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Authors: James M. Cain

Rainbow's End (8 page)

BOOK: Rainbow's End
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“Why did you tell me tonight?”

“I don't know, it just came out.”

“To make it all right for you to take off your panties for me?”

“How can you say such a thing?”

“Because it's true.”

“It's not true! You should be ashamed. You should get down on your knees and beg forgiveness of me.”

“I don't. It's true.”

“It's not!”

“It is, but get this: It's not going to happen between us. You know why? I don't want it to, that's why. I don't love you that way.”

“It's not what I meant, no!”

“It
is
what you meant. Quit lying.”

She started to cry, and I went over to wipe her eyes. Letting her blow her nose made me gulp; I wanted to kiss her, and did. That was my mistake. She grabbed my hand and kissed it and then pulled me down in her lap, kissing me and slobbering on me. Pretty soon I wrestled clear and said: “So—now we've gone over it, haven't we? Really talked things out? Know what I want? Something to eat. I'm hungry. How about you?”

“You mean, you're cooking my supper?”

It had an intimate sound, but anything to get to something different from what we'd been talking. “That's right.”

“Dave, you're so sweet.”

The peas and the salad were part of what had been brought by the neighbors that day. The chicken was from a package of legs already cut, that I'd picked up in market the day before. The pie and ice cream I kept on hand all the time. Whether she took my making her supper as meaning something romantic, that I can't say, but the way she let down her hair, sitting there at the table with the torn dress twisted around seemed to say that she thought I'd changed now that I knew our relation was different from what I'd thought and that I was willing to make a fresh start. That's not how it was with me. All I wanted was something to eat and a change of subject while I thought over all I'd heard. My head wasn't spinning around, but it was turning and turning and turning as I tried to get used to it—that Aunt Myra was really my mother and that some guy who wasn't yet named, some big wheel by the way he'd acted about me, was my father. She puttered around while I was washing up, grabbing a cloth and wiping the dishes, always taking care to show more than the law allowed. When we went in the living room she tried to sit in my lap. I turned on the TV and got the 11 o'clock-news. At last I said I was tired, and how about going to bed? She hemmed and stuttered but at last went to her room after telling me good night.

I went to bed and was at last alone in the dark with what I'd been told. It may seem funny, but little by little things cleared. I found I didn't mind that Aunt Myra was my mother—on account of her big black eyes, the way she doted on me, and the way I doted on her. But the rest of it—who my father might be—was just a great big ache, a hollow place in the dark I had to find out about. I was still thinking about it, or imagined I was anyway, not knowing I'd fallen asleep, when I moved and touched something in the bed. A hand was laid on me and a low whisper came. I must have jumped. “Don't be scared, Dave. It's me, Mom.”

I felt around. She was there, beside me under the covers, without a stitch on. I jumped up, or tried to jump up, but she grabbed me and held me close, still whispering: “I don't bite! You don't have to be afraid! Hold me close and love me! It's all right! It's nature!”

“It's not all right. Get out!”

“No! No! Please!”

“Mom, I said get out! No such thing can happen between us!”

“But it can between you and that girl?”

“Leave her out of it, please.”

“I won't leave her out of it, no such. We were happy—before she came—just the two of us, talking about how nice we would have it when our little dreams came true. I knew all the time that my secret, the one I told you tonight, would make it all right, what we wanted to do and what you
had
to do! Don't you know that I had caught on to what you were going through? What a man your age goes through? What he needs from a woman? Don't you know that I was willing? To give you all you wanted and more? You wanted it too, from me—oh yes you did. I could tell. Then she had to butt in. I hate her, I hate her,
I hate her
! Why did you take up with her? Why—?”

“I didn't take up with her.”

“OK, you didn't. So now it's my turn, right now!”

“I tell you, no!”

