The Palmar

22 Sep

Death can come with speed to anyone who angers a palmar. This was proven in 1919 on London Street on the Lower East side of New York City.

The aged owner of a small pawn shop did not expect business that summer day, since so much of the city was in downtown Manhattan, watching and celebrating the return of regiments from France down Fifth Avenue.

Perhaps some alcoholic, desperate for cash might show up to hawk a possession. Over forty years on London Street, the old dealer thought he had seen everything that came with hard metropolitan life. What surprises could a particular day provide?

He did not foresee what was about to happen to him. A rangy figure in a brown gabardine suit and black fedora entered and came down to where the pawnbroker stood behind a display case. It had been too early to turn the light on in the store. All at once, peering through his pince-nez, the old man recognized the young man who just entered. “Yes, how can I be of service to you?” He asked the latter. “I want to redeem my typewriter,” muttered the customer, staring at the elderly man through cold green eyes. “I have the money to buy it back.”

For a moment, the business man seemed confused, till he remembered the machine and what had happened to it.

“Oh, I am sorry to have to inform you that it was sold a week ago. Someone came in here and offered me a price that I could not turn down. It seems that you are too late. If you had come for it earlier it would be yours today. But now the typewriter is gone and you can’t get it back. Sorry.”

The tanned face of the other reddened with rage.

“I need the typewriter right now. You must find it and get it back for me.”

“That is impossible!” stiffly declared the old man, growing apprehensive. “I am sorry, there is nothing I can do you. It is best that you leave at once.”

“Don’t talk to me like that! I want my property back!” shouted the other, leaning forward over the display case and lifting his arms toward the startled broker.

Before the latter could step back or escape, the hands of the angered young man held the wizened old head in a firm, solid grip.

There had been no time to make any defense from the unanticipated attack. In a few seconds, all vital forces drained from the brain and body of the merchant who had contradicted the will of the palmar.

Leaning forward, the disappointed pawner took the life of the pawnee. The body of the shop owner slumped to the floor like a sack of flour. Suddenly realizing the dimension of what had occurred, the man with green eyes ran to the street door and rapidly exited.

The killing had been an almost unconscious action resulting from the incitement of a deep drive within an unusual individual.

Will Street, short-story writer, lived in a single room in a row house on West 22nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

He was located in the back of the building, on an upper story, so that he had a view of backyards and rooms on the next street through his single window.

Every evening it was possible for him to turn off his room light and sit by the window to observe completely unseen by others. Scenes of eating, quarrelling, and love-making were furnished him for free.

What better raw material for a writer? he asked himself frequently. But his wallet was as lean as his file of sold stories, and Will thought he knew the reason for that. He was ailing from a troublesome force weighing on his mind and his soul.

What should he term it? Was the burden on him an obsession of sorts? A hidden instinct drove him to attack with his uncanny hands. Why was it that the mere laying on of his thenars led to instant death and extinction? What kind of being am I? Will asked again and again. Sitting alone in his room, he felt the heat of the New York summer. His mind suffered in a personal hell.

One evening the writer reached the decision to seek help. There was talk in Greenwich Village in 1919 of a new science called psychoanalysis, an import from Central Europe.

Could it provide him a means of ending his palmar nightmare? he wondered. I have taken too many lives, the writer said to himself. There has to be a way out of this cycle. I must find treatment for the crime of my hands. This cannot continue the way it has.

Although Will lived in Chelsea, most of his friends were residents of 1919 Greenwich Village. The one he now turned to was Inez Hall. She claimed to be a poetess, but remained unpublished. In the summertime she acted for the Provincetown Players on Cape Cod. Her talents were many and extensive.

Inez was acquainted with Eugene O’Neill, Edwin St. Vincent Millay, Djuna Barnes, and Paul Robeson, among many others. Many friends recognized her uniqueness.

Will Street now placed himself in her hands.

She rented a flat of one and a half rooms in a white brick house on Waverly Place, between Gay Street and Sixth Avenue. Inez often pointed out to Will that she lived only a few doors down from where Edgar Allen Poe wrote his “Ligeia” in a past age of New York City. It was an area that possessed a special aura of inspiration.

An unusually short woman, her auburn hair contrasted with dark, pitch black eyes. Will had been bewitched by her for over a year now. He took her to an Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street one sultry evening that summer.

