Read Mermaids on the Golf Course Online

Authors: Patricia Highsmith

Mermaids on the Golf Course (5 page)

BOOK: Mermaids on the Golf Course
5.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

This affair went off amazingly well. One of the audience asked a question, after that, Craig went rolling along, talking in his own free style about hanging around the office of the Kyanduck
Evening Star
and the town police station, hoping for a good photogenic story to break, hoping even for a fire, though it wasn’t maybe very nice to hope for a fire that might hurt people. And then—
this
had happened, the great day when the bus had been held up in his home town, a minor tragedy by world standards, but upsetting for some thirty or forty ordinary citizens, disastrous for the young girl called Lizzie Davis, who had intended to marry in a few days, but whose life had been shattered, maybe ruined, by
crime in the streets.
Craig hammered the crime angle, because the articles on crime in the streets had launched his photograph. Never in the speeches that followed, or in his maiden speech in California, did he say that he had given up on that famous day, that he had thought the action was over when he had taken that photograph. Never would he say, though he tried to make his speeches as amusing as possible, that he had missed the action, because he had had to run to a toilet at the crucial instant when the holdup man had been disarmed.

After four speeches, Craig had got the hang of it. And the fees were great. He began to insist on a thousand dollars plus expenses. He flew to Atlanta, Tucson, Houston and Chicago. Meanwhile, he had job offers. Would he care to join the staff of the
Philadelphia Monitor
at forty thousand dollars a year? Craig wrote a stalling, polite answer to this job offer. He sensed that the lecture circuit could dry up. A tiny town in Atlanta wanted him, but for a hundred dollars, and Craig had no intention of accepting that. He would take the highest salary offer, he thought, when he had exhausted the lecture invitations.

With the extra money from his speeches, Craig Rollins was a changed young man. He was able to buy more clothes, and discovered that he had a taste for quality in clothes and also in food. He acquired a new Japanese camera that could do more things than his old ones, which were secondhand anyway. He still had Clancy as his main girlfriend, but he had met a girl called Sue in Houston who seemed to like him a lot, and who had the money to fly to meet him sometimes in a town where he was making a speech. A pretty girl beside him enhanced his image, Craig had noticed.

Craig also went to a good barber now, his hair was not so short, and the barber fluffed it out in a style that Craig might have called sissy a few months ago, though no one could possibly have called Craig or his face sissy. He had the head and neck of a line-hitter, a tackle, which he had been on the high school football team and in his first year at Greeves College, Wyoming. Craig’s grades would have got him kicked out of almost any college, he knew, but Greeves had been willing to keep him on, because of his football prowess. The coach had thought he might make All-American, but Craig had quit college after a month in sophomore year, out of sheer boredom with the scholastic part of it. Now, however, still in top physical form, Craig felt pleased with himself. He wrote to the
Monitor
saying that he had had a better offer from a California paper, but if the
Monitor
could raise their offer to fifty thousand dollars, Craig would accept, because he preferred the East Coast.

“Have you been to see Lizzie at all?” Clancy asked Craig.

“Lizzie—Davis? No, why should I?”

“Just thought it might be nice. She did bring you a lot of luck, and it seems she’s so sad.”

Craig knew Lizzie was sad, because a couple of newspapers had interviewed her. Kyanduck’s
Evening Star
had, of course, in a discreet little piece with a picture of Lizzie in her family’s house.

So Craig telephoned the Davis residence one day around 5
P.M.
A woman answered, sounding as if she might be Lizzie’s mother. Craig identified himself and asked if he could speak with Lizzie.

“Well, I don’t know. I’ll have to ask her. She’s just back from a little trip. Hold on a minute.—
Lizzie
?”

While he waited, Craig reflected that he might, with Lizzie’s agreement, take a few more pictures of her.

Lizzie came on, with a sad voice. But she agreed to see him, when Craig proposed to come over in half an hour and stay just a few minutes.

Craig got into his car and picked up a bouquet of flowers at a shop on the way. He wore his camera on a strap around his neck, as if—today, anyway—his camera were as much a part of his dress as his woolen muffler.

Lizzie opened the door for him. She still had long dark hair that hung in gentle waves to below her shoulders. “Oh, thank you. That’s very sweet of you,” she said, accepting his gladioli. “I’ll get a vase for these. Sit down.”

Craig sat down in the rather swank living room. The Davises had a lot more money than his family. Lizzie came back, and set the vase in the center of the coffee table between them.

