Read Nine Stories Online

Authors: J. D. Salinger

Nine Stories (24 page)

didn't say anything.

didn't tell them when they were actually going to die, though. That's
a very false rumor," Teddy said. "I could have, but I knew
that in their hearts they really didn't want to know. I mean I knew
that even though they teach Religion and Philosophy and all, they're
still pretty afraid to die." Teddy sat, or reclined, in silence
for a minute. "It's so silly," he said. "All you do is
get the heck out of your body when you die. My gosh, everybody's done
it thousands and thousands of times. Just because they don't remember
it doesn't mean they haven't done it. It's so silly."

may be. That may be," Nicholson said. "But the logical fact
remains that no matter how intelligently--"

so silly," Teddy said again. "For example, I have a
swimming lesson in about five minutes. I could go downstairs to the
pool, and there might not be any water in it. This might be the day
they change the water or something. What might happen, though, I
might walk up to the edge of it, just to have a look at the bottom,
for instance, and my sister might come up and sort of push me in. I
could fracture my skull and die instantaneously." Teddy looked
at Nicholson. "That could happen," he said. "My
sister's only six, and she hasn't been a human being for very many
lives, and she doesn't like me very much. That could happen, all
right. What would be so tragic about it, though? What's there to be
afraid of, I mean? I'd just be doing what I was supposed to do,
that's all, wouldn't I?"

snorted mildly. "It might not be a tragedy from your point of
view, but it would certainly be a sad event for your mother and dad,"
he said "Ever consider that?"

of course, I have," Teddy said. "But that's only because
they have names and emotions for everything that happens." He
had been keeping his hands tucked under his legs again. He took them
out now, put his arms up on the armrests, and looked at Nicholson.
"You know Sven? The man that takes care of the gym?" he
asked. He waited till he got a nod from Nicholson. "Well, if
Sven dreamed tonight that his dog died, he'd have a very, very bad
night's sleep, because he's very fond of that dog. But when he woke
up in the morning, everything would be all right. He'd know it was
only a dream."

nodded. "What's the point, exactly?"

point is if his dog really died, it would be exactly the same thing.
Only, he wouldn't know it. I mean he wouldn't wake up till he died
himself." Nicholson, looking detached, was using his right hand
to give himself a slow, sensuous massage at the back of the neck. His
left hand, motionless on the armrest, with a fresh, unlighted
cigarette between the fingers, looked oddly white and inorganic in
the brilliant sunlight.

suddenly got up. "I really have to go now, I'm afraid," he
said. He sat down, tentatively, on the extended leg attachment of his
chair, facing Nicholson, and tucked in his T shirt. "I have
about one and a half minutes, I guess, to get to my swimming lesson,"
he said. "It's all the way down on E Deck."

I ask why you told Professor Peet he should stop teaching after the
first of the year?" Nicholson asked, rather bluntly. "I
know Bob Peet. That's why I ask."

tightened his alligator belt. "Only because he's quite
spiritual, and he's teaching a lot of stuff right now that isn't very
good for him if he wants to make any real spiritual advancement. It
stimulates him too much. It's time for him to take everything out of
his head, instead of putting more stuff in. He could get rid of a lot
of the apple in just this one life if he wanted to. He's very good at
meditating." Teddy got up. "I better go now. I don't want
to be too late."

looked up at him, and sustained the look--detaining him. "What
would you do if you could change the educational system?" he
asked ambiguously. "Ever think about that at all?"

really have to go," Teddy said.

answer that one question," Nicholson said. "Education's my
baby, actually--that's what I teach. That's why I ask."

