Authors: Fletcher Flora
He was a detective, and even though he didn’t know what I knew about the brass bed, he was pretty shrewd. He looked at me levelly and said, “She killed them, all right. I’d bet dollars to dimes on that, but what I can’t make up my mind about is whether you’re what we call an accessory, before or after, or just a guy who’s too special — to her — for his own good.”
He went out then and closed the door. I sat there quietly, feeling a coldness creeping over me, and knowing deep inside myself that he was probably right — that she had killed Kirby for a brass bed, and had killed Sid in order to keep him out of the place in the brass bed that she was saving for me …
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“Maybe,” she said, “we should call it quits.”
“Sure,” I answered over the telephone. “It would just make things a hell of a lot worse.” But I knew she didn’t mean it. “What do you want anyway?” I asked her.
So she told me. “YOU.”
I hadn’t seen her in six weeks, and the six weeks had been hell, especially when I knew she was right around the corner, as close to me as the telephone beside the bed where I was lying. I wanted her with me, wanted her badly, but there was a problem. It may seem to some people that a man and a woman’s seeing each other should not be such a hell of a problem, but it was — because she was married.
And right now — right now she was probably in some other guy’s arms.
I waited for the telephone to ring.
“It’s really very simple. I want you to come over and have a drink with me.”
“Having a drink with you is not a simple matter. It leads to excesses.”
Then she said it: “Are you afraid to see me?”
I took a deep breath. “That’s right,” I said. “I’m afraid.”
And that summer there was plenty to be afraid of. More, even, than I knew when I talked to her then. And a more terrifying summer than I could have imagined….
• • •
The summer that all this happened, I taught a course in medieval history that had something in it about goliards. I didn’t know much about goliards to start with, but I got interested in them. After a while I got the idea that you might be able to write a novel about a goliard that would sell to a lot of people and a book club and maybe to the movies, and so I started on the novel, but it didn’t go very well. It was hot in June and hotter in July, and the students in the class were either very bright kids who wanted to earn a degree in two or three years instead of four, or school teachers who had come in from various places to get revived intellectually and possibly to get also a small raise on next year’s salary for having gone to school in the summer, and all in all, if you want the truth, it was pretty terrible.
The goliards helped a little. They were very interesting, as a matter of fact. I imagine that most people don’t know anything about goliards, which is no great loss either to the goliards or to the people, but anyhow they were mostly twelfth century students and clerics who wrote some nice poetry that you can still read if you’re interested. They also did other things. Some of the things they did best were drinking and shooting craps and making love and raising hell in general, and it was for these reasons that I got the idea that one of them might go well in a novel. There is a prevalent feeling that clerics do not have the same rights in hell-raising as folk who are not clerics, and this would certainly cause a feeling of prejudice against the goliards in certain quarters, but as for me, I found them helpful in a hot summer and quite a relief from bright kids and school teachers.
But even the goliards were no relief from Jolly. I do not intend this as criticism, for you can expect only so much from anyone, even goliards, and I kept thinking about Jolly and wanting to see her, but I didn’t. That was the trouble, of course. Wanting to see her, I mean, and not doing it. Something like that can be very troublesome. I tried to build up a feeling of pride in me about being strong and doing the right thing and all that kind of stuff, but it was pretty sour business and was not successful. I felt more miserable than proud, to tell the truth, especially in the long evenings and at night when I lay on my bed and thought about her in more detail than the days allowed. I went fishing twice with Harvey Griffin and got drunk three times, once with Harvey and twice alone, but I kept right on thinking about Jolly even when I was drunk or fishing, and so I gave up temporarily on both of them. I didn’t try fishing and drinking at the same time, but I doubt if it would have worked any better.
I don’t know why she was called Jolly. I ought to know, but I don’t. I knew her well and had made love to her once, which was in the spring before this summer, but I never learned why she was called Jolly, and I consider this, thinking about it, a very odd thing. Jolly is not a name you would encounter commonly, and it seems like one of the first things you’d find out about a woman would be why she was called that, but I never did, and I can’t explain it. Of the things I did learn about her, some are easy to say, and some are hard, and some are impossible. It is easy to say that she had brown hair and brown eyes and a warm and slender and responsive body, but it would be hard to say why she was so much lovelier than she was, and it would be impossible to say why it broke your heart to look at her. Perhaps it would have been better for me if I had learned to understand the hard things and the impossible things about her. A man is very vulnerable to things he doesn’t understand.
I had not seen her since the first week in June, and here it was the third week in July, and it is reasonable to assume that not seeing someone will get easier as time goes along, but in this case it didn’t. I wondered if she wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see her, and I hoped that she did and knew very well that I ought to be hoping that she didn’t, because if one of us hadn’t given a damn, everything would have been simpler and different.