“Yes, yes. Here, let me—”

I think there was more. The way I remember it, we wrestled and fought a long time, naked there in the blankets, me getting a startled idea of how young she really was, and soft and stacked. Finally I threw her out, out of the bed and out of the room, locking the door, which I should have done in the first place. Then I sat there panting, while she sat in the living room crying. Then it stopped, and I heard her go in her room. I got back in bed and tried to think where that put me. Pretty soon I heard her door open, but easy, an inch at a time, as though she was sneaking through. I braced myself for another session with her, wondering what I would do if she tried to break down the door. Then I heard the rasp of the dial and her voice talking low on the phone.

After a long silence, a hinge squeaked just once—the one on the front door. I heard a step on the porch, then nothing, and finally the sound of the car. Then lights. When I jumped up and looked out, she was driving down to the highway, toward town. Where she was headed, I had no idea and didn't care, even slightly. All I could think of was that now, at least for a while, I was rid of her. I went back to bed and resumed where I'd left off, about this question I had to have answered, this riddle that was now my life: who was I?

10

I
MAY HAVE SLEPT
a little, but not much. I kept working on it, putting this, that, and the other together, that I remembered from when I was little and from what I'd been told occasionally. Then it was morning, and I knew I had to talk, to tell it, to let it out, to the one person I wanted to know it, the one person who mattered to me—Jill. I jumped up, went in the living room, and looked Marietta Memorial up in the book. I called and they gave me her room number; then she was on the phone.

“Jill, if you love me, get out here and get out now. Something's happened, and I need you. Take a cab.”

“What's your mother going to say?”

“She's not here.”

“Oh my! I can't bear it!”

“Jill, hurry it up!”

“OK, soon as I grab me a bite of breakfast and find out who's paying my bill.”

“Forget about breakfast. I'll make you some when you get here!”

I guess the next hour, while I stomped around out front, was the longest I'd ever spent in my life. Actually, I couldn't make with the stomping until I'd put in my call to the place where I worked in town, the filling station I mean, to say I couldn't come in, that I had to stay at home in case the deputies came for more questions. I hated doing it. I was in line for manager later on in the summer. My qualification for the job—my main qualification anyway—was that I was steady. I showed up for work every day. I was sober. I got things done. And the customers believed what I said. But as soon as I started explaining the fix I was in, Joe cut in. “Forget it, Dave. My God, it's an honor. The whole town's talking about you. You're in every paper there is, you're the county's number one hero. Take all the time you want.”

I went out to think that over and walk around waiting for Jill. At last there was the rental car and then she was getting out, a bundle of newspapers under her arm as thick as a hickory tree. I kissed her and grabbed her to carry her in, but she held off and said she could walk—which she did with a limp but steady enough. She was still in the nurse clothes from the day before, but was due for a whole new outfit, later that day, she said, “from a shop in Marietta that Bob York found in the phone book. And a room in a hotel, a sure-enough hotel, to stay in as long as I'm here. And a thousand dollars cash to ‘tide me over.' I'm Jill—fly me. Being a star pays.”

By then we were inside, and I folded her in. We stood there a long time holding each other close. Then we opened the papers on the floor. There were a couple from Columbus, one from Akron, one from Pittsburgh, two or three from Chicago, but none from Marietta. The
Times
is an evening paper and wasn't due out until later. Sure enough, side by side on page 1 of all the papers, there was Jill and there was me—me in my sheepskin jacket, she in her hospital bed. There were also pictures of Shaw, a small inset blown up from a snapshot, and one of Russell Morgan with a pipe, looking important. How that happened, how all the papers had pictures when only three had sent reporters, had been explained by the
Times
reporter. They were wired to the papers. “It's a regular gold mine for us,” the reporter said. “Boy, we'll clean up on this—on top of the special we'll send, signed by me under my personal byline.”

After a while we remembered breakfast. I made eggs and fritters. Then at last she asked:

“What was it, Dave, that you wanted to tell me?”

“I'll get to it.”

“Well? I'm listening.”

But for some reason, to tell it that way was tough. I couldn't seem to do it. A little later, though, when we were back on the living room sofa, her head on my shoulder, her hair brushing my nose, I began edging toward it. “Something's come up,” I said. “Something Mom told me last night. Or this morning, whenever it was. Before she blew with the car.”

