Chapter no 55

East of Eden

All of the lights were on in the Trask house. The door stood partly open, and the house was cold. In the sitting room Lee was shriveled up like a leaf in the chair beside the lamp. Adam’s door was open and the sound of voices came from his room.

When Cal came in he asked, “What’s going on?” Lee looked at him and swung his head toward the

table where the open telegram lay. “Your brother is dead,” he said. “Your father has had a stroke.”

Cal started down the hall.

Lee said, “Come back.

Dr. Edwards and Dr. Murphy are in there. Let them alone.”

Cal stood in front of

him. “How bad? How bad, Lee, how bad?”

“I don’t know.” He

spoke as though recalling an ancient thing. “He came home tired. But I had to read him the telegram. That was his right. For about five minutes he said it over and over to himself out loud. And then it seemed to get through into his brain and to explode


“Is he conscious?”

Lee said wearily, “Sit

down and wait, Cal. Sit down and wait. Get used to it. I’m trying to.”

Cal picked up


telegram and read its bleak and dignified announcement. Dr. Edwards came out, carrying his bag. He nodded curtly, went out, and closed the door smartly behind him.

Dr. Murphy set his bag

on the table and sat down. He sighed. “Dr. Edwards asked me to tell you.”

“How is


Cal demanded.

“I’ll tell you all we

know. You’re the head of the family now, Cal. Do you know what a stroke is?” He didn’t wait for Cal to answer. “This one is a leakage of blood in the brain. Certain areas of the brain are affected. There have been earlier smaller leakages. Lee knows that.”

“Yes,” said Lee.

Dr. Murphy glanced at him and then back at Cal. “The left side is paralyzed.

The right side partly.

Probably there is no sight in the left eye, but we can’t determine that. In other words, your father is nearly helpless.”

“Can he talk?” “A


difficulty. Don’t tire him.” Cal struggled for words. “Can he get well?”

“I’ve heard of

reabsorption cases this bad but I’ve never seen one.” “You mean he’s going to die?”

“We don’t know. He might live for a week, a month, a year, even two

years. He might die tonight.”

“Will he know me?” “You’ll have to find that out for yourself. I’ll send a

nurse tonight and then you’ll have

to get


nurses.” He stood up. “I’m sorry, Cal. Bear up! You’ll have to bear up.” And he said, “It always surprises me how people bear up.” They always do. Edwards will be in tomorrow. Good night.” He put his hand out to touch Cal’s

shoulder, but


moved away and walked toward his father’s room.

Adam’s head was

propped up on pillows. His face was calm, the skin pale; the

mouth was straight, neither smiling nor

disapproving. His eyes were open, and they had great depth and clarity, as though one could see deep into them and as though they could see deep into their surroundings. And the eyes were calm, aware but not interested.

They turned slowly toward Cal as he entered the room,

found his chest, and then rose to his face and stayed there.

Cal sat down in the

straight chair beside the bed. He said, “I’m sorry, Father.”

The eyes blinked slowly the way a frog blinks. “Can you hear me,

Father? Can you understand me?” The eyes did not change or move. “I did it,” Cal cried. “I’m responsible for Aron’s death and for your sickness. I took him to Kate’s. I showed him his mother. That’s why he went away. I don’t want to do bad things—but I do them.”

He put his head down on the side of the bed to escape

the terrible eyes, and he could still see them. He knew they

would be with him, a part of him, all of his life.

The doorbell rang. In a moment Lee came to the bedroom, followed by the nurse—a

strong, broad

woman with heavy black eyebrows.

She opened

breeziness as she opened her suitcase.

“Where’s my patient!

There he is! Why, you look fine! What am I doing here? Maybe you better get up and take care of me, you look good. Would you like to take care of me, big handsome man?” She thrust a muscular

arm under Adam’s shoulder and effortlessly hoisted him toward the head of the bed and held him up with her right arm while with her left she patted out the pillows and laid him back.

