He turned around to swim on his back.
The sun was brightly blue. Summer clouds were billowing on the horizon, white over the green fir-tree forest. He was far out from the shore. In the shallow waters by the shore, four or five children were playing, shouting. He forgot their existence, letting himself drown in the blue of the sky.
He had had to go to the lake this afternoon. He had not been here for the last twenty-seven years. It was here that he had used to go in the summertime with his secret love.
They had met, and they had to part, and they both knew this. He was already a married man, with a family to take care of and a responsible job in a far-away city. But he had known, not from the first, but from the third day they had been sitting facing one another across a table in the town café, that this was his first and only love, and, simultaneously, that their love was impossible. They had strolled the woods together, they had gone out together on bicycle trips to visit the country churches, they had sat in his room, talking till dawn. He had never made love to her, had hardly even touched her body. He had to be content, he felt, with the sight of her, her sparkling voice and the gaiety of her laughter. The pain of their separation, he felt, was somewhere beyond those white billowing clouds on the horizon.
But this afternoon, as they were sitting together by the lake after a swimming tour, she had told him, her face turning serious: "I want to have a child." And then, putting her finger against his lips to keep him from speaking: "I want to have a child with you."
He could not speak. The protests he wanted to utter were choked by the wave of happiness welling up within him, and the happiness by the pain of the protests he knew he had to utter. He felt as though the soft, white clouds were closing in on him, and, simultaneously, all the things beyond the clouds, the real world that they had sheltered him from. But she stroke his hair and the back of his neck and spoke to him.
"I know as well as you do that this cannot continue. I cannot demand of you that you abandon your family, your future, your place in society. But you must not leave me alone. There's no memory of you that will suffice but a child. Only that. Not a lock of your hair or a photograph or anything – such a souvenir would tear my mind to pieces every time I looked at it. Not a portrait that I could only weep by, but a living image of you, to return the laughter and return the tears."
She spoke like that for a long time. She promised to take care of the child, never to demand financial support from him, never even to reveal the identity of the father. She was not poor, she said, she had a job of her own, she would be able to manage.
"You know", she said, "that if you were not chained already, I would marry you. But I don't want to be another chain on your life. I only want to have the best you can give me. I want to carry your child."
He had not spoken much, and he did not speak much now. He just said heavily: "Allright. You'll have a child. My child." Then he bent over her, clasped her tight and kissed her.
There were two weeks left to forget the world. They made love everywhere – on the shore, in the woods, even in the churchyard. The sky remained blue all that time except for one afternoon when the rain gushed against the window of his rented room – and they both believed that this was the time that the child was conceived.
* * * * *
The sun hurt his eyes as he was sitting on the shore drying himself with a towel. It was still early afternoon, and he would have wished to remain at the lake. He had fought against going there, and now he fought against leaving. But he knew he had to leave. The evening would not wait, and there was a long drive before him.
The shore of the lake by now was filled with picnicking families and chattering children. He dimly wondered how anybody could be happy and carefree on a day like this. And he numbly wondered why his own heart had not already broken into splinters, and whether it would before nightfall.
* * * * *
The girl had been christened Angelica. He had not been present at the baptizing ceremony, but the next evening he had visited mother and child in secrecy. They had looked at each other and at the child in the crib, and they had smiled like any proud and happy parents. But on his way home he could not hold back his tears. He, who had never cried since childhood, had to stop his car by the roadside to cry for an hour.
He returned to the city and to his office desk, dutifully performing his tasks. He absentmindedly played with his two boys in the evenings, and dutifully slept with his wife in the nights.
Sometimes, at rare intervals, he managed to slip away, on the excuse of some official business trip, to see Angelica and her mother. He made those visits rare, because they were so precious to him. On those occasions, he put his whole soul into playing with Angelica, and after she had gone to bed, he talked to her mothers for hours on end. By a tacit agreement, they never touched one another again.
He let the years pass by while rising in his office on a perfectly normal schedule. As much as possible, he tried to push the thought of Angelica and her mother away, as he had once tried to push the world of drudgery and social responsibilities into the empty space beyond the white, billowing clouds. Never again he cried over them.
* * * * *
He would like to cry now, as he was sitting behind the steering wheel starting out on the journey to the city, on what was to be his last visit. But the tears would not come. He felt all dried up inside, and there was a burning sensation in his throat.
