“The Reverse Bug” was first published in The New Yorker, and was included in 2007 in “Shakespeare’s Kitchen,” a collection of linked short stories woven into a novel (a form that seems to be gaining popularity—the most successful example being “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, who is, by her own acknowledgment, markedly influenced by Segal’s work).
The character of Ilka, the protagonist of “The Reverse Bug,” appears in most of the stories in the collection. Like Segal herself, as a child, Ilka was sent away from her home in Vienna on the Kindertransport. Dealing with the horrors of the Second World War is far from an academic undertaking for Ilka or Segal. Ilka is an English teacher, and at the beginning of the story she invites her students to a symposium that would take place on their campus: “”The theme,” Ilka says, “is ‘Should there be a statute of limitations on genocide?’ with a wine-and-cheese reception – ” It is with this sentence that Segal chooses to present a symposium on a picturesque campus in New England and introduce her scathing satire about academia—the absurdity of a particular brand of humanities and social sciences studies, where difficult, critical subjects are discussed, but in the pampering setting of cheese and wine receptions.
Is it possible to talk about genocide in this manner? And more importantly for Segal, is it possible to listen to the pain of those who had experienced or survived it? The story plays with the idea that it may be possible to listen to the pain, but in order to achieve that purpose, there is a need for a fantastical invention—the reverse bug. The standard bug enables the detective or spy to listen to information people would prefer not to share. The reverse bug, developed by a Japanese engineer who used to work for the Nazis, instills voices that people would prefer not to hear. Segal will show us if such an invention will make the academics, the legal scholars and diplomats who convened in order to talk about genocide, actually listen, or will they simply find another way to evade the noise. Segal displays great sensitivity and tolerance toward human weaknesses and the desire not to know. But there is also humor in the story, an equally important quality when we wish to approach the great questions that the 20th century has left us with, and that the 21st century continues to ask.
“Let’s get the announcements out of the way,” said Ilka, the teacher, to her foreigners in Conversational English for Adults. “Tomorrow evening the institute is holding a symposium. Ahmed,” she asked the Turkish student with the magnificently drooping mustache, who also wore the institute’s janitorial keys hooked to his belt, “where are they holding the symposium?”
“In the New Theatre,” said Ahmed.
“The theme,” said the teacher, “is ‘Should there be a statute of limitations on genocide?’ with a wine-and-cheese reception – “
“In the lounge,” said Ahmed.
“To which you are all invited. Now,” Ilka said in the bright voice of a hostess trying to make a sluggish dinner party go, “what shall we talk about? Doesn’t do me a bit of good, I know, to ask you all to come forward and sit in a nice cozy clump. Who would like to start us off? Tell us a story, somebody. We love stories. Tell the class how you came to America.”
The teacher looked determinedly past the hand, the arm, with which Geri Gruner stirred the air – death, taxes, and Thursdays, Gerti Gruner in the front row center. Ilka’s eye passed over Paulino, who sat in the last row, with his back to the wall. Matsue, a pleasant, older Japanese from the university’s engineering department, smiled at Ilka and shook his head, meaning “Please, not me!” Matsue was sitting in his usual place by the window, but Ilka had to orient herself as to the whereabouts of Izmira, the Cypriot doctor, who always left two empty rows between herself and Ahmed, the Turk. Today it was Juan, the Basque, who sat in the rightmost corner, and Eduardo, the Spaniard from Madrid, in the leftmost.
Ilka looked around for someone too shy to self-start who might enjoy talking if called upon, but Gerti’s hand stabbed the air immediately underneath Ilka’s chin, so she said, “Gerti wants to start. Go, Gerti. When did you come to the United States?”
“In last June,” said Gerti.
Ilka corrected her, and said, “Tell the class where you came from, and, everybody, please speak in whole sentences.”
Gerti said, “I have lived before in Uruguay.”
“We would say, ‘Before that I lived,'” said Ilka, and Gerti said, “And before that in Vienna.”
