“You’re not being fair,” Susan Brooks said.
“That’s right,” I said. “Let’s drop it.”
“Oh . . . never mind,” Carol said. “I’ll talk. I’ll tell you something.”
It was my turn to be surprised. Everybody looked at her expectantly. I didn’t really know what they expected to hear-a bad case of penis envy, maybe, or Ten Nights with a Candle. I figured they were in for a disappointment, whatever it was. No whips, no chains, no night sweats. Small-town virgin, fresh, bright, pretty, and someday maybe she would blow Placerville and have a real life. Sometimes they change in college. Some of them discover existentialism and anomie and hash pipes. Sometimes they only join sororities and continue with the same sweet dream that began in junior high school, a dream so common to the pretty small-town vir-gins that it almost could have been cut from a Simplicity pattern, like a jumper or a Your Yummy Summer blouse or play skirt. There’s a whammy on bright girls and boys. If the bright ones have a twisted fiber, it shows. If they don’t, you can figure them as easily as square roots.
Girls like Carol have a steady boyfriend and enjoy a little necking (but, as the Tubes say, “Don’t Touch Me There”), nothing overboard. It’s okay, I guess. You’d expect more, but, so sorry please, there just isn’t. Bright kids are like TV dinners. That’s all right. I don’t carry a big stick on that particular subject.
Smart girls are just sort of dull.
And Carol Granger had that image. She went steady with Buck Thorne (the per-fect American name).
Buck was the center of the Placerville High Greyhounds, which had posted an 11-0 record the previous fall, a fact that Coach Bob “Stone Balls” Stoneham made much of at our frequent school-spirit
Thorne was a good-natured shit who weighed in at a cool two-ten; not exactly the brightest thing on two feet (but college material, of course), and Carol prob-ably had no trouble keeping him in line. I’ve noticed that pretty girls make the best lion tamers, too. Besides, I always had an idea that Buck Thorne thought the sex-iest thing in the world was a quarterback sneak right up the middle.
“I’m a virgin,” Carol said defiantly, startling me up out of my thoughts. She crossed her legs as if to prove it symbolically, then abruptly uncrossed them. “And I don’t think it’s so bad, either. Being a virgin is like being bright.”
“It is?” Grace Stanner asked doubtfully.
“You have to work at it,” Carol said. “That’s what I meant, you have to work at it.” The idea seemed to please her. It scared the hell out of me.
“You mean Buck never . . . ”
“Oh, he used to want to. I suppose he still does. But I made things pretty clear to him early in the game.
And I’m not frigid or anything, or a puritan. It’s just that
. . ” She trailed off, searching.
“You wouldn’t want to get pregnant,” I said.
“No!” she said almost contemptuously. “I know all about that.” With some-thing like shock I realized she was angry and upset because she was. Anger is a very difficult emotion for a programmed adolescent to handle. “I don’t live in books all the time. I read all about birth control in . . . ” She bit her lip as the contradiction of what she was saying struck her.
“Well,” I said. I tapped the stock of the pistol lightly on the desk blotter. “This is serious, Carol. Very serious. I think a girl should know why she’s a virgin, don’t you?”
“Oh.” I nodded helpfully. Several girls were looking at her with interest.
“Because . . . ”
Silence. Faintly, the sound of Jerry Kesserling using his whistle to direct traffic.
“Because . . . ”
She looked around. Several of them flinched and looked down at their desks. Just then I would have given my house and lot, as the old farmers say, to know just how many virgins we had in here. “And you don’t all have to stare at me! I didn’t ask you to stare at me! I’m not going to talk about it! I don’t have to talk about it!”
She looked at me bitterly.
“People tear you down, that’s it. They grind you if you let them, just like Pig Pen said. They all want to
pull you down to their level and make you dirty. Look at what they are doing to you, Charlie. ”
I wasn’t sure they had done anything to me just yet, but I kept my mouth shut.