. . . I'm not too sure what I'd do," Teddy said. "I know
I'm pretty sure I wouldn't start with the things schools usually
start with." He folded his arms, and reflected briefly. "I
think I'd first just assemble all the children together and show them
how to meditate. I'd try to show them how to find out who they are,
not just what their names are and things like that . . . I guess,
even before that, I'd get them to empty out everything their parents
and everybody ever told them. I mean even if their parents just told
them an elephant's big, I'd make them empty that out. An elephant's
only big when it's next to something else--a dog or a lady, for
example." Teddy thought another moment. "I wouldn't even
tell them an elephant has a trunk. I might show them an elephant, if
I had one handy, but I'd let them just walk up to the elephant not
knowing anything more about it than the elephant knew about them. The
same thing with grass, and other things. I wouldn't even tell them
grass is green. Colors are only names. I mean if you tell them the
grass is green, it makes them start expecting the grass to look a
certain way--your way--instead of some other way that may be just as
good, and may be much better . . . I don't know. I'd just make them
vomit up every bit of the apple their parents and everybody made them
take a bite out of."

no risk you'd be raising a little generation of ignoramuses?"

They wouldn't any more be ignoramuses than an elephant is. Or a bird
is. Or a tree is," Teddy said. "Just because something is a
certain way, instead of just behaves a certain way, doesn't mean it's
an ignoramus."


Teddy said. "Besides, if they wanted to learn all that other
stuff--names and colors and things--they could do it, if they felt
like it, later on when they were older. But I'd want them to begin
with all the real ways of looking at things, not just the way all the
other apple-eaters look at things--that's what I mean." He came
closer to Nicholson, and extended his hand down to him. "I have
to go now. Honestly. I've enjoyed--"

one second-sit down a minute," Nicholson said. "Ever think
you might like to do something in research when you grow up? Medical
research, or something of that kind? It seems to me, with your mind,
you might eventually--"

answered, but without sitting down. "I thought about that once,
a couple of years ago," he said. "I've talked to quite a
few doctors." He shook his head. "That wouldn't interest me
very much. Doctors stay too right on the surface. They're always
talking about cells and things."

You don't attach any importance to cell structure?"

sure, I do. But doctors talk about cells as if they had such
unlimited importance all by themselves. As if they didn't really
belong to the person that has them." Teddy brushed back his hair
from his forehead with one hand. "I grew my own body," he
said. "Nobody else did it for me. So if I grew it, I must have
known how to grow it. Unconsciously, at least. I may have lost the
conscious knowledge of how to grow it sometime in the last few
hundred thousand years, but the knowledge is still there,
because--obviously--I've used it. . . . It would take quite a lot of
meditation and emptying out to get the whole thing back--I mean the
conscious knowledge--but you could do it if you wanted to. If you
opened up wide enough." He suddenly reached down and picked up
Nicholson's right hand from the armrest. He shook it just once,
cordially, and said, "Goodbye. I have to go." And this
time, Nicholson wasn't able to detain him, he started so quickly to
make his way through the aisle.

sat motionless for some few minutes after he left, his hands on the
armrests of the chair, his unlighted cigarette still between the
fingers of his left hand. Finally, he raised his right hand and used
it as if to check whether his collar was still open. Then he lit his
cigarette, and sat quite still again.

smoked the cigarette down to its end, then abruptly let one foot over
the side of the chair, stepped on the cigarette, got to his feet, and
made his way, rather quickly, out of the aisle.

the forwardship stairway, he descended fairly briskly to the
Promenade Deck. Without stopping there, he continued on down, still
quite rapidly, to Main Deck. Then to A Deck. Then to B Deck. Then to
C Deck. Then to D Deck.

D Deck the forwardship stairway ended, and Nicholson stood for a
moment, apparently at some loss for direction. However, he spotted
someone who looked able to guide him. Halfway down the passageway, a
stewardess was sitting on a chair outside a galleyway, reading a
magazine and smoking a cigarette. Nicholson went down to her,
consulted her briefly, thanked her, then took a few additional steps
forwardship and opened a heavy metal door that read: TO THE POOL. It
opened onto a narrow, uncarpeted staircase.

was little more than halfway down the staircase when he heard an
all-piercing, sustained scream--clearly coming from a small, female
child. It was highly acoustical, as though it were reverberating
within four tiled walls.

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