Gerti’s story bore a family likeness to the teacher’s own superannuated, indigestible history of being sent out of Hitler’s Europe as a little girl.
Gerti said, “In the Vienna train station has my father told to me…”
“Told me that so soon as I am coming to Montevideo…”
Ilka said, “As soon as I come, or more colloquially, get to Montevideo…”
Gerti said, “Get to Montevideo, I should tell to all the people…”
Ilka corrected her. Gerti said, “Tell all the people to bring my father out from Vienna before come the Nazis and put him in concentration camp.”
Ilka said, “In ‘the’ or ‘a’ concentration camp.”
“Also my mother,” said Gerti, “and my Opa, and my Oma, and my Onkel Peter, and the twins, Hedi and Albert. My father has told, ‘Tell to the foster mother, “Go, please, with me, to the American Consulate.”‘”
“My father went to the American Consulate,” said Paulino, and everybody turned and looked at him. Paulino’s voice had not been heard in class since the first Thursday, when Ilka had got her students to go around the room and introduce themselves to one another. Paulino had said that his name was Paulino Patillo and that he was born in Bolivia. Ilka was charmed to realize it was Danny Kaye of whom Paulino reminded her – fair, curly, middle-aged, smiling. He came punctually every Thursday. Was he a very sweet or a very simple man?
Ilka said, “Paulino will tell us his story after Gerti has finished. How old were you when you left Europe?” Ilka asked, to reactivate Gerti, who said, “Eight years,” but she and the rest of the class, and the teacher herself, were watching Paulino put his right hand inside the left breast pocket of his jacket, withdraw an envelope, turn it upside down, and shake out onto the desk before him a pile of news clippings. Some looked sharp and new, some frayed and yellow; some seemed to be single paragraphs, others the length of several columns.
“You got to Montevideo…” Ilka prompted Gerti.
“And my foster mother has fetched me from the ship. I said, ‘Hello, and will you please bring out from Vienna my father before come the Nazis and put him in – a concentration camp!'” Gerti said triumphantly.
Paulino had brought the envelope close to his eyes and was looking inside. He inserted a forefinger, loosened something that was stuck, and shook out a last clipping. It broke at the fold when Paulino flattened it onto the desk top. Paulino brushed away the several paper crumbs before beginning to read: “La Paz, September 19.”
“Paulino,” said Ilka, “you must wait till Gerti is finished.”
But Paulino read, “Señora Pilar Patillo has reported the disappearance of her husband, Claudio Patillo, after a visit to the American Consulate in La Paz on September 15.”
“Gerti, go on,” said Ilka.
“The foster mother has said, ‘When comes home the Uncle from the office, we will ask.’ I said, ‘And bring out, please, also my mother, my Opa, my Oma, my Onkel Peter…'”
Paulino read, “A spokesman for the American Consulate contacted in La Paz states categorically that no record exists of a visit from Señor Patillo within the last two months….”
“Paulino, you really have to wait your turn,” Ilka said.
Gerti said, “‘Also the twins.’ The foster mother has made such a desperate face with her lips.”
Paulino read, “Nor does the consular calendar for September show any appointment made with Señor Patillo. Inquiries are said to be under way with the Consulate at Sucre.” And Paulino folded his column of newsprint and returned it to the envelope.
“O.K., thank you, Paulino,” Ilka said.
Gerti said, “When the foster father has come home, he said, ‘We will see, tomorrow,’ and I said, ‘And will you go, please, with me, to the American Consulate?’ and the foster father has made a face.”
Paulino was flattening the second column of newsprint on his desk. He read, “New York, December 12…”
“Paulino,” said Ilka, and caught Matsue’s eye. He was looking expressly at her. He shook his head ever so slightly and with his right hand, palm down, he patted the air three times. In the intelligible language of charade with which humankind frustrated God at Babel, Matsue was saying, “Calm down, Ilka. Let Paulino finish. Nothing you can do will stop him.” Ilka was grateful to Matsue.
