Part 3, Chapters 38 Summary
That night Gladney tells Babette that Siskind thinks the problem is that people who fear death are no good at suppressing their fears. Babette is confused, as they have been told for years that repression causes “tension, anxiety, unhappiness; a hundred diseases and conditions.” People are supposed to talk about their fears and “get in touch with their emotions.” Siskind disagrees, believing repression is something that differentiates people from animals. It may be crazy, but Gladney says it is the only way to survive.
The next day, Gladney begins to carry his gun with him to school. It is always with him, in his jacket or in his desk drawer, and it gives him a sense of power. This is something he can control, even if it is in secret. He begins to think that people who come into his office unarmed are foolish. One afternoon he takes the gun from his drawer and examines it; three bullets remain in the chamber, and he wonders how his father-in-law, Vernon Dickey, used the other bullets. He ponders four Dylar tablets and three bullets.
Later he asks Heinrich about Mercator’s snake-sitting feat. No one would let him officially sit for months with poisonous snakes, so Mercator had to “go underground.” Mercator found a notary public in Watertown who would certify his feat, but the best he could do was a hotel room where a man promised to bring twenty-seven venomous snakes but showed up with three. Mercator got bitten after just three minutes; anticlimactically, he discovered that the snakes were not poisonous. Rather than be thankful just to be alive, Mercator is now in hiding.
Gladney walks back to his office; it is late and the campus is empty, but he feels as if someone is walking parallel to him, in and out of the shadow. He thinks perhaps the gun is making him unusually jumpy. Gladney finally turns around to face his foe from behind a tree, gun ready. When he sees it...
(The entire section is 502 words.)