I should have liked her to ask: "What was I, and what am I now?" And then I should have answered: "You were an honest girl and now you're a whore." At the same time her question would have indicated a need on her part to be well-considered, esteemed, appreciated by me. But I was disappointed in my hope: Cecilia did not open her mouth, and I saw that silence was the only answer I could expect from her. This silence meant that lying and unfaithfulness were, for her, words devoid of significance, not so much because she did not understand them as because they did not denote anything particular in her life. I felt she was eluding me again, and I seized her by her arms and shook her, crying out in a rage: " Why don't you speak, say something, why don't you answer?"
She announced, quite sincerely: "I have nothing to say."
Cecelia's father rose with an effort from the armchair in which he was sitting listening to the radio and held out his hand to me without speaking, at the same time pointing to his throat as if to warn me that, owing to the disease, he was unable to talk. I recalled the strange whispering, breathing sound that I had heard on the telephone some days before and realised that it had been he who had answered me. I looked at him as he fell back into his old leather armchair that was all blackened and worn, and then as he bent forward and turned down the volume of the radio. He must have been what is generally called a handsome man, with that slightly vulgar kind of handsomeness that is to be found in some over-symmetrical faces. Of that handsomeness there was now nothing left. Disease had ravaged his face, causing it to swell in some places and contract in others, reddening it here and whitening it there. And there was death already, it seemed to me, in his black hair, which lay flat and lifeless and glued down by an unhealthy sweat upon his brow and temples; in the purplish colour of his lips; and above all, in his round eyes, with their expression of intense dismay. These eyes seemed to say things which his mouth, even if it had not been speechless, would have passed over in silence; and they brought to mind, not merely by the dumbness produced by his disease, but, even more, the kind of forced helplessness of one who has been bound and gagged and left, alone and defenceless, to face a deadly peril.
Cecelia, as I think I have made clear, was not talkative, in fact her natural inclination was to keep silence; but even when she spoke she managed to be silent at the same time, thanks to the disconcertingly brief, impersonal quality of her manner. Words, in her mouth, seemed to lose all real significance, and were reduced to abstract sounds as though they were words in a foreign language that I did not know. The lack of any kind of accent or dialect and of any inflection of social class, the complete absence of revealing commonplaces, the reduction of conversation to pure and simple declarations of incontrovertible facts such as "It's hot today" - all these confirmed the impression of abstractness. I would ask her, for example, what she had done on the evening of the day before; and she would answer: "I had dinner at home and then went out with Mother and we went to the pictures together." Now these words, as I immediately noticed - "home," "dinner," "mother," "pictures" - which in another mouth would have meant what they usually mean, and consequently, according to how they were uttered, would have made me see whether she was lying or telling the truth - these same words, in Cecelia's mouth, seemed to be nothing more than abstract sounds, behind which it was impossible to imagine the reality either of truth or of falsehood. I have often wondered how it was that Cecelia contrived to speak and at the same time give the impression of being silent. And I came to the conclusion that she had only one means of expression, the sexual one, which however was obviously impossible to interpret even though original and powerful; and that with her mouth she said nothing, not even things concerned with sex, because her mouth was so to speak, a false orifice, without depth or resonance, that did not communicate with anything inside her. So much so that often, looking at her as she lay beside me on the divan after our intercourse, flat on her back with her legs open, I could not help comparing the horizontal cleft of her mouth with the vertical cleft of her sex and remarking, with surprise, how much more expressive the latter was than the former - and with the same purely psychological quality as those features of the face by which a person's nature is revealed.
After I had dialled the number Cecelia's telephone went on ringing for a long time in a mysterious silence. To be more precise, I felt the silence was mysterious inasmuch as Cecelia who was in the background of this silence, had from the moment when she failed to arrive become mysterious to me, like an animal which had taken refuge in the depths of its lair. However, although it was mysterious, this silence was not entirely negative. In an insecure sort of way, like a gambler who after many losses still deceives himself into thinking he is going to win, I hoped that Cecelia's voice would become audible. Instead of that a strange thing happened: the ringing stopped, someone took off the receiver but no one spoke; or rather I seemed to hear heavy breathing, or a kind of whispering, at the other end of the line. I called out: "Hello, hello," and several times I asked: "Who is speaking?" Finally I realised that the receiver at the other end had been replaced. In a rage I dialled the number again, was again answered with the same silence and with that mysterious sound of breathing, and again, finally, the receiver was replaced. The third time, the telephone rang for a long time but nobody replied.
