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Actions & Adventure
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11 22 39
She started to open the door and I said, "Wait."
I raked the crap out of my pockets--Life Savers, Kleenex, a book of matches Sadie had tucked in there, notes for a freshman English test I meant to give before the Christmas break--and then gave her the ranch coat. "Take this."
"I ain't takin your goddam coat!" She looked shocked.
"I've got another one at home." I didn't, but I could buy one, and that was more than she could do.
"What'm I gonna tell Harry? That I found it under a goddam cabbage leaf ?"
I grinned. "Tell him you rolled the mailman a fuck and bought it with the proceeds. What's he going to do, chase you down the driveway and beat you up?"
She laughed, a harsh rainbird caw that was strangely charming. And took the coat.
"Regards to Rosette," I said. "Tell her I'll see her in her dreams."
She stopped smiling. "I hope not, mister. That one she had about you was a nightmare. Bout screamed the house down, she did. Woke me out of a dead sleep at two in the morning. She said the man who cotched her ball had a monster in the backseat of his car, and she was afraid it would eat her up. Scared the life out of me, she did, screamin like that."
"Did the monster have a name?" Of course it did.
"She said it was a jimla. Prob'ly meant a jinny, like in those stories about Aladdin and the Seven Veils. Anyway, I gotta go. You take care of yourself."
"You too, Ivy. Merry Christmas."
She cawed her rainbird laugh again. "Almost forgot about that. You have one, too. Don't forget to give your girl a present."
She trotted to her old car with my coat--her coat, now--thrown over her shoulders. I never saw her again.
The rain only froze on the bridges, and I knew from my other life--the one in New England--to be careful on those, but it was still a long drive back to Jodie. I had no more than put the water on for a cup of tea when the phone rang. This time it was Sadie.
"I've been trying to get you since suppertime to ask you about Coach Borman's Christmas Eve bash. It starts at three. I'll go if you want to take me, because then we can get away early. Say we've got dinner reservations at The Saddle, or something. I need to RSVP, though."
I saw my own invitation lying next to my typewriter, and felt a little twinge of guilt. It had been there for three days, and I hadn't even opened it.
"Do you want to go?" I asked.
"I wouldn't mind making an appearance." There was a pause. "Where have you been all this time?"
"Fort Worth." I almost added, Christmas shopping. But I didn't. The only thing I'd bought in Fort Worth was some information. And a housekey.
"Were you shopping?"
Again I had to fight not to lie. "I . . . Sadie, I really can't say."
There was a long, long pause. I found myself wishing I smoked. Probably I had developed a contact addiction. God knew I was smoking by proxy all day, every day. The teachers' room was a constant blue haze.
"Is it a woman, George? Another woman? Or am I being nosy?"
Well, there was Ivy, but that wasn't the kind of woman she was talking about.
"In the woman department, there's only you."
Another of those long, long pauses. In the world, Sadie could move carelessly; in her head, she never did. At last she said, "You know a lot about me, things I never thought I could tell anyone, but I know almost nothing about you. I guess I just realized that. Sadie can be stupid, George, can't she?"
"You're not stupid. And one thing you do know is that I love you."
"Yes . . ." She sounded doubtful. I remembered the bad dream I'd had that night at the Candlewood Bungalows, and the caution I'd seen in her face when I told her I didn't remember it. Was that same look on her face now? Or perhaps an expression a little deeper than mere caution?
"Sadie? Are we all right?"
"Yes." Sounding a little more sure now. "Sure we are. Except for Coach's party. What do you want to do about it? Remember that the whole darn School Department will be there, and most of them will be drunk on their fannies by the time Mrs. Coach puts on the buffet."
"Let's go," I said, too heartily. "Party down and kick out the jams."
"Kick out the what?"
"Have some fun. That's all I meant. We'll pop in for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, then pop back out. Dinner at The Saddle. That work for you?"
"Fine." We were like a couple negotiating for a second date after the first one had been inconclusive. "We'll enjoy ourselves."
