Miss Lonelyhearts

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West Read Free Book Online

Book: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nathanael West
bed.

 
MISS LONELYHEARTS IN THE DISMAL SWAMP
     
    Soon after Mrs. Doyle left, Miss Lonelyhearts became physically sick and was unable to leave
his room. The first two days of his illness were blotted out by sleep, but on
the third day, his imagination began again to work.
    He found himself in the window of a
pawnshop full of fur coats, diamond rings, watches, shotguns, fishing tackle, mandolins . All these things were the paraphernalia of
suffering. A tortured high light twisted on the blade of a gift knife, a
battered horn grunted with pain.
    He sat in the window thinking. Man
has a tropism for order. Keys in one pocket, change in
another. Mandolins are tuned G D A E. The physical world has a tropism for
disorder, entropy. Man against Nature...the battle of the centuries. Keys yearn
to mix with change. Mandolins strive to get out of tune. Every order has within
it the germ of destruction. All order is doomed, yet the battle is worth while.
    A trumpet, marked to sell for $2.49,
gave the call to battle and Miss Lonelyhearts plunged
into the fray. First he formed a phallus of old watches and rubber boots, then
a heart of umbrellas and trout flies, then a diamond of musical instruments and
derby hats, after these a circle, triangle, square, swastika. But nothing
proved definitive and he began to make a gigantic cross. When the cross became
too large for the pawnshop, he moved it to the shore of the ocean. There every
wave added to his stock faster than he could lengthen its arms. His labors were
enormous. He staggered from the last wave line to his work, loaded down with
marine refuse--bottles, shells, chunks of cork, fish heads, pieces of net.
    Drunk with exhaustion, he finally
fell asleep. When he awoke, he felt very weak, yet calm.
    There was a timid knock on the door.
It was open and Betty tiptoed into the room with her arms full of bundles. He
made believe that he was asleep.
    "Hello," he said suddenly.
    Startled, she turned to explain.
"I heard you were sick, so I brought some hot soup and other stuff."
    He was too tired to be annoyed by
her wide-eyed little mother act and let her feed him with a spoon. When he had
finished eating, she opened the window and freshened the bed. As soon as the room was in order, she started to leave, but he called
her back.
    "Don't go, Betty."
    She pulled a chair to the side of
his bed and sat there without speaking.
    "I'm sorry about what happened
the other day," he said. "I guess I was sick."
    She showed that she accepted his
apology by helping him to excuse himself. "It's the Miss Lonelyhearts job. Why don't you give it up?"
    "And do what?"
    "Work in an advertising agency,
or something."
    "You don't understand, Betty, I
can't quit. And even if I were to quit, it wouldn't make any difference. I
wouldn't be able to forget the letters, no matter what I did."
    "Maybe I don't
understand," she said, "but I think you're making a fool of
yourself."
    "Perhaps I can make you
understand. Let's start from the beginning. A man is hired to give advice to
the readers of a newspaper. The job is a circulation stunt and the whole staff
considers it a joke. He welcomes the job, for it might lead to a gossip column,
and anyway he's tired of being a leg man. He too considers the job a joke, but
after several months at it, the joke begins to escape him. He sees that the
majority of the letters are profoundly humble pleas for moral and spiritual
advice, that they are inarticulate expressions of genuine suffering. He also
discovers that his correspondents take him seriously. For the first time in his
life, he is forced to examine the values by which he lives. This examination
shows him that he is the victim of the joke and not its perpetrator."
    Although he had spoken soberly, he
saw that Betty still thought him a fool. He closed his eyes.
    "You're tired," she said.
"I'll go."
    "No, I'm not tired. I'm just
tired of talking, you talk a while."
    She told him about her childhood' on
a farm and of her love for

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