From a glimpse of Coca-Cola’s first appearance in a remote part of the Arabian desert to the tale of a wealthy, paranoid man building a shelter after the first hydrogen bomb tests, the stories in The Last Supper depict a world coming to grips with the new post-war reality. As always, Howard Fast has an ear for the way history echoes through the generations, and his tales of American ascendency are complemented by crisp fictional portraits of the country’s earliest days, including three stories drawn from the life of colonial statesman Samuel Adams. Compelling and insightful, The Last Supper is an absorbing collection of mid-century Americana and a window into the mind of one of the country’s greatest modern writers. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Howard Fast including rare photos from the author’s estate.
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The Last Supper
And Other Stories
By Howard Fast
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1955 Howard Fast
All rights reserved.
The Last Supper
One of the advantages of living in a tower apartment in the Elmsford on Fifth Avenue was that your place was the only stop on the floor for the elevator. It gave one the maximum amount of privacy that one could expect living in New York, and Harvey Crane enjoyed privacy when he wanted privacy. He felt that he had earned the privilege of privacy. He was forty-six years old, tall, broad-shouldered and distinguished in appearance except that he bulged a little over his belt, and he felt that at forty-six, with a career that stretched back over a quarter of a century, one deserved a little privacy.
Therefore, when he was handed a subpoena, this sense of violated privacy—a violation of all that a tower apartment in the Elmsford meant—well nigh overcame his mixed response of fear and surprise. Instead of reacting in terms of a sense of terror and expectancy that had been building up in him these five years past, he thought,
"Well, God damn it, if this is all you can expect when you pay seven thousand dollars a year rent, then the hell with it! They can take their God damn lease and put it you know where!"
Then he read the subpoena, mixed himself a drink, even though it was only noon, and called his lawyer, Jack Henderson, of Henderson, Hoke, Baily and Cohen, thinking to himself that it was a break for him that he, had never been represented by Mike Cohen, of the same firm, not because he had anything against Jews—most of his best friends were Jews, when you came right down to it—and if there was one thing he despised, it was a racist; but because you had to think of everything once you were in this lousy spot, and say what you would, they felt differently down there about a Jew lawyer than they did about someone like Henderson.
"Jack," he said, when he got through to Henderson,—"Jack, just listen to this. Just listen. Of all the stinking, lousy breaks—what do you suppose happened not five minutes ago?"
Henderson couldn't imagine, but he felt that whatever it was, Harvey should take it easy and not get excited.
"I love lawyers," Crane said. "The whole world could collapse, but don't get excited. Not at all. I'm as calm as a cucumber, exactly. I've just been handed a subpoena—right at my front door, can you imagine, and God help the little rat that's on the elevator—a subpoena to appear before the, House Committee on Un-American Activities tomorrow, no less, but you don't want me to get excited!"
Henderson agreed that it was a very worrisome thing, but also that it was just such worrisome things that one had to resist worrying about. The thing to do, he explained in his calm, balanced and warmly comforting voice, was to come out of such an experience positively. Like a good friend or physician, rather than simply as a lawyer, Henderson told Harvey Crane to eat lunch, have a few drinks, and drop into his office, at about three o'clock, and such was his ability to reassure, even over the telephone, that Crane felt considerably relieved after speaking to him.
Nevertheless, he obeyed an impulse that had begun to form the moment the subpoena was handed to him; and as soon as he was through speaking to Henderson, he broke his date with Madaline Briggs, the lead in his current show, called his former wife, and begged her to have lunch with him. When she pointed out that she already had a luncheon date, he told her that he had broken his own date, that he needed her desperately, that something, perhaps the most awful and consequential thing in his whole life, had just happened, and that he had to have lunch with her, and that he would not take no for an answer.
He knew this kind of pleading would be effective, because it always had been; and that was something you could say about Jane, his second wife, that she had a heart; and as he had often told his analyst, the deepest trouble with his second marriage was that he felt more like Jane's son than her husband, not because she wasn't sufficiently young and attractive, but precisely because she was so responsive to his woes, particularly his deepest conflicts. His first wife, Anita Bruce, the actress, whom he had met on his first distant assignment to Hollywood, had been much too concerned with herself, her body, her face and her admirers to allow him to use her as a mother, and as Crane often put it, he had simply leaped from one extreme to the other.
"Look, Harvey," Jane said, "when I divorced you, I divorced you—I didn't simply step out of a professional status to take on an amateur rating." And then more gently, "You can't keep calling me every time anything goes wrong. At least, you have to try to get out of the habit—" He could sense that underneath her irritation, she was flattered, and thereby felt that he had won; and he wondered why he felt her so much more attractive and needed her so much more than when they were married, but at the same time had a pleasant sense of power in his being able to demand her and have the demand answered, even though some people—those who didn't know the whole story—felt that he had acted rather shamefully when he broke up the marriage. "I'm not your analyst after all," she said lamely. "What is this awful crisis?"