“A spokesman for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations,” read Paulino, “denies a report that Claudio Patillo, missing after a visit to the American Consulate in La Paz since September 15, is en route to Israel….” Paulino finished reading this column also, folded it into the envelope, and unfolded the next column. “U.P.I., January 30. The car of Pilar Patillo, wife of Claudio Patillo, who was reported missing from La Paz last September, has been found at the bottom of a ravine in the eastern Andes. It is not known whether any bodies were found inside the wreck,” Paulino read with the blind forward motion of a tank that receives no message from any sound or movement in the world outside. The students had stopped looking at Paulino; they were not looking at the teacher. They looked into their laps. Paulino read one column after the other, returning each to his envelope before he took the next, and when he had read and returned the last, and returned the envelope to his breast pocket, he leaned his back against the wall and turned to the teacher his sweet, habitual smile of expectant participation.
Gerti said, “In that same night have I woken up…”
“That night I woke up,” the teacher helplessly said.
“Woke up,” Gerti Gruner said, “and I have thought, What if it is even now, this exact minute, that one Nazi is knocking at the door, and I am here lying not telling to anybody anything, and I have stood up and gone into the bedroom where were sleeping the foster mother and father. Next morning has the foster mother gone with me to the refugee committee, and they found for me a different foster family.”
“Your turn, Matsue,” Ilka said. “How, when, and why did you come to the States? We’re all here to help you!” Matsue’s written English was flawless, but he spoke with an accent that was almost impenetrable. His contribution to class conversation always involved a communal interpretative act.
“Aisutudieddu attoza unibashite innu munhen,” Matsue said.
A couple of stabs and Eduardo, the madrileño, got it: “You studied at the university in Munich!”
“You studied acoustics?” ventured Izmira, the Cypriot doctor.
“The war trapped you in Germany?” proposed Ahmed, the Turk.
“You have been working in the ovens,” suggested Gerti, the Viennese.
“Acoustic ovens?” marvelled Ilka. “Do you mean stoves? Ranges?”
No, what Matsue meant was that he had got his first job with a Munich firm employed in soundproofing the Dachau ovens so that what went on inside could not be heard on the outside. “I made the tapes,” said Matsue. “Tapes?” they asked him. They figured our that Matsue had returned to Japan in 1946. He had collected Hiroshima “tapes.” He had been brought to Washington as an acoustical consultant to the Kennedy Center, and had come to Connecticut to design the sound system of the New Theatre at Concordance University, where he subsequently accepted a research appointment in the department of engineering. He was now returning home, having finished his work – Ilka thought he said – on the reverse bug.
Ilka said, “I thought, ha ha, you said ‘the reverse bug’!”
“The reverse bug” was what everybody understood Matsue to say that he had said. With his right hand he performed a row of air loops, and, pointing at the wall behind the teacher’s desk, asked for, and received, her O.K. to explain himself in writing on the blackboard.
Chalk in hand, he was eloquent on the subject of the regular bug, which can be introduced into a room to relay to those outside what those inside want them not to hear. A sophisticated modern bug, explained Matsue, was impossible to locate and deactivate. Buildings had had to be taken apart in order to rid them of alien listening devices. The reverse bug, equally impossible to locate and deactivate, was a device whereby those outside were able to relay into a room what those inside would prefer not to have to hear.
“And how would such a device be used?” Ilka asked him.
Matsue was understood to say that it could be useful in certain situations to certain consulates, and Paulino said, “My father went to the American Consulate,” and put his hand into his breast pocket. Here Ilka stood up, and, though there was still a good fifteen minutes of class time, said, “So! I will see you all next Thursday. Everybody – be thinking of subjects you would like to talk about. Don’t forget the symposium tomorrow evening!” She walked quickly out the door.
