Chapter no 53

East of Eden

All during school next day Abra felt good about going to

see Lee. She met Cal in the hall between classes. “Did you tell him I was coming?” “He’s started some kind

of tarts,” said Cal. He was dressed in his uniform— choking high collar, ill-fitting tunic, and wrapped leggings. “You’ve got drill,” Abra

said. “I’ll get there first. What kind of tarts?”

“I don’t know. But leave me a couple, will you?

Smelled like strawberry. Just leave me two.”

“Want to see a present I got for Lee? Look!” She

opened a little cardboard box. “It’s a new kind of potato peeler. Takes off just the skin. It’s easy. I got it for Lee.” “There go my tarts,” said

Cal, and then, “If I’m a little late, don’t go before I get there, will you?”

“Would you like to carry my books home?” “Yes,” said Cal.

She looked at him long, full in the eyes, until he

wanted to drop his gaze, and then she walked away toward her class.


Adam had taken to sleeping late, or, rather, he had taken to sleeping very often—short sleeps during the night and during the day. Lee looked in on him several times before he found him awake.


feel fine


morning,” Adam said. “If you can call it

morning. It’s nearly eleven o’clock.”

“Good Lord! I have to get up.”

“What for?” Lee asked. “What for? Yes, what

for! But I feel good, Lee. I might walk down to the draft board. How is it outside?” “Raw,” said Lee.

He helped Adam get up. Buttons and shoelaces and getting things on frontways gave Adam trouble.

While Lee helped him

Adam said, “I had a dream— very real. I dreamed about my father.”

“A great old gentleman

from all I hear,” said Lee. “I read

that portfolio of clippings your brother’s

lawyer sent. Must have been a great old gentleman.” Adam looked calmly at

Lee. “Did you know he was a thief?”

“You must have had a dream,” said Lee. “He’s buried at Arlington. One clipping

said the Vice

President was at his funeral, and the Secretary of War.

You know the Salinas Index might like to do a piece about him—in wartime, you know. How would you like to go over the material?”

“He was a thief,” said Adam. “I didn’t think so once, but I do now. He stole from the G.A.R.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Lee.

There were tears in Adam’s eyes. Very often these

days tears came

suddenly to Adam. Lee said, “Now you sit right here and I’ll bring you some breakfast. Do you know who’s coming to see us this afternoon?


Adam said, “Abra?” and then, “Oh, sure, Abra. She’s a nice girl.”

“I love her,” said Lee simply. He got Adam seated in front of the card table in his bedroom. “Would you like to work on the cutout puzzle while I get your breakfast?”

“No, thank you. Not this morning. I want to think about the dream before I forget it.”

When Lee brought the breakfast tray Adam was asleep in his chair. Lee awakened him and read the Salinas Journal to him while he ate and then helped him to the toilet.

The kitchen was sweet with tarts, and some of the

berries had boiled over in the oven and burned, making the sharp,

bitter-sweet smell

pleasant and astringent. There was a quiet rising joy in Lee. It was the joy of change.

Time’s drawing

down for Adam, he thought. Time must be drawing down for me, but I don’t feel it. I feel immortal. Once when I was very young I felt mortal

—but not any more. Death has receded. He wondered if this were a normal way to feel.

And he wondered what Adam meant, saying his father was a thief. Part of the dream, maybe. And then

Lee’s mind played on the way it often did. Suppose it were true—Adam, the most rigidly honest man it was possible to find, living all his life on stolen money. Lee laughed to himself—now this second will, and Aron, whose purity

was a little on the self-indulgent side, living all his life on the profits from a

whorehouse. Was this some kind of joke or did things balance so that if one went too far in one direction an automatic slide moved on the

scale and the balance was re-established? He thought of Sam

Hamilton. He had knocked on

so many doors. He had the most schemes and plans, and no one would give him any money. But of course—he had so much, he was so rich. You couldn’t give him any more. Riches seem to come to the poor in spirit, the poor in interest and joy. To put it straight—the very rich are a poor bunch of bastards. He wondered if that were true.

