It is Thursday, the 23rd, and Chester Kemp is having a lapse of memory. Thursday, the 23rd, and he is on Flight 652. Flight 652, Swissair for. . . .
He has the window seat. Below him, gray fields, small towns. Anonymous towns. Patches of snow. He is high over. . . .
Germany. Of course, Germany. He is on the Stockholm flight. Chester Kemp settles back in his seat. A sigh of relief. An annoying task ahead, but good to have it all snap into focus again. Arrive Stockholm 5:33 P.M. and locate his brother by 6:30. Take him out to a decent dinner. Have a little talk. Set him straight. To bed early and up early the next morning. Take the 6:10 flight down to Milan in time for a day of conferences. A tight schedule but possible. All reservations confirmed if only the weather holds.
A heavy round of appointments in Milan. All possible if they’d just be where they say they’ll be. Not likely in Milan. Maybe he’d take the evening off if the right party was there. Nothing sure with her in and out of the city so much but maybe. Friday evening and Saturday morning with her, perhaps. Then off again for Zurich. Two full days with the family.
Chester smiles, thinking of two full days at home, thinking of his wife, Olga, whom he loves, a calm and sure woman, the fixed point about which his life turns and turns. But first his brother. His brother with no phone. No fixed address and no phone. A serious talk with him. Heart to heart. Odd, that lapse of memory, losing track of the schedule. But only for an instant. He looks out the window and down and nods. Fields are gone. A great gray smudge of a city. Hamburg. Solid, ugly old Hamburg. Right on schedule.
“Right on schedule,” he says in passable German to a stewardess hurrying by. She nods, says something over her shoulder but too fast for him to catch. He leans forward, hoping she’ll repeat it, but she’s gone.
Chester’s brother is not in Stockholm. At that very moment Chester’s brother is on the Irish Sea heading east. He is wearing an Irish sweater which makes him look British. Actually he is American. His name is Rollo. He is in the ferry’s public room, having a glass of stout. No one else is drinking stout or anything else. Some are staring out at mountainous waves; some are asleep with Mother Sills; a few are hunched over cardboard cups. Rollo is on his way back to London the cheap way.
“Not much business,” he says to the bartender.
“Bad times,” the man says. Not clear whether he means the economic cycle or the weather. Perhaps both.
“Rollo!” A roar of a greeting from across the room. The sick and the drugged look up. A great bear of an Irishman lumbers across the floor, left foot, right foot, not quite used to being on hind legs, but pleased at the attention he is getting. “Me bloody long-lost brother and how be you?”
The Recognition Scene: a great embrace, slapping of backs, expostulations of love. Tears come to the eyes of old men and nuns. Rollo has not seen his friend lan O’Hurley for almost a week.
“Father’s dying,” lan bellows, still clinging, rocking from hind paw to hind paw.
“And mother?” Rollo asks.
“In a family way.”
“Ah the shame of it all.”
“The ole man locked up these two years now.”
“And little Nell?”
“Off with a bloody Hungarian, a traveling circus.” “Ah, the whole worl’s in a state o’ chassis!” At the bar now, ordering up. lan slaps the counter top, a bellow of laughter which, muddled with the moaning of the wind and the hiss of spray, sounds to the audience like a grown man’s cry of despair.
“Are you sure?”
“He does not exist.”
“If not Rollo Kemp, try Rollo Stone.”
“Which is he?”
“Sometimes under the name of Rollo Stone.”
Chester reddens. A stupid pun, a childish goddamned thing for his brother to do.
The girl pauses. She is not what Chester thinks of as Swedish. She is prim, mousy hair knotted tight in coiled braids, mouth tight. No smile. Probably not Swedish at all. “Stone,” she says, looking through the register. This is the KFUK— their Y. Stark, unadorned, prim as this girl, it is relatively cheap. It is where Rollo often stays. In the taxi crossing the city, Chester planned to make some jocular comment about the name of the place—the initials in English and all. But this monastic lobby, this convent face intimidate him. “Stone,” she says. “It does not exist.”
“He exists. You mean, he’s not registered. “Not registered” is how you say it in English.”
She nods, understanding perfectly. “He does not exist.”
Rollo Kemp wakes on the train. It is night. It is cold. The euphoria of the Guinness stout and his friend has long since left him. His dreams have been rising and falling on a not-so-merry-go-round. He has not slept more than an hour which leaves an incredibly dull and long trip ahead to London. At times like these he wishes he were rich and organized like his brother Chester.
The compartment is littered with scruffy luggage tied with string. Rollo carries his camera equipment in picnic baskets and a wicker laundry hamper to outwit thieves. The stuff is all over the seat opposite him. Also lan O’Hurley. They have the compartment to themselves.
lan’s body is sprawled like a corpse against one corner, legs out in two directions, arm draped over his duffle. He looks asleep, but his eyes are a crack open. He is surveying Rollo.
