In the end, nothing is important. Before the end, everything is important. Douglas’ trip to Vienna began with small annoyances; omens, he felt, for the day just begun. He stubbed his toe as he was boarding the train in Salzburg, tried with a moistened finger on his shoe to smooth down the scuffed piece of leather that was like a patch of dead skin unwilling to detach itself. He cursed the sign in the train’s cramped bathroom that told him in its cumbersome way, as he laboriously translated the words into English, that the water was unsafe to drink. All that effort for disappointment. He had forgotten the number of the seats, but he had no trouble on the way back finding the compartment; there were so few tourists using the Eurails in late October that, to Douglas, it felt embarrassingly ostentatious, like having a train all to themselves. Karen sat hunched in the corner of her seat against the window, looking solitary in the empty compartment.
“I’m glad you’re back,” she said, as though the sealed train held options for misadventure. “Do you have our passes?”
“Have them.” He held them out to her, for reassurance. He knew without looking at the dates that there were four more days left for them to be back in Luxembourg for the flight home to New York. “The water on the train is unfit to drink.”
“I’m so thirsty.”
“It’s not purified, or whatever. There was a sign in the bathroom.”
“I’ll never make it.” She grimaced.
“We’ll have lunch in the dining car. Plenty to drink,”
“Do you think we’ll get to waltz? In Vienna?” It was one of those moments, occurring more often lately, when, as Douglas looked at her, he found her pert youthfulness too much to bear. He looked away, gazing instead at her reflection in the window, seeing, against the fleeing fields where they had just been, her dark eyes, earnestly hopeful, that overcame the sunlit transparency of her reflection. Expectantly, she watched him back in the glass, able, unlike him, to see where they were going; was she seeing, too, etched against her morning view of the countryside, the whitening of his hair, euphemistically called silvering, the lifelines cut, beyond scarring, in the hollows of his cheeks? Their mission to waltz in Vienna had been launched by his careless romantic remark on that day, two years ago, when Karen had moved into his apartment. He had pushed his treasury of clothing in the bedroom closet to one side with a grandiose gesture, the wire hangers squeaking on the rod and becoming entangled. They had gone straight to bed and, later, they had cried and talked foolishly about having children, which neither of them wanted, and he had said, “Let’s waltz in Vienna, instead.” That, and his corroded memories of the war. It was his veteran’s perverted nostalgia, breaking through at an odd moment, that made him want to revisit Vienna, if his original passage in the tail turret of a bomber over the carnage of the city could be called a visit.
“We’ll do it. We’ll waltz,” said Douglas. “Or bust.” He had begun to say, Or die, but caught the word in his teeth, biting on its hard core.
They were arriving.
He remembered that he had faced backward then, too, seeing the city each dreaded time as he was leaving it, looking down at it through the distorting, jelled plexiglass of the turret. It had been easier and necessary for him to view it as a toy scene, to see, among the city’s network of streets and spired buildings, the scattering of sudden flarings that marked the passage of their aircraft, like miniature bonfires set on a fall day. While, high above the roiling smoke and dust, he occasionally saw, impossibly real, other bombers struck by flak, twisting downward like the oversized leaves they were camouflaged to resemble. As they fell, they threw out parachutes, never a full count, white spoors drifting to an inhospitable earth. To dust returneth, he once thought, in a spasm of unaccustomed piety.
“Let’s switch seats,” said Douglas.
He faced forward, watched the buildings, undamaged, firmly bricked and glassed, move toward and by him. Was the sky above him empty, quiet? The peril now lay within him. As the train made its slow, extended approach to the station, the implacable muffled click of the wheels made him think of the pulse in his ears that had brought him, finally, to the hemotologist’s office. He had been too fatigued, almost, to climb the single flight of stairs, a mountain to his weakness. It was the heralding morning after New Year’s day, and snow sifted down from a leaden sky onto Central Park across from the office on 69th street. Douglas was told of the whiteness pervading his blood, an inner silent storm without a clear beginning or known end. He was, he learned, at unwilling strife with himself; he had a form of anemia (disregarding the clutter of medical terms) in which his red blood cells were being destroyed by their blood’s own kind. In the hospital, he was given transfusions, a holding action, and a biopsy was taken of glands in his groin; he was discharged sullied with a diagnosis of suspected lymphoma, a possible cancer of his lymph system, his body’s defense against natural invasion. He felt unguarded.
