You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe

39. “One Big Fool”

The time had come for George to go. He knew he had to leave, but he had kept putting it off. Twice he had booked his passage back to America and made all his preparations for departure, and twice, as the day approached, he had cancelled the arrangements.

He hated the thought of quitting Germany, for he felt, somehow, that he would never again be able to return to this ancient land he loved so much. And Else — where, and under what alien skies, could he hope to see her again? Her roots were here, his were elsewhere. This would be a last farewell.

So, after delaying and delaying, once more he booked his passage and made his plans to leave Berlin on a day towards the middle of September. The postponement of the dreaded moment had only made it more painful. He would be foolish to draw it out any further. This time he would really go.

And at last came the fateful dawn.

The phone beside his bed rang quietly. He stirred, then roused sharply from that fitful and uneasy sleep which a man experiences when he has gone to bed late, knowing that he has to get up early. It was the porter. His low, quiet voice had in it the quality of immediate authority.

“It is seven ‘o’clock,” he said.

“All right,” George answered. “Thank you. I’m awake.”

Then he got up, still fighting dismally with a stale fatigue which begged for sleep, as well as with a gnawing tension of anxiety which called for action. One look about the room reassured him. His old leather trunk lay open on the baggage rest. It had been packed the night before with beautiful efficiency by the maid. Now there was very little more to do except to shave and dress, stow toilet things away, pack the brief-case with a few books and letters and the pages of manuscript that always accumulated wherever he was, and drive to the station. Twenty minutes’ steady work would find him ready. The train was not due until half-past eight, and the station was not three minutes distant in a taxi-cab. He thrust his feet into his slippers, walked over to the windows, tugged the cord, and pulled up the heavy wooden blinds.

It was a grey morning. Below him, save for an occasional motorcar, the quiet thrum of a bicycle, or someone walking briskly to his work with a lean, spare clack of early morning, the Kurfürstendamm was bare and silent. In the centre of the street, above the tram tracks, the fine trees had already lost their summer freshness — that deep and dark intensity of German green which is the greenest green on earth and which has a kind of forest darkness, a legendary sense of coolness and of magic. The leaves looked faded now, and dusty. They were already touched here and there by the yellowing tinge of autumn. A tram, cream-yellow, spotless, shining like a perfect toy, slid past with a hissing sound upon the rails and at the contacts of the trolley. Except for this, the tram-car made no noise. Like everything the Germans built, the tram and its road-bed were perfect in their function. The rattling and metallic clatter of an American street-car were totally absent. Even the little cobble-stones that paved the space between the tracks were as clean and spotless as if each of them had just been gone over thoroughly with a whisk broom, and the strips of grass that bordered the tracks were as green and velvety as Oxford sward.

On both sides of the street, the great restaurants, cafés, and terraces of the Kurfürstendamm had the silent loneliness that such places always have at that hour of the morning. Chairs were racked upon the tables. Everything was clean and bare and empty. Three blocks away, at the head of the street, the clock on the Gedächtnis-kirche belatedly struck seven times. He could see the great, bleak masses of the church, and in the trees a few birds sang.

Someone knocked upon the door. He turned and crossed and opened it. The waiter stood there with his breakfast tray. He was a boy of fifteen, a blond-haired, solemn child with a fresh pink face. He wore a boiled shirt, and a waiter’s uniform which was spotless-clean, but which had obviously been cut off and shortened down a little from the dimensions of some more mature former inhabitant. He marched in solemnly, bearing his tray before him straight towards the table in the centre of the room, stolidly uttering in a guttural and toneless voice his three phrases of English which were:

“Goot morning, sir,” as George opened the door

“If you bleeze, sir,” as he set the tray down upon the table, and then

“Dank you ferry much, sir,” as he marched out and turned to close the door behind him.

The formula had always been the same. All summer it had not varied by a jot, and now as he marched out for the last time George had a feeling of affection and regret. He called to the boy to wait a moment, got his trousers, took some money, and gave it to him. His pink face reddened suddenly with happiness. George shook hands with him, and the boy said gutturally:

“Dank you ferry much, sir.” And then, very quietly and earnestly: “Gute reise, mein Herr.” He clicked his heels together and bowed formally, and then closed the door.

George stood there for a moment with that nameless feeling of affection and regret, knowing that he would never see the boy again. Then he went back to the table and poured out a cup of the hot, rich chocolate, broke a crusty roll, buttered it, spread it with strawberry jam, and ate it. This was all the breakfast he wanted. The pot was still half full of chocolate, the dish was still piled with little scrolls of creamy butter, there was enough of the delicious jam, enough of the crusty rolls and flaky croissants, to make half a dozen breakfasts, but he was not hungry.

