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V.《V》


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Chapter Twelve

 In which things are not so amusing

 I

 The party had begun late, with a core of only a dozen Sick. Evening was hot  and not likely to get any cooler. They all sweated. The loft itself was part  of an old warehouse and not a legal residence; buildings in this area of the  city had been condemned years ago. Someday there would be cranes, dump  trucks, payloaders, bulldozers to come and level the neighborhood; but in  the meantime, nobody - city or landlords - saw any objection in turning a  minor profit.

There hung therefore about Raoul, Slab and Melvin's pad a climate of  impermanence, as if the sand-sculptures, unfinished canvases, thousands of  paperback books suspended in tiers of cement blocks and warped planks, even  the great marble toilet stolen from a mansion in the east 70's (since  replaced by a glass and aluminum apartment building) were all part of the  set to an experimental play which its cabal of faceless angels could cause  to be struck at any moment without having to give their reasons.

People would arrive, come the late hours. Raoul, Slab and Melvin's  refrigerator was already half filled with a ruby construction of wine  bottles; gallon of Vino Paisano slightly above center, left, off-balancing  two 25-cent bottles of Gallo Grenache Rose, and one of Chilean Riesling,  lower right, and so on. The icebox door was left open so people could admire, could dig. Why not? Accidental art had great vogue that year.

 

Winsome wasn't there when the party began and didn't show up at all that  night. Nor any night after that. He'd had another fight with Mafia in the  afternoon, over playing tapes of McClintic Sphere's group in the parlor  while she was trying to create in the bedroom.

"If you ever tried to create," she yelled, "instead of live off what other  people create, you'd understand."

"Who creates," Winsome said. "Your editor, publisher? Without them, girl,  you would be nowhere."

"Anywhere you are, old sweet, is nowhere." Winsome gave it up and left her  to scream at Fang. He had to step over three sleeping bodies on the way out.  Which one was Pig Bodine? They were all covered by blankets. Like the old  pea-and-nutshell dodge. Did it make any difference? She'd have company.

He headed downtown and after a while had wandered by the V-Note. Inside were  stacked tables and the bartender watching a ball game on TV. Two fat Siamese  kittens played on the piano, one outside chasing up and down the keyboard,  one inside, clawing at the strings. It didn't sound like much.

"Roon."

"Man, I need a change of luck, no racial slur intended."

"Get a divorce." McClintic appeared in a foul mood. "Roon, let's go to  Lenox. I can't last the weekend. Don't tell me any woman trouble. I got  enough for both of us."

"Why not. Out to the boondocks. Green hills. Well people."

"Come on. There is a little girl I have to get out of this town before she  flips from the heat. Or whatever it is."

It took them a while. They drank beer till sunset and then headed up to  Winsome's where they swapped the Triumph for a black Buick. "It looks like a  staff car for the Mafia," said McClintic. "Whoops."

"Ha, ha," replied Winsome. They continued uptown along the nighttime Hudson,  veering finally right into Harlem. And there began working their way in to  Matilda Winthrop's, bar by bar.

Not long after they were arguing like undergraduates over who was the most  juiced, gathering hostile stares which had less to do with color than with  an inherent quality of conservatism which neighborhood bars possess and bars  where how much you can drink is a test of manhood do not.

They arrived at Matilda's well past midnight. The old lady, hearing  Winsome's rebel accent, talked only to McClintic. Ruby came downstairs and  McClintic introduced them.

Crash, shrieks, deep-chested laughter from topside. Matilda ran out of the  room screaming.

"Sylvia, Ruby's friend, is busy tonight," McClintic said.

Winsome was charming. "You young folks just take it easy," he said. "Old  Uncle Roony will drive you anywhere you want, won't look in the rear view  mirror, won't be anything but the kindly old chauffeur he is."

Which cheered McClintic up. There being a certain strained politeness in the  way Ruby held his arm. Winsome could see how McClintic was daft to get out  in the country.

More noise from upstairs, louder this time. "McClintic," Matilda yelled.

"I must go play bouncer," he told Roony. "Back in five."

Which left only Roony and Ruby in the parlor.

"I know a girl I can take along, said he, "I suppose, her name is Rachel  Owlglass, who lives on 112th."

Ruby fiddled with the catches on her overnight bag. "Your wife wouldn't like  that too much. Why don't McClintic and I just go up in the Triumph. You  shouldn't go to that trouble."