“We’re almost there,” said Karen. She looked at her watch as though it held a command. “Quarter past eleven. What is the name of this station?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where will we dance?”
“I think it’s called the Stadtpark. Hold on a minute.” Douglas fumbled with his Frommer’s guide, as the train slowed, the wheel’s pulse faltering. He peered at a map entitled, “Vienna: the Inner City,” at its tiny drawn buildings, the Opera house front and center, at its twisted criss-cross of streets with blockish Germanic names that he could not say. He imagined that this page’s detailed portion of the city had been a mere fragment of the overview of Vienna and its environs on the huge military map pinned to the wall of the squadron’s briefing room. There, before dawn, in his swaddled layers of flying garb, Douglas had watched, in blind faith, the briefing officer’s pointer stick like a baton tapping at the welter of map lines that marked their targets for the day. The city routinely was called the graveyard of the Fifteenth Air Force, referring to its dense concentration of antiaircraft guns matched only by Berlin’s, but evoking in Douglas’ mind an image of an entire city of tilted and crumbling gravestones and waiting, muddy plots.
“I’ll find it,” he said, to Karen, “after we get in.” He braced himself, as the train stopped, for a lurch that did not come. There was nothing back home to match the smoothness of these trains. “We’ll find the Opera house and use that as a starting point. The dancing at the Stadtpark isn’t far away. We’ll have time for sightseeing, first. The last train back is after ten. We’ll have plenty of time.” He was feeling the rush, already. That’s the way their trip had been so far, a ten-day race, it seemed, across the face of Western Europe, using Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Bern, Nice, and now Salzburg, as their bases for forays by rail into the surrounding territories. Breadth rather than depth, as Douglas had put it, when they drew up their plans. “May as well do it all. My one time around,” Karen had said, with the misplaced pessimism of the young. To Douglas, in his tilting late 50’s, her 31 years seemed youthful. Old, he realized, is always where we are.
Douglas felt a giddy sensation as he stepped down from the train and his feet touched the walkway, as though he had descended from a great height. “I made it,” he said. “I landed.” Karen looked puzzled but pleased by his lifting mood. He handed the camera to her. “Take a picture of me arriving.” She walked quickly ahead of him under the over-hanging curved roof and took up a position against a pillar, waiting for the crowd to thin out, camera cocked. Douglas walked toward her, his arms outstretched like wings, his face set in what he thought was a pilot’s appraising look down at a runway. He heard himself making a small boy’s engine sound and couldn’t help giggling, as the camera clicked. “Take it again,” he said. “I got it, I got it,” said Karen, caught up in the contagion of his laugh. “You looked dashing.” He imagined the picture set alongside one of him taken in 1944, in Italy, standing, brown hair tousled, in his leather flying jacket, before the stilled, slanted propeller of a Liberator bomber. Would the photographs appear to be of the same person: that callow, heroic figure he had been so long ago, briefly, and himself now, a thin, graying man in a wrinkled civilian top-coat, stretching out his arms in a futile attempt against gravity?
The city was as unreal to Douglas on the ground as it had been from the air. The alabaster and gilt ornate look of its architecture made his vision swim, filled his mouth with a taste of marshmallow. They walked along the broad sidewalk before the Parliament building, stopped before a tableau of mythological figures with staffs and swords, lolling whitely around a pillar on which stood a robed, helmeted woman holding a scepter spear with Athenian grace. Karen posed for a picture on the steps, her left hip pushed out characteristically in a posture she blamed on curvature of the spine; she tilted her blond head to her right as if balancing against the defect. Her shirttail was working its way out from under her jacket, her scrambling inner self, it seemed, showing through. She was dwarfed by the statues, but Douglas backed up even further with the camera, so that he included in the background the building’s pillared entrance topped by a frieze of other classical figures against a golden surface. Further on in their walk, they asked an older man who had an air of resigned patience—they noticed too late that his hands were shaking—to take their pictures together before a statue of Mozart in a park; the flawless, optimistic carving made Douglas think of a decoration on a wedding cake. They sat for a while on a bench along a wall of cropped hedges, lifting their faces to the warm sun, as did a row of people on either side of them. They walked again, past a vast, curved-roofed greenhouse, past other rococo buildings. The city was impossibly free of devastation; Douglas marveled that nowhere was to be seen the jagged outer shell of a building, a rubble of bricks, a single homeless shard of glass. He wasn’t deceived: he knew that somewhere in Vienna, in a fold of space and time, the city held its and Douglas’ past secrets; somewhere, invisible ragged people, dispossessed, still sifted through shadowy ruins for the remnants of their lives.
