It was a deluge of a winter in the Salinas Valley, wet and
wonderful. The rains fell gently and soaked in and did not freshet. The feed was deep in January, and in February the hills were fat with grass and the coats of the cattle looked tight and sleek. In March the soft rains continued, and each storm waited courteously until its predecessor sank beneath the ground. Then warmth flooded the valley and the earth burst into bloom—yellow and blue and gold.
Tom was alone on the ranch, and even that dust
heap was rich and lovely and the flints were hidden in grass and the Hamilton cows were fat and the Hamilton sheep sprouted grass from their
At noon on March 15
Tom sat on the bench outside the forge. The sunny morning
was over, and gray water-bearing clouds sailed in over the
ocean, and their shadows slid under them on the bright earth.
Tom heard a horse’s clattering hoofs and he saw a small boy, elbows flapping, urging a tired horse toward the house. He stood up and walked toward the road. The boy galloped up to the house, yanked off his hat, flung a yellow
ground, spun his horse
around, and kicked up a gallop again.
Tom started to call after him, and then he leaned wearily down and picked up the telegram. He sat in the sun on the bench outside the
forge, holding the telegram in his hand. And he looked at the hills and at the old house, as though to save something, before he tore open the envelope
and read the
inevitable four words, the person, the event, and the time.
Tom slowly folded the telegram and folded it again and again until it was a square no larger than his thumb. He walked to the house, through the kitchen, through the little living room, and into his bedroom. He took his dark suit out of the clothespress and laid it over the back of a chair, and he put a white shirt and a black tie on the seat of the chair. And then he lay down on the bed and turned his face to the wall.
The surreys and the buggies had driven out of the Salinas
cemetery. The family and friends went back to Olive’s house on Central Avenue to eat and to drink coffee, to see how each one was taking it, and to do and say the decent things.
George offered Adam Trask a lift in his rented
surrey, but Adam refused. He wandered
cemetery and sat down on the cement curb of the Williams family plot. The traditional dark cypresses wept around the edge of the cemetery, and white violets ran wild in the pathways.
brought them in and they had become weeds.
The cold wind blew over the tombstones and cried in the cypresses. There were
many cast-iron stars, marking the graves of Grand Army men, and on each star a small wind-bitten flag from a year ago Decoration Day.
Adam sat looking at the mountains to the east of Salinas, with the noble point of
dominating. The air was crystalline as it sometimes is when rain is coming. And then the light rain began to blow on the wind although the sky was not properly
covered with cloud.
Adam had come up on
the morning train. He had not intended to come at all, but something drew him beyond his power to resist. For one thing, he could not believe that Samuel was dead. He could hear the rich, lyric voice in his ears, the tones rising and falling in their foreignness, and the curious music of oddly chosen words tripping out so that you were never sure what the next word would be. In the speech of most men you are absolutely sure what the next word will be.
Adam had looked at Samuel in his casket and
knew that he didn’t want him
to be dead. And since the face in the casket did not look like Samuel’s face, Adam walked away to be by himself and to preserve the man alive.
He had to go to the cemetery.
have been outraged else. But he stood well back where he could not hear the words, and when the sons filled in the grave he had walked away and strolled in the paths where the white violets grew.
The cemetery was deserted and
crooning of the wind bowed the heavy cypress trees. The rain droplets grew larger and drove stinging along.
Adam stood up,
shivered, and walked slowly over the white violets and past the new grave. The flowers had been laid evenly
to cover the mound of new-turned damp
already the wind had frayed the blossoms and flung the smaller bouquets out into the path. Adam picked them up and laid them back on the mound.
He walked out of the cemetery. The wind and the rain were at his back, and he ignored the wetness that soaked through his black coat. Romie Lane was muddy with pools of water standing in the new wheel ruts, and the tall wild oats and mustard grew beside the road, with wild
turnip forcing its
stickery beads of purple thistles rising above the green riot of the wet spring.
The black ‘dobe mud
covered Adam’s shoes and splashed the bottoms of his dark trousers. It was nearly a mile to the Monterey road.
Adam was dirty and soaking when he reached it and turned east into the town of Salinas. The water was standing in the curved brim of his derby hat and his collar was wet and sagging.
At John Street the road angled and became Main Street. Adam stamped the mud off his shoes when he reached the pavement. The buildings cut the wind from him and almost instantly he began to shake with a chill. He increased his speed. Near the other end of Main Street he turned into the Abbot
House bar. He ordered brandy and drank it quickly and his shivering increased.
