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《九故事》第二篇:威格利大叔在康涅狄格州

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马飞 发布于 2011-5-25 20:16:15
何上峰译
    都快三点钟了,玛丽·简才总算找到了埃洛依斯的家。玛丽·简向跑到车道上来迎接她的埃洛依解体说,本来一切都绝对顺当,路总怎么她她记得真真儿的,直到她拐开了梅里克林阴道。埃洛依斯说:“是梅里特林阴大道,宝贝儿,”并且提醒玛丽·简她从前有两次都是自个儿找到这所房子的,可是玛丽·简光是含糊其词哀叫出几个字,像是跟她那盒克林尼斯纸巾有关的什么事儿,接着便奔回到她那辆有活动顶篷的汽车旁。埃洛依斯翻起驼绒外衣领子,转身背对着风,等着。玛丽·简倒是立刻就回来了,用纸巾擦拭着,仍然显得心里很烦,甚至是气呼呼的。埃洛依斯呵呵地说,真倒霉,整顿午餐全给烧煳了——小牛胰脏以及所有的一切——但玛丽·简她怎么今天正好得空。玛丽·简说她并不是全天有空;只是因为韦因伯格先生疝气犯了,不得不呆在拉契蒙镇家里,由她每天下午把他的信件送去,另外再带走几封信。她问埃洛依斯,“对了,疝气到底是怎么回事?”埃洛依斯把手里的烟头往脚下污雪里一扔,说她也不真正清楚,不过玛丽·简尽可以放心,她是不大会得这种病的。玛丽·简说了声“哦”,于是两个姑娘便走进了屋子。
  二十分钟后,她们已经在起居室里快喝光她们的第一高脚杯威士忌酒了,并且以曾在大学同住过一个房间的那种特殊的、也许是仅限于“室友”才能有的方式聊起天来了。再说她们之间还有一层更深的关系;两人都没有念到毕业。埃洛依斯是在1942年二年级念到一半时离开学院的,一个星期前,她在宿舍三楼紧闭的电梯里跟一个大兵被人抓了个正着。玛丽·简退了学——就在同一年,上同一班时,几乎是同一个月——嫁给了驻扎在佛罗里达州杰克逊维尔的一个空军学校学员,那是个来自密西西比州迪尔的瘦瘦的、对飞行着了迷的小伙子,他和玛丽·简的婚姻只维持了三个月,其中有两个月他倒是在监狱里度过的,因为用刀子捅了一宪兵。 ‘
  “不对,”埃洛依斯说了。“那其实是红色的。”她手伸着躺在长沙发上,那双细细的却非常好看的腿脚腕处搭在了一起。
  “我听说是金黄色的嘛,”玛丽·简重复了一遍。她坐在一张蓝色的直靠背椅子上。“那家伙名叫什么来着,赌咒发誓说那是金黄色的。”
  “哎。错不了。”埃洛依斯打了个哈欠。“她染头发那会儿我等于跟她在同一个房间里呢。怎么搞的?那里面连一根香烟都没有了吗?”
  “不要紧。我这里有整整一包呢,”玛丽·简说。“在哪儿来着。”她在她的手提包里摸来摸去。
  “我那傻女佣,”埃各依斯说,躺在长沙发上一动不动。“一小时之前,我就在她鼻子跟前扔下两条拆开的烟。你瞧着吧,不定什么时候她会进来问我,这些烟该怎么办。我方才究竟说到哪啦?”
  “休休格,”玛丽·简提醒她,同时点燃了一根她自己的烟。
  “噢,对了。我记得清清楚楚的。她就是在嫁给寻弗兰克?亨克头天晚上染的发。你对那人还有点印象吗?”
  “有那么点儿吧。又矮又显老的小兵?非常不起眼?对吗?”
  “什么不起眼。我的天!他看上去整个儿一个脏不拉几的贝拉?卢戈西。[[``美国三四十年代的电影演员,相貌丑陋,专演恐怖片]]“
  玛丽·简仰天呵呵大笑。“妙极了,”她说,又恢复了原来的喝酒姿态。
  “把杯子递给我,”埃洛依斯说,那两只穿长筒袜子的脚晃了晃落到地上,她站了起来。
  “我可一点也没瞎说,那笨蛋。为了让她出来跟咱们呆在一起,我什么劲儿全使出来,光剩下没让路易去跟她睡觉了。现在我真后悔我——你那玩意儿哪儿来的?”
  “这个吗?”玛丽·简说,摸了摸她咽喉处的一只浮雕饰针。“你还不知道,我在学校时就有了。原先是我母亲的。”
  “我的天,”埃洛依斯说,双手捏着两只空酒杯。“我连一件可以佩戴的神圣纪念物都没有。要是路易的妈妈有一天死了——哈,哈——她没准留给我的是个印有姓名起首字母的碎冰锥或是这一类东西。”
  “对了,你这一阵跟她相处得还好吗?”
  “嗨,你就别逗了,”埃洛依斯边说边朝厨房走去。
  “喝完这杯我是绝对不能再喝了!”玛丽·简在她背后喊道。
  “鬼话。是谁上谁家来啦?又是谁晚到了两个小时?你就给我老老实实呆着直到我厌烦了你为止。你那破工作就给我见鬼去吧。”
  玛丽·简脖子一仰,又哈哈疯笑起来,此时埃洛依斯已经进到厨房去了。
  玛丽·简一个人留在屋里没什么事好做,便站起来走到窗前。她撩开点窗帘把手腕搁在窗玻璃之间的一根横档上,但是觉得有沙子硌,便把手抽回,用另一只手把沙子抹掉,然后把身子挺得更直地站着。窗外,污脏的雪水显然在开始结成冰。玛丽·简松开窗帘,重新往蓝椅子那边走去,她经过两只塞得满满的书柜却对哪怕几本书的标题都没有瞥一眼。她坐下来,打开手提包,取出小镜子来照照牙齿。她闭上嘴唇,用舌头使劲舔上边的门牙,然后又照照镜子。
  “外面那么冰冷冰冷的,”她说,一边把身子转过来。“天哪,这么快啊。你没往杯里对苏打水吗?”
  埃洛依斯一手捏着一杯刚对好的酒,猛地站住。她伸出两只食指,装成枪口状,开口说:“谁也别动。这鬼地方我全包围了。”
  玛丽?简哈哈大笑,一边把镜子收起来。
  埃洛依斯端着酒走过来。她把玛丽·简的那杯不大稳当地放在杯垫上,自己的那杯仍然拿在手里。她又在长沙发上躺了下来。“你想像得出那婆娘在里面干什么吗?”她说。“她那大黑屁股坐得稳稳的,正在读《长袍》呢。我取出冰块盒的时候把盒子弄到了地上。她还抬起头看看,挺恼火的呢。”
  “这是我的最后一杯。我可是当真的,”玛丽·简说,一边拿起她的洒杯。“哦,听着!你知道上星期我见到了谁?在洛德-泰勒公司大厅里?”
  “嗯哼,”埃洛依斯说,把脑袋下面那只枕头调整了一下位置。“阿基姆·塔米洛夫呗。”
  “谁?”玛丽?简问。“这家伙是什么人?”
  “阿基姆·塔米洛夫。他是电影里的人物。他总是说,‘人的玩笑开得忒大了——啊?’我喜欢他……这屋子里就没有一个我用着不难受的鬼枕头。你到底见到谁啦?”
  “杰克逊呀。她那会儿——”
  “哪一个杰克逊?”
  “我说不清楚,跟我们一块上心理学课的那位,老是——”
  “两个杰克逊都跟我们一起上过心理课。”
  “唉,就是那个有着特——”
  “马西娅·路易斯。我有一回也撞上她了。她是不是跟你说个没完?”
