Read Rainbow's End Online

Authors: James M. Cain

Rainbow's End (7 page)

BOOK: Rainbow's End
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“Jill, I love you.”

“And I love you.”

She leaned back, still hanging onto my arm.

We got to the hospital which looks out on the Muskingum but which also commands a view of the Ohio. I parked the car, but when I reached in for her legs to lift her out, she motioned me off and climbed out of the car herself. She caught my arm, limping a little, but turned to the terrace above the river, took a few steps, and stood there looking at it. Then, chugging through the twilight, we heard an engine laboring. There was the top of a tow, moving up the Ohio, its red light shining at us. It's always a beautiful sight. We stood hand-in-hand looking at it. Then suddenly, in a somewhat different manner, she asked me: “Dave, did York say that money is mine?”

“That's right, if it's ever found. If it's not found, you're to get a reward anyway. So, I just fell in love with an heiress.”

“Dave, it's going to be found.”

“Listen, Jill, don't hold your breath. If you ask me, that money's in the Muskingum right now, soaking up water to feed the fishes.”

“If you ask me, it's not.”

She looked up at me with a new glitter in her eye. “That woman, that Mom character, knows where it is and means to keep it. Which mightn't have meant so much to me so long as it was Russ Morgan's. I'd want him to get it back, but mightn't do much about it. Now, though, I intend to do plenty. It's mine and I'm going to get it. I don't know how yet, but I know who knows where it is.”

“Mom? How would she know where it is?”

“She knows where she put it, doesn't she?”

“Listen, how
could
she have put it anywhere?”

“By picking it up, throwing it in the boat, and rowing off with it. Dave, it's what that officer thought that was so odd—that Shaw would stand around on that island with me and not say a word about its being gone. And they were right. Dave, he must have had it. He must
still
have had it slung on his shoulder all the time. And she couldn't wait to get out there. That means she took it, unstrapped it from his shoulder and went downriver with it. Or upriver. Or crossriver. Somewhere. Could be, it's on the island. The police didn't search there.”

“I told them they could. It's my property. It was part of the farm I bought.”

“Well, they didn't.”

What that had to do with it, or with anything, I didn't know, but we kept talking about it, and her eyes kept squinching up. Then: “Dave, since Shaw didn't kill me—OK, I could try to forget what she meant because I'm in love with her son. But when it's a hundred thousand dollars, I don't forget anything. She's got it, and I mean to have it. If that puts her in Marysville prison, that's how it has to be. I love you, but if you think I'm giving that money up, I don't love you that much.”

“OK, then, now I know.”

“I hate to say it, but—”

“You don't love me that much.”

Suddenly tears were on her cheeks, glittering under the lights. I said, “Suppose it turns out opposite? Suppose she doesn't have it? Suppose it's never found?”

“It's going to be!”

“So you say.”

“I want to go inside.”

9

I
PUT THE CAR OUT
back and went in the front door. The living room was just as it had been, but Mom was nowhere in sight. I called, but she didn't answer. I tapped on the door of her room—that is, what had been the dining room. When there was still no answer, I opened the door and went in. By then it was nearly 7:00, almost dark, so I wasn't sure at first whether she was in there or not. Then I made her out, lying on the bed, still in the same dress, the blanket half pulled over her, face up, staring at nothing. I whispered: “What's the big idea, not answering when I call?”

Still nothing.

“Hey!”

Still nothing.

I took hold of her arm and shook her. She flung it off and slapped me. I slapped in return, which was where I made my mistake. She whirled to her knees on the bed, so the dress ripped open. Then she began beating me with her fists, in between clawing at my face and grabbing me, to hold me close and bite me. I didn't yelp and neither did she. It was grunting, gasping fury, with me fighting her off and her fighting back in. At last she flopped back on the bed and started to bawl, so I could go to my room, to the den, to have a look in the mirror and see what she'd done to my face. It was cut up all right. After slapping the Listerine on, I got the bleeding stopped and finally went back to her. Her crying seemed to have stopped, but as soon as I opened the door, it started up again, the old camp-meeting yodel, loud, clear, hopeless, and 100 percent phoney. I said: “OK, knock it off or I'm letting you have it.”