"My wife," angry all at once, "is a fucking Fascist, I think you should know  that."

"But if you brought along -"

"All I want to do is go now somewhere out of town, away from New York, away  to where things you expect to happen do happen. Didn't they ever use to?  You're still young enough. It's still that way for kids, isn't it?"

"I'm not that young," she whispered. "Please Roony, be easy."

"Girl, if it isn't Lenox it will be someplace. Further east, Walden Pond, ha  ha. No. No, that's public beach now where slobs from Boston who'd be at  Revere Beach except for too many other slobs like themselves already there  crowding them out, these slobs sit on the rocks around Walden Pond belching,  drinking beer they've cleverly smuggled in past the guards, checking the  young stuff, hating their wives, their evil-smelling kids who urinate in the  water on the sly . . . Where? Where in Massachusetts. Where in the country."

"Stay Home."

"No. If only to see how bad Lenox is."

"Baby, baby," she sang soft, absent: "Have you heard,/ Did you know/ There  ain't no dope in Lenox."

"How did you do it."

"Burnt cork, she told him. "Like a minstrel show."

"No," he started across the room away from her. "You didn't use anything.  Didn't have to. No makeup. Mafia, you know, thinks you're German. I thought  you were Puerto Rican before Rachel told me. Is that what you are, something  we can look at and see whatever we want? Protective coloration?"

"I have read books," said Paola, "and listen, Roony, nobody knows what a  Maltese is. The Maltese think they're a pure race and the Europeans think  they're Semitic, Hamitic, crossbred with North Africans, Turks and God knows  what all. But for McClintic, for anybody else round here I am a Negro girl  named Ruby -" he snorted - "and don't tell them, him, please man."

"I'll never tell, Paola." Then McClintic was back. "You two wait till I find  a friend."

"Rach," beamed McClintic. "Good show." Paola looked upset.

"I think us four, out in the country -" his words were for Paola, he was  drunk, he was messing it up - "we could make it, it would be a fresh thing,  clean, a beginning."

"Maybe I should drive," McClintic said. It would give him something to  concentrate on till things got easier, out of the city. And Roony looked  drunk. More than that, maybe.

"You drive," Winsome agreed, weary. God, let her be there. All the way down  to 112th (and McClintic gunned it) he wondered what he'd do if she wasn't  there.

She wasn't there. The door was open, noteless. She usually left some word.  She usually locked doors. Winsome went inside. Two or three lights were on.  Nobody was there.

Only her slip tossed awry on the bed. He picked it up, black and slippery.  Slippery slip, he thought and kissed it by the left breast. The phone rang.  He let it ring. Finally:

"Where is Esther?" She sounded out of breath.

"You wear nice lingerie," Winsome said.

"Thank you. She hasn't come in?"

"Beware of girls with black underwear."

"Roony, not now. She has really gone and got her ass in a sling. Could you  look and see if there's a note."

"Come with me to Lenox, Massachusetts."

Patient sigh.

"There's no note. No nothing."

"Would you look anyway. I'm in the subway."

 Come with me to Lenox [Roony sang],  It's August in Nueva York Ciudad;  You've told so many good men nix;  Please don't put me down with a dark, "see you Dad" . . .

Refrain [beguine tempo]:

   Come out where the wind is cool and the streets are colonial lanes.

   Though the ghosts of a million Puritans pace in our phony old brains,

   I still get an erection when I hear the reed section of the Boston Pops,

   Come and leave this Bohemia, life's really dreamy away from the JDs and cops.

   Lenox is grand, are you digging me, Rachel,

   Broadening a's by the width of an h'll

   Be something we've never tried . . .

   Up in the country of Alden and Walden,

   Country to glow sentimental and bald in

   With you by my side,

   How can it go wrong?

   Hey, Rachel [snap, snap-on one and three]: you coming along . . .

She'd hung up halfway through. Winsome sat by the phone, holding the slip.  Just sat.

 

II

 Esther had indeed got her ass in a sling. Her emotional ass, anyway. Rachel  had found her earlier that afternoon crying down in the laundry room.

"Wha," Rachel said. Esther only bawled louder.

"Girl," gently. "Tell Rach."

"Get off my back." So they chased each other around the washers and  centrifuges and in and out of the flapping sheets, rag rugs and brassieres  of the drying room.