* * * * *
Angelica grew up to be a strange child. At school she seldom listened to what the teachers said. She spent her school years drawing. Her teachers thought she was making caricatures of them. But that was not what she did; she did not enlarge their faults or their ridiculous features; she made them bigger and stronger and wiser than they really were. Her maths teacher she would make into a young Gauss, lecturing to an awed audience, or an old Archimedes, brooding over his circles in the midst of the turmoil of war. A pretty young language teacher would become, under her hands, a naked goddess; a gruffy old teacher of religion would become a saint, sitting on a mountaintop in the Himalayas.
She liked to play dangerous games. She became an expert roof-climber, a superb ice-flake jumper. One lonely evening, she went to a bridge above a railway station, got up onto the railing of the bridge, and balance-walked over to the other side. Afterwards, she dropped to the ground and lay shaking with fever for a quarter of an hour. The she rose, got up onto the other railing, and balanced-walked back again. She did not walk home that night; she took dancing steps. But she never told anyone about the experience.
She was lanky and long-legged, with startling red hair, and her eyes were jet-black. They seemed to burn holes in whatever she was looking at. Some people thought she looked angry; others that she was consumed by some secret sorrow. Nobody thought she was happy. In fact, she was.
Her mother adored her.
After she became a teenager, she did not see her father any more. There was something in that girl, he felt, that made it unbearable for him to watch her grow into womanhood. Hi did not know what it was. He could not bear thinking on the subject. It remained an unidentified feeling.
For a while, he continued to receive letters from her mother. Angelica was bored with school, she told him. She ceased had doing her homework altogether. She spent her evenings reading mystery stories and making figures in plaster. Her grades would suffer, but that didn't really matter, 'cause Angelica had a future cut out for her as an artist. – Then the letters stopped, too.
* * * * *
Angelica's mother was taken seriously ill. A brain tumor had been misdiagnosed as benign, and when the mistake was discovered, it was too late. Expert medical care had become scarce in those days, and there was a waiting-list even for fatal diseases. The tumor could not be totally removed, and the woman was left to pine away slowly. – Angelica sat beside her bed through long evenings in silent helplessness before the death she had once thought that she had conquered. Then she started to paint. She painted a naked woman walking into a sunset that might as well be a sunrise, leaving behind her a desert landscape of sharp-edged, forbidding rocks. When the painting was finished, she brought it into her mother's room. Her mother looked at it for a long time, then smiled happily and died.
Angelica's father did not find out about her mother's death until about a year later. The absence of letters at first did not worry him. When at last he became suspicious, he went by car to Angelica's mother's house, only to hear that the mother was dead and the daughter had moved away, nobody knew exactly where. That night he drove his car into the ditch, luckily receiving only minor injuries. He had been drunk behind the steering-wheel. He spent a couple of weeks in a hospital, and his driving license was suspended for a year. His family was puzzled; he had never shown any tendencies in that direction before. He would not give them an explanation. But for a while he was melancholy and inaccessible, speaking little and drinking heavily in his spare time. Then he recovered.
* * * * *
He wondered how he could have recovered at all, now as he stood by her grave, in the same churchyard where they had once made love in their youth. The first time an overdose of happiness had sheltered him against reality, the second time alcohol had been his defense against the pain. Now, both memories were striving to burst within him, beating against the numbness of his brain, a numbness that belonged to this day.
* * * * *
Angelica moved to the city. She spent a year at the Art School, meanwhile working as a waitress in the evenings. She was not popular with the teachers at the Art School. Her paintings were too colorful; on the teachers they made the impression of an open wound; her sculptures of human bodies merely managed to insult them. Besides, she would not do her assigned tasks when they collided with what she herself wanted to do. Angelica and the Art School parted in mutual relief.
She got herself an attic apartment, turned it into a studio, and concentrated on sculpture.
There was a deep depression. Jobs became scarce. The number of beggars in the streets began to multiply. The government, having already underbalanced its budget to the point of bankruptcy, responded by soaking the rich to pay for huge relief programs. As a result, many businesses had to close down, jobs became scarcer than ever, and the begging in the streets became rampant.
There were no waitress jobs any more, no shop-assistant jobs, no parttime cashier jobs at the supermarkets. There were no jobs at all.
Angelica became a prostitute.
