فصل 14

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فصل 14

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Ignatius spent the day in his room napping fitfully and attacking his rubber glove during his frequent, anxious moments of consciousness. Throughout the afternoon the telephone in the hall had been ringing, each new ring making him more nervous and anxious. He lunged at the glove, deflowering it, stabbing it, conquering it. Like any celebrity, Ignatius had attracted his fans: his mother’s jinxed relatives, neighbors, people Mrs. Reilly had not seen for years. They had all telephoned. At every ring Ignatius imagined that it was Mr. Levy calling back, but he always heard his mother say to the caller the lines that were becoming tearfully standard, “Ain’t this awful? What I’m gonna do? Now our name is really ruint.” When Ignatius could stand it no longer, he would billow out of his room in search of a Dr. Nut. If he chanced to meet his mother in the hall, she would not look at him but rather study the fleecy spheres of lint that drifted along the floor in her son’s wake. There seemed to be nothing that he could say to her.

What would Mr. Levy do? Abelman, unfortunately, was apparently a rather petty person, a man too small to accept a little criticism, a hypersensitive molecule of a human. He had written to the wrong person; the militant and courageous broadside had been delivered before the wrong audience. At this point his nervous system could not manage a court trial. He would break down completely before the judge. He wondered how long it would be before Mr. Levy descended upon him again. What senile conundrums was Miss Trixie babbling to Mr. Levy? An infuriated and confused Mr. Levy would return, this time determined to have him incarcerated at once. Now waiting for this return was like waiting for an execution. The dull headache persisted. The Dr. Nuts tasted like gall. Abelman certainly wanted a great deal of money; that sensitive plant of an Abelman must have been greatly offended. When the true author of the letter was discovered, what would Abelman demand in lieu of $500 thousand? A life?

The Dr. Nuts seemed only as an acid gurgling down into his intestine. He filled with gas, the sealed valve trapping it just as one pinches the mouth of a balloon. Great eructations rose from his throat and bounced upward toward the refuse-laden bowl of the milk glass chandelier. Once a person was asked to step into this brutal century, anything could happen. Everywhere there lurked pitfalls like Abelman, the insipid Crusaders for Moorish Dignity, the Mancuso cretin, Dorian Greene, newspaper reporters, stripteasers, birds, photography, juvenile delinquents, Nazi @@@ographers. And especially Myrna Minkoff. The musky minx must be dealt with. Somehow. Someday. She must pay. Whatever happened, he must attend to her even if the revenge took years and he had to stalk her through decades from one coffee shop to another, from one folk singing orgy to another, from subway train to pad to cotton field to demonstration. Ignatius invoked an elaborate Elizabethan curse upon Myrna and, rolling over, frantically abused the glove once more.

How dare his mother contemplate a marriage. Only someone as simpleminded as she could be so disloyal. The aged fascist would conduct witchhunt after witchhunt until the formerly intact Ignatius J. Reilly was reduced to a fragmented and mumbling vegetable. The aged fascist would testify for Mr. Levy so that his future stepson would be locked away and he would be free to satisfy his warped and archaic desires upon the unsuspecting Irene Reilly, to perform his conservative practices upon Irene Reilly with free enterprise. Prostitutes were not protected by the Social Security and unemployment compensation systems. No doubt the Robichaux roué was thus attracted to them. Only Fortuna knew what he had learned at their hands.

Mrs. Reilly listened to the squeaking and belching emanating from her son’s room and wondered whether, on top of everything else, he were having a fit. But she didn’t want to look at Ignatius. Whenever she heard his door opening, she tried to run to her room to avoid him. Five hundred thousand dollars was a sum she could not even imagine. She could hardly imagine the punishment given someone who had done something bad enough to be worth five hundred thousand. If there were any cause for suspicion on Mr. Levy’s part, there was none on hers. Ignatius had written whatever it was. Wouldn’t this be fine? Ignatius in jail. There was only one way to save him. She carried the telephone as far down the hall as she could, and for the fourth time that day, she dialed Santa Battaglia’s number.

