. "And then we'll need someone to do the—" I cut him off by sucking on one of his fingers. He was far too distracted to continue.
"That's all fine and well, Finny, but there are a few things that we need to get organized and straightened out first." I had a few ideas to try before I let him go back to his planning.
The second time Phineas and I made love was a bit more pleasant than the previous. Saliva works better than nothing. But despite all that, Phineas went right back to planning his Carnival.
'And,' of course, 'because it was Finny's idea, it happened as he said, although not as easily as some of his earlier inspirations. For our dormitory was less enthusiastic about almost everything with each succeeding week.
"Who wants a Winter Carnival?"' Chet said 'when I brought it up. "What are we celebrating?"
"Winter, I guess."
"Winter!" He gazed out of his window at the vacant sky and seeping ground. "Frankly, I just don't see anything to celebrate, winter or spring or anything else."
"This is the first time Finny's gotten going on anything since…he came back."
"He has been kind of nonfunctional, hasn't he? He isn't brooding, is he?"
"No, he wouldn't brood."
"No, I don't suppose he would. Well, if you think it's something Finny really wants. Still, there's never been a Winter Carnival here. I think there's probably a rule against it."
"I see," I said in a tone which made' him 'raise his eyes and lock them with mine.' He must have read it all on my face, my dependence on Finny, my feelings for him. Chet saw it all and that made him agree unquestioningly. I tried to avoid Chet as much as possible from then on.
'The Saturday was battleship gray. Throughout the morning equipment for the Winter carnival had been spirited out of the dormitory and down to the small incomplete public park on the bank of the Naguamsett River.' Chet 'supervised the transfer, rattling up and down the stairwell and giving orders. He made me think of a pirate captain disposing of the booty. Several jugs of very hard cider which he had browbeaten away from some lowerclassmen were the most cautiously guarded treasure. They were buried in the snow near a clump of evergreens in the center of the park, and' Chet 'stationed Brownie Perkins to guard them with his life. He meant this literally, and Brownie knew it. So he trembled alone there in the middle of the park for hours, wondering what would happen if he had an attack of appendicitis, unnerved by the thoughts of a fainting spell, horrified by the realization that he might have to move his bowels, until at last we came. Then Brownie crept back to the dormitory, too exhausted to enjoy the carnival at all. On this day of high illegal competitiveness, no one noticed.' Chet easily stationed another boy, Rich Hewitt.
'The buried cider was half-consciously plotted at the hub of the carnival. Around it sprang up large, sloppy statues, easily modeled because of the snow's dampness. Nearby, entirely out of place in the snowscape, like a dowager in a saloon, there was a heavy circular classroom table, carried there by superhuman exertions the night before on Finny's insistence that he had to have something to display the prizes on. On it rested the prizes—Finny's icebox, hidden all these months in the dormitory basement, a Webster's Collegiate dictionary with all the most stimulating words marked, a set of York barbells, the Iliad with the English translation of each sentence written above it, a lock of hair cut under duress from the head of Hazel Brewster, the professional town belle, a handwoven rope ladder with the proviso that it should be awarded to someone occupying a room on the third floor or higher, a forged draft registration card, and $4.13 from the Headmaster's Discretionary Benevolent Fund.' Chet 'placed this last prize on the table with such silent dignity that we all thought it was better not to ask any questions about it.
Phineas sat behind the table in a heavily carved black walnut chair; the arms ended in two lions' heads, and the legs ended in paws gripping wheels now sunk in the snow.' I couldn't help thinking it kind of made him look sexy and powerful but the thought seemed so private to even be thinking it in public that I quickly chose to think about the chair itself instead. 'He had made the purchase that morning. Phineas bought things only on impulse and only when he had the money, and since the two states rarely coincided his purchases were few and strange.
Chet was stood next to him holding his trumpet. Finny had regretfully given up the plan of inviting the school band to supply music, since it would have spread news of our carnival to every corner of the campus. Chet in any case was an improvement over the cacophony. He was a slim, fair-skinned boy with a ball of curly auburn hair curving over his forehead, and he devoted himself to playing two things, tennis and the trumpet. He did both with such easy, inborn skill that after observing him I had begun to think that I could master either one any weekend I tried. Much like the rest of us on the surface, he had an underlying obliging and considerate strain which barred him from being a really important member of the class. You had to be rude at least sometimes and edgy often to be credited with "personality," and without that accolade no one at Devon could be anyone. No one, with the exception of course of Phineas.
To the left of the Prize Table' Rich 'straddled' what he deemed to be his cache of cider based on the authority given to him by Chet; 'behind him there was the clump of evergreens, and behind them there was after all a gentle rise, where the Ski Jump Committee was pounding snow into a little take-off ramp whose lip was perhaps a foot higher than the slope of the rise. From there our line of snow statues, unrecognizable artistic attacks on the Headmaster, Mr. Ludsbury, Mr. Patch-Withers, Dr. Stanpole, the new dietitian, and Hazel Brewster curved in an enclosing half-circle to the icy, muddy, lisping edge of the tidewater Naguamsett and back to the other side of the Prize Table.