He went over to the wash-basin and switched on the light. The large and heavy porcelain bowl was indented in the wall. The wall and the floor beneath were substantial and as perfect as a small but costly bathroom. He brushed his teeth and shaved, packed all the toilet things together in a little leather case, pulled the zipper, and put it away in the old trunk. Then he dressed. By seven-twenty he was ready.

Franz Heilig came in as George was ringing for the porter. He was an astonishing fellow, an old friend of the Munich days, and George was devoted to him.

When they had first met, Heilig had been a librarian in Munich. Now he had a post in one of the large libraries of Berlin. In this capacity he was a public functionary, with the prospect of slow but steady advancement through the years. His income was small and his scale of living modest, but such things did not bother Heilig. He was a scholar, with the widest range of knowledge and interests that George had ever known in anyone. He read and spoke a dozen languages. He was German to the very core of his learned soul, but his English, which he spoke less well than any other language he had studied, was not the usual German rendering of Shakespeare’s tongue. There were plenty of Germanic elements in it, but in addition Heilig had also borrowed accents and inflections from some of his other linguistic conquests, and the result was a most peculiar and amusing kind of bastard speech.

As he entered the room and saw George he began to laugh, closing his eyes, contorting his small features, and snuffling through his sourly puckered lips as if he had just eaten a half-ripe persimmon. Then his face went sober and he said anxiously:

“You are ready, zen? You are truly going?”

George nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Everything’s all ready. How do you feel, Franz?”

He laughed suddenly, took off his spectacles, and began to polish them. Without his glasses, his small puckered face had a tired and worn look, and his weak eyes were bloodshot and weary from the night before.

“0 Gott!” he cried, with a kind of gleeful desperation. “I feel perfectly dret-ful! I haf not efen been to bett! After I left you I could not sleep. I valked and valked, almost up to Grunewald . . . May I tell you somesing?” he said earnestly, and peered at George with the serious intensity with which he always uttered these oracular words. “I feel like hell — I really do.”

“Then you haven’t been to bed at all? You’ve had no sleep?”

“Oh, yes,” he said wearily. “I haf slept an hour. I came back home. My girl vas asleep — I did not vant to get into ze bett wiz her — I did not vant to vake her up. So I laid down upon ze couch. I did not efen take off my clothes. I vas afraid zat I vould come too late to see you at ze station. And zat,” he said, peering at George most earnestly again, “vould be too dret-ful!”

“Why don’t you go back home and sleep today after the train goes?” George said. “I don’t think you’ll be able to do much work, feeling as you do. Wouldn’t it be better if you took the day off and caught up on your sleep?”

“Veil, zen,” said Heilig abruptly, yet rather indifferently, “I vill tell you somesing.” He peered at George earnestly and intently again, and said: “It does not matter. It really does not matter. I vill take somesing — some coffee or somesing,” he said indifferently. “It vill not be too bad. But Gott!”— again the desperately gleeful laugh —“how I shall sleep to-night! After zat I shall try to get to know my girl again.”

“I hope so, Franz. She’s a nice girl. I’m afraid she hasn’t seen much of you the last month or so.”

“Veil, zen,” said Heilig, as before, “I vill tell you somesing. It does not matter. It really does not matter. She is a good girl — she knows about zese sings — you like her, yes?”— and he peered at George eagerly, earnestly, again. “You sink she is nice?”

“Yes, I think she’s very nice.”

“Veil, zen,” said Heilig, “I vill tell you somesing. She is very nice. I am glad if you like her. She is very good for me. Ve get along togezzer very vell. I hope zat zey vill let me keep her,” he said quietly.

“They? Who do you mean by ‘they’, Franz?”

“Oh,” he said, wearily, and his small face puckered in an expression of disgust, “zese people — zese stupid people — zat you know about.”

“But good Lord, Franz! Surely they have not yet forbidden that, have they? A man is still allowed to have a girl, isn’t he? Why you can step right out into the Kurfürstendamm and get a dozen girls before you’ve walked a block.”

