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THROWBACK / G. W. Hawkes //WANK." X "Here," I said, and set cigar smoke in motion. "Yank, I've an 'orrible bloody thought." "Lovely." He turned a chair around backwards and sat on it. "What if all this is going exactly as planned?" "You mean God?" "Bloody damn right I mean God." He burped, and for a second it was balanced precariously inside. It passed; he uncrossed his eyes. "The Blitz," I said. "The Germans—" "The Japanese," he added. "AU of it. The whole bloody universe bloody well planned." "I've got a worse thought," I said in a minute. "What if it isn't?" "Well, that's pretty much the way of it, not? Either thought's enough to make you drink." This same Aussie friend, years later, in the same bar, asked me to name the "most 'orrible possibility" I could think of. "What do you mean, most horrible?" I asked. "Bloody damn frightening," he said. "What's the most bloody damn frightening thing you can think of?" "The bar bill," I said. "Get serious." He turned the chair around backwards, which made me think of when he'd done that last, forty years before. "I don't know, offhand," I said. "What?" "If there's two things in the universe, and not only one," he said. "Think of that." It didn't seem all that bad to me, but I hadn't grasped, apparently, what he meant. He imported his philosophy from the East; he didn't buy any sort of duality, and never had, and I used to wonder when I was younger what the luxury of believing in one thing would be like. "If everything's light," he said around his beer, "in some form or another—matter, gravity, mathematics, whatever—you know, Sport: energy, then what if—and this is the bloody damn 'orrifying part— what if there's something that isn't?" "Believing in one thing as you do," I said, "I guess that would be scary." "Scary? Scary?" He put his beer down (on its side) and drunkenly raised a finger. "It would be A-poc-a-lyp-tic, Mate." Then he banged 240 · The Missouri Review the table twice with the flat of his hand and laughed. "There's my nightmare, Rudy. What's yours?" "I've left mine all behind me," I said. He winked at me; he might as well have called me a liar. Forty years ago we would have left that pub together, singing, probably, but I've gotten older than he in the same stretch of time. At sixty-two, I was sixty-two; at sixty-three, he was still forty. He ordered another beer and got up to defend his darts title against a youngster. I said goodnight, and left the pub. "Careful, Mate," he called after me. "There's gangs about." I waved a hand. I walked out into the dark and a light, fine drizzle. I quickly lost outlines through my glasses, but I could see my way to the car. I pulled the keys out, and was standing in front of the car door, hunched over and squinting through my thick lenses and feeling the parody of age. A hand dropped down on my shoulder. "Got a light, Mate?" I turned. There were four of them. "No, Tm sorry," I said. "I don't smoke." "That's all right." The big one, standing nearly on my shoes, held a lighter up to my nose and flicked it into long, narrow flame. "I've got one after all." "Ah"—I said—"good." I started to turn back to the car, wondering (in cowardice) whether to stand straighter or hunch lower. How old did I want to be? "Got a fag, then, Mate?" he asked. "You see, I haven't anything to light." "I don't smoke," I said again, and pushed the key into the lock on the first try. "Yes," he said, "but we do." "Put a match to'm, Arnie." Oh, Jesus. Oh, God. I spun back around, and left the keys dangling. "Let's go for a ride," said Arnie, and shoved his way past me into the driver's seat...


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