“I want to ask you to do something for me, Inez, if it is at all possible.” ” What can the request be?” She smiled across the tiny circular table. His green eyes grew large. “You must know someone knowledgeable in the practice of psychoanalysts, don’t you?”

She gave a slight laugh, then sent him a searching look. “Are you interested in having some personal problem looked at, Will?” He nodded yes. “Even I have unresolved questions. Meeting some analyst may prove of considerable help to me,” he confessed with a smile.

I never saw you as being that type…” she said with a quiver in her otherwise smooth voice.

“My emotions are quite well hidden,” he told her. “I can conceal many things from myself, I fear.”

She beamed pleasantly at him.

“We are all skilled at prevarication. No one can stand all of the truth. But yes, I can get you in touch with a pioneering psychotherapist in New York. His name is Eugene Wien. He is something unique, both a practicing doctor and a literary critic of the first order.

“Have you heard of the man? Yes, I can arrange for the two of you to meet,” said the young poetess. “Knowing him can be of great benefit, I believe.”

Inez arranged for an appointment for Will with the psychoanalyst who had intense interest in the contemporary literary scene. The doctor’s office was on McDougal Street, south of Washington Square. Street arrived early and had to sit in the empty waiting room for a considerable length of time. The physician himself appeared and summoned him. Wien was a short middle-aged man in a black suit with green pin stripes. His hair and eyes were both hickory brown.

“Come in please,” muttered the analyst. “I’ve been expecting to meet you since Inez talked with me.”

The pair entered an oak-paneled consulting room. The doctor pointed to a sofa chair of red velvet for his new patient to occupy. He himself remained standing a small distance in front of Will.

“Tell me about yourself, Mr. Street,” began the therapist, still standing. “What were you involved with before you became a New York writer?” “I lived in Ohio, near Cleveland, where I managed a paint factory. It was too stifling for me, so one day I walked out and never came back. I was a married man and my wife divorced me, taking all I had. That was the price of freedom. So, I came East where the publishers are. New York is the center of everything of value to me.

“That is the story of my life so far.” “I see,” said Wien, taking a step closer. “Tell me, are you a happy man, Mr. Street?

The latter felt a jolt. What was the question getting at? How closely could this psychoanalyst read a stranger? Could he unearth the deepest of personal secrets?

“This is difficult to answer, Doctor. All of us experience ups and downs, I have learned. Emotions go around in a cycle. Are you a happy man yourself, sir?”

Wien laughed in surprise, then smiled at the writer. “I must admit that you are perceptive, my friend. No, I am not a person overwhelmed with joy. My career is adrift, at sea. That is perhaps the reason I have turned to psychoanalytic practice. My own purpose in life may lie in treatment of misery and pain in others. That could be the explanation for why I am here, doing what I am.”

“Perhaps you and I should reverse our roles,” wryly said the patient. Wien advanced closer, till he stood only a foot away. “I am interested in the present day literary picture. Has any of your work been published, Will?”

“Two stories have appeared in “Smart Set”.”

“I thought your name was familiar! That’s where I saw it!” “At present, I am submitting a series of stories I wrote in Ohio to agents, hoping one of them will take me on.”

“Could you bring me your collection, so I could look at it? Reading your work might reveal much that cannot be verbalized orally before me.”

“Of course,” smiled Street. “I hope you enjoy dark, weird tales like mine. That is the genre I tend to specialize in.”

“I am sure they will be interesting. You can leave them here in the office whenever you want, before we have our next session together.”

Will suddenly understood that the initial meeting was over. He had not come anywhere near the area of his palmar criminality, though.

With a feeling of undefined unease, Will roamed the streets of Greenwich Village that torrid evening.  Had he made a mistake in turning to a psychoanalyst? Was there no hope for him in the direction? The writer asked himself.

He went into out-of-the-way, dimly lit byways: Waverly Place, Washington Mews, Patchin Place. The latter, a small enclosed courtyard off of West Tenth Street, had only ten old brick houses on it. Here was where the unconscious inner driver of the writer surfaced.

A bent, staggering shape approached in the shadows between the light posts. It was an intoxicated reveller, thought Will. Only a few months remained until Prohibition went into effect with the Eighteenth Amendment. What will such alcoholic derelicts do under new puritanical system? Wondered the writer.