This time she did the exact contrary of what the cat had done, in those far-off days of my childhood. The cat had spoken, in a human, reasonable, and I might almost say Christian, way; the pain I had inflicted upon it had raised it to human status. Cecilia, faced with the same cruelty, made a gesture of animal-like humility, at the same time both mute and touching. Instead of getting up as I had commanded, she nestled still more closely against me, hiding her face between my shoulder and ear, entwining her arms and legs about me and as it were imploring me, in silence, like an animal that cannot speak, not to go on tormenting her, whatever the reason for it might be or the satisfaction I might derive from it. This sad, humiliated, suppliant embrace, just as instinctively animal-like as the cat's mewing had been human and reasonable, produced the same effect. Suddenly I was ashamed of my cruelty, which was seeking an evidence of reality in the suffering of another person, and without persisting any longer in in my ridiculous requests I returned her embrace. Immediately I felt her body, which seemed to have been waiting only for this signal, clasp itself to mine in a different manner, no longer imploring now, but eager; and she dealt me the usual strong, impatient push with her groin, as if to notify me that she was ready. And thus, I thought to myself with more amusement than boredom, her meal was beginning.
He was now feeling completely wide awake, and for a moment was afraid that hours of sleeplessness lay ahead of him. Then the silence began to act as a drug, soaking into his nerves, and he lost consciousness. When he woke up, his throat was dry. He went to the refrigerator and found a carafe of pineapple juice. He drank direct from the container, delighted by its coldness and astringency. The watch showed three fifteen. He went back to bed trying to remember a dream about a waterfall made of pink water. His head felt heavy and confused, his thoughts running on with a life of their own, like a radio set picking up several stations at once. But he slept as soon as he lay down. When he woke, he knew had had been asleep for a long time; he felt the heaviness and dullness that comes after too much sleep. His mouth was dry again. The silence and the darkness brought on a sense of timelessness and unreality. The natural tendency on awaking is to look at the time, at the weather, to think ahead to what has to be done. This timeless silence frustrated the sense of expectation.
The small square room was white, impersonal, undecorated, a cell, a little sterile box with a wide door on one side. And in its centre stood a high hospital bed and bedside table with a glass of water and a glass straw. And the room was muffled and silent, secret and cut off from every world.
Mordeen lay in the bed, her hair spread over the pillow, and a bundle, silent and covered, was beside her. Her face was masked with gauze and she lay very still, but her breathing was hoarse and her chest rose fiercely, struggling to bring a rush of pure air to her lungs. Then slowly her head turned from side to side and she muttered and moaned, fighting her way up from drugged unconsciousness.
"You'll learn to do it again." Joe Saul laughed. "But not now. The work you are doing is much more important. I was telling Friend Ed how startled I was when the baby moved - lying in bed, and I guess I was half asleep, and then I felt this little secret movement, and it wakened me." He looked upward, smiling in his remembering. "At first it was as though someone had touched me to catch my attention, but very gently. And then I felt a creeping like a soft cat - stealthy. And then there was a little push, and then - you can believe this or not - there was shaking like silent-laughter and then a scrabbling movement. I felt it climb up my spine and then come tumbling down again. And then the small shake like laughing. Well, it startled me. I thought at first one of the dogs had crawled in bed with us. And I sat up and turned on the light. Mordeen didn't even wake up. And do you know what it was?" He pointed. "It was that one playing in the darkness of his mother." He laughed with pleasure, and Mordeen smiled. Victor moved restlessly.
And now she said it straight and clearly. "Joe Saul, I'm going to have a baby - we're going to have a baby."
He did not hear at first because he had not been listening for it, but the words repeated themselves silently in his ears. His face set, looking at her, and the words repeated themselves again deep in his brain. For a moment Joe Saul fought his trembling chin. And then he put his head down on his arms and wept.
Then, one after the other, I lugged the heavy, dust-covered logs across the hole mouth. The dark felt thick as velvet. I reached for the glass and bottle, and carefully, on my knees, with bent head, crawled to the farthest wall.
Cobwebs touched my face with the softness of moths. Wrapping my black coat round me like my own sweet shadow, I unscrewed the bottle of pills and started taking them swiftly, between gulps of water, one by one by one.
At first nothing happened, but as I approached the bottom of the bottle, red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down.
