Beyond The End
by Djuna Barnes
Behind two spanking horses, in the heat of noon, rode Julie Anspacher. The air was full of the sound of windlasses and well water, where, from cool abysses, heavy buckets arose; and, too, the air was full of the perfect odour of small flowers. And Julie turned her head, gazing at the familiar line of road that ran away into the still more familiar distance.
The driver, a Scandinavian, who remembered one folk-tale involving a partridge and one popular song involving a woman, sat stiffly on his box holding the reins gently over the shining and sleek backs of the two mares.
He began to whistle the popular song now, swinging a little on his sturdy base, and drifting back with his tune came the tang of horse skin, wet beneath tight leather.
The horses were taking the hill, straining and moving their ears, and reaching the top, bounded forward in a whirl of dust. Still sitting rigid, the driver clucked, snapping his whip, and began talking in a dry deep bass.
"It's some time since we have seen you, Mrs. Anspacher."
Julie raised her thin long face from her collar and nodded.
"Yes," she answered in a short voice, and frowned.
"Your husband has gathered in the corn already, and the orchards are hanging heavy."
"Are they?" she said, and tried to remember how many trees there were of apple and of pear.
The driver took in another foot of reins, and turning slightly around, so that he could look at her, said:
"It's good to see you again, Mrs. Anspacher."
She began to laugh. "Is it?" then with deliberation checked herself, and fixed her angry eyes straight ahead of her.
The child, loose-limbed with excessive youth, who sat at her side, lifted a small sharp face on which an aquiline nose perched with comic boldness. She half held, half dropped an old-fashioned ermine muff, the tails of which stuck out in all directions. She looked unhappy and expectant.
"You remember Mrs. Berling?" he went on. "She is married again."
He began to tell her about the local office for outgoing mails, where a nephew of her husband, Paytor, had taken a job.
The child sat so still that it was painful and Julie Anspacher moved away, thinking aloud:
"All is corruption."
The child started, and looked quickly away, as children will at something that they expect but do not understand. The driver beat the horses, until long lines of heavy froth appeared at the edges of the harness.
"What did you say, ma'am?"
"Nothing - I said all is lost from the beginning - if we only saw it - always."
The child looked at her slowly, puzzled, and looked down.
"Ann," said Julie Anspacher, suddenly lifting the muff over her hands, "did you ever see two such big horses before?" The child turned its head with brightness, and bending down tried to see between the driver's arms. Then she smiled.
"Are they yours?" she whispered.
Julie Anspacher took in a deep breath, stretching the silk of her waist across her breasts. "No," she answered, "they are not mine, but we have two - bigger - blacker."
"Can I see them?"
"Oh, yes, you shall see them. Don't be ridiculous."
The child shrank back into herself, clutching nervously at her muff. Julie Anspacher returned to her reflections.
It was almost five years since she had been home. Five years before in just such an Autumn the doctors had given her six months to live. One lung gone and the other going. They called it sometimes the White Death, and, sometimes, the love disease. She coughed a little, remembering, and the child at her side coughed too in echo, and the driver, puckering his forehead, reflected that Mrs. Anspacher was not cured.
She was thirty-nine - she should have died at thirty-four. In those five years Paytor had seen her five times, coming in over fourteen hours of the rails at Christmas. He cursed the doctors, called them fools.
The house appeared dull white between the locust trees, and the smoke, the same lazy Autumn smoke, rose in a still column straight into the obliterating day.
The driver reined in the horses until their foaming jaws struck against their harness, and with a quick bound Julie Anspacher jumped the side of the cart, the short modish tails of her jacket dancing above her hips. She turned around and thrusting her black gloved hands under the child, lifted her out. A dog barked. She began walking the ascent toward the house.
A maid, in dust cap, put her head out of an upstairs window, clucked, drew it in and slammed the sash, and Paytor, with slow and deliberate steps, moved toward the figure of his wife and the child.
He was a man of middle height, with a close-cropped beard that ended in a grey wedge on his chin. He was sturdy, a strong man, almost too pompous, but with kindly blue eyes and a long thin mouth. As he walked he threw his knees out, which gave him a rocking though substantial gait. He was slightly surprised and raised the apricot-coloured veil that covered the keen newness of her face, and leaning down kissed her twice upon both cheeks.
"And where does the child come from?" he inquired, touching the little girl's chin.
"Come along, don't be ridiculous!" Julie said impatiently, and swept on toward the house.
He ran after her. "I'm glad to see you," he went on, warmly, trying to keep up with her rapid strides, that swung the child half off the ground, stumbling, trotting.
"Tell me what the doctors said - cured?"
There was a note of happiness in his voice. "Not that I really give a damn what they think, I always told you you would live to a ripe old age, as they say. What did they do to Marie Bashkirtseff? Locked her up in a dark room, shut all the windows - and of course she died - that was their method then - and now it's Koch's tuberculin - all nonsense."
