As far as he knew, she did not go to New York again. She took his advice and stayed at home, and, after turning their living room into a battlefield, after turning Morristown High into a battlefield, she went out one day and blew up the post office, destroying right along with it Dr. Fred Conlon and the village's general store, a small wooden building with a community bulletin board out front and a single old Sunoco pump and the metal pole on which Russ Hamlin--who, with his wife, owned the store and ran the post office--had raised the American flag every morning since Warren Gamaliel Harding was president of the United States.
.fA.tiny, bone-white girl who looked half Merry's age but claimed to be some six years older, a Miss Rita Cohen, came to the Swede four months after Merry's disappearance. She was dressed like Dr. King's successor, Ralph Abernathy, in freedom-rider overalls and ugly big shoes, and a bush of wiry hair emphatically framed her bland baby face. He should have recognized immediately who she was-- for the four months he had been waiting for just such a person--but she was so tiny, so young, so ineffectual-looking that he could barely believe she was at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business and Finance (doing a thesis on the leather industry in Newark, New Jersey), let alone the provocateur who was Merry's mentor in world revolution.On the day she showed up at the factory, the Swede had not known that Rita Cohen had undertaken some fancy footwork--in and out through the bas.e.m.e.nt door beneath the loading dock--so as to elude the surveillance team the FBI had a.s.signed to observe from Central Avenue the arrival and departure of everyone visiting his office.Three, four times a year someone either called or wrote to ask permission to see the plant. In the old days, Lou Levov, busy as he might be, always made time for the Newark school cla.s.ses, or Boy Scout troops, or visiting notables chaperoned by a functionary117.
from City Hall or the Chamber of Commerce. Though the Swede didn't get nearly the pleasure his father did from being an authority on the glove trade, though he wouldn't claim his father's authority on anything pertaining to the leather industry--pertaining to anything else, either--occasionally he did a.s.sist a student by answering questions over the phone or, if the student struck him as especially serious, by offering a brief tour.Of course, had he known beforehand that this student was no student but his fugitive daughter's emissary, he would never have arranged their meeting to take place at the factory. Why Rita hadn't explained to the Swede whose emissary she was, said nothing about Merry until the tour had been concluded, was undoubtedly so she could size up the Swede first; or maybe she said nothing for so long the better to enjoy toying with him. Maybe she just enjoyed the power. Maybe she was just another politician and the enjoyment of power lay behind much of what she did.Because the Swede's desk was separated from the making department by gla.s.s part.i.tions, he and the women at the machines could command a clear view of one another. He had inst.i.tuted this arrangement so as to wrest relief from the mechanical racket while maintaining access between himself and the floor. His father had refused to be confined to any office, gla.s.s-enclosed or otherwise: just planted his desk in the middle of the making room's two hundred sewing machines--royalty right at the heart of the overcrowded hive, the swarm around him whining its buzz-saw bee buzz while he talked to his customers and his contractors on the phone and simultaneously plowed through his paperwork. Only from out on the floor, he claimed, could he distinguish within the contrapuntal din the sound of a Singer on the fritz and with his screwdriver be over the machine before the girl had even alerted her forelady to the trouble. Vicky, Newark Maid's elderly black forelady, so testified (with her brand of wry admiration) at his retirement banquet. While everything was running without a hitch, Lou was impatient, fidgety--in a word, said Vicky, the insufferable boss-- but when a cutter came around to complain about the fore-118.
man, when the foreman came around to complain about a cutter, when skins arrived months late or in damaged condition or were of poor quality, when he discovered a lining contractor cheating him on the yield or a shipping clerk robbing him blind, when he determined that the glove slitter with the red Corvette and the sungla.s.ses was, on the side, a bookie running a numbers game among the employees, then he was in his element and in his inimitable way set out to make things right--so that when they were right, said the next-to-last speaker, the proud son, introducing his father in the longest, most laudatory of the evening's jocular encomiums, "he could begin driving himself--and the rest of us-- nuts with worrying again. But then, always expecting the worst, he was never disappointed for long. Never caught off guard either. All of which goes to show that, like everything else at Newark Maid, worrying works. Ladies and gentlemen, the man who has been my lifelong teacher-- and not just in the art of worrying-- the man who has made of my life a lifelong education, a difficult education sometimes but always a profitable one, who explained to me when I was a boy of five the secret of making a product perfect--'You work at it,' he told me-- ladies and gentlemen, a man who has worked at it and succeeded at it since the day he went off to begin tanning hides at the age of fourteen, the glover's glover, who knows more about the glove business than anybody else alive, Mr. Newark Maid, my father, Lou Levov." "Look," began Mr. Newark Maid, "don't let anybody kid you tonight. I enjoy working, I enjoy the glove business, I enjoy the challenge, I don't like the idea of retiring, I think it's the first step to the grave. Butnone of that bothers me for one big reason--because I am the luckiest man in the world. And lucky because of one word. The biggest little word there is: family.
If I was being pushed out by a compet.i.tor, I wouldn't be standing here smiling-- you know me, I would be standing here shouting. But who I am being pushed out by is my own beloved son. I have been blessed with the most wonderful family a man could want: a wonderful wife, two wonderful boys, wonderful grandchildren... ."119.
The Swede had Vicky bring a sheepskin into the office and he gave it to the Wharton girl to feel."This has been pickled but it hasn't been tanned," he told her. "It's a hair sheepskin. Doesn't have wool like a domestic sheep but hair.""What happens to the hair?" she asked him. "Does it get used?""Good question. The hair is used to make carpet. Up in Amsterdam, New York.
Bigelow. Mohawk. But the primary value is the skins. The hair is a by-product, and how you get the hair off the skin and all the rest of it is another story entirely. Before synthetics came along, the hair mostly went into cheap carpets.