* * * * *
It was on an inspection round to the red-light district that Angelica's father saw her again. He saw her first from a distance, as she was standing smoking in a corner across the street. She might have been a general, watching a battlefield, only she was definitely a short-skirted female with brightly painted lips, and the other girls in the street definitely did not look like colonels.
He blinked, not believing his eyes and the connections in his mind. Then he walked on, for many blocks, not seeing anything, the name "Angelica" echoing in his mind. He could not believe it. He must have been mistaken. It was such a long time ago... She was just a young girl... But there was her hair, there was her tall, slender body. And there was this look in her eyes that had always scared him and fascinated him at the same time. He had to find out. No, he would not dare to find out. Angelica... my daughter... turned a whore! No, no, no! I have to walk out of here. I'll never come back again. I'll resign from this assignment and never return again!
When he came up to her, her face turned into a broad, happy smile, like on a childhood summer day. She jumped into the air and threw her arms around his neck. Her eyes sparkled. There was nothing in them to scare him right now.
"Why, Daddy, it's you!" she exclaimed. Then she danced around and clapped her hands.
There was such a sense of unreality in the situation that he was almost paralyzed. It was at though they were alone on a small island, floating free from everything else. This scene simply could not take place in those surroundings, amid glaring neon lights screaming out perverted pleasures, amid show-windows featuring giant phalluses and dummies dressed up in black leather and whips in their hands. Those things did not belong here. Yet they were there.
A small crowd of curious onlookers was gathering around them. Some drunkard laughed; most of them were simply bewildered.
She noticed the growing crowd. Her face froze, her eyes started to glow angrily. "Get out of our way!" she snapped with a kind of cold ferociousness in her voice that did not permit of non-compliance. She was again the general he had seen before, this time dismissing the whole of her army in disgrace. She took him by the arm and dragged him away along the street.
* * * * *
They were sitting in her bedroom two hours later, drinking tea. She had told him, softly but without sentimentality, about her mother's illness and death. He had talked about his work in the Relief Administration Department. He found it strange to talk about Relief Administration in Angelica's presence. Administratively, she was definitely within his jurisdiction. But the idea of giving her any kind of handout struck him as ridiculous; it would be like handing a ration card to the Queen of Sheba.
"Why?" he asked. "Why are you living the life of a..." He did not want to pronounce the word.
"Why am I a hooker?" she filled in.
"For tax-evasion purposes, my dear father."
He stared blankly at her.
"Oh yes. You've been wondering whether you shouldn't include me as a client of your grandly benevolent department. But you see, it isn't necessary. I'm getting my own relief by withholding most of my income on my tax-return. With a job like this, it isn't difficult."
"But how can you stand it?"
"How can anyone stand being exposed to other people? You do it yourself all the time. People come to you to be fed, and you feed them, and you earn your living by it. What do you think people bring to me but their hunger? Only my customers don't go to an administrator, they go straight to the source. That makes it a more honest bargain."
"But don't you sometimes find it nauseating?"
"Sometimes, but I take my measures. There are some dirty men with clean souls who come to me. I let them borrow my bathroom, before I sleep with them. Then there are some clean men with dirty souls. I throw them out."
"What about the clean man with the clean soul?"
"I have not met him yet. He does exist, somewhere."
"Then, what if you meet him? If you want to marry him? Won't you..." The sentence was left hanging. He had intended to ask: "Won't you have betrayed him in advance?" But his mind raced back to that summer of his youth. He had no right to ask that question.
"Won't you be chained to this life forever?" he asked instead.
She looked at him quizzically, her eyebrows narrowing. She slowly lit a cigarette. She made a smokering and exploded it.
"You can't betray someone you haven't met", she said with peculiar emphasis. "The man you're talking about might be poor and jobless, like me, and forced into pimping. Or he might be chained, like you, and unable to break his chains. Or he might be the richest man in the world – if we lived in a world where fortunes could be made by honest means. Most probably, that man is a saint, who is forced into the desert by what he sees around him – which is why I haven't met him. You see, the public sector of our lives today is rotten, and whatever is clean within us has to remain private. And what is private has to remain clean. I don't say it has to be so – always. I say that this is how it is – today."
His mind went on speaking about betrayal: the persons I've betrayed I've known, he told himself, not able to resist the thought. But Angelica replied again:
"It's really not important, Father" – her voice was suddenly soft and tender – "the unbetrayed is what is important. Haven't you brought me into life, whatever else you've done?"
