Authors: Avram Davidson
In front of the house two little girls are playing one of those clap-handie games. Right hand, left hand, cross hands on bosom, left hand, right hand…it makes one dizzy to watch. And singing the while:
ple on his
There is a pleasing surrealist quality to this which intrigues me. In general I find little girls enchanting. What a shame they grow up to be
girls and make our lives as miserable as we allow them, and oft-times more. Silly, nasty-minded critics, trying to make poor Dodgson a monster of abnormality, simply because he loved Alice and was capable of following her into Wonderland. I suppose they would have preferred him to have taken a country curacy and become another Pastor Quiverful. A perfectly normal and perfectly horrible existence, and one which would have left us all still on
side of the looking glass.
Whatever was in those vials doesn’t seem to be helping me. I suppose old Dover’s famous Powders hadn’t the slightest fatal effect on the germs, bacteria, or virus (viri?), but at least they gave one a good old sweat (ipecac) and a mild, non-habit-forming jag (opium). But they’re old-fashioned now, and so there we go again, round and round, one’s train of thought like a Japanese waltzing mouse. I used to know a Japanese who—now, stop that. Distract yourself. Talk to the little girls …
Well, that was a pleasant interlude. We discussed (quite gravely, for I never condescend to children) the inconveniences of being sick, the unpleasantness of the heat; we agreed that a good rain would cool things off. Then their attention began to falter, and I lay back again. Miss Thurl may be in soon. Mrs. Moos (perfect name, she lacks only the antlers) said, whilst bringing in the bowl of slops which the medicine man allows me for victuals, said, My Sister Is Coming Along Later And She’s Going To Fix You Up Some Nice Flowers. Miss Thurl, I do believe, spends most of her time fixing flowers. Weekends she joins a confraternity of over-grown campfire girls and boys who go on hiking trips, comes back sunburned and sweating and carrying specimen samples of plant and lesser animal life. However, I must say for Miss Thurl that she is quiet. Her brother-in-law, the bull-Moos, would be in here all the time if I suffered it. He puts stupid quotations in other people’s mouths. He will talk about the weather and I will not utter a word, then he will say, Well, It’s Like You Say, It’s Not The Heat But The Humidity.
Thinking of which, I notice a drop in the heat, and I see it is raining. That should cool things off. How pleasant. A pity that it is washing away the marks of the little girls’ last game. They played this one on the sidewalk, with chalked-out patterns and bits of stone and broken glass. They chanted and hopped back and forth across the chalkmarks and shoved the bits of stone and glass—or were they potshards—“potsie” from potshard, perhaps? I shall write a monograph, should I ever desire a Ph.D. I will compare the chalkmarks with Toltec emblems and masons’ marks and the signs which Hindoo holy men smear on themselves with wood ashes and perfumed cow dung. All this passes for erudition.
I feel terrible, despite the cool rain. Perhaps without it, I should feel worse.
Miss Thurl was just here. A huge bowl of blossoms, arranged on the table across the room. Intricately arranged, I should say; but she put some extra touches to it, humming to herself. Something ever so faintly reminiscent about that tune, and vaguely disturbing. Then she made one of her rare remarks. She said that I needed a wife to take care of me. My blood ran cold. An icy sweat (to quote Catullus, that wretched Priapist), bedewed my limbs. I moaned. Miss Thurl at once departed, murmuring something about a cup of tea. If I weren’t so weak I’d knot my bedsheets together and escape. But I am terribly feeble.