The silence drew off, baring the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life. Then, at the rim of vision, it gathered itself, and in one sweeping tide, rushed me to sleep.
Doctor Gordon's private hospital crowned a grassy rise at the end of a long, secluded drive that had been whitened with broken quahog shells. The yellow clapboard walls of the large house, with its encircling veranda, gleamed in the sun, but no people strolled on the green dome of the lawn.
As my mother and I approached the summer heat bore down on us, and a cicada started up, like an aerial lawnmower, in the heart of a copper beech tree at the back. The sound of the cicada only served to underline the enormous silence.
I stared through the Russian girl in her double-breasted grey suit, rattling off idiom after idiom in her own unknowable tongue - which Constantin said was the most difficult part, because the Russians didn't have the same idioms as our idioms - and I wished with all my heart I could crawl into her and spend the rest of my life barking out one idiom after another. It mightn't make me any happier, but it would be one more pebble of efficiency among all the other pebbles.
Then Constantin and the Russian girl interpreter and the whole bunch of black and white and yellow men arguing down there behind there labelled microphones seemed to move off into the distance. I saw their mouths going up and down without a sound, as if they were sitting on the deck of a departing ship, stranding me in the middle of a huge silence.
The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence.
I knew perfectly well the cars were making a noise, and the people in them and behind the lit windows of the buildings were making a noise, and the river was making a noise, but I couldn't hear a thing. The city hung in my window, flat as a poster, glittering and blinking, but it might just as well not have been there at all, for all the good it did me.
The china-white bedside telephone could have connected me up with things, but there it sat, dumb as a death's head. I tried to think of people I'd given my phone number to, so I could make a list of all the possible calls I might be about to receive, but all I could think of was that I'd given my phone number to Buddy Willard's mother so she could give it to a simultaneous interpreter she knew at the UN.
An hour later as Francois-Jules re-entered his room, having come to his senses again, he was affrighted by the horror of his crime. The tormenting grief of having killed his idol was mingled in his mind with the fear of punishment and of seeing his name sullied by the greatest dishonour, which would fall also upon his son.
Then the unfortunate man became calmer, reflecting that, as everything had taken place in silence, no evidence could be forthcoming - and since he had never allowed anything of his love to transpire, he might easily defy suspicion behind the irreproachable rectitude of his entire life. At eight o'clock the servant who usually work Andree every day gave the alarm, and Francois-Jules himself called in the law.
On the first occasion that the cat swallowed an entire pill, Canterel plunged him into the radiant aquarium. Then, after allowing a few minutes for the erythrite to take effect, he gave a special signal of command. The perfectly trained Khong-dek-len at once went to the bottom to mask himself with the horn, then swam to Danton's brain and brushed it with the tip of his metallic accessory. Joyfully, the professor saw his hopes completely realised. Under the influence of the powerful animal magnetism which the cone released, the facial muscles trembled and the fleshless lips began to move distinctly, vigorously pronouncing strings of noiseless words. By lip-reading, Canterel managed to make out various syllables just from the way they were articulated; then he discovered chaotic snatches of speech following one another disconnectedly or, sometimes, repeated ad nauseam with strange insistence.
Lantenengo Street had a sort of cottony silence to it. The snow was piled high in the gutters, and the street was open only to the width of two cars. It was too dark for the street to look cottony, and there was an illusion even about the silence. Irma thought she could yell her loudest and not be heard, so puffily silent did it look, but she also knew that if she wanted to (which she didn't) she could carry on a conversation with Mrs. Bromberg across the way, without either of them raising her voice. Irma chided herself for thinking this way about Mrs. Bromberg on Christmas morning, but immediately she defended herself: Jews do not observe Christmas, except to make money out of Christmas, so you do not have to treat Jews any different on Christmas than on any other day of the year. Besides, having the Brombergs on Lantenengo Street also hurt real estate values. Everybody said so. The Brombergs, Lute had it on good authority, had paid thirty thousand for the Price property, which was twelve thousand five hundred more than Will Price had been asking; but if the Brombergs wanted to live on Lantenengo Street, they could pay for it. Irma wondered if it was true that Sylvia Bromberg's sister and brother-in-law were dickering for the McAdams property next door. She wouldn't be surprised. Pretty soon there would be a whole colony of Jews in the neighbourhood, and the Fleigler children and all the other nice children in the neighbourhood would grow up with Jewish accents.