Ilka entered the New Theatre late and was glad to see Matsue sitting on the aisle in the second row from the back with an empty seat beside him. The platform people were already settling into their places. On the right, an exquisite golden-skinned Latin man was talking, in a way people talk to people they have known a long time, with a heavy, rumpled man, whom Ilka pegged as Israeli. “Look at the thin man on the left,” Ilka said to Matsue. “He has to be from Washington. Only a Washingtonian’s hair gets to be that particular white color.” Matsue laughed. Ilka asked him if he knew who the woman with the oversized glasses and the white hair straight to the shoulders might be, and Matsue said something that Ilka did not understand. The rest of the panelists were institute people, Ilka’s colleagues – little Joe Bernstine from philosophy, Yvette Gordot, a mathematician, and Leslie Shakespere, an Englishman, the institute’s new director, who sat in the moderator’s chair.
Leslie Shakespere had the soft weight of a man who likes to eat and the fine head of a man who thinks. It had not as yet occurred to Ilka that she was in love with Leslie. She watched him fussing with the microphone. “Why do we need this?” she could read Leslie’s lips saying. “Since when do we use microphones in the New Theatre?” Now he quieted the hall with a grateful welcome for this fine attendance at a discussion of one of our generation’s unmanageable questions – the application of justice in an era of genocides.
Here Rabbi Shlomo Grossman rose from the floor and wished to take exception to the plural formulation: “All killings are not murders; all murders are not ‘genocides.'”
Leslie said, “Shlomo, could you hold your remarks until question time?”
Rabbi Grossman said, “Remarks? Is that what I’m making? Remarks! The death of six million – is it in the realm of a question?”
Leslie said, “I give you my word that there will be room for the full expression of what you want to say when we open the discussion to the floor.” Rabbi Grossman acceded to the evident desire of the friends sitting near him that he should sit down.
Director Leslie Shakespere gave the briefest of accounts of the combined federal and private funding that had enabled the Concordance Institute to invite these very distinguished panelists to take part in the institute’s Genocide Project. “The institute, as you know, has a long-standing tradition of ‘debriefings,’ in which the participants in a project that is winding down sum up their thinking for the members of the institute, the university, and the public. But this evening’s panel has agreed, by way of an experiment, to talk in an informal way of our notions, of the history of the interest each of us brings to this question – problem – at the point of entry. I want us to interest ourselves in the nature of inquiry: Will we come out of this project with our original notions reinforced? Modified? Made over?
“I imagine that this inquiry will range somewhere between the legal concept of a statute of limitations that specifies the time within which human law must respond to a specific crime, and the Biblical concept of the visitation of punishment of the sins of the fathers upon the children. One famous version plays itself out in the ‘Oresteia,’ where a crime is punished by an act that is itself a crime and punishable, and so on, down the generations. Enough. Let me introduce our panel, whom it will be our very great pleasure to have among us in the coming months.”
The white-haired man turned out to be the West German ex-mayor of Obernpest, Dieter Dobelmann. Ilka felt the prompt conviction that she had known all along – that one could tell from a mile – that that mouth, that jaw, had to be German. Leslie dwelled on Dobelmann’s persuasive anti-Nazi credentials. The woman with the glasses was on loan to the institute from Georgetown University. (“The white hair! You see!” Ilka whispered to Matsue, who laughed.) She was Jerusalem-born Shulamit Gershon, professor of international law, and longtime adviser to Israel’s ongoing project to identify Nazi war criminals and bring them to trial. The rumpled man was the English theologian William B. Thayer. The Latin really was a Latin – Sebastian Maderiaga, who was taking time off from his consulate in New York. Leslie squeezed his eyes to see past the stage lights into the well of the New Theatre. There was a rustle of people turning to locate the voice that had said, “My father went to the American Consulate,” but it said nothing further and the audience settled back. Leslie introduced Yvette and Joe, the institute’s own fellows assigned to Genocide.
