Read an Excerpt
By Hubert Selby Jr.
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Hubert Selby, Jr.
All rights reserved.
He was conscious of the dark stillness in the corridor. He knew there was nothing to be seen, yet he continued to stare thru the reflection of his face in the small window. The corridor was only 7 feet wide and the wall opposite was dimly visible. He read the signs over the dirty-linen baskets—blue shirts, blue pants, blankets, bath towels, hand towels. He was just able to read the last two by pressing against the glass and standing to one side. Again he read them from left to right, standing first in the middle then moving to the left and straining his eyes to read the last sign. Shirts, pants—he could recite them without trouble. He closed his eyes. Hand towels, blankets, bath towels.... He didn't bother checking his accuracy. He knew he was right.
Turning from the heavy, locked door he looked in the mirror over the sink. Now that his eyes were accustomed to the night light he could see his face clearly, even to the small blemish on his cheek. He leaned closer and touched the red spot with a finger tip. The beginning of a pimple. He started to squeeze it, then lowered his hands. Why bother? Itll just bruise the skin. I/ll wait until it comes to a head ... if it doesnt just disappear first. Who knows, maybe it will, touching it again with a finger tip. He stopped patting the spot and stood back slightly and just stared at his face, his eyes slowly closing to a squint, his face wrinkling into a frown.
He shrugged and turned from the mirror and sat on the edge of the bunk. He knew the room was only dimly lighted compared to the daytime when all the lights in the ceiling were lit, but it seemed to be just as bright now. Of course it only seems that way. But if it seems that way then it is that way. Right? Right now its just as bright as a beach on a sunny day.
But you know it isnt. You know that it only seems to be, and it only seems to be because youve become accustomed to it. And when they turn all the lights on it will be so bright you wont be able to open your eyes all the way, then after a while it will seem like its always been that way until they turn the lights out and only the night light is on and suddenly it will seem very dark until you become accustomed to it and then it will seem bright just as it did before. Its always the same—you get used to one thing, then it changes. Get used to another, and that changes, over and over, always the same.
O well, the hell with it. Its not important anyway. Its not dark and im not tired enough to sleep. Shouldnt have taken that nap this afternoon. If i had something to read i could probably tire my eyes and fall asleep. O well, it doesnt make any difference if i sleep at night or during the day. Its all the same. The same amount of time has to be passed each day and night. The same twenty-four hours. But the more you sleep the faster time passes. Like xmas eve when youre a kid and you cant wait until morning to see what santa claus brought. You know as soon as you fall asleep it will be morning. Thats all you have to do. Just fall asleep then wake up and jump out of bed. And there you are, under the tree tearing paper off presents. It was hard to sleep then, too. But you knew that as soon as you fell asleep it would be morning, no matter how far away it was. And you kept thinking, fall asleep and it will be morning. But it was hard to sleep. But the time did pass, and you fell asleep—eventually. And it was just as hard to fall asleep even when you knew there was no santa claus.
What the hell.
Well, anyway, time has to pass. But sometimes its so goddamn long. Sometimes it just seems to drag and drag and weigh a ton. And hang on you like a monkey. Like its going to suck the blood out of you. Or squeeze your guts out. And sometimes it flies. Just flies. And is gone somewhere, somehow, before you know it was even here. As if time is only here to make you miserable. Thats the only reason for time. To squeeze you. Crush you. To tie you up in knots and make you fucking miserable. If only you could sleep 12 or 16 hours a day. Yeah, that would be great. It doesnt happen though. Maybe you can do it for one day. If you go a few days with only a little sleep. But after that youre right back where you started from. Trying to sleep so the goddamn time will pass.
And those crazy old bastards spent their whole rotten lives watching the stars, and all that shit, to figure where theyll be. All screwed up with time. No telescopes. No watches. Just trying to figure out time. Thousands of them for thousands of years. Just sitting on their asses staring at the sky. All screwed up with time. Just worrying about the stupid stars and planets. Crazy. How could they do it? Just spend all their dumb lives looking at the sky. And some of the nuts lived to be 80 or 90. And day after day. Night after night. All screwed up. They had to be nuts. And where did it get them? So they figured out where mars would be in ten thousand years. Big deal! Krist, what a stupid waste of time. And where did it get them? Where? After they figure all that shit out theyre either dead or still sitting on their ass looking at the goddamn sky. Right back where they started from.
You always end up where you started from. No matter what happens. Right back in the same cesspool. Even if you do sleep for 24 hours youre right back where you started from. Sitting around for the next 24 hours waiting to fall asleep. Sitting on the edge of a bunk, or something, staring at a goddamn wall. The fucking night light blinking and your eyes open.