"Look, I want to help you, is all." Esther had got tangled in a sheet.  Rachel stood helpless in the dark laundry room, yelling at her. Washing  machine in the next room ran all at once amok; a cascade of soapy water came  funneling through the doorway, bearing down on them. Rachel with a foul  expression kicked off her Capezios, hiked her skirt up and headed for a mop.

She hadn't been swabbing five minutes when Pig Bodine stuck his head around  the door. "You are doing that wrong. Where did you ever learn to handle a  swab."

"Here," she said. "You want a swab? I got your swab." She ran at him,  spinning the mop. Pig retreated.

"What's wrong with Esther. I wrapped into her on the way down." Rachel  wished she knew. By the time she'd dried the floor and run up the fire  escape and in the window to their apartment Esther was, of course, gone.

"Slab," Rachel figured. Slab was on the phone after half a ring.

"I'll let you know if she shows."

"But Slab -"

"Wha," said Slab.

Wha. Oh, well. She hung up.

Pig was sitting in the transom. Automatically she turned on the radio for  him. Little Willie John came on singing Fever.

"What's wrong with Esther," she said, for something to say.

"I asked you that," said Pig. "I bet she's knocked up."

"You would." Rachel had a headache. She headed for the bathroom to meditate.

Fever was touching them all.

 

Pig, evil-minded Pig, inferred right for once. Esther showed up at Slab's  looking like any traditional mill hand, seamstress or shop girl Done Wrong:  dull hair, puffy face, looking heavier already in the breasts and abdomen.

Five minutes and she had Slab railing. He stood before Cheese Danish # 56, a  cockeyed specimen covering an entire wall, dwarfing him in his shadowy  clothes as he waved arms, tossed his forelock.

"Don't tell me. Schoenmaker won't give you a dime. I know that already. You  want to put a small bet on this? I say it'll come out with a big hook nose."

That shut her up. Kindly Slab was of the shock-treatment school.

"Look," he grabbed a pencil. "It is no time of year to go to Cuba. Hotter  than Nueva York, no doubt, off season. But for all his Fascist tendencies,  Battista has one golden virtue: abortion he maintains is legal. Which means  you get an M.D. who knows what he's about, not some fumbling amateur. It's  clean, it's safe, it's legal, above all, it's cheap."

"It's murder."

"You've turned R. C. Good show. For some reason it always becomes  fashionable during a Decadence."

"You know what I am," she whispered.

"We'll leave that go. I wish I did." He stopped a minute because he felt  himself going sentimental. He finagled around with figures on a scrap of  vellum. "For 300," he said, "we can get you there and back. Including meals  if you feel like eating."

"We."

"The Whole Sick Crew. You can do it inside a week, down to Havana and back.  You'll be yo-yo champion."

"No."

So they talked metaphysics while the afternoon waned. Neither felt he was  defending or trying to prove anything important. It was like playing one-up  at a party, or Botticelli. They quoted to each other from Liguorian tracts,  Galen, Aristotle, David Riesman, T. S. Eliot.

"How can you say there's a soul there. How can you tell when the soul enters  the flesh. Or whether you even have a soul?"

"It's murdering your own child, is what it is."

"Child, schmild. A complex protein molecule, is all."

"I guess on the rare occasions you bathe you wouldn't mind using Nazi soap  made from one of those six million Jews."

"All right -" he was mad - "show me the difference."

After that it ceased being logical and phony and became emotional and phony.  They were like a drunk with dry heaves: having brought up and expelled all  manner of old words which had always, somehow, sat wrong, they then  proceeded to fill the loft with futile yelling trying to heave up their own  living tissue, organs which had no Business anywhere but where they were.

As the sun went dawn she broke out of a point-by-point condemnation of  Slab's moral code to assault Cheese Danish # 56, charging at it with  windmilling nails.

"Go ahead," Slab said, "it will help the texture." He was on the phone.  "Winsome's not Home." He jittered the receiver, dialed information. "Where  can I get 300 bills," he said. "No, the banks are closed . . . I am against  usury." He quoted to the phone operator from Ezra Pound's Cantos.

"How come," he wondered, "all you phone operators talk through your nose."  Laughter. "Fine, we'll try it sometime." Esther yelped, having just broken a  fingernail. Slab hung up. "It fights back," he said. "Baby, we need 300.  Somebody must have it." He decided to call all his friends who had savings  accounts. A minute later this list was exhausted and he was no closer to  financing Esther's trip south. Esther was tramping around looking for a  bandage. She finally had to settle for a wad of toilet paper and a rubber  band.

