All wolf and no gang. Humour darkens. I looked out of the window. The snow was coming down with the implacability of an Old Testament plague. In Earl's Court Road pedestrians tottered and slid and in the cold swirling angelic freshness felt their childhoods still there and the shock like a snapped stem of not being children anymore. Two nights ago I'd eaten a forty-three-year-old hedge fund specialist. I've been in a phase of taking the ones no one wants. My last phase, apparently.
"Nothing," I said.
"You'll have to get out of London."
"We're not going to have this conversation."
"It's not time."
"Harley - "
"You've got a duty to live, same as the rest of us."
"Hardly the same as the rest of you."
"Nevertheless. You go on living. And don't give me any poetic bollocks about being tired. It's bogus. It's bad script."
"It's not bad script," I said. "I am tired."
"Been around too long, worn out by history, too full of content, emptily replete - you've told me. I don't believe you. And in any case you don't give up. You love life because life's all there is. There's no God and that's His only Commandment. Give me your word."
I was thinking, as the honest part of me had been from the moment Harley had given me the news, You'll have to tell it now. The untellable tale. You wondered how long a postponement you'd get. Turns out you got a hundred and sixty-seven years. Quite a while to keep a girl waiting.
"Give me your word, Jake."
"Give you my word what?"
"Give me your word you're not going to sit there like a cabbage till Grainer tracks you down and kills you."
When I'd imagined this moment I'd imagined clean relief. Now the moment had arrived there was relief, but it wasn't clean. The sordid little flame of selfhood shimmied in protest. Not that my self's what it used to be. These days it deserves a sad smile, as might a twinge of vestigial lust in an old man's balls. "Shot him, did they?" I asked. "Herr Wolfgang?"
Harley took a fretful drag, then while exhaling through his nostrils mashed the Gauloise in a standing obsidian ashtray. "They didn't shoot him," he said. "Ellis cut his head off."
All paradigm shifts answer the amoral craving for novelty. Obama's election victory did it. So did the Auschwitz footage in its day. Good and evil are irrelevant. Show us the world's not the way we thought it was and a part of us rejoices. Nothing's exempt. One's own death-sentence elicits a mad little hallelujah, and mine 's egregiously overdue. For ten, twenty, thirty years now I've been dragging myself through the motions. How long do werewolves live? Madeline asked recently. According to WOCOP around four hundred years. I don't know how. Naturally one sets oneself challenges - Sanskrit, Kant, advanced calculus, t'ai chi - but that only addresses the problem of Time. The bigger problem, of Being, just keeps getting bigger. (Vampires, not surprisingly, have an on-off love affair with catatonia.) One by one I've exhausted the modes: hedonism, asceticism, spontaneity, reflection, everything from miserable Socrates to the happy pig. My mechanism's worn out. I don't have what it takes. I still have feelings but I'm sick of having them. Which is another feeling I'm sick of having. I just... I just don't want any more life.
Harley crashed from anxiety to morbidity to melancholy but I remained dreamy and light, part voluntary obtuseness, part Zenlike acceptance, part simply an inability to concentrate. You can't just ignore this, he kept saying. You can't just fucking roll over. For a while I responded mildly with things like Why not? and Of course I can, but he got so worked up - the bone-handled cane came back into play - I feared for his heart and changed tack. Just let me digest, I told him. Just let me think. Just let me, in fact, get laid, as I've arranged to do, as I'm paying for even as we speak. This was true (Madeline waited at a £360-a-night boutique hotel across town) but it wasn't a happy shift of topic for Harley: prostate surgery three months ago left his libido in a sulk and London's rent boys bereft of munificent patronage. However, it got me out of there. Tearily drunk, he embraced me and insisted I borrow a woollen hat and made me promise to call him in twenty-four hours, whereafter, he kept repeating, all this pathetic sissying cod Hamlet bollocks would have to stop.
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