Hogg walked to Harley Street, much set upon by leaves and blowing bits of paper. He knew his way about these defiled streets, London Hogg as he was. His stepmother in Purgatory or wherever she was would have a fit to see how well he knew London. Bruton Street, New Bond Street, across Oxford Street, then through Cavendish Street and across Cavendish Square, then into Harley Street, knowing also that Wimpole Street was the next one, where Robert Browning had read bits of Sordello, a very obscure and long poem, to that woman who had looked like and, indeed, possessed a spaniel, and under the bed there had been big spiders. Her father had made her drink very black stout. Hogg tried to pretend that he did not know these things, since they were outside his barman's province, but he knew that he knew them. He frowned and set his shoulders in defiance. A man who sold newspapers and dirty magazines said, "Cheer ap, gav."
Hogg, in working trousers and decent dogtooth-patterned sports-jacket, was soon seated in Dr Wapenshaw's waiting-room. He had received, some three days before, a curt summons from Dr Wapenshaw, chief agent of his rehabilitation from failed suicide to useful citizen. He could think of only one possible reason for the curtness, but it was a reason so unlikely that he was fain to reject it. Still, when you thought about these cybernetic triumphs and what they were capable of, and how a psychiatrist as cunning as Dr Wapenshaw would be quite likely to have banks of electronic brains working for him (and all at National Health expense), then it was just about possible that the summons might be about this particular hole-in-the-corner thing that Hogg had done, an act of recidivism, to use the fashionable jargon. Otherwise, he, Hogg, and Dr Wapenshaw had achieved a condition of mutual love and trust that, however official and Government-sponsored, had been looked on as a wonder in that green place of convalescence. Had not Dr Wapenshaw shown him, Hogg, off as an exemplary cure, inviting colleagues of all nations to prod and finger and smile and nod and ask cunning questions about Hogg's relationship with his Muse and his stepmother and his lavatory and his pseudo-wife, cooling all that turbulent past to the wan and abstract dignity of a purely clinically interesting case to be handled by fingers smelling of antiseptics? Yes, that was so. Perhaps that curtness was, after all, the official wrapping that enclosed warmth and love and protected them from the eyes of strangers. Still and nevertheless.
The waiting-room had a gas-fire, and the only other waiting patient was crouched over it, as though it were a wicket and he its keeper. The chill of autumn was reflected in the covers of copies of Vogue and Vanity Fair that lay on the polished table that turned the vase of real, not plastic, chrysanthemums into a kind of antipodeal ghost. These covers showed thin young women in mink against the falling of the leaves. Something like winter cold struck Hogg as he noticed a deck of copies of Fem. Those days, not so long ago, when he had actually written ghastly verses for Fem, set as harmless prose ("I lift my baby to the air. He gurgles because God is there") and pseudonymously signed Faith Fortitude; those incredible days when he had actually been married to its features editress, Vesta Bainbridge; those days should, officially, be striking him with little more than mild and condescending curiosity. That had been another man, one from a story read yawning. But the past was fastening its suckers on him once more, had been doing ever since that night of the goddess and the television ja-sayers and the unpremeditated chrysostomatic utterance. Hogg nodded, sighing heavily. Dr Wapenshaw knew; he knew everything. That was what this interview was going to be about.
"For a load of blasphemous balderdash," said the man by the gas-fire, "you ought to read this lot." He turned to Hogg, waving a thin little book. He had, then, been holding it to the gas-fire, as if, as with bread in some study feed in some school story of pre-electric days, deliberately toasting it. He was a man with wild grey hair who spoke with a cultivated accent which made his demotic vocabulary seem affected, which, if he was, as he evidently was, one of Dr Wapenshaw's patients, being rehabilitated in the same modes as Hogg himself had been, if he really had been, it probably was. "And they say it's us that are crackers," he said. "You and me," he clarified, "are supposed to be the barmy ones." Hogg prepared to dissociate himself from that predication, but he let it pass. The man launched wild fluttering wings of paper at Hogg and Hogg deftly caught them. The man did not say "Fielded"; that was rather for Mr Holden or for Dr Wapenshaw himself, at least the Dr Wapenshaw of the chummy green days with his "Good show" and "That's the ticket." Hogg leafed through the little book, frowning. He caught the title and further frowned: The Kvadrat's Kloochy. He said, with care:
"What does it mean, then?"
