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Authors: Thomas Williams

Whipple's Castle

BOOK: Whipple's Castle
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Whipple’s Castle


Thomas Williams










Dzanc Books


Dzanc Books
1334 Woodbourne Street
Westland, MI 48186

Copyright © 1968 Thomas Williams

All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Lines from “Out, Out--” from
Collected Poems of Robert Frost
are reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc, Copyright 1916 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1944 by Robert Frost.

Lines from “That Old Black Magic” are reprinted by permission of Paramount Pictures Corporation. Copyright 1942 by Famous Pictures Corporation.

Lines from “Chatanooga Choo Choo” by Harry Warren and Mark Gordon are used by permission of the proprietor, Twentieth Century Music Corporation.

A part of Chapter Sixteen originally appeared in
The New Yorker
, in slightly different form.

Published 2015 by Dzanc Books
A Dzanc Books r
print Series Selection

eBooks ISBN-13: 978-1-938103-91-9
Cover by Awarding Book Covers


The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.




I would like to thank the people of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for their gift of a year's time to write. I would also like to thank all those responsible for the generous Roos/Atkins Literary Award of 1963.









































How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night,
At every fall smoothing the Raven down
Of darkness till it smil'd


John Milton:


One evening in November of 1942, in the town of Leah, New Hampshire, the first real snow was falling. In the Town Square, at five o'clock, the big flakes fell slowly out of the darkness into the light from the store windows. They fell silently upon the bandstand, upon the long limbs of the elms, upon the few parked cars. Everything became bundled up and soft, and the snow still fell. Horace Whipple had just come out of Trask's Pharmacy, where he had been sent by his father to buy a bottle of aspirin, and he stood on the sidewalk in his leather-top boots. Where did the sidewalk end and the street begin? It was all so clean, it was all so cold. He was happy for the snow, and hoped that it would never stop. From Bank Street across the square came the dim lights of the plow truck, yellow as distant fires, the softened jangle and clank of tire chains, and the submerged boom of the plow.

As Horace walked away from the lights, the snow itself seemed to give him all the light he needed, and when he passed beneath a streetlight he was displeased by its brightness; the snow in the bright funnel swirled too quickly. As he left the streetlight he moved again into a dim limbo, where the world began again to glow with its own Christmas light. He was happy to be walking home in his warm mackinaw, with the bottle of aspirin safe in his deep pocket. There were reasons why he should not be happy, but the snow had somehow taken precedence over them, because the snow made this time all the times of snow, the first real snow of before Christmas, not just this year that he was fourteen.

All the families were warm and safe in their houses, and as he passed he saw across the round white hedges the orange windows, and inside were faces he knew, mouths smiling and moving. For a moment he thought: Are they talking about me? Are those smiles cruel? No. They were all smiling and saying words of love to each other, or deciding to make popcorn, and to have something sweet and hot to drink.

He was happy to see the snow build pure weightless epaulettes upon his mackinaw, to feel his body's heat come out of his collar and warm his chin. The snow had brought the families deep inside again, and told them it was white and deep and cold outside, all one whiteness without top or bottom to it, or sides. Infinity out there beyond the warm lights and the floor registers too hot, now, to walk upon in bare feet. When he got home he would enter a warmth like that, and shake off his snow as though it were proof of his bravery—proof of a journey the snow had made dramatic and hazardous; he had been outside, out in the world alone, and they would all look up at him and admire him. They would all be shivery and tender, chilled by the cold air that would breathe from his clothes into the warm house, and he would be swaggering and strong.

He strode along softly through the deep powder, and finally he came to High Street, where he would turn up the steep hill toward his family's house. The last streetlight stood on this corner, and he stopped just before he came into its light to look back down street toward the faint red glow of the Town Square. He looked down the long, silent street for a while, then climbed up into the hill that was smooth and strangely white even in its darkness, until he came like a traveler to the lights of his home.

Again he stopped, wishing his vision of welcome could be true. In order to prolong his journey he stepped off the pure blankness where he knew the front walk to be, onto the property of the lawn. The snow made everything the same beneath his feet, as though the high house were a rock towering out of the sea, and he moved slowly around it like a boat, breaking the even snow, leaving behind him only a temporary wake which would close perfectly again. A guilty feeling, to break the calm white and approach the bay window of the living room from the wrong side. He stopped ten yards away, now pretending to be a tree rooted beneath the snow in solid earth, having a perfect right to stand forever outside the curved window. At first he saw only the flash of orange light crossed by the net of window sash, and then the sash disappeared as the walls inside, the tables and the lamps, his father's dangerous shoulders above the woven back of his wheelchair, sorted themselves out and became what they were.

