The Dialogue of the Other
This is one of a series of alternate endings to the Henry James short story The Beast in the Jungle. John Marcher, the protagonist, lives with, “the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen,” and he shares this secret about his fate only with May Bartram, a woman he meets in his youth. Together they wait for John’s event until their old age…
She shook her head again. “However the case stands that isn’t the truth. Whatever the reality, it is a reality. The door isn’t shut. The door’s open,” said May Bartram.
“Then something’s to come?” said John Marcher.
“What could come? What, between us, has yet to pass?”
“Don’t tell me about it, tell me about us; what if it was between us?”
It was Marcher’s turn to shake his head, “It is between us. When you agreed to wait, you agreed to stand on the other side of it, watching me. All those years ago, not knowing what, in agreeing, you were agreeing to—if that had never passed, then this,” Marcher brought his hands together between them for a moment, as he pulled them apart he rotated his palms towards the ceiling and they caught the light, then dropped, “This would never come.”
May Bartram stirred, walking in a slow half circle around him. “I watch you, and between you and I, stands it? What, then, do you watch?”
In the pause of her speech, he remained silent. The face across from his throbbed. As it pulsed outward, it seemed to glow, but still he understood nothing.
She continued, “What if you watched me?”
“You? You have been the cause of my every word. I—”
“Oh yes, your precious I—the primary symbol by which you aim at obliterating your lack—you have constructed your I in talking to me. The cause of your every word? I am your every word, I am not just the recipient of your discourse, I am your discourse, your first other, the second always to your imaginary agency. And I in turn produce the object of your want, what you desire but because of your impotence can never have.”
It was as if a pine tree had smiled; Marcher could only stand dumb.
“To you I have been the analyst, the screen through which you look for your lost object. You talk and talk, imagining yourself speaking when the words speak you, producing you as the divided subject. But I can’t be the analyst forever; turn back, not all those years, but only to the periphery—a quarter spin and here I am, the hysteric.”
John Marcher suddenly knew what to say. It was the truth, he merely opened his mouth to it, “I am the master.”
“Silence,” said May Bartram, “when you speak I know you are not my father. I watch your answers accumulate, they are general and I am specific, but you will alienate me no longer. You say between us all has passed but it—it, your precious fate. Well, your fate is mine. The secret you gave me so long ago, to hold for you, to conserve—I have spent it all. I have squeezed it dry, drop by drop of it spilled until there is no need to sever it from you; one look and it falls to the floor.”
John Marcher was now a fallen master. He later became a university professor.