There's a company that brokered all the hair from the tanneries to the car- petmakers, but you don't want to go into that," he said, observing how before they'd really even begun she'd filled with notes the top sheet of a fresh yellow legal pad. "Though if you do," he added, touched by--and attracted by--her thoroughness, "because I suppose it does all sort of tie together, I could send you to talk to those people. I think the family is still around. It's a niche that not many people know about. It's interesting. It's all interesting. You've settled on an interesting subject, young lady.""I think I have," she said, warmly smiling over at him."Anyway, this skin"--he'd taken it back from her and was stroking it with the side of a thumb as you might stroke the cat to get the purr going--"is called a cabretta in the industry's terminology. Small sheep. Little sheep. They only live twenty or thirty degrees north and south of the equator. They're sort of on a semiwild grazing basis--families in an African village will each own four or five sheep, and they'll all be flocked together and put out in the bush. What you were holding in your hand isn't raw anymore. We buy them in what's called the pickled stage. The hair's been removed and the preprocessing has been done to preserve them to get here. We used to bring them in raw--huge bales tied with rope and so on, skins just dried in the air. I actually have a ship's manifest-- it's somewhere here, I can find it for you if you want to see it--a copy of a ship's manifest from 1790, in which skins were120.
landed in Boston similar to what we were bringing in up to last year. And from the same ports in Africa."It could have been his father talking to her. For all he knew, every word of every sentence uttered by him he had heard from his father's mouth before he'd finished grade school, and then two or three thousand times again during the decades they'd run the business together. Trade talk was a tradition in glove families going back hundreds of years--in the best of them, the father pa.s.sed the secrets on to the son along with all the history and all the lore. It was true in the tanneries, where the tanning process is like cooking and the recipes are handed down from the father to the son, and it was true in the glove shops and it was true on the cutting-room floor. The old Italian cutters would train theirsons and no one else, and those sons accepted the tutorial from their fathers as he had accepted the tutorial from his. Beginning when he was a kid of five and extending into his maturity, the father as the authority was unopposed: accepting his authority was one and the same with extracting from him the wisdom that had made Newark Maid manufacturer of the country's best ladies' glove. The Swede quickly came to love in the same wholehearted way the very things his father did and, at the factory, to think more or less as he did. And to sound as he did--if not on every last subject, then whenever a conversation came around to leather or Newark or gloves.Not since Merry had disappeared had he felt anything like this loquacious. Right up to that morning, all he'd been wanting was to weep or to hide; but because there was Dawn to nurse and a business to tend to and his parents to prop up, because everybody else was paralyzed by disbelief and shattered to the core, neither inclination had as yet eroded the protective front he provided the family and presented to the world. But now words were sweeping him on, buoying him up, his father's words released by the sight of this tiny girl studiously taking them down. She was nearly as small, he thought, as the kids from Merry's third-grade cla.s.s, who'd been bused the thirty-eight miles from their rural schoolhouse one day back in the late fifties so that Merry's daddy could show them how121.
he made gloves, show them especially Merry's magical spot, the laying-off table, where, at the end of the making process, the men shaped and pressed each and every glove by pulling it carefully down over steam-heated bra.s.s hands veneered in chrome. The hands were dangerously hot and they were shiny and they stuck straight up from the table in a row, thin-looking as hands that had been flattened in a mangle and then amputated, beautifully amputated hands afloat in s.p.a.ce like the souls of the dead. As a little girl, Merry was captivated by their enigma, called them "the pancake hands." Merry as a little girl saying to her cla.s.smates, "You want to make five dollars a dozen," which was what glovemakers were always saying and what she'd been hearing since she was born-- five dollars a dozen, that was what you shot for, regardless. Merry whispering to the teacher, "People cheating on piece rates is always a problem. My daddy had to fire one man. He was stealing time," and the Swede telling her, "Honey, let Daddy conduct the tour, okay?" Merry as a little girl reveling in the dazzling idea of stealing time. Merry flitting from floor to floor, so proud and proprietary, flaunting her familiarity with all the employees, unaware as yet of the desecration of dignity inherent to the ruthless exploitation of the worker by the profit-hungry boss who unjustly owns the means of production.No wonder he felt so untamed, craving to spill over with talk. Momentarily it was then again--nothing blown up, nothing ruined. As a family they still flew the flight of the immigrant rocket, the upward, unbroken immigrant trajectory from slave-driven great-grandfather to self-driven grandfather to self-confident, accomplished, independent father to the highest high flier of them all, the fourth-generation child for whom America was to be heaven itself. No wonder he couldn't shut up. It was impossible to shut up. The Swede was giving in to the ordinary human wish to live once again in the past--to spend a self-deluding, harmless few moments back in the wholesome striving of the past, when the family endured by a truth in no way grounded in abetting destruction but rather in eluding and outlasting destruction, overcom-122.
ing its mysterious inroads by creating the Utopia of a rational existence.He heard her asking, "How many come in a shipment?""How many skins? A couple of thousand dozen skins.""A bale is how many?"He liked finding that she was interested in every last detail. Yes, talking to this attentive student up from Wharton, he was suddenly able to like something as he had not been able to like anything, to bear anything, even to understand anything he'd come up against for four lifeless months. He'd felt himself instead to be perishing of everything. "Oh, a hundred and twenty skins," he replied.She continued taking notes as she asked, "They come right to your shipping department?""They come to the tannery. The tannery is a contractor. We buy the material and then we give it to them, and we give them the process to use and then they convert it into leather for us. My grandfather and my father worked in the tannery right here in Newark. So did I, for six months, when I started in the business. Ever been inside a tannery?""Not yet.""Well, you've got to go to a tannery if you're going to write about leather.
I'll set that up for you if you'd like that. They're primitive places. The technology has improved things, but what you'll see isn't that different from what you would have seen hundreds of years ago. Awful work. Said to be the oldest industry of which relics have been found anywhere. Six-thousand-year-old relics of tanning found somewhere--Turkey, I believe. First clothing was just skins that were tanned by smoking them. I told you it was an interesting subject once you get into it. My father is the leather scholar. He's who you should be talking to, but he's living in Florida now. Start my father off about gloves and he'll talk for two days running. That's typical, by the way. Glovemen love the trade and everything about it. Tell me, have you ever seen anything manufactured, Miss Cohen?""I can't say I have."123.
"Never seen anything made?""Saw my mother make a cake when I was a kid."He laughed. She had made him laugh. A feisty innocent, eager to learn. His daughter was easily a foot taller than Rita Cohen, fair where she was dark, but otherwise Rita Cohen, homely little thing though she was, had begun to remind him of Merry before her repugnance set in and she began to become their enemy.
The good-natured intelligence that would just waft out of her and into the house when she came home from school overbr.i.m.m.i.n.g with what she'd learned in cla.s.s.
How she remembered everything. Everything neatly taken down in her notebook and memorized overnight."I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to bring you right through the whole process. Come on. We're going to make you a pair of gloves and you're going to watch them being made from start to finish. What size do you wear?""I don't know. Small."He'd gotten up from the desk and come around and taken hold of her hand. "Very small. I'm guessing you're a four." He'd already got from the top drawer of his desk a measuring tape with a D ring at one end, and now he put it around her hand, threaded the other end through the D ring, and pulled the tape around her palm. "We'll see what kind of guesser I am. Close your hand." She made a fist, causing the hand to slightly expand, and he read the size in French inches.
