“The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio”
THEY brought them in around midnight and then, all night long, everyone along the corridor heard the Russian.
‘Where is he shot?’ Mr. Frazer asked the night nurse.
‘In the thigh, I think.’
‘What about the other one?’
‘Oh, he’s going to die, I’m afraid.’
‘Where is he shot?’
‘Twice in the abdomen. They only found one of the bullets.’
They were both beet workers, a Mexican and a Russian, and they were sitting drinking coffee in an all-night restaurant when someone came in the door and started shooting at the Mexican. The Russian crawled under a table and was hit, finally, by a stray shot fired at the Mexican as he lay on the floor with two bullets in his abdomen. That was what the paper said.
The Mexican told the police he had no idea who shot him.
He believed it to be an accident.
‘An accident that he fired eight shots at you and hit you twice, there?’
‘Si, señor,’ said the Mexican, who was named Cayetano Ruiz, ‘An accident that he hit me at all, the cabron,’ he said to the interpreter.
‘What does he say?’ asked the detective sergeant, looking across the bed at the interpreter.
‘He says it was an accident.’
‘Tell him to tell the truth, that he is going to die,’ the detective said.
‘Na,’ said Cayetano. ‘But tell him that I feel very sick and would prefer not to talk so much.’
‘He says that he is telling the truth,’ the interpreter said.
Then, speaking confidently, to the detective, ‘He don’t know who shot him. They shot him in the back.’
‘Yes,’ said the detective. ‘I understand that, but why did the bullets all go in the front?’
‘Maybe he is spinning around,’ said the interpreter.
‘Listen,’ said the detective, shaking his finger almost at Cayetano’s nose, which projected, waxen yellow, from his dead-man’s face in which his eyes were alive as a hawk’s, ‘I don’t give a damn who shot you, but I’ve got to clear this thing up. Don’t you want the man who shot you to be punished? Tell him that,’ he said to the interpreter.
‘He says to tell who shot you.’
‘Mandarlo al carajo,’ said Cayetano, who was very tired.
‘He says he never saw the fellow at all,’ the interpreter said. ‘I tell you straight they shot him in the back.’
‘Ask him who shot the Russian.’
‘Poor Russian,’ said Cayetano. ‘He was on the floor with his head enveloped in his arms. He started to give cries when they shoot him and he is giving cries ever since. Poor Russian.’
‘He says some fellow that he doesn’t know. Maybe the same fellow that shot him.’
‘Listen,’ the detective said. ‘This isn’t Chicago. You’re not a gangster. You don’t have to act like a moving picture. It’s all right to tell who shot you. Anybody would tell who shot them. That’s all right to do. Suppose you don’t tell who he is and he shoots somebody else. Suppose he shoots a woman or a child. You can’t let him get away with that. You tell him,’ he said to Mr. Frazer. ‘I don’t trust that damn interpreter.’
‘I am very reliable,’ the interpreter said. Cayetano looked at Mr. Frazer.
‘Listen, amigo,’ said Mr. Frazer. ‘The policeman says that we are not in Chicago but in Hailey, Montana. You are not a bandit and this has nothing to do with the cinema.’
‘I believe him,’ said Cayetano softly. ‘Ya lo creo.’
‘One can, with honour, denounce one’s assailant. Every one does it here, he says. He says what happens if after shooting you, this man shoots a woman or a child?’
‘I am not married,’ Cayetano said.
‘He says any woman, any child.’
‘The man is not crazy,’ Cayetano said.
‘He says you should denounce him,’ Mr. Frazer finished.
‘Thank you,’ Cayetano said. ‘You are of the great translators. I speak English, but badly. I understand it all right. How did you break your leg?’
‘A fall off a horse.’
‘What bad luck. I am very sorry. Does it hurt much?’
‘Not now. At first, yes.’
‘Listen, amigo,’ Cayetano began, ‘I am very weak. You will pardon me. Also I have much pain; enough pain. It is very possible that I die. Please get this policeman out of here because I am very tired.’ He made as though to roll to one side; then held himself still.
‘I told him everything exactly as you said and he said to tell you, truly, that he doesn’t know who shot him and that he is very weak and wishes you would question him later on,’ Mr. Frazer said.
‘He’ll probably be dead later on.’
‘That’s quite possible.’
‘That’s why I want to question him now.’