“Cool pillows,” she said. “Don’t

you love cool

pillows? Now, where’s the bathroom? Have you got a duck and a bedpan? Can you put a cot in here for me?” “Make a list,” said Lee. “And if you need any help— with him—”

“Why would I need help? We’ll get along just fine,

won’t we,


Lee and Cal retired to

the kitchen. Lee said, “Before she came I was going to urge you to have some supper— you know, like the kind of person who uses food for any purpose good or bad? I bet she’s that way. You can eat or not eat, just as you wish.”

Cal grinned at him. “If you’d tried to make me, I’d

have been sick. But since you put it that way, I think I’ll make a sandwich.”

“You can’t have a


“I want one.”

“It all works out,” said Lee, “true to outrageous form. It’s kind of insulting

that everyone reacts about the same way.”


don’t want a

sandwich,” Cal said. “Are there any tarts left?” “Plenty—in


breadbox. They may be a little soaky.”

“I like them soaky,” Cal said. He brought the whole plate to the table and set it in front of him.

The nurse looked into the kitchen. “These look

good,” she said and took one, bit into it, and talked among her chewings. “Can I phone Krough’s drugstore for the things I need? Where’s the phone? Where do you keep the linen? Where’s the cot you’re going to bring in? Are you through with this paper? Where did you say the phone is?” She took another tart and retired.

Lee asked softly, “Did he speak to you?”

Cal shook his head back and forth as though he couldn’t stop.

“It’s going to


dreadful. But the doctor is

right. You can stand

anything. We’re wonderful animals that way.”

“I am not.” Cal’s voice was flat and dull. “I can’t

stand it. No, I can’t stand it. I won’t be able to. I’ll have to

—I’ll have to—”

Lee gripped his wrist fiercely. “Why, you mouse— you nasty cur. With goodness all around you—don’t you dare suggest a thing like that! Why is your sorrow more refined than my sorrow?” “It’s not sorrow. I told

him what I did. I killed my brother. I’m a murderer. He knows it.”

“Did he say it? Tell the truth—did he say it?” “He didn’t have to. It

was in his eyes. He said it with

his eyes.


nowhere I can go to get away

—there’s no place.”

Lee sighed and released his wrist. “Cal”—he spoke patiently—“listen

to me.

Adam’s brain centers are affected. Anything you see in his eyes may be pressure on that part of his brain which governs his seeing. Don’t you remember?—he


read. That wasn’t his eyes— that was pressure. You don’t know he accused you. You don’t know that.”

“He accused me. I know

it. He said I’m a murderer.” “Then he will forgive

you. I promise.”

The nurse stood in the doorway. “What are you promising,



promised me a cup of coffee.”

“I’ll make it now. How is he?”

“Sleeping like a baby. Have you got anything to read in this house?” “What would you like?” “Something to take my

mind off my feet.” “I’ll bring the coffee to

you. I’ve got some dirty stories written by a French queen. They might be too—” “You bring ’em with the coffee,” she said. “Why don’t you get some shuteye, sonny? Me and Charley’ll hold the fort. Don’t forget the book, Charley.”

Lee set the percolator on the gas jet. He came to the table and said, “Cal!” “What do you want?” “Go to Abra.”


Cal stood on the neat porch and kept his finger on the bell until the harsh overlight flashed on and the night bolt rasped

and Mrs.


looked out. “I want to see Abra,” Cal said.

Her mouth dropped open in amazement. “You want what?”

“I want to see Abra.” “You can’t. Abra’s gone to her room. Go away.” Cal shouted, “I tell you I want to see Abra.”

“You go away or I’ll call the police.”

Mr. Bacon called, “What is it? Who is it?”

“Never you mind—go

back to bed. You aren’t well. I’ll handle this.”

She turned back to Cal. “Now you get off the porch.

And if you ring the bell again I’ll phone the police. Now, get!” The door slammed, the bolt scraped, and the hard overlight went off.

Cal stood smiling in the dark for he thought of Tom Meek lumbering up, saying, “Hello, Cal. What you up to?”

Mrs. Bacon shouted

from inside. “I see you. Go on now! Get off the porch!”

He walked slowly down the walk and turned toward home, and he hadn’t gone a

block before Abra caught up with him. She was panting from her run. “Got out the back way,” she said.

“They’ll find you gone.” “I don’t care.”

“You don’t?”


Cal said, “Abra, I’ve killed my brother and my

father is paralyzed because of me.”

