Franklin Reeve is speaking to Fred Adams outside the door. He
wasn't bothered to close it, since the old man is deaf as a post. But the old
man doesn't hear half bad when he turns his right ear forward.
His deafness is part ruse. He's always been a slow thinker, and
at eighty-eight he creeps. He gets confused. The wanted word fails to come, the
riposte wobbles on him (or the thought warns: how many times has he said that?).
So he retreats, recoups: "What was that? I didn't hear." A result is, he
overhears more now than at any time since he was a boy, when he listened to his
parents' voices beyond the door about to be flung open, his ears made acute by
Fred stands before him, assessing how to handle the big baby.
The big, spoiled baby.
Well goddamn him! Yes, he won't be placated and why should he
be? Dobrynin invited him here. The Russian ambassador said that Frost should say
directly to Khrushchev what he'd been saying to himthat it was an inconceivable
joke that the world might be blown up over a matter as trivial as Berlin. Does
that mean nothing? Russia is top-down, Dobrynin speaks on cue. Khrushchev's man
invited Frost to come to Russia and speak to Khrushchev on a matter that might
save the world. A plane flew him to Moscow, a Russian car drove him to the
And during the ride in the car, Frost learned that Khrushchev
was not in Moscow. He was vacationing at the Black Sea.
That was a week ago. Frost had flown with Stewart Udall,
secretary of the interior, who continued on to Siberia to look at hydroelectric
projects. Frost was dragged to an elementary school, a poet's apartment, a
palace in St Petersburgall the time asking, When will I see Khrushchev? Is he
back? Are we going to the Black Sea? I have something to tell him right off,
this and that. A proposal. An offer. An invitation. If he's the man I think he
is, he'll understand.
Did they lie to him? Were they lying all the time?
Oh, the old man. Humor him.
This morning Frost learned that Stewart Udall had been back in
Moscow. One day? Two days? No one told him. Frost also learned that Stewart,
this morning, flew to the Black Sea to see Khrushchev. Flew without him! Are
they toying with him? He's an old man, half deaf, with sore joints, recurrent
pneumonia, hay fever, grippe, chronic cystitis, maybe prostatitis, maybe
cancerare they dragging him halfway around the globe just to toy with him?
"Don't give me guff about literary triumphs," Frost cuts Freddie
off. "Frank tried that. I don't care about any of that."
"They can't understand my poems. This is all for their purposes.
I'm a people's poet.'"
The people, yes. Everyone mistakes him for Sandburg. Who
traipsed around Russia last year, strumming his guitar. Sorry, folks, no banjo
with this bard.
"no, Robert, how can you think that? The audiences have been
ecstatic. That crowd last night in the streetthey cheered"
Frost thought Stewart was a friend. He's known him for years.
Stewart arranged his reading for Kennedy's inauguration.
Which Frost fouled up. Is that it? He fumbled the ball in the
big game. Was Stewart embarrassed? Was this his way of getting back? Drag him to
Russia, leave him to rot in Moscow? Sorry, you failed the test. We'll go on
without you. Go home, boy!
Well goddamn him!
"or when you read Stopping by Woods' in the Café Aelita, that
applause was heartfelt, you knew it at the time"
"Don't lecture to me, Fred Adams!" Frost shouts. Goddamn it!
Goddamn it to hell! Don't you dare lecture to me!"
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