He drove through the devastated waste of a market. The wheels of his gig rolled briskly along over the discarded weights, and Jacobs hoofs buried themselves even deeper in the mud. Eibenschutz stopped in the middle of the market. The traders stood stiff and silent behind the stall tables like wax figures in a waxworks. Anselm Eibenschutz went from stall to stall, the gendarme at his side. He was shown scales and weights, proper scales, proper weights. Ah, he was well aware that they were the false ones, which were never used. He checked the hallmarks, he investigated scoops, pigeonholes, drawers, corners, hiding-places. At mother Czaczkes', the poultry-dealer's, he found seven false pound and kilo weights. He took down her name, he felt sorry for her. She was a haggard old Jewess, with reddened eyes, a firm nose and a wrinkled parchment countenance. It was really a matter of amazement that so many wrinkles could find their way onto such a thin covering of skin. He felt sorry for her, for poor mother Czaczkes. Nevertheless, he had to take down her name. Obviously her hands had been too feeble to throw away the weights in time, as the others had done.
The woman came. The stairs she descended ran by the side of the counter. She smoothed a path for herself through the noisy throng of deserters. That is, the path smoothed itself before her. At the far end of the taproom, by the window, opposite the stairs, sat Inspector Eibenschutz. He caught sight of the woman when she was standing on the first tread of the stairs. And he had known immediately that she would come to him. He had never seen her before. Already, in that first moment, when he had seen her on the uppermost stair, he had felt a dryness in his throat, so much so that he had seized the glass of mead and drained it at a single draught. It took a few minutes before the woman reached his table. The drunken deserters gave way before her delicate step. Slim, slender, narrow, a soft white shawl around her shoulders, which she held with her hands as if she were cold and as if this shawl could warm her, she walked steadily, with swaying hips and straight back. Her step was firm and graceful. The gentle tap of her high heels was audible for the space of a moment while the noisy men fell silent and stared at the woman. From the top step, he gaze was directed straight at Inspector Eibenschutz, as if her eyes strode before her feet.
The clerk made a bow, which looked almost like the curtsy of a small schoolgirl, and then disappeared. The Inspector, however, remained seated for some time, alone with the two green-shaded lamps. He felt as if he could talk to them. They were like human beings, a species of living, mellow, shining humans. He held a silent dialogue with them. 'Stick to your plan,' they said to him, green and benevolent. 'Do you really think so?' he asked in return. 'Yes, we think so!' said the lamps.
He forces his way through the thicket, among clubs and dried brush and stakes. From card to card, the tale advances in brusque leaps which have somehow to be graduated. The wood ends suddenly. The open country stretches out all around, silent; it seems deserted in the evening's shadow. On closer inspection, you can see that it is crammed with men, a disorderly throng that covers it, leaving no corner clear. But it is a flattened crowd, as if smeared over the surface of the ground: none of these men are standing, they lie on their bellies or on their backs, unable to raise their heads higher than the trampled blades of grass.
[The Tavern Of Crossed Destinies, from The Castle Of Crossed Destinies, Calvino, I.]
Or its restlessness: Saint Augustine, in Botticelli (Uffizi), begins to grow nervous, crumples page after page and throws them on the ground beneath the desk. Also in the study where there reigns meditative serenity, concentration, ease (I am still looking at the Carpaccio), a high-tension current passes: the scattered books left open turn their pages on their own, the hanging sphere sways, the light falls obliquely through the window, the dog raises his nose. Within the interior space there hovers the announcement of an earthquake: the harmonious intellectual geometry grazes the borderline of paranoid obsession. Or is it the explosions outside that shake the windows? As only the city gives a meaning to the bleak landscape of the hermit, so the study, with its silence and its order, is simply the place where the oscillations of the seismographs are recorded.
[The Tavern Of Crossed Destinies, from The Castle Of Crossed Destinies, Calvino, I.]
Perhaps the sin of King Amfortas is a cluttered wisdom, a saddened knowledge, kept perhaps at the bottom of the vessel Parsifal sees carried in procession up the steps of the castle, and he would like to know what it is, but still he remains silent. Parsifal's strong point is that he is so new to the world and so occupied with the fact of being in the world that it never occurs to him to ask questions about what he sees. And yet one question of his would suffice, a first question that releases the question of everything in the world that has never asked anything, and then the deposit of centuries collected at the bottom of pots in excavations is dissolved, the eras crushed among the telluric strata begin to flow again, the future recovers the past, the pollen of the abundant seasons buried for millennia in peat bogs starts drifting once more, rising on the dust of the years of drought...