Mr. Lapierre behind the bar saw the chill. “You’d
better have another one,” he said. “You’ll get a bad cold. Would you like a hot rum? That will knock it out of you.”
“Yes, I would,” said Adam.
“Well, here. You sip another cognac while I get some hot water.”
Adam took his glass to a table and sat uncomfortably in his wet clothes. Mr.
Lapierre brought a steaming kettle from the kitchen. He put the squat glass on a tray and brought it to the table.
“Drink it as hot as you can stand it,” he said. “That will shake the chill out of an aspen.” He drew a chair up, sat down, then stood up. “You’ve made me cold,” he said. “I’m going to have one myself.” He brought his glass back to the table and sat across from Adam. “It’s working,” he said. “You were so pale you scared me when you came in. You’re a stranger?”
“I’m from near King City,” Adam said. “Come
up for the
“Yes—he was an old
“Big funeral?” “Oh, yes.”
“I’m not surprised. He
had lots of friends. Too bad it couldn’t have been a nice day. You ought to have one more and then go to bed.”
“I will,” said Adam. “It makes me comfortable and peaceful.”
something. Might have saved you from pneumonia too.”
After he had served another toddy he brought a
damp cloth from behind the bar. “You can wipe off some of that mud,” he said. “A funeral isn’t very gay, but when it gets rained on—that’s
“It didn’t rain till after,” said Adam. “It was walking back I got wet.”
“Why don’t you get a
nice room right here? You get into bed and I’ll send a toddy up to you, and in the morning you’ll be fine.”
“I think I’ll do that,”
said Adam. He could feel the blood stinging his cheeks and running hotly in his arms, as though it were some foreign warm fluid taking over his body.
Then the warmth
melted through into the cold concealed box where he stored forbidden thoughts,
timidly up to the surface like children who do not know whether they will be received. Adam picked up the damp cloth and leaned down to sponge off the bottoms of his trousers. The blood pounded behind his eyes. “I might have one more toddy,” he said.
Mr. Lapierre said, “If it’s for cold, you’ve had
enough. But if you just want a drink I’ve got some old Jamaica rum. I’d rather you’d have that straight. It’s fifty years old. The water would kill the flavor.”
“I just want a drink,” said Adam.
“I’ll have one with you.
I haven’t opened that jug in months. Not much call for it. This is a whisky-drinking town.”
Adam wiped off his
shoes and dropped the cloth on the floor. He took a drink of the dark rum and coughed.
wrapped its sweet aroma around his head and struck at the base of his nose like a blow. The room seemed to tip sideways and then right itself. “Good, isn’t it?” Mr.
Lapierre asked. “But it can knock you over. I wouldn’t
have more than one—unless of course you want to get knocked over. Some do.”
Adam leaned his elbows on the table. He felt a
garrulousness coming on him and he was frightened at the impulse. His voice did not sound like his voice, and his words amazed him.
“I don’t get up here much,” he said. “Do you
know a place called Kate’s?” “Jesus! That rum is
better than I thought,” Mr. Lapierre said, and he went on sternly, “You live on a ranch?”
“Yes. Got a place near King
“Glad to meet you.
“No. Not now.” “Widower?” “Yes.”
“You go to Jenny’s. Let Kate alone. That’s not good for you. Jenny’s is right next
door. You go there and you’ll get everything you need.” “Right next door?”
“Sure, you go east a block and a half and turn right. Anybody’ll tell you where the Line is.”
Adam’s tongue was
getting thick. “What’s the matter with Kate’s?”
“You go to Jenny’s,” said Mr. Lapierre.
It was a dirty gusty evening. Castroville Street was deep in sticky mud, and Chinatown was so flooded that its inhabitants had laid planks across the narrow street that separated their hutches. The clouds against the evening sky were the gray of rats, and the air was not damp but dank. I guess the difference is that dampness comes down but dankness rises up out of rot and fermentation. The afternoon wind had dropped away and left the air raw and wounded. It was cold enough to shake out the curtains of rum in Adam’s head without
restoring his timidity. He walked quickly down the unpaved sidewalks, his eyes on the ground to avoid stepping in puddles. The row was dimly lit by the warning lantern where the railroad crossed the street and by one small
carbon-filamented globe that burned on the porch of Jenny’s.