“Lord, honey, you really worried,” Santa said. “What happened now?”

“I’m afraid Ignatius is in worst trouble than just a picture in the paper,” Mrs. Reilly whispered. “I can’t talk over the phone. Santa, you was right all along. Ignatius gotta go to the Charity.” “Well, at last. I been talking myself hoarse telling you that. Claude just rang up a little while ago. He says Ignatius made a big scene at the hospital when they met. Claude says he’s ascared of Ignatius, he’s so big.” “Ain’t that awful. It was terrible in the hospital. I already told you how Ignatius started screaming. All them nurses and sick people. I coulda died. Claude ain’t too angry, huh?”

“He ain’t angry, but he don’t like you being alone in that house. He ax me if maybe him and me shouldn’t come over there and stay with you.”

“Don’t do that, babe,” Mrs. Reilly said quickly.

“What kinda trouble Ignatius is in now?”

“I’ll tell you later. Right now I can only say I been thinking about this Charity business all day, and I finally made up my mind. Now is the time. He’s my own child, but we gotta get him treated for his own sake.” Mrs. Reilly tried to think of the phrase that was always used in courtroom dramas on TV. “We gotta get him declared temporary insane.” “Temporary?” Santa scoffed.

“We gotta help out Ignatius before they come drag him off.”

“Who’s gonna drag him off?”

“It seem like he pulled a boo-boo when he was working at Levy Pants.”

“Oh, Lord! Not something else. Irene! Hang up and call them people at the Charity right now, honey.”

“No, listen. I don’t wanna be here when they come. I mean, Ignatius is big. He might make trouble. I couldn’t stand that. My nerves is bad enough now.”

“Big is right. It’ll be like capturing a wild elephant. Them people better have them a great big net,” Santa said eagerly. “Irene, this is the best decision you ever made. I tell you what. I’ll call up the Charity right now. You come over here. I’ll get Claude to come over, too. He’ll sure be glad to hear this. Whoo! You’ll be sending out wedding invitations in about a week. You gonna have you some little properties before the year’s out, sweetheart. You gonna have you a railroad pension.” It all sounded good to Mrs. Reilly, but she asked a little hesitantly, “What about them communiss?”

“Don’t worry about them, darling. We’ll get rid of them communiss. Claude’s gonna be too busy fixing up that house of yours. He’s gonna have his hands full turning Ignatius’s room into a den.” Santa broke into some baritone peals of laughter.

“Miss Annie’s gonna turn green when she sees this place fixed up.”

“Then tell that woman, say, ‘You go out and shake yourself a little. You’ll get your house fixed up, too.’” Santa guffawed. “Now get off the line, babe, and get over here. I’m calling the Charity right now. Get out that house fast!” Santa slammed the telephone down in Mrs. Reilly’s ear.

Mrs. Reilly looked out the front shutters. It was very dark now, which was good. The neighbors would not see too much if they took Ignatius away during the night. She ran into the bathroom and powdered her face and the front of her dress, drew a surrealistic version of a mouth beneath her nose, and dashed into her bedroom to find a coat. When she got to the front door, she stopped. She couldn’t say goodbye to Ignatius like this. He was her child.

She went up to his bedroom door and listened to the wildly twanging bedsprings as they reached a crescendo, as they built toward a finale worthy of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. She knocked, but there was no answer.

“Ignatius,” she called sadly.

“What do you want?” a breathless voice asked at last.

“I’m going out, Ignatius. I wanted to say goodbye.”

Ignatius did not answer.

“Ignatius, open up,” Mrs. Reilly pleaded. “Come kiss me goodbye, honey.”

“I don’t feel at all well. I can hardly move.”

“Come on, son.”

The door opened slowly. Ignatius stuck his fat gray face into the hall. His mother’s eyes watered when she saw the bandage.