She took his arm and

clung to it with both hands.

Cal said, “Didn’t you hear me?”

“I heard you.”

“Abra, my mother was a whore.”

“I know. You told me. My father is a thief.” “I’ve got her blood, Abra.

Don’t you


“I’ve got his,” she said. They walked along in silence while he tried to rebalance himself. The wind

was cold, and they quickened their steps to keep warm.

They passed the last

streetlight on the very edge of Salinas, and blackness lay ahead of them and the road was unpaved and sticky with black ‘dobe mud.

They had come to the

end of the pavement, to the end of the streetlights. The road under their feet was slippery with spring mud, and the grass that brushed against their legs was wet with dew.

Abra asked, “Where are we going?”

“I wanted to run away from

my father’s eyes.

They’re right in front of me all the time. When I close my eyes I still see them. I’ll always see them. My father is going to die, but his eyes will still be looking at me, telling me I killed my brother.” “You didn’t.”

“Yes, I did. And his eyes say I did.”

“Don’t talk like that. Where are we going?” “A little farther. There’s

a ditch and a pump house— and a willow tree. Do you

remember the willow tree?” “I remember it.”

He said, “The branches come down like a tent and their tips touch the ground.” “I know.”

“In the afternoons—the sunny afternoons—you and Aron would part the branches and go inside—and no one could see you.”

“You watched?”

“Oh, sure. I watched.”

And he said, “I want you to go inside the willow tree with me. That’s what I want to do.”

She stopped and her

hand pulled him to a stop. “No,” she said. “That’s not right.”

“Don’t you want to go in

with me?”

“Not if you’re running away—no, I don’t.”

Cal said, “Then I don’t

know what to do. What shall I do? Tell me what to do.” “Will you listen?”

“I don’t know.”

“We’re going back,” she said.

“Back? Where?” “To

your father’s

house,” said Abra.


The light of the kitchen poured down on them. Lee had lighted the oven to warm the chilly air.

“She made me come,” said Cal.

“Of course she did. I knew she would.”

Abra said, “He would have come by himself.” “We’ll

never know

that,” said Lee.

He left the kitchen and in a moment he returned.

“He’s still sleeping.” Lee set a stone bottle and three little translucent porcelain cups on the table.

“I remember that,” said Cal.

“You ought to.” Lee

poured the dark liquor. “Just sip it and let it run around your tongue.”

Abra put her elbows on

the kitchen table. “Help him,”

she said. “You can accept things, Lee. Help him.” “I don’t know whether I

can accept things or not,” Lee said. “I’ve never had a chance to try. I’ve always found myself with some—not less uncertain but less able to take care of uncertainty. I’ve had to do my weeping—alone.” “Weeping? You?”

He said, “When Samuel Hamilton died the world went out like a candle. I relighted it to see his lovely creations, and I saw his children tossed and torn and destroyed as though some vengefulness was at work. Let the ng-ka-py run back on your tongue.”

He went on, “I had to find out my stupidities for

myself. These were my

stupidities: I thought the good are destroyed while the evil survive and prosper.

“I thought that once an angry and disgusted God poured molten fire from a crucible to destroy or to purify his little handiwork of mud.


thought I


inherited both the scars of the fire and the impurities which made the fire necessary—all inherited, I thought. All inherited. Do you feel that


“I think so,” said Cal. “I don’t know,” Abra said.

Lee shook his head.

“That isn’t good enough. That isn’t good enough thinking.

Maybe—” And he was silent.

Cal felt the heat of the liquor

in his


“Maybe what, Lee?” “Maybe you’ll come to

know that every man in every generation is refired. Does a craftsman, even in his old age, lose his hunger to make a perfect cup—thin, strong, translucent?” He held his cup to the light. “All impurities

burned out and ready for a glorious flux, and for that— more fire. And then either the slag heap or, perhaps what no one in the world ever quite gives up, perfection,” He drained his cup and he said loudly, “Cal, listen to me.

Can you think that whatever made

us—would stop trying?”

“I can’t take it in,” Cal said. “Not now I can’t.” The heavy steps of the nurse sounded in the living

room. She billowed through the door and she looked at Abra, elbows on the table, holding her cheeks between her palms.