When the ski jump was ready there was a certain amount of milling around; twenty boys, tightly reined in all between their teeth, ready to stampede. Phineas should have started the sports events but he was absorbed in cataloguing the prizes. All eyes swung next upon' Rich. 'He had been holding pose above his cider of Gibraltar invulnerability; he continued to gaze challengingly around him until he began to realize that wherever he looked, calculating eyes looked back.
"All right, all right," he said roughly, "let's get started."
The ragged circle around him moved perceptibly closer.
"Let's get going," he yelled. "Come on, Finny. What's first?"
Phineas had one of those minds which could record what is happening in the background and do nothing about it because something else was preoccupying him. He seemed to sink deeper into his list.
"Phineas!"' Rich 'pronounced his name with a maximum use of teeth.' It kind of put me on the defensive. '"What is next?"
Still the sleek brown head bent mesmerized over the list.
"What's the big hurry,' Rich?" 'someone from the tightening circle asked with dangerous gentleness. "What's the big rush?"
"We can't stand here all day," he blurted. "We've got to get started if we're going to have this damn thing. What's next? Phineas!"
At last the recording in Finny's mind reached its climax. He looked vaguely up, studied the straddling, at-bay figure of' Rich 'at the core of the poised perimeter of boys, hesitated, blinked, and then in his organ voice said good-naturedly, "Next? Well that's pretty clear. You are."
Chet released from his trumpet the opening, lifting, barbaric call of a bullfight, and the circle of boys broke wildly over' Rich. 'He flailed back against the evergreens, and the jugs appeared to spring out of the snow. "What the hell," he kept yelling, off balance among the branches. "What…the…hell!" By then his cider, which he had apparently expected to dole out according to his own governing whim, was disappearing. There was going to be no government, even by whim.
From a scramble of contenders I got one of the jugs, elbowed off a counterattack, opened it, sampled it, choked, and then went through with my original plan by stopping' Rich's 'mouth with it. His eyes bulged, and blood vessels in his throat began to pulsate, until at length I lowered the jug.
He gave me a long, pondering look, his face closed and concentrating while behind it his mind plainly teetered between fury and hilarity; I think if I had batted an eye he would have hit me. The carnival's breaking apart into a riot hung like a bomb between us. I kept on looking expressionlessly back at him until beneath a blackening scowl his mouth opened enough to fire out the words "I've been violated."
I jerked the jug to my mouth and took a huge gulp of cider in relief, and the violence latent in the day drifted away; perhaps the Naguamsett carried it out of the receding tide. Brinker strode through the swirl of boys to Phineas. "I formally declare," he bellowed, "that these Games are open."
"You can't do that," Finny said rebukingly. "Who ever heard of opening the Games without the sacred fire from Olympus?"
Sensing that I must act as the Chorus,' my duty to Phineas, 'I registered on my face the universally unheard-of quality of the Games without the fire. "Fire, fire," I said across the damp snow.
"We'll sacrifice one of the prizes," said Phineas, seizing the Iliad. He sprinkled the pages with cider to make them more inflammable, touch a match to them, and a little jet of flame curled upward. The Games, alight with Homer and cider, were open.
Chet Douglass, leaning against the side of the Prize Table, continued to blow musical figures for his own enlightenment. Forgetful of us and the athletic programming Finny now put into motion, he strolled here and there, sometimes at the start of the ski jump competition, blowing an appropriate call, more often invoking the serene order of Haydn, or a high, remote arrogant Spanish world, or the cheerful, lowdown carelessness of New Orleans.
The hard cider began to take charge of us. Or I wonder now whether it wasn't cider but our own exuberance which intoxicated us, sent restraint flying, causing' Rich 'to throw the football block on the statue of the Headmaster, giving me, as I put on the skis and slid down the small slope and off the miniature ski jump a sensation of soaring flight, of hurtling high and far through space; inspiring Phineas, during one of the Chet's Spanish inventions, to climb onto the Prize Table and with only one leg to create a droll dance amongst the prizes, springing and spinning from one bare space to another, cleanly missing Hazel Brewster's hair, never marring by a misstep the pictures of Betty Grable. Under the influence not I know of the hardest cider but of his own inner joy at life for a moment as it should be, as it was meant to be in his nature, Phineas recaptured that magic gift for existing primarily in space, one foot conceding briefly to gravity its rights before spinning him off again off again into the air. It was his wildest demonstration of himself, of himself in the kind of world he loved; it was his choreography of peace.' I had never found him more piercingly attractive than in that moment.