  “老天,就是她。可是你知道她告诉我什么啦?惠廷博士死了。她说她收到巴巴拉·希尔的一封信,说惠廷去年夏天得了癌,后来死了,等等等等。她死的时候,体重才六十二磅。你说可怕不可怕?”
  “这没什么。”
  “埃洛依斯,你心肠越来越硬了。”
  “可不。她还说什么啦?”
  “噢,她刚从欧洲回来。她丈夫驻扎在德国或是别的什么地方,她随丈夫一起。他们有幢四十七个房间的大宅,她说,只跟另一对夫妇合用,有差不多十个用人。她有自己专用的马,他们雇的马夫,原先还是希特勒私人骑术教练什么的呢。哦,她还告诉我她怎么差点儿给一个黑人大兵强奸了呢。就在洛德-泰勒正厅跟我大谈起来——你知道杰克逊这人脾气的。她说那大兵是她丈夫的司机,有天早上正拉了她上市场或是去干别的什么事儿。她说她吓坏了,甚至都没有——”
  “先等一等。”埃洛依斯抬起了头,也提高了嗓门。“是你吗,拉蒙娜?”
  “是的,”一个小小孩的声音回答说。
  “进来了就把前门关上,别忘了,”埃洛依斯大声喊道。
  “那是拉蒙娜吗?哦,我可太想见到她了。你明白吗,我一直都没见到过她,自从她——”
  “拉蒙娜,”埃洛依斯嚷道,闭起了双眼。“到厨房去让格雷斯帮你把套鞋脱了。”
  “好的,”拉蒙娜说。“来吧,吉米。”
  “听,想见她可把我想死了,”玛丽·简说。“哦,天哪!瞧我闯了什么祸了。我太抱歉了,埃尔。”
  “别管它了。别管它了,”埃洛依斯说。“反正我已经讨厌这块鬼地毯了。我给你重新倒上一杯。”
  “不用,瞧,我这杯子里还剩下一半多呢!”玛丽·简举起她的杯子。
  “真的?”埃洛依斯说。“给我一根烟。”
  玛丽·简把她的那包烟递过去,一边说:“哦,我想死她了。她这会儿长得像谁啦?”
  埃洛依斯划燃一根火柴,“阿基姆·塔米洛夫。”
  “别呀,说真的。”
  “路易,她长得像路易。他妈妈过来的时候,他们仨看上去就跟三胞胎似的。”埃洛依斯没有坐起来,伸出手去够茶几那头的一摞烟灰缸。她还真捏起了最上面的一只,把它放在了自己肚子上。“我需要的是小黄犬之类的东西,“她说。”那就会像我了。“
  “她眼睛现在怎么样啦?”玛丽·简问道。“我的意思是没变得更不好吧,是不是?”
  “天哪!我可说不上来。”
  “她不戴眼镜不会什么都看不见吧?我是说如果她晚上起来上厕所或是干别的事的话?”
  “她对谁都不说。她是个保密大王。”
  玛丽?简在椅子里转过身来。“嗳,你好,拉蒙娜!“她说。”哦,这裙子真漂亮!“她放下她的酒杯。”我敢说你都不记得我了吧,拉蒙娜。“
  “她当然记得。这位女士是谁啊,拉蒙娜?“
  “玛丽?简,“拉蒙娜说,一边挠着痒痒。
  “真了不起!”玛丽·简说。“拉蒙娜,你亲我一小口好吗?”
  “别那样干,”埃洛依斯对拉蒙娜说。
  拉蒙娜停住不再挠挠了。
  “亲我一小口好吗,拉蒙娜?“玛丽?简又问。
  “我不喜欢亲别人。“
  埃洛依斯鼻子里哼了一声,问:“吉米在哪儿呢?“
  “他在这儿呢。“
  “吉米是谁?“玛丽·简问埃洛依斯。
  “哦,我的天!她的小情人儿。她走哪儿他跟到哪儿。她干啥他也照着干。完全是瞎胡闹。“
  “真的呀?”玛丽·简很感兴趣地说。她身子往前倾。“你有了小情人儿啦,拉蒙娜?”
  拉蒙娜的眼睛藏在厚厚的近视镜片后面,压根儿看不出对玛丽·简的热情有丝毫反应。
  “玛丽·简问你话呢,拉蒙娜,”埃洛依斯说。
  拉蒙娜把一只手指伸到她那小小的塌鼻子里去。
  “不许那么干,”埃洛依斯说。“玛丽·简问你是不是有小情人。”
  “是的,”拉蒙娜说,还在不住地抠鼻孔。
  “拉蒙娜,”埃洛依斯说。“不许抠,马上给我停下。”
  拉蒙娜把手放了下来。
  “哎,我觉得这事真了不起,”玛丽·简说。“他叫什么名字?你愿意告诉我他叫什么吗,拉蒙娜?这不至于是个大秘密吧?”
  “吉米,”拉蒙娜说。
  “吉米·物,我喜欢吉米这名字!吉米什么呢,拉蒙娜?”
  “吉米·吉默雷诺,”拉蒙娜说。
  “站好了,”埃洛依斯说。
  “噢!这倒是个挺特别的名字。吉米在哪儿呢?你可以告诉我吗,拉蒙娜?”
  “在这儿,”拉蒙娜说。
  玛丽·简冬往四下看看,又把眼光收回对着拉蒙娜,尽可能笑得甜一些。“这儿的什么地方,亲爱的?”
  “就这儿,”拉蒙娜说。“我正拉着他的手呢。”
  “这我就不明白了,”玛丽·简对埃洛依斯说,她正要把她那杯酒喝干。
  “别死劲儿盯着我,”埃洛依斯说。
  玛丽·简又转过头来看着拉蒙娜。“哦,我明白了,吉米只是一个让人信其有的小男孩儿。这太奇妙了。”玛丽·简亲热地往前倾了倾身子。“你好啊,吉米?”她说。
  “他不会跟你说话的,”埃洛依斯说。“拉蒙娜,给玛丽·简说说吉米的事儿。”
  “给她说什么?”
  “站直了,行不行……告诉玛丽·简吉米长得什么模样。”
  “他有一双绿眼睛,黑头发。”
  “别的方面呢?”
  “没有妈妈也没有爸爸。”
  “还有呢?”
  “没有雀斑。”
  “还有呢?”
  “我不知道了,”拉蒙娜说,又开始挠起痒痒来了。
  “听起来这孩子蛮不错的嘛!”玛丽·简说,身子从椅子里更往前倾了。“拉蒙娜。告诉我。你进来的时候,吉米也脱掉他的套鞋了吗?”
  “他穿着皮靴呢,”拉蒙娜说。
  “太了不起了,”玛丽·简对埃洛依斯说。
  “你倒想想看。我整天都得受这一套。吉米跟她一块吃东西。跟她一块洗澡。跟她一起睡觉,她紧挨着床的一边睡,生怕翻过身来把他压着。”
  听说这样的情况,玛丽·简显得很入迷很开心,她把下唇吸进去咬了咬,然后又松开并且问道:“不过他这名字是打哪来的呢?”
  “吉米·吉默雷诺?天晓得。”
  “没准邻近有个小男孩叫这名字。”
  埃洛依斯打着哈欠摇了摇头。“邻近没住着什么小男孩。根本就没有小孩。人家在背后都管叫能下崽的芳妮了——”
  “妈咪,”拉蒙娜说。“我出去玩行吗?”
  埃洛依斯看着她,“你刚进来嘛,”她说。
  “吉米又想出去了呢。”
  “为什么,能告诉我吗?”