“Oh,” said Heilig, “you mean ze little whores. Yes, you may still go to ze little whores. Zat’s quite anozzer matter. You may go to ze little whores and perhaps zey give you somesing — a little poison. But zat is quite all right. You see, my dear shap,” here his face puckered in a look of impish malice, and he began to speak in the tone of exaggerated and mincing refinement that characterised some of his more vicious utterances, “I vill now tell you somesing. Under ze Dritte Reich ve are all so happy, everysing is so fine and healsy, zat it is perfectly Gott-tam dret-ful,” he sneered. “Ve may go to ze little whores in ze Kurfürstendamm. Zey vill take you to zeir rooms, or zey vill come wiz you. Yes,” he said earnestly, nodding, “zey vill come wiz you to vhere you live — to your room. But you cannot haf a girl. If you haf a girl you must marry her, and — may I tell you?” he said frankly —“I cannot marry. I do not make enough money. It vould be quite impossible!” he said decisively. “And may I tell you zis?” he continued, pacing nervously up and down and taking rapid puffs at his cigarette. “If you haf a girl, zen you must haf two rooms. And zat also is quite impossible! I haf not efen money enough to afford two rooms.”

“You mean, if you are living with a girl you are compelled by law to have two rooms?”

“It is ze law, yes,” said Heilig quietly, nodding with the air of finality with which a German states established custom. “You must. If you are liffing wiz a girl, she must haf a room. Zen you can say,” he went on seriously, “zat you are hiring wiz each ozzer. She may haf a room right next to you, but zen you can say zat she is not your girl. You may sleep togezzer every night, all you Gott-tam please. But zen, you see, you vill be good. You vill not do some sings against ze Party . . . Gott!” he cried, and, lifting his impish, bitterly puckered face, he laughed again. “It is all quite dret-ful!”

“But if they find, Franz, that you’re living with her in a single room?”

“Veil, zen,” he said quietly, “I may tell you zat she vill haf to go.” And then, wearily, dismissingly, in a tone of bitter indifference: “It does not matter. I do not care. I pay no attention to zese stupid people. I haf my vork, I haf my girl. And zat is all zat matters. Ven I am finished wiz my vork, I go home to my little room. My girl is zere, and zis little dog,” he said, and his face lighted up gleefully again. “Zis little dog — may I tell you somesing? — zis little dog — Pooki — ze little Scottie zat you know — I haf become quite fond of him. He is really quite nice,” said Heilig earnestly. “Ven he first came to us I hated him. My girl saw him and she fall in love wiz zis little animal,” said Heilig. “She said zat she must haf him — zat I must be buying him for her. Veil, zen,” said Heilig, quickly flipping the ash from his cigarette and moving up and down the room, “I said to her zat I vill not haf zis Gott-tam little beast about my place.” He fairly shouted these words to show the emphasis of his intention. “Veil, zen, ze girl cry. She talk alvays about zis little dog. She say zat she must haf him, zat she is going to die. Gott!” he cried gleefully again, and laughed. “It vas perfectly dret-ful. Zere vas no more peace for me. I vould go home at night and instantly she vould begin to cry and say she vill be dying if I do not buy zis little dog. So finally I say: ‘All right, haf it your own vay. I vill buy zis little animal!’” he said viciously —”‘Only for Gott’s sake, shut your crying!’ So, zen,” said Heilig impishly, “I vent to buy zis little dog, and I looked at him.” Here his voice became very droll, and with a tremendous sense of comic exaggeration his eyes narrowed, his small face puckered to a grimace, and his discoloured teeth gritted together as he snarled softly and gleefully: “I looked at zis little dog and I said —‘All right, you — you-u-u buh-loody little animalyou-u-u aww-ful — dret-ful — little bee-e-e-st — I vill take you home wiz me — but you — you-u-u damned little beast, you’"— here he gleefully and viciously shook his fist at an imaginary dog —”‘if you do some sings I do not like — if you viii be making some buh-loody awful messes in my place, I vill give you somesing to eat zat you will not enchoy’ . . . But zen,” said Heilig, “after ve had him, I became quite fond of him. He is quite nice, really. Sometime ven I come home at night and everysing has gone badly and zere haf been so many of zese dret-ful people, he vill come and look at me. He vill talk to me. He vill say he knows zat I am so unhappy. And zat life is very hard. But zat he is my friend. Yes, he is really very nice. I like him very much.”

During this conversation the porter had come in and was now waiting for his orders. He asked George if everything was in the leather trunk. George got down on hands and knees and took a final look under the bed. The porter opened doors and drawers. Heilig himself peered inside the big wardrobe and, finding it empty, turned to George with his characteristic expression of surprise and said:

“Veil, zen, I may tell you zat I sink you have it all.”

Satisfied on this score, the porter closed the heavy trunk, locked it, and tightened the straps, while Heilig helped George stuff manuscripts, letters, and a few books into the old brief-case. Then George fastened the brief-case and gave it to the porter. He dragged the baggage out into the hall and said he would wait for them below.