“Now kiss me, honey. I’m sorry it all had to end like this.”

“What do all of these lachrymose clichés mean?” Ignatius asked suspiciously. “Why are you suddenly pleasant? Don’t you have some old man to meet somewhere?”

“You was right, Ignatius. You can’t go to work. I shoulda known that. I shoulda tried to get that debt paid off some other way.” A tear slid from Mrs. Reilly’s eyes and washed a little trail of clean skin through the powder. “If that Mr. Levy calls, don’t answer the phone. I’m gonna take care of you.” “Oh, my God!” Ignatius bellowed. “Now I’m really in trouble. Goodness knows what you’re planning. Where are you going?”

“Stay inside and don’t answer the phone.”

“Why? What is this?” The bloodshot eyes flashed with fright. “Who was that you were whispering to on the phone?”

“You won’t have to worry about Mr. Levy, son. I’m gonna fix you up. Just remember your poor momma’s got your welfare at heart.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Don’t never be mad at me, honey,” Mrs. Reilly said and, jumping up in her bowling shoes that she had not taken off since Angelo had telephoned her the night before, she embraced Ignatius and kissed him on his moustache.

She released him and ran to the front door, where she turned and called, “I’m sorry I run into that building, Ignatius. I love you.”

The shutters slammed and she was gone.

“Come back,” Ignatius thundered. He ripped at the shutters, but the old Plymouth, one of its front tires fenderless and exposed as if it were a stock car, was rumbling to life. “Come back, please. Mother!” “Aw, shut up,” Miss Annie hollered from somewhere in the darkness.

His mother had something up her sleeve, some clumsy plan, some scheme that would ruin him forever. Why had she insisted that he stay inside? She knew that he would not be going anywhere in his present condition. He found Santa Battaglia’s number and dialed it. He must speak with his mother.

“This is Ignatius Reilly,” he said when Santa had answered. “Is my mother coming down there tonight?”

“No, she ain’t,” Santa replied coldly. “I ain’t spoke with your momma all day.”

Ignatius hung up. Something was going on. He had heard his mother saying “Santa” over the telephone at least two or three times during the day. And that last telephone call, that whispered communication just before his mother had left. His mother only whispered to the Battaglia bawd and then it was only when they were exchanging secrets. At once Ignatius suspected the reason for his mother’s emotional farewell, for its finality. She had already told him that the Battaglia matchmaker had advised a vacation for him in the psychiatric ward at Charity. Everything made sense. In a psychiatric ward he would not be liable to prosecution by Abelman and Levy, or whoever it was who would push the case. Perhaps both of them would sue him, Abelman for character defamation and Levy for forgery. To his mother’s limited mind the psychiatric ward would seem an attractive alternative. It was just like her, with the very best of intentions, to have her child harnessed by a straitjacket and electrocuted by shock treatments. Of course, his mother might not be considering this at all. However, whenever dealing with her, it was always best to prepare for the worst. Wife of Bath Battaglia’s lie was itself not very reassuring.

In the United States you are innocent until they prove you guilty. Perhaps Miss Trixie had confessed. Why hadn’t Mr. Levy telephoned back? Ignatius would not be tossed into a mental clinic while, legally, he was still innocent of having written the letter. His mother, typically, had responded to Mr. Levy’s visit in the most irrational and emotional manner possible. “I’m gonna take care of you.” “I’m gonna fix you up.” Yes, she would fix him up all right. A hose would be turned on him. Some cretin psychoanalyst would attempt to comprehend the singularity of his worldview. In frustration, the psychoanalyst would have him crammed into a cell three feet square. No. That was out of the question. Jail was preferable. There they only limited you physically. In a mental ward they tampered with your soul and worldview and mind. He would never tolerate that. And his mother had been so apologetic about this mysterious protection she was going to give him. All signs pointed to Charity Hospital.

Oh, Fortuna, you wretch!