[The Tavern Of Crossed Destinies, from The Castle Of Crossed Destinies, Calvino, I.]
We come out of the darkness, no, we enter; outside there is darkness, here something can be seen amid the smoke; the light is smoky, perhaps from candles, but colours can be seen, yellows, blues, on the white, on the table, coloured patches, reds, also greens, with black outlines, drawings on white rectangles scattered over the table. There are some clubs, thick branches, trunks, leaves, as outside, before, some swords slashing at us, among the leaves, the ambushes in the darkness where we were lost; luckily we saw a light in the end, a door; there are some gold coins that shine, some cups, this table arrayed with glasses and plates, bowls of steaming soup, tankards of wine; we are safe but still half-dead with fright; we can tell about it, we would have plenty to tell, each would like to tell the others what happened to him, what he was forced to see, with his own eyes in the darkness, in the silence; here now there is noise, how can I make myself heard, I cannot hear my voice, my voice refuses to emerge from my throat, I have no voice, I do not hear the others' voices either; noises are heard, I am not deaf after all, I hear bowls scraped, flasks uncorked, a clatter of spoons, chewing, belching; I make gestures to say I have lost the power of speech, the others are making similar gestures, they are dumb, we have all become mute, in the forest; all of us are around this table, men and women, dressed well or poorly, frightened, indeed frightful to see, all with white hair, young and old; I too look at my reflection in one of these mirrors, these cards, my hair too has turned white in sudden fear.
[The Tavern Of Crossed Destinies, from The Castle Of Crossed Destinies, Calvino, I.]
The next day, as early as possible, he climbed up to the loft, sat down, placed the frame on the stool against the wall, and waited without lighting the lamp. The only noises he heard clearly were coming from the kitchen or the toilet. Other sounds seemed distant, and the visits, the ringing of the doorbell or the telephone, the comings and goings, the conversations reached him half muffled, as if they were coming from the street or from the other courtyard. Besides, when the whole apartment was flooded with a harsh light, the darkness here was restful. From time to time a friend would come and camp beneath the loft. "What are you doing up there, Jonas?" - "I'm working." - "Without light?" - "Yes, for the time being." He was not painting, but he was meditating. In the darkness and this half-silence which, compared to his previous experience, seemed to him the silence of the desert or the grave, he was listening to his own heart. The sounds that reached the loft did not seem to concern him now, even if they were addressed to him. He was like those men who die at home alone in their sleep, and when morning comes the telephone rings and keeps ringing, urgent and insistent, in the deserted house, over a corpse forever deaf. But he was alive, he was listening to this silence within himself, he was waiting for his star, still hidden but ready to rise again, to emerge at last, unchanged, above the disorder of these empty days. "Shine, shine," he would say. "Don't deprive me of your light." It would shine again, he was sure of it. But he still needed more time to meditate, since at last he had a chance to be alone without being separated from his family. He needed to discover what he had not yet clearly understood, although he had always known it, and had always painted as if he knew it. He had to grasp at long last that secret which was not merely the secret of art, he could see. That is why he did not light the lamp.
A little later, however, when the Arab stirred imperceptibly, the teacher was still not asleep. When the prisoner moved a second time, he stiffened, on the alert. The Arab raised himself slowly on his arms, with an almost somnambulistic movement. Sitting in the bed, he waited, motionless, without turning his head toward Daru, as if he were listening attentively. Daru did not move. It occurred to him that the revolver was still in the desk drawer. It would be better to act at once. He continued to observe the prisoner, however, who with the same smooth movement placed his feet on the ground, waited again, then began to stand up slowly. Daru was about to interrupt him when the Arab began to walk, this time quite naturally but with extraordinary silence. He was heading to the door at the back that led to the shed. He lifted the latch cautiously and went out, pushing the door closed behind him without shutting it. Daru had not moved. "He's running away," he simply thought, "Good riddance!" Still, he listened with keen attention. The chickens were not stirring: therefore the other man was on the plateau. A faint sound of water came to him, which he understood only when the Arab was framed in the doorway again, carefully shut the door, and lay down once more without a sound. Then Daru turned his back to him and slept. Still later, from the depths of his sleep, he seemed to hear furtive steps outside the schoolhouse. "I'm dreaming, I'm dreaming!" he repeated to himself. And he slept on.