  “他把他的剑丢在外面了。”
  “唉,他跟他那把该死的剑,”埃洛依斯说。“妈吧,走吧。再穿上你的套鞋。”
  “我拿上这个行吗?”拉蒙娜说,捡起烟灰缸里的一根烧过的火柴梗。
  “应该说请给我这个好吗?行。别到街上去,听见了吧。”
  “再见,拉蒙娜!”玛丽?简拿腔拿调地说。
  “再见,”拉蒙娜说。“走吧,吉米。”
  埃洛依斯猛地站起身来。“把杯子给我,”她说。
  “真的,不喝了,埃尔。我本该在拉契蒙的。我是说韦因伯格先生待我这么好,我真不想——”
  “打电话去说你给人杀了不就行了。松开那该死的杯子。”
  “不了,真的不行,埃尔。我是说外面正冰冻得很厉害。我车子里几乎没一点防冻剂。我是说如果我不——”
  “让它冻去。去打电话呀。就说你死了,”埃洛依斯说。“杯子给我。”
  “那……电话在哪儿?”
  “它在,”埃洛依斯说,拿着两只杯子朝餐厅走去,“——往这边走。走到起居室和餐厅之间的一块地板上进,她突然停步,把屁股扭了圈又往后一顶。玛丽·简乐不可支,格格地笑了。

  “我的意思是你那时并不真正了解沃尔特,”埃洛依斯说,此时已是五点一刻,她仰面平躺在地板上,一杯酒放在她乳房扁扁的胸口上,居然还放得很稳。“他是我认识的男孩子里惟一能逗我发笑的一个。我是说真正开心地笑。”她朝玛丽·简望过去。“你记得那个晚上吗——咱们在学校的最后一年——那个疯疯癫癫的路易斯?赫曼森穿着她从芝加哥买来的黑奶罩闯进房间来了?”
  玛丽·简格格地笑着,她面对埃洛依斯趴着睡在长沙发上,下巴搁在扶手上。她的杯子放在地上手够得到的地方。
  “嗬,他能怎么样地逗我发笑,”埃洛依斯说。“他跟我说话能逗我笑。他打电话能逗我笑。他甚至写封信来也能逗我笑。而最妙最妙的是他甚至都没想显得滑稽——他人本来就滑稽。”她把头稍稍转向玛丽?简。“嗨,给我扔根烟过来,行不?”
  “我够不着呢,”玛丽·简说。
  “去你的。”埃洛依斯又朝天花板看去。“有一回,”她说,“我摔倒了。我总在公共汽车站那里等他,就在军人商店的外面,有一回,他来晚了,汽车都开动了。我们拔腿追,这时候我摔倒了,扭了脚腕。他说:‘可怜的威格利大叔。’他指的是我的脚腕[[注:`威格利大叔是美国H.R.Garis所写的儿童读物中后个中心人物。“大叔”原文“Uncle”与“脚腕”原文“ankle”发音相近。“威格利”原文“Wigglly”又与“扭动”原文“Wriggle”音相近,故而好笑。]]可怜的威格利大叔,他这么说我的脚腕……天哪,他真有意思。”
  “路易就没有幽默感吗?”玛丽·简说。
  “什么?”
  “路易就没有幽默感吗?”
  “哦,上帝!谁知道呢?有的吧。我想是有的。他看了卡通漫画这类东西也会哈哈大笑的。”埃洛依斯抬起头,把胸口上的杯子举起,喝了口酒。
  “其实,”玛丽·简说。“那也不是什么了不起的事。我说那也算不了什么。”
  “什么算不了什么?”
  “哦……你知道。让你大笑什么的。”
  “谁说算不得?”埃洛依斯说。“听着,如果你不想出家当修女什么的,那你还是笑笑的好。”
  玛丽·简格格地笑了:“你这人真难伺候,”她说。
  “啊,上帝啊,他真是挺有意思的,”埃洛依斯说。“他要么很滑稽,要么就挺可爱,倒也不是小男孩那种乏味的乖甜。这是一种特殊的温柔。你知道有一次他干了什么吗?”
  “什么呀,”玛丽·简说。
  “我们坐火车从特伦顿去纽约——那是在他刚被征兵入伍之后。车厢里很冷,我把我的外衣好歹搭在我们俩的身上。我记得我在外衣里面穿的是乔伊斯·莫罗的毛衣——你还记得她的那件漂亮的对襟蓝毛衣吗?”
  玛丽·简点点头,可是埃洛依斯眼睛没有转过去,因此也没注意到。
  “嗯,他一来二去把手放在了我的肚子上。你知道吧。总之,他突然说我的肚子真是太美了,因此他希望能有个军官出现命令他把另外那只手伸到窗子外面去。他想他事情应该做得公平些。接着他把手抽了回去,并且告诉列车员得把胸挺直了。他告诉那人,如果有什么事他不能容忍的就是一个人不尊重自己所穿的制服。那列车员光是对他说接着睡你的觉吧。”埃洛依斯沉思了一会儿,然后说,“有趣的不总是他说什么,而是他是怎么说的。你明白吧。”
  “你告诉过路易他的事吗——我是说,是不是压根儿没提?”
  “哦,”埃洛依斯说,“有一回,我开了个头。可是路易问我的第一件事就是他的军阶是什么?”
  “他的军阶究竟是什么呢?”
  “哈!”埃洛依斯说。
  “别呀,我的意思只不过是——”
  埃洛依斯突然笑了起来,那声音发自她的小腹深处。“你知道他有一回是怎么说的吗?他说他觉得自己在军队里得到提升,不过方向正好跟所有别的人相反。他说他得到第一次提升时,不是多了几道杠而是两只袖子被扯下来。他说等他当上将军,那就是赤条条一丝不挂了。他身上惟一剩下的就是肚脐眼上那颗小步兵服的军扣了。”埃洛依斯朝玛丽·简看去,见到她并没有笑。“你不觉得这很滑稽吗?”
  “是的。不过,你干吗不找个机会跟路易斯谈谈他的事呢?”
  “干吗?因为路易斯这人太没有头脑,就因为这个,”埃洛依斯说。“另外,听我的,职业女性。如果你有一天再次结婚,什么事儿也别告诉你的丈夫。你听到了吗?”
  “为什么呢?”玛丽?简说。
  “就因为我是这样说的,这就是原因,”埃洛依斯说。“他们愿意相信每回有一个男的接近你,你一辈子都此觉得恶心。我这可不是开玩笑,知道吧。哦,你当然可以给他们说点什么。但永远不要老老实实地说。我的意思是永远别说老实话。如果你告诉他们以前认识一个挺帅的男孩,你得用同一口气接下去说这男孩也未免太漂亮了点儿。要是你告诉他们你认识了一个风趣的男孩,你得告诉他们不过是那类爱招摇卖弄的角色,或者是精得过了头。如果你不这么说,他们会逮着第一次机会拿这个可怜的男孩来敲打你的。”埃洛依斯停住话头,边喝杯里的酒边考虑。“哦,”她说,“他们会非常有修养地听着,像模像样的。他们甚至还会显得很有智慧,挺了不起似的。可是你别给蒙住。相信我。要是你真的有丁点儿相信他们聪明,那你可有苦头要吃了。记得我说的话好了。”
  玛丽·简显得很沮丧,她从长沙发的扶手上抬起下巴。她要换换姿势,把下巴搁在前臂上。她把埃洛依斯的忠告想了想。“你总不能说路易斯这个不聪明吧,”她大声说。
  “谁不能说?”