"It worked well with some people," she said, going ahead of him into the living room. "There was one boy there - well - of that later. Will you have someone put Ann to bed - the trip was bad for her. See how sleepy the child is - run along, Ann," she added, pushing her slightly but kindly toward the maid. Then when they had disappeared, she stood looking about her, drawing off her gloves.
"I'm glad you took down the crystals - I always hated them." - She moved to the windows.
"I didn't, the roof fell in - just after my last visit in December. You're looking splendid, Julie." He coloured. "I'm glad, you know - awfully glad. I began to think - well, not that the doctors know anything," he said, laughing: "but it's a drop here of about fifteen hundred feet, but your heart is good - always was."
"What do you know about my heart, Paytor?" Julie said, angrily. "You don't know what you are talking about at all. The child - - "
"Well, yes - - ?"
"Her name is Ann," she finished sulkily.
"It's a sweet name - it was your mother's, too. Whose is she?"
"Oh, good heavens!" Julie cried, moving around the room. "Mine, mine, mine, of course, whose would she be if not mine?"
He looked at her. "Yours - why, Julie - how absurd!" Slowly the colour left his face.
"I know - we have got to talk it over - it's all got to be arranged, it's terrible. But she is nice, a bright child, a good child."
"What in the world is all this about?" he demanded, stopping in front of her. "What are you in this mood for - what have I done?"
"Good heavens! What have you done? What a ridiculous man you are. Why nothing, of course, absolutely nothing!" She waved her arm. "That's not it - why do you bring yourself in? I'm not blaming you, I'm not asking to be forgiven. I've been down on my knees, I've beaten my head on the ground, abased myself, but," she said in a terrible voice, "it is not low enough, the ground is not low enough, to bend is not enough; to ask forgiveness is not enough, to receive it is nothing. There isn't the right kind of misery in the world for me to suffer, nor the right kind of pity for you to feel, there isn't the right word in the world to heal me up. It's good to forgive, to be forgiven, but that's for ordinary things. This is beyond that - it's something you can experience but never feel - there are not enough nerves, blood cells, flesh - to feel it. You suffer insufficiently; it's like drinking insufficiently, sleeping insufficiently. I'm not asking anything because there is nothing that I can receive - how primitive to be able to receive - - "
"But, Julie - - "
"It's not that," she said roughly, tears swimming in her eyes. "Of course I love you. But think of it, a danger to everyone excepting those like yourself. Curious, involved in a problem affecting only a small per cent of humanity, sick, frightened, filled with fever and lust perhaps - with nothing, nothing coming after, whatever you do, but death - then you go on - it goes on - then the child - and life probably, for a time."
"Well - - "
"I couldn't tell you. I thought, 'Well, I'll die next month,' and finally I didn't want to go off - although I did, you know what I mean. Then her father died - they say her lungs are weak - death, death perpetuating itself, that's funny you see - and the doctors - - " She swung around: "You're right - they lied, and I lived through - all the way - all the way!"
He turned his face from her.
"The real thing," she went on in a pained voice, "is to turn our torment toward the perfect design. I didn't want to go beyond you - that was not my purpose. I thought there was not to be any more me. I wanted to leave nothing behind but you, only you. You must believe this or I can't bear it - and still," she continued, walking around the room impatiently, "there was a somehow hysterical joy in it too. I thought, if you had real perception, that 'something' that we must possess, that must be at the bottom of us somewhere - or there wouldn't be such an almost sensuous desire for it, that 'something' that, at times, is so near us that it becomes obscene, well, I thought, if Paytor has this - and mind you, I knew all the time that you didn't have it - that you would understand. And when you had been gone a long time I said, 'Paytor understands' - and I would say to myself - 'Now, at this moment - at ten-thirty precisely, if I could be with Paytor he would say "I see,"' but so soon as I had the time table in my hand I knew that there was no such feeling in your bosom - nothing at all."
"Don't you feel horror?" he asked in a loud voice, suddenly.
"No, I don't feel horror - horror is conflict - and I have none - I'm alien to life."
"Have you a religion, Julie?" he asked, still in the same loud voice, as if he were addressing someone a little raised, yet invisible, as one tries to see a choir.
"I don't know - I don't think so. I've tried to believe in something external, something that might envelop this and carry it beyond - that's what we demand of our faiths, isn't it? But I always return to a fixed notion that there is something more fitting than a possible release."
He put his hands to his head. "You know," he said, "I've always thought that a woman, because she can have children, ought to know the truth - the very fact that she can do something so really preposterous ought to make her equally capable of the other preposterous thing - well - - "
She coughed, her handkerchief before her face - she laughed with brightness. "One learns to be careful about death - but never, never about - - " She didn't finish but stared before her.
"Why did you bring the child here - why did you return at all then - after so long a time - it seems all so mixed up?"