“Where do we go now?” Karen shrugged, hands held out.
“To Schonbrunn Palace.”
“The summer palace of the Hapsburgs,” said Douglas, grandly, feeling well informed. He added, factually, “The Hapsburgs aren’t there, anymore. They’re forbidden by law to enter Austria.”
“That’s good. I guess.” Karen looked at him for confirmation.
“Very good. They can’t ever go home again. Here. But I can.” It was an odd way to put it. What kind of home for him was Vienna?
On Mariahilferstrasse, following the book’s directions, they waited for the number 58 tram. In the shelter stood two middle-aged women, obviously look-alike friends, wearing green tailored coats and high-crowned, brimmed hats. Douglas had noticed many women wearing the same formidable hats. “They make me nervous,” he whispered to Karen, “I don’t know why,” She answered, with a woman’s surety, “Because the hats make them look like men.” The two women were looking with unyielding faces at the pavement, at a chalk drawing left there by sidewalk artists. It was a portrait, in vivid color, of a man with curly hair like a colonial wig, staring back at the viewer. It would last until the next rain, Douglas hoped; he liked it, it showed talent and nerve. As the tram arrived, he fumbled in his pocket for schillings, trying to remember the exchange rate. On the tram’s side was printed, Komm Zu and the name of the restaurant.
“That reminds me,” said Karen. “I’m hungry.”
“Let’s hold off and eat a big dinner. We still have the candy bars.”
“I’ll take mine now.”
Douglas stubbornly insisted that Karen sit in a single open seat while he remained standing before her in what he felt was an outmoded courtly fashion, clutching a metal pole and looking with false interest at the advertisements. The tram accelerated with a force that surprised him; he found himself, absurdly, hanging onto the pole as though if he let go he would be hurled brokenly to the rear of the tram. Despite himself, he let out a small cry of surprise.
“You sit down. I’ll stand,” said Karen. “No use being macho about it.” He refused, staring steadfastly out the window at the blur of a tram going the other way. “Are you all right?” she asked, her face anxious.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. He gripped the pole with both hands, leaning against it, the cool metal indifferent against his cheek.
“English and Spanish, please. Inglés y Español, solamente,”
Douglas and Karen made their way among people drifting before them like sheep seeking a shepherd. He heard other voices making announcements in what he thought were French and Italian.
“This way, please.” The guide spoke alternately in English and Spanish, without hesitation. His accent sounded Germanic. He was a balding, rotund man about Douglas’ age, wearing a shirt and tie and a brown sweater with white bordering, buttoned up the front. He had with him a clipboard, which he carried but did not consult. He waved it at the small group that had gathered before him, to tell them to follow him into the rococo palace that somehow filled Douglas’ vision more than any building he had ever seen. “The palace has hundreds of rooms of which 40 are open to this tour.” Already, Douglas felt deprived, corralled. “At least,” he whispered to Karen, as they followed in a trusting line behind the guide along dim hallways, “those rich Hapsburgs aren’t allowed to come back to see a single room.” She chucked him in the ribs. “Silly,” she said. He grinned and took her hand, small and passive, in his. He felt a reversion to childhood, to that excitement and irreverence he felt whenever he went on a tour. “Better pay attention,” he said, “they’ll give us an exam when it’s over.”
Caught in his own joke, Douglas found himself, at first, trying to remember the names of the major rooms—porcelain, Chinese, mirrors—as the guide called them out like introductions. It was hopeless; the glazed beauty of blue and white vases and chandeliers, the sedate curved bureaus and cushioned chairs, became repetitious in their gleaming splendor. His carnival mood faded in the long, restrained procession through the somber elegance of the rooms. The guide pointed to a tall porcelain structure, blending with the decor, in a corner of a bedroom. “That is a stove. The openings are on the other side of the wall. There, servants tended the stove, preserving the privacy of the guests,” he said, without opinion. Douglas thought of regal guests cavorting in naked comfort on the bed, as an unknown figure, forever nameless, crouched in the dimness behind the wall, feeding with rough hands a piece of wood to the smoldering embers. They passed through a silent game room, where, beneath a crystal chandelier, stood a massive billard table, unused, its playing sticks stored away or by now disintegrated.