  “我的意思是他不是挺聪明的吗?”玛丽·简有点天真地说。
  “噢,”埃洛依斯说,“说这些话有什么用?咱们不谈了。我只会让你心情不好的。别让我说了。”
  “唉,那你干吗跟他结婚呢?”玛丽·简说。
  “噢,上帝!我不知道。他当初告诉我他喜欢简·奥斯汀。他说她的书对他来说无比重要。这都是他的原话。我们结婚后我才发现她的书他连一本都没有读过。你知道他最喜欢的作家是谁?”
  玛丽·简摇摇头。
  “曼宁?瓦因斯。听说过此人吗?”
  “哼。”
  “我也没有听说过。别的人也全没听说过。此人写了一本书,讲四个男人在阿拉斯加活活饿死的事。路易记不得书名了,但那是他读过的书里写得最最美的一部。耶稣呀!他其实满可以老老实实说,他喜欢它因为写的是四个家伙在一座圆顶雪屋或是别的什么地儿饿死的事。他却非要说因为它写得很美。”
  “你也太苛刻了吧,”玛丽·简说。“我说你太苛刻了。没准那书当时也算是本好——”
  “相信我的话好了,那根本不可能,”埃洛依斯说。她想了一会儿,接着说,“至少,你有一份工作。我的意思是至少你——”
  “不过,你听我说,”玛丽·简说。“你是想连沃尔特牺牲的事都不告诉他吗?我认为他不会妒忌的,他还会吗,如果他知道了沃尔特已经——你明白吗。牺牲了,一切都过去了。”
  “哦,多情种子!你这可怜的,天真幼稚的职业女性,”埃洛依斯说,“他只会更加恶劣。他会成为一个盗墓食尸鬼的。听着,他只会雇记住我跟一个名叫沃尔特的家伙来往过——一个爱说俏皮话的大兵。再怎么着我也不会告诉他沃尔特死了。再怎么着也不会。要是我真的说了——那是绝对不会——不过要是我真的说了,我会告诉他沃尔特是在战斗中被打死的。”
  玛丽?简把她的下巴往前移了移,靠到自己前臂的外缘。
  “埃尔……”她说。
  “怎么啦?”
  “你干吗不告诉我他是怎么死的?我发誓对谁也不说。真的。求求你了。”
  “不行。”
  “求你了。真的。我不会告诉任何人的。”
  埃洛依斯喝完她的酒,把空杯子重新立在了自己胸前。“你会告诉阿基姆·塔米洛夫的,”她说。
  “不,我不会的!我真的不告诉任何——”
  “哦,”埃洛依斯说,“他那个团在某个地方休整。那是在两次战斗或是什么事的间歇之中吧,给我写信的他那朋友是这么说的。沃尔特跟另一个小伙子正把这只小型的日本炉子打包装箱。有个上校要把它寄回家去。也可能是他们正把它从箱子里取出来以便重新包装——具体情况我也不清楚。总之,装满了汽油和乱七八糟东西的炉子在他们面前爆炸了。另外的那小伙子仅仅是瞎了一只眼睛。”埃洛依斯开始哭了起来。她伸出一只手去拢住胸前的那只空杯子,不让它掉下来。
  玛丽·简从长沙发上溜下来,她双膝着地往前挪动了三步,来到埃洛依斯跟前,开始轻拍她的脑门。“别哭,埃,别哭了。”
  “谁哭了?”埃洛依斯说。
  “我知道,可是别这样。我是说犯不着的,没意思的。”
  这时,前门开了。
  “是拉蒙娜回来了,”埃洛依斯[打不出来]说。“帮我这个忙。你到厨房去告诉那婆娘早点儿给拉蒙娜开饭。行吗?”
  “行啊,不过你得答应我别哭了。”
  “我答应。去吧。我这会儿不想在那鬼地方露面。”
  玛丽·简站起来,打了个趔趄,又重新站稳,走出房间。
  不到两分钟她又回来了,拉蒙娜跑在她的前面。拉蒙娜尽可能让整个脚掌着地,以便让解松的套鞋发出最大的声音。
  “她不肯让我帮她脱鞋,”玛丽?简说。
  埃洛依斯仍然仰面躺在地板上,正用手绢擦试嘴。她透赤手绢说话,是在吩咐拉蒙娜。“去那边房间告诉格雷斯让她给你脱套鞋。你知道你是不应该进来弄得——”
  “她在上厕所呢,”拉蒙娜说。
  埃洛依斯放开手绢,把身子挺坐起来。“脚伸过来,”她说。“先坐下来,好不好……不是那边——是这边。天哪!”
  玛丽?简跪在地上找她的烟盒,她说:“嗨,你猜吉米出了什么事。”
  “猜不出来。另外那只脚,那一只脚。”
  “他让车压了,”玛丽·简说。“这是不是太惨了点儿?”
  “我看到斯基珀叼着一根骨头,”拉蒙娜告诉埃洛依斯。
  “吉米出什么事啦?”
  “他让车压了,死了。我瞧见斯基珀叼着一根骨头,它不肯放——”
  “把脑袋伸过来会儿,”埃洛依斯说。她伸手出去摸了摸拉蒙娜的前额。“你有点发烧。去告诉格雷斯你得在楼上吃晚饭。吃完马上给我上床睡觉。我待会儿就上来。好,去吧,快点儿。把这些东西一块带上。”
  拉蒙娜慢腾腾地跨着大步走出房间。
  “扔一根给我,”埃洛依斯对玛丽·简说。“咱们再喝一杯吧。”
  玛丽?简拿了支烟递给埃洛依斯。“有点儿意思吧?关于吉米,想像力够丰富的!”
  “唔。你去倒酒,行不?干脆把瓶子拿来……我不想再去那边了,整幢房子一股橘子汁的气味。”
  七点过五分,电话响了。埃洛依斯从窗前椅子上让起来,在黑暗中摸索鞋子。她没能找到。于是她光穿着袜子,沉稳地,几乎是慢腾腾地朝电话走过去。电话铃声没吵着玛丽·简,她脸朝下趴睡在长沙发上。
  “喂,”埃洛依斯对着话筒说,也不去打开头顶上的电灯。“跟你说,我没法去接你。玛丽·简在这儿哪。她把车停在我车子面前,可她找不到车钥匙了。我出不去。我们大约花了二十分钟找钥匙,在那个叫什么来着的里面——雪和脏泥那类东西。你是不是可以搭,迪克和米尔德里德的车子?”她听着。“哦,是的,这太惨了,宝贝。你们这些小伙子干吗不组成一个排列回家呢?你们可以喊一、二、三、四这一套呢。你可以当头儿呀。”她又听对方说话。“我没在开玩笑,”她说。“真的,我没有。就只是我那张脸让人觉得可笑。”她把电话挂了。
  她走回到起居室。步子没那么稳了。在窗前椅子那里,她把瓶子里剩余的酒倒进自己杯子。那大概有一指深。她把酒喝光,打了个冷颤,坐了下来。
  格雷斯开这餐厅电灯时埃洛依斯吃了一惊。她没有站起来,只是大声对格雷斯说,“你最好等到八点再开饭,格雷斯。温格勒先生要稍晚些才能回来。”
  格雷斯身影出现在餐厅亮光里,但她没有再往前走。“那位女士走啦?”她说,
  “她在休息呢。”
  “哦,”格雷斯说。“温格勒太太,我想问一句,能不能让我丈夫在这儿过一夜。我的房间里地方还够,这样他就可以明天早上再回纽约去了,外面天气太糟糕了。”
  “你丈夫?他在哪儿?”
  “哦,这会儿,”格雷斯说,“他就在厨房里呢。”
  “啊,我怕他不能在这儿过夜,格雷斯。”
  “太太?”
