“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. “We can’t make it, sir. It’s spoiling for a hurricane, if you ask me.” “I’m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg,” said the Commander. “Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated dials. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” he shouted. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” repeated Lieutenant Berg. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” shouted the Commander. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. “The Old Man’ll get us through,” they said to one another. “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell!” . . .
“Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” said Mrs. Mitty. “What are you driving so fast for?”
“Hmm?” said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd. “You were up to fifty-five,” she said. “You know I don’t like to go more than forty. You were up to fifty-five.” Walter Mitty drove on toward Waterbury in silence, the roaring of the SN202 through the worst storm in twenty years of Navy flying fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind. “You’re tensed up again,” said Mrs. Mitty. “It’s one of your days. I wish you’d let Dr. Renshaw look you over.”
Walter Mitty stopped the car in front of the building where his wife went to have her hair done. “Remember to get those overshoes while I’m having my hair done,” she said. “I don’t need overshoes,” said Mitty. She put her mirror back into her bag. “We’ve been all through that,” she said, getting out of the car. “You’re not a young man any longer.” He raced the engine a little. “Why don’t you wear your gloves? Have you lost your gloves?” Walter Mitty reached in a pocket and brought out the gloves. He put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he had driven on to a red light, he took them off again. “Pick it up, brother!” snapped a cop as the light changed, and Mitty hastily pulled on his gloves and lurched ahead. He drove around the streets aimlessly for a time, and then he drove past the hospital on his way to the parking lot.
. . . “It’s the millionaire banker, Wellington McMillan,” said the pretty nurse. “Yes?” said Walter Mitty, removing his gloves slowly. “Who has the case?” “Dr. Renshaw and Dr. Benbow, but there are two specialists here, Dr. Remington from New York and Dr. Pritchard-Mitford from London. He flew over.” A door opened down a long, cool corridor and Dr. Renshaw came out. He looked distraught and haggard. “Hello, Mitty,” he said. “We’re having the devil’s own time with McMillan, the millionaire banker and close personal friend of Roosevelt. Obstreosis of the ductal tract. Tertiary. Wish you’d take a look at him.” “Glad to,” said Mitty.
In the operating room there were whispered introductions: “Dr. Remington, Dr. Mitty. Dr. Pritchard-Mitford, Dr. Mitty.” “I’ve read your book on streptothricosis,” said Pritchard-Mitford, shaking hands. “A brilliant performance, sir.” “Thank you,” said Walter Mitty. “Didn’t know you were in the States, Mitty,” grumbled Remington. “Coals to Newcastle, bringing Mitford and me up here for a tertiary.” “You are very kind,” said Mitty. A huge, complicated machine, connected to the operating table, with many tubes and wires, began at this moment to go pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. “The new anaesthetizer is giving way!” shouted an interne. “There is no one in the East who knows how to fix it!” “Quiet, man!” said Mitty, in a low, cool voice. He sprang to the machine, which was now going pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep. He began fingering delicately a row of glistening dials. “Give me a fountain pen!” he snapped. Someone handed him a fountain pen. He pulled a faulty piston out of the machine and inserted the pen in its place. “That will hold for ten minutes,” he said. “Get on with the operation.” A nurse hurried over and whispered to Renshaw, and Mitty saw the man turn pale. “Coreopsis has set in,” said Renshaw nervously. “If you would take over, Mitty?” Mitty looked at him and at the craven figure of Benbow, who drank, and at the grave, uncertain faces of the two great specialists. “If you wish,” he said. They slipped a white gown on him; he adjusted a mask and drew on thin gloves; nurses handed him shining . . .
“Back it up, Mac! Look out for that Buick!” Walter Mitty jammed on the brakes. “Wrong lane, Mac,” said the parking-lot attendant, looking at Mitty closely. “Gee. Yeh,” muttered Mitty. He began cautiously to back out of the lane marked “Exit Only.” “Leave her sit there,” said the attendant. “I’ll put her away.” Mitty got out of the car. “Hey, better leave the key.” “Oh,” said Mitty, handing the man the ignition key. The attendant vaulted into the car, backed it up with insolent skill, and put it where it belonged.