“C. I. A.” he mutters.
“You. I’ve got your number. Going to turn you in as soon as we’re back in civilization.”
“I saw that bloody passport coming through. Cheeky bastard.”
Rollo grins. Reaching into a pocket he produces his British passport for “Rollo Stone.” He tosses it to lan. Then, burrowing into the wicker hamper, lifting a false bottom, he locates a U. S.passport with the name “Chester Kemp.” He hands this to lan.
lan whistles, shakes his head. “Schizoid,” he says.
“What you might call “My brother’s keeper.”“
“Original or copy?”
“Do I look like a common thief? No, there’s this fellow in Amsterdam who does these. Learned during the war. Oldworld craftsmanship. Pride in his work.” He picks up the “Chester Kemp” passport and examines it like an art connoisseur, then tosses it on the seat, serious.”I’ve never used that one. It’s strictly for emergencies.”
The compartment door slides open, and lan slips both passports under his hip, quick as a cat. Rollo has seen this side of him before. At one of the Roundhouse parties. Someone flipped out and started breaking windows. Two quick motions and lan had the man flat on his back, immobilized, and was talking to him softly, reassuringly, repetitively, with compassion. This other lan is a psychologist, a follower of R. D. Laing. He has lived with the mad, befriended them, erased the divisions between doctor and patient wherever this is allowed. In this route, in this capacity, lan is the most reliable person Rollo knows—except, possibly, for his brother.
The man at the door stands there a moment, looking about as if convinced that there must be another passenger in the compartment.
“Looking for someone?” lan asks.
“Yes, I was certain. . . .” Pause. “Excuse me.”
Exit the stranger. “His error,” lan says, “is to be certain.” He hands the passports back.
Friday, the 24th. Dawn. Chester Kemp wakes to “tat-tat-tat.” Again “tat-tat-tat.” He sits up abruptly and sees on the window sill an enormous seagull. It is attacking a carton of milk he has left there.
The bird jumps back, cocks his head sideways in surprise. Then flies off. Chester Kemp sits there with his mouth half open. What the hell city is this?
lan and Rollo shout at each other, competing with the roar of the underground. They are on the Edgware Line, barreling their way from Charing Cross to Chalk Farm in North London. It is midmorning, and they have all their belongings piled on the bench beside them and in front of them. They have the car to themselves.
“Ai, ai, ai!” lan is shouting, clutching his forehead as if struck by a bullet.
Rollo is laughing—the sound of a madman.
After all their talk on the ferry and then on the seven-hour train trip from Liverpool and now on the underground, the last leg of their trip, only now have they discovered that they stayed at the same hotel in Dublin for three days and never saw each other. Each on an urgent mission, they came and went on different schedules, never eating there and never seeing each other. It is incredible. It is criminal. It is a brutal twist of fate.
“Oh I could have used a friend,” lan wails. “I was in dire need, I was.”
“No more than I.”
Still shouting, speaking a kind of shorthand of phrases, each lays a tragedy on the other. Rollo has been seeing Irish publishers, presenting a photo-essay of American exiles, former deserters, and resisters left over from the Vietnam war still living in Stockholm, in Paris, in Germany, in Algeria, the faces and lives of men and their women all but forgotten from a forgotten and discredited war. He calls it, Now Let Us Praise Infamous Men.No one seems to appreciate the irony the way he does.
He spent his time in Dublin spreading out his prints and his text for successive junior editors. After three knockdowns in three days, an editor-in-chief. A good firm. He allowed himself hope. A superb presentation.
At the end, the pause. Then the old man shrugged.
“Will it sell in America at Christmas time?” he asked rhetorically. Then, answering himself, “It will not sell in America at Christmas time.”
lan was no luckier. For years he has been trying to found what he calls a Laing Commune. It is not entirely clear to Rollo, but apparently psychologists and so-called psychotics are to share a home, living together in equality, supporting each other in a kind of brotherhood.
In Dublin lan has been trying to rent an abandoned monastery which was advertised in a London paper. But as with every other attempt at this kind of thing, he has failed to rouse the trust and support of landlords, neighbors, local psychiatrists, zoning boards, public health officials, constables, city councils. Anyone.
“Ah Rollo, a man doesn’t know how many enemies he has until he tries to embrace them.”
They fall silent until the Chalk Farm station. Wordlessly they help each other unload their belongings off the car and onto the creaking elevator which brings them to the surface. Still in silence they begin the trek, their moods gray like the streets and buildings, like the overcast above.
At the corner they look down the street and see their destination, the Roundhouse. That enormous, soot-stained fortress is the base, the home about which their lives this year turn and turn. Rollo is suddenly conscious of how exhausted he is.