Ilka and Matsue leaned forward, watching Paulino across the aisle. Paulino was withdrawing the envelope from his breast pocket. “Without a desk?” whispered Ilka anxiously. Paulino upturned the envelope onto the slope of his lap. The young student sitting beside him got on his knees to retrieve the sliding batch of newsprint and held onto it while Paulino arranged his coat across his thighs to create a surface.
“My own puzzle,” said Leslie, “with which I would like to puzzle our panel, is this: Where do I, where do we all, get these feelings of moral malaise when wrong goes unpunished and right goes unrewarded?”
Paulino had brought his first newspaper column up to his eyes and read, “La Paz, September 19. Señora Pilar Patillo has reported the disappearance of her husband, Claudio Patillo…”
“Where,” Leslie was saying, “does the human mind derive its expectation of a set of consequences for which it finds no evidence whatsoever in nature or in history, or in looking around its own autobiography?… Could I please ask for quiet from the floor until we open the discussion?” Leslie was once again peering out into the hall.
The audience turned and looked at Paulino reading, “Nor does the consular calendar for September show any appointment…” Shulamit Gershon leaned toward Leslie and spoke to him for several moments while Paulino read, “A spokesman for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations denies a report…”
It was after several attempts to persuade him to stop that Leslie said, “Ahmed? Is Ahmed in the hall? Ahmed, would you be good enough to remove the unquiet gentleman as gently as necessary force will allow. Take him to my office, please, and I will meet with him after the symposium.”
Everybody watched Ahmed walk up the aisle with a large and sheepish-looking student. The two lifted the unresisting Paulino out of his seat by the armpits. They carried him reading, “The car of Pilar Patillo, wife of Claudio Patillo…” – backward, out the door.
The action had something about it of the classic comedy routine. There was a cackling, then the relief of general laughter. Leslie relaxed and sat back, understanding that it would require some moments to get the evening back on track, but the cackling did not stop. Leslie said, “Please.” He waited. He cocked his head and listened: it was more like a hiccupping that straightened and elongated into a sound drawn on a single breath. Leslie looked at the panel. The panel looked. The audience looked all around. Leslie bent his ear down to the microphone. It did him no good to turn the button off and on, to put his hand over the mouthpiece, to bend down as if to look it in the eye. “Anybody know – is the sound here centrally controlled?” he asked. The noise was growing incrementally. Members of the audience drew their heads back and down into their shoulders. It came to them – it became impossible not to know – that it was not laughter to which they were listening but somebody yelling. Somewhere there was a person, and the person was screaming.
Ilka looked at Matsue, whose eyes were closed. He looked an old man.
The screaming stopped. The relief was spectacular, but lasted only for that same unnaturally long moment in which a howling child, having finally exhausted its strength, is fetching up new breath from some deepest source for a new onslaught. The howl resumed at a volume that was too great for the small theatre; the human ear could not accommodate it. People experienced a physical distress. They put their hands over their ears.
Leslie had risen. He said, “I’m going to suggest an alteration in the order of this evening’s proceedings. Why don’t we clear the hall – everybody, please, move into the lounge, have some wine, have some cheese while we locate the source of the trouble.”
Quickly, while people were moving along their rows, Ilka popped out into the aisle and collected the trail of Paulino’s news clippings. The young student who had sat next to Paulino found and handed her the envelope.
Ilka walked down the hall in the direction of Leslie Shakespere’s office, diagnosing in herself an inappropriate excitement at having it in her power to throw light.
Ilka looked into Leslie’s office. Paulino sat on a hard chair with his back to the door, shaking his head violently from side to side. Leslie stood facing him. He and Ahmed and all the panelists, who had disposed themselves about Leslie’s office, were screwing their eyes up as if wanting very badly to close every bodily opening through which unwanted information is able to enter. The intervening wall had somewhat modified the volume, but not the variety – length, pitch, and pattern – of the sounds that continually altered as in response to a new and continually changing cause.
