Walker Percy Wednesday 85


Surely, though, all is not well with a man who falls down in the fairway, and finds himself overtaken by unaccountable memories, memories of extraordinary power and poignancy. But memories of what?


He smiled. Yes, that was it. With two mirrors it is possible to see oneself briefly as a man among men rather than a self sucking everything into itself—just as you can see the back of your head in a clothier’s triple mirror.


Yes, that is possible, he thought smiling, that is one way to cure the great suck of self, but then I wouldn’t find out, would I? Find out what? Find out why things have come to such a pass and a man so sucked down into himself that it takes a gunshot to knock him out of the suck—or a glimpse in a double mirror. And I wouldn’t find out about the Jews, why they came here in the first place and why they are leaving. Are the Jews a sign?


At any rate, within the space of the next three minutes there occurred two extraordinary events which, better than ten thousand words, will reveal both Barrett’s peculiar state of mind and the peculiar times we live in.

First, as he sat in the Mercedes, Luger in hand, gazing at the cat nodding in the sunlight, there came to him with the force of a revelation the breakthrough he had been waiting for, the sudden vivid inkling of what had gone wrong, not just with himself but, as he saw it, with the whole modern age.


Later he remembered thinking even as he dove for cover: Was not the shot expected after all? Is this not in fact the very nature of the times, a kind of penultimate quiet, a minatory ordinariness of midafternoon, a concealed dread and expectation which, only after the shot is fired, we knew had been there all along?

Are we afraid quiet afternoons will be interrupted by gunfire? Or do we hope they will?

Was there ever a truly uneventful time, years of long afternoons when nothing happened and people were glad of it?

But first his “revelation.” As he sat gazing at the cat, he saw all at once what had gone wrong, wrong with people, with him, not with the cat—saw it with the same smiling certitude with which Einstein is said to have hit upon his famous theory in the act of boarding a streetcar in Zurich.

There was the cat. Sitting there in the sun with its needs satisfied, for whom one place was the same as any other place as long as it was sunny—no nonsense about old haunted patches of weeds in Mississippi or a brand-new life in a brand-new place in Carolina—the cat was exactly a hundred percent cat, no more no less. As for Will Barrett, as for people nowadays—they were never a hundred percent themselves. They occupied a place uneasily and more or less successfully. More likely they were forty-seven percent themselves or rarely, as in the case of Einstein on the streetcar, three hundred percent. All too often these days they were two percent themselves, specters who hardly occupied a place at all. How can the great suck of self ever hope to be a fat cat dozing in the sun?

There was his diagnosis, then. A person nowadays is two percent himself. And to arrive at a diagnosis is already to have anticipated the cure: how to restore the ninety-eight percent?