WALKER PERCY WEDNESDAY – 40

Nights were best. Then as the thick singing darkness settled about the little caboose which shed its cheerful square of light on the dark soil of old Carolina, they might debark and, with the pleasantest sense of stepping down from the zone of the possible to the zone of the realized, stroll to a service station or fishing camp or grocery store, where they’d have a beer or fill the tank with spring water or lay in eggs and country butter and grits and slab bacon; then back to the camper, which they’d show off to the storekeeper, he ruminating a minute and: all I got to say is, don’t walk off and leave the keys in it—and so on in the complex Southern tactic of assaying a sort of running start, a joke before the joke, ten assumptions shared and a common stance of rhetoric and a whole shared set of special ironies and opposites. He was home. Even though he was hundreds of miles from home and had never been here and it was not even the same here—it was older and more decorous, more tended to and a dream with the past—he was home.

. . .

At night they read. Jamie read books of great abstractness, such as The Theory of Sets, whatever a set was. The engineer, on the other hand, read books of great particularity, such as English detective stories, especially the sort which, answering a need of the Anglo-Saxon soul, depict the hero as perfectly disguised or perfectly hidden, holed up maybe in the woods of Somerset, actually hiding for days at a time in a burrow of ingenious construction from which he could notice things, observe the farmhouse below. Englishmen like to see without being seen. They are by nature eavesdroppers. The engineer could understand this.

. . .

This was the game they played: the sentient tutor knowing quite well how to strike the dread unsounded chords of adolescence, the youth registering, his mouth parted slightly, fingernails brushing backward across his face. Yes, and that was the wonder of it, that what was private and unspeakable before is speakable now because you speak it. The difference between me and him, thought the engineer and noticed for the first time a slight translucence at the youth’s temple, is this: like me he lives in the sphere of the possible, all antenna, ear cocked and lips parted. But I am conscious of it, know what is up, and he is not and does not. He is pure aching primary awareness and does not even know that he doesn’t know it. Now and then he, the engineer, caught flashes of Kitty in the youth, but she had a woman’s knack of cutting loose from the ache, putting it out to graze. She knew how to moon away the time; she could doze.