At his request, I am hiding in the parking lot. Every time lights show on the road, I jump behind a tree or crouch beside one of the cold parked cars. I don’t really care whether I’m seen or not, but I do plan to emerge mysteriously when he drives up. Impress him with my discretion, my knowledge of the surreptitious. But the rain is ruining the effect. I’m beginning to get angry. Who does he think would see us? Or care? I consider going back to my room and making a sign to hold up at passing cars: “I AM WAITING TO SCREW MR. LUCAS, THE RESIDENT POET!”

My mascara is running into the pouches beneath my eyes. I can feel the thin mud of powder on my forehead and cheeks beginning to slide.

体育投注平台The lights from the dormitories and the dining hall glow on the hill. No shapes around them, only blackness, and the moonless dark on me and around me. Another car turns off the main road. I stand behind a tree until it disappears up the long driveway to the college. I forgot to ask what kind of car he drives.

The spy game palls. I huddle under the tree and wish myself back in bed with a book and an inexhaustible supply of cigarettes. The image of my cozy self in a soft puddle of smoky lamplight grieves me.

I could have picked a less paranoid professor. But would that professor have picked me? Fortunately, the resident poet feels duty bound to fondle the freshmen, and I’m the only dope so far who has been susceptible to his paunch and poetry. And he’s the only dope susceptible to me. Unless he chickens out and I’m left soaking all night. If he’s not here when the moon comes up, I decide, I’m going in.

Light from the road, turning. A puttering of syncopated pistons. An old Volkswagen gasping and shaking into the lot. The headlights beam in odd directions, and eyeglasses shine through the dim windshield. I slide out from under the tree and squelch suavely toward the car. His face, gray and anxious, dips a smile at me. I get in on the passenger side, bringing the wetness in with me. Slam the door. He wheels the car around and rips out of the lot, down the driveway, and onto the road without looking at me.

体育投注平台When I first met him, I thought he looked like Ulysses S. Grant. All that curly black hair and curly black beard, the thick pink lips and square forehead. The more I see of him, the truer the resemblance seems. The light from the street lamps is slashed by the rain and ripples over his face. The spreading veins across his cheeks, the odd pits in the skin of his nose, the watery blue eyes, the secret weakness of his chin. He crops his beard so that it juts, instead of sliding toward his Adam’s apple along with his chin. His worries are bunched in lumps all over his forehead. At a stoplight, he gives me a quick, constipated grin.

体育投注平台“Nobody saw you?” His face turns back to the street, but I can see his eyes sliding at me in jerks, waiting for my answer.

“Only the fire department and your wife’s mother.”

His chuckle is a long time coming. His pudgy knuckles are pale green in the moving light.

体育投注平台“Would you mind crouching down in your seat until we get out of town?”

体育投注平台His apologetic teeth. The rasp in my breath. I drop onto the floor and prop my chin on the seat. Try to keep my wet boots from touching my ass. There are strange drafts down here, whispering through the framework, jets of cold squirting me in the back and the hair.

体育投注平台He looks very large. His stodgy shoes pump and move over the pedals at the end of his reliable wool legs. The gray cloth swags over his belly, droops from his arms.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” he says.

His fat lips. The pleading eyes. He’d rather be home in bed with his soft wife and a bottle of beer. I tip my head so that he can see my smile in the dark beneath the dashboard.

体育投注平台“Of course, you’re a lunatic.”

He is pleased. It’s so important to be crazy if you’re a poet. He reaches into his breast pocket. “I got something for you.”

A package of little cigars.

“Don’t these bother you? Your asthma? I wasn’t going to smoke at all.” I have prepared to be vicious for two days.

体育投注平台“No. I don’t mind cigar smoke. I can smoke these myself. It’s just cigarettes that make me choke.”

体育投注平台In his class, we sit with all the windows open, the rain blowing in. We don’t take off our coats. He always wears the same suit. It looks as though he’s stored potatoes in the pockets for a few seasons. The same plaid flannel shirts over improbable layers of underwear, or maybe that softness is his flesh welling up beneath the cloth. The clashing plaid tie is always just enough askew to allow his wiry chest hair to peep through at the collar.

“Have you eaten dinner? I haven’t. How about a hamburger?”

“Great!” I chirp.

体育投注平台Throw a few volts into the smile, a few more than usual, actually, because of the dark beneath the dashboard. The car wheezes to a stop. He removes the key and looks around, his eyes reflecting light. Then he smiles down at me and slips out. He leans in for a moment before swinging the door closed.

“Keep hidden just a little while longer. A lot of the students come here.”