I thought about Ivy Templeton smelling the ghost of Sadie's perfume and asking if my girl knew I was sneaking around south Fort Worth after dark, doing funny business. I thought about Deke Simmons saying there was one person who deserved to know the truth about where I'd been and what I'd done. But was I going to tell Sadie I'd killed Frank Dunning in cold blood so he wouldn't murder his wife and three of his four children? That I had come to Texas to prevent an assassination and change the course of history? That I knew I could do that because I came from a future where we could have been IM'ing this conversation via computer?
"Sadie, this is going to work out. I promise you that."
Again she said, "Fine." Then she said, "I'll see you tomorrow, George, in school." And hung up, very gently and politely.
I held the telephone in my hand for several seconds, staring straight ahead at nothing. A rattling began on the windows facing my backyard. The rain had turned to sleet after all.
Coach Borman's Christmas Eve bash was a bust, and the ghost of Vince Knowles wasn't the only reason. On the twenty-first, Bobbi Jill Allnut got tired of looking at that red slash running all the way down the left side of her face to the jawline and took a bunch of her mother's sleeping pills. She didn't die, but she spent two nights in Parkland Memorial, the hospital where both the president and the president's assassin would expire, unless I changed things. There are probably closer hospitals in 2011--almost certainly in Kileen, maybe even in Round Hill--but not during my one year of full-time teaching at DCHS.
Dinner at The Saddle wasn't so hot, either. The place was packed and convivial with pre-Christmas cheer, but Sadie refused dessert and asked to go home early. She said she had a headache. I didn't believe her.
The New Year's Eve dance at Bountiful Grange No. 7 was a little better. There was a band from Austin called The Jokers, and they were really laying it down. Sadie and I danced beneath sagging nets filled with balloons until our feet were sore. At midnight The Jokers swung into a Ventures-style version of "Auld Lang Syne," and the band's lead man shouted "May all your dreams come true in nineteen hundred and sixty-two!"
The balloons drifted down around us. I kissed Sadie and wished her a happy New Year as we waltzed, but although she had been gay and laughing all evening, I felt no smile on her lips. "And a happy New Year to you too, George. Could I have a glass of punch? I'm very thirsty."
There was a long line at the spiked punch bowl, a shorter one at the unspiked version. I ladled the mixture of pink lemonade and ginger ale into a Dixie cup, but when I brought it back to where she had been standing, Sadie was gone.
"Think she went out for some air, champ," Carl Jacoby said. He was one of the high school's four shop teachers, and probably the best, but I wouldn't have let him within two hundred yards of a power tool that night.
I checked the smokers clustered under the fire escape. Sadie wasn't among them. I walked to the Sunliner. She was sitting in the passenger seat with her voluminous skirts billowing all the way up to the dashboard. God knows how many petticoats she was wearing. She was smoking and crying.
I got in and tried to take her in my arms. "Sadie, what is it? What is it, hon?" As if I didn't know. As if I hadn't known for some time.
"Nothing." Crying harder. "I've got my period, that's all. Take me home."
It was only three miles, but that seemed like a very long drive. We didn't talk. I turned into her driveway and cut the motor. She had stopped crying
, but she still didn't say anything. Neither did I. Some silences can be comfortable. This one felt deadly.
She took her Winstons out of her handbag, looked at them, and put them back. The snick of the catch was very loud. She looked at me. Her hair was a dark cloud surrounding the white oval of her face. "Is there anything you want to tell me, George?"
What I wanted to tell her more than anything was that my name wasn't George. I had come to dislike that name. Almost to hate it.
"Two things. The first is that I love you. The second is that I'm not doing anything I'm ashamed of. Oh, and two-A: nothing you'd be ashamed of."
"Good. That's good. And I love you, George. But I'm going to tell you something, if you'll listen."
"I'll always listen." But she was scaring me.
"Everything can stay the same . . . for now. While I'm still married to John Clayton, even if it's just on paper and was never properly consummated in the first place, there are things I don't feel I have the right to ask you . . . or of you."