They acted that way


He thought of


burning the money to punish

himself. And the punishment hadn’t hurt him as badly as the crime. Lee said to himself, “If there should happen to be a place where one day I’ll come up with Sam Hamilton, I’ll have a lot of good stories to tell him,” and his mind went on, “But so will he!”

Lee went in to Adam

and found him trying to open the box that held the clippings about his father.


The wind blew cold that afternoon. Adam insisted on going to look in on the draft board. Lee wrapped him up and started him off. “If you feel faint at all, just sit down wherever you are,” Lee said.

“I will,” Adam agreed.

“I haven’t felt dizzy all day. Might stop in and have Victor look at my eyes.”

“You wait till tomorrow. I’ll go with you.” “We’ll see,” said Adam,

and he started out, swinging his arms with bravado.

Abra came in with

shining eyes and a red nose from the frosty wind, and she brought such pleasure that Lee giggled softly when he saw her.

“Where are the tarts?”

she demanded. “Let’s hide them from Cal.” She sat down in the kitchen. “Oh, I’m so glad to be back.”

Lee started to speak and choked and then what he

wanted to say seemed good to say—to say carefully. He hovered over her. “You

know, I haven’t wished for many things in my life,” he began. “I learned very early not to wish for things.

Wishing just brought earned disappointment.”

Abra said gaily, “But

you wish for something now. What is it?”

He blurted out, “I wish

you were my daughter—” He was shocked at himself. He went to the stove and turned out

the gas under the

teakettle, then lighted it


She said softly, “I wish you were my father.”

He glanced quickly at her and away. “You do?” “Yes, I do.”


“Because I love you.” Lee went quickly out of the kitchen. He sat in his room, gripping his hands tightly together until he

stopped choking. He got up and took a small carved ebony box from the top of his bureau. A dragon climbed toward heaven on the box. He carried the box to the kitchen and laid it on the table between Abra’s hands. “This is for you,” he said, and his tone had no inflection.

She opened the box and looked down on a small, dark green jade button, and carved on its surface was a human right hand, a lovely hand, the fingers curved and in repose. Abra lifted the button out and looked at it, and then she moistened it with the tip of her tongue and moved it gently over her full lips, and pressed the cool stone against her cheek.

Lee said, “That was my mother’s only ornament.” Abra got up and put her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek, and it was

the only time such a thing had ever happened in his whole life.


laughed. “My

Oriental calm seems to have deserted me,” he said. “Let me make the tea, darling. I’ll get hold of myself that way.” From the stove he said, “I’ve never used that word—never once to anybody in the world.”

Abra said, “I woke up with joy this morning.” “So did I,” said Lee. “I know what made me feel happy. You were coming.” “I was glad about that

too, but—”

“You are changed,” said Lee. “You aren’t any part a little girl any more. Can you tell me?”

“I burned all of Aron’s


“Did he do bad things to you?”

“No. I guess not. Lately

I never felt good enough. I always wanted to explain to him that I was not good.” “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good. Is that it?”

“I guess so. Maybe that’s it.”

“Do you know about the mother of the boys?” “Yes. Do you know I

haven’t tasted a single one of the tarts?” Abra said. “My mouth is dry.”

“Drink some tea, Abra. Do you like Cal?” “Yes.”


said, “He’s

crammed full to the top with every good thing and every bad thing. I’ve thought that one single person could almost with the weight of a finger—”

Abra bowed her head

over her tea. “He asked me to go to the Alisal when the wild azaleas bloom.”

Lee put his hands on the table and leaned over. “I don’t want to ask you whether, you are going,” he said.

“You don’t have to,” said Abra. “I’m going.”

Lee sat opposite her at

the table. “Don’t stay away from this house for long,” he


“My father and mother don’t want me here.”

“I only saw them once,” Lee said cynically. “They seemed to be good people. Sometimes,

Abra, the strangest

medicines are

effective. I wonder if it would help if they knew Aron has just inherited over a hundred thousand dollars.”

