note: This work is an experiment in which each and every word
used in the story also appears in William Shakespeare's "The Two Gentlemen
of Verona", barring some modification of the original elision. The
words of the play have been individually restructured into a new narrative.
In effect, the language of Shakespeare has been fragmented and then
recast, drawing on certain conceptual themes of Nietzsche, Sade and
was eating his youth, so with little more than a nod Speed parted
from his wife...slender, forlorn, fingering her gold ring. The train
moved forward impatiently, ignorant of loss. Travel vanquished their
marriage like so many before. There was engine noise. A whirlwind.
The departure of faces. The wife suffered away, a jewel worth nothing.
Sullen and undone at the window, Speed tried to weep but his eyes
were dully dry. Heavy with shame, Sleep, a remorseful drift inward,
delivered him from the day, and the night descended as a slow twinkling
Morning seized open. The sky came
out naked and unwelcome. Deeply uncertain of his journey, Speed tried
to nurse his fears with liquor and talk. A breakfast of vices. The
other passengers, a sea of couples, read the disgrace on his cheeks
and soon shunned him as a traitor to love. Closest to him were a dignified
man and a girl of about twenty. A proud waxen figure and a fresh young
ornament, a companion with the stature of a mistress and not a daughter.
After hours of silent exile, Speed entreated the man for the time.
"Thank you, sir.. Your name?"
Speed forced a friendly smile.
"Not the publisher?"
"Precisely the publisher."
"Fantastic! I write..."
Valentine laughed bitterly. "I
know You have the mark." His nose was like a spur and his face
was bankrupt of blood.
"Yes. Engraved on you. The ragged
integrity.. well nourished on melancholy, of course... The false nobleness.
You wish for words of raging honey, but, in the end, the page abhors
Speed gingerly held his anger,
"So, is that what writers are to you? Worthless pricks?
Disloyal thoughts from a publisher, I would think..."
Valentine laughed again, but less
coldly. "Very good! Some revolt! You might do well to
press some of that hate into your ink, boy! There is good reason
why ink is the blackest substance on earth... it is intended to extol
the rewards of infamy."
"That must be why I am a stranger
to print. Also, my name is Speed, not boy."
"So you think. Speed, this is
"How do you do?"
Julia gave little more than a
nod and turned back to the window. In its frame, the wilderness stood
free from the plagues of industry and the train discovered western
frontiers, wheels hammering the steel lines on the ground. The plain
was fading behind in an endless jade. As the crystal murmur of a river
made music with its weeds, there was a motion of geese, exquisite
against the desolate sky.
The men spoke to each other for
awhile about art and letters, but it was the stubborn silence of Julia
that especially beguiled Speed. Sad and disobedient, as if banished
to be a witness, the girl observed them with an indifferent yet watchful
eye. Her bare leg had the whiteness of milk. So pale it was some sweet
deformity, so tender Speed felt he was bruising her with his gaze.
The girl was without words and he thought her deaf and dumb, yet even
her breath had a remnant of eloquence, as if hope had died there wailing
like a dog. Buried in her moist eyes were secrets, the unsounded perplexity
of virtue, as well as some ruinous concord like the essence of a dead
puppy, a gentle and miserable solemnity. Her scalp shed a tangle of
auburn whips, unstaid against the lean, ungartered presence of her
body. As he regarded her, a sudden blush painted Julia's face and
said more than her silence, speaking movingly to his glances. She
seduced Speed then. He was determined to have her, to bite her hair
and kiss her heels, to exchange groans and flood her with nectar,
to clothe his cock in her being and pluck the sighs from her mouth.
There were a million names for the sum of his desires.
Valentine had seen the treachery
of these blushes and turned to Julia with scorn. Knowing that he was
now a rival, Speed quickly looked away to disguise his lascivious
thoughts. Shame and fear, the horns of love, cut into his heart. He
was ashamed at this birth of feeling within him, which stabbed at
the memory of his wife and the remission of their love. Speed despised
this new passion, fearing a sequel of his broken marriage. Just then
through the glass, the verdure held an unruly horse trampling a flower,
pale as paper and beautiful, a solitary lily loitering on the pasture.