All of a sudden, the inebriated little man stopped and blocked the sidewalk in front of the palmar.

“You got some cash, pal?” asked the lisping voice of the obstacle. “I’m dying to have a small drink. Help me out, will you?”

Street, instantly angered hurled himself directly toward the disheveled form blocking his path forwards.

Only at the final moment, as the writer’s hands touched his forehead, did the drunkard realize his danger. Before any more could leave his mouth, the unsteady target felt two palms on his reddened temple. Fingers sank into his skin.

There was no possible defense against such an attack. A commanding, hypnotic force flowed out of the aggressor and confounded the mind of the victim through its thermal power. A gurgle, and then came collapse and fall to the cement. No one was about in any direction to see or hear anything. With sudden clarity of thought and renewed vitality, Street turned and fled from the dead body on the ground.

No one would ever uncover the truth. No marks, no bruises, no signs whatsoever. A besotted drunk had fallen and died, as if a deadly angel had descended and taken away his future life.

The next morning Will took a suitcase containing his published and unpublished writings to the office of Dr. Wien. As he came back onto McDougal Street he was astonished to meet Inez Hall, in a blue satin dress, stepping from the sidewalk onto the entrance stoop of the brownstone building.

The pair greeted each other and Will explained why he had come there. ” How are you and Eugene progressing with analysis?” she inquired, smiling brightly. “That is hard to be specific about. More meetings are necessary before any results can be reached.”

“You will experience wonderful insights,” she murmured. “A person, through psychoanalysis, comes to see themselves in a new way. I know the truth of that myself.”

“So, you have also undergone the treatment,” he said with surprise. Inez smiled.

“Of course, Will. How else could I have dared recommend him to you?”

“The results in your case are highly positive, may I say,” he grinned at her.

“I believe the benefits are invaluable to me,” she confidently said. “My trust in the therapy, and in Eugene as well, is absolute.”

Street felt at the beginning of what he was unable to deny was envy.

“I shall have to continue till I get those wonderful results. Inez, when can you and I dine together again, may I ask?”

She glanced away, toward the brownstone’s front door.

“I’m busy tonight. A couple of female friends are getting together to try out one of the new Ouija boards. You’ve heard of those “spirit boards”. We want to learn whether we can make contact with the dead.

“But the two of us can go out and eat tomorrow evening Will. So long, till then.”

With that she hurried up to the steps into the office of Dr. Eugene Wien.

Once again, the analyst stood on his feet as at their first session. Will sat on the sofa chair, eager to find out what his writings had revealed.

“Your stories are remarkable in their originality,” said Wien, smiling. “I believe that you possess a keen talent for discovering uncanny aspects of life. All of your work is fresh and never boring. I especially enjoyed reading the story titled “The Examinator”. Such a terrible creature is certainly different from the vampires of the British writers like Bram Stoker. As far as I understand, an exanimator would leave no marks or traces on a victim. A sudden natural end would appear to have happened. There are no clues, no trail to follow. Police never suspect any crimes. And this results from a power located in the hands, specifically in the palms.

“I marvel at your inventiveness. How ingenious the concept of the exanimator is!”

“From what I can read between the lines, this human-appearing being has the aim of preserving and extending his own life. Fear of expiring in death motivates the evil killings. Nothing beyond increased longevity by taking over and appropriating other life forces lies behind the attacks on others.”

“Yes, at the end of the story, the killer surrenders to the police and confesses. His guilt is so great that he accepts going to the electric chair.” The green eyes of Street fastened themselves on the face and eyes of the doctor. “What do you think the story reflects in me, then?”

“I cannot say for sure, Will, because I do not know the origin of these ideas you have put down on paper.”

The disconcerted patient decided to lie to the therapist.

“The theme and plot came from dreams I have suffered since childhood. This horrible monster has haunted my night visions for years now.

“I have no inkling of what this nightmare means, Doctor Wien.”

The latter was silent for a time, only speaking after much consideration.

“I, for one, do not know. We are not yet in sight of a solution, Will.”

Street allowed Inez to choose a Greek restaurant on Waverly Place for their evening together. The area brought him stark memories of his confrontation there with the drunkard. Why was the thermal instinct so uncontrollable? Why did the smallest degree of ire ignite it? How would it shape his immediate future?