"Four it is. In a ladies' size that's as small as they come. Anything smaller is a child's. Come on. I'll show you how it's done."He felt as though he'd stepped right back into the mouth of the past as they started, side by side, up the wooden steps of the old stairwell. He heard himself telling her (while simultaneously hearing his father telling her), "You always sort your skins at the northern side of the factory, where there's no direct sunlight. That way you can really study the skins for quality. Where the sunlight comes in you can't see. The cutting room and the sorting, always on the northern side. Sorting at the top. The second floor the cutting. And124.
the first floor, where you came, the making. Bottom floor finishing and shipping. We're going to work our way from the top down."That they did. And he was happy. He could not help himself. It was not right. It was not real. Something must be done to stop this. But she was busy taking notes, and he could not stop--a girl who knew the value of hard work and paying attention, and interested in the right things, interested in the preparation of leather and the manufacture of gloves, and to stop himself was impossible.When someone is suffering as the Swede was suffering, asking him to be undeluded by a momentary uplifting, however dubious its rationale, is asking an awful lot.In the cutting room, there were twenty-five men at work, about six to a table, and the Swede led her over to the oldest of them, whom he introduced as "the Master," a small, bald fellow with a hearing aid who continued working at a rectangular piece of leather--"That's the piece the glove is made from," said the Swede, "called a trank"--working at it with a ruler and shears all the time that the Swede was telling her just who this Master was. With a light heart. Still floating free. Doing nothing to stop it. Letting his father's patter flow.The cutting room was where the Swede had got inspired to follow his father into gloves, the place where he believed he'd grown from a boy into a man. The cutting room, up high and full of light, had been his favorite spot in the factory since he was just a kid and the old European cutters came to work identically dressed in three-piece suits, starched white shirts, ties, suspenders, and cuff links. Each cutter would carefully remove the suit coat and hang it in the closet, but no one in the Swede's memory had ever removed the tie, and only a very few descended to the informality of removing the vest, let alone turning up shirtsleeves, before donning a fresh white ap.r.o.n and getting down to the first skin, unrolling it from the dampened muslin cloth and beginning the work of stretching. The wall of big windows to the north illuminated the hardwood cutting tables with the cool, even light you needed for grading and matching and cutting skins. The polished smoothness of the table's125.
rounded edge, worked smooth over the years from all the animal skins stretched across it and pulled to length, was so provocative to the boy that he always had to restrain himself from rushing to press the concavity of his cheek against the convexity of the wood--restrained himself until he was alone. There was a blurryline of footprints worn into the wood floor where the men stood all day at the cutting tables, and when no one else was up there he liked to go and stand with his shoes where the floor was worn away. Watching the cutters work, he knew that they were the elite and that they knew it and the boss knew it. Though they considered themselves to be men more aristocratic than anyone around, including the boss, a cutter's working hand was proudly calloused from cutting with his big, heavy shears. Beneath those white shirts were arms and chests and shoulders full of a workingman's strength--powerful they had to be, to pull and pull on leather all their lives, to squeeze out of every skin every inch of leather there was.A lot of licking went on, a lot of saliva went into every glove, but, as his father joked, "The customer never knows it." The cutter would spit into the dry inking material in which he rubbed the brush for the stencil that numbered the pieces he cut from each trank. Having cut a pair of gloves, he would touch his finger to his tongue so as to wet the numbered pieces, to stick them together before they were rubber-banded for the sewing forelady and the sewers. What the boy never got over were those first German cutters employed by Newark Maid, who used to keep a schooner of beer beside them and sip from it, they said, "to keep the whistle wet" and their saliva flowing. Quickly enough Lou Levov had done away with the beer, but the saliva? No. n.o.body could want to do away with the saliva. That was part and parcel of all that they loved, the son and heir no less than the founding father."Harry can cut a glove as good as any of them." Harry, the Master, stood directly beside the Swede, indifferent to his boss's words and doing his work.
"He's only been forty-one years with Newark Maid but he works at it. The cutter has to visualize how the skin is going to realize itself into the maximum number of gloves.126.
Then he has to cut it. Takes great skill to cut a glove right. Table cutting is an art. No two skins are alike. The skins all come in different according to each animal's diet and age, every one different as far as stretchability goes, and the skill involved in making every glove come out like every other is amazing. Same thing with the sewing. Kind of work people don't want to do anymore. Yous can't just take a sewer who knows how to run a traditional sewing V. machine, or knows how to sew dresses, and start her here on gloves. She has to go through a three- or four-month training process, has u to have finger dexterity, has to have patience, and it's six monthsbefore she's proficient and reaches even eighty percent efficiency.Glove sewing is a tremendously complicated procedure. If you h want to make a better glove, you have to spend money and train ki workers. Takes a lot of hard work and attention, all the twists and turns where the finger crotches are sewn--it's very hard. In the days when my father first opened a glove shop, the people were in it for life--Harry's the last of them. This cutting room is one of the last in this hemisphere. Our production is still always full. We still have people here who know what they're doing. n.o.body cuts gloves this way anymore, not in this country, where hardly anybody's left to i f cut them, and not anywhere else either, except maybe in a little I family-run shop in Naples or Gren.o.ble. These were people, the % people who worked here, who were in it for life. They were born into the glove industry and they died in the glove industry. Today we're constantly retraining people. Today our economy is such that people take a job here and if something comes along for another fifty cents an hour, they're gone."She wrote all this down.} "When I first came into the business and my father sent me up here to learn how to cut, all I did was stand right here at the cutting ' table andwatch this guy. I learned this business in the old-fash-* ioned way. From the ground up. My father started me literally sweeping the floors. Went through every single department, getting a feel for each operation and why it was being done. From Harry I learned how to cut a glove. I wouldn't say I was a proficient glove 127 . 1 11.
cutter. If I cut two, three pairs a day it was a lot, but I learned the rudimentary principles--right, Harry? A demanding teacher, this fellow. When he shows you how to do something, he goes all the way. Learning from Harry almost made me yearn for my old man. First day I came up here Harry set me straight--he told me that down where he lived boys would come to his door and say, 'Could you teach me to be a glove cutter?' and he would tell them, 'You've got to pay me fifteen thousand first, because that's how much time and leather you're going to destroy till you get to the point where you can make the minimum wage.' I watched him for a full two months before he let me anywhere near a hide. An average table cutter will cut three, three and a half dozen a day. A good, fast table cutter will cut five dozen a day. Harry was cutting five and a half dozen a day. 'You think I'm good?' he told me. 'You should have seen my dad.' Then he told me about his father and the tall man from Barnum and Bailey. Remember, Harry?" Harry nodded. "When the Barnum and Bailey circus came to Newark . . .
this is 1917,1918?" Harry nodded again without stopping his work. "Well, they came to town and they had a tall man, approaching nine feet or so, and Harry's father saw him one day in the street, walking along the street, at Broad and Market, and he got so excited he ran over to the tall man and he took his shoelace off his own shoe, measured the guy's hand right out there on the street, and he went home and made up a perfect size-seventeen pair of gloves.