There was an air of expectation as the guide waited for the group fully to assemble in a bedroom; he gazed thoughtfully at a narrow, pillowless bed. “Napoleon slept here,” he said, with quaint seriousness. Did he sleep fitfully, wondered Douglas, dreaming nightmares of armies that flew like eagles, dropped eggs of death? A senseless question, asked of a dead soldier. Douglas pulled on the thin red cordoning rope that separated him from the room’s reality. The city was beyond his grasp, as it had been long ago, He wished now, fancifully, that he could have discarded his uniform the day war ended in Europe, sojourned north from Italy to Vienna, a promised city, embraced its survivors, climbed its rubble, strutted, wept, repented. Instead, at home on furlough in Brooklyn, trying to regain a lost familiarity, he had marveled at the virginal preservation of the city’s apartment buildings, mourned the distant quality of his parents’ faces, as in old photographs.
The tour was winding down. There were a few minutes scheduled for free time outside on the palace grounds. The guide went with them, kept himself available for questions, standing at the base of the steps between white stone pillars topped with unlit lanterns. Behind him, the setting sun touched the palace walls with pale orange. He took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, seemed to hesitate as he watched Douglas and Karen beginning their walk through the gardens.
“May I?” Douglas said to him, on an impulse, giving up a three-month attempt to stop smoking.
“Doug,” said Karen.
“Of course.” The guide tapped out cigarettes, held a match to Douglas’ before lighting his own. He held his cigarette in a curious way, cupping his hand tightly to his mouth when he inhaled. He was stouter than he had appeared when Douglas was not this close to him. It seemed that his collar was pressing into the sides of his neck. His eyes were the palest blue, almost colorless.
“American?” he asked.
“Yes. German?” Douglas drew deeply on his cigarette, enjoying his lack of restraint.
“Austrian. We all sound alike.” The man did not change expression in the slightest, His humor was beyond dry— parched, Douglas thought. “If I were German, would you have asked me what I was doing during the war?”
“No, but I’d be thinking about it.” Then, surprised at his own directness, Douglas said, “Now that I know you’re Austrian, I’m afraid you might ask me.” It was an invitation, really.
“If I may ask, what were you doing Mr. . . .”
“Ross. This is . . . Karen.” There was no palatable social term for their relationship.
“Herr Vokker,” said the guide.
“I flew in bombing missions.” It sounded as though he had been a simple passenger. “As a tail gunner.”
“Where did you fly?”
“Over lots of places.” That wasn’t the question. “Over here.” Douglas held his breath, the smoke searing his throat. After one mission over Vienna, an intelligence officer had reported that, unfortunately, the roof of an air raid shelter had collapsed, killing about 400 people, mostly children.
Herr Vokker cupped his hand to his mouth, let out a long breath, like a sigh. “What aircraft did you fly in?”
“Where did you fly from?”
“Italy. Near Bari.” He had the feeling his story was being checked out.
“That’s a coincidence. I was a gunner, also. On an anticraft gun. Here, in Vienna.”
“In 1944 and 45?”
“Forty-five. At the finish.”
“That’s remarkable.” Douglas dropped his cigarette, ground it beneath his foot, realized he should have disposed of it more cleanly. The guide gave no sign that he had noticed.
“I was only 16 at the time.” That made him four years younger than Douglas. “The German army was short of men. I was impressed by the service. Against my will—how do you say it?”
“Impressed into service.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
A young woman with a British accent asked, “What is that large structure? Quite far off.” She wore a tan tweed jacket, and she pointed to a row of pillars beyond the gardens.
“It’s called the Gloriette,” said Herr Vokker.
“Is it Roman?”
“No. Just classical.”
When the woman had gone, he said, “If I may ask. It shouldn’t matter, our equipment was obsolete. How did you manage to avoid our radar?”
“We didn’t, always. We dropped strips of metal, different lengths. It clouded the image.”
“I know about the metal,” said Herr Vokker. “There were ways to handle that problem toward the end. How did you do it, then?”