George looked at his watch and found that it still lacked three-quarters of an hour until train time. He asked Heilig if they should go on immediately to the station or wait at the hotel.

“Ve can vait here,” he said. “I sink it vould be better. If you vait here anozzer half an hour, zere vould still be time.”

He offered George a cigarette and struck a match for him. Then they sat down, George at the table, Heilig upon the couch against the wall. And for a minute or two they smoked in silence.

“Vell, zen,” said Heilig quietly, “zis time it is to be good-bye . . . Zis time you vill really go?”

“Yes, Franz. I’ve got to go this time. I’ve missed two boats already. I can’t miss another one.”

They smoked in silence for a moment more, and then suddenly, earnestly and anxiously, Heilig said:

“Vell, zen, may I tell you somesing? I am sorry.”

“And I, too, Franz.”

Again they smoked in troubled and uneasy silence.

“You vill come back, of gourse,” said Heilig presently. And then, decisively: “You must, of gourse. Ve like you here.” Another pause, then very simply and quietly: “You know, ve do so luff you.”

George was too moved to say anything, and Heilig, peering at him quickly and anxiously, continued:

“And you like it here? You like us? Yes!” he cried emphatically, in answer to his own question. “Of gourse you do!”

“Of course, Franz.”

“Zen you must come back,” he said quietly. “It vould be quite dret-ful if you did not.” He looked at George searchingly again, but George said nothing. In a moment Heilig said: “And I— I shall hope zat ve shall meet again.”

“I hope so, too, Franz,” said George. And then, trying to throw off the sadness that had fallen on them, he went on as cheerfully as he could, voicing his desire more than his belief: “Of course we shall. I shall come back some day, and we shall sit together talking just the same as we are now.”

Heilig did not answer immediately. His small face became contorted with the look of bitter and malicious humour which George had seen upon it so often. He took off his glasses quickly, polished them, wiped his tired, weak eyes, and put his glasses on again.

“You sink so?” he said, and smiled his wry and bitter smile.

“I’m sure of it,” George said positively, and for the moment he almost believed it. “You and I and all the friends we know — we’ll sit together drinking, we’ll stay up all night and dance around the trees and go to Aenna Maentz at three o’clock in the morning for chicken soup. All of it will be the same.”

“Vell, zen, I hope zat you are right. But I am not so sure,” said Heilig quietly. “I may not be here.”

“You!” George laughed derisively. “Why what are you talking about? You know you wouldn’t be happy anywhere else. You have your work, it’s what you always wanted to do, and at last you’re in the place where you always wanted to be. Your future is mapped out clearly before you — it’s just a matter of hanging on until your superiors die off or retire. You’ll always be here!”

“I am not so sure,” he said. He puffed at his cigarette, and then continued rather hesitantly. “You see — zere are zese fools — zese stupid people!” He ground his cigarette out viciously in the ashtray, and, his face twisted in a wry smile of defiant, lacerated pride, he cried angrily: “Myself — I do not care. I do not vorry for myself. Right now I haf my little life — my little chob — my little girl — my little room. Zese people — zese fools!” he cried —“I do not notice zem. I do not see zem. It does not bozzer me,” he cried. And now, indeed, his face had become a grotesque mask. “I shall always get along,” he said. “If zey run me out — yell, zen, I may tell you zat I do not care! Zere are ozzer places!” he cried bitterly. “I can go to England, to Sveden. If zey take my chob, my girl,” he cried scornfully and waved his hand impatiently, “may I tell you zat it does not matter. I shall get along. And if zese fools — zese stupid people — if zey take my life — I do not sink zat is so terrible. You sink so? Yes?”

“Yes, I do think so, Franz. I should not like to die.”

“Vell, zen,” said Heilig quietly, “wiz you it is a different matter. You are American. Wiz us, it is not ze same. I haf seen men shot, in Munich, in Vienna — I do not sink it is too bad.” He turned and looked searchingly at George again. “No, it is not too bad,” he said.

“Oh hell, you’re talking like an idiot,” George said. “No one’s going to shoot you. No one’s going to take your job or girl away. Why, man, your job is safe. It has nothing to do with politics. And they’d never find another scholar like you. Why, they couldn’t do without you.”

He shrugged his shoulders indifferently and cynically. “I do not know,” he said. “Myself — I think ye can do wizout everybody if ye must. And perhaps ye must.”

“Must? What do you mean by that, Franz?”