体育投注平台His anxious face is gone with a flash of spectacles. I lift my head above the level of the window and watch his broken-butt trot across the shining tar. The big neon mouth on the sign prepares to chomp down on a seductively plump olive with an obscenely oriented pimento. He’s left me at the dark end of the parking area. Am I really going to wallow and stroke and gurgle and sigh over this character? Yes. What dull stuff I get into for the sake of excitement. I can see him through the café window as he casts furtive glances at the ragtag collection of customers, muttering his order at the waitress so that no potential blackmailers or squealers can hear him ask for two coffees and two hamburgers and two orders of French fries.

体育投注平台By the time he gets back to the car, I’m giggling. He hands me the lidded coffees. I balance them above the seat as he pulls out.

体育投注平台“I’m sorry about all this. You can get up now.”

体育投注平台My ass is numb and my legs ache. The chill has penetrated to my kidneys and set off a reaction. I pull myself onto the seat and open the coffee. Rest the cups on the gyrating dash. Rip open the hot, greasy paper around the food.

“I hope you like onions.”

“What did you tell your wife?”

体育投注平台Hand him a hamburger, smear a capsule of ketchup on the potatoes. He chomps and chews. “A weekend conference with a publisher.”

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The darkness moves and pales and disappears into more darkness. No cars. No lights. The gray road spinning beneath us. The headlights catch momentary shapes. I won’t ask whether she believed him. That would open up too many nasties. Either he’d be smug and say he didn’t care or he’d tell me all about her.

体育投注平台The river is dead gray beside us. A small hard light shows briefly on the other side. Better be poetic for him. Get him off the thought of repercussions.

“I came down here often last summer to fish,” I said. “I’d bring canned corn and fish for carp there by the flour mills early in the morning. The dawn would break and soften all the docks and bridges, soak everything in lavender light. Then I’d pull the big gold fish out of the purple water and the scales would come off in my fingernails like gold dust.”

I look at the river and sense him smiling.

体育投注平台“You really should write poetry,” he says.

He dives a hand blindly for the French fries and stuffs them into his mouth. Wipes the grease on the wool of his pants and reaches for the coffee. I look over at him as though mildly surprised. I take a contemplative bite of burger and chew until the dangling tomato makes it into my mouth.

“Oh, I think poetry takes different kinds of feelings than the set I’ve got.”

体育投注平台It’s a walk-in line for him. He fastens on a puffy grin and slips it to me with a standard nonchalant wag of his head.

“A poet,” he says. He does the sonorous levity so obviously. We are all such bad actors. “A poet is a man who runs out naked into every thunderstorm, hoping to be struck by lightning.”

He pushes hamburger into his mouth and juts his bulging cheek at me. Very cocky. Quotable-quotes time. The rain sprawls. There are no drops, only the constant moving sheet of water and, in front of the headlights, a fall of needles. My turn now. He waits and chews.

“I guess that makes me this week’s thunderstorm.”

“No, my dear, the lightning. The lightning.”

体育投注平台I was too predictable. He was ready for that one. I look at him. He looks at me. Gives an intense smile meant to convince me of my electrical qualities.

I could never be a professional whore. Not for long. It would be such hard work. Though the money might make it more interesting. It’s enough for the average lifetime to break one man in, to set up your chosen demeanor, trace his susceptibilities, and analyze his tricks, but to have to go through that time after time—feeling around for soft spots, carefully pinpointing the vanities, milking and teasing—hundreds or thousands of times? And not to be able to choose? Not that I have much choice as it is. My pay is eked out in bad hamburgers and cheap motel weekends, but at least I can go home and recuperate before my restlessness drives me out to work again.

体育投注平台But it’s all right now. With every mile, he gets some of his juices back, thinks less about getting caught and more about what he fancies.

His hand slides onto my knee and squeezes. I slip an arm over the back of the seat and run my fingers through his hair. It feels like a piece of cheap upholstery.

“You must be tired,” I say. “You’ll be exhausted by the time we get to the coast.”

I feel the lumps of bone behind his ears.

“No,” he says. “I’m on fire.”

体育投注平台Poor fellow, trying to work himself up. He pulls my hand onto his thigh. It’s true, I have always had a weakness for the delicacy of thighs. Like the inner legs of horses, the incredible softness of a dog on its back, baring belly and balls to signal submission. But there must be some form for the delicacy to rest on. This thigh is pudding. A pudding with a bone in it. The spoon, perhaps.

He shifts gears to make a turn. We’re climbing now. The river is gone. Hills and trees. Isolated gas stations in painful light. His hand drops back onto my hand and tugs it toward his crotch. Don’t tell me. Are we really going to have to do this? With another full hour’s drive ahead of us?