'And when he stopped and sat down among the prizes and said, "Now we're going to have a Decathlon. Quiet everybody, our Olympic candidate Gene Forrester, is now going to qualify," it wasn't cider which made me in this moment champion of everything he ordered, to run as though I were the abstraction of speed, to walk the half-circle of statues on my hands, to balance on my head on top of the icebox on top of the Prize Table, to jump if he had asked it across the Naguamsett and land crashing in the middle of Quakenbush's boathouse, to accept at the end of it amid a clatter of applause—for on this day even the schoolboy egotism of Devon was conjured away—a wreath made from the evergreen trees which Phineas placed on my head.' I was Phineas' king. And 'it wasn't the cider which made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.'
That night I had a troubling dream about Leper coming to me after joining the Army and subsequently desert because he got "nervous in the service." But that wasn't true. Leper was safe and sound inside Devon just like the rest of us. Though the dream did kind of hit home in a way I didn't want to think about 'for if Leper was psycho it was the army which had done it to him, and I and all of us were on the brink of the army,' weren't we?
After a long day of the dream haunting me and classes I didn't pay much attention to, 'I wanted to see Phineas and Phineas only. With him there was no conflict except between athletes, something Greek-inspired and Olympian in which victory would go to whoever was the strongest in body and heart. This was the only conflict he had ever believed in.'
'I found him in the middle of a snow-ball fight in a place called the Fields Beyond. At Devon the open ground among the buildings had been given carefully English names—the Center Common, the Far Common, the Fields, and the Fields Beyond. These last were past the gym, the tennis courts, the river and the stadium, on the edge of the woods which, however English in name, were in my mind primevally American, reaching in unbroken forests far to the north, into the great northern wilderness. I found Finny beside the woods playing and fighting—the two were approximately the same thing to him—and I stood there wondering whether things weren't simpler and better at the northern terminus of these woods, a thousand miles due north into the wilderness, somewhere deep in the Arctic, where the peninsula of trees which began at Devon would end at last in an untouched grove of pine, austere and beautiful.
There is no such grove, I know now, but' that day 'I imagined that it might be just over the visible horizon, or the horizon after that.
A few of the fighters paused to yell a greeting at me, but no one broke off.'
'This gathering had obviously been Finny's work. Who else could have inveigled twenty people to the farthest extremity of the school to throw snowballs at each other? I could just picture him, at the end of his ten o'clock class, organizing it with the easy authority which always came into his manner when he had an idea which was particularly preposterous. There they all were now, the cream of the school, the lights and leaders of the senior class, with their high I.Q.'s and expensive shoes, as Brinker had said, pasting each other with snowballs.
I hesitated on the edge of the fight and the edge of the woods, too tangled in my mind to enter either one or the other. So I glanced at my wrist watch, brought my hand dramatically to my mouth as though remembering something urgent and important, repeated this pantomime in case anybody had missed it, and with this tacit explanation started briskly back toward the center of the school. A snowball caught me on the back of the head.' I knew he couldn't resist and 'Finny's voiced followed it. "You're on our side, even if you do have a lousy aim. We need somebody else. Even you." He came toward me, without his cane at the moment, his new walking cast so much smaller and lighter that an ordinary person could have managed it with hardly a limp noticeable. Finny's coordination, however, was such that any slight flaw became obvious; there was an interruption, brief as a drum beat, in the continuous flow of his walk, as though with each step he forgot for a split-second where he was going.' He looked like he was going to say something but in the split-second it had taken him to figure out where he was going and survey my face he saw it all and he knew.
"Me and Gene here have some important business to attend to!" He announced to the group that was slowly creeping towards us in his usual Phineas-way but nothing else about that moment was characteristic of Finny. I was almost overwhelmed by it as much as I was by 'the smell' everywhere 'of vitality in clothes, the vital something in wool and flannel and corduroy which spring releases.' I almost wanted to stay and fight, be like Finny for one day, on a day where Phineas was acting more like me. No one even paid us attention and he led me off quietly, no questions asked. When did Phineas become my bitch? I thought guiltily to myself as we headed back to the gym.
'"Do you think you ought to get into fights like that? After all, there's your leg—"
"Stanpole said something about not falling again, but I'm very careful."
"Christ, don't break it again!"
"No, of course I won't break it again. Isn't the bone supposed to be stronger when it grows together over a place where it's been broken once?"
"Yes, I think it is."
"I think so too. In fact I think I can feel it getting stronger."
"You think you can? Can you feel it?"
"Yes, I think so."
"I said that's good."
"Yes, I guess it is. I guess that's good, all right."'
It's true bones grow stronger in the area where it's been broken, but they grow weaker in the areas around the broken portion.