Now he was waddling around in the little house like a sitting duck. Whatever strong-arm men the hospital employed had their sights aimed directly at him. Ignatius Reilly, clay pigeon. His mother might only have gone to one of her bowling Bacchanalia. On the other hand, a barred truck might be speeding to Constantinople Street right now.

Escape. Escape.

Ignatius looked in his wallet. The thirty dollars was gone, apparently confiscated by his mother at the hospital. He looked at the clock. It was almost eight o’clock. Between napping and assaulting the glove, the afternoon and evening had passed rather quickly. Ignatius searched his room, flinging Big Chief tablets around, mashing them underfoot, dragging them from beneath his bed. He came up with some scattered coins and went to work on the desk, where he found a few more. The total was sixty cents, a sum that limited and blocked escape routes. He could at least find a safe haven for the rest of the evening: the Prytania. After the theater had closed, he could pass along Constantinople Street to see whether his mother had come home.

There was a slipshod frenzy of dressing. The red flannel nightshirt sailed up and hung on the chandelier. He jammed his toes into the desert boots and leaped as well as he could into the tweed trousers, which he could hardly button at the waist. Shirt, cap, overcoat, Ignatius put them on blindly and ran into the hall, careening against the narrow walls. He was just reaching for the front door when three loud knocks cracked against the shutters.

Mr. Levy returned? His valve sent out a distress signal that established communication with his hands. He scratched the bumps on his paws and peered through the shutters, expecting to see several hirsute brutes from the hospital.

There on the porch stood Myrna in a shapeless olive drab corduroy car coat. Her black hair was braided into a pigtail that twisted under one ear and fell on her breast. A guitar was slung over her shoulders.

Ignatius was about to burst through the shutters, splintering slats and latches, and wrap that one hemplike pigtail around her throat until she turned blue. But reason won. He was not looking at Myrna; he was looking at an escape route. Fortuna had relented. She was not depraved enough to end this vicious cycle by throttling him in a straitjacket, by sealing him up in a cement block tomb lighted by fluorescent tubes. Fortuna wished to make amends. Somehow she had summoned and flushed Myrna minx from a subway tube, from some picket line, from the pungent bed of some Eurasian existentialist, from the hands of some epileptic Negro Buddhist, from the verbose midst of a group therapy session.

“Ignatius, are you in that dump?” Myrna demanded in her flat, direct, slightly hostile voice. She beat on the shutters again, squinting through her black-rimmed glasses. Myrna was not astigmatic; the lenses were clear glass; she wore the glasses to prove her dedication and intensity of purpose. Her dangling earring reflected the rays of the streetlight like tinkling glass Chinese ornaments. “Listen, I can tell there’s somebody in there. I heard you stomping around in that hall. Open up these crummy shutters.” “Yes, yes, I’m here,” Ignatius cried. He tore at the shutters and pushed them open. “Thank Fortuna you’ve come.”

“Jesus. You look terrible. Like you’re having a nervous breakdown or something. Why the bandage? Ignatius, what’s the matter? Look how much weight you’ve gained. I’ve just been reading these pitiful signs out here on the porch. Boy, have you had it.” “I’ve gone through hell,” Ignatius slobbered, pulling Myrna into the hall by the sleeve of her coat. “Why did you step out of my life, you minx? Your new hairdo is fascinating and cosmopolitan.” He snatched at her pigtail and pressed it to his wet moustache, kissing it vigorously. “The scent of soot and carbon in your hair excites me with suggestions of glamorous Gotham. We must leave immediately. I must go flower in Manhattan.” “I knew something was wrong. But this. You are really in bad shape, Ig.”

“Quickly. To a motel. My natural impulses are screaming for release. Do you have any money on you?”

