She trapped a live doctor now!

“Have you a thermometer!?” she asked.

“Yes.” He searched. His face panicked. He searched again. The audience cued him with a roar. He glanced over to find:

Miss Quick standing with the thermometer in her mouth, like an unlit smoke. She whipped it out, eyed it.

“Temperature!” she cried. “One hundred ten!”

She closed her eyes and gave an insincere shake of her hips.

The audience roared. And now she assaulted her victims, bullied them, tugged at their shirts, rumpled their hair, asked:

“Where’s your tie?”

They clapped their hands to their empty collars.

She plucked their ties from nowhere, tossed them back.

She was a magnet that invisibly drew good-luck charms, saints’ medals, Roman coins, theater stubs, handkerchiefs, stickpins, while the audience ran riot, convulsed as these rabbit men stood peeled of all prides and protections.

Hold your hip pocket, she vacuumed your vest. Clutch your vest, she jackpotted your trousers. Blithely bored, firm but evanescent, she convinced you you missed nothing, until she extracted it, with faint loathing, from her own tweeds moments later.

“What’s this?!” She held up a letter. “’Dear Helen: Last night with you-‘”

A furious blush as the victim tussled with Miss Quick, snatched the letter, stowed it away. But a moment later, the letter was restolen and reread aloud: “’Dear Helen: Last night-‘”

So the battle raged. One woman. Ten men.

She kissed one, stole his belt.

Stole another’s suspenders.

The women in the audience-whinnied.

Their men, shocked, joined in.

What a magnificent bully, Miss Quick! How she spanked her dear, idiot-grinning, carry-on-somehow men turned boys as she spun them like cigar-store Indians, knocked them with her brontosaur hip, leaned on them like barber-poles, calling each one cute or lovely or handsome.

This night, I thought, is lunatic! All about me, wives, hilarious with contempt, hysterical at being so shabbily revealed in their national pastimes, gagged for air. Their husbands sat stunned, as if a war were over that had not been declared, fought and lost before they could move. Each, nearby, had the terrible look of a man who fears his throat is cut, and that a sneeze would fill the aisle with heads .

Quickly! I thought. Do something!

“You, you onstage, my twin, dodge! Escape!”

And she was coming at him!

“Be firm!” I told my twin. “Strategy! Duck, weave. Zigzag. Don’t look where she says. Look where she doesn’t say! Go it! now!”

If I shouted this, or merely ground it to powder in my teeth, I don’t recall, for all the men froze as Miss Quick seized my twin by the hand.

“Careful!” I whispered.

Too late. His watch was gone. He didn’t know it. Your watch is gone! I thought. He doesn’t know what time it is! I thought.

Miss Quick stroked his lapel. Back off! I warned myself.

Too late. His forty-dollar pen was gone. He didn’t know it. She tweaked his nose. He smiled. Idiot! There went his wallet. Not your nose, fool, your coat!

“Padded?” She pinched his shoulder. He looked at his right arm. No! I cried silently, for now she had the letters out of his left coat pocket. She planted a red kiss on his brow and backed off with everything else he had on him, coins, identification, a package of chocolates which she ate, greedily. Use the sense God gave a cow! I shouted behind my face. Blind! See what she’s doing!

She whirled him round, measured him, and said, “This yours?” and returned his tie.

My wife was hysterical. She still held the glasses fixed on every nuance and vibration of loss and deprivation on the poor idiot’s face. Her mouth was spoiled with triumph.

My God! I cried in the uproar. Get off the stage! I yelled within, wishing I could really yell it. At least get out while you have some pride!

The laughter had erupted a volcano in the theater, high and rumbling and dark. The dim grotto seemed lit with unhealthy fever, an incandescence. My twin wanted to break off, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, too many bells on too many days: no reward, no food. His eyes were glazed with his insane predicament.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray