“Now that you mention-“
“I never mention! I declare. And my declarations are sea-battle commands.”
“So I noticed . .
“Shut up. Sit back-“
“Not just now …” I said uneasily.
His heels knocked as he let his right hand spider to his top coat pocket and slip forth yet a forth eye with which to fasten me: a bright, thin monocle which he screwed into his stare as if decupping a boiled egg. I winced. For now the monocle was part of his glare and regarded me with cold fire.
“Why the monocle?” I said.
“Idiot! It is to cover my good eye so that neither there eye can see and my intuition is free to work!”
“Oh,” I said.
And he began his monologue. And as he talked I realized his need had been pent up, capped, years, so he talked on and on, forgetting me.
And it was during this monologue that a strange thing occurred. I rose slowly to my feet as Herr Doktor Von Seyfertitz circled, his long, slim cigar printing smoke cumuli on the air, which read like white Rorschach blots.
With each implantation of his foot, a word ca out, and then another, in a sort of plodding grammar. Sometimes he stopped and stood poised with one leg raised and one word stopped in his mouth to be turned on his tongue and examined. Then the shoe went down, the noun slid forth and the verb and object in good time.
Until at last, circling, I found myself in a chair stunned, for I saw:
Herr Doktor Von Seyfertitz stretched on his couch, his long spider fingers laced on his chest.
“It has been no easy thing to come forth on land,” he sibilated. “Some days I was the jellyfish, frozen. Others, the shore-strewn octopi, at least with tentacles, or the crayfish sucked back into my skull. But I have built my spine, year on year, and now I walk among the land men and survive.”
He paused to take a trembling breath, then continued:
“I moved in stages from the depths to a houseboat, to a wharf bungalow, to a shore-tent and then back to a canal in a city and at last to New York an island surrounded by water, eh? But where, where, in all this, I wondered, would a submarine commander find his place, his work, his mad love and activity?
“It was one afternoon in a building with the world’s longest elevator that it struck me like a hand grenade in the ganglion. Going down, down, down, other people crushed around me, and the numbers descending and the floors whizzing by the glass windows, rushing by flicker-flash, flicker-flash, conscious, subconscious, id, ego-id, life, death, lust, kill, lust, dark, light, plummeting, falling, ninety, eighty, fifty, lower depths, high exhilaration, id, ego, id, until this shout blazed from my raw throat in a great all-accepting, panic-manic shriek:
“I remember,” I said.
‘Dive!’ I screamed so loudly that my fellow passengers, in shock, peed merrily. Among stunned faces, I stepped out of the lift to find one-sixteenth of an inch of pee on the floor. ‘Have a nice day!’ I said, jubilant with self-discovery, then ran to self-employment, to hang a shingle and next my periscope, carried from the mutilated, divested, castrated unterderseaboat all these years. Too stupid to see in it my psychological future and my final downfall, my beautiful artifact, the brass genitalia of psychotic research, the Von Seyfertitz Mark Nine Periscope!”
“That’s quite a story,” I said.
“Damn right,” snorted the alienist, eyes shut.
“And more than half of it true. Did you listen? What have you learned?”
“That more submarine captains should become psychiatrists.”
“So? I have often wondered: did Nemo really die when his submarine was destroyed? Or did he run off to become my great-grandfather and were his psychological bacteria passed along until I came into the world, thinking to command the ghostlike mechanisms that haunt the under tides, to wind up with the fifty-minute vaudeville routine in this sad, psychotic city?”
I got up and touched the fabulous brass symbol that hung like a scientific stalactite in mid-ceiling.
“May I look?”
“I wouldn’t if I were you.” He only half heard me, lying in the midst of his depression as in a dark cloud.