R S Prasanna

Spam that tries to be literature.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"The Long Wait" - Excerpt from 'The Fountainhead'

Roark sat at the desk in his office, waiting. The telephone had rung once, that morning, but it had been only Peter Keating asking for an appointment. He had forgotten now that Keating was coming. He was waiting for the telephone. He had become dependent on that telephone in the last few weeks. He was to hear at any moment about his drawings for the Manhattan Bank Company.
His rent on the office was long since overdue. So was the rent on the room where he lived. He did not care about the room; he could tell the landlord to wait; the landlord waited; it would not have mattered greatly if he had stopped waiting. But it mattered at the office. He told the rental agent that he would have to wait; he did not ask for the delay; he only said flatly, quietly, that there would be a delay, which was all he knew how to do. But his knowledge that he needed his alms from the rental agent, that too much depended on it, and made it sound like begging in his own mind. That was torture. All right, he thought, it's torture. What of it?
The telephone bill was overdue for two months. He had received the final warning. The telephone was to be disconnected in a few days. He had to wait. So much could happen in a few days.
The answer of the bank board, which Weidler had promised him long ago, had been postponed from week to week. The board could reach no decision; there had been objectors and there had been violent supporters; there had been conferences; Weidler told him eloquently little, but he could guess much; there had been days of silence, of silence in the office, of silence in the whole city, of silence within him. He waited.
He sat, slumped across the desk, his face on his arm, his fingers on the stand of the telephone. He thought dimly that he should not sit like that; but he felt very tired today. He thought that he should take his hand off that phone; but he did not move it. Well, yes, he depended on that phone, he could smash it, but he would still depend on it; he and every breath in him and every bit of him. His fingers rested on the stand without moving. It was this and the mail; he had lied to himself also about the mail; he had lied when he had forced himself not to leap, as a rare letter fell through the slot in the door, not to run forward, but to wait, to stand looking at me white envelope on the floor, then to walk to it slowly and pick it up. The slot in the door and the telephone--there was nothing else left to him of the world.
He raised his head, as he thought of it, to look down at the door, at the foot of the door. There was nothing. It was late in the afternoon, probably past the time of the last delivery. He raised his wrist to glance at his watch; he saw his bare wrist; the watch had been pawned. He turned to the window; there was a clock he could distinguish on a distant tower; it was half past four; there would be no other delivery today.
He saw that his hand was lifting the telephone receiver. His fingers were dialing the number.
"No, not yet," Weidler's voice told him over the wire. "We had that meeting scheduled for yesterday, but it had to be called off....I'm keeping after them like a bulldog....I can promise you that we'll have a definite answer tomorrow. I can almost promise you. If not tomorrow, then it will have to wait over the week end, but by Monday I promise it for certain....You've been wonderfully patient with us, Mr. Roark. We appreciate it." Roark dropped the receiver. He closed his eyes. He thought he would allow himself to rest, just to rest blankly like this for a few minutes, before he would begin to think of what the date on the telephone notice had been and in what way he could manage to last until Monday.


The telephone rang late on Monday afternoon.
"Mr. Roark?" said Weidler. "Can you come right over? I don't want to say anything over the phone, but get here at once." The voice sounded clear, gay, radiantly premonitory.
Roark looked at the window, at the clock on the distant tower. He sat laughing at that clock, as at a friendly old enemy; he would not need it any longer, he would have a watch of his own again. He threw his head back in defiance to that pale gray dial hanging high over the city.
He rose and reached for his coat. He threw his shoulders back, slipping the coat on; he felt pleasure in the jolt of his muscles.
In the street outside, he took a taxi which he could not afford.
The chairman of the board was waiting for him in his office, with Weidler and with the vice-president of the Manhattan Bank Company. There was a long conference table in the room, and Roark's drawings were spread upon it. Weidler rose when he entered and walked to meet him, his hand outstretched. It was in the air of the room, like an overture to the words Weidler uttered, and Roark was not certain of the moment when he heard them, because he thought he had heard them the instant he entered.
"Well, Mr. Roark, the commission's yours," said Weidler.
Roark bowed. It was best not to trust his voice for a few minutes.
[They want Roark to make a change in the facade of the building - which waould defeat the whole purpose of the buidling, according to Roark. they ask him to make what they clearly see as a 'minor' change, and Roark explains in detail why he cannot make the change. Finally...]

