STATELY, PLUMP DAVID GERGEN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
“Who knew octopuses could talk?”
Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:
“Come up, Mr. Drysdale. Come up, you unscrupulous bank president.”
Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Bert Convy, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head.
Bert Convy, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.
David Gergen peeped an instant under the mirror and then covered the bowl smartly.
“What else could you call monkeys that live near the ocean but Ocean Monkeys?” he asked sternly.
He added in a preacher’s tone:
“For this, O dearly beloved, is the genuine Kathie Lee: body and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please. Shut your eyes, gents. One moment. A little trouble about those Ocean Monkeys. Silence, all.”
He peered sideways up and gave a long low whistle of call, then paused awhile in rapt attention, his even white teeth glistening here and there with gold points. Talking octopuses, indeed. Two strong shrill whistles answered through the calm.
“Thanks, old chap,” he cried briskly. “That will do nicely. Switch off the current, will you?”
He skipped off the gunrest and looked gravely at his watcher, gathering about his legs the loose folds of his gown. The plump shadowed face and sullen oval jowl recalled a prelate, patron of arts in the middle ages. A pleasant smile broke quietly over his lips.
“The mockery of it, he said gaily. Your absurd name, an ancient game show host.”
He pointed his finger in friendly jest and went over to the parapet, laughing to himself. Bert Convy stepped up, followed him wearily half way and sat down on the edge of the gunrest, watching him still as he propped his mirror on the parapet, dipped the brush in the bowl and lathered cheeks and neck.
David Gergen’s gay voice went on.
“My name is absurd too: David Gergen, two dactyls. But it has a Hellenic ring, hasn’t it? Tripping and sunny like ol’ Gergo himself. We must go to Athens. Will you come if I can get the aunt to fork out twenty quid?”
He laid the brush aside and, laughing with delight, cried:
“Will he come? The jejune jesuit.”
Ceasing, he began to shave with care.
“Tell me, Gergen,” Bert said quietly.
“Yes, my love?”
“How long is that motorcycle gang going to stay in this tower?”
David Gergen showed a shaven cheek over his right shoulder.
“God, aren’t they dreadful?” he said frankly. “Ponderous Saxons. They think you’re not a tough guy. God, these bloody Hell’s Angels. Bursting with money and indigestion. Because they come from a biker gang. You know, Convy; you have the real biker gang manner. They can’t make you out. O, my name for you is the best: Mr. Drysdale, the unscrupulous bank president.”
He shaved warily over his chin.
“Still, I can see why you resent them.”
“That one was raving all night about a talking octopus,” Bert said. “Where is his guncase?”
“A woeful lunatic,” Gergen said. “Were you in a funk?”
“I was,” Bert said with energy and growing fear. “Out here in the dark with a man I don’t know raving and moaning to himself about a talking octopus. You saved men from drowning. I’m not a hero, however. If he stays on here, I am off.”
David Gergen frowned at the lather on his razorblade. He hopped down from his perch and began to search his trouser pockets hastily.
“Good grief,” he cried thickly.
He came over to the gunrest and, thrusting a hand into Bert’s upper pocket, said:
“Lend us a loan of your noserag to wipe my razor.”
Bert suffered him to pull out and hold up on show by its corner a dirty crumpled handkerchief. David Gergen wiped the razorblade neatly. Then, gazing over the handkerchief, he said:
“The bard’s noserag. A new art color for our Irish poets: snot green. You can almost taste it, can’t you?”
He mounted to the parapet again and gazed out over Dublin bay, his fair oakpale hair stirring slightly.
“God,” he said quietly. Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snot green sea. The scrotum tightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton. Ah, Convy, the Greeks. I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother. Come and look."
Bert stood up and went over to the parapet. Leaning on it he looked down on the water and on the mailboat clearing the harbor mouth of Kingstown.
“Our mighty mother,” David Gergen said.
He turned abruptly his great searching eyes from the sea to Bert’s face.
“The farmer thinks you want to foreclose on his farm,” he said. “That’s why he won’t let me have anything to do with you.”
“Someone has to foreclose on it,” Bert said gloomily.
“You could have knelt down, damn it, Drysdale, when that poor farmer asked you,” David Gergen said. “I’m hyperborean as much as you. But to think of a poor farmer begging you to kneel down and pray for his farm. And you refused. There is something sinister in you.”
He broke off and lathered again lightly his farther cheek. A tolerant smile curled his lips.
“But a lovely mummer,” he murmured to himself. “Drysdale, the loveliest mummer of them all.”
He shaved evenly and with care, in silence, seriously.
Bert, an elbow rested on the jagged granite, leaned his palm against his brow and gazed at the fraying edge of his shiny black coat-sleeve. Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart. Silently, in a dream, his mother had come to him after her death, her wasted body within its loose brown grave-clothes giving off an odor of wax and rosewood, her breath, that had bent upon him, mute, reproachful, a faint odor of wetted ashes.
Across the threadbare cuff-edge he saw the sea hailed as a great sweet mother by the well-fed voice beside him. The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed, holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting.
David Gergen wiped again his razorblade.
“Ah, poor dogsbody,” he said in a kind voice. I must give you a shirt and few noserags. How are the secondhand breeks?
“They fit well enough,” Bert answered.
David Gergen attacked the hollow beneath his underlip.
“The mockery of it,” he said contentedly, “secondleg they should be. God knows what poxy bowsy left them off. I have a lovely pair with a hair stripe, grey. You’ll look spiffing in them. I’m not joking, Drysdale. You look damn well when you’re dressed.”