'After dinner that night', I took a look around the room. I'd never really seen it before that day. It 'had by this time of year the exhausted look of a place where two people had lived too long without taking any interest in their surroundings. Our cots at either end of the room were sway-backed beneath their pink and brown cotton spreads. The walls which were much farther off white than normal, expressed tow forgotten interests: Finny had scotch-taped newspaper pictures of the Roosevelt-Churchill meeting above his cot ("They're the two most important of the old men," he had explained, "getting together to make up what to tell us next about the war"). Over my cot I had long ago taped up pictures which together amounted to a barefaced lie about my background—weepingly romantic views of plantation mansions, moss-hung trees by moonlight, lazy roads winding dustily past the cabins of the Negroes. When asked about them I had acquired an accent appropriate to the town three states south of my own, and I had transmitted the impression, without actually stating it, that this was the old family place. But by now I no longer needed this vivid false identity; now I was acquiring, I felt, a sense of my own real authority and worth, I had many new experiences and I was growing up' and I couldn't help thinking that that it was largely accredited to Phineas.
"I wonder how Brinker is doing," Phineas speculated out loud.
"I can't imagine he's doing too bad, Finny." I answered absently.
"I don't know, Gene. I had this weird nightmare a few nights ago. Brinker was in it. Well, it didn't look like him but I knew it was him, and sort of me too, you know? It was dark, like stormy or something, and Brinker was crawling around in the mud, under barbed wire and then suddenly female faces started popping up in the mud all around him and he was screaming. And then a new part of the dream happened but I know it was still Brinker. He was sweeping up in his barracks and then suddenly the broom turned into an amputated leg and then everything started turning into human arms and legs and they were closing in on him and suffocating him and he couldn't scream or run fast enough…" Finny looked upset and I really had nothing to reply to that. I couldn't mention my own dream because it sounded to me like Phineas was having anxieties of his own; the amputated leg was easily explained by the anxiety he was having about his broken leg. It just really didn't seem like a premonition to me but I couldn't make him feel worse by writing him off. I decided to take the focus away from him and put it onto other people.
"Funny, 'it isn't even June yet and we've already got two men sidelined for the Duration."
Fuck. I had messed up. I had really only meant to mention John Goode who had been taken home a few weeks back due to some freak outs he was having—anxiety nightmares about being drafted and the like. But sitting there in our room alone and after that speech Finny had given it was hard not to consider him as out for the count, especially given his leg…
'"Well there's' you' Finny…"
'"Yes," agreed Phineas in his deepest and most musical tone, "there's me."
"That's not exactly…" I tried to save face.
'"Yes, I'm out of it."' He continued, not paying me any attention. I knew that I had struck a raw nerve and I looked to the Roosevelt-Churchill picture for help.
'"Not that there's anything to be out of!" I wondered if my face matched the heartiness of my voice. "Just this dizzy war, this fake, this thing with the old men making…" I couldn't help watching Finny as I spoke, and so I ran out of momentum. I waited for him to take it up, to unravel once again his tale of plotting statesmen and deluded public, his great joke, his private toe hold on the world. He was sitting on his cot, elbows on his knees, looking down. He brought his wide-set eyes up, his grin flashed and faded, and then he murmured, "Sure. There isn't any war."
It was one of the few ironic remarks Phineas ever made, and with it he quietly brought to a close all his special inventions which had carried us through the winter. Now the facts were re-established, and gone were all the fantasies, such as the Olympic Games for A.D. 1944, closed before they had ever been opened.' I kissed him then but I knew it was already too late.
'There was little left at Devon any more which had not been recruited for the war. The few stray activities and dreamy people not caught up in it were being systematically corralled by' a group of excited students. 'And every day in chapel there was some announcement about qualifying for "V-12," an officer-training program the Navy had set up in many colleges and universities. It sounded very safe, almost like peacetime, almost like just going normally on to college. It was also very popular; groups the size of LST crews joined it, almost everyone who could qualify, except for a few who "wanted to fly" and so chose the Army Air Force, or something called V-5 instead. There were also a special few with energetic fathers who were expecting appointments to Annapolis or West Point or the Coast Guard Academy or even—this alternative had been unexpectedly stumbled on—the Merchant Marine Academy. Devon was by tradition and choice the most civilian of schools, and there was a certain strained hospitality in the way both the faculty and students worked to get along with the leathery recruiting officers who kept appearing on the campus. There was no latent snobbery in us; we didn't find any in them. It was only that we could feel a deep and sincere difference between us and them, a difference which everyone struggled with awkward fortitude to bridge. It was as though Athens and Sparta were trying to establish not just a truce but an alliance—although we were not as civilized as Athens and they were not as brave as Sparta.
