Jangle Around, Chapter VIII

 

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Party Favors

It was afternoon by the time he got to town. He got off the bus before it came to school. He was dressed in what had been in his closet at home and felt dowdy and unnatural. He had not shaved because of the cuts and soreness of his face. His muscles ached from the beating and he walked awkwardly. He stopped by Candi’s apartment. It was a large, bare room with doors, a john, a kitchen, and a closet. Two guitars and a Talousse-Latrec hung on the wall. She invited him in.
"Nice place you got here?"
"I’m glad you like it. Have you seen Frank?" She asked after someone who had taken her home from Sina’s.
"I saw him last week."
"What’s he doing with himself these days?"
"Same old things, I guess. He’s always trying to beat somebody at something."
"You look beat."
"I am."
"Would you like to stay for dinner? All I got is some hamburger and spaghetti and a little wine, but you’re welcome to it if you want."
"Sure, I guess I would."
After dinner he took down one of the guitars and played the little bit he knew. Then he said, "Are you and me going to bed?"
"No," she said, laughing nervously.

He walked on to the dorm, got back about nine. There was a message from Sina Eeck to call her, but he decided to sleep it out till tomorrow.
In the morning Duncan could not face books or professors. He lay in bed through the morning. When Martin came in, he pretended he was asleep. For lunch he sat and talked about boxing with a couple of guys from the boxing team. That perked him up a little, and he felt that maybe he could be OK with the world after all. He called Sina and she told him her last party had been such a success she wanted to have another one this Saturday. She invited him over for Mexican food with Martin and herself before the party. He was pleased and went back to sleep until evening.
When Saturday came Sina told him about Linda Otis who was a dancing friend to Sina. She was unhappy with her husband who, Sina said, was a dull engineer who maltreated her in general, and in particular by not coming to her party. "They got married when she was twenty, for security; now she’s finding our what security means. For one thing it means two children." Sina clapped her hands silently. It was a shame, she continued, that a sweet girl like Linda shouldn’t have any fun, and she would take it as a wonderful favour if Duncan would take Martin’s car and pick her up and then be very nice to her. "But most of all," she said, "Get her to tell you about her mother in Mexico ... it’s fascinating." Duncan said he would and smiled sheepishly. Sina continued that she would appreciate it if Duncan would fetch Linda late enough that her husband would be gone to his meeting of the AAEE. "Sure," Duncan said, wolfing down a hot green pepper.
At dinner Martin told them he was thinking of making a career in literary scholarship. He had taken a course in Chaucer the semester before to learn more about medieval Anglo-Norman cultural relations. This semester he went on to a course in the period before Chaucer. He had written a. paper on a Romance of the time, translated from Norman French, in which there was a curious scholarly crux. In the climactic battle when the fortunes were even, an unknown figure called the King of Chartres appeared on the field, spinning over and over above the ground. In some way his gymnastics turned the tide. Neither such a character nor a kingdom of Chartres were mentioned in the romance nor anywhere else. Martin had gone to a specialized library and located the Norman French original. There he finally realized the original had "reys de chart" - chariot wheels - which the maker of the English version had misread as "L’roy de Chartres". The hero was a mistranslation. His discovery had almost certainly earned him a fellowship to graduate school in medieval studies, and he was inclined to accept it. He said that at first he had imagined that it was possible to rediscover the states of mind of past men in history, that the failures to do so only arose from inept historians. Now he was beginning to feel more and more that states of mind were not in history, not at least as it existed professionally in the United States, but that perhaps there was hope in literature. He began to explain how the seeking by the ignorant translator for a hero was much like the seeking by men in that time for a leader in Richard the Lionhearted.
Duncan had come to the Mexican dinner in blue jeans and a plaid shirt. While Martin was talking he though of going back to the dorm while waiting for Linda’s husband to leave and changing into white ducks and a white shirt, but decided it was too much bother. The night was warm, the ocean breeze swelled clean and made him imagine with pleasure running to plunge in the surf far out in the black, shrugging water though he knew that if he actually did, the water would not refresh but numb him.
Linda’s house turned out to be a moderately pretentious, ranch-style in Pacific Palisades. Seeing her backlighted in the doorway, Duncan was struck that she was of no particular age; it seemed magical and attractive to him. She looked at him with sad astonishment.
"I’m not a cowboy; I’m your date," Duncan said smiling. His smile flicked off as he tongued the gap in his teeth.
Linda glanced nervously into the living room where a babysitter was lounging in the cheery light of the Television. She turned back to him, still sad and astonished as if she absolutely did not know what to do.
"Sina said that she was going to call and say I would come over," Duncan explained.
"I thought she was coming," Linda said.
"Gosh, won’t I do?"
She hesitated again, then said, "I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it; wait a minute while I get my coat." She did not invite him in. She was still ageless, in full light. She was wearing a tight brown tweed skirt and a tan cashmere sweater. Most of all she wore the light-footedness and wiriness dancing fostered. It was that trimness, neither girlish nor thin, but spring-footed and tight-calved, which lifted her out of his conventional age brackets.
In the car Linda unfroze enough to ask him if he weren’t a cowboy, what was he?
"Well, Gosh," he said, "When I have to fill in those blanks I write in ‘student’. I mean that’s what I am, I mean I'm registered at USC and I have courses I'm supposed to go to and all. Maybe I am a cowboy, who knows? "
She laughed and seemed pleased.
"Maybe I’ve quit my ‘occupation’ or gone on strike for double pay or overtime, or more recognition. "
She laughed again, and threw back her head against the back of the seat, more dramatically than she needed. When she leaned forward again she brushed his shoulder with her soft sweater, he realized he could make her. Duncan had never thought of himself as a stud, or someone who knew his way with women, nor did he supposed that others thought of him as a stud, so he surprised to itself by knowing when he caught those to gestures that he could end up in bed with her. The two of and fell silent as he drove on toward Sina’s party, he considering his new role. Maybe women might be a solace someday.
"Tell me about your mother in Mexico ... " he said doubtfully.
"A girl has to have some secrets, " she said.
"How well do you know Sina? " he asked.
"Well I’ve been taking lessons from her a couple of years, I guess. I’ve never been real close to her, but she’s always been friendly and I’ve always admired her. She's a wonderful dancer and a wonderful person; I’ve learned so much from knowing her. "
"I guess so, "Duncan said.
When they got to the party there were maybe 30 people, and Sina’s large house was still a little empty. Some were dancing under the Canaletto where the rugs were rolled away, whereas others were standing in twos and threes or alone. Linda rushed to talk to Sina; she had a dancer’s way of dramatizing her movements very slightly. Duncan followed along after her but not with her, looking around sheepishly for someone he knew, finding no one. The two girls rubbed their heads together. When Duncan came up, Sina told him that Linda danced just wonderfully and he really should dance with her. She did dance wonderfully, soft and wiry. In fact he began to feel a kind of revelation of physical sympathy. That Old Black Magic. When that and the next dance were over, she spoke to him for the first time since they had begun dancing. "I’m not really your date, you know." She pressed his hand and disappeared into the gathering crowd.
But Duncan could not disappear from himself, and if he wanted to dance with her again, he would have to wait around with himself. Martin found him. He’d been reading Descartes and to wanted consult him. Martin muttered forceful arguments against Descartes’ assertions that God or he himself existed. Duncan felt he was expected, as a philosophy major, to argue back, but he could not muster the desire. He merely asked Martin if he believed that his own feeling that he existed (" I assume you feel you exist. ") was merely the product of unexpressed presuppositions. Martin replied that his feelings were not Descartes'.
A little later in the evening Duncan ran into Candi again.
"Well, " she asked with childish scorn, " have you found anyone to fuck you for no good reason yet? "
"Aw, Candi there’s always a reason to fuck."
"Is iddums horny? " she simpered.
"No, just healthy."
"Is iddums dying of passion for me?"
"Aw, Candi, what you say things like that for?"
"Come off this, you bastard, there’s always a reason not to fuck, too."

