Vollmann: Cain, Abel


To put a point on it, Abel prayed timidly to a God Whom he feared, of Whom he expected nothing—correctly, as we know from the tale’s round words, for God declined to protect him. As for Cain, he abandoned himself to anger and crime. He couldn’t kill God or the angel, so he killed Abel. Somewhat wanting in backbone that murderer was, too, for he pleaded innocent, just like any cheap pimp who’s gotten busted. But grant him this: In the end he did at least wear his Mark with defiant pride, and set out most adventurously to take up housekeeping with Lilith’s daughters and other whores in the Land of Nod, which I’ve always assumed was the place that heroin addicts go to, somewhere far past Jackson Street’s ideograms white and red on different colored awnings, somewhere out of Chinatown, maybe behind the Green Door Massage or in the Stockton tunnel or even Union Square where a red substance resembling Abel’s blood offered itself for purchase in the windows of Macy’s. And Cain, I read, begat Pontius Pilate, who begat firstly innocent bystanders, and secondly good Germans, and thirdly Mr. Henry Tyler, that newly ageing lump of flesh with the same stale problem of an irremediable spiritual impotence—nay, rottenness—of which he had not been the cause and for which there could be no solution.

William T. Vollmann, The Royal Family, 2001