  “我说恐怕他不能在这儿过夜。我不是开旅馆的。”
  格雷斯站了片刻,接着说,“那好吧,太太,”接着便走出房间上厨房去了。
  埃洛依斯离开起居间登上楼梯,餐厅泛出来的光使这里幽幽地有些微亮。拉蒙娜的一只套鞋躺倒在楼梯口平台上。埃洛依斯捡起来朝栏杆外摔去,使出了她最大劲儿;套鞋在门厅地板上通地发出很响的一声。
  她啪地打开拉蒙娜房间的灯,手一直按在开关上,仿佛要支撑身子。她站住不动有她一会儿,注视着拉蒙娜。接着她松开电灯开关,快步走到床前。
  “拉蒙娜,醒醒。给我醒醒。”
  拉蒙娜紧靠床边睡着,右边屁股都出了床沿。她的眼镜放在一张唐老鸭模样的小床头柜上,整齐地折直,镜脚朝下。
  “拉蒙娜!”
  孩子猛抽了一口气,醒了,她眼睛睁得大大的,但几乎立刻又眯紧了。“妈咪?”
  “我记得你跟我说过吉米?吉默雷诺给车压死了。”
  “什么?”
  “我的话你听得很清楚,”埃洛依斯说。“你为什么紧靠那边睡?”
  “因为,”拉蒙娜说。
  “因为什么?拉蒙娜,我不喜欢——”
  “因为我不想压坏米基。”
  “谁?”
  “米基,”拉蒙娜说,揉了揉鼻子。“米基?米基雷诺。”
  埃洛依斯把嗓门提高到尖叫的程度。“你给我睡到床中间去。快点。”
  拉蒙娜吓呆了,光是往上盯看着埃洛依斯。
  “好啦。”埃洛依斯抓住拉蒙娜两只脚腕,半提半拖地把她拉到床中间。拉蒙娜也不挣扎也不哭,任凭自己被拖过去,其实是一心的不乐意。
  “现在睡觉,”埃洛依斯说,喘着粗气。“闭上眼睛……听见没有,给我闭上。”
  拉蒙娜闭上了眼睛。
  埃洛依斯走到开关前,啪地把灯关掉。不过她在门口站了她一会儿。接着,突然,她在黑暗中朝床头柜冲了过去,膝盖撞在床脚上,只是注意力太集中也没觉得疼。她拿起拉蒙娜的眼镜,双手捏着,把它贴向自己的脸颊。眼泪顺着脸流了下来,打湿了镜片。“可怜的威格利大叔,”她一遍又一遍地说。最后,她把眼镜放回到床头柜上,这回是镜片朝下。
  她弯下身来,有中断过程站不稳,开始把拉蒙娜床上的毯子往里掖了掖,拉蒙娜醒着呢。她在哭而且已经哭了好一会儿了。埃洛依斯吻了拉蒙娜的嘴,泪水口水混在了一起,她把孩子眼前的头发撩撩开,接着便走出房间。
  她下楼去,此刻脚步已是踉踉跄跄的了,她弄醒了玛丽·简。
  “那是谁?谁?呃?”玛丽·简说,腾地在躺椅上坐直了身子。
  “玛丽·简。听着,求求你了,”埃洛依斯说,一边抽噎着。“你记得咱们念大学一年级的时候,我穿过的那件在博伊斯买的棕黄色的长裙吗,米里亚姆·鲍尔告诉我纽约没有再穿这类衣服了,我整整哭了一夜,记得吗?”埃洛依斯摇晃着玛丽·简的胳膊。“我那会儿是个好姑娘,”她恳求地问,“我那会儿是的,对吗?”


Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut
IT WAS ALMOST THREE O'CLOCK when Mary Jane finally found Eloise's house. She explained to Eloise, who had come out to the driveway to meet her, that everything had been absolutely perfect, that she had remembered the way exactly, until she had turned off the Merrick Parkway. Eloise said, "Merritt Parkway, baby," and reminded Mary Jane that she had found the house twice before, but Mary Jane just wailed something ambiguous, something about her box of Kleenex, and rushed back to her convertible. Eloise turned up the collar of her camel's-hair coat, put her back to the wind, and waited. Mary Jane was back in a minute using a leaf of Kleenex and still looking upset, even fouled. Eloise said cheerfully that the whole damn lunch was burned--sweetbreads, everything--but Mary Jane said she'd eaten anyway, on the road. As the two walked toward the house, Eloise asked Mary Jane how it happened she had the day off. Mary Jane said she didn't have the whole day off; it was just that Mr. Weyinburg had a hernia and was home in Larchmont, and she had to bring him his mail and take a couple of letters every afternoon. She asked Eloise, "Just exactly what is a hernia, anyway?" Eloise, dropping her cigarette on the soiled snow underfoot, said she didn't actually know but that Mary Jane didn't have to worry much about getting one. Mary Jane said, "Oh," and the two girls entered the house.
   Twenty minutes later, they were finishing their first highball in the living room and were talking in the manner peculiar, probably limited, to former college roommates. They had an even stronger bond between them; neither of them had graduated. Eloise had left college in the middle of her sophomore year, in 1942, a week after she had been caught with a soldier in a closed elevator on the third floor of her residence hall. Mary Jane had left--same year, same class, almost the same month--to marry an aviation cadet stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, a lean, air-minded boy from Dill, Mississippi, who had spent two of the three months Mary Jane had been married to him in jail for stabbing an M.P.
   "No," Eloise was saying. "It was actually red." She was stretched out on the couch, her thin but very pretty legs crossed at the ankles.
   "I heard it was blond," Mary Jane repeated. She was seated in the blue straight chair. "Wuddayacallit swore up and down it was blond."
   "Uh-uh. Definitely." Eloise yawned. "I was almost in the room with her when she dyed it. What's the matter? Aren't there any cigarettes in there?"
   "It's all right. I have a whole pack," Mary Jane said. "Somewhere." She searched through her handbag.
   "That dopey maid," Eloise said without moving from the couch. "I dropped two brand-new cartons in front of her nose about an hour ago. She'll be in, any minute, to ask me what to do with them. Where the hell was I?"
   "Thieringer," Mary Jane prompted, lighting one of her own cigarettes.
   "Oh, yeah. I remember exactly. She dyed it the night before she married that Frank Henke. You remember him at all?"
   "Just sort of. Little ole private? Terribly unattractive?"
   "Unattractive. God! He looked like an unwashed Bela Lugosi."
   Mary Jane threw back her head and roared. "Marvellous," she said, coming back into drinking position.
   "Gimme your glass," Eloise said, swinging her stockinged feet to the floor and standing up. "Honestly, that dope. I did everything but get Lew to make love to her to get her to come out here with us. Now I'm sorry I--Where'd you get that thing?"
   "This?" said Mary Jane, touching a cameo brooch at her throat. "I had it at school, for goodness sake. It was Mother's."
   "God," Eloise said, with the empty glasses in her hands. "I don't have one damn thing holy to wear. If Lew's mother ever dies--ha, ha--she'll probably leave me some old monogrammed icepick or something."
   "How're you getting along with her these days, anyway?"
   "Don't be funny," Eloise said on her way to the kitchen.
   "This is positively the last one for me!" Mary Jane called after her.
   "Like hell it is. Who called who? And who came two hours late? You're gonna stick around till I'm sick of you. The hell with your lousy career."
   Mary Jane threw back her head and roared again, but Eloise had already gone into the kitchen.