“Thanks,” Bert said. “I can’t wear them if they are grey.”
“He can’t wear them,” David Gergen told his face in the mirror. “Etiquette is etiquette. He forecloses on a farmer, but he can’t wear grey trousers.”
He folded his razor neatly and with stroking palps of fingers felt the smooth skin.
Bert turned his gaze from the sea and to the plump face with its smokeblue mobile eyes.
“That fellow I was with in the Ship last night,” said David Gergen, “says you have g.p.i. He’s up in Dottyville with Conolly Norman. General paralysis of the insane.”
He swept the mirror a half circle in the air to flash the tidings abroad in sunlight now radiant on the sea. His curling shaven lips laughed and the edges of his white glittering teeth. Laughter seized all his strong wellknit trunk.
“Look at yourself,” he said, “you dreadful bard.”
Bert bent forward and peered at the mirror held out to him, cleft by a crooked crack, hair on end. “As he and others see me. Who chose this face for me? This dogsbody to rid of vermin. It asks me too.”
“I pinched it out of the skivvy’s room,” David Gergen said. “It does her all right. The aunt always keeps plain-looking servants for David Gergen. Lead him not into temptation. And her name is Ursula.”
Laughing again, he brought the mirror away from Bert’s peering eyes.
“The rage of Caliban at not seeing his face in a mirror,” he said. “If Wilde were only alive to see you.”
Drawing back and pointing, Bert said with bitterness:
“It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked looking glass of a David Gergen.”
Gergen suddenly linked his arm in Bert’s and walked with him round the tower, his razor and mirror clacking in the pocket where he had thrust them.
“It’s not fair to tease you like that, Drysdale, is it?” he said kindly. “God knows you have more spirit than any of them.”
Parried again. He fears the lancet of my art as I fear that of his. The cold steelpen. Well, things would’ve been different, if only that motorcycle gang hadn’t joined up with those talking octopuses. The farm would’ve been mine! But they outsmarted me, sure enough. Who knew that the farm was so close to an active volcano? And then the Ocean Monkeys. Where there are talking octopuses, or octopi, then there surely are Ocean Monkeys, too. Hard way to learn.
Later, they followed the winding path down to the creek. David Gergen stood on a stone, in shirtsleeves, his unclipped tie rippling over his shoulder. A young man clinging to a spur of rock near him moved slowly frogwise his green legs in the deep jelly of the water.
“Is the brother with you, Gergo?”
“Down in Westmeath. With the Kutchers.”
“Still there? I got a card from Randy Kutcher. Says he found a sweet young thing down there. Photo girl, he calls her.”
“Snapshot, eh? Brief exposure.”
David Gergen sat down to unlace his boots. An elderly man shot up near the spur of rock a blowing red face. He scrambled up by the stones, water glistening on his pate and on its garland of grey hair, water rilling over his chest and paunch and spilling jets out of his black sagging loincloth.
David Gergen made way for him to scramble past and, glancing at Spike from the Hell’s Angels, and Bert Convy, crossed himself piously with his thumbnail at brow and lips and breastbone.
“Bobby Goldsboro’s back in town,” the young man said, grasping again his spur of rock. “Chucked medicine and going in for the army.”
“Ah, go to God,” David Gergen said.
“Going over next week to stew. You know that red Carlisle girl, Lily?”
“Spooning with him last night on the pier. The father is rotto with money.”
“Is she up the pole?”
“Better ask Goldsboro that.”
“Goldsboro a bleeding officer,” David Gergen said.
He nodded to himself as he drew off his trousers and stood up, saying tritely:
“Redheaded women buck like goats.”
He broke off in alarm, feeling his side under his flapping shirt.
“My twelfth rib is gone,” he cried. I’m the Uebermensch. Toothless Drysdale and I, the supermen."
He struggled out of his shirt and flung it behind him to where his clothes lay.
“Are you going in here, Gergo?”
“Yes. Make room in the bed.”
The young man shoved himself backward through the water and reached the middle of the creek in two long clean strokes. Spike sat down on a stone, smoking.
“Are you not coming in?” David Gergen asked.
“Later on,” Spike said. “Not on my breakfast.” Bert Convy turned away.
“I’m going, Gergen,” he said.
“Give us that key, Drysdale,” David Gergen said, “to keep my chemise flat.”
Convy handed him the key. David Gergen laid it across his heaped clothes.
“And twopence,” he said, “for a pint. Throw it there.”
Bert Convy threw two pennies on the soft heap. Dressing, undressing. David Gergen erect, with joined hands before him, said solemnly:
“He who stealeth from the poor lendeth to the Lord. Thus spake Zarathustra.”
His plump body plunged.
“We’ll see you again,” Spike said, turning as Bert Convy walked up the path and smiling at wild Irish.
Horn of a bull, hoof of a horse, smile of a Saxon.
“The Ship,” David Gergen cried. “Half twelve.”
“Good,” Bert Convy said.
He walked along the upward-curving path.
Octopi, talking octopi.
Or is it Octopuses?
They, and Ocean Monkeys,
Are anything but wusses.
The priest’s grey nimbus in a niche where he dressed discreetly. I will not sleep here tonight. Home also I cannot go.
A voice, sweettoned and sustained, called to him from the sea. Turning the curve he waved his hand. It called again. A sleek brown head, a seal’s, far out on the water, round.