"I don't know - - Perhaps because there is a right and a wrong, and a good and an evil. I had to find out - and if there's such a thing as everlasting mercy - I want to find out about that also - there's a flavour of unfamiliar intimacy about it all, though, this Christian treatment - - " She had a way of lifting up the side of her face, closing her eyes. "I thought - Paytor may know."
"Will know - well, will be able to divide me against myself - - Personally I don't feel divided - I seem to be a sane and balanced whole - a hopelessly mixed, but perfect design. So I said Paytor will be able to see where this divides and departs. Though all the time I never for a moment felt that there was a system working on a this for that basis, but that there was only this and that - in other words - I wanted to be set wrong.... You understand?"
"And you yourself," he inquired, in the same loud voice, "cannot feel the war? Well, then, what about me? - you must realize what you have done - turned everything upside down - oh, I won't even say betrayed me - it's much less than that, what most of us do, we betray circumstances - well, I can't do anything for you," he said sharply. "I can't do anything at all - I'm sorry, I'm very sorry - but there it is" - he began to grimace and twitch his shoulders.
"The child has it too," Julie Anspacher said, looking up at him. "I shall die soon. - It's ridiculous," she added, with the tears streaming down her face. "You are strong, always were - and so were all your family before you - not one of them in their graves under ninety - it's all wrong - it's quite ridiculous."
"I don't know. Perhaps it's not ridiculous. One must be very careful not to come, too hastily, to a conclusion." He began searching for his pipe. "Only you know yourself, Julie, how I torment myself, if it's a big enough thing, for days, weeks, years; and the reason is, the real reason is, that I come to my conclusions instantly, and then fight to destroy them." He seemed to Julie a little pompous now. "It's because first I'm human, and second, logical. Well, I don't know - perhaps I'll be able to tell you something later - give you a beginning at least - later - - " He twitched his shoulders and went out, closing the door after him. She heard him climbing the familiar creaking stairs, the yellow painted stairs that led up into the roof - she heard him strike a match - then silence.
The dark had begun, closing in about bushes and barn, and filling the air with moist joyousness, the joyousness of autumn that trusts itself to the darkness, and Julie leaned on her hand by the shelf and listened.
She could hear, far away and faint, the sound of dogs on heavy chains. She tried to stop, listening to the outside, but her thoughts rotted away like clouds in a wind.
The sense of tears came to her, but it was only a sentimental memory of her early childhood, and it brought a smile to her long face. She had cried once when they made her kiss a dead priest - "Qui habitare facit sterilem - matrem filiorum laetantem" - then "Gloria Patri - " and she had wept then, or thought she had, because he was not only beyond glory and all mercy, but beyond the dubious comfort of the feeling.
She heard Paytor walking above, and the smoke of his pipe crept down between loose boards and uneven plaster and laths.
She went - quite mechanically - over to a chest in one corner, and opened the lid. A shirt waist, of striped taffeta, one she had worn years before, some old Spanish lace - her mother's - the child - -
Paytor did not seem to like the child - "How ridiculous!" she thought. "She is good, quiet, gentle - but that's not enough now." She removed her hat. Living with Paytor and the child - Paytor so strong, - always was, and so was his family - and she sickly, coughing. Perhaps she had made a mistake in coming back. She went toward the steps to tell this to Paytor but thought better of it. That wasn't what she wanted to say.
The hours drew out and Julie Anspacher, sitting now at the window overlooking the garden - nodded without sleep - long dreams - grotesque and abominable - stupid irrelevances dull and interminable. Somewhere little Ann coughed in her sleep. Julie Anspacher coughed also, and in between, the sound of Paytor walking up and down, and the smell of tobacco growing stronger.
To take her own life, that was right, if only she had not the habit of fighting death - "but death is past knowing, and to know is better than to make right - - " She shook her head. "That's another detour on the wrong side," she told herself. "If only I had the power to feel pain as unbearable, a gust of passion, of impatience, and all would be over - but I've stood so much so long, there is no too long." She thought what she would not give for any kind of feeling, anything that was vital and sudden and determining. "If Paytor will have patience I will get around to it."
Then it seemed that something must happen, must inevitably happen.
"If I could only think of the right word before it happens," she said to herself, over and over, and over. "It's because I'm cold and I can't think, I'll think soon - - " She would take her jacket off, put on her coat - -
She got up, running her hand along the wall. Or had she left it on the chair? "I can't think of the word," she said to keep her mind on something.
She turned around. All his family - long lives. "And me too, me too," she murmured. She became dizzy. "It is because I must get on my knees - but it isn't low enough." She contradicted herself. "Yet if I put my head down - way down - down - - "
Then she heard the shot. "He has quick warm blood" went through her mind - and her blood was cold.
Her forehead had not quite touched the boards, now she touched them, but she got up immediately, stumbling over her dress.
End of Beyond The End by Djuna Barnes