All that got was more of the same, but louder.

I hauled off and slapped her, first on one side of the face, then on the other. She just hollered louder. I got a pitcher of water and started to pour. “Cool it or you're getting cooled.”

She didn't quite stop but did ease off, so I knew at last that we could talk. “Now,” I asked her, “what's this all about? What in the
hell
is it all about?”

“Oh!” she wailed. “That I should live to see this day!”

“What day?” I wanted to know. “It's Sunday. What other day is it?”

“After all these years, after all I've done, slaving and scrimping and slaving—”

“And don't forget those fingers,” I reminded her. “Working them to the bone.” Because, of course, I'd heard some of this before, in one connection or another. In fact, I knew most of it by heart. But this time she went on and on, reciting it by the book, leaving nothing out. It wasn't until all of it had been said two or three times that at last she got around to the night before. “And then to think, that when at last there was hope, when the sun was coming up, when the rainbow had showed in the sky, that I should be stabbed in the back—by my own little boy, and a horrible Jezebel!”

“Where was this creature? I didn't see any Jezebel.”

“A slut, that slept up with men, then took up with my own little Davey!”

“Hey! Little Davey is me!”

“Just a Jezebel!”

“How you know she slept up with guys?”

“I can tell by looking at her. Anyone can tell. That rotten look on her face.”

“And sleeping up with guys, that makes her a Jezebel?”

“What do you think it makes her?”

“I wouldn't know what it makes her—maybe nothing. What she is is a very nice girl.”

“I say she's a Jezebel.”

“Sleeping up makes her that?”

“What do you think it makes her?” she said again.

“Maybe a girl in love.”

“Love? Love?”

“Mom, tell me something.”

“Tell you what?”

“There was a girl I looked up, that I had reason to look up. Named Myra Giles, who sounds a lot like you. She was sixteen years old and went in the hospital here to have a child. She had it and two months later got married. So she must have been sleeping up. Does that make her a Jezebel?”

She raised up on one elbow and stared at me a long time. In the dark her eyes looked big, no longer blue, but black. “When did you find that out?”

“Oh, a few months ago. I was getting my papers in order for some insurance I thought I might buy. They want birth certificates, parents' marriage license, and so on. So I went down and looked myself up. It's OK with me. All I saw in those papers was a sixteen-year-old girl who was in love. There's no law against it. I glory in her, and if I'm what came of it, I'm thankful for that, too. But let's get back to the subject. Did that make her a Jezebel?”

“Could be, it did.”

“Well, Jezzie, hello.”

“How'd you like to go to hell?”

“Well, you said it, I didn't.”

“You bet I said it. I have to. But it wasn't me.”

“Not you? Are you being funny?”

“It wasn't me, now you know! I wasn't even supposed to tell you, you're not my son! And Jody was not your father! It wasn't me who had you! I was the one who got married, but I didn't have you! It was Big Myra, my cousin who has the same name and went into the hospital there, the clinic they had on Fourth Street. But then, when she couldn't keep it, she begged me to take it and raise it. So to do that I had to get married. We were going to, Jody and I, but we weren't ready to then. But with her nursing that baby, he was so cute. I wanted him. So we went and got married sooner, sooner than we had intended. I love you, I always did, but you're not my child at all, and there's no reason I shouldn't—”

“Shouldn't what?”

“Whatever I feel like!”

“Like bellering around?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean Jezebellering.”

“You quit talking to me like that!”

“And you quit talking to me like that! That's a hot one, Mom, ain't it? All of a sudden, so you can unzip my pants and take out what's in there, you tell me you're not my mother. Isn't it time to laugh?”

She pushed me out of the way, got up, and turned on the light. Then she stood pulling her dress and twisting it, to straighten out the places where it was ripped or torn or strained. Then she went in the living room where the light was already on and sat down. After a while she said: “If you want to laugh, laugh. I wouldn't know what at.”

“At that comical tale you told.”

“If it's comical to you, it's comical to you. It never was to me. And it never was to Big Myra.”