Harry's father cut it and his mom sewed it, and they went over to the circus and gave the gloves to the tall man, and the whole family got free seats, and a big story about Harry's dad ran in the Newark News the next day."Harry corrected him. "The Star-Eagle.""Right, before it merged with the Ledger.""Wonderful," the girl said, laughing. "Your father must have been very skilled.""Couldn't speak a word of English," Harry told her."He couldn't? Well, that just goes to show, you don't have to128.
know English," she said, "to cut a perfect pair of gloves for a man nine feet tall."Harry didn't laugh but the Swede did, laughed and put his arm around her. "This is Rita. We're going to make her a dress glove, size four. Black or brown, honey?""Brown?"From a wrapped-up bundle of hides dampening beside Harry, he picked one out in a pale shade of brown. "This is a tough color to get," the Swede told her.
"British tan. You can see, there's all sorts of variation in the color--see how light it is there, how dark it is down there? Okay. This is sheepskin. What yousaw in my office was pickled. This has been tanned. This is leather. But you can still see the animal. If you were to look at the animal," he said, "here it is-- the head, the b.u.t.t, the front legs, the hind legs, and here's the back, where the leather is harder and thicker, as it is over our own backbones. . . ."Honey. He began calling her honey up in the cutting room and he could not stop, and this even before he understood that by standing beside her he was as close to Merry as he had been since the general store blew up and his honey disappeared. This is a French ruler, it's about an inch longer than an American ruler. . . . This is called a spud knife, dull, beveled to an edge but not sharp. . . . Now he's pulling the trank down like that, to the length again-- Harry likes to bet you that he'll pull it right down to the pattern without even touching the pattern, but I don't bet him because I don't like losing.... This is called a fourchette.... See, all meticulously done. ... He's going to cut yours and give it to me so we can take it down to the making department. . . .
This is called the slitter, honey. Only mechanical process in the whole thing. A press and a die, and the slitter will take about four tranks at a time___"Wow. This is an elaborate process," said Rita."That it is. Hard really to make money in the glove business because it's so labor-intensive--a time-consuming process, many129.
operations to be coordinated. Most of the glove businesses have been family businesses. From father to son. Very traditional business. A product is a product to most manufacturers. The guy who makes them doesn't know anything about them. The glove business isn't like that. This business has a long, long history.""Do other people feel the romance of the glove business the way you do, Mr.
Levov? You really are mad for this place and all the processes. I guess that's what makes you a happy man.""Am I?" he asked, and felt as though he were going to be dissected, cut into by a knife, opened up and all his misery revealed. "I guess I am.""Are you the last of the Mohicans?""No, most of them, I believe, in this business have that same feeling for the tradition, that same love. Because it does require a love and a legacy to motivate somebody to stay in a business like this. You have to have strong ties to it to be able to stick it out. Come on," he said, having managed momentarily to quash everything that was shadowing him and menacing him, succeeded still to be able to speak with great precision despite her telling him he was a happy man. "Let's go back to the making room."This is the silking, that's a story in itself, but this is what she's going to do first. . . . This is called a pique machine, it sews the finest st.i.tch, called pique, requires far more skill than the other st.i.tches. . . . This is called a polishing machine and that is called a stretcher and you are called honey and I am called Daddy and this is called living and the other is called dying and this is called madness and this is called mourning and this is called h.e.l.l, pure h.e.l.l, and you have to have strong ties to be able to stick it out, this is called trying-to-go-on-as-though-nothing-has-happened and this is called paying-the-full-price-but-in-G.o.d's-name-for-what, this is called wanting-to-be- dead-and-wanting-to-nnd-her-and-to-kill-her-and-to-save-her-from-whatever-she- is-going-through-wherever-on-earth-she-may-be-at-this-moment, this unbridled outpouring is called blotting-out-everything and it does not work, I am half insane, the shattering force of that bomb is too great. . . . And then 130.
they were back at his office again, waiting for Rita's gloves to come from the finishing department, and he was repeating to her a favorite observation of his father's, one that his father had read somewhere and always used to impress visitors, and he heard himself repeating it, word for word, as his own. If only he could get her to stay and not go, if he could keep on talking about gloves to her, about gloves, about skins, about his horrible riddle, implore her, beg her, Don't leave me alone with this horrible riddle.... "Monkeys, gorillas, they have brains and we have a brain, but they don't have this thing, the thumb. They can't move it opposite the way we do. The inner digit on the hand of man, that might be the distinguishing physical feature between ourselves and the rest of the animals. And the glove protects that inner digit. The ladies' glove, the welder's glove, the rubber glove, the baseball glove, et cetera. This is the root of humanity, this opposable thumb. It enables us to make tools and build cities and everything else. More than the brain. Maybe some other animals have bigger brains in proportion to their bodies than we have. I don't know. But the hand itself is an intricate thing. It moves. There is no other part of a human being that is clothed that is such a complex moving structure...." And that was when Vicky popped in the door with the size-four finished gloves. "Here's your pair of gloves," Vicky said, and gave them to the boss, who looked them over and then leaned across the desk to show them to the girl. "See the seams? The width of the sewing at the edge of the leather--that's where the quality workmanship is. This margin is probably about a thirty-second of an inch between the st.i.tching and the edge. And that requires a high skill level, far higher than normal. If a glove is not well sewn, this edge might come to an eighth of an inch. It also will not be straight. Look at how straight these seams are. This is why a Newark Maid glove is a good glove, Rita. Because of the straight seams.
Because of the fine leather. It's well tanned. It's soft. It's pliable. Smells like the inside of a new car. I love good leather, I love fine gloves, and I was brought up on the idea of making the best glove possible. It's in my blood, and nothing gives me greater pleasure"--he clutched at his own131.
effusiveness the way a sick person clutches at any sign of health, no matter how minute--"than giving you these lovely gloves. Here," he said, "with our compliments," and, smiling, he presented the gloves to the girl, who excitedly pulled them onto her little hands-- "Slowly, slowly . .. always draw on a pair of gloves by the fingers," he told her, "afterward the thumb, then draw the wrist down in place ... always the first time draw them on slowly"--and she looked up and, smiling back at him with the pleasure that any child takes in receiving a gift, showed him with her hands in the air how beautiful the gloves looked, how beautifully they fit. "Close your hand, make a fist," the Swede said. "Feel how the glove expands where your hand expands and nicely adjusts to your size?
That's what the cutter does when he does his job right--no stretch left in the length, he's pulled that all out at the table because you don't want the fingers to stretch, but an exactly measured amount of hidden stretch left in the width.
