The Annotated Nexus - Pages 55 - 58
56.0 Mona wonders what Henry and Stasia had been talking about while she was out: she suspects they were judging her.
56.1 “What have I done to deserve such treatment?”
This rhetorical complaint is voiced by Mona, who assumes that Henry and Statsia had been saying bad things behind her back while she was out. This particular phrase is familiar to Miller: “it was my mother’s favorite phrase when in distress.” Miller talks about feeling “terror and disgust” when his mother first used it when he was a child. “Such self-righteousness! Such self-pity! As if god had singled her out, her, a model of a creature, for wanton punishment.” Henry feels guilty just hearing it now—guilty for what, he’s not quite sure.
This is the first reference to Miller’s mother in Nexus. We will meet her for Christmas dinner on pp. 82-99. Later, on page 289, his friend MacGregor will comment that Henry will never change; this also reminds him of something his mother would say.
57.0 Barley stops by to visit Stasia. Ulric stops by the apartment, not at all impressed with the atmosphere. Henry makes a theatre date with Mona, but she stands him up, not realizing he’d been serious. Henry slaps her in the middle of a song.
57.1 Barley popped in
Stasia’s poet friend Barley first appeared at 48.3. It had been mentioned that Barley never managed to lay Stasia, but he would sometimes masturbate while she wrote poetry. Here, Miller builds on this idea by mentioning the “strange sounds” that come from Stasia’s room when Barley comes to “la[y] a few eggs (poems)” with her at their apartment: “Animal cries, in which fear and ecstasy were combined.”
57.2 Ulric called
Ulric is the fictional name of Henry’s friend, Emil Schnellock. Ulric is featured more prominently in Plexus. Here, we just get a quick pop-in to the basement apartment, which Ulric finds depressing and off-putting. Ulric will appear once more at the end of Nexus, at the important moment when Henry is about to depart for France.
57.3 a rum one
On his way out, all Ulric will say about Stasia is “A rum one, that!” According to Dictionary.com, rum as an adjective goes back to the 18th century, and means an “odd, strange or queer” person, often defined as a “rum fellow.” In Dicken’s Pickwick Papers (written 1835/36), characters are referred to as “rum fellows” and, in one case, a “rum ‘un to look at” (p.192).
There’s also a bawdy Scottish traditional song called She Was A Rum One, which ends with the “she” of the title offering her “stable for my stallion.” Although she was a bonny “pretty fair maid,” she was also “a rum one” (which doesn’t appear to be a major characteristic, except for making her sexually liberal). (lyrics)
57.4 Let Me Call You Sweetheart
After being stood up by Mona at the theatre, Henry returns to the apartment to find Mona and Stasia singing this song. Henry and joins them for three rounds of this tune, before confronting Mona about the aborted date.
Henry was 20 years old when this song was first recorded by The Peerless Quartet in 1911. Mona and Stasia would have been young children at the time. Here’s a modern quartet singing it a capella.
57.5 slap in the puss
Before they could launch into Let Me Call You Sweetheart a fourth time, Henry grills Mona about his being stood up. When her excuse is that she didn’t think he was serious, Henry gives her “a sound slap in the puss. A real clout.” As the scene continues on the next page, we see that Miller wasn’t joking—he really was angry. But, moments later, everyone is merry. Either he was quickly forgiven or the slap was not actually very hard.
I include this annotation as a marker for violent outbursts from Miller, which appear to be extremely rare. When I first read this, it seemed out of character for him.
58.0 The slap could not have been hard, because they are soon happily feasting on the food and wine the women surprise him with. It is announced that Stasia is pregnant after having been raped in the Village.
58.1 gut table
Miller calms down once seated at the “gut table.” A gut table is a workstation in a butchery, at which an animal is eviscerated and its guts laid bare. In this Brooklyn basement apartment, the gut table is the place where its three occupants lay bare all true feelings. “Not a very refined expression,” writes Miller of the term, in Crazy Cock (p.106), “but then neither was the language which they employed when gathered here. As a matter of fact, it had been christened thus because here, at one time or another, sometimes in turn, sometimes all together, they were given to their guts […] No kowtowing or salaaming over the gut table. No küss die Hand business, or s 'il vous plait.” Here, Henry apologizes to Mona for hitting her so hard.
58.3 Rhine wine
Miller’s transgression seems forgiven immediately, as Mona and Stasia take Henry by the arm and show him the “pile of groceries” they’ve picked up, including lox, biscuits and caviar. To wash it down, several bottles of wine have also been made available, including a bottle of Rhine wine.
Rhine wine (a.k.a. Rhenish) is a dry white wine from the Rhine Valley in Germany. Miller, himself of German extraction, was likely familiar with it from a young age. Later in Nexus, on page 77, he will comment: “Marvellous wine, Rhine wine.”
Another wine option for the trio is Moselle, a (usually) white wine from the Moselle River region in Europe, shared by Germany, France and Luxemberg. In Germany it is spelled Mosel.
Later in Nexus (p.279), while describing a vacation in Quebec City with Mona, Miller will tell a waiter that he knows nothing about wine. It seems then, that Miller’s first real indication of becoming a sort of wine connoisseur began during this 1927-28 period.
58.7 Kronski … promised to take care of things
The festive mood is cut short at the gut table when Henry is told that Stasia had been gang-raped in the Village and is now suspected of being pregnant. Dr. Kronski (first introduced at 9.2) has already committed to “take care of things,” meaning, of course, to perform an abortion. But Kronski first wants to confirm the pregnancy through examination (ironically enough, Kronski’s previous examination of Stasia on page 49 ended with charges of rape). We will learn the next day (page 59) that the exam proves she is not actually pregnant.