"I'll think of something," he said. "Stick by Slab, babe. Who is a  humanitarian." They both knew she would. To whom else? She was the sticking  sort.

So Slab sat thinking and Esther waved the paper ball at the end of her  finger to a private tune, maybe an old love song. Though neither would admit  it they also waited for Raoul and Melvin and the Crew to arrive for the  party; while all the time the colors in the wall-size painting were  shifting, reflecting new wavelengths to compensate for the wasting sun.

 

Rachel, out looking for Esther, didn't arrive at the party till late. Coming  up the seven flights to the loft she passed at each landing, like frontier  guards, nuzzling couples, hopelessly drunken boys, brooding types who read  out of and scrawled cryptic notes in paper books stolen from Raoul, Slab and  Melvin's library; all of whom informed her how she had missed all the fun.  What this fun was she found out before she'd fairly wedged her way into the  kitchen where all the Good People were.

Melvin was holding forth on his guitar, in an improvised folk song, about  how humanitarian a cove his roommate Slab was; crediting him with being (a)  a neo-Wobbly and reincarnation of Joe Hill, (b) the world's leading  pacifist, (c) a rebel with taproots in the American Tradition, (d) in  militant opposition to Fascism, private capital, the Republican  administration and Westbrook Pegler.

While Melvin sang Raoul provided Rachel with a kind of marginal gloss on the  sources of Melvin's present adulation.

It seemed earlier Slab had waited till the room was jammed to capacity, then  mounted the marble toilet and called for silence.

"Esther here is pregnant," he announced, "and needs 300 bucks to go to Cuba  and have an abortion." Cheering, warmhearted, grinning ear to ear, juiced,  the Whole Sick Crew dug deep into their pockets and the wellsprings of a  common humanity to come up with loose change, worn bills, and a few subway  tokens, all of which Slab collected in an old pith helmet with Greek letters  on it, left over from somebody's fraternity weekend years ago.

Surprisingly it came to $295 and some change. Slab with a flourish produced  a ten he'd borrowed fifteen minutes before his speech from Fergus  Mixolydian, who had just received a Ford Foundation grant and was having  more than wistful thoughts about Buenos Aires, from which there is no  extradition.

If Esther objected verbally to the proceedings, no record of it exists,  there being too much noise in the room, for one thing. After the collection  Slab banded her the pith helmet and she was helped up on the toilet, where  she made a brief but moving acceptance speech. Amid the ensuing applause  Slab roared "Off to Idlewild," or something, and they were both lifted  bodily and carried out of the loft and down the stairs. The only gauche note  to the evening was struck by one of their bearers, an undergraduate and  recent arrival on the Sick Scene, who suggested they could save all the  trouble of a trip to Cuba and use the money for another party if they  induced a miscarriage by dropping Esther down the stairwell. He was quickly  silenced.

"Dear God," said Rachel. She had never seen so many red faces, the linoleum  wet with so much spilled alcohol, vomit, wine.

"I need a car," she told Raoul.

"Wheels," Raoul screamed. "Four wheels for Rach." But the Crew's generosity  had been exhausted. Nobody listened. Maybe from her lack of enthusiasm  they'd deduced she was about to roar off to Idlewild and try to stop Esther.  They weren't having any.

It was only at that point, early in the morning, that Rachel thought of  Profane. He would be off shift now. Dear Profane. An adjective which hung  unvoiced in the party's shivaree, hung in her most secret cortex to bloom -  she helpless against it - only far enough to surround her 4' 10" with an  envelope of peace. Knowing all the time Profane too was wheelless.

"So," she said. All it was was no wheels on Profane, the boy a born  pedestrian. Under his own power which was also power over her. Then what was  she doing: declaring herself a dependent? As if here were the heart's  authentic income-tax form, tortuous enough, mucked up with enough  polysyllabic words to take her all of twenty-two years to figure out. At  least that long: for surely it was complicated, being a duty you could  rightfully avoid with none of fancy's Feds ever to worry about tracking you  down on it, but. That "but." If you did take the trouble, even any first  step, it meant stacking income against output; and who knew what  embarrassments, exposes of self that might drag you into?

