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Authors: Patricia Highsmith

The Cry of the Owl

BOOK: The Cry of the Owl
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The Cry of the Owl

BOOKS BY
PATRICIA HIGHSMITH

NOVELS
Strangers on a Train
The Blunderer
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Deep Water
A Game for the Living
This Sweet Sickness
The Two Faces of January
The Glass Cell
A Suspension of Mercy
Those Who Walk Away
The Tremor of Forgery
Ripley Under Ground
A Dog’s Ransom
Ripley’s Game
Edith’s Diary
The Boy Who Followed Ripley
People Who Knock on the Door
Found in the Street
Ripley Under Water

SHORT STORIES
Eleven
The Animal-Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder
Little Tales of Misogyny
Slowly, Slowly in the Wind
The Black House
Mermaids on the Golf Course
Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes

The Cry of the Owl

Patricia Highsmith

Copyright © 2011 by Patricia Highsmith

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 or [email protected].

Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America

eBook ISBN-13: 978-0-8021-9553-1

Grove Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West

www.groveatlantic.com

To D. W.

1

Robert worked nearly an hour after quitting time at five. He had nothing to hurry home for, and by staying on at his desk he avoided the chaos of employees’ cars that left the Langley Aeronautics parking lot between five and five-thirty. Jack Nielson was also working late, Robert noticed, and so was old Benson, who was usually the last. Robert turned off his fluorescent lamp.

“Wait for me,” Jack said. His voice sounded hollow across the empty drafting room.

Robert got his coat from his locker.

They said good night to Benson and walked toward the long, glass-enclosed reception hall, where the elevators were.

“So. You got your space shoes,” Robert said.

“Um-m.” Jack looked down at his big feet.

“You didn’t have them on at lunch, did you?”

“No, they were in my locker. You’re not supposed to wear them more than a couple of hours a day at first.”

They got into the automatic elevator.

“They look fine,” Robert said.

Jack laughed. “They look awful, but boy, they’re comfortable. I had something to ask you. Could you possibly lend me ten bucks till payday? Today happens to be—”

“Oh, sure.” Robert reached for his wallet.

“It’s Betty’s and my wedding anniversary and we’re going out to dinner, but could you come by for a drink with us? We’re going to open a bottle of champagne.”

Robert gave him the ten. “Wedding anniversaries—You and Betty ought to be by yourselves.”

“Oh, come on. Just for a glass of champagne. I told Betty I’d try to get you to come over.”

“No, thanks, Jack. You’re sure that’s all you need, if you’re going out to dinner?”

“Absolutely, and I only need this for some flowers. Six would do it, but ten’s easier to remember. I wouldn’t need anything, except I paid the last installment on these shoes today. Seventy-five smackers, they better be comfortable. Come on over, Bob.”

They were standing in the parking lot. Robert was not going with him, but he couldn’t think of a good excuse. He looked at Jack’s long, rather ugly face, topped by the crew-cut black hair that was already graying. “What anniversary is it?”

“The ninth.”

Robert shook his head. “I’ll go on home, Jack. Give Betty my best, will you?”

“What’s the ninth got to do with it?” Jack called after him.

“Nothing! See you tomorrow!”

Robert got into his car and drove out before Jack. Jack and Betty had a modest, dull house in Langley, and they had a permanent financial drain in Jack’s mother and Betty’s father, both of whom were always getting sick, Jack said, so that whenever they thought they had a little money ahead for a vacation or an improvement on the house, either his mother or Betty’s father was sure to need it. But they had a little girl five years old, and they were happy.

Night was falling quickly, with visible speed, like a black sea creeping over the earth. As Robert drove past the motels, the roadside hamburger stands on the edge of Langley, he felt a physical revulsion against entering the town and driving to his street. He pulled into a filling station and turned his car around and drove back the way he had come. It was only the dusk, he thought. He did not even like it in summer, when it was slower and more bearable. In winter, in the empty Pennsylvania landscape that he was not used to, it came with a frightening swiftness and depressed him. It was like sudden death. On Saturdays and Sundays, when he did not work, he pulled his shades down at four in the afternoon, put on his lights, and when he looked out the window again, long after six, the darkness had come, it was there, it was finished. Robert drove to a small town called Humbert Corners, about nine miles from Langley, and took a narrow macadam road out of it, into the country.

He wanted to see the girl again. Maybe for the last time, he thought. But he had thought that before, and no time before had been the last time. He wondered if the girl was why he had worked late today, when he had not needed to work late; if he had stayed late just to be sure it would be dark when he left the plant?