“Excuse me,” said Karen. “I want to see the gardens. How much time is left?”
Without looking at his watch, the guide said, “Ten more minutes.”
Douglas watched her go, diminishing in size against the enormous reach of the grounds. “We jammed the radar signal by radio.” A special gadget, he explained, brought in during the last months of the war, installed on the flight deck. Over the target, 15 dreadful, brief seconds for the radio operator to identify and match the frequency of the radar signal, while Douglas stared out through the plexiglass. He was surprised at how much he could remember, with someone who had been there.
“I wondered about that,” said Herr Vokker.
Their conversation turned to features of Schönbrunn Palace and directions for going to the Stadtpark, for dancing. There seemed to a natural limit to the moment’s intimacy.
Karen returned, her face touchingly youthful, flushed with a blend of satisfaction and setting sunlight. “Have you two finished talking about airplanes?”
“About airplanes. Yes,” said Douglas. “Here.” He checked the readings on the camera, anxious not to miss, and handed it to her, “Take a picture of us. If it’s all right with Herr Vokker.”
“Yes,” said Herr Vokker.
The men stood together on the steps, the palace a buttress behind them, arms at their sides. Douglas smiled inwardly at his impulse, a real throwback, to come to attention. The tourists were gathering for the finale of the tour; they watched incuriously; perhaps, thought Douglas, they regarded the interruption as an American’s fetish with cameras, imposing himself on a tour guide. “Take another,” he said, “just to be sure. And use the flash.” He put an arm, comrade style, across Herr Vokker’s shoulders, wondering what his first name was, reluctant to ask. The girth of the man was strangely comforting to his touch, something substantial in a place of no solidity. There was a long pause of awkward proximity as Karen adjusted the camera. “The war is over,” Douglas said, embarrassed by his sentiment. “Yes,” said the man, this stranger. My God, thought Douglas, supposing he had been a willing recruit, a Nazi. It mattered, terribly; in a way, it didn’t matter, anymore. “I’ll send you copies.” Would he? Karen squinted, chewing on her lip. Douglas felt his held smile freezing. Just in time: the silent white flash was a warming sun held in her earnest hands.
“Remarkable,” said Douglas.
“We’re actually here. At the Stadtpark.” Karen sipped her beer.
“I meant, meeting that man, after all these years.” He hadn’t the words for it, that the world somehow had become, for a time, a personal place focused on his life, loose ends tied up.
“They’re getting ready to play. Good thing.” She looked at her watch. There was less than an hour and a half to catch the last train back to Salzburg. They had been lucky to get a table; the cafe was filled with people sitting tightly around the empty dance floor. The leader of a small group of musicians wrapped his baton for attention and made what sounded like an extended announcement; with a flourish, he led the players in a waltz.
“Let’s go,” said Douglas, tapping his glass against Karen’s.
“I can’t.” Her hand grasped his, pinching his skin. “We’ll be the only ones on the floor.”
“They’ll follow us. It’s now or never.” He added, dramatically, “We’re over the target.”
Oddly, no one followed them onto the floor. Their legs moved stiffly, out of rhythm, as if they were dancing together again for the first time. Over her shoulder, he glanced at the audience, at the carefully dressed middle-aged men and women, a couple at each table; exceptions were a large group of Japanese tourists, the new Americans, dressed like businessmen, seated around several tables but obviously a party, and a long table of informally dressed people who looked Italian. The Japanese watched them dance, without expression, but Douglas had the curious impression that the others kept their gazes averted. He felt the beer take hold, and by the third waltz they finished in triumphant whirling unison.
“We did it,” he said, at the table. “Time for one more beer.”
“We actually waltzed in Vienna, Wait till I tell them at the office.” Karen wiped a sheen a perspiration from her forehead, her small breasts rising and falling under her pink blouse.
The musicians’ leader introduced a young couple, teenagers, dressed in tails and a gown, who danced several waltzs with ballet grace. Following the entertainers, the leader said something else, at the end of which he raised his arms upliftingly to the audience. His words were undecipherable, but his gesture was obvious. Douglas groaned. En masse, other couples went to the dance floor for a waltz played with the vigor of a beginning piece.
“We danced during the warm-up music,” said Douglas. “How embarrassing.”
“As you are fond of saying, it will make a good story later.”