Strange the places these things can happen in. Stranger that they ever do  happen. She headed for the phone. It was in use. But she could wait.

 

III

 Profane arrived at Winsome's to find Mafia wearing only the inflatable  brassiere and playing a game of her own invention called musical Blankets  with three beaux who were new to Profane. The record being stopped at random  was Hank Snow singing It Don't Hurt Any More. Profane went to the icebox and  got beer; was thinking of calling Paola when the phone rang.

"Idlewild?" he said. "Maybe we can borrow Roony's car. The Buick. Only I  can't drive."

"I can," Rachel said, "stand by."

Profane with a rueful look back at the buoyant Mafia and her friends,  moseyed down the fire stairs to the garage. No Buick. Only McClintic  Sphere's Triumph, locked, keys gone. Profane sat on the Triumph's hood,  surrounded by his inanimate buddies from Detroit. Rachel was there in  fifteen minutes.

"No car," he said, "we're screwed."

"Oh dear." She told him why they had to get to Idlewild.

"I don't see why you're so excited. She wants to get her uterus scraped, let  her."

What Rachel should have said then was "You callous son of a bitch," slugged  him and sought transportation elsewhere. But having come to him with a  certain fondness - perhaps only satisfied with this new, maybe temporary,  definition of peace - she tried to reason.

"I don't know if it's murder or not," she said. "Nor care. How close is  close? I'm against it because of what it does to the abortionee. Ask the  girl who's had one."

For a second Profane thought she was talking about herself. There came this  impulse to get away. She was acting weird tonight.

Because Esther is weak, Esther is a victim. She will come out of the ether  hating men, believing they're all liars and still knowing she'll take what  she can get whether he's careful or not. She'll get to where she can take on  anybody: neighborhood racketeers, college boys, arty types, daft and  delinquent, because it's something she can't get along without."

"Don't, Rachel. Esther, wha. Are you in love with her, you sweat it so  much."

"I am."

"Close your mouth," she told him. "What is your name, Pig Bodine? You know  what I'm saying. How many times have you told me about under the street, and  on the street, and in the subway."

"Them," chopfallen. "Sure, but."

"I mean I love Esther like you love the dispossessed, the wayward. What else  can I feel? For somebody who guilt's such an aphrodisiac for. Up to now  she's been selective. But when she's felt it, feeling always this own breed  of half-assed love for Slab, and the pig Schoenmaker. Going for these  exhausted, ulcerous, lonely rejects."

"Slab and you were -" kicking a tire - "horizontal once."

"OK." Quiet. "It is myself, what I could slide back into, maybe a  girl-victim underneath this red mop -" she had one little hand pushed up  from under into her hair and was slowly lifting the thick mane of it, while  Profane watched and began to grow erect - "part of me that I can see in her.  Just as it is Profane the Depression Kid, that lump that wasn't aborted,  that became an awareness on the floor of one old Hooverville shack in '32,  it's him you see in every no-name drifter, mooch, square's tenant, him you  love."

Who was she talking about? Profane'd had all night to rehearse but never  expected this. He hung his head and kicked inanimate tires, knowing they'd  take revenge when he was looking for it least. He was afraid now to say  anything. 

She held her hair up, eyes gone all rainy; came off the fender she'd been  leaning back on and stood spraddle-legged, hips poised in a bow, his  direction.

"Slab and I rotated our 90 degrees because we were incompatible. The Crew  lost all glamour for me, I grew up, I don't know what happened. But he will  never leave it, though his eyes are open and he sees as much as I do. I  didn't want to be sucked in, was all. But then you . . ."

Thus the maverick daughter of Stuyvesant Owlglass perched like any pinup  beauty. Ready at the slightest pressure surge in the blood lines, endocrine  imbalance, quickening of nerves at the lovebreeding zones to pivot into some  covenant with Profane the schlemihl. Her breasts seemed to expand toward  him, but he stood fast; unwilling to retreat from pleasure, unwilling to  convict himself of love for bums, himself, her, unwilling to see her proved  inanimate as the rest.

Why that last? Only a general desire to find somebody for once on the right  or real side of the TV screen? What made her hold any promise of being any  more human?

You ask too many questions, he told himself. Stop asking, take. Give.  Whatever she wants to call it. Whether the bulge is in your skivvies or your  brain do something. She doesn't know, you don't know.

