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MALAMUD, Bernard



The Fixer

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I respect man for what he has to go through in life, and sometimes for how he does it, but he has changed little since he began to pretend he was civilized, and the same thing may be said about our society. That is how I feel, but having made that confession let me say, as you may have guessed, that I am somewhat of a meliorist. That is to say, I act as an optimist because I find I cannot act at all, as a pessimist. One often feels helpless in the face of the confusion of these times, such a mass of apparently uncontrollable events and experiences to live through, attempt to understand, and if at all possible, give order to; but one must not withdraw from the task if he has some small thing to offer – he does so at the risk of diminishing his humanity.

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A prisoner, an anguished and desperate man, was locked in the next cell. The minute in, he began to pound with his shoe, or both shoes, against the wall. The noise came through distantly and Yakov pounded back with his shoe. But when the man shouted he could somehow be heard, though not his words. They shouted to each other at various times of the day and night as loudly as they could – it sounded to the fixer as though someone was trying to tell him a heart-breaking tale, and he wanted with all his heart to hear and then tell his own; but the man’s shouts, cries, questions, were muffled, indistinguishable. So were his, the fixer knew.
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