Heilig did not answer for a moment. Then he said abruptly: “Now I sink zat I vill tell you somesing. In ze last year here, zese fools haf become quite dret-ful. All ze Chews haf been taken from zeir vork, zey haf nozzing to do any more. Zese people come around — some stupid people in zeir uniform”— he said contemptuously —“and zey say zat everyone must be an Aryan man — zis vonderful plue-eyed person eight feet tall who has been Aryan in his family since 1820. If zere is a little Chew back zere — zen it is a pity,” Heilig jeered. “Zis man can no more vork — he is no more in ze Cherman spirit. It is all quite stupid.” He smoked in silence for a minute or two, then continued: “Zis last year zese big fools haf been coming round to me. Zey demand to know who I am, vhere I am from — whezzer or not I haf been born or not. Zey say zat I must prove to zem zat I am an Aryan man. Ozzervise I can no longer vork in ze library.”

“But my God, Franz!” George cried, and stared at him in stupefaction. “You don’t mean to tell me that — why, you’re not a Jew,” he said, “are you?”

“Oh Gott no!” Heilig cried, with a sudden shout of gleeful desperation. “My dear shap, I am so Gott-tam Cherman zat it is perfectly dret-ful.”

“Well, then,” George demanded, puzzled, “what’s the trouble? Why should they bother you? Why worry about it if you’re a German?”

Heilig was silent a little while, and the look of wry, wounded humour in his small, puckered face had deepened perceptibly before he spoke again.

“My dear Chorge,” he said at last, “now I may tell you somesing. I am completely Cherman, it is true. Only, my poor dear mozzer — I do so luff her, of course — but Gott!” He laughed through his closed mouth, and there was bitter merriment in his face. “Gott! She is such a fool! Zis poor lady,” he said, a trifle contemptuously, “luffed my fazzer very much — so much, in fact, zat she did not go to ze trouble to marry him. So zese people come and ask me all zese questions: and say: Where is your fazzer!’ And of gourse I cannot tell zem. Because, alas, my dear old shap, I am zis bastard. Gott!” he cried again, and with eyes narrowed into slits he laughed bitterly out of the corner of his mouth. “It is all so dret-ful — so stupid — and so horribly funny!”

“But Franz! Surely you must know who your father is — you must have heard his name.”

“My Gott, yes!” he cried. “Zat is vhat makes it all so funny.”

“You mean you know him, then? He is living?”

“But of gourse,” said Heilig. “He is living in Berlin.”

“Do you ever see him?”

“But of gourse,” he said again. “I see him every veek. Ve are quite good friends.”

“But — then I don’t see what the trouble is — unless they can take your job from you because you’re a bastard. It’s embarrassing, of course, and all that, both for your father and yourself — but can’t you tell them? Can’t you explain it to them? Won’t your father help you out?”

“I am sure he vould,” said Heilig, “if I told zis sing to him. Only, I cannot tell him. You see,” he went on quietly, “my fazzer and I are quite good friends. Ve never speak about zis sing togezzer — ze vay he knew my mozzer. And now, I vould not ask him — I vould not tell him of zis trouble — I vould not vant him to help me — because it might seem zat I vas taking an adwantage. It might spoil everysing.”

“But your father — is he known here? Would these people know his name if you mentioned it?”

“Oh Gott yes!” Heilig cried out gleefully, and snuffled with bitter merriment. “Zat is vhat makes it all so horrible — and so dret-fully amusing. Zey vould know his name at vonce. Perhaps zey vill say zat I am zis little Chew and t’row me out because I am no Aryan man — and my fazzer”— Heilig choked and, snuffling, bent half over in his bitter merriment —“my fazzer is zis loyal Cherman man — zis big Nazi — zis most important person in ze Party!”

For a moment George looked at his friend — whose name, ironically, signified “the holy one”— and could not speak. This strange and moving illumination of his history explained so much about him — the growing bitterness and disdain towards everyone and everything, the sense of weary disgust and resignation, the cold venom of his humour, and that smile which kept his face almost perpetually puckered up. As he sat there, fragile, small, and graceful, smiling his wry smile, the whole legend of his life became plain. He had been life’s tender child, so sensitive, so affectionate, so amazingly intelligent. He had been the fleeceling lamb thrust out into the cold to bear the blast and to endure want and loneliness. He had been wounded cruelly. He had been warped and twisted. He had come to this, and yet he had maintained a kind of bitter integrity.

“I’m so sorry, Franz,” George said. “So damned sorry. I never knew of this.”

