|Photo: PEN American Center|
THE MOUNTAIN (*)
He lowered himself again, coughed into his armpit. He was wearing a strange pair of suede boots trimmed on the outside with some fleecy synthetic—women’s boots, I thought. His pants were loose and brown, drawn in at the ankles.
“The large stone outside this village,” I said. “Why were those words painted there?”
“Someone, leaving, painted the words.”
“When you found them, you painted them over, made them illegible.”
“We are not painters. It was not a good painting.”
“Why did he do it?”
“There are many setbacks. We lose purpose, get sick. Some people die, some wander off. There are differences in meaning, differences in words. But know this. Madness has a structure. We might say madness is all structure. We might say structure is inherent in madness. There is not the one without the other.”
He coughed into his armpit.
“No one has to stay. There are no chains or gates. More die than leave. We are here to carry out the pattern. A small patient task. You have the word in English. Abecedarian. This is what we are.”
“I don’t know the word.”
“Learners of the alphabet. Beginners.”
“And how did you begin, how did the cult begin?”
“This can wait for another time. We will talk again if the occasion permits.”
(*) The Names was published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1982.
Copyright © 1982 by Don DeLillo