   With little or no wherewithal for being left alone in a room, Mary Jane stood up and walked over to the window. She drew aside the curtain and leaned her wrist on one of the crosspieces between panes, but, feeling grit, she removed it, rubbed it clean with her other hand, and stood up more erectly. Outside, the filthy slush was visibly turning to ice. Mary Jane let go the curtain and wandered back to the blue chair, passing two heavily stocked bookcases without glancing at any of the titles. Seated, she opened her handbag and used the mirror to look at her teeth. She closed her lips and ran her tongue hard over her upper front teeth, then took another look.
   "It's getting so icy out," she said, turning. "God, that was quick. Didn't you put any soda in them?"
   Eloise, with a fresh drink in each hand, stopped short. She extended both index fingers, gun-muzzle style, and said, "Don't nobody move. I got the whole damn place surrounded."
   Mary Jane laughed and put away her mirror.
   Eloise came forward with the drinks. She placed Mary Jane's insecurely in its coaster but kept her own in hand. She stretched out on the couch again. "Wuddaya think she's doing out there?" she said. "She's sitting on her big, black butt reading `The Robe.' I dropped the ice trays taking them out. She actually looked up annoyed."
   "This is my last. And I mean it," Mary Jane said, picking up her drink. "Oh, listen! You know who I saw last week? On the main floor of Lord & Taylor's?"
   "Mm-hm," said Eloise, adjusting a pillow under her head. "Akim Tamiroff."
   "Who?" said Mary Jane. "Who's he?"
   "Akim Tamiroff. He's in the movies. He always says, `You make beeg joke--hah?' I love him. . . . There isn't one damn pillow in this house that I can stand. Who'd you see?"
   "Jackson. She was--"
   "Which one?"
   "I don't know. The one that was in our Psych class, that always--"
   "Both of them were in our Psych class."
   "Well. The one with the terrific--"
   "Marcia Louise. I ran into her once, too. She talk your ear off?"
   "God, yes. But you know what she told me, though? Dr. Whiting's dead. She said she had a letter from Barbara Hill saying Whiting got cancer last summer and died and all. She only weighed sixty-two pounds. When she died. Isn't that terrible?"
   "No."
   "Eloise, you're getting hard as nails."
   "Mm. What else'd she say?"
   "Oh, she just got back from Europe. Her husband was stationed in Germany or something, and she was with him. They had a forty-seven-room house, she said, just with one other couple, and about ten servants. Her own horse, and the groom they had, used to be Hitler's own private riding master or something. Oh, and she started to tell me how she almost got raped by a colored soldier. Right on the main floor of Lord & Taylor's she started to tell me--you know Jackson. She said he was her husband's chauffeur, and he was driving her to market or something one morning. She said she was so scared she didn't even--"
   "Wait just a second." Eloise raised her head and her voice. "Is that you, Ramona?"
   "Yes," a small child's voice answered.
   "Close the front door after you, please," Eloise called.
   "Is that Ramona? Oh, I'm dying to see her. Do you realize I haven't seen her since she had her--"
   "Ramona," Eloise shouted, with her eyes shut, "go out in the kitchen and let Grace take your galoshes off."
   "All right," said Ramona. "C'mon, Jimmy."
   "Oh, I'm dying to see her," Mary Jane said. "Oh, God! Look what I did. I'm terribly sorry, El."
   "Leave it. Leave it," said Eloise. "I hate this damn rug anyway. I'll get you another."
   "No, look, I have more than half left!" Mary Jane held up her glass.
   "Sure?" said Eloise. "Gimme a cigarette."
   Mary Jane extended her pack of cigarettes, saying "Oh, I'm dying to see her. Who does she look like now?"
   Eloise struck a light. "Akim Tamiroff."
   "No, seriously."
   "Lew. She looks like Lew. When his mother comes over, the three of them look like triplets." Without sitting up, Eloise reached for a stack of ashtrays on the far side of the cigarette table. She successfully lifted off the top one and set it down on her stomach. "What I need is a cocker spaniel or something," she said. "Somebody that looks like me."
   "How're her eyes now?" Mary Jane asked. "I mean they're not any worse or anything, are they?"
   "God! Not that I know of."
   "Can she see at all without her glasses? I mean if she gets up in the night to go to the john or something.
   "She won't tell anybody. She's lousy with secrets."
   Mary Jane turned around in her chair. "Well, hello, Ramona!" she said. "Oh, what a pretty dress!" She set down her drink. "I'll bet you don't even remember me, Ramona."
   "Certainly she does. Who's the lady, Ramona?"
   "Mary Jane," said Ramona, and scratched herself.
   "Marvellous!" said Mary Jane. "Ramona, will you give me a little kiss?"
   "Stop that," Eloise said to Ramona.
   Ramona stopped scratching herself.
   "Will you give me a little kiss, Ramona?" Mary Jane asked again.
   "I don't like to kiss people."
   Eloise snorted, and asked, "Where's Jimmy?"
   "He's here."
   "Who's Jimmy?" Mary Jane asked Eloise.
   "Oh, God! Her beau. Goes where she goes. Does what she does. All very hoopla."
   "Really?" said Mary Jane enthusiastically. She leaned forward. "Do you have a beau, Ramona?"
   Ramona's eyes, behind thick, counter-myopia lenses, did not reflect even the smallest part of Mary Jane's enthusiasm.
   "Mary Jane asked you a question, Ramona," Eloise said.
   Ramona inserted a finger into her small, broad nose.
   "Stop that," Eloise said. "Mary Jane asked you if you have a beau."
   "Yes," said Ramona, busy with her nose.
   "Ramona," Eloise said. "Cut that out. But immediately."
   Ramona put her hand down.
   "Well, I think that's just wonderful," Mary Jane said. "What's his name? Will you tell me his name, Ramona? Or is it a big secret?"
   "Jimmy," Ramona said.
   "Jimmy? Oh, I love the name Jimmy! Jimmy what, Ramona?"
   "Jimmy Jimmereeno," said Ramona.
   "Stand still," said Eloise.
   "Well! That's quite a name. Where is Jimmy? Will you tell me, Ramona?"
   "Here," said Ramona.
   Mary Jane looked around, then looked back at Ramona, smiling as provocatively as possible. "Here where, honey?"
   "Here," said Ramona. "I'm holding his hand."
   "I don't get it," Mary Jane said to Eloise, who was finishing her drink.
   "Don't look at me," said Eloise.
   Mary Jane looked back at Ramona. "Oh, I see. Jimmy's just a make-believe little boy. Marvellous." Mary Jane leaned forward cordially. "How do you do, Jimmy?" she said.
   "He won't talk to you," said Eloise. "Ramona, tell Mary Jane about Jimmy."
   "Tell her what?"
   "Stand up, please. . . . Tell Mary Jane how Jimmy looks."
   "He has green eyes and black hair."
   "What else?"
   "No mommy and no daddy."
   "What else?"
   "No freckles."
   "What else?"
   "A sword."
   "What else?"
   "I don't know," said Ramona, and began to scratch herself again.
   "He sounds beautiful!" Mary Jane said, and leaned even farther forward in her chair. "Ramona. Tell me. Did Jimmy take off his galoshes, too, when you came in?"
   "He has boots," Ramona said.
   "Marvellous," Mary Jane said to Eloise.
   "You just think so. I get it all day long. Jimmy eats with her. Takes a bath with her. Sleeps with her. She sleeps way over to one side of the bed, so's not to roll over and hurt him."
   Looking absorbed and delighted with this information, Mary Jane took in her lower lip, then released it to ask, "Where'd he get that name, though?"
   "Jimmy Jimmereeno? God knows."
   "Probably from some little boy in the neighborhood."
