In the rattlesnake cage the snakes lay with their chins resting on their own coils and they stared straight ahead out of their scowling dusty black eyes. In another cage a Gila monster with a skin like a beaded bag reared slowly up and dawed heavily and sluggishly at the wire. The anemones in the aquaria blossomed open, with green and purple tentacles and pale green stomachs. The little sea water pump whirred softly and the needles of driven water hissed into the tanks forcing lines of bubbles under the surface.
It was the hour of the pearl. Lee Chong brought his garbage cans out to the curb. The bouncer stood on the porch of the Bear Flag and scratched his stomach. Sam Malloy crawled out of the boiler and sat on his wood block and looked at the lightening east. Over on the rocks near Hopkins Marine Station the sea lions barked monotonously. The old Chinaman came up out of the sea with his dripping basket and flipflapped up the hill.
Then a car turned into Cannery Row and Doc drove up to the front of the laboratory. His eyes were red rimmed with fatigue. He moved slowly with tiredness. When the car had stopped, he sat still for a moment to let the road jumps get out of his nerves. Then he climbed out of the car. At his step on the stairs, the rattlesnakes ran out their tongues and listened with their waving forked tongues. The rats scampered madly about the cages. Doc climbed the stairs. He looked in wonder at the sagging door and at the broken window. The weariness seemed to go out of him. He stepped quickly inside. Then he went quickly from room to room, stepping around the broken glass. He bent down quickly and picked up a smashed phonograph record and looked at its title.
In the kitchen the spilled grease had turned white on the floor. Doc’s eyes flamed red with anger. He sat down on his couch and his head settled between his shoulders and his body weaved a little in his rage. Suddenly he jumped up and turned on the power in his great phonograph. He put on a record and put down the arm. Only a hissing roar came from the loudspeaker. He lifted the arm, stopped the turntable, and sat down on the couch again.
On the stairs there were bumbling uncertain footsteps and through the door came Mack. His face was red. He stood uncertainly in the middle of the room. “Doc—” he said— “I and the boys—”
For the moment Doc hadn’t seemed to see him, Now he leaped to his feet. Mack shuffled backward. “Did you do this?”
“Well, I and the boys—” Doc’s small hard fist whipped out and splashed against Mack’s mouth. Doc’s eyes shone with a red animal rage. Mack sat down heavily on the floor. Doc’s fist was hard and sharp. Mack’s lips were split against his teeth and one front tooth bent sharply inward. “Get up!” said Doc.
Mack lumbered to his feet. His hands were at his sides. Doc hit him again, a cold calculated punishing punch in the mouth, The blood spurted from Mack’s lips and ran down his chin. He tried to lick his lips.
“Put up your hands. Fight, you son of a bitch,” Doc cried, and he hit him again and heard the crunch of breaking teeth.
Mack’s head jolted but he was braced now so he wouldn’t fall. And his hands stayed at his sides. “Go ahead, Doc,” he said thickly through his broken lips. “I got it coming.”
Doc’s shoulders sagged with defeat. “You son of a bitch,” he said bitterly. “Oh you dirty son of a bitch.” He sat down on the couch and looked at his cut knuckles.
Mack sat down in a chair and looked at him. Mack’s eyes were wide and full of pain. He didn’t even wipe away the blood that flowed down his chin. In Doc’s head the monotonal opening of Monteverdi’s Hor ch’ el Ciel e la Terra began to form, the infinitely sad and resigned mourning of Petrarch for laura. Doc saw Mack’s broken mouth through the music, the music that was in his head and in the air. Mack sat perfectly still, almost as though he could hear the music too. Doc glanced at the place where the Monteverdi album was and then he remembered that the phonograph was broken.
He got to his feet. “Go wash your face,” he said and he went out and down the stairs and across the street to Lee Chong’s. Lee wouldn’t look at him as he got two quarts of beer out of the icebox. He took the money without saying anything. Doc walked back across the street.
Mack was in the toilet cleaning his bloody face with wet paper towels. Doc opened a bottle and poured gently into a glass, holding it at an angle so that very little collar rose to the top. He filled a second tall glass and carried the two into the front room. Mack came back dabbing at his mouth with wet towelling. Doc indicated the beer with his head. Now Mack opened his throat and poured down half the glass without swallowing. He sighed explosively and stared into the beer. Doc had already finished his glass. He brought the bottle in and filled both glasses again. He sat down on his couch.
“What happened?” he asked.
Mack looked at the floor and a drop of blood fell from his lips into his beer. He mopped his split lips again. “I and the boys wanted to give you a party. We thought you’d be home last night.”
Doc nodded his head. “I see.”
“She got out of hand,” said Mack. “It don’t do no good to say I’m sorry. I been sorry all my life. This ain’t no new thing. It’s always like this.” He swallowed deeply from his glass. “I had a wife,” Mack said. “Same thing. Ever’thing I done turned sour. She couldn’t stand it any more. If I done a good thing it got poisoned up some way. If I give her a present they was something wrong with it. She only got hurt from me. She couldn’t stand it no more. Same thing ever’ place ’til I just got to downing. I don’t do nothin’ but down no more. Try to make the boys laugh.”
Doc nodded again. The music was sounding in his head again, complaint and resignation all in one. “I know,” he said.
“I was glad when you hit me,” Mack went on. “I thought to myself — ‘Maybe this will teach me. Maybe I’ll remember this.’ But, hell, I won’t remember nothin’. I won’t learn nothin’. Doc,” Mack cried, “the way I seen it, we was all happy and havin’ a good time. You was glad because we was givin’ you a party. And we was glad. The way I seen it, it was a good party.” He waved his hand at the wreckage on the floor. “Same thing when I was married. I’d think her out and then — but it never come off that way.”
“I know,” said Doc. He opened the second quart of beer and poured the glasses full.
“Doc,” said Mack, “I and the boys will clean up here— and we’ll pay for the staff that’s broke. If it takes us five years we’ll pay for it.”
Doc shook his head slowly and wiped the beer foam from his mustache. “No,” he said, “I’ll clean it up. I know where everything goes.”
“We’ll pay for it, Doc.”
“No you won’t, Mack,” said Doc. “You’ll think about it and it’ll worry you for quite a long time, but you won’t pay for it. There’s maybe three hundred dollars in broken museum glass. Don’t say you’ll pay for it. That will just keep you uneasy. It might be two or three years before you forget about it and felt entirely easy again. And you wouldn’t pay it anyway.”
“I guess you’re right,” said Mack. “God damn it, I know you’re right. What can we do?”
“I’m over it,” said Doc. “Those socks in the mouth got it out of my system. Let’s forget it.”
Mack finished his beer and stood up. “So long, Doc,” he said.
“So long. Say, Mack — what happened to your wife?”
“I don’t know,” said Mack, “She went away.” He walked clumsily down the stairs and crossed over and walked up the lot and up the chicken walk to the Palace Flophouse. Doc watched his progress through the window. And then wearily he got a broom from behind the water heater. It took him all day to clean up the mess.
John Steinbeck, Cannery Row