“Don’t put me on,” Myrna said angrily. She grabbed the soggy pigtail from Ignatius’s paws and threw it over her shoulder onto the guitar where it landed with a twang. “Look. Ignatius. I’m beat. I’ve been on the road since nine o’clock yesterday morning. As soon as I mailed you that letter about the Peace Party routine, I said to myself, ‘Myrna. Listen. This guy needs more than just a letter. He needs your help. He’s sinking fast. Are you dedicated enough to save a mind rotting right before your eyes? Are you committed enough to salvage the wreckage of that mentality?’ I came out of the post office and got in my car and just started driving. All night. Straight. I mean, the more I thought about that wild Peace Party telegram, the more upset I got.” Apparently Myrna was very hard up for causes in Manhattan.

“I don’t blame you,” Ignatius cried. “Wasn’t that telegram horrible? A deranged fantasy. I’ve been in the depths of depression for weeks. After all these years that I’ve stuck by my mother’s side, she has decided to get married and wants me out of the way. We must leave. I can’t stand this house another moment.” “What? Who’d marry her?”

“Thank God you understand. You can see how ludicrous and impossible everything has become.”

“Where is she? I’d like to outline for that woman what she’s done to you.”

“She’s out somewhere failing her blood test at the moment. I don’t want to see her again.”

“I guess not. You poor kid. What have you been doing, Ignatius? Just lying around in your room doping off?”

“Yes. For weeks. I’ve been immobilized by the neurotic apathy. Do you remember the fantasy letter about the arrest and the accident? I wrote that when my mother first met this debauched old man. It was then that my equilibrium started to fail. Since then, it’s been a continuously downward movement culminating in the schizophrenia of the Peace Party. Those signs outside were just one physical manifestation of my inward torment. My psychotic desire for peace was no doubt a wishful attempt to end the hostilities which have been existing in this little house. I can only be grateful that you were perceptive enough to analyze my fantasy life as embodied in my letters. Thank goodness they were distress signals written in a code which you could understand.” “I can tell how inactive you’ve been from your weight.”

“I’ve gained pounds lying continuously in bed, seeking surcease and sublimation in food. Now we must run. I must leave this house. It has terrible associations.”

“I told you to get out of this place a long time ago. Come on, let’s get you packed.” Myrna’s monotonous voice was growing enthusiastic. “This is fantastic. I knew you’d have to break away sooner or later to preserve your mental health.” “If only I had listened to you earlier, I wouldn’t have had to go through this horror.” Ignatius embraced Myrna and pressed her and her guitar flatly against the wall. He could see that she was beside herself with joy over finding a legitimate cause, a bona fide case history, a new movement. “There will be a place for you in heaven, my minx. Now we must dash.” He tried to drag her out the front door, but she said, “Don’t you want to pack anything?”

“Oh, of course. There are all of my notes and jottings. We must never let them fall into the hands of my mother. She may make a fortune from them. It would be too ironic.” They went into his room. “By the way, you should know that my mother is enjoying the questionable attentions of a fascist.” “Oh, no!”

“Yes. Look at this. You can imagine how they’ve been torturing me.”

He handed Myrna one of the pamphlets that his mother had slipped under the door of his room, Is Your Neighbor Really an American? Myrna read a note written in the margin of the cover: “Read this Irene. It is good. There is some questions at the end you can ask your boy.” “Oh, Ignatius!” Myrna moaned. “What has it been like?”

“Traumatic and dreadful. At the moment I think they’re out somewhere lashing some moderate whom my mother overheard speaking in favor of the United Nations in the grocery this morning. She’s been mumbling about the incident all day.” Ignatius belched. “I’ve been through weeks of terror.” “It’s so strange to find your mother gone. She used to be around here all the time.” Myrna hung her guitar on a bedpost and stretched across the bed. “This room. We used to have a ball in here, exposing our minds and souls, composing anti-Talc manifestos. I guess that fraud is still hanging around that school.” “I would imagine so,” Ignatius said absently. He wished that Myrna would get off the bed. Soon her mind would turn to exposing other things. Anyway, they had to get out of the house. He was in the closet, where he was looking for the overnight bag that his mother had bought for him for a disastrous one-day stay at a boys’ camp when he was eleven. He pawed through a pile of yellowed drawers like a dog digging for a bone, throwing the drawers up behind him in an arc. “Perhaps you’d better rouse yourself, my little lily. There are tablets to be collected, notes to be gathered. You might look under the bed.” Myrna swung herself off the damp sheets, saying, “I’ve tried to describe you to my friends in the group therapy group, working away in this room, sealed off from society. This strange medieval mind in its cloister.” “No doubt they were intrigued,” Ignatius murmured. Having found the bag, he was filling it with some socks he found lying on the floor. “Soon they’ll be able to see me in the flesh.”