It’s unmanly to weep…
Back she came, literally poured the tea down my throat. A curious taste it had. Sassafrass? Bergamot? Mandrake root? It is impossible to say how old Miss Thurl is. She wears her hair parted in the center and looped back. Ageless…ageless …
I thank whatever gods may be that Mr. Ahyellow came in just then. The other boarder (upstairs), a greengrocer, decent fellow, a bit short-tempered. He wished me soon well. He complained he had his own troubles, foot troubles… I scarcely listened, just chattered, hoping the Thurl would get her hence… Toes…something about his toes. Swollen, three of them, quite painful. A bell tinkled in my brain. I asked him how he spelt his name. A-j-e-l-l-o. Curious, I never thought of that. Now, I wonder what he could have done to offend the little girls? Chased them from in front of his store, perhaps. There is a distinct reddish spot on his nose. By tomorrow he will have an American Beauty of a pimple.
Fortunately he and Miss Thurl went out together. I must think this through. I must remain cool. Aroint thee, thou mist of fever. This much is obvious: There are sorcerers about. Sorceresses, I mean. The little ones made rain. And they laid a minor curse on poor Ajello. The elder one has struck me in the very vitals, however. If I had a cow it would doubtless be dry by this time. Should I struggle? Should I submit? Who knows what lies behind those moss-colored eyes, what thoughts inside the skull covered by those heavy tresses? Life with Mr. and Mrs. Moos is—even by itself—too frightful to contemplate. Why doesn’t she lay her traps for Ajello? Why should I be selected as the milk-white victim for the Hymeneal sacrifice? Useless to question. Few men have escaped once the female cast the runes upon them. And the allopath has nothing in his little black bag, either, which can cure.
Blessed association of words! Allopath—Homeopath—
, the like, the same,
, feeling, suffering—
similia similibus curantur
The little girls are playing beneath my window once more, clapping hands and singing. Something about a boy friend named Tony, who eats macaroni, has a great big knife and a pretty little wife, and will always lead a happy life…that must be the butcher opposite; he’s always kind to the children… Strength, strength! The work of a moment to get two coins from my wallet and throw them down. What little girl could resist picking up a dime which fell in front of her? “
Cross my palm with silver, pretty gentleman!
”—eh? And now to tell them my tale …
I feel better already. I don’t think I’ll see Miss Thurl again for a while. She opened the door, the front door, and when the children had sung the new verse she slammed the door shut quite viciously.
It’s too bad about Ajello, but every man for himself.
Listen to them singing away, bless their little hearts! I love little girls. Such sweet, innocent voices.
It will be pleasant to be wealthy, I hope. I must ask Ajello where Cincinello is.
“The Golem” was the second Avram Davidson story that sf readers ever saw. The first was “My Boy Friend’s Name Is Jello,” which appeared a few months before it in
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
. The title of “My Boy Friend’s Name Is Jello” is memorable, but although I have read the story many times, I never remember anything else about it.
One of my many theories about short stories is that their titles and first lines ought to be memorable, because if not memorable they will not be remembered, and if not remembered the stories will not be reprinted (because no one can find them). Well, according to this theory it’s no wonder that “The Golem” is Davidson’s most-reprinted story. It is full of memorable lines; if they were any more memorable than they are, the story would be just a bunch of quotations strung together, as someone said of .
But really “The Golem” is memorable for a different reason: because it is a perfect story. I know this seems like gross hyperbole, but the statement has a literal meaning and is true. There isn’t a word in “The Golem” that a sympathetic reader would want to change; one word more would be too many, one less would be too few. There is nothing labored about “The Golem,” it does not falter or wamble; it flows like clear syrup down a tablecloth, and by the way it is very funny. One imagines that the author stared at it in a wild surprise.
He (the author) was twenty-nine or thirty years old, and he had almost forty years of creative triumphs ahead of him. He was then, I take it, living in San Francisco; Anthony Boucher, the editor of
, said he had
the most beautiful beard that has ever visited this office.
Later he moved to New York, where I once visited him in a ground-floor apartment with a china cabinet in which there was a half-eaten sandwich. Before that he had been a yeshiva student, a Navy corpsman, and a pioneer in Israel, where he tried to teach the herdsmen to milk their goats from the side, in order to keep the goat-shit out of the milk. (This is the way I remember it, but it may have been sheep.