They’re so damn cocky, thought Walter Mitty, walking along Main Street; they think they know everything. Once he had tried to take his chains off, outside New Milford, and he had got them wound around the axles. A man had had to come out in a wrecking car and unwind them, a young, grinning garageman. Since then Mrs. Mitty always made him drive to a garage to have the chains taken off. The next time, he thought, I’ll wear my right arm in a sling; they won’t grin at me then. I’ll have my right arm in a sling and they’ll see I couldn’t possibly take the chains off myself. He kicked at the slush on the sidewalk. “Overshoes,” he said to himself, and he began looking for a shoe store.
When he came out into the street again, with the overshoes in a box under his arm, Walter Mitty began to wonder what the other thing was his wife had told him to get. She had told him, twice, before they set out from their house for Waterbury. In a way he hated these weekly trips to town-he was always getting something wrong. Kleenex, he thought, Squibb’s, razor blades? No. Toothpaste, toothbrush, bicarbonate, carborundum, initiative and referendum? He gave it up. But she would remember it. “Where’s the what’s-its-name?” she would ask. “Don’t tell me you forgot the what’s-its-name.” A newsboy went by shouting something about the Waterbury trial.
. . . “Perhaps this will refresh your memory.” The District Attorney suddenly thrust a heavy automatic at the quiet figure on the witness stand. “Have you ever seen this before?” Walter Mitty took the gun and examined it expertly. “This is my Webley-Vickers 50.80,” he said calmly. An excited buzz ran around the courtroom. The Judge rapped for order. “You are a crack shot with any sort of firearms, I believe?” said the District Attorney, insinuatingly. “Objection!” shouted Mitty’s attorney. “We have shown that the defendant could not have fired the shot. We have shown that he wore his right arm in a sling on the night of the fourteenth of July.” Walter Mitty raised his hand briefly and the bickering attorneys were stilled. “With any known make of gun,” he said evenly, “I could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet with my left hand.” Pandemonium broke loose in the courtroom. A woman’s scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Walter Mitty’s arms. The District Attorney struck at her savagely. Without rising from his chair, Mitty let the man have it on the point of the chin. “You miserable cur!” . . .
“Puppy biscuit,” said Walter Mitty. He stopped walking and the buildings of Waterbury rose up out of the misty courtroom and surrounded him again. A woman who was passing laughed. “He said ‘Puppy biscuit,’ ” she said to her companion. “That man said ‘Puppy biscuit’ to himself.” Walter Mitty hurried on. He went into an A. & P., not the first one he came to but a smaller one farther up the street. “I want some biscuit for small, young dogs,” he said to the clerk. “Any special brand, sir?” The greatest pistol shot in the world thought a moment. “It says ‘Puppies Bark for It’ on the box,” said Walter Mitty.
His wife would be through at the hairdresser’s in fifteen minutes, Mitty saw in looking at his watch, unless they had trouble drying it; sometimes they had trouble drying it. She didn’t like to get to the hotel first; she would want him to be there waiting for her as usual. He found a big leather chair in the lobby, facing a window, and he put the overshoes and the puppy biscuit on the floor beside it. He picked up an old copy of Liberty and sank down into the chair. “Can Germany Conquer the World Through the Air?” Walter Mitty looked at the pictures of bombing planes and of ruined streets.