That stretch in the width is a precise calculation.""Yes, yes, it's wonderful, absolutely perfect," she told him, opening and closing her hands in turn. "G.o.d bless the precise calculators of this world,"
she said, laughing, "who leave stretch hidden in the width," and only after Vicky had shut the door to his gla.s.s-enclosed office and headed back into the racket of the making department did Rita add, very softly, "She wants her Audrey Hepburn sc.r.a.p-book."The next morning the Swede met Rita at the Newark airport parking lot to give her the sc.r.a.pbook. From his office he had first driven to Branch Brook Park, miles in the opposite direction from the airport, where he'd got out of the car to take a solitary walk. He strolled along where the j.a.panese cherry trees were blooming. For a while he sat on a bench, watching the old people with their dogs. Then, back in the car, he just began to drive--through Italian north Newark and on up to Belleville, making right turns for half an hour until he determined that he was not being followed. Rita had warned him not to make his way to their rendezvous otherwise.132.
The second week, at the airport parking lot, he handed over the ballet slippers and the leotard Merry had last worn at age fourteen. Three days after that it was her stuttering diary."Surely," he said, having decided that now, with the diary in his hands, the time had come to repeat the words his wife had spoken to him before each of his meetings with Rita, meetings in which he had scrupulously done nothing other than what Rita asked and deliberately asked nothing of her in return--"surely you can now tell me something about Merry. If not where she is, how she is.""I surely cannot," Rita said sourly."I'd like to speak with her.""Well, she wouldn't like to speak with you.""But if she wants these things ... why else would she want these things?""Because they're hers.""So are we hers, Miss.""Not to hear her tell it.""I can't believe that.""She hates you.""Does she?" he asked lightly."She thinks you ought to be shot.""Yes, that too?""What do you pay the workers in your factory in Ponce, Puerto Rico? What do you pay the workers who st.i.tch gloves for you in Hong Kong and Taiwan? What do you pay the women going blind in the Philippines hand-st.i.tching designs to satisfy the ladies shopping at Bonwit's? You're nothing but a s.h.i.tty little capitalist who exploits the brown and yellow people of the world and lives in luxury behind the n.i.g.g.e.r-proof security gates of his mansion."Till now the Swede had been civil and soft-spoken with Rita no matter how menacing she was determined to be. Rita was all they had, she was indispensable, and though he did not expect to change her any by keeping his emotions to himself, each time he steeled himself to show no desperation. Taunting him was the project she had set herself; imposing her will on this conservatively dressed133.
success story six feet three inches tall and worth millions clearly provided her with one of life's great moments. But then it was all great moments these days.
They had Merry, sixteen-year-old stuttering Merry. They had a live human being and her family to play with. Rita was no longer an ordinary wavering mortal, let alone a novice in life, but a creature in clandestine harmony with the brutal way of the world, ent.i.tled, in the name of historical justice, to be just as sinister as the capitalist oppressor Swede Levov.The unreality of being in the hands of this child! This loathsome kid with a head full of fantasies about "the working cla.s.s"! This tiny being who took up not even as much s.p.a.ce in the car as the Levov sheepdog, pretending that she was striding on the world stage! This utterly insignificant pebble! What was the whole sick enterprise other than angry, infantile egoism thinly disguised as identification with the oppressed? Her weighty responsibility to the workers of the world! Egoistic pathology bristled out of her like the hair that nuttily proclaimed, "I go wherever I want, as far as I want--all that matters is what I want!" Yes, the nonsensical hair const.i.tuted half of their revolutionary ideology, about as sound a justification for her actions as the other half--the exaggerated jargon about changing the world. She was twenty-two years old, no more than five feet tall, and off on a reckless adventure with a very potent thing way beyond her comprehension called power. Not the least need of thought.
Thought just paled away beside their ignorance. They were omniscient without even thinking. No wonder his tremendous effort to hide his agitation was thwarted momentarily by uncontrollable rage, and sharply he said to her--as though he were not joined to her maniacally uncompromising mission in the most unimaginable way, as though it could matter to him that she enjoyed thinking the worst of him--"You have no idea what you're talking about! American firms make gloves in the Philippines and Hong Kong and Taiwan and India and Pakistan and all over the place--but not mine! I own two factories. Two. One of my factories you visited in Newark. You saw how unhappy my employees were. That's why they've worked for us for forty years, because they're134.
exploited so miserably. The factory in Puerto Rico employs two hundred and sixty people, Miss Cohen--people we have trained, trained from scratch, people we trust, people who before we came to Ponce had barely enough work to go around.
We furnish employment where there was a shortage of employment, we have taught needle skills to Caribbean people who had few if any of these skills. You know nothing. You know nothing about anything--you didn't even know what a factory was till I showed you one!""I know what a plantation is, Mr. Legree--I mean, Mr. Levov. I know what it means to run a plantation. You take good care of your n.i.g.g.e.rs. Of course you do. It's called paternal capitalism. You own 'em, you sleep with 'em, and when you're finished with 'em you toss 'em out. Lynch 'em only when necessary. Use them for your sport and use them for your profit--""Please, I haven't two minutes' interest in childish cliches. You don't know what a factory is, you don't know what manufacturing is, you don't know what capital is, you don't know what labor is, you haven't the faintest idea what it is to be employed or what it is to be unemployed. You have no idea what work is.
You've never held a job in your life, and if you even cared to find one, you wouldn't last a single day, not as a worker, not as a manager, not as an owner.
Enough nonsense. I want you to tell me where my daughter is. That is all I want to hear from you. She needs help, she needs serious help, not ridiculous cliches. I want you to tell me where I can find her!""Merry never wants to see you again. Or that mother.""You don't know anything about Merry's mother.""Lady Dawn? Lady Dawn of the Manor? I know all there is to know about Lady Dawn.
So ashamed of her cla.s.s origins she has to make her daughter into a debutante.""Merry shoveled cows.h.i.t from the time she was six. You don't know what you're talking about. Merry was in the 4-H Club. Merry rode tractors. Merry--""Fake. All fake. The daughter of the beauty queen and the cap-135.
tain of the football team--what kind of nightmare is that for a girl with a soul?
The little shirtwaist dresses, the little shoes, the little this and the little that. Always playing with her hair. You think she wanted to fix Merry's hair because she loved her and the way she looked or because she was disgusted with her, disgusted she couldn't have a baby beauty queen that could grow up in her own image to become Miss Rimrock? Merry has to have dancing lessons. Merry has to have tennis lessons. I'm surprised she didn't get a nose job.""You don't know what you are talking about.""Why do you think Merry had the hots for Audrey Hepburn? Because she thought that was the best chance she had with that vain little mother of hers. Miss Vanity of 1949. Hard to believe you could fit so much vanity into that cutesy figure. Oh, but it does, it fits, all right. Just doesn't leave much room for Merry, does it?""You don't know what you're saying.""No imagination for somebody who isn't beautiful and lovable and desirable.