Adam had his
instructions. He counted two houses and nearly missed the third, so high and unbridled were the dark bushes in front of it. He looked in through the gateway at the dark porch, slowly opened the gate, and
went up the overgrown path. In the half-darkness he could see the sagging dilapidated porch and the shaky steps.
The paint had long disappeared
clapboard walls and no work had ever been done on the garden. If it had not been for the vein of light around the edges of the drawn shades he would
have passed on,
thinking the house deserted. The stair treads seemed to crumple under his weight and the porch planks squealed as he crossed them.
The front door opened,
and he could see a dim figure holding the knob.
soft voice said,
“Won’t you come in?”
The reception room was dimly lighted by small globes set under rose-colored shades. Adam could feel a thick carpet under his feet. He could see the shine of polished furniture and the gleam of gold picture frames. He got a quick impression of richness and order.
The soft voice said, “You should have worn a
raincoat. Do we know you?” “No, you don’t,” said
“Who sent you?”
“A man at the hotel.”
Adam peered at the girl before him. She was dressed in
black and wore no
ornaments. Her face was sharp—pretty and sharp. He tried to think of what animal, what night prowler, she reminded him. It was some secret and predatory animal. The girl said, “I’ll move nearer to a lamp if you like.” “No.”
She laughed. “Sit down
—over here. You did come here for something, didn’t
you? If you’ll tell me what you want I’ll call the proper girl.” The low voice had a precise and husky power.
And she picked her words as one picks flowers in a mixed garden and took her time choosing.
She made Adam seem clumsy to himself. He blurted out, “I want to see Kate.” “Miss Kate is busy now.
Does she expect you?” “No.”
“I can take care of you, you know.”
“I want to see Kate.” “Can you tell me what
you want to see her about?” “No.”
The girl’s voice took on
the edge of a blade sharpened
on a stone. “You can’t see her. She’s busy. If you don’t want a girl or something else, you’d better go away.” “Well, will you tell her
“Does she know you?” “I don’t know.” He felt
his courage going. This was a remembered cold. “I don’t know. But will you tell her that Adam Trask would like to see her? She’ll know then whether I know her or not.” “I see. Well, I’ll tell
her.” She moved silently to a door on the right and opened it. Adam heard a few muffled words and a man looked through the door. The girl left the door open so that Adam would know he was not
alone. On one side of the room heavy dark portieres hung over a doorway. The girl parted the deep folds and disappeared. Adam sat back in his chair. Out of the side of his eyes he saw the man’s head thrust in and then withdrawn.
Kate’s private room was comfort and efficiency. It did not look at all like the room where Faye had lived. The walls were clad in saffron silk and the drapes were apple green. It was a silken room— deep
silk-upholstered cushions, lamps with silken shades, a broad
bed at the far end of the room
with a gleaming white satin cover on which were piled gigantic pillows. There was no picture on the wall, no photograph or personal thing of any kind. A dressing table near the bed had no bottle or vial on its ebony top, and its sheen was reflected in triple mirrors. The rug was old and
deep and Chinese, an apple-green dragon on saffron. One end
of the room was
bedroom, the center was social, and the other end was office—filing
golden oak, a large safe,
black with gold lettering, and
a rolltop desk with a green-hooded double lamp over it, a swivel chair behind it and a
straight chair beside it. Kate sat in the swivel chair behind the desk. She
was still pretty. Her hair was blond again. Her mouth was little and firm and turned up at the corners as always. But her outlines were not sharp anywhere. Her shoulders had become plump while her hands
grew lean and
wrinkled. Her cheeks were chubby and the skin under her chin was crepe. Her breasts were still tiny, but a padding of fat protruded her stomach a
little. Her hips were slender, but her legs and feet had thickened so that a bulge hung over her low shoes. And through her stockings, faintly, could be seen the wrappings of elastic bandage to support the veins.
Still, she was pretty and neat. Only her hands had really aged, the palms and fingerpads shining and tight, the
backs wrinkled and
splotched with brown. She was dressed severely in a dark dress with long sleeves, and the only contrast was billowing white lace at her wrists and throat.
The work of the years
had been subtle. If one had been near by it is probable that no change at all would have been noticed. Kate’s cheeks were unlined, her eyes sharp and shallow, her nose delicate, and her lips thin and firm.
The scar on her
forehead was barely visible. It was covered with a powder tinted to match Kate’s skin.