She put out her cigarette and leaned back in her armchair, letting the moment pass.
"There is a young man", she went on, addressing the room at large, "who carries placards damning commercialism, damning all buying and selling. He works for committees advocating that all merchandize, material or spiritual, should be fairly and equally distributed. Yet he comes back to me and pays for my love. Don't you think that every moment he doesn't spend with me, in my arms, is a betrayal? There is another young man who is a minister of the church. He is very ashamed of coming here, he fights against it, yet he comes back. He tells me that it is only in my arms that he forgets that he is a sinner, that he was born in sin, and that he can do nothing to redeem himself. Well, aren't all his sermons a betrayal of me? And what about the teacher who tells me the curriculum prevents him from imparting knowledge to his students, but who goes through his daily routine because there are no other jobs? What about the politician who tells me cannot vote according to his convictions, since he wouldn't be reelected? What about the librarian I know, who is forced to recommend trash to his customers, while hiding pearls in the library magazine? What about anyone who, today, has to keep his true love secret, even from himself?"
The she laughed gaily. "I'm probably the most betrayed woman in the world. But that's not what I'm paid for reminding men of."
He thought of the few things that had made his own life worthwhile, and that the purpose of his life seemed to be this strange creature. He thought of himself and Angelica's mother and how fundamentally chaste their relationship had been – he knew that the mother had never taken another man, and he knew that this was true for him, too, in the spiritual if not in the physical sense. And out of this had emerged harlotry – and harlotry of a peculiar kind. He thought that he ought to be shocked by the contrast – and was astonished that he could not be shocked by it. Angelica seemed so different from her mother – and yet, while she spoke, he felt himself transmitted back in time, back to that café-table in the small town, back to the woods, back to the lake,
"Is that all life means to you?" he asked finally. "Is that all of your lonely crusade?" he could not resist adding.
"No, and I admit I wouldn't be able to face it, if that were all there was. Come. I'll show you."
She got up and went to the door, and he rose obediently. She opened the door to her studio and turned on the lights.
He could find no words for what he felt. The statues were not big – they were all human-sized – and yet he felt like he had had entered a world of giants. They were human beings caught at the height of action. There was a conductor with dishevelled hair, and he could hear the final chords of the symphony. There was a tight-rope walker, and he knew it was not in a circus but right above Niagara Falls. There was a captain on his bridge, and he knew it was in a hurricane and that the ship would safely reach the shore. There was a chessplayer just about to make his move, and he could see before him the number of exclamation points the commentators would accord the move.
The light, it seemed to him, did not emerge from the lamps in the ceiling, but came glowing from the paintings on the walls. There were sunlit landscapes from a time when the earth was closer to the sun. There was a city rising toward heaven like the Tower of Babel, reclaiming that unfortunate building. There was the dome of a nuclear power station, seeming to hold within it all the electrical charge of all the lightbulbs in the world.
He was still on Earth, he thought, but this was Earth wrought in Angelica's image. This was the unbetrayed.
"You see", she said softly. "It's worth it, isn't it?"
* * * * *
"Was it worth it?" he wondered as his car raced into the twilight. And then the words returned to him from her mother's last letter: "She has her future cut out for her as an artist." He had to pull in the car for a moment. He had to grip the steering-wheel so hard that his knuckles whitened.
* * * * *
Angelica had a small showing of her works. It was not widely advertised. The "gallery" was just a temporarily abandoned shop in an obscure part of the city. Attendance at first was small, but picked up as word spread around. The exhibition lasted a month.
The reviews were few and unfavorable. Most of the reviewers found her work weird; a couple of them (the influential ones) were belligerently hostile. One noted art critic found it an example of "that contempt for weakness which we thought had long ago vanished from our culture".
One farsighted art-dealer bought three of her best sculptures and paid her handsomely. The sculptures were buried in a bank-vault in Switzerland as a hedge against capital erosion. Angelica was able to close her practice for the time being and be a full-time sculptress. She had many half-finished projects, still more that were only conceived in her mind. She went to work.
A second showing attracted more people. But it did not last more than five days. Then a government official appeared, demanding to see her artist's license. Since she had none, the exhibition had to close down. The artist's license, her father explained was a mere formality; he would help her procure one.