Later yet Sam jerked up. He seemed embarrassed by meeting Duncan and turned away after his first shouted and just gestureful greeting, but then turned back and narrowed his eyes at Duncan.
"Tell me something man-to-man, Duncan?"
"What you want, Sam?"
"I want you to tell me something straight out of the cuff."
"Shoot, Sam."
"Are you coming back to the agency next summer?"
"My plans are indefinite at this time, Sam." Duncan tried to smile, started to, but then his tongue found the gap in his teeth. "But I guess I’m not really counting on that."
"Well, kid, they’re counting on you."
"How do you mean, Sam?" Duncan said, smiling till his cheek twitched in hopes Sam would not, right here and now, personally be mad with him.
"Shit, kid, you’ve let them down; your letting the organization down. Do you expect them to like you?" he leaned forward and breathed sweat and vodka on Duncan.
"I guess not."
Sam’s hand picked itself up and pointed its short, fat finger at Duncan. "I didn’t think you’d be a quitter kid, I never thought you’d be a quitter like this." His ass drew him away backward, his finger still pointing as if to thrust away contamination like a gesture against the evil eye.
Duncan slumped his shoulders more, feeling that to ask him to stay with the firm for the greatest imaginable reward was asking too much.
He turned away and faced the front door. Lorelie Higgins, the girl he had taken to the jazz concert and who had given him the Ion was entering through the open doorway. Her hair was long dark and straight as it had always been; she was wearing a spy-movie trenchcoat. The coat hid her apple breasts, but she still had her fawn eyes. She was looking around the room, her face eager and straight as if she were Leatherstockings on a hilltop with her hand over her eye looking for Indians. She spotted Duncan and came straight for him.
He put on his smile again but as if his lips had tiny weights. "Long time no see, " he said.
"I haven’t forgotten you," she said.
"Naw, I guess not, " Duncan said, looking at his feet.
"They told me you were going to be here tonight."
"That was nice of ‘m," Duncan replied.
"How have you been? " she went on breathlessly.
"Not so good, I guess," he said.
"I just came back from Radcliff, you know. I graduated a semester early," she added, a little embarrassed. ".... cum laudi". Her embarrassment when she said this was the first sign she had heard what Duncan was saying.
"Gee, that’s great, " he said.
"Let's go outside where we can talk," she said. He followed her out to the front steps, which were surrounded by soft fog. He stood there glad to be away from the people but puzzled and frightened by the attention of this specter.
"I’ve never forgotten, Duncan. I felt I’d betrayed you terribly, and when they told me that you would be here, I finally got up the courage to come and tell you I let you down. You ... I’m sure you didn’t mean to be malicious, and oh Duncan, I thought such horrible things about you, I can’t even talk about them, but Duncan, I know you didn’t mean me any harm, did you, Duncan?"
"I guess not," he answered, stressing ‘guess’.
"Duncan, what’s wrong, what has happened to you?" she asked, laying her hand on his arm. "You used to be so full of life, and freedom, and joy."
"Did I? "
"Oh, yes, you did. What’s wrong? "
"Something. Now I can’t seem to do the right thing by anyone anymore. " He shook his head, as if shaking a way a fly.
"I’m sure you can, " she said, tightening her grip on his arm.   " Duncan, look at me." He did not look at her. "Duncan, I have faith in you; I’ve always had faith in you, even when I couldn’t admit it to myself."
"Please don’t do this, " he said
 "Oh, I do, I have faith in you, Duncan." She continued as if she had not heard him.
"You're out of your fucking mind," Duncan said.
He shook his arm free, turned from her, and walked back to the party. Her conversation more than Candi’s insults or Sam’s reproach made him feel as if the party were committee of exuberant examiners delightedly expecting him to do things he could not do. He felt as if he were a juggler whose enthusiastically receptive audience kept throwing him more things to juggle: pencils, tops, purses, tomatoes, rotten eggs, tickets to future performances.
Duncan noticed a man standing by the door watching the women dancing. He had hair sunbleached white, a grayish tan, wore a faded denim jacket and faded blue jeans. The hues were different, but the values were the same, lending him a desolate, desert air. His light blue eyes moved from dancer to dancer, shamelessly lustful as if the possibility of intimacy with any one of them might accidentally mean everything to him. Seeing him depressed and excited Duncan.
Linda Otis came up to Duncan and began to speak. He interrupted her: "Just dance, baby, dancing with you is the greatest." In fretful pleasure or in sadness she danced close to him with her forehead to his shoulder. Again he fell to a kind of magical physical revelation ravelling a little further with each step. When the song ended, she said, "I must be getting home soon."