None. The frivolous, trivial beauty-queen mentality and no imagination for her own daughter. 'I don't want to see anything messy, I don't want to see anything dark.' But the world isn't like that, Dawnie dear--it is messy, it is dark. It's hideous!""Merry's mother works a farm all day. She works with animals all day, she works with farm machinery all day, she works from six a.m. to--"Fake. Fake. Fake. She works a farm like a f.u.c.king upper-cla.s.s--""You don't know anything about any of this. Where is my daughter? Where is she?
The conversation is pointless. Where is Merry?""You don't remember the 'Now You Are a Woman Party'? To celebrate her first menstruation.""We're not talking about any party. What party?""We're talking about the humiliation of a daughter by her beauty-queen mother.
We're talking about a mother who completely colonized her daughter's self-image.
We're talking about a mother who didn't have an inch of feeling for her daughter--who has about as much depth as those gloves you make. A whole family136.
and all you really f.u.c.king care about is skin. Ectoderm. Surface. But what's underneath, you don't have a clue. You think that was real affection she had for that stuttering girl? She tolerated that stuttering girl, but you can't tell the difference between affection and tolerance because you're too stupid yourself.
Another one of your f.u.c.king fairy tales. A menstruation party. A party for it!
Jesus!""You mean--no, that wasn't that. The party? You mean when she took all her friends to Whitehouse for dinner? That was her twelfth birthday. What is this 'Now You Are a Woman' c.r.a.p? It was a birthday party. Nothing to do with menstruating. Nothing. Who told you this? Merry didn't tell you this. I remember that party. She remembers that party. It was a simple birthday party. We took all those girls down to that restaurant in Whitehouse. They had a wonderful time. We had ten twelve-year-old girls. This is all cracked. Somebody is dead.
My daughter is being accused of murder."Rita was laughing. "Mr. Law-abiding New Jersey f.u.c.king Citizen, a little bit of fake affection looks just like love to him.""But what you are describing never happened. What you are saying never happened.
It wouldn't have mattered if it did, but it did not.""Don't you know what's made Merry Merry? Sixteen years of living in a household where she was hated by that mother.""For what? Tell me. Hated her for what?""Because she was everything Lady Dawn wasn't. Her mother hated her, Swede. It's a shame you're so late in finding out. Hated her for not being pet.i.te, for not being able to have her hair pulled back in that oh-so-spiffy country way. Merry was hated with that hatred that seeps into you like toxin. Lady Dawn couldn't have done a better job if she'd slipped poison into her a meal at a time. Lady Dawn would look at her with that look of hatred and Merry was turned into a piece of s.h.i.t.""There was no look of hatred. Something may have gone wrong . . . but that wasn't it. That wasn't hatred. I know what she's talking about. What you're calling hatred was her mother's anxiety. I know137.
the look. But it was about the stuttering. My G.o.d, it wasn't hatred. It was the opposite. It was concern. It was distress. It was helplessness.""Still protecting that wife of yours," said Rita, laughing at him again.
"Incredible incomprehension. Simply incredible. You know why else she hated her?
She hated her because she's your daughter. It's all fine and well for Miss New Jersey to marry a Jew. But to raise a Jew? That's a whole other bag of tricks.
You have a shiksa wife, Swede, but you didn't get a shiksa daughter. Miss New Jersey is a b.i.t.c.h, Swede. Merry would have been better off sucking the cows if she wanted a little milk and nurturance. At least the cows have maternal feelings."He had allowed her to talk, he had allowed himself to listen, only because he wanted to know; if something had gone wrong, of course he wanted to know. What is the grudge? What is the grievance? That was the central mystery: how did Merry get to be who she is? But none of this explained anything. This could not be what it was all about. This could not be what lay behind the blowing up of the building. No. A desperate man was giving himself over to a treacherous girl not because she could possibly begin to know what went wrong but because there was no one else to give himself over to. He felt less like someone looking foran answer than like someone mimicking someone who was looking for an answer.
This whole exchange had been a ridiculous mistake. To expect this kid to talk to him truthfully. She couldn't insult him enough. Everything about their lives transformed absolutely by her hatred. Here was the hater--this insurrectionist child!"Where is she?""Why do you want to know where she is?""I want to see her," he said."Why?""She's my daughter. Somebody is dead. My daughter is being accused of murder.""You're really stuck on that, aren't you? Do you know how many Vietnamese have been killed in the few minutes we've had the138.
luxury to talk about whether or not Dawnie loves her daughter? It's all relative, Swede. Death is all relative.""Where is she?""Your daughter is safe. Your daughter is loved. Your daughter is fighting for what she believes in. Your daughter is finally having an experience of the world.""Where is she, d.a.m.n you!""She's not a possession, you know--she's not property. She's not powerless anymore. You don't own Merry the way you own your Old Rimrock house and your Deal house and your Florida condo and your Newark factory and your Puerto Rico factory and your Puerto Rican workers and all your Mercedes and all your Jeeps and all your beautiful handmade suits. You know what I've come to realize about you kindly rich liberals who own the world? Nothing is further from your understanding than the nature of reality."No one begins like this, the Swede thought. This can't be what she is. This bullying infant, this obnoxious, stubborn, angry bullying infant cannot be my daughter's protector. She is her jailer. Merry with all her intelligence under the spell of this childlike cruelty and meanness. There's more human sense in one page of the stuttering diary than in all the s.a.d.i.s.tic idealism in this reckless child's head. Oh, to crush that hairy, tough little skull of hers-- right now, between his two strong hands, to squeeze it and squeeze it until all the vicious ideas came streaming from her nose!How does a child get to be like this? Can anyone be utterly without thoughtfulness? The answer is yes. His only contact with his daughter was this child who did not know anything and would say anything and more than likely do anything--resort to anything to excite herself. Her opinions were all stimuli: the goal was excitement."The paragon," Rita said, speaking to him out of the side of her mouth, as though that would make it all the easier to wreck his life. "The cherished and triumphant paragon who is in actuality the criminal. The great Swede Levov, ail- American capitalist criminal."She was some clever child crackpot gorging herself on an esca- 139.
pade entirely her own, a reprehensible child lunatic who'd never laid eyes on Merry except in the paper; some "politicized" crazy was what she was--the streets of New York were full of them--a criminally insane Jewish kid who'd picked up her facts about their lives from the newspapers and the TV and from the school friends of Merry's who were all out peddling the same quotation: "Quaint Old Rimrock is in for a big surprise." From the sound of it, Merry had gone around school the day before the bombing telling that to four hundred kids. That was the evidence against her, all these kids on TV claiming they heard her say it-- that hearsay and her disappearance were the whole of the evidence. The post office had been blown up, and the general store along with it, but n.o.body had seen her anywhere near it, n.o.body had seen her do the thing, n.o.body would have even thought of her as the bomber if she hadn't disappeared. "She's been tricked!" For days Dawn went around the house crying, "She's been abducted!