“I was walking along Congress Street in Portland just before Christmas last year. I was with Donna Taylor. We were buying Christmas presents. I’d just bought my sister a scarf in Porteus-Mitchell, and we were talking about it and laughing. Just silly stuff. We were giggling. It was about four o’clock and just starting to get dark. It was snowing. All the colored lights were on, and the shop windows were full of glitter and packages . . . pretty . . . and there was one of those Salvation Army Santa Clauses on the corner by Jones’s Book Shop. He was ringing his bell and smiling. I felt good. I felt really good. It was like the Christmas spirit, and all that. I was thinking about getting home and having hot chocolate with whipped cream on top of it. And then this old car drove by, and whoever was driving cranked his window down and yelled, ‘Hi, cunt!’ ”
Anne Lasky jumped. I have to admit that the word did sound awfully funny coming out of Carol Granger’s mouth.
“Just like that,” she said bitterly. “It was all wrecked. Spoiled. Like an apple you thought was good and then bit into a worm hole. ‘Hi, cunt.’ As if that was all there was, no person, just a huh-h-h . . . ” Her mouth pulled down in a trem-bling, agonized grimace. “And that’s like being bright, too. They want to stuff things into your head until it’s all filled up. It’s a different hole, that’s all. That’s all. ”
Sandra Cross’s eyes~were half-closed, as if she dreamed. “You know,” she said. “I feel funny. I feel . . .
I wanted to jump up and tell her to keep her mouth shut, tell her not to incrim-inate herself in this fool’s parade, but I couldn’t. Repeat, couldn’t. If I didn’t play by my rules, who would?
“I feel like this is all,” she said.
“Either all brains or all cunt,” Carol said with brittle good humor. “Doesn’t leave room for much else, does it?”
“Sometimes,” Sandra said, “I feel very empty.”
“I . . . ” Carol began, and then looked at Sandra, startled. “You do?”
“Sure.” She looked thoughtfully out the broken windows. “I like to hang out clothes on windy days.
Sometimes that’s all I feel like. A sheet on the line. You try to get interested in things . . . Politics, the school . . . I was on the Student Council last semester . . . but it’s not real, and it’s awfully dull. And there aren’t a lot of minorities or anything around here to fight for, or . . . well, you know. Important things.
And so I let Ted do that to me.”
I looked carefully at Ted, who was looking at Sandra with his face frozen. A great blackness began to drizzle down on me. I felt my throat close.
“It wasn’t so hot,” Sandra said. “I don’t know what all the shouting’s about. It’s . . . ” She looked at me, her eyes widening, but I could hardly see her. But I could see Ted. He was very clear. In fact, he seemed to be lit by a strange golden glow that stood out in the new clotted darkness like a halo, a supernormal aura.
I raised the pistol very carefully in both hands.
For a moment I thought about the inner caves of my body, the living machines that run on and on in the endless dark.
I was going to shoot him, but they shot me first.
I know what happened now, although I didn’t then.
They had the best sharpshooter in the state out there, a state policeman named Daniel Malvern, from Kent’s Hill. There was a picture of him in the Lewiston Sun after everything was all over. He was a small man with a crew cut. He looked like an accountant. They had given him a huge Mauser with a telescopic sight. Daniel Malvern took the Mauser to a gravel pit several miles away, test-fired it, and then brought it back and walked down to one of the cruisers parked on the lawn with the rifle stuffed down his pants leg. He rested in the prone position behind the front fender, in deep shadow. He gauged the windage with a wet thumb. Nil. He peered through the telescopic sight. Through the 30X cross-hatched lens, I must have looked as big as a bulldozer. There was not even any window glass to throw a glare, because I had broken it earlier when I fired the pistol to make them stop using the bullhorn. An easy shot. But Dan Malvern took his time. After all, it was probably the most important shot of his life. I was not a clay pigeon; my guts were going to splatter all over the blackboard behind me when the bullet made its mush-rooming exit. Crime Does Not Pay. Loony Bites the Dust. And when I half-rose, half-leaned over Mrs. Underwood’s desk to put a bullet in Ted Jones, Dan’s big chance came. My body half-twisted toward him. He fired his weapon and put the bullet exactly where he had hoped and expected to put it: through my breast pocket, which lay directly over the living machine of my heart.