He assured her that it was something that could hardly be discussed on the telephone, and arranged to meet her at twelve forty-five at the Plaza. Once he had finished with the luncheon arrangements, his sense of power went away, as did his anger with the elevator operator who had allowed the process server to come to the door of his apartment.
For the first time since the thing had happened, the true icy tentacles of fear began to creep down around his neck, along his spine, and like blood circulating into his body and into his heart. He was caught in a sudden paralysis that did not even allow him the privilege of reflection upon the fear itself. His thoughts slowed down and caught themselves in a circle; the circle said, "This is the end. It's over. There's no way out—no way out. Over. Over. Over." Then his thoughts broke out of the circle and raced back through his past, and he found himself suddenly full of rage at something he had been, at himself in the long gone past. The anger helped him. It was an anger that involved no danger, and so he dressed and left the house in a fierce, pugnacious mood.
Some of the mood still remained when he met Jane at the Plaza. Somehow, it made him feel a little bit like a hero, a little bit like a martyr, true, but more like a martyred hero as he strode past the fountain and into the hotel. Jane was there ahead of him, and as she smiled and greeted him, she seemed genuinely glad to see him. She was a tall, dark-haired woman with a good figure, now dressed neatly in a gray flannel suit, but attractive to him and kindling in him a sudden wave of desire. The desire and the remnants of his rage at his own past combined to give him a new sense of being both romantic and desirable, and he felt an excitement he had never experienced before, not even in the wave of a successful opening night.
"You look different, Harvey," his ex-wife acknowledged. "I hope it's nothing really bad."
He ordered lunch before he would discuss it. Then he told her what had happened.
"But is it really so dreadful, Harvey?" Jane asked. "I mean, I never did agree with your ideas in that direction. I mean, I guess, when you come right down to it, I'm just an old fashioned conservative and you were always such a fire-breather, a real radical, I mean, and I never could feel that nothing was right and everything had to be changed, but you never belonged to anything, did you, and isn't there this Fifth Amendment thing that you read about in the papers and everybody talks about?"
"Oh yes—yes, indeed," he nodded, gobbling nervously at his Hudson River shad roe, "yes, indeed, there is such a thing as the Fifth Amendment. You take the Fifth and don't answer their questions and then all that happens, is that you don't work again and never have another show produced and that's the end of the three hundred thousand dollars we've, raised already for the new musical and that's the end of Hollywood and TV and everything else. That's all that happens. Nothing happens."
"Please don't eat so fast," she reminded him, in the tone one would take with a small boy. "You know that when you eat and talk at the same time and eat too fast it gives you a nervous stomach and starts your ulcers up. Anyway, I don't think you should be eating shad roe with bacon."
"Never mind how I eat," he retorted. "This isn't me alone. Don't you see that I have a larger responsibility than myself? I pay you two hundred dollars a week, don't I? The truth is that I need a gross income of eighty thousand a year just to exist. Not to pamper myself, but just for hand to mouth existence!"
"Of course, I know that," she said more sympathetically. "The fact is that I always defend you, Harvey. I know how hard it is. I know what it means to be a creative artist. That's why I could always understand and make allowances for everything that happened. It wasn't I who wanted the divorce, Harvey."
"Look, baby, let's not rehash our marriage. Right now I'm in a devil of a spot."
"And I want to help you, Harvey. Couldn't that word be the key to it—help? Perhaps they are calling you to have you help them. You know, there are witnesses that help, Harvey—people who help to keep us free from tyranny. Perhaps you won't have to take the Fifth at all. After all, you've written nothing for fifteen years to make them think you're subversive."
"God knows what's subversive today!"
"And you could tell them that those old plays you wrote so many years ago were just done by a foolish young man. And a very poor one. You know, you did always say that when you wrote Let the Sun Shine, you lived for three weeks on crackers and cheese and water. What would they expect under such circumstances?"
"And betray what I wrote? Renounce it? Condemn it?—No—God damn it, no! There's talent in that stuff! Yes, it's off base, it's not in the, stream of the American way of life—hell, it may even be subversive, for all I know. But it's good, and a damn sight better dialogue than anything being written today!"
"Harvey, you're shouting. The point is, you wouldn't write it today, would you?"
"No, I don't suppose I would."
"And you can't be held responsible all your life for what you did as a child."
"I wasn't a child at twenty-two."
"Of course you were. You didn't have a penny to your name."
"That's true enough. Jane, I wish I could make you understand how rough it was then. But that's the trouble with people who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths. They never can understand real poverty. I don't suppose it would do any good to try to make you understand—"
"Harvey," she said patiently, "we've been through all that, and there's no need to go through it again. You talk as if being poor were something to be proud of, and you always made me feel like an outsider because I had a decent bringing up. But you can see what being poor has gotten you into, writing all those plays about terrible people who hated everything and actually did want to overthrow the government with force and violence."