Only that the nipples which came to make a warm diamond with his navel and  the padded cusp of his ribcage, the girl's ass one hand moved to automatic,  the recently fluffed hairs tickling his nostrils had nothing, for once, at  all to do with this black garage or the car-shadows which did accidentally  include the two of them.

Rachel now only wanted to hold him, feel the top of his beer belly  flattening her bra-less breasts, already evolving schemes to make him lose  weight, exercise more.

McClintic came in and found them like that, holding together until now and  again one or the other lost balance and made tiny staggers to compensate.  Underground garage for a dancing-floor. So they dance all over the cities.

Rachel grasped Everything outside as Paola climbed from the Buick. The two  girls confronted, smiled, passed; their histories would go different from  here on, said the shy twin looks they swapped. All McClintic said was,  "Roony is asleep on your bed. Somebody ought to look after him."

"Profane, Profane," she laughed while the Buick growled to her touch, "dear;  we've got so many of them to take care of now."

 

IV

 Winsome came awake from a dream of defenestration, wondering why he hadn't  thought of it before. From Rachel's bedroom window it was seven stories to a  courtyard used for mean purposes only: drunk's evacuation, a dump for old  beer cans and mop-dust, the pleasures of nighttime cats. How his cadaver  could glorify that!

He moved to the window, opened, straddled, listened. Girls being tailed  somewhere along Broadway, giggling. musician out of work practicing  trombone. Rock 'n' roll across the way:

   Little teen-age goddess

   Don't tell me no,

   into the park tonight

   We're going to go,

   Let me be

   Your teen-age Romeo . . .

Dedicated to the duck's-ass heads and bursting straight skirts of the  Street. That gave cops ulcers and the Youth Board gainful employment.

Why not go down there? Heat rises. On the areaway's jagged floor there'd be  no August.

"Listen friends," Winsome said, "there is a word for all our crew and it is  sick. Some of us cannot keep our flies zipped, others remain faithful to one  mate till menopause or the Grand Climacteric steps in. But randy or  monogamous, on one side of the night or the other, on or off the Street,  there is no one of us you can point to and call well.

"Fergus Mixolydian the Irish Armenian Jew takes money from a Foundation  named after a man who spent millions trying to prove thirteen rabbis rule  the world. Fergus sees nothing wrong there.

"Esther Harvitz pays to get the body she was born with altered and then  falls deeply in love with the man who mutilated her. Esther sees nothing  wrong either.

"Raoul the television writer can produce drama devious enough to slip by any  sponsor's roadblock and still tell the staring fans what's wrong with them  and what they're watching. But he's happy with westerns and detective  stories. 

"Slab the painter, whose eyes are open, has technical skill and if you will  'soul.' But is committed to cheese Danishes.

"Melvin the folk-singer has no talent. Ironically he does more social  commenting than the rest of the Crew put together. He accomplishes nothing.

"Mafia Winsome is smart enough to create a world but too stupid not to live  in it. Finding the real world never jibing with her fancy she spends all  kinds of energy - sexual, emotional - trying to make it conform, never  succeeding.

"And on it goes. Anybody who continues to live in a subculture so  demonstrably sick has no right to call himself well. The only well thing to  do is what I am going to do now, namely, jump out this window."

So speaking Winsome straightened his tie and prepared to defenestrate.

"I say," said Pig Bodine, who'd been out in the kitchen listening. "Don't  you know life is the most precious possession you have?"

"I have heard that one before," said Winsome, and jumped. He had forgotten  about the fire escape three feet below the window. By the time he'd picked  himself up and swung a leg over, Pig was out the window. Pig grabbed  Winsome's belt just as he went over the second time.

"Now look," said Pig. A drunk, urinating below in the courtyard, glanced up  and started yelling for everybody to come watch the suicide. Lights came on,  windows opened and pretty soon Pig and Winsome had an audience. Winsome hung  jackknifed, looking placidly down at the drunk and calling him obscene  names.

"How about letting go," Winsome said after a while. "Aren't your arms  getting tired?"

Pig admitted they were. "Did I ever tell you," Pig said, "the story about  the coke sacker, the cork soaker and the sock tucker."

Winsome started to laugh and with a mighty heave, Pig brought him back over  the low rail of the fire escape.

