Then I rolled off. “I’m sorry.” My voice was shockingly loud, rasping.
I could hear her sigh. It was a short sound, an irritated sound. “All right,” she said. “It happens.”
“Not to me,” I said, as if this was the first time in several thousand sexual en-counters that my equipment had malfunctioned. Dimly I could hear Mick Jagger and the Stones shouting out “Hot Stuff.” One of life’s little ironies. I still felt wrecked, but it was a cold feeling, depthless. The cold certainty that I was queer crept over me like rising water. I had read someplace that you didn’t have to have any overt homosexual experience to be queer; you could just be that way and never know it until the queen in your closet leaped out at you like Norman Bates’s mom in Psycho, a grotesque mugger prancing and mincing in Mommy’s makeup and Mommy’s shoes.
“It’s just as well,” she said. “Pete-”
“Look, I’m sorry.”
She smiled, but it looked manufactured. I’ve wondered since if it was or not. I’d like to believe it was a
real smile. “It’s the dope. I bet you’re a hell of a lover when things are right.”
“Fuck,” I said, and shivered at the dead sound in my own voice.
“No.” She sat up. “I’m going back in. Wait until I’m gone awhile before you come up. ”
I wanted to tell her to wait, to let me try it again, but I knew I couldn’t, not if all the seas dried up and the moon turned to zinc oxide. She zipped into her dress and was gone, leaving me there under the steps.
The moon watched me closely, perhaps to see if I might cry. I didn’t. After a little while I got my clothes straight-ened around and most of last fall’s leaves brushed off me. Then I went back up-stairs. Pete and Dana were gone. Joe was over in a corner, making out with a really stunning girl who had her hands in his mop of blond hair. I sat down and waited for the party to be over. Eventually it was.
By the time the three of us got back to Bangor, dawn had already pulled most of her tricks out of her bag and a red edge of sun was peering down at us from between the smokestacks of beautiful downtown Brewer. None of us had much to say. I felt tired and grainy and not able to tell how much damage had been done to me. I had a leaden feeling that it was more than I really needed.
We went upstairs, and I fell into the tiny daybed in the living room. The last thing I saw before I went to sleep was bars of sunlight falling through the venetian blinds and onto the small throw rug by the radiator.
I dreamed about the Creaking Thing. It was almost the same as when I was small, I in my bed, the moving shadows of the tree outside on the ceiling, the steady, sinister sound. Only, this time the sound kept getting closer and closer, until the door of the bedroom burst open with an awful crack like the sound of doom.
It was my father. My mother was in his arms. Her nose had been slit wide open, and blood streamed down her cheeks like war paint.
“You want her?” he said. “Here, take her, you worthless good-for-nothing. Take her. ”
He threw her on the bed beside me and I saw that she was dead, and that’s when I woke up screaming.
With an erection.
Nobody had anything to say after that one, not even Susan Brooks. I felt tired. There didn’t seem to be a great deal left to say. Most of them were looking outside again, but there wasn’t anything to see that hadn’t been there an hour before–actually less, because all of the pedestrians had been shooed away. I decided San-dra’s sex story had been better. There had been an orgasm in hers.
Ted Jones was staring at me with his usual burning intensity (I thought, how-ever, that revulsion had given way entirely to hate, and that was mildly satisfying). Sandra Cross was off in her own world. Pat Fitzgerald was carefully folding a cheap piece of study-hall math paper into an aerodynamically unsound aircraft.
Suddenly Irma Bates said defiantly, “I have to go to the bathroom!”
I sighed. It sounded a great deal like the way I remember Dana Collette’s sigh at Schoodic Point. “Go, then.”
She looked at me unbelievingly. Ted blinked. Don Lordi snickered.
“You’d shoot me.”
I looked at her. “Do you need to go to the crapper or not?”
“I can hold it,” she said sulkily.
I blew out my cheeks, the way my father does when he’s put out. “Well, either go or stop wiggling around in your seat. We don’t need a puddle underneath your desk.”
Corky went haw-haw at that. Sarah Pasterne looked shocked.
As if to spite me, Irma got up and walked with flat-footed vigor toward the door. I had gained at least one point: Ted was staring at her instead of me. Once there, she paused uncertainly, hand over the knob.
She looked like someone who has just gotten an electric shock while adjusting the TV rabbit ears and is wondering whether or not to try again.
“You won’t shoot me?”
“Are you going to the bathroom or not?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if I was going to shoot her. I was still disturbed by (jealous of?) the fact that Sandra’s story seemed to have so much more power than my own. In some undefined way, they had gained the upper hand. I had the crazy feeling that instead of my holding them, it was the other way around. Except for Ted, of course. We were all holding Ted.
Maybe I was going to shoot her. I certainly didn’t have anything to lose. Maybe it would even help.
Maybe I could get rid of the crazy feeling that I had waked up in the middle of a new dream.
She opened the door and went out. I never raised the gun off the blotter. The door closed. We could hear her feet moving off down the hall, not picking up tempo, not breaking into a run. They were all watching the door, as if something completely unbelievable had poked its head through, winked, and then with-drawn.
For myself, I had a strange feeling of relief, a feeling so tenuous that I could never explain it.
The footfalls died out.
Silence. I waited for someone else to ask to go to the bathroom. I waited to see Irma Bates dash crazily out of the front doors and right onto the front pages of a hundred newspapers. It didn’t happen.
Pat Fitzgerald rattled the wings of his plane. It was a loud sound.
“Throw that goddamn thing away,” Billy Sawyer said irritably. “You can’t make a paper plane out of study-hall paper. ” Pat made no move to throw the god-damn thing away. Billy didn’t say anything else.
New footfalls, coming toward us.
I lifted up the pistol and pointed it toward the door. Ted was grinning at me, but I don’t think he knew it.
I looked at his face, at the flat, conventionally good look-ing planes of his cheeks, at the forehead, barricading all those memories of sum-mer country-club days, dances, cars, Sandy’s breasts, calmness, ideals of rightness; and suddenly I knew what the last order of business was; perhaps it had been the only order of business all along; and more importantly, I knew that his eye was the eye of a hawk and his hand was stone. He could have been my own father, but that didn’t matter. He and Ted were both remote and Olympian: gods. But my arms were too tired to pull down temples. I was never cut out to be Samson.
His eyes were so clear and so straight, so frighteningly purposeful-they were politician’s eyes.
Five minutes before, the sound of the footfalls wouldn’t have been bad, do you see? Five minutes before, I could have welcomed them, put the gun down on the desk blotter and gone to meet them, perhaps with a fearful backward glance at the people I was leaving behind me. But now it was the steps themselves that fright-ened me. I was afraid Philbrick had decided to take me up on my offer-that he had come to shut off the main line and leave our business unfinished.
Ted Jones grinned hungrily.
The rest of us waited, watching the door. Pat’s fingers had frozen on his paper plane. Dick Keene’s mouth hung open, and in that moment I could see for the first time the family resemblance between him and his brother Flapper, a borderline IQ case who had graduated after six long years in Placerville.
Flapper was now doing postgraduate work at Thomaston State Prison, doing doctoral work in laundry maintenance and advanced spoon sharpening.