The nurse said, “Have

you got a pitcher? They get thirsty. I like to keep a pitcher of water handy. You see,” she explained,

“they breathe

through their mouths.” “Is he awake?” Lee

asked. “There’s a pitcher.” “Oh, yes, he’s awake

and rested. And I’ve washed his face and combed his hair. He’s a good patient. He tried to smile at me.”

Lee stood up. “Come along, Cal. I want you to

come too, Abra. You’ll have to come.”

The nurse filled her pitcher at the sink and scurried ahead of them.

When they trooped into the bedroom Adam was

propped high on his pillows. His white hands lay palms down on either side of him, and the sinews from knuckle to wrist were tight drawn. His face was waxen, and his sharp

features were sharpened. He breathed

slowly between pale lips. His blue eyes reflected back the night light focused on his head.

Lee and Cal and Abra stood at the foot of the bed, and Adam’s eyes moved slowly from one face to the

other, and his lips moved just a little in greeting.

The nurse said, “There

he is. Doesn’t he look nice? He’s my darling. He’s my sugar pie.

“Hush!” said Lee.

“I won’t have you tiring my patient.”

“Go out of the room,” said Lee.

“I’ll have to report this to the doctor.”

Lee whirled toward her. “Go out of the room and close the door. Go and write your report.”

“I’m not in the habit of taking orders from Chinks.” Cal said, “Go out now,

and close the door.” She slammed the door

just loud enough to register her anger. Adam blinked at the sound.

Lee said, “Adam!”

The blue wide eyes looked for the voice and finally found Lee’s brown and shining eyes.

Lee said, “Adam, I don’t know what you can hear or understand. When you had the numbness in your hand and your eyes refused to read, I found out everything I could. But some things no one but you can know. You may, behind your eyes, be alert and keen, or you may be living in a confused gray dream. You may, like a newborn child, perceive only light and movement.

“There’s damage in your brain, and it may be that you are a new thing in the world.

Your kindness may


meanness now, and your bleak honesty fretful and conniving. No one knows these things except you.

Adam! Can you hear me?” The blue eyes wavered, closed slowly, then opened. Lee said, “Thank you, Adam. I know how hard it is. I’m going to ask you to do a much harder thing. Here is your son—Caleb—your only son. Look at him, Adam!”

The pale eyes looked

until they found Cal. Cal’s

mouth moved dryly and made no sound.

Lee’s voice cut in, “I don’t know how long you will live, Adam. Maybe a long time. Maybe an hour.

But your son will live. He will marry and his children will be the only remnant left of you.” Lee wiped his eyes with his fingers.

“He did a thing in anger, Adam, because he thought you had rejected him. The result of his anger is that his brother and your son is dead.”

Cal said,

“Lee—you can’t.”

“I have to,” said Lee. “If

it kills him I have to. I have

the choice,” and he smiled sadly and quoted, “ ‘If there’s blame, it’s my blame.’ ” Lee’s shoulders straightened. He said sharply, “Your son is marked with guilt out of himself—out of himself— almost more than he can bear.

Don’t crush him with

rejection. Don’t crush him, Adam.”

Lee’s breath whistled in

his throat. “Adam, give him your blessing. Don’t leave him alone with his guilt.

Adam, can you hear me? Give him your blessing!” A



shone in Adam’s eyes and he closed them and kept them closed. A wrinkle formed between his brows.

Lee said, “Help him, Adam—help him. Give him his chance. Let him be free. That’s all a man has over the beasts. Free him! Bless him!”

The whole bed seemed to

shake under the

concentration. Adam’s breath came quick with his effort and then, slowly, his right hand lifted—lifted an inch and then fell back.

Lee’s face was haggard.

He moved to the head of the

bed and wiped the sick man’s damp face with the edge of the sheet. He looked down at the

closed eyes.

Lee whispered, “Thank you,

Adam—thank you, my friend. Can you move your lips?

Make your lips form his name.”

Adam looked up with sick weariness. His lips parted and failed and tried

again. Then his lungs filled. He expelled the air and his lips combed the rushing sigh. His whispered word seemed to hang in the air:


His eyes closed and he slept.

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