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Express

Gregory Corso

This page copyright © 2005 Olympia Press.

PRINTED IN FRANCE

GREGORY CORSO

THE

AMERICAN EXPRESS

with illustrations by the author

THE TRAVELLER'S COMPANION

PROLOGUE

He's beautiful— said the young lady of the only man in the American Express.

Why don't you go speak to him, nudged her lady friend.

But will he speak to me?

What man wouldn't?

"He is beautiful—"

Go. Go and say something nice to him—

The young lady approached the man.

He smiled.

Sir, will you present me with a baby?

The man looked at her with squinted eyes —then his eyes widened and his face became aglow.

My hotel is a street away, said the man.

Have you ever presented a woman with a baby before?

I don't remember, gleamed the man. Have you ever had sex?

Yes—

What happened?

What happened? What do you mean what happened?

Something must have happened—

Nothing happened—I had fun, that's what happened—

Where is your hotel, sir?

Nine months later she sirened through the night, her pregnancy had come to an end.

They wheeled her into the basement of the American Express, they held her down, they spread her legs, they plunged into her womb, they yanked the child from her, they punched it into life, they threw it out into the street, it lay there until dawn—

Dawn, and something small and sad rose and walked into the world.

PART ONE

1

Granted they all wish you aboard, Thimble was saying to Dad Deform as they hurried toward the ship. But they really don't like you, you know.

Hi diddle dee dee, nothing ever worries me— sang Dad Deform. His legs were thin, his belly was fat, his back was humped, his nose was long. He was nimble. He was quick. He was always happy.

Just what is it with you, Deformy? asked the two murderers.

I do not understand, said Dad Deform.

Why you going cheap class instead of first class like the rest of us?

Oh, I wish Simon were here to tell us a fairy tale as we go to our ship, sighed Dad Deform.

There you go, taking it all so lightly, reproved Thimble. I've been watching you, Mr. Deform, I've been watching you for a long time—

Yes, tell us what you are up to—

Tell us—

Tell us in whose employ you are—

Tell us—

Tell us—

Tell us all, Dad Deform.

You want to know too much, gentlemen. Can't altogether blame you for wanting to know. Can altogether blame you for coming out so childish about it. Been watching me, eh? By whose orders? No mind. The cornery the corner you spy from, the freer and happier the spied. And as for going tourist class, do we belong to the same political party? Now, gentlemen, the boat. We must not miss the boat.

Deform, said Thimble, "you seem to ignore the time at hand—at hand, sir, the Now!"

Dad Deform hobbled and skipped, "Hurry, hurry, for I swear I hear All Aboard!"

Joel ran to catch the ship. It was his first trip. Angus Plow reached out and grabbed him.

Joel, can you tell me why the elegant Mr. D invited that ill-mannered Simon to sail with us?

Was it Mr. D who bought the tickets?

No one knows who bought the tickets, Joel, said Albie in passing.

Simon eats too much, cried Angus Plow, I can't bear people who eat too much!

Actually Simon isn't all that bad, said Joel, he really has very fine taste in statuettes, and people tell me he gets on very well with children. As for Mr. D inviting him—I did not know that—you must realize Mr. D is quite odd and has many secret reasons.

Mr. D is incomprehensible, have you ever heard him speak?

I always thought Mr. D spoke well, though I haven't gone through the experience of listening to him very often.

Why are you going on this ship, Joel?

Mr. Plow, I really do not know why. I just feel that something vast and beautiful will happen—and I want to be as near to it as possible.

Rodger Wolfherald and Carrol Grilhiggen sat like late 18th-century dandies in an elegant coach drawn by four fiery white horses.

To the boat! called Carrol to the vulture-like back of the driver.

Easy, Carrol, said Wolf herald, it cannot leave without us.

Carrol laughed. "A funny thought indeed! Just what would they do without us?"

The carriage stopped for a traffic light—in jumped Scratch Vatic. Gentlemen, he greeted, I can see that you are young men of action. He had a huge cucumber in his hand, he took a bite, he gulped it down. Yes, soldiers of fortune—

What is the purpose of all this, Mr. Vatic? asked Wolf her aid in a very disturbed tone.

No purpose, no purpose, swore Vatic.

What are you doing in our carriage? asked Carrol.

I've come for the ride, what else? And Vatic offered a bite of cucumber to Wolf-herald, Wolfherald pushed it away.

There's the ship! exclaimed Carrol.

Harry was bundled in furs. He trudged toward the ship like a bear. It was nearing 100 degrees but to Harry it was like zero.

Ephraim Freece ran breathlessly up to Harry. Are we late? he asked.

People thinking about the time all the time, are they early, are they late—they never think about the weather! growled Harry.

Of course they do, disagreed Freece, everybody thinks about the weather.

It better be hot where we're going, that's all I can say.

Harry, was there ever a time in your life when you were nice and warm?

I've been hot in my time. Lived ten years on the highest spot in the world. Ten years! and I thought I would be forever hot so close to the sun like that—I thought if I got on the highest place on earth I would be done with the cold. But it was cold, it was hideously cold up there!

I'm sorry, said Freece.