She's been tricked! She's somewhere right now being brainwashed! Why does everybody say she did it? n.o.body's had any contact with her. She is not connected with it in any way at all. How can they believe this of a child?
Dynamite? What does Merry have to do with dynamite? No! It isn't true! n.o.body knows a thing!"He should have informed the FBI of Rita Cohen's visit the day she'd come to ask for the sc.r.a.pbook--at the very least should have demanded proof from her of Merry's existence. And he should have taken into his confidence someone other than Dawn, formulated strategy with a person less likely to kill herself if he proceeded other than as her desperation demanded. Answering the needs of a wife incoherent with grief, in no condition to think or act except out of hysteria, was an inexcusable error. He should have heeded his mistrust and contacted immediately the agents who had interviewed him and Dawn at the house the day after the bombing. He should have picked up the phone the moment he understood who Rita Cohen was, even while she was seated in his office. But instead he had driven directly home from the office and, because he could140.
never calculate a decision free of its emotional impact on those who claimed his love; because seeing them suffer was his greatest hardship; because ignoring their importuning and defying their expectations, even when they would not argue reasonably or to the point, seemed to him an illegitimate use of his superior strength; because he could not disillusion anyone about the kind of selfless son, husband, and father he was; because he had come so highly recommended to everyone, he sat across from Dawn at the kitchen table, watching her deliver a long, sob-wracked, half-demented speech, a plea to tell the FBI nothing.Dawn begged him to do whatever the girl wanted: it remained possible for Merry to go unapprehended if only they kept her out of sight until the destruction of the store--and the death of Dr. Conlon--had been forgotten. If only they hid her somewhere, provided for her, maybe even in another country, until this war-mad witch-hunt was over and a new time had begun; then she could be treated fairly for something she never, never could have done. "She's been tricked!" and he believed this himself--what else could a father believe?--until he heard it, day after day, a hundred times a day, from Dawn.So he'd turned over the Audrey Hepburn sc.r.a.pbook, the leotard, the ballet slippers, the stuttering book; and now he was to meet Rita Cohen at a room in the New York Hilton, this time bearing five thousand dollars in unmarked twenties and tens. And just as he'd known to call the FBI when she asked for the sc.r.a.pbook, he now understood that if he acceded any further to her maliciousdaring there'd be no bottom to it, there would only be misery on a scale incomprehensible to all of them. With the sc.r.a.pbook, the leotard, the ballet slippers, and the stuttering book he had been craftily set up; now for the disastrous payoff.But Dawn was convinced that if he traveled over to Manhattan, got himself lost in the crowds, then, at the appointed afternoon hour, certain he wasn't being tailed, made his way to the hotel, Merry herself would be there waiting for him-- an absurd fairy-tale141.
hope for which there wasn't a shred of justification, but which he didn't have the heart to oppose, not when he saw his wife shedding another layer of sanity whenever the telephone rang.For the first time she was got up in a skirt and blouse, gaudily floral bargain- bas.e.m.e.nt stuff, and wearing high-heeled pumps; when she unsteadily crossed the carpet in them, she looked tinier even than she had in her work boots. The hairdo was as aboriginal as before but her face, ordinarily a little pot, soulless and unadorned, had been emblazoned with lipstick and painted with eye shadow, her cheekbones highlighted with pink grease. She looked like a third grader who had ransacked her mother's room, except that the cosmetics caused her expressionlessness to seem even more fright-eningly psychopathic than when her face was just unhumanly empty of color."I have the money," he said, standing in the hotel room doorway towering above her and knowing that what he was doing was as wrong as it could be. "I have the money," he repeated, and prepared himself for the retort about the sweat and blood of the workers from whom he had stolen it."Oh, hi. Do come in," the girl said. I'd like you to meet my parents. Mom and Dad, this is Seymour. An act for the factory, an act for the hotel. "Please, do come in. Do make yourself at home."He had the money packed into his briefcase, not just the five thousand in the tens and twenties she'd asked for but five thousand more in fifties. A total of ten thousand dollars--and with no idea why. What good would any of it do Merry?
Merry wouldn't see a penny of it. Still, he said yet again--summoning all his strength so as not to lose hold--"I've brought the money you requested." He was trying hard to continue to exist as himself despite the unlikeliness of everything.She had moved onto the bedspread and, with her legs crossed at the ankle and two pillows propped up behind her head, began lightly to sing: "Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, my encyclo-pid-e-a, oh Lydia, the tattooed lady . . ."142 .
It was one of the old, silly songs he'd taught his little daughter once they saw that singing, she could always be fluent."Come to f.u.c.k Rita Cohen, have you?""I've come," he said, "to deliver the money.""Let's f-f-f-f.u.c.k, D-d-d-dad.""If you have any feeling for what everyone is going through--"
"Come off it, Swede. What do you know about 'feeling'?""Why are you treating us like this?""Boo-hoo. Tell me another. You came here to f.u.c.k me. Ask anybody. Why does a middle-aged capitalist dog come to a hotel room to meet a young piece of a.s.s? To f.u.c.k her. Say it, just say, 'I came to f.u.c.k you. To f.u.c.k you good.' Say it, Swede.""I don't want to say any such thing. Stop all this, please.""I'm twenty-two years old. I do everything. I do it all. Say it, Swede."Could this lead to Merry, this onslaught of sneering and mockery? She could not insult him enough. Was she impersonating someone, acting from a script prepared beforehand? Or was he dealing with a person who could not be dealt with because she was mad? She was like a gang member. Was she the gang leader, this tiny white-faced thug? In a gang the authority is given to the one who is most ruthless. Is she the most ruthless or are there others who are worse, those others who are holding Merry captive right now? Maybe she is the most intelligent. Their actress. Maybe she is the most corrupt. Their budding wh.o.r.e.
Maybe this is all a game to them, middle-cla.s.s kids out on a spree."Don't I suit you?" she asked. "No crude desires in a big guy like you? Come on, I'm not such a frightening person. You can't have met your match in little me.
Look at you. Like a naughty boy. A child in terror of being disgraced. Isn't there anything else in there except your famous purity? I bet there is. I bet you've got yourself quite a pillar in there," she said. "The pillar of society.""What is the aim of all this talk? Will you tell me?""The aim? Sure. To introduce you to reality. That's the aim.""And how much ruthlessness is necessary?"143.