Neither were we. There was no rush to get into fighting; no one seemed to feel the need to get into the infantry, and only a few were talking about the Marines. The thing to be was careful and self-preserving. It was going to be a long war. Quackenbush, I heard, had two possible appointments to the Military Academy, with carefully prepared positions in the V-12 and dentistry school to fall back on if necessary.
I myself took no action. I didn't feel free to, and I didn't know why this was so.' The gung ho group, 'in their accelerating change from absolute to relative virtue, came up with plan after plan, each more insulated from the fighting than the last. I did nothing.'
One morning, after a Naval officer had turned many heads in chapel with an address on convoy duty,' one of the boys, I think his name was Phil, from the group 'put his hand on the back of my neck in the vestibule outside and steered me into a room used for piano practice near the entrance. It was sound proofed, and he swung the vestibule door closed behind us.
"You've been putting off enlisting in something for only one reason," he said at once. "You know that, don't you?"
"No, I don't know that."
"Well, I know, and I'll tell you what it is. It's Finny. You pity him."
"Yes, pity him. And if you don't watch out he's going to start pitying himself. Nobody every mentions his leg to him except me. Keep that up and he'll be sloppy with self-pity any day now. What's everybody beating around the bush for? He's crippled and that's that. He's got to accept it and unless we start acting perfectly natural about it, even kid him about it once in a while, he never will."
"You're so wrong I can't even— I can't even hear you, you're so wrong."
"Well, I'm going to do it anyway."
"No. You're not."
"The hell I'm not. I don't have to have your approval, do I?"
"I'm his roommate, and I'm his best friend—"' I was lucky I stopped myself there.
'"And you were there when it happened. I know. And I don't give a damn. And don't forget," he looked at me sharply, "you've got a little personal stake in this. What I mean is it wouldn't do you any harm, you know, if everything about Finny's accident was cleared up and forgotten."
I felt my face grimacing in the way Finny's did when he was really irritated.' I had even picked up some habits of Finny's. '"What do you mean by that?"' And how the fuck did he know? Maybe he heard it from Brinker.
'"I don't know," he shrugged and chuckled in his best manner, "nobody knows." Then the charm disappeared and he added, "unless you know," and his mouth closed in its straight expressionless line, and that was all that was said.
I had no idea what' that kid 'might say or do. Before he had always known and done whatever occurred to him because he was certain that whatever occurred to him was right.' 'But I was afraid of that simple executive directness now.
I walked back from chapel and found Finny in our dormitory, blocking the staircase until the others who wanted to go up sang A Might Fortress Is Our God under his direction. No one who was tone deaf ever loved music so much. I think his shortcoming increased his appreciation; he loved it all indiscriminately—Beethoven, the latest love ditty, jazz, a hymn—it was all profoundly musical to Phineas.
"…Our helped He a-mid the floods," wafted out across the Common in the tempo of a football march, "Of mortal ills prevailing!"
"Everything was all right," said Finny at the end, "phrasing, rhythm, all that. But I'm not sure about your pitch. Half a tone off, I would estimate offhand."' Somehow, this display made me want to take him to bed. And he had been getting so much better lately that I figured it would be all right.
'We went on to our room.' And this time, things were better; we were learning how to navigate around Finny's leg and make things feel better than they had before. It was still clumsy and uncomfortable at certain points but we were getting so much better, finding smaller and less obvious ways to please each other. I guess it was the best we could hope for.
Afterwards, in my underwear, 'I sat down at the translation of Caesar I was doing for him, since he had to pass Latin at last this year or fail to graduate. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it.
"Is anything exciting happening now?"
"This part is pretty interesting," I said, "if I understand it right. About a surprise attack."
"Read me that."' Who was I to deny him this?
'"Well let's see. It begins, "when Caesar noticed that the enemy was remaining for several days at the camp fortified by a swamp and by the nature of the terrain, he sent a letter to Trebonius instructing him"—"instructing him" isn't actually in the text but it's understood; you know about that."
"Sure. Go on."
" "Instructing him to come as quickly as possible by long forced marches to him"—this "him" refers to Caesar of course."
Finny looked at me with glazed interest and said, "Of course."
" "Instructing him to come as quickly as possible by long forced marches to him with three legions; he himself"—Caesar, that is—"sent cavalry to withstand any sudden attacks of the enemy. Now when the Gauls learned what was going on, they scattered a select band of foot soldiers in ambushes; who, overtaking our horsemen after the leader Vertiscus had been killed, followed our disorderly men up to our camp." "
"I have a feeling that's what Mr. Horn is going to call a "muddy" translation." What's it mean?"
"Caesar isn't doing so well."
"But he won it in the end."