I rummage dutifully in the wool-covered pudding. His belly is in the way. Where is the thing? Buttons and zipper and wool over pudding. The hand on my hand lifts and encircles my head, reaches around and tries to draw me down. Has he fantasized about this? Or does he just think it’s a necessary part of the program? He has to let go of my head to shift again. The car is careening over the narrow road, which looks white in the lights. His hand comes back up to pull my head down. If I have to lean over the gearshift to blow him, it’s going to be miserable, all cramped. I’d have to do it sideways and would probably get a stitch. And what would I do with my right arm? Shove it down between the seats? No. I’ll wait until the motel. He’s already used up all the discomfort he bought with one hamburger. I give him a soft laugh. A nuzzle on the ear to take the sting out of the shrug. He has thick hair in his ears.

“Let’s wait. If we hit a bump, I’ll bite it off.”

His sharp laugh is almost natural with surprise. He narrows his eyes at the road. He’ll have to sulk over that a bit. I give his pudding a last friendly pat and relax back into my seat. Rip open the package of cigars. Sniff audibly at the plastic bits so he won’t think I’m taken in by their quality.

“Would you like one?”

He gives me a resigned smile. “Yes. Might as well.”

体育投注平台I light them for both of us. The searing stench hits my nose before I can fill my lungs. I cough. Once I’m full of the smell I don’t notice it. He holds his like a pencil and nips daintily at the smoke, filling his mouth then puffing it out.

“Why do you suppose cigars don’t irritate your asthma?”

All is good again. He tells me at length how his asthma is a purely psychological condition that began spontaneously when, at twenty-six, he read his first article on air pollution, in the waiting room of the hospital where his mother was dying of cervical cancer.

So he is relieved, too; he didn’t really want me to suck his cock while he was shifting gears and pumping pedals and steering an egg box down a wet road in the middle of the night after working all day and conniving against his wife and palpitating over possible discovery and probably not even having a bath.

体育投注平台Now that I think of it, that was the first time we’ve touched each other. It’s been strictly verbal flirtation, primarily, I assume, because neither of us finds the other attractive. We are here in obedience to our separate principles.

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体育投注平台He, having been married twice and published a book of poems, having grown his beard and refused to mow his lawn, having succeeded in transforming a page of liberal newsprint into a chronic ailment, having assumed all these forms and wandered hatless in the rain hoping to be recognized and told who he is, must continue the outline he is sketching for himself, complete the design.

And I, Sally, having been mooed at by my peers, having skulked against walls and sat up nights searching through the Reader’s Digest for jokes to insert into the conversations of the following day, having been for too long involuntarily good, have tapped into unsuspected energies in my current project. I have worked my way through reluctant soda jerks, potential painters, a good pianist who is studying to become a bad psychologist, a travelling daffodil salesman, and now, here, tonight, I have searched for, if not precisely located, the cock of the resident poet. Maybe he’ll write a poem about me, or give me a passing grade in English. The painters did portraits of me, though they were just pastel sketches, convenient for one-night stands. I filed them in the left-hand drawer of my desk, separated by tissue paper. The pianist, a virgin until he appealed to me, wrote a tune and played it for me in the chapel. A bad poem would fit into the collection nicely.

The motel surrounds a courtyard. Mr. Lucas goes into the office and registers and races out with the key, for fear the manager will want to show the room to us. There is no crash of surf. The ocean is purported to be out there, somewhere. We run through the rain. I have my big purse. He has a flight bag. The room is a suite, cheap at the off-season rate. A sitting room, a bedroom, a kitchenette, and a bathroom, all clean. Only the air is moldy. I shut myself in the bathroom and scrub my face, brush the stiffness out of my dried hair, smear black around my eyes. My face is puffy, pale, with freckles standing out like the heads of pins. An actual flutter now in my belly. How do you go about this? What do you do when there’s no impulse to guide you? I’ve let this get too cold and distant, but I must strut out to meet it.

He’s sprawled on the sofa with his shoes and jacket off. A bottle of whiskey at his elbow, a glass of the slippery fluid rocking in his hand. I’ve never seen him without his coat on before. He looks fatter, unhealthy. I ought to curl up beside him and start petting and tickling. I sit down on the rug near his feet and lean back against his legs. Cheery faces on the television screen. I should be up on the couch soothing this soft fellow. His knees are more thickly padded than mine. The smell of his wet wool. I take off my boots and lift a foot to sniff at it. It hasn’t begun to stink yet. His hand touches my neck. He could, after all this sneaking around, just as easily kill me as screw me.

体育投注平台“Take off your clothes.”