“Vell, zen,” said Heilig indifferently, “I may tell you zat it does not matter. It really does not matter.” He smiled his tortured smile, snuffling a little through his lips, flicked the ash from his cigarette, and shifted his position. “I shall do somesing about it. I haf engaged one of zese little men — zese dret-ful little people — vhat do you call zem? — lawyers! — O Gott, but zey are dret-ful!” he shouted gleefully. “I haf bought one of zem to make some lies for me. Zis little man wiz his papers — he vill feel around until he discover fazzers, mozzers, sisters, brozzers — everysing I need. If he cannot, if zey vill not believe — yell, zen,” said Heilig, “I must lose my chob. But it does not matter. I shall do somesing. I shall go somevhere else. I shall get along somehow. I haf done so before, and it vas not too terrible . . . But zese fools — zese dret-ful people!” he said with deep disgust. “Some day, my dear Chorge, you must write a bitter book. You must tell all zese people just how horrible zey are. Myself — I haf no talent. I cannot write a book. I can do nozzing but admire vhat ozzers do and know if it is good. But you must tell zese dret-ful people vhat zey are . . . I haf a little fantasy,” he went on with a look of impish glee. “Ven I feel bad — yen I see all zese dret-ful people valking up and down in ze Kurfürstendamm and sitting at ze tables and putting food into zeir faces — zen I imagine zat I haf a little ma-chine gun. So I take zis little ma-chine gun and go up and down, and ven I see one of zese dret-ful people I go — ping-ping-ping-pingping!” As he uttered these words in a rapid, childish key, he took aim with his hand and hooked his finger rapidly. “0 Gott!” he cried ecstatically. “I should so enchoy it if I could go around wiz zis little ma-chine gun and use it on all zese stupid fools! But I cannot. My ma-chine gun is only in imagination. Wiz you it is different. You haf a ma-chine gun zat you can truly use. And you must use it,” he said earnestly. “Some day you must write zis bitter book, and you must tell zese fools vhere zey belong. Only,” he added quickly, and turned anxiously towards George, “you must not do it yet. Or if you do, you must not say some sings in zis book zat vill make zese people angry wiz you here.”

“What kind of things do you mean, Franz?”

“Zese sings about”— he lowered his voice and glanced quickly towards the door —“about politics — about ze Party. Sings zat vould bring zem down on you. It would be quite dret-ful if you did.”

“Why would it?”

“Because,” he said, “you have a great name here. I don’t mean wiz zese fools, zese stupid people, but wiz ze people left who still read books. I may tell you,” he said earnestly, “zat you have ze best name here now of any foreign writer. If you should spoil it now — if you should write some sings now zat zey vould not like — it vould be a pity. Ze Reichschriftskammer vould forbid your books — vould tell us zat ve could no longer read you — and ve could not get your books. And zat vould be a pity. Ve do so like you here — I mean ze people who understand. Zey know so vell about you. Zey understand ze vay you feel about sings. And I may tell you zat ze translations are quite marvellous. Ze man who does zem is a poet, and he luffs you — he gets you in, ze vay you feel — your images — ze rhythmus of your writing. And ze people find it very vonderful. Zey cannot believe zat zey are reading a translation. Zey say zat it must haf been written in Cherman in ze beginning. And-0 Gott!” he shouted gleefully again —“zey call you everysing — ze American Homer, ze American epic writer. Zey like and understand you so much. Your writing is so full of juice, so round and full of blood. Ze feeling is like feeling zat ve haf. Wiz many people you haf ze greatest name of any writer in ze world today.”

“That’s a good deal more than I’ve got at home, Franz.”

“I know. But zen, I notice, in America zey lull everyvun a year — and zen zey spit upon him. Here, wiz many people you haf zis great name,” he said earnestly, “and it vould be too dret-ful — it vould be such a pity — if you spoil it now. You vill not?” he said, and again looked anxiously and earnestly at George.

George looked off in space and did not answer right away; then he said:

“A man must write what he must write. A man must do what he must do.”

“Zen you mean zat if you felt zat you had to say some sings — about politics — about zese stupid fools — about ——”

“What about life?” George said. “What about people?”

“You vould say it?”

“Yes, I would.”

“Efen if it did you harm? Efen if it spoiled you here? Efen if ve could no longer read vhat you write?” With his small face peering earnestly at George, he waited anxiously for his reply.

“Yes, Franz, even if that happened.”

Heilig was silent a moment, and then, with apparent hesitancy, he said:

“Efen if you write somesing — and zey say to you zat you cannot come back?”

George, too, was silent now. There was much to think of. But at last he said:

“Yes, even if they told me that.”