"To introduce you to reality? To get you to admire reality? To get you to partake of reality? To get you out there on the frontiers of reality? It ain't gonna be no picnic, jocko."He had braced himself not to become entangled in her loathing for him, not to be affronted by anything she said. He was prepared for the verbal violence and prepared, this time, not to react. She was not unintelligent and she was not afraid to say anything--he knew that much. But what he had not counted on was l.u.s.t, an urge-- he had not counted on being a.s.sailed by something other than the verbal violence. Despite the repugnance inspired by the sickly whiteness of her flesh, by the comically childish makeup and the cheap cotton clothes, half reclining on the bed was a young woman half reclining on a bed, and the Swede himself, the superman of certainties, was one of the people whom he could not deal with."Poor thing," she said scornfully. "Little Rimrock rich boy. All locked up like that. Let's f.u.c.k, D-d-d-daddy. I'll take you to see your daughter. We'll wash your p.r.i.c.k and zip up your fly and I'll take you to where she is.""Do I know you will? How do I know you will?""Wait. See how things turn out. The worst is you get yourself some twenty-two- year-old gash. Come on, Dad. Come on over to the bed, D-d-d--"
"Stop this! My daughter has nothing to do with any of this! My daughter has nothing to do with you! You little s.h.i.t--you're not fit to wipe my daughter's shoes! My daughter had nothing to do with that bombing. You know that!""Calm down, Swede. Calm down, lover boy. If you want to see your daughter as much as you say, you'll just calm down and come on over here and give Rita Cohen a nice big f.u.c.k. First the f.u.c.k, then the dough."She had raised her knees toward her chest and now, with either foot planted on the bed, she let her legs fall open. The floral skirt was gathered up by her hips and she wore no underwear."There," she said softly. "Put it right there. Attack there. It's all permissible, baby."144.
"Miss Cohen . . ." He did not know what to reach for in his estimable strongbox of reactions--this boiling up of something so visceral in with the rhetorical was not the attack he had prepared himself for. She'd brought to the hotel a stick of dynamite to throw. This was it. To blow him up."What is it, dear?" she replied. "You must speak up like a big boy if you wish to be heard.""What does this display have to do with what has happened?""Everything," she said. "You'll be surprised by what a very clear picture of things you're going to get from this display." She edged her two hands down onto her pubic hair. "Look at it," she told him and, by rolling the l.a.b.i.a lips outward with her fingers, exposed to him the membranous tissue veined and mottled and waxy with the moist tulip sheen of flayed flesh. He looked away."It's a jungle down there," she said. "Nothing in its place. Nothing on the left side like anything on the right side. How many extras are there? n.o.body knows.
Too many to count. There are glands down there. There's another hole. There are flaps. Don't you see what this has to do with what happened? Take a look. Take a good long look.""Miss Cohen," he said, fixing on her eyes, the one mark of beauty she was blessed with--a child's eyes, he discovered, a good child's eyes that had nothing in common with what she was up to, "my daughter is missing. Someone is dead.""You don't get the point. You don't get the point about anything. Look at it.
Describe it to me. Have I got it wrong? What do you see? Do you see anything?
No, you don't see anything. You don't see anything because you don't look at anything.""This makes no sense," he said. "You are subjugating no one by this. Only yourself.""You know what size it is? Let's see what kind of guesser you are. It's small.
I'm guessing that it's a size four. In a ladies' size that's as small as c.u.n.ts come. Anything smaller is a child's. Let's see how you'll fit into a teeny size four. Let's see if a size four doesn't provide just the nicest, warmest, snuggest f.u.c.k you've ever dreamed of145.
f.u.c.king. You love good leather, you love fine gloves--stick it in. But slowly, slowly. Always the first time stick it in slowly.""Why don't you stop right now?""Okay, if that's your decision, that you're such a brave man you won't even look at it, shut your eyes and step right up and smell it. Step right up and take a whiff. The swamp. It sucks you in. Smell it, Swede. You know what a glove smells like. It smells like the inside of a new car. Well, this is what life smells like. Smell this. Smell the inside of a brand-new p.u.s.s.y."Her dark child's eyes. Full of excitement and fun. Full of audacity. Full of unreasonableness. Full of oddness. Full of Rita. And only half of it was performance. To agitate. To infuriate. To arouse. She was in an altered state.
The imp of upheaval. The genie of disaster. As though in being his tormentor and wrecking his family she had found the malicious meaning for her own existence.
Kid Mayhem."Your physical restraint is amazing," she said. "Isn't there anything that can get you off dead center? I didn't believe there were any left like you. Any other man would have been overcome by his hard-on hours ago. You are a throwback. Taste it.""You're not a woman. This does not make you a woman in any way. This makes you a travesty of a woman. This is loathsome." Rapidly firing back at her like a soldier under attack."And a man who won't look, what's he a travesty of?" she asked him. "Isn't it just human nature to look? What about a man always averting his eyes because it's all too steeped in reality for him? Because nothing is in harmony with the world as he knows it? Thinks he knows it. Taste it! Of course it's loathsome, you great big Boy Scout--I'm depraved!" and merrily laughing off his refusal to lower his gaze by so much as an inch, she cried, "Here!"She must have reached inside herself with her hand, her hand must have disappeared inside her, because a moment later it was the whole of her hand that she was extending upward to him. The tips of her fingers bore the smell of her right up to him. That he could not shut out, the fecund smell released from within.
"This'U unlock the mystery. You want to know what this has to do with what happened?" she said. "This'll tell you."There was so much emotion in him, so much uncertainty, so much inclination and counterinclination, he was bursting so with impulse and counterimpulse that he could no longer tell which of them had drawn the line that he would not pa.s.s over. All his thinking seemed to be taking place in a foreign language, but still he knew enough not to pa.s.s over the line. He would not pick her up and hurl her against the window. He would not pick her up and throw her onto the floor. He would not pick her up for any reason. All the strength left in him would be marshaled to keep him paralyzed at the foot of the bed. He would not go near her.The hand she'd offered him she now carried slowly up to her face, making loony, comical little circles in the air as she approached her mouth. Then, one by one,she slipped each finger between her lips to cleanse it. "You know what it tastes like? Want me to tell you? It tastes like your d-d-d-daughter."Here he bolted the room. With all his strength.That was it. Ten, twelve minutes and it was over. By the time the FBI responded to his phone call and got to the hotel, she was gone, as was the briefcase he had abandoned. He'd bolted not from the childlike cruelty and meanness, not even from the vicious provocation, but from something that he could no longer name.Faced with something he could not name, he had done everything wrong.Five years pa.s.s. In vain, the Rimrock Bomber's father waits for Rita to reappear at his office. He did not take her photograph, did not save her fingerprints-
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»