"Sure. If you mean the whole campaign—" I broke off. "He won it, if you really think there was a Gallic War…" Caesar, from the first, had been the one historical figure Phineas refused absolutely to believe in. Lost two thousand years in the past, master of a dead language and a dead empire, the bane and bore of schoolboys, Caesar he believed to be more of a tyrant at Devon than he had ever been in Rome. Phineas felt a personal and sincere grudge against Caesar, and he was outraged most by his conviction that Caesar and Rome and Latin had never been alive at all… "If you really think there ever was a Caesar," I said.
Finny got up from the cot, picking up his cane as an afterthought. He looked oddly at me, his face set to burst out laughing I thought. "Naturally I don't believe books and I don't believe teachers," he came across a few paces, "but I do believe—it's important after all for me to believe you. Christ, I've got to believe you, at least. I know you better than anybody." I waited without saying anything.' I made to hug him softly. "After that dream I had the other day, 'I knew that the war was real, this war and all the wars. If a war can drive somebody crazy, then it's real all right. Oh I guess I always knew, but I didn't have to admit it."' He was quite for a long time after that. I just held him, knowing it was the best I could do for him.
'"Anyway," said Finny' finally taking a step away from me, '"then I knew there was a real war on."
"Yes, I guess it's a real war all right. But I liked yours a lot better."
" So did I."
"I wish you hadn't found out. What did you have to find out for!" We started to laugh,' 'with a half-guilty exchange of glances, in the way that two people who had gone on a gigantic binge when they were last together would laugh when they met again at the parson's tea. "Well," he said, "you did a beautiful job in the Olympics."
"And you were the greatest news analyst who ever lived."
"Do you realize you won every gold medal in every Olympic event? No one's ever done anything like that in history."
"And you scooped every newspaper in the world on every story." The sun was doing antics among the million specks of dust hanging between us and casting a brilliant, unstable pool of light on the floor. "No one's ever done anything like that before."'
It was silly really. Phineas believed himself ready for any kind of sports. He was careful, he had said. I couldn't keep him from doing what he wanted. He was made for the outdoors and no one or nothing could keep him down. But when I heard about the accident, about what happened, again I wished I could have pinned him to the bed for the entire day instead of letting him leave to get himself hurt all over again. It caused a new wave of guilt for my actions from what had seemed like such a long time ago.
'"It's the leg again,"' he had said, '"broken again. But a much cleaner break I think, much cleaner. A simple fracture."' And then I had been shooed out of the Infirmary.
Wednesday morning, after returning 'to my room to get a notebook' 'I found a note from Dr. Stanpole. "Please bring some of Finny's clothes and his toilet things to the Infirmary."
I took his suitcase from the corner where it had been accumulating dust and put what he would need into it. I didn't know what I was going to say at the Infirmary. I couldn't escape a confusing sense of having lived through all of this before—Phineas in the Infirmary, and myself responsible.' If I had never jounced the tree, he could have played any sport until his little heart burst but somehow' I seemed to be less shocked by it now than I had the first time last August, when it had broken over our heads like a thunderclap in a flawless sky. There were hints of much worse things around us now like a faint odor in the air, evoked by words like "plasma" and "psycho" and "sulfa," strange words like that with endings like Latin nouns. The newsreels and magazines were choked with images of blazing artillery and bodies half sunk in the sand of a beach somewhere. We members of the Class of 1943 were moving very fast toward the war now, so fast that there were casualties even before we reached it, a mind was clouded and a leg was broke-maybe these should be thought of as minor and inevitable mishaps in the accelerating rush. The air around us was filled with much worse things.
In this way I tried to calm myself as I walked with Finny's suitcase toward the Infirmary. After all, I reflected to myself, people were shooting flames into caves and grilling other people alive, ships were being torpedoed and dropping thousands of men in the icy ocean, whole city blocks were exploding into flame in an instant. My brief burst of animosity, lasting only a second, a part of a second, something which came before I could recognize it and was gone before I knew it had possessed me, what was that in the midst of this holocaust?
I reached the Infirmary with Finny's suitcase and went inside. The air was laden with hospital smells, not unlike those of the gym except that the Infirmary lacked that sense of spent human vitality. This was becoming the new background of Finny's life, this purely medical element from which bodily health was absent.
The corridor happened to be empty, and I walked along it in the grip of a kind of fatal exhilaration. All doubt had been resolved at last. There was a wartime phrase coming into style just then—"this is it"—and although it later became a parody of itself, it had a final flat accuracy which was all that could be said at certain times. This was one of those times: this was it.
I knocked and went in. He was stripped to the waist, sitting up in bed, leafing through a magazine. I carried my head low by instinct, and I had the courage for only a short glance at him before I said quietly, "I've brought your stuff."
"Put the suitcase on the bed here, will you?" The tone of his words fell dead center, without a trace of friendliness or unfriendliness, not interested and not bored, not energetic and not languid.