His voice is commanding now. The game officially begins. I stand up and pull my jumper off over my head. Stand looking away from him in black tights and a black jersey. More shy than I can remember. This must not be the way. A coldness in my belly. One deep breath and I cuddle in beside him and reach for his glass. Feel the neat spirit falling into me without effect.

“You’re even prettier than I had imagined.”

That means he didn’t think I had any waist at all. I am tired. Too tired to pretend well. I run my hands over his chest and inside his buttons.

体育投注平台When the glass is empty, we slug on the bottle. After a while, we go into the bedroom and take off the rest of our clothes. I have a kind of shock then. He isn’t circumcised. He has a big hairy belly and droopy hairy thighs and this soft little mush of a bag instead of a prick. I’ve never realized the difference that circumcision makes. It slides around easily in my hand. I can’t get a grip on it. He never does get very hard. I don’t know which one of us is to blame for that. We hump around on the bed, working. He’s heavy on me. I can’t breathe very well and gasp realistically. I’d describe it all, but it’s just a pain. A drab fumbling like nothing so much as a poorly cooked meal that is so ostentatiously served that the diners are obliged to comment and erupt periodically with overenthusiastic “Oh, my”s and “Wonderful”s.

体育投注平台When he’s done, I make a mistake. I am puffing and sweating, from lack of oxygen. I’m bored and tired and wishing myself back in my sober little bed. I let a few tears leak out. He leans over me and stares.

“What’s the matter?”

He looks almost scared. I need a quick reply. That’s the only excuse I can give for what comes next. I am too lazy and tired to come up with an appropriate one, so I use the line I use for young men who lack confidence. I say, “I guess you’re the first man. I guess I’ve only been with boys before.” A dumb line, but no worse than most of the things said over toast or tea. It all serves to grease the wheels and keep the machine rolling along. But it isn’t the right line for this man. I admit it.

He pulls away from me, winded, his cheeks flushed. He crawls up to the pillow and looks at me. My first clear view of him. His breasts hang. A lot of hair on his colorless skin. He’s looking smug now.

体育投注平台“That’s weird. I thought you were very experienced and were going to teach me wild things.”

体育投注平台My understanding comes suddenly. Lying there with scum bubbling on my thighs, looking at the foam on his wrinkled little prick, and watching his big belly heave upward until his navel threatens to pop out. His suddenly twinkling eyes, weak, squinting at me without their lenses. I remember that look from his class, when he thinks he knows something we don’t. When someone says something particularly stupid, the “Ah, but consider this, my young friend” look. Quite clearly and for the first time, I see that he has been toadying up to me. He’s been afraid of me, but now he’ll expect me to play up to him, to fawn and fondle. The fat smile in his beard. I can feel myself staring too long at him. The cluck believed me. Better he should have been angry at my using such an old line on him. I roll over and go into the bathroom.

While the tub is running, I go out to the living room and get a cigar. He is dipping a toe into the water when I get back. His feet are fat, nearly square, with a thick pad on the sole and a layer of softness moving smoothly over the bones of the arch. No depressions, just a varicose vein running up the inside of one plump calf. He sits down at the back of the tub and leaves me the faucets to lean against. The white water and white skin and white tub all glare at me. I wrap a towel around my hair, climb in, and lean my head back, trying not to show that I’ve got two chrome knobs jabbing me in the spine. I draw deeply on the cigar, regard him through half-closed eyes.

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My feet are fat, too. My navel waves up and down beneath the water. He’s got the whiskey bottle.

“Have you ever gone with girls?” he says.

I have to catch my eyelids to keep them from narrowing. “Why?”

体育投注平台“That would make you come.” His complacence is more nauseating than his weakness. I may begin to dislike him. “That was what made me notice you at first. I saw how that pasty-faced blond girl in class had such a passion for you.”

体育投注平台“Pasty-faced?”

“After the first week or so, she started wearing her hair like yours, and she got big earrings. She started putting on mascara and came to class in leotards instead of lumberjack shirts.”

“Hmm.”

I hadn’t noticed that. She invited me to her room once for a kind of prissy tea. She talked about absolute truth and beauty while I ate cake. Another long pull at the cigar while he tugs at the bottle. His navel rises above the water, smiles toothlessly, and sinks again.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never had thoughts about your roommate.”

“Fern?”

“She’s so big and fabulous. A mythic female. Legs and arms as big as a tall man. You’d climb her like a tree.”

体育投注平台This is no time for careless reactions; I’ve lost enough ground that way. Draw deeply on the cigar, expand the nostrils to take in oxygen, reach slowly over the side of the tub to flick ash into the toilet. Another puff of smoke to fill the space between us. His head is five feet away from mine at the other end of the tub, and our legs and torsos tangle and float in between. He nips at the bottle and wipes his mouth with a wet hand.