‘Somebody shot him in the back, I tell you,’ the interpreter said.
‘Oh, for Chrisake,’ the detective sergeant said, and put his notebook in his pocket.
Outside in the corridor the detective sergeant stood with the interpreter beside Mr. Frazer’s wheeled chair.
‘I suppose you think somebody shot him in the back too?’
‘Yes,’ Frazer said. ‘Somebody shot him in the back. What’s it to you?’
‘Don’t get sore,’ the sergeant said. ‘I wish I could talk spick.’
‘Why don’t you learn?’
‘You don’t have to get sore. I don’t get any fun out of asking that spick question. If I could talk spick it would be different.’
‘You don’t need to talk Spanish,’ the interpreter said. ‘I’m a very reliable interpreter.’
‘Oh, for Chrisake,’ the sergeant said. ‘Well, so long. I’ll come up and see you.’
‘Thanks. I’m always in.’
‘I guess you are all right. That was bad luck all right. Plenty bad luck.’
‘It’s coming along good now since he spliced the bone.’
‘Yes, but it’s a long time. A long, long time.’
‘Don’t let anybody shoot you in the back.’
‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘That’s right. Well, I’m glad you’re not sore.’
‘So long,’ said Mr. Frazer.
Mr. Frazer did not see Cayetano again for a long time, but each morning Sister Cecilia brought news of him. He was so uncomplaining she said and he was very bad now. He had peritonitis and they thought he could not live. Poor Cayetano, she said. He had such beautiful hands and such a fine face and he never complains. The odour, now, was really terrific. He would point toward his nose with one finger and smile and shake his head, she said. He felt badly about the odour. It embarrassed him, Sister Cecilia said. Oh, he was such a fine patient. He always smiled. He wouldn’t go to confession to Father but he promised to say his prayers, and not a Mexican had been to see him since he had been brought in. The Russian was going out at the end of the week. I could never feel anything about the Russian, Sister Cecilia said. Poor fellow, he suffered too. It was a greased bullet and dirty and the wound infected, but he made so much noise and then I always like the bad ones. That Cayetano, he’s a bad one. Oh, he must really be a bad one, a thoroughly bad one, he’s so fine and delicately made and he’s never done any work with his hands. He’s not a beet worker. I know he’s not a beet worker. His hands are as smooth and not a callous on them. I know he’s a bad one of some sort. I’m going down and pray for him now. Poor Cayetano, he’s having a dreadful time and he doesn’t make a sound. What did they have to shoot him for? Oh, that poor Cayetano! I’m going right down and pray for him.
She went right down and prayed for him.
In that hospital a radio did not work very well until it was dusk. They said it was because there was so much ore in the ground or something about the mountains, but anyway it did not work well at all until it began to get dark outside; but all night it worked beautifully and when one station stopped you could go farther west and pick up another. The last one that you could get was Seattle, Washington, and due to the difference in time, when they signed off at four o’clock in the morning it was five o’clock in the morning in the hospital; and at six o’clock you could get the morning revellers in Minneapolis. That was on account of the difference in time, too, and Mr. Frazer used to like to think of the morning revellers arriving at the studio and picture how they would look getting off a street car before daylight in the morning carrying their instruments. Maybe that was wrong and they kept their instruments at the place they revelled, but he always pictured them with their instruments. He had never been in Minneapolis and believed he probably would never go there, but he knew what it looked like that early in the morning.
Out of the window of the hospital you could see a field with tumbleweed coming out of the snow, and a bare clay butte.
One morning the doctor wanted to show Mr. Frazer two pheasants that were out there in the snow, and pulling the bed toward the window, the reading light fell off the iron bedstead and hit Mr. Frazer on the head. This does not sound so funny now but it was very funny then. Everyone was looking out the window, and the doctor, who was a most excellent doctor, was pointing at the pheasants and pulling the bed toward the window, and then, just as in a comic section, Mr. Frazer was knocked out by the leaded base of the lamp hitting the top of his head. It seemed the antithesis of healing or whatever people were in the hospital for, and everyone thought it was very funny, as a joke on Mr. Frazer and on the doctor. Everything is much simpler in a hospital, including the jokes.