"Let us dine," Valentine thrust
a glove at the passengers. "Their babble stings my ears." In
the supper car, the three became more acquainted over liquor and were
soon senseless as angels, which spurred a lively, if peevish, talk.
The liquor masked but hardly mended the spite between the men, and
the air was coloured with trouble. Full of harsh words on every subject,
Valentine's wit was injurious, and he became rude towards the other
two. Losing his patience, Speed observed, "Your success has only made
you bitter, but you are not as hard as you are desperate. And to think
I admired you because of your reputation... My god!"
"Your god, your god.. Let me teach
you about your god... Let me remedy that schoolboy faith of yours
and show you the perjury of heaven! This Christian malady has
made man an intruder on this earth, wishing for the grave, jealous
of the dead. You base Christian sheep have profaned the present with
your tedious prayers, complaining that the earth is fodder for our
contempt, worthy only of disdain. To you, the world is perceived as
just one more cell in the unseen prison called heaven. Like all reasonless
wretches you desire discipline, a corrupted god to feed you torment.
You are prisoners devoted to the whip and are quickly lost without
it. Enemies of pleasure, you have fasted too long from reason only
to feast on pity. This holy plot of yours is always unjust, Speed,
for it spurns life!"
"Old age has drawn you into dream.
You are mad."
The publisher pretended to take
"Correction, sir, I am not old!
You are most unmannerly for a sheep..."
After dinner, Valentine willingly
enjoined the discourse towards the meaning of love, pulling at the
strings that laced them together. To impress Julia, Speed gave his
opinion and trusted that she would interpret it.
"I think love is a heavenly power
carried by a stranger."
"Is that what you learned in your
universities? Boy, you have the poets' cowardice when you speak."
"Then what is love?"
"Love is a ripe, worthless word...
and friendship is but a mutual vexation."
"You are both wrong. Love is a
silent villain," Julia delivered a whisper to them, with a coy, dangerous
wink at Speed, "journeying to newer crimes."
Although pleased, Speed had no
reply to these, her first words of the day. Brow knit with wrath,
Valentine plotted revenge. In a quick salute, the publisher brought
up his glass and spoke with a counterfeit mirth both peremptory and
hateful, "To our threefold doom..." He left and was soon asleep
aboard the other car.
With Valentine away and lustily
forgotten, longing chafed their heart-strings. Speed chased Julia
to his bed chamber, where a hungry touch waxed into excess. Her white
went wild and Speed was unrivalled until morn, when Valentine knocked
with an imperious hand and said, "Good morning, deceitful lovers."
His voice punished their forgetfulness and revenged their mutual favours.
In a fury, the train cleft the root of a mountain. The engine tried
to scale the tower, a nameless mount anchoring the world. The high
stone steeple fostered its own winter, lightly pinched with ice the
colour of teeth. Crusts of snow crept over the shadowy forest, which
wound in ink garlands over the rocks.
For some reason neither enraged
nor humbled by the circumstance, Valentine had the smile of a hangman
when the lovers came to the table. Reading the paper, he spoke with
no apparent jealousy, "What is wrong, Speed? You look ill enough
to heave up your soul! Where is your love, your 'heavenly power',
now? Lost in the infancy of guilt?"
Speed composed himself before
he spoke, "Although you repulse me, Valentine, I intended no ingratitude
to you. Who can quell the onset of such passionate affairs?
It may have been wrongful, but I feel somewhat blessed, as if it were
destined to take place. These are no random knots in my heart!
I think we love each other." Julia said nothing to this and
paid no mind to either of them.
"Is this a confession, boy?
Save such a conceit for your truant god. I should tutor you in a lesson
"You always speak as if I were
a Christian, Valentine, but I am not. I do not believe..."
"Yet you have recourse to words
like 'blessed' and 'destined', employed in every Christian anthem!
You are like a linguist that does not believe in the tongue!