体育投注平台“Didn’t you ever go that way at pajama parties?”

体育投注平台The phrase dispels the sinister tension I’d been feeling. It is, after all, only the opening gambit of Lecture No. 10 in the Young Men’s Arsenal Series: “Sexual Mores Are a Hypocritical Bourgeois Plot,” to be delivered to tight-assed young ladies over hamburgers, stick shifts, or the second drink of any given evening.

体育投注平台And so I sit in the scummy water, smoking and watching his eyes get brighter and smaller as he drinks. He thinks he made me have an orgasm and now he can do whatever he wants with me. Yes.

I can see him in his tub at home, his underpants in a puddle beneath the sink. “For Christ’s sake, where’s the soap?” he shrieks, and gets up to shut the door on his three-year-old daughter so she can no longer fill paper cups with water from the toilet and pour them over his head. And I can see him as an old man, lying back against pillows while his wife, thicker now and even more tired, works at him abstractly until he finally pushes her away in anger and dreams of young girls with taut skin who could get him up with just a smile. The same old man, his breasts closer than ever to that navel, hikes his pants up over his belly and asks his wife to bring coffee to the guests so that he can be wise and hospitable in his own house. He will invite young poets to sit at his feet and hear the flitting tones of unrecognized genius. He’ll do it badly and only the fools will be fooled. We smart-asses will just pretend to be fooled because doing so fits in with some performance of our own.

体育投注平台“I’m thinking about what you’re saying. Go ahead,” I say.

The white light bouncing off the tub does nothing for the splotches on his cheeks. He draws on his bottle and I draw on my cigar. He slides his foot into my crotch and wiggles it a little. His toes are wrinkled from soaking so long.

“It just amazes me that all you females in that dormitory together watching one another dress and shower and sleep could possibly resist the beauty of girl flesh. Imagine all those nubile bodies with their tousled hair lying in their little beds in their separate little cubbyholes, masturbating when they could be enjoying one another.” His smacking lips. This must be a real fantasy. He’s too drunk for duty dreams.

“That’s funny,” I drawl. Tip my head back so I can look at him through slits. “Male homosexuality has always seemed so totally comprehensible to me. Those hairy young thighs in the locker room. The tender napes of powerful necks, snug little asses, and . . . ”

His frown is thick and heavy. His face flushing out of the beard.

体育投注平台“Don’t be such a silly shit. I’m trying to open you up to a new dimension in yourself. An unused awareness.”

He’s too anxious, a little scary. I sit up to get my crotch out from under his unfriendly foot.

体育投注平台“What is it that you’re thinking about?” I say it easily, just curiosity, screen out the anger.

His flabby grin. “I could help you to appreciate women.” He watches for my reaction.

“Oh! You mean a three-way thing! Me and another girl and you? Why all the beating around the bush about it? That’s no big deal.” Squelch him a bit. Nothing quite like having your wildest fantasies belittled as tame.

“I just wouldn’t want it unless you really wanted it.” He smirks.

体育投注平台I stand up and reach for a towel. I am too sleepy to go on with this, but I am relieved to find that it wasn’t anything spooky after all, just old Phase 3 of Line 2:

Line 2:
Phase 1—If you don’t fuck me, you are a narrow-minded bourgeois pig.
Phase 2—If you don’t let me fuck you up the ass, you are a narrow-minded bourgeois pig.
Phase 3—If you don’t get your best friend into bed with us, you are a narrow-minded, etc.

体育投注平台He pads, dripping, into the bedroom after me. He looks worse standing up because the chub droops. He’s patting himself contentedly with a towel. That classic gesture of drying the chest hair, the circular rubbing of the space between the nipples. Athenian boys must have done that after their baths, the farmer swabbing himself at the trough, and the Aborigine wet from a river—all with that same tender massaging of the sternum. It occurs to me to laugh. I have an urge to ask him what makes him think he could possibly handle two women. But, of course, he doesn’t really think so, any more than I think I’m the siren of the faculty lounge. It’s just pretend.

体育投注平台I don’t even try to be graceful climbing into the cold bed. He’s too busy admiring himself with the towel to notice, anyway. Could he possibly feel that he’s been a success tonight? Maybe I should mention his wife to make him nervous again. He flings the towel onto the floor and jumps in beside me. He probably has to hang up his towels at home. Or maybe she does things like that for him. His warm podge reaching for me. A spoony cuddle. One plump arm gropes for the lamp and shuts us off together in the dark.

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体育投注平台“What do you think of that idea? The thing with the other female?” His voice is eager, boyish.