"Are you having a good time?"
She nodded her brow low against his chest.
"Then just dance."
"I’ll have to call the baby sitter? " she said with the rising inflection.
"Does she needs sitting? "
"No, I just have to call her."
" You're a real great girl, " Duncan said.
She shook herself out of his embrace and scampered out to the hall. A few minutes later he saw her back in conversation with Sina. When he started toward them, Sina waved him away.
Later he was standing with his brother Tom and Martin. Tom was without Tanya. They had been talking about Annette’s brother and the flight of days before.
"I’ve met him," Tom said. "He seems like an ordinary kind of guy. Big, quiet, tense."
"I noticed the size more than the quietness, " said Duncan tonguing the gap in his mouth.
"Well, hell, Dun, you brought it on yourself," Tom said.
"You don’t expect to lose a tooth for every girl you make," Duncan said.
"You really seemed to like her; was it worth it?" asked Martin.
"How should I know," Duncan smiled.
Linda walked toward them. "That Old Black Magic" came on the record player. In a rush of hopeful fondness Duncan took her hand, said, "they must have played that just for us," and danced her off.
Martin shook his head and said to Tom, "that guy has no conscience; a imagine coming on with a line like that."
"The thing is," Tom said "the poor sap believes himself. "
When the tune was over, he led her by the hand upstairs, where all the doors were closed. They went down the back stairs to the screened back porch. She followed meekly without speaking. The way a she walked dramatized her momentary meekness; this way she had of expressing everything a little extra by her movement comforted Duncan. The back porch was half lit by curtained windows and heaped with old furniture, toys, and shapeless household flotsam. He threw the toys and a box of Mason jars off a small couch and drew her down beside him. " I should be getting home?" she said.
"You're really swell to dance with."
"I should really be getting home."
"It's like you’re made out of me."
"I really should be getting home," she repeated without varying her inflection. He realized how drunk she was. He put his arm around her.
"Talk to me?" she said. "Tell me your story."
First he smiled as silly smile and then he kissed her. She neither embraced nor resisted.
"Tell me the story of your life," she said.
"I’m having a wonderful time," he replied.
"Oh, God, I’ve got to get home," she said.
He kissed her a gain, laying her back on the couch. She put her arms around him cautiously, like an inexperienced girl following the hints she had heard from her friends.
"I’m having a wonderful time too," she said and began to cry.
"They played that song so often just for us," he said.
"Yes, they must have," she said. She lay against him without moving, but the sympathy of movement that he had felt when they were dancing seemed present to him.
He stood up, surveyed the derision of the night, went to the house door, shot the bolt, walked back to the couch, and lay beside her again.
"But I’m married, "she said, "I have two children." She gripped him tight. In their rush of fondness or passion, or desire to find themselves anew, they did not even bother to take off any clothes but her underwear. Almost till the end she remained as she had kissed, intensely preserved, unresponsive but finally she half dissolved into jerky, little, strong-backed fucking movements, and then began to cry again.
She was the first to speak: "It’s funny, I have no pants on, but you do." She began to laugh through her tears.
He laughed too, without much heart for her or for himself anymore, but with a welcome feeling of strangeness. "I’ve got to be getting home," she said. They brushed down their clothes and walked out side. A heavy fog had settled in. They sat on chairs on Sina’s back lawn. The house loomed above them, now dark and seemingly deserted.
"Oh, God, she said, "you won’t let me end up like my mother, will you?"
"Tell me about your mother," he said.
"She died last year; did Sina tell you?"
"In Mexico," he said, pleased to have this point of contact.
"The Indians took her. She took hormones. She was in bed with one when she died. He was 17. I went to the funeral; they were all there. One of them spoke to me. Half of them don't even speak Spanish."
"Do you speak Spanish?"
"Of course, I grew up there, before I came to the States to school."
"It must be nice there." He smiled and thought of sunny streets, white walls, barred windows, courteous natives who seemed at once to have humbleness and confidence from knowing their place in an older, deeper culture, and from knowing that your place was not theirs.
"It's awful," she said "they used her like an initiation ceremony." Linda jerked up straight. "Oh, please, God, don’t let me be like her!"
"I guess I’d better take you home," he said. He still had the keys to Martin’s car.