“Just wait till they hear all that originality pouring out of your head.”

“Ho hum,” Ignatius yawned. “Perhaps my mother has done me a great favor by planning to remarry. Those Oedipal bonds were beginning to overwhelm me.” He threw his yo-yo into the bag. “Apparently you had safe passage through the South.” “I didn’t have a moment to really stop along the way. Almost thirty-six hours of drive, drive, drive.” Myrna was making piles of the Big Chief tablets. “I did stop at a Negro diner last night, but they wouldn’t serve me. I think the guitar threw them off.” “That must have been it. They took you for some red-neck hillbilly singer. I’ve had some experience with those people. They’re rather limited.”

“I can’t believe that I am actually taking you out of this dungeon, this hole.”

“It is unbelievable, isn’t it? To think that I fought your wisdom for years.”

“We are going to have the most fantastic time in New York. Honestly.”

“I can’t wait,” Ignatius said, packing his scarf and cutlass. “The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the thrill of opening night on Broadway with my favorite musicomedy stars. Gab sessions in the Village over espresso with challenging, contemporary minds.” “You’re coming to grips with yourself at last. Really. I can hardly believe what I’ve heard in this shack tonight. We’ll work on your problems. You’re going into a whole new and vital phase. Your inactivity is over. I can tell. I can hear it. Just think of the great thought that is going to come streaming out of that head when we’ve finally cleared away all the cobwebs and taboos and crippling attachments.” “Goodness knows what will happen,” Ignatius said disinterestedly. “We must leave. Now. I should warn you that my mother may return momentarily. If I see her again, I’ll regress horribly. We must dash.” “Ignatius, you’re jumping all over the place. Relax. The worst is over.”

“No, it isn’t,” Ignatius said quickly. “My mother may return with her mob. You should see them. White supremacists, Protestants, or worse. Let me get my lute and trumpet. Are the tablets gathered together?” “This stuff in here is fascinating,” Myrna said, indicating the tablet through which she was flipping. “Gems of nihilism.”

“That is merely a fragment of the whole.”

“Aren’t you even going to leave your mother some very bitter note, some articulate protest or something?”

“It would hardly be worthwhile. She’d be weeks in comprehending it.” Ignatius cradled the lute and trumpet in one arm and the overnight bag in the other. “Please don’t drop that looseleaf folder. It contains the Journal, a sociological fantasy on which I’ve been working. It is my most commercial effort. Wonderful film possibilities at the hands of a Walt Disney or a George Pal.” “Ignatius.” Myrna stopped in the doorway, her arms laden with tablets, and moved her colorless lips for a moment before she spoke, as if she were formulating an address. Her tired, highway-drugged eyes searched Ignatius’s face through the sparkling lenses. “This is a very meaningful moment. I feel as if I’m saving someone.” “You are, you are. Now we must flee. Please. We’ll, chat later.” Ignatius pushed past her and lumbered down to the car, opening the rear door of the little Renault and climbing in among the placards and piles of pamphlets that covered the seat. The car smelled like a newsstand. “Hurry up! We don’t have time to stage a tableau-vivant here before the house.” “I mean, are you really going to sit back there?” Myrna asked as she dropped her load of tablets through the rear door.

“Of course I am,” Ignatius bellowed. “I am certainly not going to sit up in that deathtrap of a front seat for highway travel. Now get in this go-cart and get us out of here.”