Kate inspected a sheaf of photographs on her rolltop desk, all the same size, all taken by the same camera and bright with flash powder. And although the characters were
different in each picture, there was a dreary similarity about their postures. The faces of the
women were never
toward the camera.
Kate arranged the
pictures in four piles and slipped each pile into a heavy manila envelope. When the knock came on her door she put the envelopes in a pigeonhole of her desk. “Come in. Oh, come in, Eva. Is he here?”
The girl came to the
desk before she replied. In the increased
light her face
showed tight and her eyes were shiny. “It’s a new one, a stranger. He says he wants to see you.”
“Well, he can’t, Eva.
You know who’s coming.” “I told him you couldn’t see him. He said he thought he knew you.”
“Well, who is he, Eva?” “He’s a big gangly man,
a little bit drunk. He says his name is Adam Trask.” Although Kate made no movement or sound Eva knew something had struck home. The fingers of Kate’s right hand slowly curled around the palm while the left
hand crept like a lean cat toward the edge of the desk. Kate sat still as though she held her breath. Eva was jittery. Her mind went to the box in her dresser drawer where her hypodermic needle lay.
Kate said at last, “Sit
over there in that big chair, Eva. Just sit still a minute.” When the girl did not move Kate whipped one word at her. “Sit!” Eva cringed and went to the big chair. “Don’t pick your nails,” said Kate.
Eva’s hands separated,
and each one clung to an arm of the chair.
ahead at the green glass shades of her desk lamp. Then she moved so suddenly that Eva jumped and her lips quivered. Kate opened the desk drawer and took out a folded paper. “Here! Go to your room and fix yourself up. Don’t take it all—no, I won’t trust you.” Kate tapped the paper and tore it in two; a little white powder spilled before she folded the ends and passed one to Eva. “Now hurry up! When you come downstairs, tell Ralph I want him in the hall close enough to hear the bell but not the voices. Watch him to see he doesn’t creep up. If he hears the bell—no, tell him—no, let
him do it his own way. After that bring Mr. Adam Trask to me.”
“Will you be all right, Miss Kate?”
Kate looked at her until
she turned away. Kate called after her, “You can have the other half as soon as he goes. Now hurry up.”
After the door had
closed Kate opened the right-hand drawer of her desk and took out a revolver with a
short barrel. She swung the cylinder sideways and looked at the cartridges, snapped it shut and put it on her desk, and laid a sheet of paper over it. She turned off one of the lights and settled back in her chair. She clasped her hands on the desk in front of her.
When the knock came on the door she called,
“Come in,” hardly moving her lips.
Eva’s eyes were wet,
and she was relaxed. “Here he is,” she said and closed the door behind Adam.
He glanced quickly
about before he saw Kate sitting so quietly behind the desk. He stared at her, and then he moved slowly toward her.
Her hands unclasped and
her right hand moved toward the paper. Her eyes, cold and expressionless, remained on his eyes.
Adam saw her hair, her
scar, her lips, her creping throat, her arms and shoulders and flat breasts. He sighed deeply.
Kate’s hand shook a
little. She said, “What do you want?”
Adam sat down in the straight chair beside the desk. He wanted to shout with relief, but he said, “Nothing now. I just wanted to see you. Sam Hamilton told me you were here.”
The moment he sat
down the shake went out of her hand. “Hadn’t you heard before?”
“No,” he said. “I hadn’t heard. It made me a little crazy at first, but now I’m all right.”
Kate relaxed and her mouth smiled and her little teeth
canines sharp and white. She said, “You frightened me.” “Why?”
“Well, I didn’t know what you’d do.” “Neither did I,” said
Adam, and he continued to stare at her as though she were not alive.
“I expected you for a long time, and when you
didn’t come I guess I forgot you.”
“I didn’t forget you,” he said. “But now I can.” “What do you mean?”
He laughed pleasantly. “Now I see you, I mean. You know, I guess it was Samuel said I’d never seen you, and it’s true. I remember your face but I had never seen it. Now I can forget it.”
Her lips closed and straightened and her wide-set eyes narrowed with cruelty. “You think you can?”
“I know I can.”
She changed her
manner. “Maybe you won’t have to,” she said. “If you feel
all right about
everything, maybe we could
“I don’t think so,” said Adam.
“You were such a fool,” she said. “Like a child. You
didn’t know what things to do with yourself. I can teach you now. You seem to be a man.” “You have taught me,”
he said. “It was a pretty sharp lesson.”