At that precise moment an SAS jet passes overhead, hidden above the layer of smog, routinely completing a series of turns, waiting for permission to land at Heathrow. There are 28 passengers, one of whom is an American executive of Proctor and Gamble, formerly a purchasing agent for the U. S. Army, a man who is happily married in Zurich, entertains a minor indulgence in Milan, and supervises the distribution of his company’s products in some 13 countries, and at present is engaged in a family matter which is taking altogether too much time and is making a mess of his schedule.
He has given up on the Stockholm address and is now tracking down a London address. “The Roundhouse” in an unfamiliar section of London. Slums, no doubt. No phone. Just “The Roundhouse” and a street name. Worth a try.
Is he making too much of this? Letting it get out of proportion? No, this is the same dogged determination with which he tracks down retailers, trucking firms, distributors. He’s well known for his determination. Still, it’s making a shambles of his schedule.
“Sleep now? In the middle of the afternoon? Are you daft, boy?”
“I hardly slept at all on the train, lan. And neither did you.”
“Ah, but we’ve had the exquisite pleasure of total failure, you and I.’Twas a well-fought battle, but the Blessed Mother was lookin’ the other way.”
He is speaking with his manufactured brogue. He was born in Sydney of Irish parents and educated in Toronto, so he has his choice of accents.
“I’m not up to it, lan. And knock off the brogue, will you? I’ve had enough of that for a while.”
“Down on the Green are you? Well, I’ve just the thing.” He pulls a bottle of Scotch from under his jacket. It is a quarter gone already.”Have a few on me, mate, and you’ll turn this town to orange.”
“Take it easy with that.” Rollo wonders if he should take it away forcefully. He’s seen lan in these moods before. But exhaustion comes between him and the gesture.lan will have to fend for himself. He drags his baskets across the stone floor toward the office he uses as his apartment and lan hoists his duffle to his shoulder with astonishing energy and heads toward his. It is three fifteen in the afternoon. With luck he can get a good, long nap before it’s time to have supper. He wishes he had lan’s energy.
Chester Kemp has been in a cab for what seems like hours. He checks his watch. It is three fifteen. They have been working their way through industrial wastelands and slums. He thought he knew London, but it is clear to him now that he does not. Won’t ever.
“That’s the Roundhouse up there,” the driver says. My God, it is a roundhouse. Literally. Soot-stained granite, circular, enormous, it is clearly one of those buildings used to turn locomotives about, send them out on different tracks.
The cabby stops, accepts his fare, drives off down a different street. Chester stands there, suitcase in hand, frowning, recording it all: a railroad yard, warehouses, workingmen’s pubs, a Jesus-Saves mission. Everything dirty, even the sky.
He sees now that in addition to offices and apartments, the Roundhouse must also have a theater. The outside is plastered with posters for rock groups, musicals, wrestling matches between men, women, and creatures in drag.
He mounts the steps resolutely. He is not prudish and not naive; he is not unaware that such worlds exist; but he has arranged his life so as to avoid them. His schedule crosses and recrosses 13 countries, turning, turning and returning once again, and in each city he is able to find a Right Bank.
It is not the area which fills him with a dull, aching astonishment; it is the fact that his brother has chosen to live in this alien place. His own brother.
Inside, an enormous circular room essentially unchanged from the days when it was filled with locomotives. Twilight. Stone floor. Grooves where tracks were laid radiating from the center where once there was an iron turntable. Ceiling high as a cathedral; an opening at the very top for smoke. Dank chill.
Against one segment of the wall, a raised platform forming a stage. Many rows of folding chairs. Another segment, a dingy bar and cafeteria. A table of three bearded whites, another with two blacks, one with turban. Their voices, distant, unintelligible, echo.
Ah, a directory. Little white letters pressed into a black background as at cafeterias: “Dr. Asham Landoo, futurist, Rm.23.” “Paper Caboose, Rm.7.” “Dr.lan O’Hurley, Therapist, Rm.18.” Nothing with the name “Kemp.” A flash of relief, then annoyance in quick succession.
“Tranz-Continental Documentary, Rm. 19.” Possible?
Worth a try. “Tranz” indeed!
“Can you get a meal here?”
“Have a meal on me.”
“I’m really not very hungry, Chester.”
“Have a meal.”
“Not the best food, you know.”
“Have it on me.”
The brothers are at the cafeteria—at a little round cafe table in the perpetual twilight of the Roundhouse. Chester’s suitcase is poised at his side.
Their meeting was uncertain. Rollo was asleep and not at all sure who it was there at the door wanting to wake him. Chester hung back, not sure whether the grunts from the bed were his brother’s. Why would he sleep at four in the afternoon?
But now they have assembled the facts: Chester has indeed found his brother and has delivered the message that their father back in Arizona has had a stroke. Not an impossible situation—Mother still coping, money enough for a part-time nurse. A warning, nonetheless; a reminder of an upcoming departure.