Why it took so long for it to sink in, to penetrate my mind, that it might be true what she'd said, I don't have any idea. Until then it hadn't occurred to me even to wonder about it. But when she mentioned Big Myra, who I'd always supposed was my aunt, I suddenly had a flash. I saw the look Aunt Myra would have when she'd bring me a toy, a horn or a skateboard or a drum, that always made me so happy. She looked a little like Mom, a shade taller, and slim, but instead of being pretty, beautiful—pale, with blue-black hair and big black mountain eyes. That coloring, they say, comes from Indian blood. She doted on me, and God knows I doted on her—and I knew now the reason both ways. I went over to Mom, put my hand on her head, turned her face to the light, and said: “You're telling me the truth?”

“Yes, of course I am.”

“Why didn't you tell me before?”

“It was part of how we fixed it up. I had to promise I'd never tell you, so—”

“So what?”

“You wouldn't mess things up.”

“With Aunt Myra, you mean?”

“Her or—anyone.”

It must have been five minutes before it dawned on me who she was talking about.

“You mean, my father?”

“I mean like I said, with
anyone
.”

“Goddamn it, answer me.”

“OK then, with him.”

“Who is ‘him'?”

“I don't know; she never said.”

“Mom, spit it out. Who am I?”

“Don't you think I'd say if I knew? Now that I've said this much? She was working in Logan County, had a job with the Boone County Coal Corporation, a typist or something. And a guy came along who was married. He was taking a survey for a bus line they wanted to run. She never would say who he was, and that's all I know about it.”

More time went by while I soaked that up a bit. Then: “Mom, did he have something to do with it, the deal you made about me? Did
he
want you to take me too?”

“I don't know. I never saw him. Maybe he came on, maybe he stayed with her there in Marietta while we were talking about it. She never said. I don't know.”

“And why did you take me in?”

“I already said, I loved you.”

“And my father, I mean Jody Howell, what did he think about it? Did he love me?”

“At least he loved me—then.”

“And that's why he agreed?”

“Well, why wouldn't he agree? By then we knew I couldn't have any children. The doctors had already told me.”

I already knew she had some kind of condition that made it impossible for her to have children, so I didn't go further with it. More soaking in took place, with her sitting there in her chair, kicking her foot, and now and then looking at me. She had a hunted, guilty expression, not the one she had had when she kept staring at nothing. After some minutes, though, it began to gnaw at me that the whole story hadn't been told. Now I had more flashes, of how my father had acted toward me, the cold way he had. I never felt toward him the way I'd felt toward Mom or toward Aunt Myra. Pretty soon I asked: “What made him so willing? So willing for you to take me?”

“I already said: he loved me.”

“Was that all?”

“It was all so long ago. I don't remember.”

“Was any money paid?”

“Well, I would imagine so, yes.”

“How much?”

“I don't know. It was paid to him.”

After a long time I asked, “Was it that that he used to buy the other place with and build that crazy house?”

“I don't know. He didn't say.”

“Did he or didn't he?”

“He didn't tell me everything!”

“Was board paid for me?”

“I don't know.”

“They wouldn't have paid that to him. They'd have paid it to you.”

“Who is ‘they'?”

“Aunt Myra and my father.”

“Sometimes something was paid.”

“Like the first of every month?”

“I don't know; it's been so long.”

“How long?”

“What do you mean, how long?”

“Since board for me was paid.”

“I said, I don't remember.”

“Is board still being paid for me?”

“You quit banging at me.”

“In other words, it is?”

She didn't answer, which meant it was, and at last I eased up on her. I had to. By now I'd found out so much that my head was spinning around. I was like a cow that had cropped all the grass it could hold and had to lie down a while so it could chew its cud. I had no idea yet how I felt about it, whether I liked it or not, changing Mom for Aunt Myra or my father for some other guy I knew nothing at all about, except that he must have been decent and really in love with Aunt Myra to put out for me all those years. Also, of course, he must have been able to, which meant he was not just a nobody. All that, though, was stuff that just rattled around. One thing, though, remained to be cleared up. Why, after keeping her pledge all those years, did she up and tell me now? When I asked her, she sidestepped the question. “It had to come out,” she whined. “It had to be told sometime.”

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