I put it down beside him, and he opened it and began to look through the extra underwear and shirts and socks I had packed. I stood precariously in the middle of the room, trying to find somewhere to look and something to say, wanting desperately to leave and powerless to do so. Phineas went carefully over his clothes, apparently very calm. But it wasn't like him to check with such care, not like him at all. He was taking a long time at it, and then I noticed that as he tried to slide a hairbrush out from under a flap holding it in the case his hands were shaking so badly that he couldn't get it out. Seeing that released me on the spot.
"Finny, I tried to tell you before…"
"I know, I remember that." He couldn't, after all, always keep his voice under control.' "What're you here for?"
'"I don't know." I went over to the window and placed my hands on the sill. I looked down at them with a sense of detachment, as though they were hands somebody had sculptured and put on exhibition somewhere. "I had to' come." Then I added, with great difficulty, "I thought I belonged here."
I felt him turning to look at me, and so I looked up. He had a particular expression which his face assumed when he understood but didn't think he should show it, a settled, enlightened look; its appearance now was the first decent thing I had seen in a long time.
He suddenly slammed his fist against the suitcase. "I wish to God there wasn't any war."
I looked sharply at him. "What made you say that?"
"I don't know if I can take this with a war on. I don't know."
"If you can take—"
"What good are you in a war with a busted leg!"
"Well you—why there are lots—you can—"
He bent over the suitcase again. "I've been writing to the Army and the Navy and the Marines and the Canadians and everybody else all winter. Did you know that? No, you didn't know that. I used the Post Office in town for my return address. They all gave me the same answer after they saw the medical report on me. The answer was no soap. We can't use you. I also wrote to the Coast Guard, the Merchant Marine, I wrote to General de Gaulle personally, I also wrote to Chiang Kai-shek, and I was about ready to write somebody in Russia."
I made an attempt at a grin. "You wouldn't like it in Russia."
"I'll hate it everywhere if I'm not in this war! Why do you think I kept saying there wasn't any war all winter? I was going to keep on saying it until two seconds after I got a letter from Ottawa or Chungking or some place saying, "Yes, you can enlist with us."" A look of pleased achievement flickered over his face momentarily, as though he had really gotten such a letter. "Then there would have been a war."
"Finny," my voice broke but I went on, "Phineas, you wouldn't be any good in the war, even if nothing had happened to your leg."
A look of amazement fell over him. It scared me, but I knew what I said was important and right, and my voice found that full tone voices have when they are expressing something long-felt and long-understood and released at last. "They'd get you some place at the front and there you'd be over with the Germans or the Japs, asking if they'd like to field a baseball team against our side. You'd be sitting in one of their command posts, teaching them English. Yes. You'd get confused and borrow one of their uniforms, and you'd lend them one of yours. Sure, that's just what would happen. You'd get things so scrambled up nobody would know who to fight any more. You'd make a mess, a terrible mess, Finny, out of the war."
His face had been struggling to stay calm as he listened to me, but now he was crying but trying to control himself. "It was just some kind of blind impulse you had in the tree there, you didn't know what you were doing. Was that it?"
"Yes, yes, that was it. Oh that was it, but how can you believe that? How can you believe that? I can't even make myself pretend that you could believe that."
"I do, I think I can believe that. I've gotten awfully mad sometimes and almost forgotten what I was doing. I think I believe you, I think I can believe that. Then that was it. Something just seized you. It wasn't anything you really felt against me, it wasn't some kind of hate you've felt all along. It wasn't anything personal."
"No, I don't know how to show you, how can I show you, Finny? Tell me how to show you. It was just some ignorance inside me, some crazy ting inside me, something blind, that's all it was."
He was nodding his head, his jaw tightening and his eyes closed on the tears. "I believe you. It's okay because I understand and I believe you. You've already shown me and I believe you."' I couldn't stand any distance between us anymore. I went to him and kissed him in a way that told him that we would continue later, once he got out of the Infirmary.
'The rest of the day passed quickly. Dr. Stanpole had told me in the corridor that he was going to set the bone that afternoon. Come back around 5 o'clock, he had said, when Finny should be coming out of anesthesia.'
'At 4:45, instead of going to a scheduled meeting of the Commencement Arrangements Committee, on which I had been persuaded to take Brinker's place, I went to the Infirmary.
Dr. Stanpole was not patrolling the corridor as he habitually did when he was not busy, so I sat down on a bench amid the medical smells and waited. After about ten minutes he came walking rapidly out of his office, his head down and his hands sunk in the pockets of his white smock. He didn't notice me until he was almost past me, and then he stopped short. His eyes met mine carefully, and I said, "Well, how is he, sir?" in a calm voice which, the moment after I had spoken, alarmed me unreasonably.
Dr. Stanpole sat down next to me and put his capable-looking hand on my leg. "This is something I think boys of your generation are going to see a lot of," he said quietly, "and I will have to tell you about it now. Your friend is dead."
