My name is Harold Hart Crane. I am alone in my hotel room. It is Christmas Eve, in the Year of Our Lord 1941. I will not lose my mind.

The Herr Doktor told me to repeat things like this, when the “peak” of the drug happens, whenever that is. Time has turned to rubber, and the clocks have melted down.

My name is Harold Hart Crane. I will not lose my mind.

A thousand years ago, I got that package this afternoon from that quaint little bearded Kraut Dr. Rinkel at Boston Psychopathic Hospital. The stuff’s an alkaloid that acts on several chemicals already in the brain. He orders it in microgrammes, do you believe that, at the most exorbitant rates from Sandoz Labs, in Chur, Switzerland.

Or did, a thousand years ago. Before the clock melted on the wall, and the trip to the store did not end. This room is tired. The velvet wallpaper spirals up into patterns of patterns toward the ceiling, beanstalks I have no heart to climb.

I am too fascinated by where I’ve gotten to down here on Earth, this warm radiator and the radio on just sub-audibly, a mad caterwauling counterpoint to the juke-joint Jezebels below.

A wall of silence rings my Moroccan portable typer in this restless one-night cheap room. Just beyond, I hear the blessed Andrews Sisters belting out “Bei Mir Bist Du Schöen” from the hotel bar while rhumba drums beat mad macumba, animal jungle rhythms of Science, Commerce and the Holy Ghost jitterbugging with my Lucky Strike Green that jitterbugs all by herself in the flying-saucer-shaped ash tray on my desk.

I, with them, want to dance my legs down to the knees at the sight of what I see my cigarette smoke doing, bending light around the strange typer that is harp and altar of my fury fused.

I started writing the thing I was working on before, an essay on the sub-genre phenomenon that Will Jenkins at Amazing Stories calls ‘sidewise-history.’ I was thinking of a few fanciful examples of this ‘flash-in-the-pan’: World War One never happening, the South being given modern fusion technology during the Civil War, a dozen other such…

As fast as I wrote and replaced scenarios on the page, the three framed photographs I’ve hung above the Burroughs cybernetical typer changed again, image shuttling past image like a Tarot hand drawn by a riverboat gambler.

The pictures are all wrong, now. I can’t slot-machine them back to what’s supposed to be there. And it’s the typer…Me…That’s doing it? I grab for my Lucky and smoke half of it off at one drag, never enough, never enough.

My typewriter. Mine. It did that. I have no tangible explanation for what I’ve just seen, and barely the capacity to describe it. The page went blank just as I started to come up on this LSD-25, and then…

I need to slow down. My God, how did I not see that I got into the wrong racket when I started publishing Scientifiction? I should have stayed a poet! But then there’d never be this moment now, the right sound of the right keystroke twanging the strings of the cosmic harp in such and such a way that it might ripple back, and change the shape of Not Quite All?

What the hell is History, anyway? And who writes it? How do we know we’re not, at this very moment, living someone else’s parallel world?

What does it matter what we do now? I could go rob a bank, assassinate anyone, sleep with anyone, abuse any drug, commit any crime, and then come back here, sit down at my desk, and write it out of existence, and it would have never…

There it is. I know I’ll remember this in the morning. Damn it all, we should all just stop working and start doing what we want to do. Then Society would have to change. We could do it. We didn’t give away all our power after the Great War. Not all of it.

Did we? I don’t know. I can’t think about much, except the images hanging on the wall above my desk. I will write my way through this, too. Dear Bill Burroughs the computing-machine magnate tells me the gods smile on me when I’m in my element.

But this isn’t my element, Bill. I’m somewhere else on the Periodic Table, tonight, in my sordid rooms at the Chelsea Hotel where I sit in front of my Aladdin Portable at the mirror and try not to fall apart…

I once told Bill my secret dream-job, when we were walking in Times Square and sucking on Italian sodas, stoned to the gills on Mexican brown ditch-weed through the water-pipe back at Huncke’s squat.

Bill slapped me on the back, looking like a preacher in his loose, floppy gray suit, and said Kid, poetry isn’t a career as much as it is a chronic condition. In your case, Campbell’s boys have rooted it out to a ganglion, but usually it’s terminal…

Poets extrapolate. So do I. The sounds in my head fade down now to zazen silence. Outside my window, the gray, dappled belly of pregnant sky threatens snow. There’s nothing for me now but that blank page in the typer, healed to be broken again.

My hesitation melts away like the frost on my window as the radiator clanks into life once more. If my watch is even right. I have gone mad. I must have gone mad.

It happened like this:

I stopped cutting my latest serial, Chaplinesque, when I felt my pupils get big and my mouth get electric and came all the way up, staring stupidly at the wall behind my desk. What was hanging there formerly had been two photographs, one en collage. The one that caught my eye used to be a framed photo of Harry S. Truman grinning at the camera like a baboon.

I pasted Truman’s portrait over a picture of the mushroom cloud he unleashed on Tokyo, and scrawled in the Missourian’s own words below it, ‘THE ONLY THING NEW UNDER THE SUN IS THE HISTORY WE DON’T KNOW.’