He had connections in the Department of Culture. But the acquisition of the license did not turn out to be that easy. Angelica had no degree from the Art School; none of the established art critics would testify to any unusual talent of hers. His repeated attempts brought some embarrassment. "Carrying the torch, eh?" he would be told in a snickering voice. "Having a last Indian summer before old age sets in?" His oldest son admonished him. "I've checked into that girl's past", he said, "and she doesn't have the best of reputations. Will you at least stay away from her for the sake of Mother?" He did not answer; he clenched his teeth together and closed his fists underneath the table.
He managed to get the Advisors for Painting and Sculpture to agree to let him show them their studio. But Angelica refused in a fit of stark fury.
"What do you take me for? Some goddam' whore?"
When she saw his face, she could not help laughing at her own words. But she added, calmly serious: "Allright. But I mean it, this time."
He had to let it go at that. Angelica's money was running out. He tried to support her out of his own pocket; she accepted it; but it would never be enough to pay for her paint, her canvasses or her sculpting materials. She would have to return to prostitution.
* * * * *
The farsighted art-dealer came back from Switzerland to face a lawsuit. His visits to that country had become so frequent that the powers-that-be found it expedient to extradite him permanently. He was in a good mood, having fair hopes that he would lose the lawsuit.
He heard of the license business and cheerfully went about resolving it. He traded an option to buy ten of Angelica's sculptures for paying a fat bribe to an official in the Department of Culture. Angelica at last received her license and was free to show her private sector to the world.
She wanted to seize the opportunity. She sold five more sculptures to the art-dealer, rented a big, centrally situated hall for the next summer and worked through the cold of the winter to prepare her big breakthrough.
The exhibition opened in early May. Demonstrations for solidarity with the down-trodden had been held, and speeches about the fight for liberty, equality and fraternity. The down-trodden themselves did not participate, being too busy begging their daily bread. The speakers spoke vaguely about liberty, belligerently about equality, and pleadingly about fraternity. The leaders of the country had a final synthesis up their sleeves: they wanted to organize everyone's leisure time in brigades for brother- and sisterhood. It was called the "basket-weaving project". In the last few years, everyone had been blind to everyone else's welfare, being too occupied with saving his own skin. Therefore, everyone should now, symbolically, weave baskets for everyone else. All white eggs would be put in one basket, and the brown ones would be discarded – though this last fact was not mentioned in the propaganda. The project would pull everyone out of the TV chair, it would end people's discontent with the government's energy policy by making their stiff fingers warm. It would save the money that was still rolling away into commercial pleasures; it would put an end to all the flourishing rackets: the odd-numbers racket, the three-armed bandit racket, the mixed-beer racket. People would come together to talk about their problems. You would find out that none of your problems was any bigger than your neighbor's problems, that your spirit was no different from your neighbor's spirit, that your love should be shared equally and that all love was one, and that the God you worshipped was no different from the one the rest of society worshipped.
Without intending to, Angelica slapped their faces.
Outside the entrance to the exhibition hall she put a statue that was a self-portrait. It was a prostitute leaning against a lamppost, smoking. Only there was nothing inviting in her posture. There was a proud, challenging defiance. The eyes were a command: lay down your pretenses; do not come to me if thou art not totally honest; I will give you nothing that you have not deserved.
* * * * *
"That girl could have no parents", his wife had told him. "No mother could ever have loved her. No father could ever have taught her consideration. Her mother must have been a witch, and her father the Devil himself."
The critics had repeated the sentiments. "This sculptress nicknames herself Angelica, though her work is clearly diabolical", one religious paper charged. "She would do well to consider that artistic talent is a gift as life itself is a gift, that hers is not to usurp God's throne but to kneel and serve... May the Lamb have mercy on this fallen Angel!"
"She knows what she is doing", said a more secular critic. "This exhibition is a cold and calculated attempt to extort money by pandering to the vulgar taste." (Angelica did charge a modest entrance fee.) "This girl obviously thinks of Mammon first and of artistic integrity second... Doesn't she know that Icarus' wings have melted, and that Superman is playing solitaire in the home for the aged? Of course she does; but she would not let her audience know; their illusions are her bread and butter."