From the other window, if the bed was turned, you could see the town, with a little smoke above it, and the Dawson mountains looking like real mountains with the winter snow on them. Those were the two views since the wheeled chair had proved to be premature. It is really best to be in bed if you are in a hospital; since two views, with time to observe them, from a room the temperature of which you control, are much better than any number of views seen for a few minutes from hot, empty rooms that are waiting for someone else, or just abandoned, which you are wheeled in and out of.
If you stay long enough in a room the view, whatever it is, acquires a great value and becomes very important and you would not change it, not even by a different angle. Just as, with the radio, there are certain things that you become fond of, and you welcome them and resent the new things.
The best tunes they had that winter were ‘Sing Something Simple’, ‘Singsong Girl’, and ‘Little White Lies’. No other tunes were as satisfactory, Mr. Frazer felt. ‘Betty Co-ed,’ was a good tune too, but the parody of the words which came unavoidably into Mr. Frazer’s mind, grew so steadily and increasingly obscene that there being no one to appreciate it, he finally abandoned it and let the song go back to football.
About nine o’clock in the morning they would start using the X-ray machine, and then the radio, which, by then, was only getting Hailey, became useless. Many people in Hailey who owned radios protested about the hospital’s X-ray machine which ruined their morning reception, but there was never any action taken, although many felt it was a shame the hospital could not use their machine at a time when people were not using their radios.
About the time when it became necessary to turn off the radio, Sister Cecilia came in.
‘How’s Cayetano, Sister Cecilia?’ Mr. Frazer asked.
‘Oh, he’s very bad.’
‘Is he out of his head?’
‘No, but I’m afraid he’s going to die.’
‘How are you?’
‘I’m very worried about him, and do you know that absolutely no one has come to see him? He could die just like a dog for all those Mexicans care. They’re really dreadful.’
‘Do you want to come up and hear the game this afternoon?’
‘Oh, no,’ she said. ‘I’d be too excited. I’ll be in the chapel praying.’
‘We ought to be able to hear it pretty well,’ Mr. Frazer said. ‘They’re playing out on the coast and the difference in time will bring it late enough so we can get it all right.’
‘Oh, no. I couldn’t do it. The world series nearly finished me. When the Athletics were at bat I was praying right out loud: “Oh, Lord, direct their batting eyes! Oh, Lord, may he hit one! Oh, Lord, may he hit safely!” Then when they filled the bases in the third game, you remember, it was too much for me. “Oh, Lord, may he hit it out of the lot! Oh, Lord, may he drive it clean over the fence!” Then you know when the Cardinals would come to bat it was simply dreadful. “Oh, Lord, may they not see it! Oh, Lord, don’t let them even catch a glimpse of it. Oh, Lord, may they fan!” And this game is even worse. It’s Notre Dame. Our Lady. No, I’ll be in the chapel. For Our Lady. They’re playing for Our Lady. I wish you’d write something sometime for Our Lady. You could do it. You know you could do it, Mr. Frazer.’
‘I don’t know anything about her that I could write. It’s mostly been written already,’ Mr. Frazer said. ‘You wouldn’t like the way I write. She wouldn’t care for it either.’
‘You’ll write about her sometime,’ Sister said. ‘I know you will. You must write about Our Lady.’
‘You’d better come up and hear the game.’
‘It would be too much for me. No, I’ll be in the chapel doing what I can.’
That afternoon they had been playing about five minutes when a probationer came into the room and said, ‘Sister Cecilia wants to know how the game is going?’
‘Tell her they have a touchdown already.’
In a little while the probationer came into the room again.
‘Tell her they’re playing them off their feet,’ Mr. Frazer said.
A little later he rang the bell for the nurse who was on floor duty. ‘Would you mind going down to the chapel or sending word to Sister Cecilia that Notre Dame has them fourteen to nothing at the end of the first quarter and that it’s all right. She can stop praying.’
In a few minutes Sister Cecilia came into the room. She was very excited. ‘What does fourteen to nothing mean? I don’t know anything about this game. That’s a nice safe lead in baseball. But I don’t know anything about football. It may not mean a thing. I’m going right back down to the chapel and pray until it’s finished.’
‘They have them beaten,’ Frazer said. ‘I promise you. Stay and listen with me.’
‘No. No. No. No. No. No. No,’ she said. ‘I’m going right down to the chapel to pray.’
Mr. Frazer sent down word whenever Notre Dame scored, and finally, when it had been dark a long time, the final result.