[The Guest, from Exile And The Kingdom, Camut, A.]
For a long time he lay on his couch watching the sky gradually close over, listening to the silence. It was this silence that had seemed difficult to him the first days of his arrival, after the war. He had requested a post in a small town at the base of the foothills that separate the high plateaus from the desert. There, rocky walls, green and black to the north, pink or mauve to the south, marked the frontier of eternal summer. He had been assigned a post farther north, on the plateau itself. In the beginning, the solitude and silence had been hard for him in these merciless lands inhabited only by stones. Sometimes the furrows seemed agricultural, but they had been dug to find a certain kind of stone useful in construction. The only labour here was harvesting pebbles. Otherwise, people scratched a few shavings of earth accumulated in the hollows to enrich the meagre village gardens. This is how it was, stones alone covered three quarters of this country. Towns sprang up here, flourished, then disappeared; men passed through, loved each other or cut each other's throats, then died. In this desert, no one, neither he nor his guest, mattered. And yet outside this desert, neither of them, Daru knew, could have truly lived.
[The Guest, from Exile And The Kingdom, Camut, A.]
Ballester, who was the oldest of them all, disapproved of the strike, but he'd kept quiet from the moment Esposito had told him that he was pandering to the boss's interests. Now, he stood near the door, broad and short in his navy-blue jersey, already barefoot (apart from Said, he was the only one who worked barefoot), and he watched them enter one by one with his eyes so clear that they seemed colourless in his old sunburned face, his sad mouth under a thick, drooping moustache. They were quiet, humiliated by this defeated entrance, furious at their own silence but less and less able to break it the longer it went on. They passed Ballester without looking at him, knowing that he was executing an order by letting them in this way; his bitter and doleful expression told them what he was thinking. Yvars looked at him. Ballester, who liked him, nodded his head without saying anything.
No breath, no sound, except at times the muffled cracking of stones being reduced to sand by the cold, came to disturb the solitude and silence that surrounded Janine. After a moment, however, it seemed to her that a kind of slow gyration was sweeping the sky above her. In the depths of the dry, cold night thousands of stars were formed unceasingly and their sparkling icicles, no sooner detached, began to slip imperceptibly toward the horizon. Janine could not tear herself away from the contemplation of these shifting fires. She turned with them, and the same stationary progression reunited her little by little with her deepest being, where cold and desire now collided. Before her, the stars were falling one by one, then extinguishing themselves in the stones of the desert, and each time Janine opened a little more to the night. She was breathing deeply, she forgot the cold, the weight of beings, the insane or static life, the long anguish of living and dying. After so many years fleeing from fear, running crazily, uselessly, she was finally coming to a halt. At the same time she seemed to be recovering her roots, and the sap rose in her body, which was no longer trembling. Pressing her whole belly against the parapet, leaning toward the wheeling sky, she was only waiting for her pounding heart to settle down, and for the silence to form in her. The last constellations of stars fell in bunches a little lower on the horizon of the desert, and stood motionless. Then, with an unbearable sweetness, the waters of the night began to fill Janine, submerging the cold, rising gradually to to the dark centre of her being, and overflowing wave upon wave to her moaning mouth. A moment later, the whole sky stretched out above her as she lay with her back against the cold earth.
[The Adulterous Wife, from Exile And The Kingdom, Camut, A.]
The bus was full of Arabs who seemed to be asleep, buried in their burnooses. Some had put their feet up on the benches and swayed more than others with the movements of the vehicle. Their silence, their impassiveness, weighed on Janine; she felt she had been travelling for days with this mute escort. Yet the bus had left at dawn from the railway station, and for two hours in the cold morning it had been advancing over a rocky, desolate plateau that, at least at the outset, had extended its lines straight to the reddening horizon. But the wind had risen, and little by little it had swallowed the vast expanse. From that moment the passengers could see nothing; one by one they had fallen quiet and had navigated in silence in a kind of sleepless night, sometimes rubbing their lips and eyes, irritated by the sand that had filtered into the car.
[The Adulterous Wife, from Exile And The Kingdom, Camut, A.]