“Would you like a drink?”
“Yes,” he said.
“I can smell your breath
—you’ve been drinking
rum.” She got up and went to a cabinet for a bottle and two glasses, and when she turned back she noticed that he was
looking at her fattened ankles. Her quick rage did not change the little smile on her lips.
She carried the bottle to
the round table in the middle of the room and filled the two small glasses with rum. “Come, sit over here,” she said. “It’s more comfortable.” As he moved to a big chair she saw that his eyes were on her protruding stomach. She handed him a glass, sat down, and folded her hands across her middle.
He sat holding his glass, and she said, “Drink it. It’s
very good rum.” He smiled at her, a smile she had never seen. She said, “When Eva told me you were here I thought at first I would have
you thrown out.”
“I would have come
back,” he said. “I had to see you—not that I mistrusted Samuel, but just to prove it to myself.”
“Drink your rum,” she said.
He glanced at her glass. “You don’t think I’d poison you—” She stopped and was angry that she had said it.
Smiling, he still gazed at her glass. Her anger came through to her face. She picked up her glass and
touched her lips to it. “Liquor makes me sick,” she said. “I never drink it. It poisons me.” She shut her mouth tight and her sharp teeth bit down on
her lower lip.
Adam continued to smile at her.
Her rage was rising beyond her control. She tossed the rum down her
throat and coughed, and her eyes watered and she wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. “You don’t trust me very much,” she said. “No, I don’t.” He raised
his glass and drank his rum, then got up and filled both glasses.
“I will not drink any more,” she said in panic. “You don’t have to,” Adam said. “I’ll just finish this and go along.”
burned in her throat and she felt the stirring in her that frightened her. “I’m not afraid of you or anyone else,” she said, and she drank off her second glass.
“You haven’t any reason to be afraid of me,” said Adam. “You can forget me now. But you said you had already.” He felt gloriously
warm and safe, better than he had for many years. “I came up
funeral,” he said. “That was a fine man. I’ll miss him. Do you remember, Cathy, he helped you with the twins?”
In Kate the liquor raged.
She fought and the strain of the fight showed on her face. “What’s the matter?”
“I told you it poisoned me. I told you it made me sick.”
“I couldn’t take the chance,” he calmly said. “You shot me once. I don’t know
what else you’ve done.”
“What do you mean?” “I’ve
scandal,” he said. “Just dirty scandal.”
For the moment she had forgotten
against the cruising alcohol, and now she had lost the battle. The redness was up in her brain and her fear was gone and in its place was cruelty without caution. She snatched the bottle and filled her glass.
Adam had to get up to pour his own. A feeling completely foreign to him
had arisen. He was enjoying what he saw in her. He liked to see her struggling. He felt good about punishing her, but he was also watchful. “Now I must be careful,” he told himself. “Don’t talk, don’t
He said aloud, “Sam Hamilton has been a good friend to me all the years. I’ll miss him.”
She had spilled some rum, and it moistened the
corners of her mouth. “I hated him,” she said. “I would have killed him if I could.”
“Why? He was kind to us.”
“He looked—he looked into me.”
“Why not? He looked
into me too, and he helped me.”
“I hate him,” she said. “I’m glad he’s dead.” “Might have been good if I had looked into you,” Adam said.
Her lip curled. “You are
a fool,” she said. “I don’t hate you. You’re just a weak fool.”
As her tension built up, a warm calm settled on Adam. “Sit there and grin,” she cried. “You think you’re free, don’t you? A few drinks and you think you’re a man! I could crook my little finger and
you’d come back
slobbering, crawling on your knees.” Her sense of power was loose and her vixen carefulness abandoned. “I know you,” she said. “I know your cowardly heart.”
Adam went on smiling.
He tasted his drink, and that reminded her to pour another for herself. The bottle neck chattered against her glass. “When I was hurt I
needed you,” she said. “But you were slop. And when I didn’t need you any more you tried to stop me. Take that ugly smirk off your face.”
“I wonder what it is you hate so much.”
“You wonder, do you?”
Her caution was almost entirely gone. “It isn’t hatred, it’s contempt. When I was a little girl I knew what stupid lying fools they were—my own
mother and father
pretending goodness. And they weren’t good. I knew them. I could make them do whatever I wanted. I could always make people do what
I wanted. When I was half-grown I made a man kill himself. He pretended to be
good too, and all he wanted was to go to bed with me—a little girl.”