"Oh," said the man, irritably, "what does anything mean? It's all a merde universelle, as that French Irishman says. You read it, that's all." Hogg read, at random:
The miracle of this uncomplicated monody with its minimal chordal accompaniment is not diminished by our hindsight knowledge that it had been there waiting, throughout recorded history, yet unnoticed by the bearded creaking practitioners of the complex. They built up their multivocal counterpoint, their massive orchestras, their fugal and sonata forms, seeking a perfection that, if they could have cleansed the rheum from their old-man's eyes, they would have known had to lie in the simple and direct rather than the periphrastic and complicated. And yet it is in the error of the traditional equating of age with wisdom that one may find the cause of their blindness or, to be kind, presbyopia. The answer to all problems, aesthetic as much as social, religious, and economic, resides, in a word, in Youth.
"I don't see what all this is about," said Hogg. He frowned still, turning over the page to find a photograph of four common louts who leered up at him, one bearing a guitar from which electrical flex sprouted, the others poising sticks over gaudy side-drums.
"Ah," growled the man, "don't bother me with it. You stick to your world and I'll stick to mine." And then he cried, very loud: "Mother, you've forsaken your son." Hogg nodded without fear. Had he not spent an entire summer among men given to sudden despairing ejaculations or, worse, quiet confident assertions about the nature of ultimate reality, often delivered, Hogg and other patients shaken awake for the intimation, in the middle of the night? He read on:
Jack Cade and the Revolters established the fruitful device of a heavy ictus on the fourth beat in their disc Like He Done That Time, pressed in April, 1964. In May of the same year this was further developed by Nap and the Bonies, who, in their Knee Trembler, transferred it to the quaver between the third beat and the fourth. Needless to say, this was achieved instinctually, these youthful performers being unburdened by traditional technical knowledge. In June both groups were superseded by the Turners who, intuitively aware of a new shift in the Zeitgeist, perhaps wisely reverted to a greater simplicity of rhythmical texture and…
"Ah, Hogg!" cried a voice both fierce and plummy. Hogg looked up to see a different Dr Wapenshaw from the one he remembered-an urban Dr Wapenshaw in a natty suit of charcoal grey with discreet stripes, more formidable than the one who, in that country retreat, had dressed for his consultations as if for outdoor games. The chubby face was stern. Meekly Hogg went into the consulting-room. "Sit you down," said Dr Wapenshaw. Hogg sat on the seat nearest the door, a sort of creepy-stool. "Here," said Dr Wapenshaw, throwing a fierce fistful of air at a seat drawn up to the desk, a desk massive enough to contain any number of small secret electronic monitors. He himself went round the desk to its window-side and stood behind his swivel-chair, grey Harley Street framed behind him, while he watched Hogg, who still had The Kvadrat's Kloochy in his hand, shamble over. "Very well, then," said Dr Wapenshaw, in the manner of a sour grace. Consultant and patient sat simultaneously.
"Soon be winter now," said Hogg in a conversational manner. "The nights are drawing in very fast. Could do with a fire, really, in a manner of speaking." Suddenly noticing that Dr Wapenshaw's consulting-room had a grate conspicuously empty, he added, "Not that I meant that in any spirit of criticism, as you might say. All I meant was that it gets a bit chilly at nights." Dr Wapenshaw held him with a disgusted look; Hogg grew flustered. "What I mean is, some feel the cold more than others, so to speak. But"-and he struck hard at Dr Wapenshaw's flint, desperately seeking some of that old warmth-"nobody can deny that it's late autumn now, and after autumn, if you'll pardon the observation -"
"Shut up!" cried Dr Wapenshaw. ("No, no, don't," whimpered the patient in the waiting-room.) "I'll do all the talking." But all he did was to hurl a thick book bound in green paper across at Hogg. Hogg was already growing tired of having books hurled at him; still, he caught it deftly, just like the other one, which was now on his knee. "Look at that," ordered Dr Wapenshaw. "Page 179. Read it, man."
Hogg fingered the book rather tenderly. It was, he saw, a proof copy. He had, in the remote past when he was another man altogether, handled proof copies of his own work, very slim proof copies, poems. He flicked through the massive prose-work with a certain envy, then admired the title. "Rehabilitations" he read out. "There used to be a lot like that in the old days. F. R. Leavis and such people. The New School of Criticism, they called it. But it's all changed now. They have different ideas now and more flowery titles. The Romantic Orgasm was one I saw in a shop. And The Candle in the Thigh was another. They get a lot of the titles from poor Dylan, you know, who died. It's nice to see a good old-fashioned title like this again. That," he said diffidently, though with a wisp of ancient authority, when he had lighted at last on Page 179, "isn't the right symbol for a deletion and close up, if you'll pardon the correction. It should be like a little balloon on the tip of a stick -"
"Read it, man, read it!" And Dr Wapenshaw thumped his desk thrice. Hogg read where he was ordered, wonderingly. Dr Wapenshaw tattooed the desk-top softly, as though his fingers at least were appeased-three beats in the left hand against two beats in the right, as though playing in some children's nonsense by Benjamin Britten, with tuned teacups and tin-whistles but also Peter Pears as an old man. "Well?" he said at length.