They rode back in silence, holding hands. She asked him not to stop in front of her house. There was already a little grey light in the air.
"You mustn’t tell anyone about this," she chanted like a child, "you mustn’t tell tales, now. "
"Of course not, he said smiling defensively. He felt he should be hurt that she should have suggested he would tell tales, though he also felt that he might.
"When will I see you again?" he asked
"I don’t know," she said, "I’ll have to think. Call me tomorrow during the afternoon. Will you do that?" She pleaded.
"I'd love to." he kissed her, hummed a little of That Old Black Magic to her closed eyes, and let her out into the lightening fog.
When she had gone he found himself shaky as he had been right after the fight. He drove with impractical caution to a beach and went out and sat on the sand in the fog listening to the surf for a while, wondering what he had done.
Finally he felt able to drive back downtown to the dorm, which he found unrecognizable like a building described to him often by a friend or in a book, but which he had actually never seen before. The first bright rays of dawn shown clear and fogless here providing the same flat light he had seen in the morning after being beaten. He left a note for Martin not to disturb him for anything and flaked out without undressing.

When Linda entered her living room, she found the baby sitter’s mother huddling wakeful and resentful by the spent fire. It had been understood between her husband and herself that whoever came in first would release the sitter. The mother at first wondered if something unfortunate had happened. When Linda reassured her, she grew angry and said that if something like this happened gain she would not let her daughter sit for them, and she was a working woman herself. Linda paid her off handsomely. She went a little fearfully into their bedroom. Her sense of Duncan recently in her body made old familiar objects look rather strange, as if seen by different person. On the bed was a note:

Lindy,

I cannot keep this farce up any longer. I have gone to stay with Sally.

I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened to us.

I’m sorry, what else can I do?

Wes

A sense of failure and fear for the future filled her. She could not at once recall who Sally was. She fell without undressing on to the bed and into a fitful sleep, filled with fearful, anxious dreams, which seem more real than waking. Before long her children woke her.

 

CHAPTER X