“But you say he killed himself. He must have been very sorry about something.” “He was a fool,” said
Kate. “I heard him come to the door and beg. I laughed all night.”
Adam said, “I wouldn’t like to think I’d driven anybody out of the world.” “You’re a fool too. I remember how they talked.
‘Isn’t she a pretty little thing, so sweet, so dainty?’ And no one knew me. I made them jump through hoops, and they never knew it.”
Adam drained his glass.
He felt remote and inspective. He thought he could see her impulses crawling like ants and could read them. The sense of deep understanding that alcohol sometimes gives was on him. He said, “It doesn’t matter whether you liked Sam Hamilton. I found him wise. I remember he said one time that a woman who knows all about men usually knows one part very well and can’t conceive the other parts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”
“He was a liar and a hypocrite too.” Kate spat out her words. “That’s what I hate, the liars, and they’re all liars. That’s what it is. I love to show them up. I love to rub their noses in their own nastiness.”
Adam’s brows went up. “Do you mean that in the
whole world there’s only evil and folly?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“I don’t believe it,” Adam said quietly. “You don’t believe it!
You don’t believe it!” She mimicked him. “Would you like me to prove it?”
“You can’t,” he said. She jumped up, ran to
her desk, and brought the brown envelopes to the table. “Take a look at those,” she said.
“I don’t want to.”
“I’ll show you anyway.” She took out a photograph. “Look there. That’s a state
senator. He thinks he’s going to run for Congress. Look at his fat stomach. He’s got bubs like a woman. He likes whips. That streak there— that’s a whip mark. Look at the expression on his face!
He’s got a wife and four kids and he’s going to run for Congress. You don’t believe! Look at this! This piece of white
councilman; this big red Swede has a ranch out near Blanco. Look here! This is a professor at Berkeley. Comes all the way down here to have the toilet splashed in his face
—professor of philosophy. And look at this! This is a minister of the Gospel, a little brother of Jesus. He used to burn a house down to get what he wanted. We give it to him now another way. See that lighted match under his skinny flank?”
“I don’t want to see these,” said Adam. “Well, you have seen
them. And you don’t believe it! I’ll have you begging to get in here. I’ll have you
screaming at the moon.” She tried to force her will on him, and she saw that he was detached and free. Her rage congealed to poison. “No one has ever escaped,” she said softly. Her eyes were flat and cold but her fingernails were tearing at the upholstery of the chair, ripping and fraying the silk.
Adam sighed. “If I had those pictures and those men knew it, I wouldn’t think my
life was very safe,” he said. “I guess one of those pictures could destroy a man’s whole life. Aren’t you in danger?” “Do you think I’m a
child?” she asked. “Not any more,” said
Adam. “I’m beginning to
think you’re a twisted human
—or no human at all.”
She smiled. “Maybe
you’ve struck it,” she said. “Do you think I want to be human?
Look at those
pictures! I’d rather be a dog than a human. But I’m not a dog.
I’m smarter than
humans. Nobody can hurt me. Don’t worry about danger.” She waved at the filing cabinets. “I have a hundred beautiful pictures in there,
and those men know that if anything should happen to me
letters, each one with a picture, would be dropped in the mail, and each letter will go where it will do the most harm. No, they won’t hurt me.”
Adam asked, “But
suppose you had an accident, or maybe a disease?”
“That wouldn’t make
any difference,” she said. She leaned closer to him. “I’m going to tell you a secret none of those men knows. In a few years I’ll be going away. And when I do—those envelopes
will be dropped in the mail anyway.” She leaned back in her chair, laughing.
looked closely at her. Her face and her laughter were childlike and innocent. He got up
and poured himself
another drink, a short drink. The bottle was nearly empty. “I know what you hate. You hate something in them you can’t understand. You don’t hate their evil. You hate the good in them you can’t get at. I wonder what you want, what final thing.”
“I’ll have all the money I need,” she said. “I’ll go to New York and I won’t be old. I’m not old. I’ll buy a house, a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and I’ll have nice servants. And first I will find a man, if he’s still alive, and very slowly and with the greatest attention to pain I will take his life away. If I do it well and carefully, he will go crazy before he dies.”
Adam stamped on the floor
“Nonsense,” he said. “This isn’t true. This is crazy. None of this is true. I don’t believe any of it.”
remember when you first saw me?”