A young boy working for the People's Daily, the most heavily subsidized paper of the country, wrote enthusiastically: "There is still hope for Mankind... This young girl shows us a vision of those things that are still possible... One leaves the show with an odd sense of the brightness of the future. There is a message to us all: Don't give up!" The review was not published. The boy found himself transferred to the domestic department of his paper, given the assignment of investigating the possibility of an all-out mushroom-picking campaign.
The tabloids went on a muckraking spree. Angelica's former customers were giving firsthand testimony about her abilities as a lovemaker. "She gave me six orgasms in a row", one man told gleefully, and it was spread on billboards all across the country. The story of the bribe came out, and the art-dealer was depicted as a decadent millionaire having made most of his fortune from running cathouses.
The public was moved into the exhibition hall by scandal. They came expecting tickling sensations and the odor of cheap perfume. Most of them were disappointed. They had wanted to sneak into the twilight, disappearing with their guilt in a crowd of equally guilty fellow-travellers of sinfulness. Instead they found themselves standing alone on a big, sunlit plain, desperately holding on to their figleaves. Some sneaked away again, some slammed the door angrily, a few remained in a kind of joyful awe – but nobody noticed those last.
Angelica did. She would notice those in the audience who remained and who returned, and she would go around to them and invite them for a beer and a sandwich after closing hours. She would then talk gaily for hours about her art, about her plans for the future, about the fire in everyone that was not to be extinguished.
"They won't pull me down", she said about her critics. "They may try and pull every rope they think they can use in order to bring me into the mud. But their hands will slip on the ropes, and they will only find themselves in the mud."
* * * * *
The darkness around his car was like black pitch. He had lost his sense of speed; he felt like he was driving through a mire. He was worried about the fuel; he half feared, half hoped that he would run out of it. Time was closing in on him: the events of the last fortnight were pressing against his temples.
This was Purgatory, he felt. Not Inferno. Inferno was that he would still be alive tomorrow, a week from now, a year from now. He would sink through the circles, into ever colder regions, being finally chewed up in the home for the aged, with only one thought to hold onto: "I did bring her into life, whatever else I did."
* * * * *
For three days the League for the Preservation of Humility had been staging demonstrations outside the exhibition hall. Big banners unfolded their message: "Art by, for and of the people!" "How dare you be happy while we suffer?" "Put an end to the Vanity Fair!" (The appropriate sequel, "Back into the Slough of Despond!", did not appear, though.) A line of sulky-looking men and women walked steadily up and down the street, scanning:
"Back to Babylon, you whore!
Don't exploit us any more!"
A small committee of one-hundred and fifty courageous demonstrators ventured into the hall. A middle-aged woman stood before Angelica, reading a manifesto in a monotonous voice, the essence of it being that art should give consolation to the suffering, that it should be part of everyone's life, and that it should be adapted to the handicapped in spirit.
"Those statues of yours, and those paintings", she said, "separate us from life. They kick us into the mud in order to fly. They appropriate all beauty for themselves, leaving us nothing but ugliness. They eat us away like a malignant cancer. It is time to burn the cancer out."
Angelica smiled. "It will be a pleasure to preside at your deathbed", she said. "I shall consider myself honored to have brought you to it." (This was the first sarcasm Angelica had uttered in her life, but those present did not know that.)
There was an angry murmur in the crowd, and the woman gulped. Then someone kicked at a statue of a surgeon. It was a signal. Within a minute the hall was in uproar. Every statue in the hall was attacked by the furious crowd running amuck. This was the people from the Slough of Despond, taking revenge on the Vanity Fair.
It ended as suddenly as it had started. Angelica was standing on a platform, a knife in her hand. There was blood dripping from the knife. A young man was moaning. There was an ugly wound in his face; his cheek had been cut from the mouth to the ear. But it was not the violence that frightened the crowd into silence; it was Angelica's deadly calm – and the fact that nobody knew where the knife had come from.
For Angelica the whole thing had happened in slow motion. The young man had been standing by the wall, just beside the only painting in the hall that bore the caption "Not for sale". It was the painting that Angelica had made on her mother's deathbed.
The boy had produced the knife and raised it toward the painting with the obvious intention of ripping it into pieces. It was the caption that had annoyed him: he did not believe in privacy. It was the painting that had made him furious: he knew that the sunrise was the woman's private possession.
He never got a chance to strike out for the communal spirit. The privateer herself stood before him, wresting the knife from his hand. Then there was only pain, and nobody to share it with.