   Eloise, yawning, shook her head. "There are no little boys in the neighborhood. No children at all. They call me Fertile Fanny behind my--"
   "Mommy," Ramona said, "can I go out and play?"
   Eloise looked at her. "You just came in," she said.
   "Jimmy wants to go out again."
   "Why, may I ask?"
   "He left his sword outside."
   "Oh, him and his goddam sword," Eloise said. "Well. Go ahead. Put your galoshes back on."
   "Can I have this?" Ramona said, taking a burned match out of the ashtray.
   "May I have this. Yes. Stay out of the street, please."
   "Goodbye, Ramona!" Mary Jane said musically.
   "Bye," said Ramona. "C'mon, Jimmy."
   Eloise lunged suddenly to her feet. "Gimme your glass," she said.
   "No, really, El. I'm supposed to be in Larchmont. I mean Mr. Weyinburg's so sweet, I hate to--"
   "Call up and say you were killed. Let go of that damn glass."
   "No, honestly, El. I mean it's getting so terribly icy. I have hardly any anti-freeze in the car. I mean if I don't--"
   "Let it freeze. Go phone. Say you're dead," said Eloise. "Gimme that."
   "Well . . . Where's the phone?"
   "It went," said Eloise, carrying the empty glasses and walking toward the dining room, "--this-a-way." She stopped short on the floor board between the living room and the dining room and executed a grind and a bump. Mary Jane giggled.
   "I mean you didn't really know Walt," said Eloise at a quarter of five, lying on her back on the floor, a drink balanced upright on her small-breasted chest. "He was the only boy I ever knew that could make me laugh. I mean really laugh." She looked over at Mary Jane. "You remember that night--our last year--when that crazy Louise Hermanson busted in the room wearing that black brassiere she bought in Chicago?"
   Mary Jane giggled. She was lying on her stomach on the couch, her chin on the armrest, facing Eloise. Her drink was on the floor, within reach.
   "Well, he could make me laugh that way," Eloise said. "He could do it when he talked to me. He could do it over the phone. He could even do it in a letter. And the best thing about it was that he didn't even try to be funny--he just was funny." She turned her head slightly toward Mary Jane. "Hey, how 'bout throwing me a cigarette?"
   "I can't reach 'em," Mary Jane said.
   "Nuts to you." Eloise looked up at the ceiling again. "Once," she said, "I fell down. I used to wait for him at the bus stop, right outside the PX, and he showed up late once, just as the bus was pulling out. We started to run for it, and I fell and twisted my ankle. He said, `Poor Uncle Wiggily.' He meant my ankle. Poor old Uncle Wiggily, he called it. . . . God, he was nice."
   "Doesn't Lew have a sense of humor?" Mary Jane said.
   "What?"
   "Doesn't Lew have a sense of humor?"
   "Oh, God! Who knows? Yes. I guess so. He laughs at cartoons and stuff." Eloise raised her head, lifted her drink from her chest, and drank from it.
   "Well," Mary Jane said. "That isn't everything. I mean that isn't everything."
   "What isn't?"
   "Oh . . . you know. Laughing and stuff."
   "Who says it isn't?" Eloise said. "Listen, if you're not gonna be a nun or something, you might as well laugh."
   Mary Jane giggled. "You're terrible," she said.
   "Ah, God, he was nice," Eloise said. "He was either funny or sweet. Not that damn little-boy sweet, either. It was a special kind of sweet. You know what he did once?"
   "Uh-uh," Mary Jane said.
   "We were on the train going from Trenton to New York--it was just right after he was drafted. It was cold in the car and I had my coat sort of over us. I remember I had Joyce Morrow's cardigan on underneath--you remember that darling blue cardigan she had?"
   Mary Jane nodded, but Eloise didn't look over to get the nod.
   "Well, he sort of had his hand on my stomach. You know. Anyway, all of a sudden he said my stomach was so beautiful he wished some officer would come up and order him to stick his other hand through the window. He said he wanted to do what was fair. Then he took his hand away and told the conductor to throw his shoulders back. He told him if there was one thing he couldn't stand it was a man who didn't look proud of his uniform. The conductor just told him to go back to sleep." Eloise reflected a moment, then said, "It wasn't always what he said, but how he said it. You know."
   "Have you ever told Lew about him--I mean, at all?"
   "Oh," Eloise said, "I started to, once. But the first thing he asked me was what his rank was."
   "What was his rank?"
   "Ha!" said Eloise.
   "No, I just meant--"
   Eloise laughed suddenly, from her diaphragm. "You know what he said once? He said he felt he was advancing in the Army, but in a different direction from everybody else. He said that when he'd get his first promotion, instead of getting stripes he'd have his sleeves taken away from him. He said when he'd get to be a general, he'd be stark naked. All he'd be wearing would be a little infantry button in his navel." Eloise looked over at Mary Jane, who wasn't laughing. "Don't you think that's funny?"
   "Yes. Only, why don't you tell Lew about him sometime, though?"
   "Why? Because he's too damn unintelligent, that's why," Eloise said. "Besides. Listen to me, career girl. If you ever get married again, don't tell your husband anything. Do you hear me?"
   "Why?" said Mary Jane.
   "Because I say so, that's why," said Eloise. "They wanna think you spent your whole life vomiting every time a boy came near you. I'm not kidding, either. Oh, you can tell them stuff. But never honestly. I mean never honestly. If you tell 'em you once knew a handsome boy, you gotta say in the same breath he was too handsome. And if you tell 'em you knew a witty boy, you gotta tell 'em he was kind of a smart aleck, though, or a wise guy. If you don't, they hit you over the head with the poor boy every time they get a chance." Eloise paused to drink from her glass and to think. "Oh," she said, "they'll listen very maturely and all that. They'll even look intelligent as hell. But don't let it fool you. Believe me. You'll go through hell if you ever give 'em any credit for intelligence. Take my word."
   Mary Jane, looking depressed, raised her chin from the armrest of the couch. For a change, she supported her chin on her forearm. She thought over Eloise's advice. "You can't call Lew not intelligent," she said aloud.
   "Who can't?"
   "I mean isn't he intelligent?" Mary Jane said innocently.
   "Oh," said Eloise, "what's the use of talking? Let's drop it. I'll just depress you. Shut me up."
   "Well, wudga marry him for, then?" Mary Jane said.
   "Oh, God! I don't know. He told me he loved Jane Austen. He told me her books meant a great deal to him. That's exactly what he said. I found out after we were married that he hadn't even read one of her books. You know who his favorite author is?"
   Mary Jane shook her head.
   "L. Manning Vines. Ever hear of him?"
   "Uh-uh."
   "Neither did I. Neither did anybody else. He wrote a book about four men that starved to death in Alaska. Lew doesn't remember the name of it, but it's the most beautifully written book he's ever read. Christ! He isn't even honest enough to come right out and say he liked it because it was about four guys that starved to death in an igloo or something. He has to say it was beautifully written."
   "You're too critical," Mary Jane said. "I mean you're too critical. Maybe it was a good-"
   "Take my word for it, it couldn't've been," Eloise said. She thought for a moment, then added, "At least, you have a job. I mean at least you--"
   "But listen, though," said Mary Jane. "Do you think you'll ever tell him Walt was killed, even? I mean he wouldn't be jealous, would he, if he knew Walt was--you know. Killed and everything."
   "Oh, lover! You poor, innocent little career girl," said Eloise. "He'd be worse. He'd be a ghoul. Listen. All he knows is that I went around with somebody named Walt--some wisecracking G.I. The last thing I'd do would be to tell him he was killed. But the last thing. And if I did--which I wouldn't--but if I did, I'd tell him he was killed in action."
   Mary Jane pushed her chin farther forward over the edge of her forearm.