Heilig straightened sharply, with a swift intake of anger and impatience. “Zen I vill tell you somesing,” he said harshly. “You are one big fool.” He rose, flung his cigarette away, and began to pace nervously up and down the room. “Vhy should you go and spoil yourself?” he cried. “Vhy should you go and write sings now zat vill make it so zat you cannot come back. You do so luff it here!” he cried; then turned sharply, anxiously, and said: “You do, of gourse?”

“Yes, I do — better than almost any other place on earth.”

“And ve alzo!” cried Heilig, pacing up and down. “Ve do so luff you, too. You are no stranger to us, Chorge. I see ze people look at you ven you go by upon ze street and zey all smile at you. Zere is somesing about you zat zey like. Ze little girls in ze shirt shop yen ye vent to buy ze shirt for you — zey all said: ‘Who is he?’ Zey all vanted to know about you. Zey kept ze shop open two hours late, till nine o’clock zat night, so zat ze shirt vould be ready for you. Efen ven you speak zis poor little Cherman zat you speak, all ze people like it. Ze vaiters in ze restaurants come and do sings for you before everybody else, and not because zey vant a tip from you. You are at home here. Everybody understands you. You have zis famous name — to us you are zis great writer. And for a little politics,” he said bitterly, “because zere are zese stupid fools, you vould now go and spoil it all.”

George made no answer. So Heilig, still walking feverishly up and down, went on:

“Vhy should you do it? You are no politician. You are no propaganda Party man. You are not one of zese Gott-tam little New York Salon–Kommunisten.” He spat the word out viciously, his pale eyes narrowed into slits. “May I now tell you somesing?” He paused abruptly, looking at George. “I hate zese bloody little people — zese damned aest’etes — zese little propaganda literary men.” Puckering his face into an expression of mincing disdain, advancing with two fingers pressed together in the air before him, and squinting at them with delicately lidded eyes, he coughed in an affected way —“U-huh, u-huh!”— and then, in a tone of mincing parody, he quoted from an article he had read: “‘HI may say so, ze transparence of ze Darstellung in Vebber’s vork . . . ’ U-huh, u-huh!” he coughed again. “Zis bloody little fool who wrote zat piece about you in Die Dame— zis damned little aest’ete wiz zese phrases about ‘ze transparence of ze Darstellung’— may I tell you somesing?” he shouted violently. “I spit upon zese bloody people! Zey are everyvhere ze same. You find zem in London, Paris, Vienna. Zey are bad enough in Europe — but in America!” he shouted, his face lighting up with impish glee —“O Gott! If I may tell you so, zey are perfectly dret-ful! Vhere do you get zem from? Efen ze European aest’ete says: ‘My Gott! zese bloody men, zese awful people, zese demned aest’etes from ze Oo Ess Ah — zey are too dretful!’”

“Are you talking now of Communists? You began on them, you know!”

“Veil now,” he said, curtly and coldly, with the arrogant dismissal that was becoming more and more characteristic of him, “it does not matter. It does not matter vhat zey call zemselves. Zey are all ze same. Zey are zese little expressionismus, surréalismus, Kommunismus people — but really zey can call zemselves anysing, everysing, for zey are nozzing. And may I tell you zat I hate zem. I am so tired of all zese belated little people,” he said, and turned away with an expression of weariness and disgust. “It does not matter. It simly does not matter vhat zey say. For zey know nozzing.”

“You think then, Franz, that all of Communism is like that — that all Communists are just a crowd of parlour fakes?”

“Oh, die Kommunisten,” said Heilig wearily. “No, I do not sink zat zey are all fakes. And Kommunismus”— he shrugged his shoulders —“vell, zen, I sink zat it is very good. I sink zat some day ze vorld may live like zat. Only, I do not sink zat you and I will see it. It is too great a dream. And zese sings are not for you. You are not one of zese little propaganda Party people — you are a writer. It is your duty to look around you and to write about ze vorld and people as you see zem. It is not your duty to write propaganda speeches and call zem books. You could not do zat. It is quite impossible.”

“But suppose I write about the world and people as I see them, and come in conflict with the Party — what then?”

“Zen,” he said roughly, “you vill be one big fool. You can write everysing you need to write wizout zese Party people coming down on you. You do not need to mention zem. And if you do mention zem, and do not say nice sings, zen ye can no longer read you, and you cannot come back. And for vhat vould you do it? If you vere some little propaganda person in New York, you could say zese sings and zen it vould not matter. Because zey can say anysing zey like — but zey know nozzing of us, and it costs zem nozzing. But you — you have so much to lose.”