Right next to Truman was a picture of another young-old fascist, Howard Hughes, behind the tiller of his Lockheed 14 after that first trans-global flight. I just final-drafted a very difficult novel called Meet Me In St. Louis, see, tying Truman and Hughes to the assassination of President-For-Life McArthur. My fictional Doug McArthur as Prexy is clearly modeled after our current, actual Caesar.

I gave the manuscript a slap and sent her onward just three weeks ago. It’s a fine old vaudeville comedy of errors set in the Kremlin and the Oval Office as America and the NATO allies plunge hell-bent, headlong and breakneck into the Sino-Vietnamese Conflict, the bloodiest war in human history, a hypothetical Big Three.

My God, it was meant as a joke, like ‘A Modest Proposal’, just something to get people off their butts and thinking. I never meant…that is…


Black Mountain College just published Meet Me In St. Louis as a mythopoetic curiosity. Their senior editor Bob Lowell compared me to the homespun Scientifiction Grand Master himself, Stephen Vincent Benét.

Bob also introduced me to Will Jenkins, who lives two floors up from me now and lets me bounce my stories off that fertile brain. Will’s got a fine turn of phrase himself, especially in his newer epic works like ‘Doomsday Deferred’ or ‘To the White Sea’, where he talks about his experiences as a bomber pilot during the Berlin Siege in ‘47.

Will is riotously heterosexual, but somehow we hit it off anyway. The first advance for Meet Me In St. Louis came yesterday morning. After I got back from the bank, Will and I did some heroic drinking at Capote’s little walkup in the East Village.

Truman was fit to be tied. We were up gossiping like a couple of high-school girls until dawn. Oh, heavens, Truman could set me straight on this now. I wish I could tell him, but…

Catch is, I’m not afraid that Capote won’t see the difference in the photos.

I’m afraid he will.

Or Edward will, that columnist from Vanity Fair, infuriating Edward with the broken shift key on his typewriter, for whom Gay is just the captivating cognomen of some nerdy girl at Cambridge who didn’t like going to the monkey house to make out.

Edward Estlin Cummings, if you please, understands me, though, which makes him all the more infuriating. He called my first Scientifiction novel, The Bridge, “a true portal to someplace I’ve never traveled, gladly beyond any experience.”

But this morning, the wall above my desk and typer has quietly informed me that I have lost my natural mind and traveled someplace beyond. I like to have photographs of my subjects while I’m working, always did. Truman (Harry S., not my dear Holly G.) and Howard Hughes were the models for my villains.

Until a few minutes ago, the only art upon the wall above my desk was, ipso facto, the late Citizen Hughes, with his smarmy prep-school good looks, gone down in his Hercules somewhere off the California coast; and Give ‘Em Hell Harry looking old and broken after he dropped The Bomb, the year before they found him hanging in the Oval Office.

I framed the Truman photo. Hughes just got masking-tape. That three feet of wall Harry and Howard occupied was reserved for photos pertinent to whatever story I was working on, currently a kind of altar to the unquiet dead. But behind the glass of the cheap frame just now is…was…

General Dwight David Eisenhower, out of uniform, wearing a black suit with a thin black tie, in a Lincoln limo with the top down, surrounded by Secret Servicemen (and…women?) The picture of Ike’s motorcade in Tiananmen Square is on grainy new color stock.

Saluting him from a ceremonial throne at the other end of the shot is a skinny man with a mustache and an overbite, with shining diamond-coal eyes. Chiang Kai-Shek, garbed in the robes of a Han Emperor, leading a Komodo dragon on a gold chain…

Where Howard Hughes just was, there’s now an 8 1ž2 x 11 glossy of a blonde tomboy with rakish good looks and a bomber jacket that’s to die for, standing on a weed-choked runway beside a Fokker F-7. The woman looks all-in, and is supported on either side by what are clearly G-men in identical suits, leading her to the 1932 Packard touring car just out of frame.

“Amelia Earhart,” I mutter, able to think of nothing but my first internationally published short story, ‘Atlantis Regained’. In the story, Amelia was the first pilot to fly around the globe instead of Hughes, because of…

“Because of that weird fuel tank Amelia designed, the one she never got to use, the one she called the three-hump camel…” Then I stop muttering to myself. The picture is no collage.

Where the masking-tape has peeled back on the upper right corner, I pull the picture further away from the wall and behold only the Op-Ed page of the Times for March fourth, 19…

“…Thirty-two.” I feel very cold. “Six years before Howard Hughes flew around the globe.”

I’m not leaving my room now. Now it’s dark, and I’m lying down, with a cold cloth on my forehead. I don’t want to look at those pictures again.

I have to get out of this room. I’ll leave, come back in and everything’ll be hunky-dory just as it was, nice vanilla bread-and-butter missionary 1941…Slowly I turn, inch by inch, step by step, to the cracked Motorola radio on the end-table by the window, and turn on its warm, comforting little console-light and the tinny squawk of WRNY News.

“…Hughes ToolCo formally disbanded today, on the anniversary of the former President’s impeachment hearings. President Albin Barkley, who himself gained plenty from the impeachment, was strangely temperate in his criticism of former President Hughes’ mad, short-lived term in office.