Don't be sorry, lend me your sweater.

But the sweater is all I have—

"Real sorry, yes sir, that's what I like to see, somebody who is real sorry."

All right, here, I'll lend you my sweater.

Freece pulled the sweater up and over his head and handed it to Harry. Harry wrapped the sweater around his neck. His neck was already wrapped with a fur scarf.

Hinderov like a spider nimbled up to them and hissed: Boys, this is slowing the works! I advise you to hasten!

The great ship Here They Come was ready to sail.

Everyone was aboard.

No one was on the pier to wave goodbye.

The steam engines began to huff and the smokestake began to puff and the blasthorn blasted and the ship was off.

Mr. D locked his cabin door and meticulously unpacked his sole suitcase.

Molly, Shiva, and Daphne, the only females aboard, were frantically trying to get the steward to change their table. They did not want to sit with Hinderov and Angus Plow. Their complaint was fair enough. Hinderov hated women, and Plow hated food. The steward refused.

Joel was in the steering room excitedly watching the captain scream his orders.

Harry and Noble Grant, much to Noble Grant's discomfort, huddled close to the engine room's furnace.

Dad Deform hobbled happily through tourist class—he had it all to himself.

Angus Plow was scheming to foul the ship's food.

Scratch Vatic immediately grabbed the cook into his confidence. Tonight we eat roast swan! hailed Vatic.

Wolfherald and Grilhiggen sat in the bar arguing the ontological proof of God.

Freece spread out his stamp collection on the bed and began pasting in stamps. Simon held a holy statue in his big hands. Hinderov carefully counted his bombs. The two murderers were arguing a sport. Danger tiptoed on the rim of the smokestack.

2

Waiting at the pier for the ship to arrive was Detective Horatio Frump. He was surrounded by reporters and TV implements.

Mr. Frump, when do you think that boat will arrive?

Hard to say, gentlemen. A boat like that doesn't run on time, that is, not on time as we know it.

Word has it that there might be something other than humans on board, Mr. Frump.

We know the boat has left, and the boat, if all permits, will arrive. Therefore it is my belief that whatever departs must arrive.

Can you be clearer, Mr. Frump?

Well, in a relative sense nothing starts and nothing ends. But for humankind things do start and end. Man, unlike the universe, is beginning with end. He is born into that which always was, and he dies from that which always is. The boat will come into what always was and what always will be. It is my firm belief that the passengers aboard are determined to disembark with the sole intent to change things somewhat. They do not like the idea that they depart and arrive. They too would like to be without beginning without end, just like the universe, gentlemen.

Mr. Frump, where do they operate from?

'From the underground—but they have a front—

What's their intention, Mr. Frump?

I don't know. Though I do know that their intentions, among themselves, differ. Each intention, I am sure, is more hideous than the other—so you can imagine what the overall intention must be—

When the great ship Here They Come like a prophet sailed the prophetic sea and reached the land prophecy, what strange cargo did the stevedores unload? The pinched merchants were busily bidding and pricing their good fortune with high hopes of purchasing palaces and mayorial honors.

The reporters and TV implements rushed to the lowering gangplank.

Frump remained in the distance, sitting on a stump, feeding birds, watching all.

The merchants pushed to the ship crying, Our cargo! Our cargo!—

Don't let them rats on board! screamed the captain.

Our cargo! Our cargo! surged the merchants.

I am nobody's cargo! growled Hinderov.

Simon leaned on the railing and broke a chalk statue in his big hand as he looked at the houses fading into the mountains.

Joel threw confetti at the people below. Hinderov rushed up to him. This is no pleasure trip, sonny.

Mr. D stood tall and spectral, holding a small suitcase. He watched the groping merchants below and laughed heh-heh.

Down the apocalyptical gangway came Wolf herald, pale and aristocratic; he waved the reporters out of the way.

Behind him followed Carrol Grilhiggen.

Carrol, informed the reporters, your father's pig won its tenth medal yesterday!

That's nice to know, gentlemen, said Carrol, and he quickly moved on.

Down came Ephraim Freece, ragged and wild-haired, his stamp collection gripped under his arm. He smiled and waved into the TV cameras. The reporters ignored him.

Lightly, rapidly, insectly, came Hinderov in a huge brown coat.

Hinderov, asked the reporters, what is your mission?

Explosions!

Could you elaborate on that, sir? Here, move over to the cameras, let the people get a good look at you; there, that's it. Now, sir, what kind of explosions?

Bombs! screeched Hinderov, shaking a stiff bony fist at the cameras.

Why bombs, Hinderov?

Because... because everything is in a deadlock. The universe... everything... in a deadlock. Something must break, and break soon... history does not allow deadlocks... too much mind spreading going on... too much talk... not enough bombs... bombs break deadlocks!

Down came Simon—tall, stiff, bony, and his orange hair stood straight and his long orange beard reached his trousers. He wore a long orange coat and if he had green hair he would have been a human carrot but as he only had green eyes he resembled a carrot.

What is your mission, Simon? asked the reporters.

I have no mission, said Simon.

Down came Scratch Vatic dressed in bright clothes. He