体育投注平台“Sure,” I say. “Anytime you can arrange it.”

He hugs me close and says, “That’s the girl.”

体育投注平台Just before sleep, I think about why he can’t make a proposition like that to his wife. I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself, anyway. I don’t care. I’m incapable of being insulted. I haven’t loved anybody since the first juicy spurt of youth, and I’ve more or less decided that even that was merely a successful sales campaign conducted by dealers in jukebox records and mouthwash. Nobody can hurt me. I might get tired, or bored, but I can’t be hurt the way a wife could. All this is just dirty talk to me, exotic entertainments for the unloved and unloving. And that is the nice tight thought that I warm my soggy innards with before sleep.

体育投注平台I wake displeased to find him there beside me. After a night like that, I prefer to be alone to wash myself and read, to smoke in a corner and review the angles of the conversation. But his belly and breasts are pressed against my back, and his soft arm loops over my shoulder. Trying to slip out to pee, I wake him. His groggy clutches tighten and he pulls me back. The urgency of a full bladder is a fair imitation of lust. We maul each other pretty fiercely for a while. I rush the business and then hurry to the bathroom. I spend some time putting myself back together again before going out.

He’s still lying on the pillows. Still smug. With his bacchanalian grin on. I should ask him for money. That would bring him down to a manageable level. I could reveal the whole thing as a hustler’s technique and relieve myself of the orgasm faux pas of the night before. But I’m a coward. Ask him for breakfast instead. Nibble his toes by way of demonstration.

“I’m hungry!”

He wants to drive up the coast to see a historic mansion, so we check out of the motel and get in the car and go looking for a diner. His skin is shabbier in the daylight. The radiating lines around his eyes are from years of forced smiles. I feel relaxed around him now. I don’t care much what he thinks of me.

We stop at a café perched over a fishing pier and take a booth surrounded by powerful old men who have just come in after a predawn trip to sea. Their clothes are damp, and they are eating voluminously and talking happily to one another and to the crisp-curled woman who waits on them. They seem honest next to Mr. Lucas.

He hunches in the booth with his shoulders up, suddenly terrified again of meeting someone he knows. He orders coffee and a roll of antacid tablets. I order most of the menu enthusiastically, for spite. We sit in silence, watching and listening to the other customers, feeling the spray in the wind when someone opens the door. He leans toward me and mutters conspiratorially, “This is the blind core of the continent. The heart of darkness!”

The waitress brings his coffee and the tablets in one hand and my pancakes and eggs and maple syrup with a side order of sausage on the other arm. The smell and sight of the food obviously upsets him.

体育投注平台“I suppose you’re going to have a cigar after all that?”

体育投注平台I grin at him, pour syrup over everything, and begin to tuck in. He chews morosely on his Tums and turns the other way. The more I look at the aged fishermen, the more I wonder how many of them have managed to sneak away for how many weekends with girls they didn’t like.

We drive up the coast and check into an old clapboard hotel with bright, oddly shaped rooms and shining brass beds. We wash and then go down in the ornate elevator. The girl running the elevator stares at my eye makeup and his beard and asks us if we’re with a rock band.

体育投注平台“Sure,” he says, delighted.

“Peaches and the Cream,” I say. “Catch us at the Big Dipper.”

“Where’s that?” she asks, but we are already floating through the lobby, buoyed on the flattery of her mistake. It made us both feel good. He takes my arm as we walk up the hill toward the mansion. He even stops in a drugstore to buy me another box of little cigars.

The caretakers live in the basement of the house. They are old and suspicious, gray and proud. The woman begins dusting the moment we arrive. The man stands guard at the foot of the main staircase as we prowl through the rooms. Dark furniture, cups and spoons that haven’t touched lips for a hundred years. A plaque on the beam of the back porch identifies the spot where the missionary was hanged by his recalcitrant flock. We giggle our way past the caretaker and up the stairs. The bedrooms are cold, the furniture standing around the walls in great black chunks.

“I like this room!” Mr. Lucas says. “I could write great poetry in a room like this.”

体育投注平台He moves to the marble sink in the corner and tries the tap. While the water runs, he undoes his fly.

“Keep an eye out for the old man,” he says, winking.

I turn my back and watch him in the standing mirror between the windows. He stands on tiptoe, hauls up his dowdy little pecker, and pisses darkly into the stream from the faucet.

“At least once in every man’s life he should piss in a sink,” he says. He zips himself in and we go stolidly downstairs and thank the caretaker for letting us examine the house.

“It’s been wonderfully kept up,” Mr. Lucas says.

体育投注平台“Yes,” the old man says, his turtle face never shifting its planes or relenting in its suspicion that we are walking out with something under our coats.