"No—no, they were poor people. They didn't want to overthrow the government. They just wanted to have things better. That's perfectly natural, Jane. After all, it was in the worst part of the depression. Isn't it the American way of life to want to have a better standard of living?"
"That's just what I've been saying. And just consider your last four productions—they're about people who are content with the American way of life, and they've been very successful. As a matter of fact, Harvey, they prove that you are helping to strengthen the American way of life. Don't you suppose some of the congressmen on the committee have seen some of your plays during the past six years?"
"Well, there you are. Why should they be angry with you? All you have to do is explain that you were poor and misguided and were taken in by the lies and machinations of all those terrible people. You know whom I mean, the kind of people you used to have at the house who would always talk about how wonderful the Group Theatre was and how decadent the theatre is today, and after all, it's not as if you were Jewish."
"What has that got to do with it?"
"Harvey, please, you know I'm not anti-Semitic, and Alice Wolf is practically my best friend, but the truth is that they don't seem to like Jews. You can tell them that one of your ancestors came over here, in 1794. You remember how Martin Leland went before the committee and he was so deeply moved when he told them how the Communists had tricked him and lied to him and used him as a dupe that he actually began to cry right there in front of the television cameras——"
"God damn it, you don't want me to cry, do you? That's a contemptible thing——"
"I didn't say you should cry. But the point is that Martin was so unquestionably sincere that they just couldn't doubt him. And then when he told them his grandfather had been police commissioner in Cleveland or Toledo or some place, they really saw that he was a true American and not a subversive, and then when he took an oath that he would never sign anything or join anything again as long as he lived because he had no business in politics anyway—well, they understood how deeply American he felt." Crane was silent, and she looked at him anxiously. "You do see what I mean?"
"There's still a question of dignity," he said slowly.
"I don't see how it can be undignified to be patriotic."
"It also depends upon the way you look at it."
"You know, Harvey," she said to him, so kindly that for a moment he regretted the whole business of separation and divorce, as necessary as it had been, "that's just the trouble with you. You're probably the most principled person I've ever known, and that's what makes you such a child in this world. Principles are, fine things, but how are you to know whether your principles are the right ones? I think you have to respect the principles of men who really have the good of the country at heart. You can't deny that America is the most principled nation in the world. Look at the way we are practically giving away our whole lives to all those foreign nations that couldn't exist for one week, if we didn't support them. It's fine to have principles, but sometimes they can be wrong. And I know you're big enough to have humility."
"It's damned hard," Crane said.
"But you have to be big enough. Of course it's hard. But people honor you more for having humility than for anything else...."
After he had left her and was in a taxicab on his way down to his lawyer's office, Harvey Crane reflected on the fact that of all the women he had known—not a few—there was no one like Jane. She was a jewel. She was something that happened only to a very lucky man, and he—he was such a miserable neurotic fool that he had not been able to rest until he broke, up the marriage. Now he could face the truth. It was his doing, and entirely his doing, and he wasn't man enough to come face to face with happiness. How deeply profound were Jane's remarks about humility! And how few people possessed real humility! When he went through his friends, it was almost impossible to find one who was a truly humble man, and for some reason, that brought into his mind a line from the Bible—"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." He said the line over and over, and found it truly comforting. A new mood had come upon him, a benign, deeply-reflective, and philosophically satisfying mood. For a moment, anger and fear departed and he felt uplifted and ennobled.
He began to feel that there was something providential in what had happened to him. He had been too satisfied with himself, in spite of his inner conflicts, and even his daily sessions with his analyst had not wholly dispelled his arrogance and self-justification. Now, in his present glow of beneficence, he began to wonder whether he was not having what his analyst referred to as a true passage of insight. If he were a Catholic—and it was strange how often this possibility had occurred to him recently—he would have been certain that what moved him was a high form of religious experience, and even though he was not a Catholic, he played with the thought.
When his cab turned into lower Broadway, with its high buildings and narrow side streets and throngs of hurrying people, his feeling of assurance increased and he was filled with pity for all these hurrying, faceless, nameless people who lived out their lives in these high offices, wondering whether this wasn't material for a new play—but then thrusting the thought aside, as he recalled the difficulties and reprisals inherent in such material. He had paid a full and sufficient price, and who was to say that this was the role of an artist? He must remember what Jane had said concerning humility.
Excerpted from The Last Supper by Howard Fast. Copyright © 1955 Howard Fast. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- The Last Supper
- The Ancestor
- The Vision of Henry J. Baxter
- A Walk Home
- Coca Cola
- Christ in Cuernavaca
- The Power of Positive Thinking
- Gentleman from Mississippi
- Journey to Boston
- The Child and the Ship
- Sunday Morning
- The Upraised Pinion
- The Holy Child
- My Father
- Coda: The Poet in Philadelphia
- A Biography of Howard Fast