Like most trusting fools, you are the perfect Christian, ignorant
that you employ its practices and adore its spirit. Your faith is
a general one and thus all the more dangerous."
"I may claim these faults, but
they seem unworthy of the penitence you have resolved for me!
Cruel-hearted judge, are you passing penance on me because I desire
"Boy, your soul is a trifle, the
legacy of a clownish god who could only fail at sovereignty. A dead
king, a sovereign fraud, a petty god stuffed with pestilence, worshipped
by those who rehearse death and forget life! Yes, this degenerate
ancestry has quite a story... with the father, an invisible beast,
hammering his immaculate wench, who then bore a bastard son... an
adored figure of peace who has fostered nought but war. A lout reputed
as a lord, who wandered deserts to brag to sheep. A shepherd of man,
a treacherous saint who enforced the fealty of lambs, a messenger
of a god who taught only the merit of chains, who taught men to aspire
to be servants. He dazzled the illiterate with every silly proverb,
that sour Jew! That slave to parable! That beggar on a
nail! How quaintly did his foul blood soften the cross!
It entertained the world for a time, that most vile of pageants. Many
are still fawning over his death, frozen with grief until his return.
Their minds are still affected by the charity of his lies, still yoked
by falsehood after two thousand years! Vain idolatry!
Creatures so starved for answers that they would pray to nothing!"
"And what should give meaning
to the life of man... his doubt? You give such import to slander,
Valentine! Would you cancel all the triumphs of man and his
"I desire man to exceed himself,
but he esteems only safe, illumined thoughts. If man need worship,
why not worship Phaeton? Daring to endanger the world, he resolved
to lawlessly tame the sun! Mad, mad Phaeton who died in true
glory as he parted from transgression and descended in a coil of fire,
unheedful of the possible, tempted by the most extreme sacrifice...
the offering of the sun. If man offered up the sun, what a sacrifice
that would be! If man would dare to penetrate the timeless and
dispatch the infinite! To rend the sun and fly in its place
would be the most valiant undertaking of all! Do you understand
what that would signify, boy? No? Then I will convey it
to you! And this earth... no, this train! ... shall be the altar
upon which we dispose of this celestial enemy. Once our grudge is
appeased we may then rejoice!"
He took Speed aside and they crossed
to the chamber of the publisher. Locked in with Valentine's possessions,
a heap of clothes and money, Speed saw a rifle stock. Near the bed,
Valentine held a step ladder. that gave access to an upper seal.
"The sun is but a sick pebble,
the stars so much malignant dust. All those swoons of matter in their
endless flight.. I would wipe the sky of them all." He took
the rifle and went up the ladder "Come, boy, we will outrun idleness
The wind came howling down the
hole. "Pure folly," said Speed, but an urge persuaded him to climb.
Valentine stood waiting on the far end of the car, indifferent to
the rough motion of the train. Speed could not endure the reckless
tilts and a stumble left him flat on his stomach. On his knees he
tried to creep near Valentine, who had the rifle aimed at the sun.
The desert wound its golden scorn around them, hot frowns of sand
enammelled with the shine of some deformed palace.
A whisper came from Valentine,
"Here, even reason burns away. Killed by the light." A shot
took flight into the impossible, yet the wounded sun did not fall.
"Awful star, how many crimes will
you commit?! You spin there, flourishing yellow outrages at
man! Burning in your cloak of blood! Undeserving idol,
you are not sacred! You have blinded man in so many ways, and
without eyes we can only see god! Blindness has scoured us of
reason! Unseeing, we seek truth in a fancy and love in a divine
blot! You are a curse masked as a gift, and you wreathe the
earth in dolour! I detest your deliberate, orderly lies!
Your god is an absence, a trick of the light! See how you have
hindered man with the error you conceal in your light! Enough!
I'll have the day drowned in shadow!"
"Valentine, only a fool hunts
the sun! See, you flatter it with your volley!"
"It is not flattery, but a censure!"