‘How’s Sister Cecilia?’
‘They’re all at chapel,’ she said.
The next morning Sister Cecilia came in. She was very pleased and confident.
‘I knew they couldn’t beat Our Lady,’ she said. ‘They couldn’t. Cayetano’s better too. He’s much better. He’s going to have visitors. He can’t see them yet, but they are going to come and that will make him feel better and know he’s not forgotten by his own people. I went down and saw that O’Brien boy at Police Headquarters and told him that he’s got to send some Mexicans up to see poor Cayetano. He’s going to send some this afternoon. Then that poor man will feel better. It’s wicked the way no one has come to see him.’
That afternoon about five o’clock three Mexicans came into the room.
‘Can one?’ asked the biggest one, who had very thick lips and was quite fat.
‘Why not?’ Mr. Frazer answered. ‘Sit down, gentlemen. Will you take something?’
‘Many thanks,’ said the big one.
‘Thanks,’ said the darkest and smallest one.
‘Thanks, no,’ said the thin one. ‘It mounts to my head.’
He tapped his head.
The nurse brought some glasses. ‘Please give them the bottle,’ Frazer said. ‘It is from Red Lodge,’ he explained.
‘That of Red Lodge is the best,’ said the big one. ‘Much better than that of Big Timber.’
‘Clearly,’ said the smallest one, ‘and costs more too.’
‘In Red Lodge it is of all prices,’ said the big one.
‘How many tubes has the radio?’ asked the one who did not drink.
‘Very beautiful,’ he said. ‘What does it cost?’
‘I don’t know,’ Mr. Frazer said. ‘It is rented.’
‘You gentlemen are friends of Cayetano?’
‘No,’ said the big one. ‘We are friends of he who wounded him.’
‘We were sent here by the police,’ the smallest one said.
‘We have a little place,’ the big one said. ‘He and I,’ indicating the one who did not drink. ‘He has a little place too,’ indicating the small, dark one. ‘The police tell us we have to come so we come.’
‘I am very happy you have come.’
‘Equally,’ said the big one.
‘Will you have another little cup?’
‘Why not?’ said the big one.
‘With your permission,’ said the smallest one.
‘Not me,’ said the thin one. ‘It mounts to my head.’
‘It is very good,’ said the smallest one.
‘Why not try some,’ Mr. Frazer asked the thin one. ‘Let a little mount to your head.’
‘Afterwards comes the headache,’ said the thin one.
‘Could you not send friends of Cayetano to see him?’ Frazer asked.
‘He has no friends.’
‘Every man has friends.’
‘This one, no.’
‘What does he do?’
‘He is a card-player.’
‘Is he good?’
‘I believe it.’
‘From me,’ said the smallest one, ‘he won one hundred and eighty dollars. Now there is no longer one hundred and eighty dollars in the world.’
‘From me,’ said the thin one, ‘he won two hundred and eleven dollars. Fix yourself on that figure.’
‘I never played with him,’ said the fat one.
‘He must be very rich,’ Mr. Frazer suggested, ‘He is poorer than we,’ said the little Mexican. ‘He has no more than the shirt on his back.’
‘And that shirt is of little value now,’ Mr. Frazer said. ‘Perforated as it is.’
‘The one who wounded him was a card-player?’
‘No, a beet worker. He has had to leave town.’
‘Fix yourself on this,’ said the smallest one. ‘He was the best guitar player ever in this town. The finest.’
‘What a shame.’
‘I believe it,’ said the biggest one. ‘How he could touch the guitar.’
‘There are no good guitar players left?’
‘Not the shadow of a guitar player.’
‘There is an accordion player who is worth something,’ the thin man said.
‘There are a few who touch various instruments,’ the big one said. ‘You like music?’
‘How would I not?’
‘We will come one night with music? You think the sister would allow it? She seems very amiable.’
‘I am sure she would permit it when Cayetano is able to hear it.’
‘Is she a little crazy?’ asked the thin one.
‘No,’ Mr, Frazer said. ‘She is a fine woman of great intelligence and sympathy.’
‘I distrust all priests, monks, and sisters,’ said the thin one.
‘He had bad experiences when a boy,’ the smallest one said.
‘I was acolyte,’ the thin one said proudly. ‘Now I believe in nothing. Neither do I go to mass.’