Abra nodded gravely and fought to keep the

corners of her mouth from turning up. “I think it would help,” she said. “I wonder how I could get the news to


“My dear,” said Lee, “if

I heard such a piece of news I think my first impulse would be to telephone someone.

Maybe you’d have a bad connection.”

Abra nodded. “Would

you tell her where the money came from?”

“That I would not,” said Lee.

She looked at the alarm clock hung on a nail on the wall. “Nearly five,” she said. “I’ll have to go. My father isn’t well. I thought Cal might get back from drill.” “Come back very soon,” Lee said.


Cal was on the porch when

she came out.

“Wait for me,” he said, and he went into the house and dropped his books. “Take good care of

Abra’s books,” Lee called from the kitchen.

The winter night blew in with frosty wind, and the street

lamps with their

sputtering carbons swung restlessly and

made the

shadows dart back and forth like a runner trying to steal

second base. Men coming home from work buried their chins in their overcoats and hurried toward warmth. In the still night the monotonous scattering

music of


skating rink could be heard from many blocks away.

Cal said, “Will you take your books for a minute, Abra? I want to unhook this collar. It’s cutting my head off.” He worked the hooks out of the. eyes and sighed with relief. “I’m all chafed,” he said and took her books

back. The branches of the big palm tree in Berges’s front yard were lashing with a dry

clatter, and a cat meowed over and over and over in front of some kitchen door closed against it.

Abra said, “I don’t think you make much of a soldier. You’re too independent.”

“I could be,” said Cal.

“This drilling with old Krag-Jorgensens seems silly to me.

When the time comes, and I take an interest, I’ll be good.” “The

tarts were

wonderful,” said Abra. “I left one for you.”

“Thanks. I’ll bet Aron makes a good soldier.” “Yes, he will—and the best-looking soldier in the

army. When are we going for the azaleas?”

“Not until spring.” “Let’s go early and take a lunch.”

“It might be raining.” “Let’s go anyway, rain or shine.”

She took her books and went into her yard. “See you tomorrow,” she said.

He did not turn toward home. He walked in the nervous night past the high school and past the skating rink—a floor with a big tent over it, and a mechanical orchestra clanging away. Not a soul was skating. The old man who owned it sat miserably

in his


flipping the end of a roll of tickets against his forefinger. Main

Street was

deserted. The wind skidded papers on the sidewalk. Tom Meek, the constable, came out of Bell’s candy store and fell into step with Cal. “Better hook

that tunic collar,

soldier,” he said softly. “Hello, Tom. The damn thing’s too tight.”

“I don’t see you around the town at night lately.” “No.”

“Don’t tell me you reformed.”


Tom prided himself on

his ability to kid people and make it sound serious. He said, “Sounds like you got a girl.”

Cal didn’t answer.

“I heard your brother

faked his age and joined the army. Are you picking off his girl?”

“Oh, sure—sure,” said Cal.

Tom’s interest

sharpened. “I nearly forgot,” he

said. “I

hear Will

Hamilton is telling around

you made fifteen thousand dollars in beans. That true?” “Oh, sure,” said Cal. “You’re just a kid. What

are you going to do with all that money?”

Cal grinned at him. “I burned it up.”

“How do you mean?” “Just set a match to it and burned it.”

Tom looked into his

face. “Oh, yeah! Sure. Good thing to do. Got to go in here. Good night.” Tom Meek didn’t like people to kid him. “The young punk son of a bitch,” he said to himself. “He’s getting too smart for himself.”

Cal moved slowly along Main Street, looking in store

windows. He wondered

where Kate was buried. If he could find out, he thought he might take a bunch of flowers, and he laughed at himself for the impulse. Was it good or was he fooling himself? The Salinas wind would

blow away a

tombstone, let along a bunch of carnations. For some reason he remembered the Mexican name for carnations. Somebody must have told him when he was a kid. They were called Nails of Love— and marigolds, the Nails of

Death. It was a word like nails— claveles. Maybe he’d better put marigolds on his mother’s

grave. “I’m

beginning to think like Aron,” he said to himself.

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