Heilig paced back and forth in feverish silence, puffing on his cigarette, then all at once he turned and demanded truculently:

“You sink it is so bad here now? — ze vay sings are wiz ze Party and zese stupid people? You sink it vould be better if zere vas anozzer party, like in America? Zen,” he said, not waiting for an answer, “I sink you are mistaken. It is bad here, of gourse, but I sink it vill be soon no better wiz you. Zese bloody fools — you find zem everyvhere. Zey are ze same wiz you, only in a different vay.” Suddenly he looked at George earnestly and searchingly. “You sink zat you are free in America — no?” He shook his head and went on: “I do not sink so. Ze only free ones are zese dret-ful people. Here, zey are free to tell you vhat you must read, vhat you must believe, and I sink zat is also true in America. You must sink and feel ze vay zey do — you must say ze sings zey vant you to say — or zey kill you. Ze only difference is zat here zey haf ze power to do it. In America zey do not haf it yet, but just vait — zey vill get it. Ve Chermans haf shown zem ze vay. And zen, you vould be more free here zan in New York, for here you haf a better name, I sink, zan in America. Here zey admire you. Here you are American, and you could efen write and say sings zat no Cherman could do, so long as you say nozzing zat is against ze Party. Do you sink zat you could do zat in New York?”

He paced the floor in silence for a long moment, pausing to look searchingly at George. At length he answered his own question:

“No, you could not. Zese people here — zey say zat zey are Nazis. I sink zat zey are more honest. In New York, zey call zemselves by some fine name. Zey are ze Salon–Kommunisten. Zey are ze Daughters of ze Revolution. Zey are ze American Legion. Zey are ze business men, ze Chamber of Commerce. Zey are one sing and anozzer, but zey are all ze same, and I sink zat zey are Nazis, too. You vill find everyvhere zese bloody people. Zey are not for you. You are not a propaganda man.”

Again there was a silence. Heilig continued to pace the floor, waiting for George to say something; when he did not, Heilig went on again. And in his next words he revealed a depth of cynicism and indifference which was greater than George had ever before suspected, and of which he would not have thought Heilig’s sensitive soul was capable.

“If you write somesing now against ze Nazis,” said Heilig, “you vill please ze Chews, but you cannot come back to Chermany again, and zat for all of us vould be quite dret-ful. And may I tell you some-sing?” he cried harshly and abruptly, and glared at George. “I do not like zese Gott-tam Chews any more zan I like zese ozzer people. Zey are just as bad. Ven all is going yell wiz zem, zey say: ‘Ve spit upon you and your bloody country because ye are so vunderful.’ And yen sings are going bad wiz zem, zey become zese little Chewish men zat veep and wring zeir hands and say: ‘Ve are only zese poor, downtrodden Chews, and look vhat zey are doing to us.’ And may I tell you,” he cried harshly, “zat I do not care. I do not sink it matters very much. I sink zat it is stupid vhat zese bloody fools are doing to zese Chews — but I do not care. It does not matter. I haf seen zese Chews yen zey vere high and full of power, and really zey vere dret-ful. Zey vere only for zemselves. Zey spit upon ze rest of us. So it does not matter,” he repeated harshly. “Zey are as bad as all ze ozzers, zese great, fat Chews. If I had my little ma-chine gun, I vould shoot zem, too. Ze only sing I care about more is vhat zese dret-ful fools viii do to Chermany — to ze people.” Anxiously, he looked at George and said: “You do so like ze people, Chorge?”

“Enormously,” said George, almost in a whisper, and he was filled with such an overwhelming sadness — for Germany, for the people, and for his friend — that he could say no more. Heilig caught the full implications of George’s whispered tone. He glanced at him sharply. Then he sighed deeply, and his bitterness dropped away.

“Yes,” he said quietly, “you must, of gourse.” Then he added gently: “Zey are really a good lot. Zey are big fools, of gourse, but zey are not too bad.”

He was silent a moment. He ground out his cigarette in the ashtray, sighed again, and then said, a little sadly:

“Veil, zen, you must do vhat you must do. But you are one big fool.” He looked at his watch and put his hand upon George’s arm. “Come on, old shap. Now it is time to go.”

George got up, and for a moment they stood looking at each other, then they clasped each other by the hand.

“Good-bye, Franz,” George said.

“Good-bye, dear Chorge,” said Heilig quietly. “Ve shall miss you very much.”

“And I you,” George answered. Then they went out.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wolfe/thomas/you-cant-go-home-again/chapter39.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30