Hollo has repeated what they both already know, that all is not well between him and his country even now, that he is free to go anywhere but there. It’s not that he dislikes his father or his country. A certain ambivalence toward both. But in any case, the route home is temporarily closed.
Chester, determined, tries once more: “Have a big meal on me.
“If it’ll make you happy.”
Rollo orders a nut roast which he has had before. It made him slightly ill. But it is the most expensive thing on the menu. It is only fair to please his brother. Chester orders the lentil soup.
The ordering has sidetracked the conversation. Staring at the sooty menu but no longer reading, Rollo plays film clips of a hearty, outgoing American father who is forever throwing baseballs, driving the family somewhere, taking boys to assorted games. He wants to say to his father, “You weren’t so bad, really. You weren’t nearly so bad as I thought at the time. Considering we spoke different languages. Aside from that, you really weren’t so bad.”
His premature use of the past tense jolts him. Quickly he switches back to the present, to his brother:
“Really great to see you,” he says.
“Great to see you,” Chester says.
“So how’s Olga?”
“Olga’s fine.” Pause. “Look, how about it?”
“How about what?”
“You know. Dad. It may be your last chance.”
“I can’t. Just can’t.”
“That’s not the problem. The problem is jail.”
“After all these years?”
“Maybe not. But maybe. How would you like. . . ?” Pause. Looks up at his brother sitting there with coat and hat on in the gloom, suitcase beside him. “Hey, Chester, why don’t you go?”
“No time. Tight schedule. You know I’m supposed to be in Milan today? I mean, just coming here has thrown me off schedule. Tomorrow’s Saturday. I won’t be able to catch up until Monday. That cuts into my two-day visit at home. In this business, they really keep you moving.”
“Just like Dad.”
Pause. Their father worked for American Standard before his retirement. Moved his family every two years. Kept at it until his retirement. Even then he kept switching from Florida to Arizona. Couldn’t make up his mind.
Rollo wonders what it would be like to see the old man again, to hear his voice, to touch his hand. Like? It would be like this.
“Like this,” he says.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You said “Like this.”“
“Did I? Well, I guess I meant seeing Dad would be like this, you know?”
“Oh Chester, let’s cut all this shit-talk. . . .”
“I thought we. . . .”
“I don’t mean it that way. I mean. . . . Oh Jesus, Chester, can’t we ever break through. Ever?”
He reaches out and seizes hold of his brother’s wrist, staring at his face in the twilight; Chester’s eyes open wide, his mouth opens, his other hand reaches for Rollo’s. . . .
“Hey you bloody bastards!” The words slam across the Roundhouse, echoing.”Hey you!”
Chester’s eyes narrow with alarm; they both turn; there is lan barreling toward them, almost falling in a great, lumbering gait. He is blind drunk. The start of another three-day bender.”Runnin” out on me!” he bellows as he slams into the little table, sending it clattering onto the stone floor. They and the other customers jump to their feet.
“lan, take it easy. It’s me, Rollo. This is my. . . .”
“I hate it,” lan shouts, grabbing Rollo’s shirt front.
“It. Here. This. This damn place. You.” The other customers approach cautiously.”You too, you black bastards,”
The Pakistanis move in, making sounds in the backs of their throats. With suicidal instinct lan turns on the one with the turban. At the moment before impact he suddenly goes soft and Gaelic. “Ah, me long-lost darlin’ brother. Be a pal now and lend me a fiver and watch me blow this stinkin’ city apart.”
No one smiles, but the fuse has been snuffed out. No one is going to be killed. The Pakistani stands astonished, silent, on guard. lan shrugs. “A bloody cold world,” he says, and lumbers off toward the north exit. “A cold winter. A bloody ice
“He’ll be like that for three days,” Rollo says. The others turn back to their tables as if this explained something.
“You know him?” Chester asks.
“Like a brother. Really a beautiful guy.” He sets the table up.”Most of the time.” He tries grinning, but his hands are still trembling. He can’t shrug it off. He does not know this other lan at all. And never will. As they sit there, his mind turns this over and over while his mouth runs on automatic, telling his brother that, yes, it was good to see each other and, yes, it will take a long time to get to Heathrow, and, yes, he’d better leave now; right, the plane won’t wait, like time and tide; and, yes, he understands how tight his schedule must be, of course, of course, understand perfectly, perfectly, yes, entirely understandable, of course.
Rollo watches Chester cross the Roundhouse, steps fading, form growing faint in the gloom, picking up speed now, disappearing out the southeast exit, on his way already to Milan.
Rollo sits there alone, struggling with an enormous melancholy which he cannot explain. He is drained of energy, chilled.
“Ah!” In a sudden motion, he looks at his watch. He has just remembered an appointment with a man in Kensington, a Belgian who knows a German film producer. He almost forgot with all this crazy business. Yes, he has time. Just. If he hurries.