His face darkened. “Oh, Lord, yes!”
“You remember my
broken jaw and my split lips and my missing teeth?”
“I remember. I don’t want to remember.” “My pleasure will be to
find the man who did that,” she said. “And after that— there will be other pleasures.” “I have to go,” Adam
She said, “Don’t go,
dear. Don’t go now, my love. My sheets are silk. I want you
to feel those sheets against your skin.”
“You don’t mean that?” “Oh, I do, my love. I do. You aren’t clever at love, but I can teach you. I will teach
you.” She stood up unsteadily and laid her hand on his arm. Her face seemed fresh and young. Adam looked down at her hand and saw it wrinkled as a pale monkey’s paw. He moved away in revulsion.
She saw his gesture and understood it and her mouth hardened.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “I know, but I can’t believe. I know I won’t believe it in the morning. It will be a nightmare dream. But no, it—it can’t be a
remember you are the mother of my boys. You haven’t asked about them. You are the mother of my sons.”
Kate put her elbows on her knees and cupped her
hands under her chin so that her
fingers covered her
pointed ears. Her eyes were bright with triumph. Her voice was mockingly soft. “A fool
always leaves an
she said. “I
discovered that when I was a child. I am the mother of your sons. Your sons? I am the mother, yes—but how do you know you are the father?”
Adam’s mouth dropped open. “Cathy, what do you mean?”
“My name is Kate,” she
said. “Listen, my darling, and remember. How many times did I let you come near enough to me to have children?”
“You were hurt,” he said. “You were terribly hurt.”
“Once,” said Kate, “just once.”
“The pregnancy made
you ill,” he protested. “It was hard on you.”
She smiled at
sweetly. “I wasn’t too hurt for your brother.”
“My brother?” “Have
you forgotten Charles?”
Adam laughed. “You are
a devil,” he said. “But do you think I could believe that of my brother?”
“I don’t care what you believe,” she said.
Adam said, “I don’t believe it.”
“You will. At first you
will wonder, and then you’ll be unsure. You’ll think back about Charles—all about him. I could have loved Charles.
He was like me in a way.” “He was not.”
“You’ll remember,” she said. “Maybe one day you will remember some tea that tasted bitter. You took my medicine
remember? Slept as you had never
slept before and awakened
late—thick-headed?” “You were too hurt to
plan a thing like that.” “I can do anything,” she
said. “And now, my love, take off your clothes. And I will show you what else I can do.”
Adam closed his eyes
and his head reeled with the rum. He opened his eyes and shook his head violently. “It wouldn’t matter—even if it were true,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter at all.” And suddenly he laughed because he knew that this was so. He stood too quickly and had to grab the back of his chair to steady
himself against dizziness.
Kate leaped up and put
both of her hands on his elbow. “Let me help you take off your coat.”
Adam twisted her hands from his arm as though they were
wire. He moved
unsteadily toward the door.
shone in Kate’s eyes. She screamed, a long and shrill animal
stopped and turned toward her. The door banged open. The house pimp took three steps, poised, pivoted with his whole weight, and his fist
struck Adam under the ear. Adam crashed to the floor.
Kate screamed, “The
boots! Give him the boots!” Ralph moved closer to the fallen man and measured the distance. He noticed Adam’s open eyes staring up at him. He turned nervously to Kate.
Her voice was cold. “I said give him the boots. Break his face!”
Ralph said, “He ain’t fighting back. The fight’s all out of him.”
Kate sat down. She breathed through her mouth.
Her hands writhed in her lap. “Adam,” she said, “I hate you. I hate you now for the first time. I hate you! Adam, are you listening? I hate
Adam tried to sit up, fell back, and tried again. Sitting on the floor, he looked up at Kate. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It doesn’t matter at all.”
He got to his knees and rested with his knuckles against the floor. He said, “Do you know, I loved you better than anything in the world? I did. It was so strong that it took quite a killing.” “You’ll come crawling back,” she said. “You’ll drag your belly on the floor— begging, begging!”
“You want the boots now, Miss Kate?” Ralph asked.
She did not answer. Adam
slowly toward the door, balancing his steps carefully. His hand fumbled at the doorjamb.
Kate called, “Adam!”
He turned slowly. He
smiled at her as a man might smile at a memory. Then he went out and closed the door gently behind him.
Kate sat staring at the
door. Her eyes were desolate.