‘Why? Does it mount to your head?’
‘No,’ said the thin one. ‘It is alcohol that mounts to my head. Religion is the opium of the poor.’
‘I thought marijuana was the opium of the poor,’ Frazer said.
‘Did you ever smoke opium?’ the big one asked.
‘Nor I,’ he said. ‘It seems it is very bad. One commences and cannot stop. It is a vice.’
‘Like religion,’ said the thin one.
‘This one,’ said the smallest Mexican, ‘is very strong against religion.’
‘It is necessary to be very strong against something,’ Mr. Frazer said politely.
‘I respect those who have faith even though they are ignorant,’ the thin one said.
‘Good,’ said Mr. Frazer.
‘What can we bring you?’ asked the big Mexican. ‘Do you lack for anything?’
‘I would be glad to buy some beer if there is good beer.’
‘We will bring beer.’
‘Another copita before you go?’
‘It is very good.’
‘We are robbing you.’
‘I can’t take it. It goes to my head. Then I have a bad headache and sick at the stomach.’
‘Good-bye and thanks.’
They went out and there was supper and then the radio, turned to be as quiet as possible and still be heard, and the stations finally signing off in this order: Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Mr. Frazer received no picture of Denver from the radio. He could see Denver from the Denver Post, and correct the picture from the Rocky Mountain News.
Nor did he ever have any feel of Salt Lake City or Los Angeles from what he heard from those places. All he felt about Salt Lake City was that it was clean, but dull, and there were too many ballrooms mentioned in too many big hotels for him to see Los Angeles. He could not feel it for the ballrooms. But Seattle he came to know very well, the taxicab company with the big white cabs (each cab equipped with radio itself) he rode in every night out to the roadhouse on the Canadian side where he followed the course of parties by the musical selections they phoned for. He lived in Seattle from two o’clock on, each night, hearing the pieces that all the different people asked for, and it was as real as Minneapolis, where the revellers left their beds each morning to make that trip down to the studio. Mr. Frazer grew very fond of Seattle, Washington.
The Mexicans came and brought beer but it was not good beer. Mr. Frazer saw them but he did not feel like talking, and when they went he knew they would not come again.
His nerves had become tricky and he disliked seeing people while he was in this condition. His nerves went bad at the end of five weeks, and while he was pleased they lasted that long yet he resented being forced to make the same experiment when he already knew the answer. Mr. Frazer had been through this all before. The only thing which was new to him was the radio. He played it all night long, turned so low he could barely hear it, and he was learning to listen to it without thinking.
Sister Cecilia came into the room about ten o’clock in the morning on that day and brought the mail. She was very handsome, and Mr. Frazer liked to see her and to hear her talk, but the mail, supposedly coming from a different world, was important. However, there was nothing in the mail of any interest.
‘You look so much better,’ she said. ‘You’ll be leaving us soon.’
‘Yes,’ Mr. Frazer said. ‘You look very happy this morning.’
‘Oh, I am. This morning I feel as though I might be a saint.’
Mr. Frazer was a little taken aback at this.
‘Yes,’ Sister Cecilia went on. ‘That’s what I want to be. A saint. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to be a saint. When I was a girl I thought if I renounced the world and went into the convent I would be a saint. That was what I wanted to be and that was what I thought I had to do to be one. I expected I would be a saint, I was absolutely sure I would be one. For just a moment I thought I was one. I was so happy and it seemed so simple and easy. When I awoke in the morning I expected I would be a saint, but I wasn’t. I’ve never become one. I want so to be one. All I want is to be a saint. That is all I’ve ever wanted. And this morning I feel as though I might be one. Oh, I hope I will get to be one.’
‘You’ll be one. Everybody gets what they want. That’s what they always tell me.’
‘I don’t know now. When I was a girl it seemed so simple. I knew I would be a saint. Only I believed it took time when I found it did not happen suddenly. Now it seems almost impossible.’
‘I’d say you had a good chance.’
‘Do you really think so? No, I don’t want just to be encouraged… Don’t just encourage me. I want to be a saint. I want to be a saint.’
‘Of course you’ll be a saint,’ Mr. Frazer said.
‘No, probably I won’t be. But, oh, if I could only be a saint! I’d be perfectly happy.’
‘You’re three to one to be a saint.’