The most unholy oaths came from
him and the rifle kept blasting through the air into the monstrous
mouth of fire, which graced its height patiently waiting to kindle
every mortal thing. Great wings of dust washed down the train and
away. Speed shut his eyes and closed his ears with his hands, wishing
that the threats would cease. Despairing of the noise of the kill,
he tried to plead for silence, yet his body could only shake.
It was not to be the swiftest
execution, and the length of day could not quench Valentine's zeal
as he railed against the object of his rage. After a period, Speed
could hear Valentine wilt with a moan of thwarted vengeance. His face
was a mask of meat and the rifle was out of shot. Still, he held his
hands aloft and scratched at the light, as if to tear at the eyes
Valentine chose to break the rifle
in two and cast it away. He lay down with a sigh, "You are hers now,
Speed. Go to your muse. You are a pawn and she needs that now. You
are youthful and shallow and dull, and she needs that too. Love is
feeble by nature, and I no longer care for it. For too many years,
I have been an old emperor wringing beauty from a pearl. But treasure
now gives me no delight. Now beauty is wearisome to me. I am enthralled
by a new beloved... Time I would like to prove her necessity, Speed,
yet I am unwilling to yield to the pillory of her form. I will woo
death, homely as she is... but I will not wed her."
"I did not mean to steal Julia..."
"Should an heir talk of thievery?
You have a boy's mind. It is she who will be robbing you... of your
future. She has learned much from me. Go."
A fat, swarthy evening killed
the sun contemptuously and without a word. With no light, the desert
became only an embrace of shapeless heat. Weary and alone in repose
upon the car, Valentine kissed at the black perversely with his tongue.
The train stopped at the ocean
with every cloud in grey turmoil. Water descended like tears without
a head. Travellers charged the doors to disembark for the city, a
huge urinal peopled with sorrow. Bold and crooked as a statue, the
paragon of blackest judgment, Valentine overlooked the stream of hapless
"Come here, Speed, hear my last
counsel." His mood suggested danger and conclusion. "This journey
may vex you, but it is best that you are ignorant now. It will take
time to understand your pilgrimage into vice. You promised Julia love,
but she has no interest in it. She is your master not your prize.
You mistook her prodigious silence for a disability, but it was only
a woman's disguise concealing the hazard of her delights."
The advice angered Speed, "Is
this your cunning requital, Valentine? This talk of Julia?
You waste your protestations..."
"See, she has possessed you and
made you her play thing. She will force you to your knees and govern
your rashness for awhile, until you too are lacking all loyalty. For
you see, Speed, we thrive only when we break bonds. Strength thrives
in neglect not love, it is a vantage not derived from small pains.
In you and me, in Julia and even your wife, there is a surfeit of
broken vows... and in this adversity reigns our most conceitless pride.
Some day Julia will forsake you, but this banishment will temper you
into one of us. It will dignify you and make you more worldly. You
will inherit much from the exhibition of her hate, once you have refused
the influence of love." Valentine's voice became milder yet
more earnest, "Even toys can become as lions if they overtake the
master that loathes them..." Then he too vanished into the night
and its pissing sky.
The wanton hooks of Julia's arms
held Speed severely as she took him down the weeping street. The chameleon
of a girl had now aged into an obdurate queen, and the cloister of
her bosom disclosed the skill of its treachery. With an empress' grace
and the sly voice of a wife, she spoke of duty. Marriage. She persuaded
him to conspire with her, to bind each other to neglect as if it were
some grievous form of wealth, sufficient ransom for his pride. He
would lose a fortune in love for the privilege of her company, but
if he prevailed it would be a bargain. Julia would fashion him into
a man who would shrink from nothing. He had cherished the muse in
her but that soon died, melting like pills in the tide. Sadly drenched
in his mistake, now betrothed to the unknown, Speed walked like a
puppet or a hanged man as he considered Valentine's inscrutable words
and what they could mean. Already altered by his experience with Julia,
he was reformed into a lamentable state, yet Speed felt some how bolder.
Sojourned in his concern was the presence of a new integrity. In the
wreck of his heart he felt the fear again, but in stead of shame,
an outlaw desire... the urge to ascend and feel his boot mar the perfection
of the sun.