Leslie said, “We know this stuff goes on whether we are hearing it or not, but this…” He saw Ilka at the door and said, “Mr. Patillo is your student, no? He refuses to tell us how to locate the screaming unless they release his father.”
Ilka said, “Paulino? Does Paulino say he ‘refuses’?”
Leslie said to Paulino, “Will you please tell us how to find the source of this noise so we can shut it off?”
Paulino shook his head and said, “It is my father screaming.”
Ilka followed the direction of Leslie’s eye. Maderiaga was perched with a helpless elegance on the corner of Leslie’s desk, speaking Spanish into the telephone. Through the open door that led into a little outer office, Ilka saw Shulamit Gershon hang up the phone. She came back in and said, “Patillo is the name this young man’s father adopted from his Bolivian wife. He’s Klaus Herrmann, who headed the German Census Bureau. After the Anschluss they sent him to Vienna to put together the registry of Jewish names and addresses. Then on to Budapest, and so on. After the war we traced him to La Paz. I think he got into trouble with some mines or weapons deals. We put him on the back burner when it turned out the Bolivians were after him as well.”
Now Maderiaga hung up and said, “Hasn’t he been the busy little man! My office is going to check if it’s the Gonzales people who got him for expropriating somebody’s tin mine, or the R.R.N. If they suspect Patillo of connection with the helicopter crash that killed President Barrientos, they’ll have more or less killed him.”
“It is my father screaming,” said Paulino.
“It’s got nothing to do with his father,” said Ilka. While Matsue was explaining the reverse bug on the blackboard the previous evening, Ilka had grasped the principle. It disintegrated as she was explaining it to Leslie. She was distracted, moreover, by a retrospective image: Last night, hurrying down the corridor, Ilka had turned her head and must have seen, since she was now able to recollect, young Ahmed and Matsue moving away together down the hall. If Ilka had thought them a curious couple, the thought, having nothing to feed on, had died before her lively wish to maneuver Gerti and Paulino into one elevator just as the doors were closing, so she could come down in the other.
Now Ilka asked Ahmed, “Where did you and Matsue go after class last night?”
Ahmed said, “He wanted to come into the New Theatre.”
Leslie said, “Ahmed, forgive me for ordering you around all evening, but will you go and find me Matsue and bring him here to my office?”
“He has gone,” said Ahmed. “I saw him leave by the front door with a suitcase on wheels.”
“He is going home,” said Ilka. “Matsue has finished his job.”
Paulino said, “It is my father screaming.”
“No, it’s not, Paulino,” said Ilka. “Those screams are from Dachau and they are from Hiroshima.”
“It is my father,” said Paulino, “and my mother.”
Leslie asked Ilka to come with him to the airport. They caught up with Matsue queuing, with only five passengers ahead of him, to enter the gangway to his plane.
Ilka said, “Matsue, you’re not going away without telling us how to shut the thing off!”
Matsue said, “Itto dozunotto shattofu.”
Ilka and Leslie said, “Excuse me?”
With the hand that was not holding his boarding pass, Matsue performed a charade of turning a faucet and he shook his head. Ilka and Leslie understood him to be saying, “It does not shut off.” Matsue stepped out of the line, kissed Ilka on the cheek, stepped back, and passed through the door.
When Concordance Institute takes hold of a situation, it deals humanely with it. Leslie found funds to pay a private sanitarium to evaluate Paulino. Back at the New Theatre, the police, a bomb squad, and a private acoustics company from Washington set themselves to locate the source of the screaming.
Leslie looked haggard. His colleagues worried when their director, a sensible man, continued to blame the microphone after the microphone had been removed and the screaming continued. The sound seemed not to be going to loop back to any familiar beginning, so that the hearers might have become familiar – might, in a manner of speaking, have made friends – with one particular roar or screech, but to be going on to perpetually new and fresh howls of pain.