‘No, don’t encourage me. But, oh, if I could only be a saint! If I could only be a saint!’
‘How’s your friend Cayetano?’
‘He’s going to get well, but he’s paralysed. One of the bullets hit the big nerve that goes down through his thigh and that leg is paralysed. They only found it out when he got well enough so that he could move.’
‘Maybe the nerve will regenerate.’
‘I’m praying that it will,’ Sister Cecilia said ‘You ought to see him.’
‘I don’t feel like seeing anybody.’
‘You know you’d like to see him. They could wheel him in here.’
They wheeled him in, thin, his skin transparent, his hair black and needing to be cut, his eyes very laughing, his teeth bad when he smiled.
‘Hola, amigo! Que tal?’
‘As you see,’ said Mr. Frazer. ‘And thou?’
‘Alive and with the leg paralysed.’
‘Bad,’ Mr. Frazer said. ‘But the nerve can regenerate and be as good as new.’
‘So they tell me.’
‘What about the pain?’
‘Not now. For a while I was crazy with it in the belly. I thought the pain alone would kill me.’
Sister Cecilia was observing them happily.
‘She tells me you never made a sound,’ Mr. Frazer said.
‘So many people in the ward,’ the Mexican said deprecatingly. ‘What class of pain do you have?’
‘Big enough. Clearly not as bad as yours. When the nurse goes out I cry an hour, two hours. It rests me. My nerves are bad now.’
‘You have the radio. If I had a private room and a radio I would be crying and yelling all night long.’
‘I doubt it.’
‘Hombre, Si. It’s very healthy. But you cannot do it with so many people.’
‘At least,’ Mr. Frazer said, ‘the hands are still good. They tell me you make your living with the hands.’
‘And the head,’ he said, tapping his forehead, ‘But the head isn’t worth as much.’
‘Three of your countrymen were here.’
‘Sent by the police to see me.’
‘They brought some beer.’
‘It probably was bad.’
‘It was bad.’
‘To-night, sent by the police, they come to serenade me.’
He laughed, then tapped his stomach. ‘I cannot laugh yet. As musicians, they are fatal.’
‘And the one who shot you?’
‘Another fool. I won thirty-eight dollars from him at cards, That is not to kill about.’
‘The three told me you win much money.’
‘And am poorer than the birds.’
‘I am a poor idealist. I am the victim of illusions.’ He laughed, then grinned and tapped his stomach. ‘I am a professional gambler but I like to gamble. To really gamble. Little gambling is all crooked. For real gambling you need luck. I have no luck.’
‘Never. I am completely without luck. Look, this cabron who shoots me just now. Can he shoot? No. The first shot he fires into nothing. The second is intercepted by a poor Russian. That would seem to be luck. What happens? He shoots me twice in the belly. He is a lucky man. I have no luck. He could not hit a horse if he were holding the stirrup. All luck.’
‘I thought he shot you first and the Russian after.’
‘No, the Russian first, me after. The paper was mistaken.’
‘Why didn’t you shoot him?’
‘I never carry a gun. With my luck, if I carried a gun I would be hanged ten times a year. I am a cheap card player, only that.’ He stopped, then continued. ‘When I make a sum of money I gamble and when I gamble I lose. I have passed at dice for three thousand dollars and crapped out for the six. With good dice. More than once.’
‘If I live long enough the luck will change. I have bad luck now for fifteen years. If I ever get any good luck I will be rich.’ He grinned. ‘I am a good gambler, really I would enjoy being rich.’
‘Do you have bad luck with all games?’
‘With everything and with women.’ He smiled again, showing his bad teeth.
‘And what is there to do?’
‘Continue, slowly, and wait for luck to change.’
‘But with women?’
‘No gambler has luck with women. He is too concentrated. He works nights. When he should be with the woman. No man who works nights can hold a woman if the woman is worth anything.’
‘You are a philosopher.’
‘No, hombre. A gambler of the small towns. One small town, then another, another, then a big town, then start over again.’
‘Then shot in the belly.’
‘The first time,’ he said. ‘That has only happened once.’
‘I tire you talking?’ Mr. Frazer suggested.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I must tire you.’
‘And the leg?’
‘I have no great use for the leg. I am all right with the leg or not. I will be able to circulate.’