Horace backed carefully away until a real tree touched him—a painful nudge that pushed his cap forward, and made him rub the back of his head. It was the white maple with faces in its burls, and arms that seemed always to strain horribly, yet now held up only the fine dim lace of snow. Above him the dark house rose away from the bay window to other lights in other windows that were dim because the light came down a hall, or through an empty room from an odd doorway that shouldn't have been left open. Somewhere in the house were his mother, his two brothers and his sister, each alone behind a door, or up a steep flight of open stairs in a private place. This was his home, and yet the huge house was not friendly to him. Its angles and alcoves were too sharp or deep for him. In it he had a room that was called his own, but strange shapes owned it, really; it had never been his. They let him sleep just outside the territory they claimed with shadow arms, only in the very center of his bed. One of his closets he could not enter except in the brightest daylight, and even then the light seemed reluctant to come into the room past the arched windows, as though fear dimmed it.

He would have to go back around to the tall front door and go inside, wanting to, loving to go inside near the hardwood fire, where his father might rule that he could stay and be warm. Yet as he moved back across the sifting white, it seemed as though the house itself slowly, ponderously turned to face him, to expect his entrance at the only proper place, and he would have to do some ritual of penance he should remember, but could not.


Harvey Whipple waited, imprisoned in his wheelchair, for his youngest son to come back with the aspirin. His pain was not sharp, but seemed to have behind it remorseless force, like an ocean liner's slow nudge against the pilings of its dock. His right leg seemed to impale his hip, and that pressure grew and ebbed, grew and ebbed. He'd been trying to read the business section of the Sunday
and now his frustration at not having enough capital merged with the insistent push of pain in his leg and hip. The businessmen whose fortunes or promotions made them news smiled out of their gray photographs as though from another continent, another world. Harvey wanted to get rich too. What else was there to do now that he had to sit in a wheelchair and try to deal with pain that had a life—a personality, it seemed—of its own, with its own schedules of force and remission he could neither predict nor control? Only money, he had decided, lots of money, triumphant money, might act as a balm.

His leg had been crumpled, shredded, buckled, bent double in an automobile accident five years before. The accident had not been his fault, and the insurance settlement had been a good one, for New Hampshire; after all his medical bills had been paid he still had thirty-five thousand dollars. But he could hardly walk, and now seldom tried his crutches. When he wanted to go somewhere, his eldest son, Wood, had to drive him—an arrangement neither of them liked at all.

When Horace came in with the aspirin, he left the front inner door open, tipped over the elephant-leg umbrella stand and tracked snow all down the hall into the living room. Perhaps it was true that Horace intended to go back, shut the inner door and pick up the canes and marbles that had rolled out of the elephant leg; perhaps he hadn't waited to brush the snow off his boots because he hurried to give his father the aspirin. But by this time Harvey heard his own voice bellowing “God DAMN it, you clumsy IDIOT!” and saw the fear and disappointment on his son's face. It was real fear, the kind he never intended to invoke, and this infuriated him all the more, so that he yelled the words again, thinking how his son had no cause to fear him, because he was merely acting, that was all. And the pain could excuse whatever edge was in his voice—why wasn't it excused? Horace, the oaf who was always having accidents, who was in trouble at school, who was called “Horse,” who was afraid of the dark but not of breaking his bones.

“Give me the goddam aspirin before you manage to break the bottle!”

Fear. Horace's hands wouldn't come out of his mittens; when they did, the change fell on the carpet and rolled perversely in all directions. In silence Harvey let the scattering of the change do its work—yet he didn't want his son to fear him, or anyone to fear him. He watched his son's broad young back, mackinaw skirts touching the floor as he grubbed for the change. Didn't they all know that he was only acting? While he yelled or swore at them he still thought clearly, and was just, even in his mock rage. But his children had never lived anywhere but in this madhouse; it was their only place to be. And so to them he was not the mad actor he considered himself to be, but a madman.

He had watched his own strange face in his bathroom mirror, and seen how it had grown white and slack about the cheeks while his eyes grew round and dark, like cripples' eyes. It was a quivering, frightening face, not really his. His crutches made his shoulders push his ears up. He'd seen that, and how in pain a tooth bared itself against his sick red lip. He would never believe that flab of body in the mirror to be his own, for once he had looked much like David, his middle son, who was now fifteen. He'd been as trim and lithe as that until he was forty years old.


When Horace had found the pennies and nickels, some in dangerous places near his father's feet, he bumped his head on the oak table next to his father's chair, and heard his father's gasp of anger and resignation. To Horace it was again the final judgment upon himself, the one repeated by his father, by everybody, by inanimate things; tables danced slyly out into his path, drawers slid out to catch him, trees had wicked elbows. These last things didn't talk or yell at him, or laugh at him, but they could be the meanest of all. His head hurt badly, and tears had come into his eyes, so that when he stood up he couldn't look at his father, but poured the change upon the table and ran for the dining-room archway.


He couldn't stop; he would fall through the side of the house, hurt the house and himself and fall out into the snow.

BOOK: Whipple's Castle
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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