She put her fingers to my lips. "For now. But I won't ever allow another man to put a broom in the bed. Do you understand me?"
She put a quick kiss where her fingers had been, then dashed up the walk to her door, fumbling for her key.
That was how 1962 started for the man who called himself George Amberson.
New Year's Day dawned cold and clear, with the forecaster on the Morning Farm Report threatening freezing mist in the lowlands. I had stowed the two bugged lamps in my garage. I put one of them in my car and drove to Fort Worth. I thought if there was ever a day when the raggedy-ass carnival on Mercedes Street would be shut down, it was this one. I was right. It was as silent as . . . well, as silent as the Tracker mausoleum, when I'd dragged Frank Dunning's body into it. Overturned trikes and a few toys lay in balding front yards. Some party-boy had left a larger toy--a monstrous old Mercury--parked beside his porch. The car doors were still open. There were a few sad, leftover crepe streamers on the unpaved hardpan of the street, and a lot of beer cans--mostly Lone Star--in the gutters.
I glanced across at 2706 and saw no one looking out the large front window, but Ivy had been right: anyone standing there would have a perfect line of sight into the living room of 2703.
I parked on the concrete strips that passed for a driveway as if I had every right to be at the former home of the unlucky Templeton family. I got my lamp and a brand-new toolbox and went to the front door. I had a bad moment when the key refused to work, but it was just new. When I wetted it with some saliva and jiggled it a little, it turned and I went in.
There were four rooms if you counted the bathroom, visible through a door that hung open on one working hinge. The biggest was a combined living room and kitchen. The other two were bedrooms. In the larger one, there was no mattress on the bed. I remembered Ivy saying Be like takin your dog on vacation, won't it? In the smaller one, Rosette had drawn Crayola girls on walls where the plaster was decaying and the lathing showed through. They were all wearing green jumpers and big black shoes. They had out-of-proportion pigtails as long as their legs, and many were kicking soccer balls. One had a Miss America tiara perched on her hair and a big old red-lipstick smile. The house still smelled faintly of whatever fried meat Ivy had cooked for their final meal before going back to Mozelle to live with her mama, her little hellion, and her brokeback husband.
This was where Lee and Marina would begin the American phase of their marriage. They'd make love in the bigger of the two bedrooms, and he would beat her there. It was where Lee would lie awake after long days putting together storm doors and wondering why the hell he wasn't famous. Hadn't he tried? Hadn't he tried hard?
And in the living room, with its hilly up-and-down floor and its threadbare bile-green carpet, Lee would first meet the man I wasn't supposed to trust, the one that accounted for most if not all of the doubts Al had held onto about Oswald's role as the lone gunman. That man's name was George de Mohrenschildt, and I wanted very much to hear what he and Oswald had to say to each other.
There was an old bureau on the side of the main room that was closest to the kitchen. The drawers were a jumble of mismatched silverware and crappy cooking utensils. I pulled the bureau away from the wall and saw an electrical socket. Excellent. I put the lamp on top of the bureau and plugged it in. I knew someone might live here awhile before the Oswalds moved in, but I didn't think anyone would be apt to take the Leaning Lamp of Pisa when they decamped. If they did, I had a backup unit in my garage.
I drilled a hole through the wall to the outside with my smallest bit, pushed the bureau back into place, and tried the lamp. It worked fine. I packed up and left the house, being careful to lock the door behind me. Then I drove back to Jodie.
Sadie called and asked me if I would like to come over and have some supper. Just coldcuts, she said, but there was poundcake for dessert, if I cared for some. I went over. The dessert was as wonderful as ever, but things weren't the same. Because she was right. There was a broom in the bed. Like the jimla Rosette had seen in the back of my car, it was invisible . . . but it was there. Invisible or not, it cast a shadow.
Sometimes a man and a woman reach a crossroads and linger there, reluctant to take either way, knowing the wrong choice will mean the end . . . and knowing there's so much worth saving. That's the way it was with Sadie and me during that unrelenting gray winter of 1962. We still went out to dinner once or twice a week, and we still went to the Candlewood Bungalows on the occasional Saturday night. Sadie enjoyed sex, and that was one of the things that kept us together.