"You know," said Hogg, "this case seems pretty close to what my own was. This chap here, K you call him, was a poet, and that made him into a protracted adolescent. He spent a lot of his time writing verse in the lavatory-a kind of womb you say it is here, but that's a lot of nonsense, of course-and this woman made him marry her and it was a mess and he ran away and then he tried to go back to the old life, writing poetry in the lavatory and so on, and it didn't work so he attempted suicide and then you cured him by reorientating his personality, as it's called here, and then he became a useful citizen and forgot all about poetry and-Well," Hogg said, "that, if I may say so, is an astonishing coincidence, you might call it." He tried to beam, but Dr Wapenshaw's black look was not irradiable. Dr Wapenshaw leaned across the desk and said, with terrible quietness and control:
"You bloody fool. That is you."
Hogg frowned slightly. "But," he said, "it can't be. It says here that this K had delusions about other people stealing his work and making horror films out of his poetry. That's not quite the same, is it? I mean, this bloody man Rawcliffe did pinch the plot of my Pet Beast and make a bloody awful Italian picture out of it. I even remember the name. L'Animal Binato it was called in Italy-that's from Dante, you see: The Double-Natured Animal or something like it-and in England it was called Son of the Beast from Outer Space." He read more intently, frowning further. "What's all this," he said, "about a sexual fixation on this bloke K's stepmother? That can't be me, this bloke can't. I hated her, you know how much for I told you. And," he said blushing, "about masturbating in the lavatory. And about this woman being very refined and trying to make a real married man out of him." He looked up, his sternness a remote (fourth or fifth or something) carbon copy of Dr Wapenshaw's own. "That woman," he said clearly, "was not refined. She was a bitch. She wanted my bit of money, which she got, and she wanted a bit of my honour and glory. When I was dead, that is," he said, less assertively. "In my biography, if such should come to be written." The great expensive consulting-room tasted that, shrugged, grimaced, swallowed it.
"Can you see it?" said Dr Wapenshaw, his upper lip lifted. "Can you honestly say that you see it, man? The most elegant woman in Europe, controller of the best pop-groups in the business?" Hogg stared at this wink of evidence of knowledge of a very vulgar world (he knew it all; he read the Daily Mirror doggedly every morning before opening his bar) in an eminent consultant. He said:
"I"ve not seen her name in the papers-"
"She's married again. A real marriage. A man with real money and real talent, also younger than you and, moreover, handsome."
"- But that confirms what I always thought, what you said then, I mean. I mean not refined. A bitch." The Kvadrat's Kloochy fell off his knees, as in conscious failure to convert. Dr Wapenshaw said harshly:
"Right. Now look at this." And Hogg had hurled at him his third fluttering paper bird of the afternoon. He caught it without much skill; he was already weary; it was a journal he at once recognised; it was called Confrontation, a cisatlantic quarterly transatlantically financed and of, he understood, little general appeal. He nodded, unsurprised. Dr Wapenshaw knew everything, then. Hogg understood all. He knew now what it was all about. This was it. He turned to the page where the sestet of that sonnet, which the ja-sayers had not wished to hear, spoke to no frequenters of expensive bars, though the octave certainly had:
Coiled on the rooftree, bored, inspired, their snake
Crowed Monday in. A collar kissed the throat,
Clothes braced the body, a benignant ache
Lit up a tooth. The papers had a note:
"His death may mean an empire is at stake."
Sunday and this were equally remote.
