“Nothing, nothing quite like port!”
She leaned her small gray head back, dozing, gumming her red-sticky mouth, and glancing at him with half-secretive, lazy eyes. “Poor Lila,” she murmured.
“Yes,” he murmured. “Lila. Poor.”
The fire popped and she at last added, “Poor Mr. Schlagel.”
“Yes.” He drowsed. “Poor Schlagel. Don’t forget Smith.”
“And you, old man,” she said finally, slowly, slyly. “How do you feel?’
“Un-huh.” He studied her with bright eyes. “And, my dear, what about you?”
“Sleepy,” she said behind closed eyes. Then they popped wide. “Why all these questions?”
“Indeed,” he said, stirring alert. “Why?”
“Oh, well, because …” She examined her little black shoe moving in a low rhythm a long way off below her knee. “I think, or perhaps imagine, I have just destroyed your digestive and nervous systems.”
For the moment he was drowsily content and examined the warm fire and listened to the clock tick. “What you mean is that you have just poisoned me?” He dreamed the words. “You what!?” He jumped as all the air gusted from his body. The port glass shattered on the floor.
She leaned forward like a fortune-teller eagerly predicting futures.
“I cleverly poisoned my own drink and knew that you’d ask to trade off, so you felt safe. And we did!” Her laugh tinkled.
He fell back in his chair, clutching at his face to stop the wild swiveling of his eyes. Then suddenly he remembered something and let out an incredible explosion of laughter.
“Why,” cried Missy, “why are you laughing?”
“Because,” he gasped, tears streaming down his cheeks, his mouth grinning horribly, “I poisoned my drink! and hoped for an excuse to change with you!”
“Oh, dear,” she cried, no longer smiling. “How stupid of us. Why didn’t I guess?”
“Because both of us are much too clever by far!” And he lay back, chortling.
“Oh, the mortification, the embarrassment, I feel stark naked and hate myself!”
“No, no,” he husked. “Think instead how much you still hate me.”
“With all my withered heart and soul. You?”
“No deathbed forgiveness here, old lily-white iron-maiden wife 0 mine. Cheerio,” he added faintly, far away.
“If you think I’ll say ‘Cheerio’ back, you’re crazed,” she whispered, her head rolling to one side, her eyes clamped, her mouth gone loose around the words. “But what the hell. Cheer-“
At which her breath ceased and the fire burned to ashes as the clock ticked and ticked in the quiet room.
Friends found them strewn in their library chairs the next day, both looking more than usually pleased with their situation.
“A suicide pact,” said all. “So great their love they could not bear to let the other vanish alone into eternity.”
“I hope,” said Mr. Gowry, on his crutches, “my wife will someday join me in similar drinks.”
QUICKER THAN THE EYE
It was at a magic show I saw the man who looked enough like me to be my twin.
My wife and I were seated at a Saturday night performance, it was summer and warm, the audience melting in weather and conviviality. All around I saw married and engaged couples delighted and then alarmed by the comic opera of their lives which was being shown in immense symbol onstage.
A woman was sawed in half. How the husbands in the audience smiled.
A woman in a cabinet vanished. A bearded magician wept for her in despair. Then, at the tip-top of the balcony, she appeared, waving a white-powdered hand, infinitely beautiful, unattainable, far away.
How the wives grinned their cat grins!
“Look at them!” I said to my wife.
A woman floated in midair. .. a goddess born in all men’s minds by their own true love. Let not her dainty feet touch earth. Keep her on that invisible pedestal. Watch it! God, don’t tell me how it’s done, anyone! Ah, look at her float, and dream.
And what was that man who spun plates, globes, stars, torches, his elbows twirling hoops, his nose balancing a blue feather, sweating everything at once! What, I asked myself, but the commuter husband, lover, worker, the quick luncher, juggling hour, Benzedrine, Nembutal, bank balances, and budgets?