On three occasions we shapped hops together. Donald Bellingham was always the DJ, and sooner or later we'd be asked to reprise our first Lindy Hop. The kids always clapped and whistled when we did. Not out of politeness, either. They were authentically wowed, and some of them started to learn the moves themselves.
Were we pleased? Sure, because imitation really is the most sincere form of flattery. But we were never as good as that first time, never so intuitively smooth. Sadie's grace wavered. Once she missed her grip on a flyaway and would have gone sprawling if there hadn't been a couple of husky football players with quick reflexes standing nearby. She laughed it off, but I could see the embarrassment on her face. And the reproach. As if it had been my fault. Which in a way, it was.
There was bound to be a blow-up. It would have come sooner than it did, if not for the Jodie Jamboree. That was our greening, a chance to linger a little and think things over before we were forced into a decision neither of us wanted to make.
Ellen Dockerty came to me in February and asked me two things: first, would I please reconsider and sign a contract for the '62-'63 school year, and second, would I please direct the junior-senior play again, since last year's had been such a smash hit. I refused both requests, not without a tug of pain.
"If it's your book, you'd have all summer to work on it," she coaxed.
"It wouldn't be long enough," I said, although at that point I didn't give Shit One about The Murder Place.
"Sadie Dunhill says she doesn't believe you care a fig for that novel."
It was an insight she hadn't shared with me. It shook me, but I tried not to show it. "El, Sadie doesn't know everything."
"The play, then. At least do the play. As long as it doesn't involve nudity, I'll back anything you choose. Given the current composition of the schoolboard, and the fact that I myself only have a two-year contract as principal, that's a mighty big promise. You can dedicate it to Vince Knowles, if you like."
"Vince has already had a football season dedicated to his memory, Ellie. I think that's enough."
She went away, beaten.
The second request came from Mike Coslaw, who would be graduating in June and told me he intended to declare a theater major at college. "But I'd really like to do one more play here. With you, Mr. Amberson. Because you showed me the way."
Ellie Dockerty, he accepted the excuse about my bogus novel without question, which made me feel bad. Terrible, really. For a man who didn't like to lie--who had seen his marriage collapse because of all the ones he'd heard from his I-can-stop-whenever-I-want wife--I was certainly telling a passel of them, as we said in my Jodie days.
I walked Mike out to the student parking lot where his prize possession was parked (an old Buick sedan with fenderskirts), and asked him how his arm felt now that the cast was off. He said it was fine, and he was sure he'd be set for football practice this coming summer. "Although," he said, "if I got cut, it wouldn't break my heart. Then maybe I could do some community theater as well as school stuff. I want to learn everything--set design, lighting, even costumes." He laughed. "People'll start callin me queer."
"Concentrate on football, making grades, and not getting too homesick the first semester," I said. "Please. Don't screw around."
He did a zombie Frankenstein voice. "Yes . . . master . . ."
"How's Bobbi Jill?"
"Better," he said. "There she is."
Bobbi Jill was waiting by Mike's Buick. She waved at him, then saw me and immediately turned away, as if interested in the empty football field and the rangeland beyond. It was a gesture everyone in school had gotten used to. The scar from the accident had healed to a fat red string. She tried to cover it with cosmetics, which only made it more noticeable.
Mike said, "I tell her to quit with the powder already, it makes her look like an advertisement for Soames's Mortuary, but she won't listen. I also tell her I'm not going with her out of pity, or so she won't swallow any more pills. She says she believes me, and maybe she does. On sunny days."
I watched him hurry to Bobbi Jill, grab her by the waist, and swing her around. I sighed, feeling a little stupid and a lot stubborn. Part of me wanted to do the damn play. Even if it was good for nothing else, it would fill the time while I was waiting for my own show to start. But I didn't want to get hooked into the life of Jodie in more ways than I already was. Like any possible long-term future with Sadie, my relationship with the town needed to be on hold.