"No fair," said Winsome who had knocked the wind out of Pig. He tore away  and went running down the steps. Pig, sounding like an espresso machine with  faulty valves, joined the pursuit a second later. He caught Winsome two  stories down, standing on the rail holding his nose. This time he slung  Winsome over a shoulder and started grimly up the fire escape. Winsome  slithered away and ran down another floor. "Ah, good," he said. "Still four  stories. High enough."

The rock 'n' roll enthusiast across the court had turned his radio up. Elvis  Presley, singing Don't Be Cruel, gave them background music. Pig could hear  cop sirens arriving out in front.

So they chased each other up down and around the fire escapes. After a while  they got dizzy and started to giggle.  The audience cheered them on. So  little happens in New York. Police came charging into the areaway with nets,  spotlights, ladders.

Finally Pig had chased Winsome down to the first landing, half a story above  the ground. By this time the cops had spread out a net.

"You still want to jump," Pig said.

"Yes," said Winsome.

"Go ahead," said Pig.

Winsome went down in a swan dive, trying to land on his head. The net, of  course, was there. He bounced once and lay all flabby while they wrapped him  in a strait jacket and carted him off to Bellevue.

Pig, suddenly realizing that he had been AWOL for eight months today, and  that "cop" may be defined as "civilian Shore Patrolman," turned and raced  fleetly up the fire escape for Rachel's window, leaving the solid citizens  to turn their lights off and go back to Elvis Presley. Once inside, he  reckoned he could put on an old dress of Esther's and a babushka and talk  in falsetto, should the cops decide to come up and inquire. They were so  stupid they'd never know the difference.

 

V

 At Idlewild was a fat three-year-old who waited to bounce over the tarmac to  a waiting plane - Miami, Havana, San Juan - looking blase and heavy-lidded  over the dandruffed shoulder of her father's black suit at the claque of  relatives assembled to see her off. "Cucarachita," they cried, "adios,  adios."

For such wee hours the airport was mobbed. After having Esther paged, Rachel  went weaving in and out of the crowd in a random search-pattern for her  strayed roommate. At last she joined Profane at the rail.

"Some guardian angels we are."

"I checked on Pan American and all of them," Profane said. "The big ones.  They were full up days ago. This Anglo Airlines here is the only one going  out this morning."

Loudspeaker announced the flight, DC-3 waited across the strip, dilapidated  and hardly gleaming under the lights. The gate opened, waiting passengers  began to move. The Puerto Rican baby's friends had come armed with maracas,  claves, timbales. They all moved in like a bodyguard to escort her out to  the plane. A few cops tried to break it up. Somebody started to sing, pretty  soon everybody was singing.

"There she is," Rachel yelled. Esther came scooting around from behind a row  of lockers, with Slab running interference. Eyes and mouth bawling,  overnight case leaking a trail of cologne which would dry quickly on the  pavement, she charged in among the Puerto Ricans. Rachel, running after her,  sidestepped a cop only to run head on into Slab.

"Oof," said Slab.

"What the hell's the idea, lout." He had hold of one arm.

"Let her go," Slab said. "She wants to."

"You've slammed her around," yelled Rachel. "You trying to total her? It  didn't work with me so you had to pick on somebody as weak as you are. Why  couldn't you confine your mistakes to paint and canvas."

One way or another the Whole Sick Crew was giving the cops a busy night.  Whistles started blowing. The area between the rail and the DC-3 was  swelling into a small-scale riot.

Why not? It was August and cops do not like Puerto Ricans. The  multimetronome clatter from Cucarachita's rhythm section turned angry like a  swarm of locusts turning for the approach on some rich field. Slab began  shouting unkind reminiscences of the days he and Rachel had been horizontal.

Profane meanwhile was trying to keep from being clobbered. He'd lost Esther  who was naturally using the riot for a screen. Somebody started blinking all  the lights in that part of Idlewild which made things even worse.

He finally broke clear of a small knot of wellwishers and spotted Esther  running across the airstrip. She'd lost one shoe. He was about to go after  her when a body fell across his path. He tripped, went down, opened his eyes  to a pair of girl's legs he knew.

"Benito." The sad pout, sexy as ever.

"God, what else."

She was going back to San Juan. Of the months between the gang bang and now  she'd say nothing.

"Fina, Fina, don't go." Like photographs in your wallet, what good is an old love - however ill-defined - down in San Juan?

"Angel and Geronimo are here." She looked around vaguely.