He forced himself to distract his thoughts through continual talking.

“I was surprised to see you coming out of the office when I delivered my writings there. But since then, I have pondered your reason for seeking analysis. Perhaps it is not my business, but why is he treating you, Inez?”

She gazed silently at him, her ebony eyes unmoving.

“I took it for granted that you understood why I was confident that Eugene could help you. Did I have to spell it out for you, Will?”

“Forgive me. My guess was correct. And has the treatment been helpful?”

“Indeed, it has,” she curtly replied.

At that exact moment, the Greek waiter appeared with the mousaka that both of them had ordered.

As the meal proceeded in silence, he stole quick looks at his companion. Did he dare inquire further on how closely the two were involved? How would Inez react to signs of possessive jealousy toward her? Only after both of them had finished eating, did she spring a surprise on him. “Eugene was divorced after bitter conflict with his wife. He was so lost and lonely when I first went for treatment. I felt sorry and befriended him.

“Hopefully, my presence in his life has been a good influence.

“Sessions with him got me over my Electra Complex hatred toward my mother. I think that I am a better person now because of Eugene.”

Will felt a whirling sensation in his mind as Inez went on.

“Eugene has bought tickets and wants to take me to see the Ziegfeld Follies at the New Amsterdam. I told him that I would, because I’ve never seen Fanny Brice before.

“I have gone to see Ed Wynn in “Gaieties of 1919”. And I saw Eddie Cantor this spring, and W.C. Fields. Shows with comedy are my favorites.”

“That’s fine,” grinned Street, his mind far away. How interested was Dr. Wien in Inez? He asked himself. Had the analyst somehow mesmerized her? I have much to ponder over, the writer told himself. The two soon departed and he walked her to the flat she occupied. Without being invited in, Will wandered about Greenwich Village, returning home quite late.

Standing a foot away from his newest patient, Wien dominated the start of their third meeting. He presented Will with a lengthy general exposition.

“I did some research last night at the New York Public Library and learned much of interest. Taking up what you presented me in the story you wrote, I discovered that the Cayuga tribe of upper New York State had old Algonquian legends about such capabilities. Folklorists call it the chiral or velar power. It was supposed to be passed on among certain birth lines, through the hands. The ability to kill through the palm enabled the possessor to take away the life of another and make it his own. This is precisely what you describe in the exanimator, the word you use. It is the same extraordinary power.

“Ethnographers say that head and circulation stop when thenar muscles are applied at a vulnerable point, like the forehead. Instant death results with no sign of how it came about.

“Have you ever read about this folk belief, Will?”

“No,” sharply replied the writer. “What I wrote in the story was based on the dreams I told you of. It was my personal fantasy. That is all.”

“Do you have any Cayuga or Algonquian ancestors? Could the idea have come to you from family influences when you were growing up in Ohio?”

“Impossible!”

Wien stared blankly at his difficult patient.

“I wish to try something,” he whispered. “It will be an experiment to reveal certain reactions and can be of value to your self-knowledge. I want you to stand up, lift your arms, and set both of your palms on my temple.

“The objective is to see what your reactions turn out to be.”

Will gasped for breath, gulping it into his lungs. No words came from him.

All of a sudden, the danger in the situation became clear to him. Was death to be the result of such an unthinking experiment?

In a single second, he was on his feet and rushed toward the closed door. This was the only way to avoid what he knew was about to occur if he did as the doctor instructed him to do.

Dr. Eugene Wien watched in astonishment as the patient ran out of the building, out into the heat of the summer of 1919.

Inez Hall came without an appointment to see the psychoanalyst. She wished to discuss with him the sudden disappearance of Will Street.

“Where has he gone? Why did he run off so unexpectedly?” she inquired. Wien pursed his lips. “I should not have asked him to do something. Our friend suffered an internal conflict, and his conscience turned out the victor,” he revealed to her.

“But what was his conscience fighting with?” she demanded.

The analyst answered reluctantly. ” I cannot reveal the details, because I was his therapist. Let us say that there was a hidden residue within him that Will was unable to comprehend.

“In this instance, he conquered his inner drive by fleeing New York City.” Understanding began to dawn upon Inez as she thought through what Wien had just told her. She began to believe that Will had done the right thing. He had escaped the terrible hell that the world metropolis had become for him.

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