But I find it impossible now to recall exactly what I said. I was almost unconscious. I spoke in a slow, subdued voice with a composure that suggested impropriety. I repeated the words, "young lady." I stopped talking altogether and began to look at the sunset, hoping that the shared vision of that peaceful scene would bring us together. I spoke again. The effort I was making to control myself pitched my voice even lower, and increased the indecency of my tone. After several more minutes of silence, I insisted, I implored, in what was surely a repulsive manner. And finally I became ridiculous. Trembling, almost shouting, I begged her to insult me, to inform against me even, if only she would break the horrible silence.
I have said that the City was builded on a stone plateau. That plateau, with its precipitous sides, was as difficult to scale as its walls. In vain did my weary feet walk round it; the black foundation revealed not the slightest irregularity, and the invariance of the walls proscribed even a single door. The force of the day dove me to seek refuge in a cavern; toward the rear there was a pit, and out of the pit, out of the gloom below, rose a ladder. I descended the ladder and made my way through a chaos of squalid galleries to a vast, indistinct circular chamber. Nine doors opened into that cellar-like place; eight led to a maze that returned, deceitfully, to the same chamber; the ninth led through another maze to a second circular chamber identical to the first. I am not certain how many chambers there were; my misery and anxiety multiplied them. The silence was hostile, and virtually perfect; aside from a subterranean wind whose cause I never discovered, within those deep webs of stone there was no sound; even the thin streams of iron-coloured water that trickled through crevices in the stone were noiseless. Horribly, I grew used to that dubious world; it began to seem incredible that anything could exist save nine-doored cellars and long, forking subterranean corridors. I know not how long I wandered under the earth; I do know that from time to time, in a confused dream of home, I conflated the horrendous village of the barbarians and the city of my birth, among the clusters of grapes.
The Company, with god-like modesty, shuns all publicity. Its agents, of course, are secret; the orders it constantly (perhaps continually) imparts are no different from those spread wholesale by impostors. Besides - who will boast of being a mere impostor? The drunken man who blurts out an absurd command, the sleeping man who suddenly awakes and turns and chokes to death the woman sleeping at his side - are they not, perhaps, implementing one of the Company's secret decisions? That silent functioning, like God's, inspires all manner of conjectures. One scurrilously suggests that the Company ceased to exist hundreds of years ago, and that the sacred disorder of our lives is purely hereditary, traditional; another believes that the Company is eternal, and that it shall endure until the last night, when the last god shall annihilate the earth. Yet another declares that the Company is omnipotent, but affects only small things: the cry of a bird, the shades of rust and dust, the half dreams that come at dawn. Another, whispered by masked heresiarchs, says that the Company has never existed, and never will. Another, no less despicable, argues that it makes no difference whether one affirms or denies the reality of the shadowy corporation, because Babylon is nothing but an infinite game of chance.
[The Lottery In Babylon, from Fictions, Borges, J.L.]
My breast pounded heavily; I was filled with sadness and grief, and every afflicted part of me shouted, "I do not want to die!" The legions of night followed in succession, and sleep overcame the little ones. My wife lingered about my head, my mother about my feet. Midnight came and as quickly passed while we were in this state, until the baying of jackals startled me with the blue light of dawn. A bizarre feeling of alarm seized me, as a sinister silence settled over all. Then I felt my mother's hand gripping my feet as she called in a quavering voice, "My son, my son!" My wife screamed, "Taw-ty, what do you see?" But I was unable to reply. Something, no doubt, aroused their apprehension. Did she see what this was? Did the warning show on my face? My gaze shifted against my will to the entrance of the room. The door was locked, yet the Messenger entered. He entered without needing to open the door. I knew him without knowing him before: He was the Messenger of the Hereafter, without any like him. He approached me in awesome silence and irresistible beauty. As he did so my eyes were fixed upon him; he was all I could see. I wanted to call out to him but my tongue would not obey. He seemed to know my inner desire, for his smile grew broader, and I recognised him as my escort, while nothing else remained in my mind.
[A Voice from the Other World, from Voices From The Other World, Mahfouz, N.]
The secret talk stirred among them, as each revealed what was inside of him - except for the magistrate. He stuck to his silence, gazing off into the distant horizons as though he heard nothing of what was being said around him. His apparition nearly caused many of them to give up hoping for his aid, until Ram whispered to them in embarrassment, "Don't worry about Sumer - his heart is with us. It's just his tongue, which is used to speaking about Justice, will not obey him in pursuing our purpose here."
[Evil Adored, from Voices From The Other World, Mahfouz, N.]