‘Howard Hughes desegregated the military,’ Barkley eulogized at a press conference on the West Lawn of the White House this Saturday past. ‘He put our Liberty satellite into space at the private level way ahead of the Rooshians, and helped us put Al Boyd and Bud Anderson on the Moon seven years later. I knew Howard for many years, and I can tell you…his heart was in the right place. America has lost one of her true visionaries…’

Protest marchers in Washington, D.C. said differently, however. At four o’clock this afternoon, Your Reporter caught up with Carolyn Cassady, ringleader of the—”

I reach up and shut off the radio. Barkley was a fool with no vision who did what he was told and very little else. Never President! Never! I never voted for him, I voted for Adlai Stevenson, who won, and—But they just said—

Someone’s putting me on. We have yet to reach the Moon. Howard Hughes, too, has never been President of any United States where I lived, worked, grew up…Neither, for that matter, has Eisenhower.

I mean, come on! Eisenhower was blown to bits at Normandy just like every other Kraut or Yank who was at Ground Zero when the Niebelung detonated! I’ve tried to write my way out of all my nervous breakdowns, with some success, but…

The pictures didn’t come from my condition. I am not nuts! Nobody tell me I’m nuts! All I did was come home last night drunk and pass out in my clothes!

And who the hell is Carolyn Cassady? I—

I look out the window, then, the dark, cold hotel window with its slight gray tint, its old pine sill marked with the ashes and energies of every lonely beat mendicant who ever sat in it and watched the Manhattan neon and the cars on a cold night or morning. I wipe off the condensation, peering out like a child. Then I forget how to blink.

Snow tumbles down out there through the grey-blue light, like stars seen traveling close to the speed of c, scribbling frosty sagas on my eyes, the gleaming cantos of unvanquished Space. It’s been a long time since I heard such stillness dumping down in sheets as it is now, a million stars, a million dreams, a storm of ticker-tape just for me, an endless sky you could sled in, one that tastes as fresh and immediate as a nosebleed.

The sound makes me look down. The car bumbles around the turn, its tyres higher and thinner than I’d consider trustworthy. It’s metallic blue from stem to stern, and looks like a teardrop or a diving-bell with elaborate finned fenders, low-slung and gleaming with purpose, humming like bees in a lion’s skull. MILBURN-STUDEBAKER Bateau, it reads across its hood in raked-back silver letters.

There is no exhaust pipe. Only that hum, hum, hummmmmmm… The old lady steering the contraption is having the time of her life doing spins in the snow. (That ‘Milburn’s’ electric motor is apparently strong enough to climb a damn tree.)

She sees me, and raises a silver hip-flask. I wave back, hoping for her sake that the cops don’t come. Her round of “dough-nuts” (as we called such manoeuvres when I was an under-grad) is done now. She turns away, driving out of sight.

Merry dough-nuts to all, and to all a good drunk. Her license plate reads NYC. I wonder if that is a new boro of Nieuw Amsterdam, perhaps somewhere close to this one. Either way, the plate is too large, and done up in the wrong colors.

Where did I put that Scotch? By the phone across the room, right where I left it. Nothing’s changed, not even the…

Numbers on the dial. The words dry up in my mind. The phone-shaped thing has more buttons than the squeezebox end of an accordion.

All this was my fault. Somehow. I wrote this into being. Me, me, Hart Crane, the most frustrated writer in New York since Joe Gould! Hard to imagine me as…


I go back to the window, watch the snow listen down inside, to the secret self who finds the words in a simple declarative, Yes. Then I go sit in front of the typer again, awash in the melted Italian soda of neon from the street outside, cold and sweet and rare. Flakes of snowy silver sentence scroll down past my still-open window with the crocus luster of stars.

Rage, blow, thou sermons’ flashing roar, scattered chapters of living glyph! TAP. TAP. RATTATATATTATATATTATA—

But I write ‘sidewise-history’! If I do this right, I WILL PUT MYSELF OUT OF WORK!!!

Yet all my fine collapses weren’t ever lies. My frosted eyes raise altars, and silent answers stutter back across the stars. This game enforces breakdowns, but I have seen the moon in lonely alleys. I can still love the world, and sidestep the worst of it with a fatal smirk.

Who can end up blaming me if my heart lives on, completes the dark confessions spelled out in my every cell, and closes round the jewel of this instant with its floating lotus flower? This fabulous shadow could not be quenched by any sea.

Edward, I—


My name is Harold Hart Crane. I am alone in my hotel room. It is Christmas Eve, in the Year of Our Lord 1941. I will not lose my m—

(then white)



# # #

One Night in Manhattan by Edward Morris
originally published in the Fall 2011 print edition



Edward Morris was a 2005 British Science Fiction Association Award nominee whose work has appeared in print on four continents, in three languages, and at such diverse publications as Murky Depths, Nowa Fantastyka, Helix SF, Aeon SF and twice in Interzone. In 2008, he was a guest author at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.

For more of Edward's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


This feature and more great
fiction & poetry are available in
Big Pulp Fall 2011:
On the Road from Galilee

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