And it was signed with that former, forbidden, name. Hogg said, stuttering:
"I can explain everything. I started that before, you see, before you got hold of me. Cured me, I mean. Of antisocial activities, that is. But I couldn't finish it. And then one night when I was working in the bar it just came. It had sort of tidied itself up behind my back. It was perfect, if you'll pardon the expression. So I sent it off and they published it. A kind of last fling, as you might term it. Or posthumous, perhaps you could even say. And then no more poetry, not never no more." That last phrase was perhaps too ingratiating, too consciously the old-time barman. Dr Wapenshaw did not fall for it. Instead, he rose in wrath and cried:
"That's right, that's right, indulge yourself at my expense." He strode across to a little table near the empty grate, picked up a human skull from it, and then waved it threateningly at Hogg. "What you won't or can't realise, you traitor, is that that treacherous effusion of yours has been seen, yes, seen. Shorthouse saw it, Dr Shorthouse to you. You wouldn't know who Dr Shorthouse is, in your wilful treachery, but Dr Shorthouse is the author of The Poetic Syndrome and Art and the Spirochaete and other standard clinical works. Shorthouse saw it and Shorthouse showed it to me." He crept towards Hogg, his eyes blowlamping in shame and anger, holding the skull in both hands like a pudding. "And," he cried, "I felt a fool, because I'd already discussed your case with Shorthouse."
"Dr Shorthouse," kindly emended Hogg.
"Now do you see? Do you see? I boast about you as a cure, and here you are again with your bloody poetry." Thumbs in skull's eye-sockets, he tore outwards in his anger, though the skull stayed firm.
"If it's the page-proofs of that thing of yours you're worried about," said Hogg, still kindly, "I'd be only too pleased to help you to correct them. What I mean is, to say that I wasn't cured after all and that my case was a failure. If that would be of any use," he added humbly. "You see," he explained, "I know all about altering things when they're in proof. I was a writer by profession, you see, as you know (I mean, that's what you tried to cure me of, isn't it?), and to you, who are really a doctor, it's only a sort of hobby when all's said and done." He tried to smile at Dr Wapenshaw and then at the skull, but only the latter responded. "Or if you like," suggested Hogg, "I'll tell everybody that I'm really cured and that that sonnet was only a kind of leftover from the old days. Or that that bloke K isn't really me but somebody else. In any case, that Shorthouse man won't say anything to anybody, will he? I mean, you doctors stick together, you have to, don't you? In one of those papers of yours I could do it," expanded Hogg. "The Lancet and The Scalpel and all those things."
Dr Wapenshaw tore at the skull with his tense strong-nailed hairy fingers, but the skull, as though, it shot into Hogg's mind, remembering Housman's line about the man of bone remaining, grinned in armoured complacency. Dr Wapenshaw seemed about to weep then, as though this skull were Yorick's. After that, he made as to hurl the skull at Hogg, but Hogg got down to the floor to pick up the copy of The Kvadrat's Kloochy. Dr Wapenshaw put the skull back on its table, took a great breath and cried:
"Get out! Get out of my bloody consulting-room!"
"I," said Hogg, still on his knees, mildly, "only came here because you told me to."
"Go on, get out! I expended skill and time and patience and, yes, bloody love on your case, and this is the thanks I get! You want to ruin my bloody career, that's what it is!"
Hogg, who had forgotten that he was still kneeling, said with continued mildness: "You could always put what they call an erratum slip in the book, you know. I had one once. The printers had printed "immortal" instead of "immoral." It'll be a great pleasure to help you, really and truly. In any case, if the worst comes to the worst, they can always take that whole section out of the book and you can put something else in. Although," he added seriously, "you'll have to make sure it's exactly the same length. You could sit down tonight and make something up."
Dr Wapenshaw now stomped over to kneeling Hogg and began to lift him by his collar. "Out!" he cried again. "Get out of here, you immoral bastard!" He thumped to the door, opened it and held it open. The patient by the gas-fire was weeping quietly. "As for you, you scrimshanker," Dr Wapenshaw cried at him, "I'll deal with you in a minute. I know you, leadswinger as you are." Hogg, in sorrowful dignity that would, he foreknew, become a brew of rage when he could get to somewhere nice and quiet walked to the door and said:
"You take too much on yourselves, if you don't mind me saying so." He waved The Kvadrat's Kloochy in a kind of admonition. "I'd say it was the job of people like you to set the rest of us a good example. It's you who want a good going over, not this poor chap here."
"Just going," said Hogg, just going. He went, shaking his head slowly. "And," he said, turning back to Dr Wapenshaw, though from a safe distance, "I'll write what poetry I want to, thanks very much, and not you nor anybody else will stop me." He thought of adding "So there," but, before he could decide, Dr Wapenshaw slammed his consulting-room door; the patient by the gas-fire went "Oh!" as though clouted by his mother. Not a very good man after all, thought Hogg, leaving. He ought to have suspected that heartiness right at the beginning. There had always, he felt, been something a bit insincere about it.