“If we make the train.” He gulped his beer, coughingly. As they were leaving, a sturdy, handsome man with a mustache stood up at the long table and applauded “Bravo,” he called, and made a motion inviting them to the table, Douglas waved and pointed to his watch. “No, grazie,” he said, hoping he remembered the words from Italian movies he had seen; using them made his feel cosmopolitan.
“Why do you suppose he did that?” asked Karen.
“Because he thought we were brave to dance when we did. Bravado.”
“How do you know that?”
“I like to think so.”
Douglas also liked to think that the surprisingly crowded train was filled with people like themselves, reluctant to depart, to relinquish a special day with no hope of returning. They were first into the compartment and took up their usual seats opposite each other at the window. Douglas felt the dregs of fatigue settle in him, sensed rather than heard an ominous pulse in his ears. When the train had left the city, there was nothing much to see outside in the dark. Karen went from a state of full awakeness to a sound sleep, as she always did, instantly. There were four other men with them, two sitting beside him and two beside Karen. As the train kept going, a heavy silence born of their foreignness to one another built up. Karen slumped in the corner, and gradually her head, sagging, came to rest against the tip of the man’s shoulder beside her. Her legs, moving with the faint swaying of the car, parted ever so slightly and her right knee below her skirt came to touch the man’s trousered thigh. Douglas thought of waking her to change her position, but it seemed too much of an intimacy to share. The man appeared in his 30’s, probably Austrian, wearing a finely tailored coat which he kept buttoned. He looked once at Douglas and then looked away, straight ahead. In the close seating, he could not have changed position, had he wanted to. Douglas knew that, but uncomfortably he felt Karen’s female aloneness and his obligation, his wish, from possessing her, to keep her separate from other men. Possess her by what right? He remembered Elaine’s final words to him, the night of their separation, the children asleep upstairs, their voices low and flat in the kitchen over a poisonous cup of cold coffee, his last in that house. “Will she live with you?” Elaine had asked. “Probably,” he had answered. “Will she give you children?” Not wanting to bring his age, Karen’s youngness, into it, he had said, “It’s not a marriage.” Elaine broke her cup with a single stroke against the table, and said, “Then, what is it?” Yes, he thought now, what is it? Is it, after all, another kind of marriage, as futile as his other one, something of brief passion and convenience instead of love?
It was a relief when all the men left the train at the same stop, 20 minutes before Salzburg. In the blessed, fleeting privacy of the compartment, Douglas stretched his feet out straight the length of the seat. As he used to do in the Army truck taking him after a mission from the landing strip to the debriefing tent, a wild floaty feeling in him. Until he thought of the next mission. He had learned that triumph and relief were an interlude, a brief meal between hungers. That stern lesson stayed with him. Wars never end, he thought, for the people in them.
Karen’s body was slanting toward the seat, and in her sleep she was making spasmodic motions to regain her balance. He turned her by the shoulders, lowered her gently to the seat, on her back. Her eyes fluttered open momentarily, without seeing him; her head turned to the side and from the corner of her mouth came a trace of spittle, her inner dew. He rested his hands on her hips, broader than Elaine’s from which, in an act of nature that had transcended dislike, had come his son and then another son. Now the boys lived with her in Seattle, growing to their manhood without him. They had been reared to careful obedience, and now they honored their mother’s hatred of him, refusing to come to the phone when he called, or to answer his plaintive letters. Gradually, he came to know that they had been taken from him by the divorce, as surely as if they had died. His loins stirred with a hunger to seed Karen’s childlessness, his own.
Douglas covered her with his coat, though the train was not chilly. Too restless to sit, he stood watching the dim bulk of unknown buildings slide by, the street lights becoming more frequent. He felt the train slowing, resisting its own momentum. In a few minutes, they would make their landing. The irony of his slip of mind, his pun on landing, caught him, the truth behind’ it. Don’t fly your last mission, had been a standing joke in his squadron. When, for him, was the last mission coming; when had it come? The train, slowing, gave a series of small jolts, unheard but palpable, like the felt impact on his skin, beneath sheltering layers of wool cloth and leather, of exploding flak. Where had it happened, at Munich or Vienna or New York: the tapered shells of his life arching invisibly up to find him, sending their lethal microscopic fragments into him, marring his capacity to love, severing the strands of his fatherhood, leaving jagged traces of whiteness in his blood.