In her rage at his conspiracies Jude had contemplated several possible ways to revenge herself upon Estabrook, ranging from the bloodily intimate to the classically detached. But her nature never ceased to surprise her. All thoughts of garden shears and prosecutions dimmed in a short time, and she came to realize that the worst harm she could do him—given that the harm he’d intended to do her had been stopped in its tracks—was to ignore him. Why give him the satisfaction of her least interest in him? From now on he would be so far beneath her contempt as to be invisible. Having unburdened herself of her story to Taylor and Clem, she sought no further audience. From now on she wouldn’t sully her lips with his name or let her thoughts dally with him for two consecutive seconds. At least, that was the pact she made with herself. It proved difficult to keep.
On Boxing Day she received the first of what were to be many calls from him, which she resolutely cut short the instant she recognized his voice. It wasn’t the authoritative Estabrook she’d been used to hearing, and it took her three exchanges before she realized who was on the other end of the line, at which point she put down the receiver and let it
lie uncradled for the rest of the day. The following morning he called again, and this time, just in case he was in any doubt, she told him, “I don’t ever want to hear your voice again,” and once more cut him off.
When she’d done so she realized he’d been sobbing as he spoke, which gave her no little satisfaction, and the hope that he wouldn’t try again. A frail hope; he called twice that evening, leaving messages on her answering machine while she was out at a party flung by Chester Klein. There she heard news of Gentle, to whom she hadn’t spoken since their odd parting at the studio. Chester, who was much the worse for vodka, told her plainly he expected Gentle to have a full-blown nervous breakdown in a short time. He’d spoken to the Bastard Boy twice since Christmas, and he was increasingly incoherent.
“What is it about all you men?” she found herself saying. “You fall apart so easily.”
“That’s because we’re the more tragic of the sexes,” Chester returned. “God, woman, can’t you see how we suffer?”
“Well, we do. Take it from me. We do.”
“Is there any particular reason, or is it just free-form suffering?”
“We’re all sealed up,” Klein said. “Nothing can get in.”
“So are women. What’s the—”
“Women get fucked,” Klein interrupted, pronouncing the word with a drunken ripeness. “Oh, you bitch about it, but you love it. Go on, admit it. You love it.”
“So all men really want is to get fucked, is that it?” Jude said. “Or are you just talking personally?”
This brought a ripple of laughter from those who’d given up their chitchat to watch the fireworks.
“Not literally,” Klein spat back. “You’re not listening to me.”
“I’m listening. You’re just not making any sense.”
“Take the church—”
“Fuck the church!”
“No, listen!” Klein said, teeth clenched. “I’m telling God’s honest fucking truth here. Why do you think men invented the church, huh? Huh?”
His bombast had infuriated Jude to the point where she refused to reply. He went on, unperturbed, talking pedantically, as if to a slow student.
“Men invented the church so they could bleed for Christ. So they could be entered by the Holy Spirit. So they could be saved from being sealed up.” His lesson finished, he leaned back in his chair, raising his glass. “In vodka veri-tas,” he said.
“In vodka shit,” Jude replied.
“Well, that’s just typical of you, isn’t it?” Klein’s words slurred. “As soon as you’re fucking beaten you start the insults.”
She turned from him, shaking her head dismissively. But he still had a barb in his armory.
“Is that how you drive the Bastard Boy crazy?” he said.
She turned back on him, stung. “Keep him out of this,” she snapped.
“You want to see sealed up?” Klein said. “There’s your example. He’s out of his head, you know that?”