He found the building in front of which he had stood in the sun all day waiting to be discharged, in which the crazy doctor had suggested that he stay over another day to let him check that heart again and it had taken precious time to persuade the man that joy alone made it beat so wild. Perhaps someday he would die of that.
Whether or not, he felt very much at home in this state. It was to places like this that they had sent him all over the world in defense of New York, until he had come almost to believe that the concrete caverns and towers he seemed dimly to remember, the pale people themselves, were no more than childhood fantasies he had dreamed for himself. He had felt little urge to try to find them again. Hopefully he had followed the Cat out to the new coast, only to find there the same grotesque imaginary cities already erected and fanatically maintained by old children. It was his loss alone that he could not play at their game with them, but he could not. He had been born in New York, taught the rules in New York and New England, yet it seemed to him that he had been holding his breath until he reached Arivada, New Africa. Here the dream cities, no matter whether adobe or gold, had long ago been abandoned, thus had collapsed, and all that remained was the earth. It spread around him as drab and coarse as an old army blanket, inviting only those weary with fighting or dying, overlooked by the children. If still in one piece the whole world would look like this in old age - Arivada was ready, but could Manhattan support mesquite?
With such luck as this, he rode the beast in the jaunty way that she deserved, back north, seemingly back from Mexico, pulling up finally at an outlying bar-ex-saloon (they had covered the old adobe face with knotty pine, substituted big stone matades for the cuspidors) and having brought her wrecklessly this far did not park her in the little parking lot but in front of the church next door. They had lifted that face too and neonized, but it did no good, they seemed to know they had no chance against an older god, their doors were closed. Thus one could join the pagan worshipers with a self-righteous shrug, through latticed doors.
Outside he hurried again, for he had several blocks to walk and the beer turned out to be no more than cool. He told himself he would remember next time to deal from the bottom - but the civil sirens sounded, surprising him with his silly private thought. That's what they blow them for. Thought is a national product, issued, like survival, on a day to day basis. There you go. Until tomorrow. When he understood this would be a long one today, he hurried on.
They looked so familiar that for a moment Claude feared he had doubled back to Mrs. Merritt's city, until a sudden wave of water blinded his wipers and drove him along with everyone else to the curb, where the crackling radio reported an old man had just now been swept from his backyard by a cloudburst, the latest in a series deluging Tulsa. Clinging there to the side of the hill, no hand brake, Claude rode out the storm, stuffing blankets into the cracks under the doors, watching overhead drips as best he could with the babyseat. When the car next in front crept away from the curb, Claude followed as far as a gas station. There he wondered aloud what lay ahead, but the attendant couldn't say, having swum to work just five minutes ago. Now as Claude pulled away the rain suddenly ceased, it seemed from exhaustion, and for the next hundred miles he spun his dial to catch the latest reports: that old man was still missing, he had last been seen floating downhill toward the river, he had been found, he was dead, he was dying, he was still missing... Claude turned off the radio, for he was beyond range of Tulsa, and Joplin had not heard the news yet. He raced in silence toward the night which he knew already had begun not far ahead.
At the high school a pretty girl strolled across the parking lot to her black stallion, let her cigarette dangle from her lips while she put on her helmet, adjusted her goggles. Throwing a slender white leg over the side she jacked her little backside up and down a few times, exciting the steed. Now she came down on his back and he squatted, moaning to the soft squeeze of her hand, then at her sudden clutch shot out fast between the press of her knees. Claude looked down at his shoes as they passed, having seen nothing. But he glanced up in time to watch them glide off under the next streetlamp, the gleaming beast appearing almost languid with release, very pleased with himself and with the girl who clung to his back, small and stiff and unsatisfied.She had been noticed: everywhere along the way the leaning people looked after her as though wondering if the new week had finally begun, then they looked at one another, then back at nothing.