On the street, Joe sees Parry lingering under a tree a hundred yards away. Parry looks “abject” and refuses to meet Joe’s eye. Joe offers Parry a handshake and considers as he does so that Clarissa was right: though Parry is a “nuisance,” he is “hardly the threat [Joe] made him out to be.” Parry requests that the two of them go to a coffee shop around the corner, but Joe, feeling emboldened, declares that the two of them must talk right where they are.
This scene illustrates the impossibility, for Joe, of fully understanding Parry’s capacity to cause harm until it is too late. Joe is a highly rational character, but even he cannot completely trust his own inclinations in the face of seemingly reasonable dissent from Clarissa.
“Something’s happened,” Parry tells Joe a few moments later, looking down at his fingernails rather than at Joe. When Joe asks what, Parry is offended, insisting that Joe “know[s] what it is” and is denying that knowledge merely to further his own “control” of the situation. Bored already by Parry’s inability to make sense, Joe looks at his watch and considers that he is missing the most productive hours of his working day. When he presses Parry to say what he intends to communicate, Parry confesses at last that Joe “loves” him, that he has no choice but to “return” Joe’s love, and that “there’s a reason for it, a purpose.” Joe responds by insisting that Parry is mistaken—that he doesn’t know Parry or anything about him. When Parry answers by pleading with Joe not to “do this,” Joe wonders if “talking [is] making matters worse.”
At this point in the novel, Parry’s irrationality is as much a source of boredom for Joe as it is a source of danger. This is true in part because Parry is unable to communicate with Joe on a rational level. Joe attempts to reason with Parry, assuring him that he is misinterpreting Joe’s words and behavior, but Parry is fundamentally unable to modify his thinking based on reason and fact. Revealed here is the extent to which rationality is unable to stand up to intuitive, emotional thinking at its most extreme. Nothing Joe says can make any difference to a man unable to be convinced.
Continuing to speak against his better judgment, Joe asks whether Parry was following him the previous day. Parry looks away rather than answering, and Joe takes that response “as [a] confirmation.” To Joe’s surprise, Parry begins to cry, begging Joe to tell him why he’s “keeping this up” and insisting that he “can’t control [his] feelings the way [Joe] can.” Joe, “feeling suffocated,” begins to walk away, and Parry runs along behind him, tugging at his sleeves and continuing to plead his case.
Joe’s discomfort in these paragraphs is due as much to Parry’s extreme emotional vulnerability as it is to his unreason, though the two are clearly linked. When Parry suggests that Joe has the ability to control his feelings, he is correctly diagnosing an important element of Joe’s character—one that his behavior will challenge.
For the first time since the beginning of their encounter, Joe finds himself “calculating the physical danger” posed by Parry, who is “twenty years younger” and who possesses “a desperate cause,” which might lead him to fight with greater passion were a physical altercation to ensure. Joe reflects on the exhausting “variety of [Parry’s] emotional states and the speed of their transitions,” yet he is unable to resist asking what Parry means when the young man declares that a “purpose” has brought them together. Parry confesses, surprisingly, that the fact of his and Joe’s “love” is unimportant; it is merely the means through which Joe will be brought “to God.” Joe listens to this speech but is so startled by Parry’s delusions that he finds it difficult “not to gape.”
Joe is completely unprepared, in these paragraphs, for the irrationality of Parry’s worldview. Yet his own behavior here is imperfectly thought out, as well. Joe knows that he ought not to engage with Parry, yet he can’t resist probing the depth of Parry’s unreason when Parry mentions that the two men have been brought together according to some supernatural plan. Joe, in other words, is unable to behave in perfect accord with his own beliefs and values. His prized rationality is incomplete.
Trying a different strategy, Joe asks Parry “exactly” what he wants, suggesting that perhaps Parry wants to have sex with him. When Parry responds that his own feelings are “not important,” Joe loses interest once again and begins to daydream about the absurdity of the entire situation—the fact that he is “talking to a stranger in terms more appropriate to an affair” and seems to have “fallen through a crack in [his] own existence.” Aware that he might soon need assistance in dealing with Parry, Joe asks for Parry’s address then waves down a taxi. As Joe climbs into the cab, Parry suggests that he, Joe, and Clarissa should all meet and talk. Joe directs the cabdriver to speed away before Parry can completely express this sentiment, however. As Joe departs, Parry stands on the sidewalk looking like “a man blessed in love.”
That Joe tries multiple “strategies” during this conversation suggests that he still believes that Parry can be defeated with reason. This both emphasizes Joe’s commitment to rationalism and underlines its limited effectiveness in extreme circumstances. Meanwhile, the fact that Parry’s expression, in the chapter’s closing moments, is a happy one reveals an important characteristic of love: it has the power, even in the corrupted form in which Parry experiences it, to transform the way a person defines reality.