“Hold on. I left a lot of tablets behind,” Myrna said and ran into the house, her guitar thumping against her side. She came down the steps with another load and stopped on the brick sidewalk, turning to look at the house. Ignatius could tell that she was attempting to record the scene: Eliza crossing the ice with a particularly large genius in her arms. Unlike Harriet Beecher Stowe, Myrna was still around to offend. At last, in response to Ignatius’s cries, she came down to the car and threw the second load of tablets onto Ignatius’s lap. “There are still some left under the bed, I think.” “Never mind about those!” Ignatius screamed. “Get in and start this thing. Oh, my God. Don’t stick that guitar in my face like that. Why can’t you just carry a purse like a decent young lady?”

“Go fall in a hole,” Myrna said angrily. She slid into the front seat and started the car. “Where do you want to spend the night?”

“Spend the night?” Ignatius thundered. “We’re not spending the night anywhere. We must drive straight.”

“Ignatius, I’m about to drop dead. I’ve been in this car since yesterday morning.”

“Well, get across Lake Pontchartrain at least.”

“Okay. We can take the causeway and stop in Mandeville.”

“No!” Myrna would drive him right into the alerted arms of some psychiatrist. “We can’t stop there. The water’s polluted. They’re having an epidemic.”

“Yeah? Then I’ll take the old bridge to Slidell.”

“Yes. It’s far safer anyway. Barges are always hurtling into that causeway. We’ll plunge into the lake and drown.” The Renault was dragging very low in the rear and accelerated slowly. “This car is rather small for my frame. Are you sure that you know how to get to New York? I seriously doubt whether I can survive more than a day or two in this fetal position.” “Hey, where are you two beatniks going?” Miss Annie’s voice called faintly from behind her shutters. The Renault moved into the center of the street.

“Does that old bit@h still live there?” Myrna asked.

“Shut up and get us out of here!”

“Are you going to bug me like this?” Myrna glared at the green cap in the rearview mirror. “I mean, I’d like to know.”

“Oh, my valve!” Ignatius gasped. “Please don’t make a scene. My psyche will crumble entirely after the assaults it has recently received.”

“I’m sorry. For a while it sounded like old times with me playing chauffeur and you bugging me from the back seat.”

“I certainly hope it isn’t snowing up north. My system simply will not function under those conditions. And please watch out for Greyhound Scenicruisers along the way. They’ll demolish a toy like this.” “Ignatius, all at once you’re your old horrible self. All at once I think I’m making a very big mistake.”

“A mistake? Of course not,” Ignatius said sweetly. “But watch out for that ambulance. We don’t want to begin our pilgrimage with an accident.”

As the ambulance passed, Ignatius hunched over and saw “Charity Hospital” printed on its door. The rotating red light atop the ambulance splashed over the Renault for a brief moment as the vehicles passed each other. Ignatius felt insulted. He had expected a massive barred truck. They had underestimated him in sending out an old, well-used Cadillac ambulance. He would easily have been able to smash all of those windows. Then the glowing Cadillac fins were two blocks behind them and Myrna was turning onto St. Charles Avenue.

Now that Fortuna had saved him from one cycle, where would she spin him now? The new cycle would be so different from anything he had ever known.

Myrna prodded and shifted the Renault through the city traffic masterfully, weaving in and out of impossibly narrow lanes until they were clear of the last twinkling streetlight of the last swampy suburb. Then they were in darkness in the center of the salt marshes. Ignatius looked out at the highway marker that reflected their headlights. U.S. 11. The marker flew past. He rolled down the window an inch or two and breathed the salt air blowing in over the marshes from the Gulf.

As if the air were a purgative, his valve opened. He breathed again, this time more deeply. The dull headache was lifting.

He stared gratefully at the back of Myrna’s head, at the pigtail that swung innocently at his knee. Gratefully. How ironic, Ignatius thought. Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it warmly to his wet moustache.

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