Then she proceeded to tell him about her broken engagement, five months ago now, and how quiet her life had been since.

“In a way, I’ve lost my self-confidence—my self-respect. No use trying to gain it back,” Lizzie said. “That was shattering—that day.”

How had they got here so quickly, Craig wondered. Lizzie was talking to him as if he were interviewing her, though he hadn’t asked her a single question.

“Just this afternoon—you won’t believe it—I was being photographed in Cheyenne—for a perfume ad. I’ve become a photographer’s model—maybe because I want to get the phobia of photographs out of my soul. Maybe I’m succeeding, I don’t know.”

Craig was wordless for a moment. “You mean—my picture embarrassed you so much? I’m sorry.”

“Not the picture so much. What
happened,
” Lizzie replied, lifting her round, dark eyes to his. “Well, it wasn’t
your
fault, and the picture brought you a huge success, I know. It ruined my engagement, but—Well, in a way, I’m lucky too, because there’s a market for a sad-dog face like mine. I can see that. The other day I even posed for an ad for men’s clothing, you won’t believe it, but I was supposed to be the girl with the knowing eyes—for clothing, that is—whose face would brighten up, if the fellow I liked just wore good-looking clothes, see? Very complicated, but it really came off. If I had the photo I’d show you, but the ad isn’t even out yet.”

Craig saw Lizzie’s face brighten briefly, when she described the way the girl’s face would brighten, if her boyfriend only wore good clothes. Then an instant later, Lizzie’s glum expression was back, as if it were a garment she wore for the public. Craig moistened his lips. “And—your fiancé? I mean—I know you broke it off a few months back. I was thinking maybe you’d both get together again.”

Lizzie’s sadness deepened. “No. No, indeed. I felt as if—I’d never want to live with a man as long as I live. Still do feel that way.”

But Lizzie was hardly nineteen as yet, Craig was thinking, though he kept silent. The funny idea came just then: he didn’t believe Lizzie. What if she were faking this whole thing? Lying even about having been raped? What if she hadn’t liked her boyfriend much anyway, and hadn’t minded breaking off their engagement? “I’m sure your fiancé is sad too,” Craig said solemnly.

“Oh, seems to be. That’s true,” Lizzie replied. “But I can’t help that.” She sighed.

“Would you mind if I took a couple of shots of you now?”

Lizzie lifted her eyes to his again. Her eyes were alert, wary, yet interested. “Whatever for?—Well, not while I’m in these shoes, I hope,” she added with a quick smile. She was in house shoes, but otherwise very smartly dressed in a hand-knitted beige sweater and dark blue skirt, with a gold chain around her neck.

“Don’t have to take the feet,” Craig said, standing now, aiming his camera. He could sell three or four photos to New York and Philadelphia newspapers, he was sure, if he suggested that a staff writer write a few lines about her quiet life five months after the rape.
Click!
A rape that Craig was more and more sure never took place.
Click!—Click!
“Look a bit to your left.—That’s good! Hold it!”
Click!

Five minutes later, as he was taking his leave, Craig said, “I sure appreciate your letting me snap you again, Lizzie. And would you mind if I found a writer to do a little piece on you? N-not for the local paper,” Craig hastened to add. “For the big papers east. Maybe west too. Might help your fashion model work, mightn’t it?”

“That’s true.” She was plainly reflecting on this, blinking her sad eyes. “It’s funny, you know, that
day
bringing you all that success and prizes and everything, and
me
—just ruining my life. Nearly.”

Craig nodded. “That’s a great angle for the writer.” He smiled. “’Bye, Lizzie. I’ll be in touch soon.”

“Let me see the photos first, would you? I want to make the choice.”

That very evening, Craig telephoned Richard Prescott, a journalist of the
Monitor,
and gave him his ideas, which had developed a bit since he had seen Lizzie. He would be the puzzled, guilt-ridden, small town photographer who had contributed to, even caused the upset of a young woman’s life.

“She really was raped?” asked Prescott. “I remember the story and your photo, of course, but I thought she’d just been scared. The boy they caught always denied it, you know.”

Never mind, Craig started to say, but instead he replied, “She certainly implied she was. Girls never want to say it flat out, y’know. But you get my angle, that
I’m
the one upset now, because I—” Craig squeezed his eyes shut, thinking hard. “Because I captured in a split second that expression of a girl who’s just been—assaulted. You know?”