. . . “The cannonading has got the wind up in young Raleigh, sir,” said the sergeant. Captain Mitty looked up at him through touselled hair. “Get him to bed,” he said wearily. “With the others. I’ll fly alone.” “But you can’t, sir,” said the sergeant anxiously. “It takes two men to handle that bomber and the Archies are pounding hell out of the air. Von Richtman’s circus is between here and Saulier.” “Somebody’s got to get that ammunition dump,” said Mitty. “I’m going over. Spot of brandy?” He poured a drink for the sergeant and one for himself. War thundered and whined around the dugout and battered at the door. There was a rending of wood and splinters flew through the room. “A bit of a near thing,” said Captain Mitty carelessly. “The box barrage is closing in,” said the sergeant. “We only live once, Sergeant,” said Mitty, with his faint, fleeting smile. “Or do we?” He poured another brandy and tossed it off. “I never see a man could hold his brandy like you, sir,” said the sergeant. “Begging your pardon, sir.” Captain Mitty stood up and strapped on his huge Webley-Vickers automatic. “It’s forty kilometres through hell, sir,” said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. “After all,” he said softly, “what isn’t?” The pounding of the cannon increased; there was the rat-tat-tatting of machine guns, and from somewhere came the menacing pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of the new flame-throwers. Walter Mitty walked to the door of the dugout humming “Auprès de Ma Blonde.” He turned and waved to the sergeant. “Cheerio!” he said. . . .
Something struck his shoulder. “I’ve been looking all over this hotel for you,” said Mrs. Mitty. “Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How did you expect me to find you?” “Things close in,” said Walter Mitty vaguely. “What?” Mrs. Mitty said. “Did you get the what’s-its-name? The puppy biscuit? What’s in that box?” “Overshoes,” said Mitty. “Couldn’t you have put them on in the store?” “I was thinking,” said Walter Mitty. “Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?” She looked at him. “I’m going to take your temperature when I get you home,” she said.’
They went out through the revolving doors that made a faintly derisive whistling sound when you pushed them. It was two blocks to the parking lot. At the drugstore on the corner she said, “Wait here for me. I forgot something. I won’t be a minute.” She was more than a minute. Walter Mitty lighted a cigarette. It began to rain, rain with sleet in it. He stood up against the wall of the drugstore, smoking. . . . He put his shoulders back and his heels together. “To hell with the handkerchief,” said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last."
"-¡Ay, Nastenka, Nastenka! ¿Sabe usted por cuánto tiempo me ha reconciliado conmigo mismo? ¿Sabe usted que en adelante no pensaré tan mal de mí como he pensado otras veces? ¿Sabe usted que ya no me causará tristeza haber delinquido y pecado en mi vida, porque esa vida ha sido un delito, un pecado? ¡Por Dios santo, no crea que exagero, no lo crea, Nastenka, porque ha habido momentos en mi vida de mucha, de muchísima tristeza! En tales momentos he pensado que ya nunca sería capaz de vivir una vida auténtica, porque se me antojaba que había perdido el tino, el sentido de lo genuino, de lo real, y acababa por maldecir de mí mismo, ya que tras mis noches fantásticas empezaba a tener momentos de horrible resaca. Oye uno entre tanto cómo en torno suyo circula ruidosamente la muchedumbre en un torbellino de vida, ve y oye cómo vive la gente, cómo vive despierta, se da cuenta de que para ella la vida no es una cosa de encargo, que no se desvanece como un sueño, como una ilusión, sino que se renueva eternamente, vida eternamente joven en la que ninguna hora se parece a otra; mientras que la fantasía es asustadiza, triste y monótona hasta la trivialidad, esclava de la sombra, de la idea, esclava de la primera nube que de pronto cubre al sol y siembra la congoja en el corazón de Petersburgo, que tanto aprecia su sol. ¿Y