Neither the Japanese Embassy in Washington nor the American Embassy in Tokyo had got anywhere with the tracers sent out to locate Matsue. Leslie called in a technician. “Look into the wiring!” he said, and saw in the man’s eyes that look experts wear when they have explained something and the layman says what he said in the beginning all over again. The expert had another go. He talked to Leslie about the nature of the sound wave; he talked about cross-Atlantic phone calls and about the electric guitar. Leslie said, “Could you look inside the wiring?”
Leslie fired the first team of acoustical experts, found another company, and asked them to check inside the wiring. The new man reported back to Leslie: He thought they might start by taking down the stage portion of the theatre. If the sound people worked closely with the demolition people, they might be able to avoid having to mess with the body of the hall.
The phone call that Maderiaga had made on the night of the symposium had, in the meantime, set in motion a series of official acts that were bringing to America – to Concordance – Paulino Patillo’s father, Claudio/Klaus Patillo/Herrmann. The old man was eighty-nine, missing an eye by an act of man and a lung by an act of God. On the plane he suffered a collapse and was rushed from the airport straight to Concordance University’s Medical Center.
Rabbi Grossman walked into Leslie’s office and said, “Am I hearing things? You’ve approved a house, on this campus, for the accomplice of the genocide of Austrian and Hungarian Jewry?”
“And a private nurse!” said Leslie.
“Are you out of your mind?” asked Rabbi Grossman.
“Practically. Yes,” said Leslie.
“You look terrible,” said Shlomo Grossman, and sat down.
“What,” Leslie said, “am I the hell to do with an old Nazi who is postoperative, whose son is in the sanitarium, who doesn’t know a soul, doesn’t have a dime, doesn’t have a roof over his head?”
“Send him home to Germany,” shouted Shlomo.
“I tried. Dobelmann says they won’t recognize Claudio Patillo as one of their nationals.”
“So send him to his comeuppance in Israel!”
“Shulamit says they’re no longer interested, Shlomo! They have other things on hand!”
“Put him back on the plane and turn it around.”
“For another round of screaming? Shlomo!” cried Leslie, and put his hands over his ears against the noise that, issuing out of the dismembered building materials piled in back of the institute, blanketed the countryside for miles around, made its way down every street of the small university town, into every back yard, and filtered in through Leslie’s closed and shuttered windows. “Shlomo,” Leslie said, “Come over tonight. I promise Eliza will cook you something you can eat. I want you, and I want Ilka – and we’ll see who all else – to help me think this thing through.
“We…I,” said Leslie that night, “need to understand how the scream of Dachau is the same, and how it is a different scream from the scream of Hiroshima. And after that I need to learn how to listen to the selfsame sound that rises out of the Hell in which the torturer is getting what he’s got coming….”
His wife called, “Leslie, can you come and talk to Ahmed?”
Leslie went out and came back in carrying his coat. A couple of young punks with an agenda of their own had broken into Patillo/Herrmann’s new American house. They had gagged the nurse and tied her and Klaus up in the new American bathroom. Here Ilka began to laugh. Leslie buttoned his coat and said, “I’m sorry, but I have to go on over. Ilka, Shlomo. Please, I leave for Washington tomorrow, early, to talk to the Superfund people. While I’m there I want to get a Scream Project funded. Ilka! Ilka, what is it?” But Ilka was helplessly giggling and could not answer him. Leslie said, “What I need is for you two to please sit down, here and now, and come up with a formulation I can take with me to present to Arts and Humanities.”
The Superfund granted Concordance an allowance, for scream disposal, and the dismembered stage of the New Theatre was loaded onto a flatbed truck and driven west. The population along route 90 and all the way down to Arizona came out into the street, eyes squeezed together, heads pulled back and down into shoulders. They buried the thing fifteen feet under, well away from the highway, and let the desert howl.
*Image: “Lucifer”, Jackson Pollock
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