He was incomprehensible. I felt an extremely cold chill along my back and neck, that was all. Dr. Stanpole went on talking incomprehensibly. "It was such a simple, clean break. Anyone could have set it. Of course, I didn't send him to Boston. Why should I?"
He seemed to expect an answer from me, so I shook my head and repeated, "Why should you?"
"In the middle of it his heart simply stopped, without warning. I can't explain it. Yes, I can. There is only one explanation. As I was moving the bone some of the marrow must have escaped into his blood stream and gone directly to his heart and stopped it. That's the only possible explanation. Only one. There are risks, there are always risks. An operating room is a place where the risks are just more formal than in other places. An operating room and a war." And I noticed that his self-control was breaking up. "Why did it have to happen to you boys so soon, here at Devon?"
"The marrow of his bone…" I repeated aimlessly. This at last penetrated my mind. Phineas had died from the marrow of his bone flowing down his blood stream to his heart.
I did not cry then or ever about Finny. I did not cry even when I stood watching him being lowered into his family's strait-laced burial ground outside of Boston. I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case.
The quadrangle surrounding the Far Common was never considered absolutely essential to the Devon School. The essence was elsewhere, in the older, uglier, more comfortable halls enclosing the Center Common. There the School's history had unrolled, the fabled riot scenes and Presidential visits and Civil War musterings, if not in these buildings then in their predecessors on the same site. The upperclassmen and the faculty met there, the budget was compiled there, and there students were expelled. When you said "Devon" to an alumnus ten years after graduation he visualized the Center Common.
The Far Common was different, a gift from the rich lady benefactress. It was Georgian like the rest of the school, and it combined scholasticism with grace in the way which made Devon architecturally interesting. But the bricks had been laid a little too skillfully, and the wood work was not as brittle and chipped as it should have been. It was not the essence of Devon, and so it was donated, without too serious a wrench, to the war.
The Far Common could be seen from the window of my room, and early in June I stood at the window and watched the war moving in to occupy it. The advance guard which came down the street from the railroad station consisted of a number of Jeeps, being driven with a certain restraint, their gyration-prone wheels inactive on these old ways which offered nothing bumpier than a few cobblestones. I thought the Jeeps looked noticeably uncomfortable from all the power they were not being allowed to use. There is no stage you comprehend better than the one you have just left, and as I watched the Jeeps almost asserting a wish to bounce up the side of Mount Washington at eighty miles an hour instead of rolling along this dull street, they reminded me, in a comical and poignant way, of adolescents.
Following them there were some heavy trucks painted olive drab, and behind them came the troops. They were not very bellicose-looking; their columns were straggling, their suntan uniforms had gotten rumpled in the train, and they were singing Roll Out the Barrel.
"What's that?"' Chet 'said from behind me, pointing across my shoulder at some open trucks bringing up the rear. "What's in those trucks?"
"They look like sewing machines."
"They are sewing machines!"
"I guess a Parachute Rigger' school has to have sewing machines."
"If only Finny had enlisted in the Army Air Force and been assigned to Parachute Riggers' school…"
"Right. Now do you mind? Why talk about something you can't do anything about?"' I had the feeling that Chet was just trying to make light of it so I wouldn't have to really discuss it.
'"Right.'" he dropped it.
'I had to be right in never talking about what you could not change, and I had to make many people agree that I was right. None of them ever accused me of being responsible for what had happened to Phineas, either because they could not believe it or else because they could not understand it. I would have talked about that, but they would not, and I would not talk about Phineas in any other way.'
But after that 'I never talked about Phineas and neither did anyone else; he was, however, present in every moment of every day since Dr. Stanpole had told me. Finny had a vitality which could not be quenched so suddenly, even by the marrow of his bone. That was why I couldn't say anything or listen to anything about him, because he endured so forcefully that what I had to say would have seemed crazy to anyone else—I could not use the past tense, for instance—and what they had to say would be incomprehensible to me. During the time I was with him, Phineas created an atmosphere in which I continued to live, a way of sizing up the world with erratic and entirely personal reservations, letting its rocklike facts sift through and be accepted only a little at a time, only as much as he could assimilate without a sense of chaos and loss.
No one else I have ever met could do this. All others at some point found something in themselves pitted violently against something in the world around them. With those of my year this point often came when they grasped the fact of the war. When they began to feel that there was this overwhelmingly hostile thing in the world with them, then the simplicity and unity of their characters broke and they were not the same again.
Phineas alone had escaped this. He possessed an extra vigor, a heightened confidence in himself, a serene capacity for affection which saved him. Nothing as he was growing up at home, nothing at Devon, nothing even about the war had broken his harmonious and natural unity. So at last I had.' And so, in the end, I suppose it was fitting that it all came down to me.