‘I wish you luck, truly, and with all my heart,’ Mr. Frazer said.
‘Equally,’ he said. ‘And that the pain stops.’
‘It will not last, certainly. It is passing. It is of no importance.’
‘That it passes quickly.’
That night the Mexicans played the accordion and other instruments in the ward and it was cheerful and the noise of the inhalations and exhalations of the accordion, and of the bells, the traps, and the drum came down the corridor. In that ward there was a rodeo rider who had come out of the chutes on Midnight on a hot dusty afternoon with the big crowd watching, and now, with a broken back, was going to learn to work in leather and to cane chairs when he got well enough to leave the hospital. There was a carpenter who had fallen with a scaffolding and broken both ankles and both wrists. He had lit like a cat but without a cat’s resiliency.
They could fix him up so that he could work again but it would take a long time. There was a boy from a farm, about sixteen years old, with a broken leg that had been badly set and was to be rebroken. There was Cayetano Ruiz, a small-town gambler with a paralysed leg. Down the corridor Mr. Frazer could hear them all laughing and merry with the music made by the Mexicans who had been sent by the police. The Mexicans were having a good time. They came in, very excited, to see Mr. Frazer and wanted to know if there was anything he wanted them to play, and they came twice more to play at night of their own accord.
The last time they played Mr. Fraser lay in his room with the door open and listened to the noisy, bad music and could not keep from thinking. When they wanted to know what he wished played, he asked for the ‘Cucaracha’, which has the sinister lightness and deftness of so many of the tunes men have gone to die to. They played noisily and with emotion.
The tune was better than most of such tunes, to Mr. Frazer’s mind, but the effect was all the same.
In spite of this introduction of emotion, Mr. Frazer went on thinking. Usually he avoided thinking all he could, except when he was writing, but now he was thinking about those who were playing and what the little one had said.
Religion is the opium of the people. He believed that, that dyspeptic little joint-keeper. Yes, and music is the opium of the people. Old mount-to-the-head hadn’t thought of that.
And now economics is the opium of the people; along with patriotism the opium of the people in Italy and Germany.
What about sexual intercourse; was that an opium of the people? Of some of the people. Of some of the best of the people. But drink was a sovereign opium of the people, oh, an excellent opium. Although some prefer the radio, another opium of the people, a cheap one he had just been using.
Along with these went gambling, an opium of the people if there ever was one, one of the oldest. Ambition was another.
An opium of the people, along with a belief in any new form of government. What you wanted was the minimum of government, always less government. Liberty, what we believed in, now the name of a MacFadden publication. We believed in that although they had not found a new name for it yet. But what was the real one? What was the real, the actual, opium of the people? He knew it very well. It was gone just a little way around the corner in that well-lighted part of his mind that was there after two or more drinks in the evening; that he knew was there (it was not really there of course). What was it? He knew very well. What was it?
Of course; bread was the opium of the people. Would he remember that and would it make sense in the daylight?
Bread is the opium of the people.
‘Listen,’ Mr. Frazer said to the nurse when she came. ‘Get that little thin Mexican in here, will you, please?’
‘How do you like it?’ the Mexican said at the door.
‘It is a historic tune,’ the Mexican said. ‘It is the tune of the real revolution.’
‘Listen,’ said Mr. Frazer. ‘Why should the people be operated on without an anaesthetic?’
‘I do not understand.’
‘Why are not all the opiums of the people good? What do you want to do with the people?’
‘They should be rescued from ignorance.’
‘Don’t talk nonsense. Education is an opium of the people. You ought to know now that you’ve had a little.’
‘You do not believe in education?’
‘No,’ said Mr. Frazer. ‘In knowledge, yes.’
‘I do not follow you.’
‘Many times I do not follow myself with pleasure.’
‘You want to hear the “Cucaracha” another time?’ asked the Mexican worriedly.
‘Yes,’ said Mr. Frazer. ‘Play the “Cucaracha” another time. It’s better than the radio.’
Revolution, Mr. Frazer thought, is no opium. Revolution is a catharsis; an ecstasy which can only be prolonged by tyranny. The opiums are for before and for after. He was thinking well, a little too well.
They would go now in a little while, he thought, and they would take the ‘Cucaracha,’ with them. Then he would have a little spot of the giant killer and play the radio, you could play the radio so that you could hardly hear it.