   "El. . ." she said.
   "Why won't you tell me how he was killed? I swear I won't tell anybody. Honestly. Please."
   "No."
   "Please. Honestly. I won't tell anybody."
   Eloise finished her drink and replaced the empty glass upright on her chest. "You'd tell Akim Tamiroff," she said.
   "No, I wouldn't! I mean I wouldn't tell any--"
   "Oh," said Eloise, "his regiment was resting someplace. It was between battles or something, this friend of his said that wrote me. Walt and some other boy were putting this little Japanese stove in a package. Some colonel wanted to send it home. Or they were taking it out of the package to rewrap it--I don't know exactly. Anyway, it was all full of gasoline and junk and it exploded in their faces. The other boy just lost an eye." Eloise began to cry. She put her hand around the empty glass on her chest to steady it.
   Mary Jane slid off the couch and, on her knees, took three steps over to Eloise and began to stroke her forehead. "Don't cry, El. Don't cry."
   "Who's crying?" Eloise said.
   "I know, but don't. I mean it isn't worth it or anything.
   The front door opened.
   "That's Ramona back," Eloise said nasally. "Do me a favor. Go out in the kitchen and tell whosis to give her her dinner early. Willya?"
   "All right, if you promise not to cry, though."
   "I promise. Go on. I don't feel like going out to that damn kitchen right this minute."
   Mary Jane stood up, losing and recovering her balance, and left the room.
   She was back in less than two minutes, with Ramona running ahead of her. Ramona ran as flatfooted as possible, trying to get the maximum noise out of her open galoshes.
   "She wouldn't let me take her galoshes off," Mary Jane said.
   Eloise, still lying on her back on the floor, was using her handkerchief. She spoke into it, addressing Ramona. "Go out and tell Grace to take your galoshes off. You know you're not supposed to come into the--"
   "She's in the lavatory," Ramona said.
   Eloise put away her handkerchief and hoisted herself to a sitting position. "Gimme your foot," she said. "Sit down, first, please. . . . Not there--here. God!"
   On her knees, looking under the table for her cigarettes, Mary Jane said, "Hey. Guess what happened to Jimmy."
   "No idea. Other foot. Other foot."
   "He got runned over," said Mary Jane. "Isn't that tragic?"
   "I saw Skipper with a bone," Ramona told Eloise.
   "What happened to Jimmy?" Eloise said to her.
   "He got runned over and killed. I saw Skipper with a bone, and he wouldn't--"
   "Gimme your forehead a second," Eloise said. She reached out and felt Ramona's forehead. "You feel a little feverish. Go tell Grace you're to have your dinner upstairs. Then you're to go straight to bed. I'll be up later. Go on, now, please. Take these with you."
   Ramona slowly giant-stepped her way out of the room.
   "Throw me one," Eloise said to Mary Jane. "Let's have another drink."
   Mary Jane carried a cigarette over to Eloise. "Isn't that something? About Jimmy? What an imagination!"
   "Mm. You go get the drinks, huh? And bring the bottle . . . I don't wanna go out there. The whole damn place smells like orange juice."
   At five minutes past seven, the phone rang. Eloise got up from the window seat and felt in the dark for her shoes. She couldn't find them. In her stocking feet, she walked steadily, almost languidly, toward the phone. The ringing didn't disturb Mary Jane, who was asleep on the couch, face down.
   "Hello," Eloise said into the phone, without having turned the overhead light on. "Look, I can't meet you. Mary Jane's here. She's got her car parked right in front of me and she can't find the key. I can't get out. We spent about twenty minutes looking for it in the wuddayacallit--the snow and stuff. Maybe you can get a lift with Dick and Mildred." She listened. "Oh. Well, that's tough, kid. Why don't you boys form a platoon and march home? You can say that but-hopehoop-hoop business. You can be the big shot." She listened again. "I'm not funny," she said. "Really, I'm not. It's just my face." She hung up.
   She walked, less steadily, back into the living room. At the window seat, she poured what was left in the bottle of Scotch into her glass. It made about a finger. She drank it off, shivered, and sat down.
   When Grace turned on the light in the dining room, Eloise jumped. Without getting up, she called in to Grace, "You better not serve until eight, Grace. Mr. Wengler'll be a little late."
   Grace appeared in the dining-room light but didn't come forward. "The lady go?" she said.
   "She's resting."
   "Oh," said Grace. "Miz Wengler, I wondered if it'd be all right if my husband passed the evenin' here. I got plentya room in my room, and he don't have to be back in New York till tomorrow mornin', and it's so bad out."
   "Your husband? Where is he?"
   "Well, right now," Grace said, "he's in the kitchen."
   "Well, I'm afraid he can't spend the night here, Grace."
   "Ma'am?"
   "I say I'm afraid he can't spend the night here. I'm not running a hotel."
   Grace stood for a moment, then said, "Yes, Ma'am," and went out to the kitchen.
   Eloise left the living room and climbed the stairs, which were lighted very faintly by the overglow from the dining room. One of Ramona's galoshes was lying on the landing. Eloise picked it up and threw it, with as much force as possible, over the side of the banister; it struck the foyer floor with a violent thump.
   She snapped on the light in Ramona's room and held on to the switch, as if for support. She stood still for a moment looking at Ramona. Then she let go of the light switch and went quickly over to the bed. "Ramona. Wake up. Wake up."
   Ramona was sleeping far over on one side of the bed, her right buttock off the edge. Her glasses were on a little Donald Duck night table, folded neatly and laid stems down.
   "Ramona!"
   The child awoke with a sharp intake of breath. Her eyes opened wide, but she narrowed them almost at once. "Mommy?"
   "I thought you told me Jimmy Jimmereeno was run over and killed."
   "What?"
   "You heard me," Eloise said. "Why are you sleeping way over here?"
   "Because," said Ramona.
   "Because why? Ramona, I don't feel like--"
   "Because I don't want to hurt Mickey."
   "Who?"
   "Mickey," said Ramona, rubbing her nose. "Mickey Mickeranno."
   Eloise raised her voice to a shriek. "You get in the center of that bed. Go on."
   Ramona, extremely frightened, just looked up at Eloise.
   "All right." Eloise grabbed Ramona's ankles and half lifted and half pulled her over to the middle of the bed. Ramona neither struggled nor cried; she let herself be moved without actually submitting to it.
   "Now go to sleep," Eloise said, breathing heavily. "Close your eyes.... You heard me, close them."
   Ramona closed her eyes.
   Eloise went over to the light switch and flicked it off. But she stood for a long time in the doorway. Then, suddenly, she rushed, in the dark, over to the night table, banging her knee against the foot of the bed, but too full of purpose to feel pain. She picked up Ramona's glasses and, holding them in both hands, pressed them against her cheek. Tears rolled down her face, wetting the lenses. "Poor Uncle Wiggily," she said over and over again. Finally, she put the glasses back on the night table, lenses down.
   She stooped over, losing her balance, and began to tuck in the blankets of Ramona's bed. Ramona was awake. She was crying and had been crying. Eloise kissed her wetly on the mouth and wiped the hair out of her eyes and then left the room.
   She went downstairs, staggering now very badly, and wakened Mary Jane.
   "Wuzzat? Who? Huh?" said Mary Jane, sitting bolt upright on the couch.
   "Mary Jane. Listen. Please," Eloise said, sobbing. "You remember our freshman year, and I had that brawn-and-yellow dress I bought in Boise, and Miriam Ball told me nobody wore those kind of dresses in New York, and I cried all night?" Eloise shook Mary Jane's arm. "I was a nice girl," she pleaded, "wasn't I?"

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