The end of the world came; and to save his family from the horror
which would befall those who must await their own end from storm
or famine, fire or pestilence, he poisoned them all. And as he was
about to hang himself, an angel appeared and said to him that he
had dreamed it—dreamt that the end of the world was come.
He stared in horror at his wife and children lying dead in the room
with him as the angel, with an inscrutable look, withdrew—its
wings stiff with insolence.
He went into the haberdashery to buy a shirt, leaving his wife
to look at rings in a jewelry-store window. When he came outside
again, she was gone. An old woman standing at the jeweler's
window seemed almost to recognize him. He noticed how loose the
ring was as she twisted it round and round her withered finger.
The train stopped at the station every afternoon at 5—every
afternoon the same, except holidays and Sundays. This day, however,
the train did not stop although it was neither a holiday nor a Sunday.
At least no one saw it stop; no one saw a train at all. But they
felt a wind rise up against them and heard the roaring of a train
hurtling past. And looking down from the station platform, they
saw a man lying between the tracks, his body "as if torn apart
He left his apartment building and walked to the restaurant where
he liked to eat his breakfast. The streets were empty; but he thought
little, if anything at all, about it. On the way, he discovered
that he had forgotten his wallet. He returned to his building, opened
the door, and stepped through it into another street. All that day,
he walked through one door after another only to be met immediately
by another street. A street with no one on it except him. By nightfall,
he was nearly mad with loss, realizing that his life—spent
largely indoors—had, for a reason which could only be characterized
as "sinister," vanished.
Often, he dreamed of a woman, always the same woman—dark
hair, dark eyes, a loose white dress showing the tops of her breasts.
He desired her with an abandonment he did not know when awake. Always,
as they were walking down the street, past the shops, on their way
to her apartment, his wife appeared at his side to take him home.
Not even in sleep, he thought.
That it was only in his dreams he behaved violently to her made
it no less culpable: the bruises to her face and arms were always
new as she brought him his breakfast.
Such dreams as yours, he said, are common—I assure you; do
not worry, try to relax; there are techniques to manage terror;
you must—above all—sleep. The man thanked the doctor,
he whose study is the mind—its mysterious workings—and
went home. That night, after swallowing a tablet, he fell promptly
"into the arms of Morpheus" and found himself once more
in the empty street "under night's black hand."
The tiger was at that very moment coordinating its exquisite mechanism
of attack—nerves, muscles, and bone. Then it leapt and, leaping,
seemed to the man as it unfurled in the night air to be a flag of
prophecy. In the morning, they found his mutilated body behind the
tea importer's warehouse. The tea from Ceylon, where there
He read in the morning paper of his own death in a boating accident.
That same day he bought a boat and took it out on the river. It
capsized, and he drowned. He was a man who believed always what
He found among his late father's things a roll of undeveloped
film. Curious, he sent it to a lab and received back twelve prints—each
of a young woman he recognized as having disappeared twenty years
before "under mysterious circumstances."
Some there were who claimed that the camera steals the souls of
those it photographs. Were their detractors able to see the ghosts
that flee the rolls of exposed negatives, they would not have jeered.
But spirits are invisible in the darkroom, even under a red light;
and the shriek they habitually utter is beyond human audition.
There was one photograph among those he received from the lab that
he had not taken: of a woman of unearthly beauty. Seeing it, he
was lost to her—her eyes, the intensity of their gaze. He
spent the next five years in search of her. It was as if she had
been able to enthrall him with a single look. Because he could not
forget her, he forgot everything else that had mattered to him:
wife, child, house, job. Forgetting them, he lost them all. In the
fifth year of his search, he found her. She was not what he had
expected. She was five years older. But more than this, she had
not the photograph's power to possess him. Her eyes—in
it so entrancing—would, after a moment, slide off his in embarrassment.
He was broken. But he married her in spite of his disenchantment
in order to "justify himself." It was a marriage he
In this version, he visited a used-book store and chose six —two
by Hesse, one by Lawrence, one by Borges, one by Poe, and the collected
poems of Cavafy. Leafing through them later, he was surprised to
find that all six had belonged to the same person: Shelly M—.
Strange—he thought—that her taste in literature should
be mine! Reading them, he fell in love. He imagined her having read
the books—how she must have been moved or thrilled, aroused
or terrified. He imagined her in bed with a yellow spill of light
lighting the page, the pillow, her blouse, a negligee. He drank
wine and imagined her drinking it also. It was as if they were in
the room together—silent, reading, their eyes from time to
time lifting from the page to regard each other fondly. He determined
then to find her. To make her his own. To have her with him. They
would read to one other. They would drink wine together. They would
make love in the yellow spill of light. And so he looked for her
and, after some months, found Shelly M—, who happened, unfortunately,
to be a man.
He no longer knew how to live. In what way, so as to be happy and
good. But of this he was certain: to remain in the city would be
his doom. So he determined to leave it—leave everything by
which he was known. His wife, his children, his dog, his job of
courtroom usher, his clothes, the pipes and tobacco enjoyed by him
each evening in the small garden he had made for himself behind
the house—everything. I must begin again, he whispered. It's
the only way to become what I must become next. One morning when
the house was empty, he wrote his letters of farewell and of resignation.
He ruined his usher's uniform and broke his pipe stems as
a sign to himself there could be no turning back. Finally, he took
his memories, one by one; and, as if they were clean shirts bearing
the heat yet from his wife's iron, he folded them and laid
them neatly in a drawer of oblivion, for which he had no key. (Yes,
there is such a drawer. But one must have traveled far from oneself
to have found it.) Nothing of what used to be his life would go
with him into what was to be, for him now, his new life. He closed
the bedroom door, softly, almost regretfully, and started down the
stairs. Halfway down, he tripped—on a toy belonging to one
of his children, on one of his wife's shoes dropped there
by the dog, or on a lace of his own shoe that had come undone—it
doesn't matter what sent him headlong to the bottom of the
stair. He was not to leave, is all. No, it was impossible, really,
to begin again in despite of all that claimed him. He ought to have