“Told you? About what?”

“Who I am.”

That was when I knew that what was between us two was a whole lot more than how pretty she was or how we loved each other. She twisted to look at me, then squinched her eyes up, and whispered: “OK, Dave, I'm with it. What is this?”

“She's not my mother.”

“I wondered about that.”

“How did you catch on?”

“She didn't act like a mother.”

“You can say that again.”

“What's the rest?”

I told it little by little, going back to Aunt Myra—how beautiful she was, how wonderful she'd been to me, the things that had happened with her, like the time my cart got busted, when one of the wheels came off, and she took it to a garage to get it fixed. But I kept shying away from my father, until she cut in to say: “Dave, you can trust me. Say what's on your mind, what you're leaving out.”

“You mean, about
him
?”

“Who is ‘him'? Did she say?”

“She swore she doesn't know.”

“You believe her?”

“I think if she'd known, she'd have said so. From what she said, he's not from the Big Sandy country. Could be she never heard his name.”

“He must be somebody, though.”

We talked then, me with that wonderful feeling that I could talk it out with her. Sometimes we'd think of some angle together, like the deal that must have been made for my board and keep and expenses and how my father must have it, have plenty to lay on the line, to make such an arrangement as that, and how much he must love Aunt Myra.

Then she said: “Dave, something's on my mind, my locket. I hadn't expected to mention it, on account of her, her being here, I mean. It would have meant I'd have to come in, and I couldn't have. But now that she's not here—?”

“Your locket, you said?”

“I had it on a chain around my neck when Shaw pulled me out of that plane. It could be out there on the island! If we went out and looked now—?”

“Right away now, quick.”

We went down the path to the river, to row out in the johnboat. But when we got to where the boat had been pulled out on the bank, it wasn't there any more. It was half-capsized on a tree, a snag from upriver, between island and bank, that had washed down some years before in the flood that made the island and which moved a few feet each year as a rise would lift it along. There had been a rise in the night, perhaps from Saturday's rain, that had not only moved the tree but also the boat. “That's nice,” I said. “You lend someone your boat and they don't even tie it up right.”

“How do you get it back?”

“You'll see.”

“Dave, don't try to wade in or swim to that boat. You can't. You've no idea how cold that water is.”

“Who's swimming? Come on.”

We went back to the house and I called Edgren at the sheriff's office. “Sergeant,” I told him, “I'm sorry to say that you or your men or somebody did such a careless job of beaching my boat that the river took it away. So it's out in the middle right now, in a place where I can't get it, on a tree trunk, half tipped over. So could you call your friends in DiVola and ask them to get it for me? Come in their cruiser and—”

“OK, no problem.”

“The river keeps rising, you know.”

“I said OK. Hold everything.”

It wasn't over an hour when here came the sound of the outboard and then there the DiVola men were, the same three guys, still in their firemen's helmets. They made quick work of the johnboat, first pulling it clear of the snag, then bailing it out, where it was half-filled with water, and then rowing it in. They were friendly, especially to Jill, it being the first time they had seen her. She told them about the locket, and they offered to help. So we all went out to the island. Then one of them called to her: “Open your hand and close your eyes, I'll give you something to make you wise.” So she did, and in her hand he put the locket. She was so happy she cried, and then kissed him to show her thanks. Then the other two said they wanted to be made wise, so she kissed them too. Then we went back to the house for coffee. It was all friendly and warm and wonderful. None of us had any idea of the horrible meaning that boat being hung on a snag had, though.

They left, and Jill and I sat on the living room sofa, whispering, going over it once more, and over and over and over it, this news Mom had come up with, as well as stuff that seemed to apply, that I'd remember and come popping out with, from when I was little and we'd lived in the old house, praying for spring to come when we wouldn't shiver so much. She wanted to go over and see it, but I said we'd better stay there in the new house where we were. People were sure to come for one reason and another, and I'd been asked to stay put.

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