Well, at least the wall is gray.
Yeah, it would be gray. Almost battleship gray. Its easy on the eyes anyway. Its bad enough with the night light on all fucking night without having some bright, shiny wall glaring at you.
Thats right. That's where battleship gray came from. i was wondering. How old was i. About 8 or 9 i guess. Got it in my stocking at xmas. What battleship was it.
Cant remember the name. But the glue sure did stink. i guess mom helped me put it together. She usually did. Took a couple of days i guess. Probably more. Think i sanded all the pieces real smooth. Think it was the kind of glue that took a long time to dry. Had to be very careful the pieces stayed in the right place while the glue was drying. Yeah, had to keep it by an open window while the glue was drying. It smelled so bad. Guess the battleship gray was my idea.
Or was it? Maybe the directions said to paint it gray.
O well. i remember buying the paint though. In the hardware store across the street. It was a small can and only cost a dime. Same as a ham and potato-salad sandwich in Kramers delicatessen. It really didnt look like much when it was finished though, i dont know, maybe it was the gray. Something was missing. Like the model airplanes. They never looked like they should. Not really. But it was fun to build them and then set them on fire. They sure did burn fast. Sure was dumb sweating over those fucking models. Spend all that time and what have you got? A model airplane. What dumb shit.
The hell with it, looking at the mottled concrete floor and trying to create images out of the variously shaped spots. Funny, but its easy when youre looking at clouds floating across the sky. He studied the floor carefully, but the more he looked the more the floor seemed to blend into one solid mass of gray. Eventually, after carefully studying every inch, of visible floor, his glance reached the door. He looked up at the small window. Yeah, i know——shirts, pants——towels, blankets. Backward, forward—forward, backward.
He looked up at the wall, closed his eyes and bent his head back. NORTH, NORTH NORTH EAST, NORTH EAST, EAST NORTH EAST, EAST; EAST SOUTH EAST, SOUTH EAST, SOUTH SOUTH EAST, SOUTH; SOUTH SOUTH WEST, SOUTH WEST, WEST SOUTH WEST, WEST; WEST NORTH WEST, NORTH WEST, NORTH NORTH WEST, NORTH. Yeah, that sounds right. Lets see NORTH, NORTH NORTH WEST, NORTH WEST, WEST NORTH WEST, WEST; WEST SOUTH WEST, SOUTH WEST, SOUTH SOUTH WEST, SOUTH; SOUTH SOUTH EAST, SOUTH EAST, EAST SOUTH EAST, EAST; EAST NORTH EAST, NORTH EAST, NORTH NORTH EAST, NORTH.
Yeah, lowering his head and opening his eyes. Can still box the compass. Front and Back. Krist, thats twenty-five years ago. More. Was the best in the troop. In tracking too. Could probably still tie those knots—sheepshank, stevedores knot, square knot, bowline, closing his eyes and studying the illustrations in the scout manual for a moment, then opening his eyes and nodding his head, yeah, can still tie them, there must have been more, but cant seem to remember them ...
yeah, there was a half hitch and a clove hitch, thats right, almost forgot. yeah.
Guess we must have had the smallest troop in the city, or at least in brooklyn. Used to have a lot of fun though, head tilted back, smiling, especially pom pom pullaway. Hanson sure got me that one time, tried to jump over him, but he tackled me anyway. We sure went down hard.
Like the time i tried to tackle Pee Wee Day. Should have dumped him for a 5-yard loss, but i hit his legs with my head instead of my shoulder. Sure did knock me on my ass. Damn near knocked me unconscious. Sure was stupid of me, going at him like that. If i had hit him from the side i would have stopped him cold. Would have been a great open field tackle. Nobody within 10 or 12 yards of us. Only one who drifted over with the play and then i blow the tackle and he makes 20 yards. Stupid sonofabitch.
Wonder if we won that game? Dont think blowing that tackle did us any harm. Shit. Whats the difference. So i missed a fucking tackle. So what? lighting a cigarette, an expression of defiance on his face as he watched the smoke floating through the room and spiraling up from the end of the cigarette.