Nobody else had had time to notice. Now Angelica was standing before them, deadly pale, making her hair look like fire. She did not hold the knife up threateningly; both her arms were hanging by her side. "I think you had better leave now", she said. "Seek your consolation somewhere else."
The crowd could easily have overpowered her and lynched her. It was only a small knife, not a sword. She was only a frail woman, not an avenging angel. But nobody stirred. They stared silently at her for a minute, then turned around one by one and dropped off.
Later that night the statue of the Prostitute was carried away in effigy and thrown into the river. "Just another Swiss bank-vault", Angelica thought.
The exhibition was closed by police order, and Angelica was arrested. There had been bloodshed. Innocent people had been hurt and threatened. Nothing else mattered. None of her statues had been broken, but a young man had been disfigured for life. Nobody had been killed, but the crowd had been closer to death than Angelica. The demonstrators had been acting in selfdefense; Angelica had been the provocator. Icarus had fallen down and hurt a pedestrian in the fall. The pedestrian had been there to watch the fall and derive his pleasure from it, but that was of no concern. The danger was public, not private.
* * * * *
This was a week ago. She had been kept in custody, awaiting trial.
His car had passed the suburbs; he was in the city now. Within half an hour, he would see her.
The trial had taken place this morning, but he had not attended it. He had talked to the Judge two days ago, and he knew what the verdict and the sentence would be.
It would be what the crowd wanted.
The demands from the League had been presented in all humility in all the major papers and on radio and television. No objections had been raised. Whatever objections existed in anybody's mind never reached the public.
The Judge had expressed his sorrow. He was not happy about the trial, but the outcome was inevitable. He did not personally think it was fair, but his job was to interpret the will of the people and administer the law accordingly. There was nothing he could do, except sleep badly at night.
There was something very peculiar about those streets, he noticed. A street is always full of cars and people, darting off in all directions, without any recognizable, unified plan. But this night was different: every car, every pedestrian, was going the same way. He thought of the great speeches he had heard so often, from the leaders of the country and its intellectuals, about Mankind as One. He thought it was funny that he was an outcast. Then he realized that he was going in the same direction, too. It did not make him feel less of an outcast; but it took the fun out of the thought.
He felt enclosed in the car. The air outside was full of shrill laughter, drunk, hysterical. The car was like a black dome, sheltering him from it, making the sound bounce away.
He found himself a parking place near the People's Square and got out.
He had to walk the last bit. The streets were packed with people. The clamor was deafening.
He did not feel anything any longer. He was transformed into a piece of wood, making his way toward the Square.
Now he was there. Through the crowd he could see the line of policemen guarding the roped-off area. He had to get to the ropes. He used his elbows to shove people aside. He must be bruised all over his body, but he did not feel it. An angry man pushed him right in the face, making his lower lip bleed. He did not notice.
Now he was at the rope. Before him, across an empty space, loomed the City Hall. She would come out in a few minutes.
The roar subsided as the doors opened. Four armed guards were forming a square around Angelica. She walked as though she did not notice them. She looked at the crowd as though she was about to address it. For a moment he forgot who she was. This must be the Queen, coming out to announce her abdication to the people. There was no fear in her eyes, no fear in the way she held her body. All the fear was in the crowd. He could feel it around him as a physical presence.
She turned toward the stake. She stopped for the briefest of moments, as though she was just a wee bit astonished. Then she walked up to it.
Two of the guards took her arms, put them behind the stake, bound her wrists together with the cord.
The wood was piled up by her feet and around the stake. The pile reached up to her knees.
The two remaining guards brought cans of gasoline and drenched the wood with it.
The executioner stepped forward. He was a tiny man with horn-rimmed spectacles, dressed up in black for the occasion. The torch was handed to him. He went up to the stake, put the torch to the gasoline-drenched wood, and stepped back a bit too hurriedly. The wood caught fire immediately.
There was no change in Angelica's face.
The flames rose. They caught her dress. The crowd was all tense. It was waiting for the scream of pain.
It did not come.
Angelica threw her head back and smiled. She smiled brightly. He knew that smile. The others did not.
The moment the fire caught her hair, the smile turned into a soundless laughter. Then she was engulfed.
It was not until then that he screamed. And then there was nobody to hear him. The scream was drowned in the roar of the crowd.