 

"They want me to go," she told him, on her way again. He followed,  haranguing. He'd forgotten about Esther. Cucarachita and father came running  past. Profane and Fina passed Esther's shoe, lying on its side with a broken  heel.

Finally Fina turned, dry-eyed. "Remember the night in the bathtub?" spat,  spun, dashed off for the plane.

"Your ass," he said, "they would have got you sooner or later." But stood  there anyway, still as any object.

"I did it," he said after a while. "It was me." Schlemihls being, as he  believed, passive, he could not remember ever having admitted anything like  this. "Oh, man." Plus letting Esther get away, plus having Rachel now for a  dependent, plus whatever would happen with Paola. For a boy not getting any  he had more woman problems than anybody he knew.

He started back for Rachel. The riot was breaking up. Behind him propellers  spun; the plane taxied, slewed, became airborne, was gone. He didn't turn to  watch it.

 

VI

 Patrolman Jones and Officer Ten Eyck, disdaining the elevator, marched in  perfect unison up two flights of palatial stairway, down the hall toward  Winsome's apartment. A few tabloid reporters who had taken the elevator  intercepted them halfway there. Noise from Winsome's apartment could be  heard down on Riverside Drive.

"Never know what Bellevue is going to turn up," said Jones.

He and his sidekick were faithful viewers of the TV program Dragnet. They'd  cultivated deadpan expressions, unsyncopated speech rhythms, monotone  voices. One was tall and skinny, the other was short and fat. They walked in  step.

"Talked to a doctor there," said Ten Eyck. "Young fella named Gottschalk.  Winsome had a lot to say."

"We'll see, Al."

Before the door, Jones and Ten Eyck waited politely for the one cameraman in  the group to check his flash attachment. A girl was heard to shriek happily  inside.

"Oboy, oboy," said a reporter.

The cops knocked. "Come in, come in," called many juiced voices.

"It's the police, ma'am."

"I hate fuzz," somebody snarled. Ten Eyck kicked in the door, which had been  open. Bodies inside fell back to provide the cameraman a line-of-sight to  Mafia, Charisma, Fu and friends, playing musical Blankets. Zap, went the  camera.

"Too bad," the photographer said, "we can't print that one. " Ten Eyck  shouldered his way over to Mafia.

"All right, ma'am."

"Would you like to play," hysterical.

The cop smiled, tolerantly. "We've talked to your husband."

"We'd better go," said the other cop.

"Guess Al is right, ma'am." Flash attachment lit up the room from time to  time, like a spell of heat lightning.

Ten Eyck flapped a warrant. "All you folks are under arrest," he said. To  Jones: "Call the Lieutenant, Steve."

"What charge," people started yelling.

Ten Eyck's timing was good. He waited a few heartbeats. "Disturbing the  peace will do," he said.

 

Maybe the only peace undisturbed that night was McClintic's and Paola's. The  little Triumph forged along up the Hudson, their own wind was cool, taking  away whatever of Nueva York had clogged ears, nostrils, mouths.

She talked to him straight and McClintic kept cool. While she told him about  who she was, about Stencil and Fausto - even a Homesick travelogue of  Malta - there came to McClintic something it was time he got around to  seeing: that the only way clear of the cool/crazy flipflop was obviously  slow, frustrating and hard work. Love with your mouth shut, help without  breaking your ass or publicizing it: keep cool, but care. He might have  known, if he'd used any common sense. It didn't come as a revelation, only  something he'd as soon not've admitted.

"Sure," he said later, as they headed into the Berkshires. "Paola, did you  know I have been blowing a silly line all this time. Mister Flab the  original, is me. Lazy and taking for granted some wonder drug someplace to  cure that town, to cure me. Now there isn't and never will be. Nobody is  going to step down from heaven and square away Roony and his woman, or  Alabama, or South Africa or us and Russia. There's no magic words. Not even  I love you is magic enough. Can you see Eisenhower telling Malenkov or  Khrushchev that? Ho-ho."

"Keep cool but care," he said. Somebody had run over a skunk a ways back.  The smell had followed them for miles. "If my mother was alive I would have  her make a sampler with that on it."

"You know, don't you," she began, "that I have to -"

"Go back Home, sure. But the week's not over yet. Be easy, girl."

"I can't. Can I ever?"

"We'll stay away from musicians," was all he said. Did he know of anything  she could be, ever?

"Flop, flip," he sang to the trees of Massachusetts. "Once I was hip . . ."

 

 

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