Robert left his car in a lane in the woods near the girl’s house, and walked. When he reached her driveway, he walked slowly, kept going past the basketball goal at the end of the driveway, and entered the grassy field beyond.

The girl was in the kitchen again. Its two squares of light showed at the back of the house, and now and again her figure crossed one of the squares, but stayed mostly in the left square, where the table was. To Robert’s view, the window was like the tiny focus of a camera. He did not always go closer to the house. He was very much afraid of being seen by her, of being hauled in by the police as a prowler or a Peeping Tom. But tonight was a very dark night. He moved closer to the house.

It was the fourth or fifth time he had come. The first time he had seen the girl was on a Saturday, when he had been rambling about the country in his car, a bright, sunlit Saturday in late September. She had been shaking out a small carpet on the front porch as he drove by, and he had seen her perhaps only for ten seconds, yet that image had struck him like a scene he knew, a picture or a person he already knew from somewhere. From the cardboard cartons on the front porch and the curtainless windows, he supposed she had just moved in. It was a two-story white house with brown shutters and brown trim, much in need of painting, and the lawn was overgrown and the white rail fence along the driveway collapsing and askew. The girl had light-brown hair and was rather tall. That was about all he had been able to tell about her from a distance of sixty feet or so. Whether she was pretty or not, he couldn’t tell, and it hadn’t mattered. What had mattered? Robert could not have put it in words. But the second and third times he had seen her, at two- or
three-week intervals, he had realized what he liked, and that was the girl’s placid temperament, her obvious affection for her rather ramshackle house, her contentment with her life. All this he could see through the kitchen window.

Some ten feet from the house, he stopped and stood to one side of the light cast by the window. He looked on either side and behind him. The only light around was straight behind him across the long field, perhaps a half mile away, a solitary light in the window of a farmhouse. In the kitchen, the girl was setting the table for two, which meant that probably her boy friend was coming for dinner. Robert had seen him twice, a tall fellow with wavy black hair. They had kissed each other once. He supposed they were in love, would marry, and he hoped the girl would be happy. Robert moved closer, sliding his feet so as not to step on a twig, and stood with one hand gripping the branch of a small tree.

Tonight the girl was frying chicken. There was a bottle of white wine on the table. She wore an apron to protect herself, but as Robert watched, she started and rubbed her wrist where some of the hot grease had popped on her. He could hear the little radio in the kitchen giving a news broadcast. The last time he had been here, the girl had started singing along with a tune on the radio. Her voice was neither good nor bad, just natural and true. She was about five feet seven, with largish bones, good-sized feet and hands, and she might have been anything from twenty to twenty-five. Her face was smooth and clear, she never seemed to frown, and her light-brown hair hung down to her shoulders and was softly waved. She held her hair back with two gold clips above her ears, and her hair was parted in the middle. Her mouth was wide and thin and usually had
an expression of childlike seriousness about it, like her gray eyes. Her eyes were rather small. To Robert, she was all of a piece, like a properly made statue. If her eyes were too small, they went with the rest of her, and the over-all effect he thought beautiful.

Whenever Robert looked at her of an evening, for the first time in two or three weeks, he felt struck or smitten in a way that made his heart jump, then beat faster for a few seconds. One night about a month ago, she had seemed to look straight at him through the window, during which time Robert’s heart had not beaten at all. He had looked straight back at her, not frightened, not trying to hide himself by being motionless, but facing in those few seconds the unpleasant realization that he was terrified when she looked at him, and facing the possibility that she—
it
—might just explode in the next minutes: she’d call the police, she’d get a good look at him, he’d be arrested as a prowler, and that would be the absurd end of that. Fortunately, she hadn’t seen him, and her looking straight his way through the window had apparently been due to nothing but chance.

Her name was Thierolf—it was on the mailbox by the roadside—and that was all he knew about her, personally. Except that she drove a light-blue Volkswagen. It stood in the driveway, as there was no garage to the house. Robert had never made an attempt to follow her in the mornings to see where she worked. His pleasure in watching her, he realized, was very much connected with the house. He liked her domesticity, liked to see her take pleasure in putting up curtains and hanging pictures. He liked best to watch her pottering about in the kitchen, which was fortunate, as the kitchen had three windows and all the windows were somewhat shielded by trees that gave him concealment. There was also on the property a small tool
house six feet high, plus the broken-down basketball goal at the end of the driveway, which had provided a screen for him once when her boy friend had come up the driveway with his headlights blazing.

BOOK: The Cry of the Owl
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