"I'm sorry, Mr. Roark, but the board will not re-open the question for further debate. It was final. I can only ask you to state whether you agree to accept the commission on our terms or not. I must admit that the board has considered the possibility of your refusal. In which case, the name of another architect, one Gordon L. Prescott, has been mentioned most favorably as an alternative. But I told the board that I felt certain you would accept."
He waited. Roark said nothing.
"You understand the situation, Mr. Roark?"
"Yes," said Roark. His eyes were lowered. He was looking down at the drawings.
Roark did not answer.
"Yes or no, Mr. Roark?"
Roark's head leaned back. He closed his eyes.
"No," said Roark.
After a while the chairman asked:
"Do you realize what you're doing?"
"Quite," said Roark.
"Good God!" Weidler cried suddenly. "Don't you know how big a commission this is? You're a young man, you won't get another chance like this. And...all right, damn it, I'll say it! You need this! I know how badly you need it!"
Roark gathered the drawings from the table, rolled them together and put them under his arm.
"It's sheer insanity!" Weidler moaned. "I want you. We want your building. You need the commission. Do you have to be quite so fanatical and selfless about it?"
"What?" Roark asked incredulously.
"Fanatical and selfless."
Roark smiled. He looked down at his drawings. His elbow moved a little, pressing them to his body. He said:
"That was the most selfish thing you've ever seen a man do."
He walked back to his office. He gathered his drawing instruments and the few things he had there. It made one package and he carried it under his arm. He locked the door and gave the key to the rental agent. He told the agent that he was closing his office. He walked home and left the package there. Then he went to Mike Donnigan's house.
"No?" Mike asked, after one look at him.
"No," said Roark.
"What happened?"
"I'll tell you some other time."
"The bastards!"
"Never mind that, Mike."
"How about the office now?"
"I've closed the office."
"For good?"
"For the time being."
"God damn them all, Red! God damn them!"
"Shut up. I need a job, Mike. Can you help me?"
"I don't know anyone in those trades here. Not anyone that would want me. You know them all."
"In what trades? What are you talking about?"
"In the building trades. Structural work. As I've done before."
"You mean--a plain workman's job?"
"I mean a plain workman's job."
"You're crazy, you God-damn fool!"
"Cut it, Mike. Will you get me a job?"
"But why in hell? You can get a decent job in an architect's office. You know you can."
"I won't, Mike. Not ever again."
"I don't want to touch it. I don't want to see it. I don't want to help them do what they're doing."
"You can get a nice clean job in some other line."
"I would have to think on a nice clean job. I don't want to think. Not their way. It will have to be their way, no matter where I go. I want a job where I won't have to think."
"Architects don't take workmen's jobs."
"That's all this architect can do."
"You can learn something in no time."
"I don't want to learn anything."
"You mean you want me to get you into a construction gang, here, in town?"
"That's what I mean."
"No, God damn you! I can't! I won't! I won't do it!"
"Red, to be putting yourself up like a show for all the bastards in this town to see? For all the sons of bitches to know they brought you down like this? For all of them to gloat?"
Roark laughed.
"I don't give a damn about that, Mike. Why should you?"
"Well, I'm not letting you. I'm not giving the sons of bitches that kinda treat."
"Mike," Roark said softly, "there's nothing else for me to do."
"Hell, yes, there is. I told you before. You'll be listening to reason now. I got all the dough you need until..."
"I'll tell you what I've told Austen Heller: If you ever offer me money again, that'll be the end between us."
"But why?"
"Don't argue, Mike."
"I'm asking you to do me a bigger favor. I want that job. You don't have to feel sorry for me. I don't."
"But...but what'll happen to you, Red?"
"I mean...your future?"
"I'll save enough money and I'll come back. Or maybe someone will send for me before then."
Mike looked at him. He saw something in Roark's eyes which he knew Roark did not want to be there.
"Okay, Red," said Mike softly.


The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand


Blogger Tulasi said...

what a book and a half.. pure brilliance!

2:58 AM  

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