para qué sirve la fantasía cuando uno está triste? Acaba uno por cansarse y siente que esa inagotable fantasía se agota con el esfuerzo constante por avivarla. Porque, al fin y al cabo, va uno siendo maduro y dejando atrás sus ideales de antes; éstos se quiebran, se desmoronan, y si no hay otra'vida, la única posibilidad es hacérsela con esos pedazos. Mientras tanto, el alma pide y quiere otra cosa. En vano escarba el soñador en sus viejos sueños, como si fueran ceniza en la que busca algún rescoldo para reavivar la fantasía, para recalentar con nuevo fuego su enfriado corazón y resucitar en él una vez más lo que antes había amado tanto, lo que conmovía el alma, lo que enardecía la sangre, lo que arrancaba lágrimas de los ojos y cautivaba con espléndido hechizo. ¿Sabe usted, Nastenka, a qué punto he llegado? ¿Sabe usted que me siento obligado a celebrar el cumpleaños de mis sensaciones, el cumpleaños de lo que antes me fue tan querido, de lo que en realidad no ha existido nunca? Porque ese cumpleaños es el de cada uno de esos sueños inanes e incorpóreos, y esos sueños inanes no existen y no hay por qué sobrevivirlos. También los sueños se sobreviven. ¿Sabe usted que ahora me complazco en recordar y visitar en fechas determinadas los lugares donde a mi modo he sido feliz? ¿Que me gusta elaborar el presente según la pauta del pasado irreversible? ¿Que a menudo corro sin motivo como una sombra, triste, afligido, por las calles y callejas de Petersburgo? ¡Y qué recuerdos! Recuerdo por ejemplo, que hace un año justo, justamente a esta hora, pasé por esta acera tan solo y tan triste como lo estoy en este instante. Y recuerdo que también entonces mis sueños eran deprimentes. Sin embargo aunque el pasado no fue mejor, piensa uno que quizá no fuera tan agobiante, que vivía uno más tranquilo que no tenía este fúnebre pensamiento que ahora me sobrecoge, que no sentía este desagradable y sombrío cosquilleo de la conciencia que ahora no me deja en paz a sol ni a sombra. Y uno se pregunta: ¿dónde, pues están tus sueños? Sacude la cabeza y dice: ¡qué de prisa pasa el tiempo! Vuelve a preguntarse: ¿qué has hecho con tus años?, ¿dónde has sepultado los mejores días de tu vida?, ¿has vivido o no? ¡Mira, se dice uno mira cómo todo se congela en el mundo! Pasarán más años y tras ellos llegará la lúgubre soledad, llegará báculo en mano la trémula vejez, y en pos de ella la tristeza y la angustia. Tu mundo fantástico perderá su colorido, se marchitarán y morirán tus sueños y caeran como las hojas secas de los árboles. ¡Ay, Nastenka será triste quedarse solo, enteramente solo, sin tener siquiera nada que lamentar, nada, absolutamente nada! Porque todo eso que se ha perdido, todo eso no ha sido nada, un cero redondo y huero, no ha sido más que un sueño."
"Tupra pareció impacientarse un poco, pero muy poco. Me daba la impresión de estar a gusto, de que le agradaba el diálogo y mi rapidez, una vez vencida mi vacilación inicial y una vez estimulado por su preguntar, Tupra era un gran preguntador jamás olvidaba nada de lo ya contestado y así era capaz de volver sobre ello cuando menos lo esperaba el interrogado y cuando éste sí se había olvidado, olvidamos lo que decimos mucho más que lo que escuchamos, lo que escribimos mucho más que lo que leemos, lo que enviamos mucho más que lo que nos alcanza, por eso no contamos apenas con las ofensas que infligimos y sí en cambio con las que sufrimos, y por eso casi todo el mundo le tiene alguna guardada a alguien."
En otra vida yo miraba desde la ventana de un bar
cómo la tormenta aplastaba las flores azules contra los cordones
contra las paredes
y por ese momento único de la juventud que dura muy poco
supe que nunca olvidaría esa escena en que nada aparecía
de lo que amaba me interesaba o temía
ni novios ni odios ni otros poetas ni revistas de opinión ni
secretarios de barrio ni amigos imbuidos de una colonizada cultura pavesiana
sólo las flores azules y la lluvia
recuerdo el nombre del pueblo la hora y esa lluvia
que nunca en las décadas que siguieron confundí con alguna otra