体育投注平台Mr. Lucas yawns. “Me for a nap,” he says.

“A nap?”

“I’m an old man, you must remember.”

So we walk back to the hotel. He lies on the high brass bed and punches a hole in the pillow for his head. I don’t like to watch him sleep. To see the feeble jointure of his hip and his paunch. To see his chubby little feet in their thin socks peeping out from his baggy pants legs or his frail, breaking shoes lying beneath the bed. He doesn’t snore. But his face brings children to my mind, and the sadness of seeing the fresh flesh that ends in drool and rot. I never like to watch people sleep. They are so whole and vulnerable. It’s impossible to hate them when they sleep, but seeing the body unconscious, seeing the balls of intention hidden by their eyelids and the wit and the weakness gone from their faces, is frightening. It makes me think of death.

I take a cigar and sit on the deep windowsill looking out on the only street of the town. I watch ladies shopping and two busy dogs by the door of the bait cutter’s across the way. Telling myself I’ll get a good grade out of this at least, and dreaming of my small room in the dormitory, its private bed and books and door.

体育投注平台I shall read the Greeks when I get back, I resolve. Picture long evenings in the warmth of the lamplight with the frenzy of the weather shut out and even the voices in the hallway beyond my attention. I won’t be driven out into the dark searching for excitement anymore. I shall look it in the face this time. Look the end in the face.

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But I look at Mr. Lucas on the bed and see that he is afraid, too. That, with all the years ahead of me, I needn’t expect to find answers or peace before he does.

体育投注平台His eyes open then. He feels around for his glasses and puts them on. He smiles at me and pats the bed beside him. I stub out my cigar and go and crawl up next to him. Put my hand on his chest and he puts his gawpy arms around me and says, “Don’t look so sad, Sally.” And I take the comfort of his warm flesh and cuddle it to me, fearing all the while that he’ll think we ought to screw, but he doesn’t.

We drive down to the J. C. Penney’s because he wants to get a present for his little girl. I stand around while he paws through the kiddie clothes anxiously and comes up with a red sailor dress.

体育投注平台“What do you think of this one?” he keeps asking.

“I don’t know anything about it,” I say.

I wonder if his pregnant wife has gone through eight years of mauling and got knocked up twice without ever having an orgasm. She must masturbate while he’s in the bathroom, I think. Or maybe she takes lovers. I almost say that to him, but he is talking seriously to the saleslady about children’s sizes, so I wait.

He puts the box in the back seat, and we ride down the coast looking for a place that serves drinks and dinner. Dusk is falling now, the gray day sneaking out, when we pass a laundromat. It stands all by itself on the road outside the town. Rough beach grass hisses against the cinder blocks of the building, and its one big window looks across the road to the marsh that leads to the sea. We aren’t going very fast. The white light inside glares over the rows of green machines and a solitary figure, with her arms outstretched, folding towels into a white plastic basket. Her curlers are like a pink halo around a plump face; she wears a pale fuzzy sweater, tight pants stretched over generous haunches. Then we’re past but the car is slowing. He pulls to the side of the road and stops. With the motor idling, the heater works better. He hunches over the wheel and turns his face to me.

“Did you see that?”

体育投注平台“The girl?”

体育投注平台“A simple little housewife,” he says. “Her husband probably works the swing shift and she waits to do the laundry until he’s gone to work. We go in and start a conversation with her, take her out for a drink, and then get her to the hotel room with us.”

His tense voice settles a bleak winter on my chest. Bitter winds are moving through my lungs. The marsh is spread out there with the gulls weaving black against the sky. The sheen of the shredded water fills me, and I am tired, tired.

“I’ve been thinking about it. It really might work.” His intensity irritates me unreasonably. “With a couple,” he says, “she wouldn’t be scared off. Women are never afraid of a man if he’s with another woman. They figure she acts as a wall governing the limits to which anything can be carried.”

体育投注平台His glasses gleam in the last light. Do we really have to play this through? I don’t want to do this. Should I want to? Does it demean my intellect not to want to? Does it show my spirit to be small and dependent if I don’t want to? I don’t want to do this.

“She wouldn’t want to go out drinking,” I sneer. “She’s got her hair in curlers. It would just be a useless hassle. Women like that never feel sexy until they’ve got their hair combed out and their makeup on.”

体育投注平台“But don’t you see? She’d never suspect. Because she isn’t feeling sexy she’d never think we were approaching her on that basis. A smart girl like you could talk her around easily. Let’s just go back and look. Do you want to?”

体育投注平台My eyes pour themselves out into the darkening marsh. I won’t look at him anymore.

体育投注平台“All right,” I say.