“Assaulted. Yeah, might work fine.”

“In fact, the article should be as much about me as her.”

Prescott said he would get in touch soon, because he had another assignment on the West Coast, and might be able to squeeze Wyoming in.

Craig then rang up Tom Buckley, who agreed at once to take some pictures of Craig. Craig reminded Tom that Tom would get credit lines in some big newspapers, if he did the job. Tom was still friendly with Craig, and had never shown the least jealousy of Craig’s success.

Tom Buckley came over the next morning to photograph Craig in his modest darkroom at home, and at his worktable, brooding over a print of the now famous “Crime in America’s Streets” photo of Lizzie Davis. In this shot, Craig held the photograph at an angle at which it was recognizable, and in his other hand he held his head in the manner of a man with a terrible headache, or tortured by guilt. Tom chuckled a little as he snapped this one. “Good angle, yeah, your feeling sorry for the girl. She’s doing fine, I heard, with her modeling work.”

Craig straightened up. “But I do feel sorry for her. Sorry about her shame and all that stuff. She sure called her marriage off.”

“She wasn’t mad about that guy. And he wasn’t about her. One of these things the parents were keen on, y’know?—Everybody in town knows that. You haven’t been paying much attention to town gossip, Craig old boy. Too busy with your big-town newspapers lately.” Tom smiled good-naturedly.

In a curious way, Craig realized that he had to hold on to his conviction that Lizzie Davis’s life had been altered, ruined—or he couldn’t make a success of the article-plus-photos that he had in mind. “You think she’s a phony?” Craig asked in a soft, almost frightened voice.

“Phony?” Tom was putting away his camera. “Sure. Little bit. Not worth much thought, is it? All the public wants is a sensational photo—someone killing themselves jumping off a building, somebody else getting shot. The hell with who’s to blame for it, just give the public the action. The sex angle in your Lizzie picture gave it its kick, y’know? Who cares if she’s telling the truth or not?—I don’t believe for a minute she was raped.”

That conversation gave Craig something to chew on after Tom Buckley had departed. Craig was sure Tom was right. Tom was a bright fellow. The public wanted pictures of buildings bombed high in the air, a wrecked car with a body in it, or bodies lying on pavements.
Action.
Even the story wasn’t terribly important, if the picture was eye-catching. Now Craig struggled like a drowning person to hang on to the Lizzie story, that she
had
been raped and had broken her engagement because of the rape. Craig knew he would have to talk to Richard Prescott as if he believed what he was saying.

Craig did. He prepared himself as if he were an actor. He emoted. He struck his forehead a couple of times, grimaced, and a genuine tear came to support him, though Prescott had a tape recorder and not a camera, unfortunately.

“. . . and then the awful moment—moments—when I realized that in my last-minute shot that day, I’d caught the nineteen-year-old girl and her anxious parents at maybe the most dramatic moment of their lives.” Craig was giving this monologue in his parents’ living room, both his parents being out at their respective jobs. Prescott had a few questions jotted down in his notebook, but Craig was going along well enough on his own. “And just after that,” Craig continued, “the terrific, unbelievable acclaim that my photo got! Reproduced in the
New York Times,
and then winning the Pulitzer Prize! It really didn’t seem fair. It made me rethink my whole life. I thought about Fate, money, fame. I even thought about God,” Craig said with earnestness, and a thrill passed over him. He believed, he knew now, that he was being sincere, and he wanted to look Prescott straight in the eyes. “I began to ask myself—”

Prescott at that moment stuck a cigarette in his mouth, reached for his lighter, and stared at the little black machine that was recording all this.

“—what I’d done to deserve all this, when the young girl—Well, she didn’t get anything from it except suffering and shame. I began to ask myself if there was a God, and if so was he a just God? Did I have to do something in return for my good luck either to him or to—I mean—maybe to the human race? I began—”

“End of tape, sorry,” Prescott interrupted. “In fact, this might be enough. You’ve talked through two tapes.”

BOOK: Mermaids on the Golf Course
5.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell
Red Angel by William Heffernan
Unspeakable by Kevin O'Brien
Beloved Beast by Greiman, Lois
Gone Country by James, Lorelei
Accusation by Catherine Bush
An Orphan's Tale by Jay Neugeboren
Némesis by Louise Cooper
Under the Sign by Ann Lauterbach
Caged Eagles by Eric Walters