Heart of Darkness
“I really get into old hard-boiled mysteries Raymond Chandler.” Nick had gotten himself cornered by a fellow traveler, a hook-nosed retiree headed to Mars to see her great-great-grandchildren graduate from the University of Mars.
“I don’t much care for Chandler’s Marlowe,” Nick said. He could feel it coming on. The woman pushed back a misplaced silver curl of hair and plowed on.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand. You’ve read Chandler?”
“Yes.” Then he added, “As a child.” She deflated, if only slightly, and her eyes darted down for a moment. Something about that moment of pause that egged Nick on. He knew he shouldn’t, but it was a compulsion he couldn’t always resist.
“I prefer almost any other Marlowe. Christopher Marlowe and his brawling death in 1593 for example. Even the now obscure June Marlowe, whose real name was Gisella Goetten and who starred opposite John Barrymore in Don Juan, is preferable. Or what about Marlowe Gardiner-Heslin who was the voice in the forgettable Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse? Anthony Marlowe the mid-twentieth century British parliamentarian? No, I suppose not. My favorite if I must limit myself to literary Marlowes…”
She was looking older by the minute, yet affixed to where she stood. It was as if he had stricken the poor woman with some dark and exotic mesmerism that was eating her soul as she listened. As if each word were a bite.
“Well, there can be only one,” Nick smiled, “Marlow. That’s without an “E” at the end. Have you ever read Heart of Darkness?” She couldn’t bring herself to reply. “Well you should have. Venturing into space is rather like sailing up the Congo was in those days.” He paused a moment, then continued, “You never can tell what dark horror you might bump into out here.”
He smiled again and then waited a moment. Yes, my work here is done, he thought. So he nodded at the woman, turned on his heel sharply and continued his morning constitutional alone. It was harsh, and Io would berate him later, and rightly so he thought, for being so boorish. But the old woman would tell others and Nick hoped he would be left alone, especially on his early morning constitutional walk around the perimeter gangway of the ship.