I had amazed cons and guards alike, I had survived it. I was getting out in twenty-four hours. I was almost forty-three sitting in a cell.
I thought, "I have been in a deadly trap. Have I really escaped it? Does fate have grimmer traps set?i Can I learn to be proud of my black skin? Can I adjust to the stark reality that black people in my lifetime had little chance to escape the barbed-wire stockade in the white man's world?"
Only time and the imponderables inside me would answer the questions.
I had no one except Mama. They dressed me out. My clothes flopped around on my skeletal frame. I still hadn't told them how I had escaped.ii Cons cheered me as I shuffled toward freedom. They knew how I had suffered and what the awful odds had been that I wouldn't have made it.
A friend of Mama's had sent me my fare. As the plane flew over the sea of neon, I looked down at the city where I had come so many years ago in search of an empty lonesome dream.iii
I thought of Henry and the sound of that pressing machine. Of Mama when she was young and pretty. How wonderful it had been back there in Rockford. She would come into my room at bedtime, a tender ghost, and tuck me in warmly and kiss me goodnight. It seemed a long time before I finally got to her.
When I walked into her room, death was there in her tiny gray face. Her eyes brightened and flashed a mother's deathless love. Her embrace was firm and sure. My coming to her had been like a miracle. It was the magic that gave her strength.
She clutched life for an added six months. I never left the house for those six months.iv We would lie side by side on twin beds and talk far into the night. She made me promise that I would use the rest of my life in a good way.v She told me I should get married and have children.
I tried hard to make up for all those years I had neglected her. It's hard to square an emotional debt. That last sad day she looked up into my eyes from the hospital bed.
In a voice I could scarcely hear through her parched lips, she whispered, "Forgive me Son, forgive me. Mama didn't know. I'm sorry."
I stood there watching her last tears rolling down her dead cheeks from the blank eyes. I crushed her to me.
I tried to get my final plea past death's grim shield, "Oh Mama, nothing has been your fault, believe me, nothing. If you are foolish enough to think so, then I forgive you."
I staggered blindly from the hospital. I went to the parking lot. I fell across the car hood and cried my heart out. I stopped crying. I thought Mama had really gotten in the last word this time.
These stinking whores would have gotten a huge charge if they could have seen old Iceberg out there wailing like a sucker because his old lady was dead.vi
I am lying in the quiet dawn.vii I am writing this last chapter for the publisher.
I am thinking, "How did a character like me, who for most of his life had devoted himself to the vilest careerviii, ever square up? By all the odds, I should have ended a broken, diseased shell, or died in a lonely prison cell."
I guess three of the very important reasons are lying asleep in the bedroom across the hall. I can see their peaceful, happy faces. They don't know how hard and often discouraging it is for me to earn a living for them in the square world.ix
This square world is a strange place for me. For the last five years I have tried hard, so hard, to solve its riddles, to fit in.
Catherine, my beautiful wife, is wonderful and courageous. She's a perfect mother to our adorable two-year-old girl, and our sturdy, handsome three-year-old boy.x
In this new world that isn't really square at all, I have had many bitter experiences. I remember soon after my marriage how optimistic I was as I set out to apply for the sales jobs listed in the want ads.
I knew that I was a stellar salesman. After all, hadn't I proved my gift for thirty years? The principles of selling are the same in both worlds. The white interviewers were impressed by my bearing and apparent facility with words.xi They sensed my knowledge of human nature.
But they couldn't risk the possible effect that a Negro's presence wouldxii have on the firm's all white personnel. In disgust and anger, I would return home and sulk. Bitterly I would try to convince myself to go back into the rackets. Catherine always said the right things and gave me her love and understanding.
There was another indispensable source of help and courage during these hard times. She's a charming, brilliant woman. She had been a friend to my mother. She functioned as a kind of psychotherapist. She explained and pointed out to me the mental phases I was passing through. She gave me insight to fight the battle. To her I shall always be grateful.xiii
The story of my life indicates that my close friends were few.xiv Shortly before I started this book I met a man I respected. I thought he was a true friend. I was bitterly disillusioned to discover he wasn't. I'm glad in a way it turned out the way it did. I've always come back stronger after a good kick in the ass.
I have had many interesting and even humorous experiences in this new life. They will have to wait for now.xv I see my little family is awake. I'll have to light the heater. I can't let them get up in the early morning chill.
How about it, an Iceberg with a warm heart?xvi
- Yeah totally that's what it is, this "Fate" joker goes about in an old Chevy truck, setting up traps for innocent well meaning Herpy McDerpersons. [↩]
- Technically four months in they had stopped giving a shit. [↩]
- It's truly a very easy piece of nonsense to sell to juveniles, because they're scared shitless of the vastness of perceived posibility, and on top of that they're particularly, bone-chillingly afraid of women. So conning them that the way to handle this "perceived" (really, imagined) problem is by holing yourself up in a hotel room and turning blind eyes and deaf ears upon the few girls that are trying their darndest to mean anything is just like conning junkies that what they really need is more dope, or proles that the solution to their problems is more socialism. [↩]
- This guy really is quite the recluse, isn't he. [↩]
- By which is meant, "wait it out quietly, rather than try use it at all". [↩]
- More like closure than charge, I suspect, but anyways.
For the record, I regret them all. Not this sucker's retarded, offensive mom, at all ; but Rachel and Christine, the runt and Ophelia, Stacey and what's her facey... all of them. I'm sorry for them, I'm sorry of them, I truly wish this story'd have worked out much better for each and every last one of 'em. Not because they're the only innocents in this regrettable pile of wreck, but because they're the only deserving parties, the only ones who did their life's work, and did it well -- or at the very least, as well as anyone ever showed them how. Each battlefield must have a winner, and a loser ; but the horses carrying the victorious chevalliers aren't any less thereby than the hurt and maimed horses carrying the routed side.
Sad horse of a sad rider galloping in a froth to empty nowhere, my heart bleeds out with you. [↩]
- It's night here, recent, early night. Ensconced in a presidential armchair, the girls gone to the gym, the geckos cackling now and again, I wipe a tear, and prepare to make an end of this last week's work. [↩]
- Bureaucracy is the vilest career. [↩]
- That's okay, I'm sure they will turn out fine anyways. [↩]
- Oh, for some reason I thought this joker had three daughters. [↩]
- "You rap good, just like a roller, Mister!" [↩]
- Well, would or could ? [↩]
- Let's call her Peperone, for the obvious treasons. [↩]
- Everyone's close friends are few ; except for those who don't have any friends at all. [↩]
- They will have to wait forever, I have absolutely no interest in the swampy misery of this schmuck as reclaimed and reconstructed by organised mediocrity. The original article was bad enough. [↩]
- Thus ends, and here ends this one of the best books I've ever read, terribly written. But then again how terribly written could it have been -- I've read it, haven't I ? [↩]