体育投注平台He puts the car into gear and swings it around. We pull up on the gravel in front of the laundromat and he kills the engine.

Her pink sponge helmet glows in the fluorescent light. She’s sitting on one of the machines now, leaning over a magazine. Her pants stop six inches from her ankles, and her feet are rubbing each other in their gaping shoes.

“She’s got enormous tits,” he says. He’s hugging the steering wheel and squinting through his glasses at her.

体育投注平台“Also gut and butt,” I mutter.

“What?” He turns to me.

“I say she’s fat. She’s got a belly like a garbage bag and an ass like the truck to carry it.”

His hand waves through the window.

体育投注平台“She’s a Titan! Look at that skin. I’ve never screwed a woman in curlers before. All these liberated females with their straight hair.”

Is screwing two people you don’t like innately more pleasurable than screwing one person you don’t like?

The girl on the jiggling washing machine turns a page in her magazine and reaches into her purse for a cigarette. She jabs it into her mouth and fumbles around for matches before she can light it. She goes on reading. She holds her cigarette like an old-time movie queen, sucks at it, and blows the smoke out through her nose without inhaling.

体育投注平台The daylight is nearly gone. Headlights whip over us and come to a stop staring at the laundromat door. A fat old lady in a boxy tweed coat climbs out of a station wagon and paces into the building. The girl on the washing machine looks up and blows out smoke and begins to talk. The older woman retrieves the plastic basket of clothes. The girl hops down and opens the machine she’s been sitting on, starts hauling out clean sheets in gray armloads. She plops them into a cardboard box, swings her purse strap over her shoulder, and hoists the box onto her hip.

体育投注平台The two women move out of the lighted doorway to the car. The doors slam. The engine starts. The headlights spread in a wide pool around us and then disappear into the night.

Mr. Lucas is looking at me with a twinkle in his spectacles. His lips are fat and red, but they cover a very small mouth. A prissy Kewpie-doll mouth. I don’t like his mouth at all. I light a cigar and sit staring at the empty laundromat, its silent machines in gaping rows, waiting.

“Well,” he says. “Oh, well. What about a drink?”

I take another puff while I think about it, then reach back into the rear seat and pull the fifth from under his daughter’s new dress. He starts the engine, and the heater comes on again. I hadn’t realized it was cold. I open the bottle and swallow and choke and swallow a little more. As soon as I can be sure that it won’t make me puke it will have its chance to warm me.

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体育投注平台“I didn’t mean that,” he says. “I meant with some dinner.”

体育投注平台“I really don’t want any dinner,” I say, with the bottle propped up in my lap. “I think it’s time I was going back.”

体育投注平台He looks at me, surprised, wary. “Back to the school?”

体育投注平台“Yep.” I take one last drink, since it doesn’t seem to be fatal, put the cap on, and drag at the cigar. I’m not going to look at him anymore. He guns the car out onto the road and rams it viciously at the center line.

体育投注平台I can feel a snag creeping up one leg of my tights. His voice is doing a phony laugh above the rush of the car’s noises.

体育投注平台“So that’s what it is to be a tough broad!” He snorts. He mumbles for a while and then raises his voice again. “You crumble when you come within half a mile of confronting yourself!”

体育投注平台I stretch my legs as far into the heater blast as possible and lean back against the seat. The cigar glows bright in the dark of my lap. I open the window a crack and fling it out. A shower of sparks gone in an instant. I am warm. I am going home to my still bed. I can sleep.

体育投注平台I don’t wake up until he shakes me. We are in the school parking lot. The headlights glare on the windows of my dormitory. It’s raining. I yawn and reach for my purse.

“Sally.” His hand on my arm. “I assume I can trust you? I’ve always assumed that.”

体育投注平台His temper is over. He’s scared again. I can see my own window. My anger comes up again, secure and steady.

体育投注平台“Look,” I say. “You are a two-bit shit and I am a two-bit shit. Let’s not compound the stink by speaking to each other anymore.”

I climb out and walk through the rain, into my building, and down the long green corridor. Warm in here. Clean. My room smells of old smoke. The door to Fern’s room is closed. I won’t have to face her until morning. I go to the window and look out on the parking lot, shimmering wet. “I’m never going to leave this room again,” I tell myself. The window is a picture of the room. The table lamp and the bookshelf are vividly reversed in it. The doorknob glints in the black glass. But I am too close to the window, and my reflection is a silhouette surrounding the parking lot, with the whites of my eyes rolling in the black.

“Ah, poor Sally,” I mutter at my bleary eyes. Even when there’s no place left to be hurt, it seems there is something that can be diminished, whittled away. It will probably be weeks before I can even brag about this. ♦