Why in the hell do they bother putting those goddamn vents in here. The sons of bitches dont work. You can blow smoke right at it and the goddamn smoke just hangs there. Doesnt suck a goddamn bit of it up. Aint a goddamn bit of ventilation in here. They lock you up in a 2 x 4 room and the hell with you. Lousy bunch of chickenshit bastards. Who in the hell do they think they are locking a man up on this micky mouse shit? Never heard of such asshole shit. I/ll fix their asses. I/ll blow the lid off the whole goddamn police department. And the rotten jail system too, tossing the cigarette into the commode in the corner. I/ll showem who theyre fucking with. I/ll fix their asses. The whole, lousy, stinking bunch of them, punching his pillow into position against the wall, stretching out on the bunk, clasping his hands behind his head and closing his eyes
To the Editor and Publisher:
I would like to bring to your attention, and the public at large, a condition that exists in this State. Actually, I should say I feel that it is my duty and obligation to bring this situation—no—flagrant situation to the attention, and conscience, of the people.
There exists—no. lets see
We are living in the midst of a Police State, a creeping neo-fascism. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are followed by the eyes of the State in the uniform and guise of the police. yeah, thats good, that should hit them real hard.
Naturally, the average person is unfamiliar with the many and various laws in existence. As a matter of fact there are so many laws still on the books, some hundreds of years old, that even the members of the legal profession, including the judges on the bench, cannot possibly be familiar with all of them. For example—no—e.g.; how many people know it is against the law to spit on the sidewalk. And this is not the only ridiculous—no—the only inane law still on the books. There are literally hundreds equally as asinine. And why are such laws allowed to exist? I/ll tell you why. To provide the tools (the police) of this Police State the means with which to harass its citizens at will. They know that it is impossible for any citizen, no matter how law abiding, to walk the streets 5 minutes without breaking a law of some kind.
Of course there are those who will say that such——archaic laws will never be enforced. Let me here and now assure you that such is not the case. The average cop is vindictive and will not hesitate to use his authority and position to avenge a real or imagined grievance. Be subjected to a cops animosity and park a few inches from the curb; or drop a cigarette butt on the sidewalk and see what happens
yeah, youre damn right they will.
Or suppose you are falsely arrested and you are able to prove it in court. Just see what happens then. Just see how they dog your every step just waiting for you to commit some sort of infraction of the law. yeah, the bastards. And it can be some obscure health law written in the days of sailing ships. They will continue to hound you and lock you up (knowing, of course, you will be released) until you are ready to have a nervous breakdown. And another thing—how many times can you call your employer and tell him you will not be at work that day because you are in jail. Just how long do you think you will have your job. And even if they have no right to lock you up, how many people can afford to continually retain a lawyer.
This too the police are aware——cognizant of. They know no individual can withstand their organized pressure. They have the power of the State behind them.
It is time for the people of this State to be awakened to the real and potential danger surrounding them. If something is not done soon to retard the growth of this fascistic cancer we may all be awakened some night to the sound of axes chopping down our doors and Storm Troopers will be dragging us out of our beds.
I know this to be true as I am one of the victims of this conspiracy.
yeah, thats a good idea.
This letter was written with great danger both to me and the individual who smuggled it out. For that reason I dare not sign my name or even mention where I am incarcerated.
He reread his letter, nodding with self-satisfaction as he emphasized particular words and lines.
That should do it. That should really stir something up. Theyll probably try to shut me up somehow, but I/ll be damned if they will. I dont care what they try. They can beat me all they want, and keep me in the hole as long as they want, but I wont break. Theyll never break me. Theyll have to kill me to keep me quiet.
And after the letter is published they wouldnt dare kill me. With that newspaper behind me theyll be afraid to put a mark on me no less kill me. The publisher will probably insist that they release me. Even if they raise my bail they will be able to bail me out. Be no trouble at all with their money and influence. They can even go to the governor. Theyll go to the governor eventually anyway. Therell be an investigation by the legislature and then the entire country—hell, the whole world—will know. Then theyll be sorry they locked me up. Theyll regret they fucked with me. I just hope they dont drop dead from fright or some damn thing. I want them all to live to regret it.
His door clanged open and the guard told him he had visitors. Smiling smugly he adjusted and smoothed his clothes as he followed the guard to the visiting room. He was led to a stool on the prisoners side of the partition. The room was empty except for the guard, two well-dressed men, and a captain. When the guard left the captain turned to him. This is Mr. Donald Preston, publisher of the Press, and Mr. Stacey Lowry, the attorney. They nodded to each other over the partition. As you know, it isnt regular visiting hours, but im making an exception in this case. The captain smiled at all of them before leaving.
He looked at the captains back, sneering. Exception. He knows damn well a lawyer can come anytime. He waited a few more seconds, until the door closed behind the captain, before speaking to the two men.
I see you got my letter. Yes. It was delivered by your friend last night and my editor called me immediately. I immediately called Stacey—Mr. Lowry—and made an appointment to get here the first thing this morning.
Excerpted from The Room by Hubert Selby Jr.. Copyright © 2002 Hubert Selby, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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