HE GRAY-FACED PERSON
came along the street where old Mr. and Mrs. Gumbeiner lived. It was afternoon, it was autumn, the sun was warm and soothing to their ancient bones. Anyone who attended the movies in the twenties or the early thirties has seen that street a thousand times. Past these bungalows with their half-double roofs Edmund Lowe walked arm-in-arm with Leatrice Joy and Harold Lloyd was chased by Chinamen waving hatchets. Under these squamous palm trees Laurel kicked Hardy and Woolsey beat Wheeler upon the head with codfish. Across these pocket-handkerchief-sized lawns the juveniles of the Our Gang Comedies pursued one another and were pursued by angry fat men in golf knickers. On this same street—or perhaps on some other one of five hundred streets exactly like it.
Mrs. Gumbeiner indicated the gray-faced person to her husband.
“You think maybe he’s got something the matter?” she asked. “He walks kind of funny, to me.”
“Walks like a
,” Mr. Gumbeiner said indifferently.
The old woman was nettled.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “
think he walks like your cousin Mendel.”
The old man pursed his mouth angrily and chewed on his pipestem. The gray-faced person turned up the concrete path, walked up the steps to the porch, sat down in a chair. Old Mr. Gumbeiner ignored him. His wife stared at the stranger.
“Man comes in without a hello, goodbye, or howareyou, sits himself down and right away he’s at home… The chair is comfortable?” she asked. “Would you like maybe a glass tea?”
She turned to her husband.
“Say something, Gumbeiner!” she demanded. “What are you, made of wood?”
The old man smiled a slow, wicked, triumphant smile.
say anything?” he asked the air. “Who am I? Nothing, that’s who.”
The stranger spoke. His voice was harsh and monotonous.
“When you learn who—or, rather, what—I am, the flesh will melt from your bones in terror.” He bared porcelain teeth.
“Never mind about my bones!” the old woman cried. “You’ve got a lot of nerve talking about my bones!”
“You will quake with fear,” said the stranger. Old Mrs. Gumbeiner said that she hoped he would live so long. She turned to her husband once again.
“Gumbeiner, when are you going to mow the lawn?”
“All mankind—” the stranger began.
I’m talking to my husband… He talks
kind of funny, Gumbeiner, no?”
“Probably a foreigner,” Mr. Gumbeiner said, complacently.
“You think so?” Mrs. Gumbeiner glanced fleetingly at the stranger. “He’s got a very bad color in his face,
. I suppose he came to California for his health.”
“Disease, pain, sorrow, love, grief—all are naught to—”
Mr. Gumbeiner cut in on the stranger’s statement.
“Gall bladder,” the old man said. “Guinzburg down at the
looked exactly the same before his operation. Two professors they had in for him, and a private nurse day and night.”
“I am not a human being!” the stranger said loudly.
“Three thousand seven hundred fifty dollars it cost his son, Guinzburg told me. ‘For you, Poppa, nothing is too expensive—only get well,’ the son told him.”
I am not a human being!
“Ai, is that a son for you!” the old woman said, rocking her head. “A heart of gold, pure gold.” She looked at the stranger. “All right, all right. I heard you the first time. Gumbeiner! I asked you a question. When are you going to cut the lawn?”
maybe Thursday, comes the Japaneser to the neighborhood. To cut lawns is
profession is to be a glazier—retired.”
“Between me and all mankind is an inevitable hatred,” the stranger said. “When I tell you what I am, the flesh will melt—”
“You said, you said already,” Mr. Gumbeiner interrupted.
“In Chicago where the winters were as cold and bitter as the Czar of Russia’s heart,” the old woman intoned, “you had strength to carry the frames with the glass together day in and day out. But in California with the golden sun to mow the lawn when your wife asks, for this you have no strength. Do I call in the Japaneser to cook for you supper?”
“Thirty years Professor Allardyce spent perfecting his theories. Electronics, neuronics—”