Ordinarily the marriage thing would be a problem that could be solved in one way or another, though there may be certain unpleasantries in the solution, but when it is complicated by peculiar attitudes like those Jolly was addicted to, it becomes both unsolvable and confusing. She was married to a man named Kirby Craig, and he was a big guy with blond hair that waved, and he played golf and tennis and handball and would have been quite difficult for anyone to whip, and impossible for me. I didn’t want to fight him, anyhow. Whipping him wouldn’t have solved anything, and getting whipped by him would have solved even less from my point of view. I don’t know exactly how he felt about it, but I suspect that he felt otherwise. He sold real estate and was very good at it and had made a lot of money, which was something I had never been able to do because goliards do not pay as well as real estate unless you can put them in a novel with a sexy duchess or something, and even then I doubt seriously that they would pay as much. I might as well admit also that Kirby was pretty handsome, and I could understand how Jolly might have once loved him enough to marry him, so there it is, and I admit it, but I won’t dwell on it.
So there was a problem, and I hadn’t seen her or even telephoned her and was trying to kid myself into feeling good about it. I talked about goliards and other things to bright kids who were in a hurry and to schoolteachers who might possibly get a small raise out of it, and it was no good wanting to see someone and not seeing her, and then all of a sudden I did. It was in the afternoon, and it was hot, and it was, as I said, the third week in July.
I was going upstairs to my apartment, which was a bedroom with a large closet that was euphemistically called a kitchen because it had a small stove and a sink and a refrigerator in it, and on the stairs on the way up I could hear the telephone ringing. I went through the bedroom and into the euphemistic kitchen and got a drink of water at the sink. After drinking the water, which was tepid, I went back into the bedroom, and the telephone was still ringing, so I decided I might as well answer it. I picked it up and said hello, and it was Jolly. I hadn’t heard her voice for a thousand years, not since way back in early June, and it was very good to hear it in one way, and in another way it was very bad, because it wiped out the thousand years in an instant, and everything that had been accomplished in them.
“Hello, hello,” she said.
I sat down on the edge of the bed and said hello again.
“Is that you, Felix?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“I’ve been ringing and ringing.”
“I know. I could hear you on the way up.”
“Did you just get in?”
“Isn’t that the luckiest thing? I mean, getting in just in time to answer and all.”
“I don’t know. Is it?”
“Well, it’s like destiny or something. Don’t you think so? Like it’s meant for us not to miss each other.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Don’t think it’s like destiny or something.”
“Really? It seems very much like it to me. You know perfectly well that things just sort of happen to us, Felix. Like that night in early June. Do you remember how things just sort of happened?”
“Yes, I remember, but I don’t want to think about it.”
“Is that so? Really so? I think about it quite often myself.”
“Well, I do too, as a matter of fact, but I don’t want to.”
“I just think it’s better not to.”
“I suppose you’re right, under the circumstances. It’s very tiresome, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. It’s tiresome as hell.”
“Poor darling. Maybe it would be less tiresome if we quit fighting it.”
“Oh, sure. Less tiresome, maybe, but a hell of a lot worse.”
“You swear so much. Is it necessary to swear?”
“Yes, it is. I’m a little man with glands and an unsolvable problem, and swearing is my only relief. What do you want, Jolly?”
She didn’t answer right away. She said something at the other end of the line, and I could tell that she had turned away from the mouthpiece and was calling to someone there. I couldn’t understand what she said, so I sat on the edge of the bed and listened to the unintelligible and strangely vibrant huskiness of her voice, and after half a minute she turned back to the mouthpiece and me.
“What did you say?”
“I asked you what you want.”
So she told me. “You.”
“I don’t mean that,” I said, lying in my teeth.
“Well, it’s really very simple, darling. I want you to come and have a drink with me.”
“Having a drink with you is not simple, Jolly. Seeing you for any reason whatever is not simple. It is complicated and difficult and involves emotional excesses that I do not wish to cope with ever again.”
“Are you afraid to see me?”
“That’s right. Where you are concerned, I am the most miserable coward.”
“We would be very conventional, darling. We would have a drink and talk about impersonal things and maybe shake hands when you leave.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think we would be conventional?”
“I don’t think I’ll come.”
come. It’s absolutely essential.”
“Is it? Why?”
“Because Sid and Fran are here drinking martinis, and I am positively unable to stand it any longer.”
“Sid Pollock and Fran Tyler?”
“That’s right. Fran insisted on martinis, and I told her she would have to make them herself, because I’m no good at it. That was her I was speaking to a minute ago. Did you wonder?”