Leonard Gross

Mirror

Excerpt:

“Let’s do each other one favor, okay?” Harry said. “Let’s not tell each other lies. I don’t think I’ve lied to you more than once in my life – and that one was half a lie, and I told it to protect you.”

“I told you before that I don’t require your protection.”

Harry turned on him then and came up so close to him, leaning on the desk, that Cavanaugh drew back involuntarily. “Oh, yes, you do,” he said. “Oh, Jesus, God, you do. You’re destroying this magazine and all of us with it. In the last six months you’ve turned on those of us who have given you the most – me most of all. You made Mirror and you gave it a parent’s love, and you can’t really understand anyone who parcels his love in any other fashion. So you intend to take your child with you to your grave.”

Cavanaugh winced. He hadn’t thought of his grave before. He didn’t like the idea. He loathed the idea. He decided in that moment to be cremated. “That’s an interesting notion,” he said.

“It’s true isn’t it?”

“You’re the psychiatrist."

Harry looked at him sharply. “Am I?” he said. “All right, then let me continue. You’re getting rid of me so that I won’t resist you. I never resisted you before, and now I do and you can’t stand that, can you? Because you want to run everything, don’t you? You want to run the world, this little world you made for yourself, so small that you could control it, nothing uncertain in it, nothing unpredictable, only what you could control. And now you’re dying – "

Harry stopped abruptly, a look of shock on his face, as though the word had been a bullet he had fired into Cavanaugh. When he continued his voice was a whisper.

“. . . and you’re mistaking your death for the death of the world.”

Cavanaugh leaned back. “The trouble with you, Harry, is that you can’t see what’s going on around you. You’re so caught up in your illusions that you’re not registering the destruction that’s taking place right before your eyes. It’s truth you want? Okay. Your greatest weakness as an editor is that you have nothing to express. You don’t comprehend evil, in particular. You have to comprehend it before you can respond to it.”

“My comprehension of evil is infinitely more reasonable than yours.”

Cavanaugh looked at Harry almost in disgust. Seventeen years he had taught him, and look what stood before him. A saint. That’s what that face was he’d noticed earlier, that defenseless, pregnable face. The face of a fucking saint. “Do you see one single redemptive speck in this storm of history?”

“Oh, yes! Oh, God, yes.” Harry stood before him again, still looking like a mad fucking saint. “Let me tell you what I see. Listen to me please. Open your mind. Try to see something other than your apocalyptic vision.”

Oh, Christ, Cavanaugh said inside, sinking into his chair. Aloud, he said, “State the case.”

“You see conflict and excess and destruction, and you say it’s the end of America. I see the same things and I say it’s a lot of people at last become real and honest and self-accepting, throwing off the deceit and falsehood and self-delusions that you and I grew up with. You and I were so busy hiding the impulses and feelings inside us from other people that we were afraid to act, to open up. So we made little worlds for ourselves, and if anyone tried to get in, whappo. These people don’t feel that way about themselves. They feel good about themselves. Somehow, miraculously, we helped them achieve that. We said, ‘We know better now. Don’t be like us.’ So they’re free to act – and some of them act in ways that I don’t like any more than you do. But it’s a fact of life in this country that nothing ever changes unless someone clamors to change it. Well, what’s the clamor for? For peace. For equality – not bullshit equality, but economic equality. For integrity. For a more expansive view of man, that says he’s more than just a money-making machine.”

“You really believe this stuff?”

“I’ve got to believe it. I feel it in myself. I won’t try to hide it – I’m not the man I was six months ago. I’ve got to believe I’m better off because of the struggle I’ve gone through.”

For a moment, Cavanaugh thought that Harry might get down on his knees. But he stopped short of that and only bent low, his hands on the desk.

“The important thing isn’t to know the answers. It’s to believe that answers exist. Show the problem, yes, for Christ’s sake, yes, but show the solution, too, or give hope that there is one. The world isn’t redeemed, but it’s closer to redemption than it was fifty years ago. Man isn’t redeemed, but he’s working on it. His state is always one of anxiety and tension. It always will be. Why shouldn’t it be? He inherits an imperfect world. If he were tranquil in the face of imperfection, I’d be worried. But how can I despair for man when he fights?” Harry paused. “There’s your redemptive speck.”

Harry was breathing as though he’d just finished a race. Cavanaugh shook his head sadly. “What surprises me most, I suppose, is how you can have worked for so many years as you have surrounded by evidence contradicting everything you’ve just said, and still wind up with these notions.”

“And what surprises me most,” Harry retorted, “is how you can be so all-perceiving about the world for so many years without ever leaving this office, and yet not understand what happens in the office itself.”

Cavanaugh sank back even more heavily into his seat. “State the case,” he said once more.

“Where do you think my ideas come from? Where did I learn what I know? Who taught me – and the others – to believe that there was a solution to every problem? How many times have we heard you tell a writer to write a story that includes and changes a man, instead of cutting him off? Do you think we’re blind? Do you think we didn’t know why you ran so many stories on blacks and Jews? Don’t you think it taught us something: that every man is crippled? Somewhere in all of us is a crippling weakness. Yours happens to be visible. So what you did to adjust to it was more visible than most. We saw how you did it, and we learned that if you could do it, by God, maybe we could too.”

“If you’ve learned so much from me, then how is it you can’t see that evil has put good to rout, and the world is – “

Harry shot from his seat. “If I hear that once more I’ll flip. The world isn’t dying. America isn’t dying. You’re dying.”

Selected Works

Nonfiction
"Illuminates an entire subject.”
--The New York Times
“Nothing short of a tour de force.”
--Los Angeles Times
Fiction
“Mirror is a compelling novel, so well paced that the pages almost turn themselves.”
-- Susan Isaacs

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