| Aunt Sarah was
Mrs. Rhale was not.
One of the flies was gone. Not the praying one. Let a fly do your
praying; God is mostly for flies.
The screen was dirty on one lower corner. Through that corner,
holding her body a little to the left, Mayann could see the front half of the Cadillac
parked on the shell driveway. Sterling was there. He was leaning on the spotted black
fender, slumped, his enormous hands folded on his legs. His uniform was neater than usual
and he had a new cap she had not noticed before. The cap was a darker brown than the
uniform but not as dark as Sterling. He did not have the radio on. Sterling almost always
played the radio when he had to wait. Edmund did not like him to. It drained the battery,
Edmund said; but Sterling usually played it anyhow, because he was old and he knew Edmund
would not fire him, and because he really liked music. But not now.
"Who is the best?"
"Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, you can pick any
one," Edmund said, "they're all good."
Mayann said: "But which one is the best?"'
"That's a matter of taste."
"I can have my taste," Edmund said, "and you can
have a different taste."
"... No," Mayann said
Aunt Sarah said: "We all know it's taking too long. Why don't they
let him finish? Why can't they just for God's sake let him die in peace?"
"Hush up," Mrs. Rhale said. "You hush."
It was a matter of taste. Of unburned taste. Never too cold.
Mayann said: "But I did use myself once."
"... What, dear?" Mrs. Rhale said. "Mayann, did
you want something? Are you all right?"
"No," Mayann said. "Yes, I am. Thank you for
Mrs. Rhale said: "Dear. Oh, Princess . . ."
Oh, this. Oh, that.
Princess Pea, Princess Pea,
What have you to say to me?
Princess Stocking, Princess Glove,
What have you to say of Love?
"Father made it up."
"No, he didn't," George said. "I heard
it already someplace."
"No; he made it up."
"Well and if so, so what? I wouldnt admit to it
myself. Precious, precious, and for what?" George shut his eyes and got sing-song
nasal. "Princess Pea, Princess Pea, what have you to say to me? Prin. . . Princess .
Mayann said: "Stocking, Princess Glove, have have you to say
"Lovely. Wherefore is the deep meaning?"
"There isn't any. It's a nonsense poem."
"Hear hear," George said, aiming at a British accent
and quite missing. "There I agree."
The Lexington Avenue drugstore counter was better than
Schratts for after school. George couldn't really afford Schratts and he would
not go Dutch and it was too cold for a park bench. And they let you sit at the counter
with just a Coca-Cola for as long as you wanted. Mayann and whoever was with her could sit
there even without a Coke: the soda jerks each had a crush on her. Everybody who met her
had a crush on her--men, women, children. She was almost seventeen and people said she
could charm her way into the National City Bank vault. She could because she did not use
charm; she was Mayann and she was just as she was.
George said: "Well... when?" George was a man of
twenty. Height of a man; eye-colored eyes and hair-colored hair, a balding spot in the
back ("1 could have been a priest at no cost"). Hard, round, slender in his
bones and muscles; steel thighs, long and full; a deep skin; a big face and a tender
mouth. A mouth as warm and painful as his eyes; thick hair shaven from his jowls, smooth
and not smooth, sometimes blue. All together.
"When what?" Mayann said.
"You know damn well what. The date of the evening. Beautiful
"... Come home and meet father."
"Appears to me I've been saying no to that since the day
before I met you."
"And today . . . ?"
"No. I'll always say no." With two wide fingers, he
twirled his glass in its sweat ring on the brown plastic. A glass will sweat in winter.
Mayann said: "Then please don't keep asking. We have lots to
talk about and we don't have to talk. We can be happy and be quiet. It's the wonderful
"I will keep asking," George said. "I will ask you
every afternoon. I want to eat with you and 1 want to dance with you and I want you to
come up to my enormous one-room apartment, furnished distastefully in early lack of funds,
and I want to go to bed with you."
"Father . . ."
"I don't want your father," George said. "I am
attuned to women. Accidentally. Basically."
"Father would . . ."
"No he wouldn't," George said; "or if so, do let's
keep it hush-hush Anyhow I wouldn't. He's not my type. You are."
Mayann rubbed over her cheek. Then she pointed a finger and made
a small rectangle in the brown plastic with her nail. "It's only a question of
"That's a big only question."
"It isn't his permission, he hasn't given me orders since I
was a child. I don't need permission. You just meet him once and from then on ,we go
George said: "My intentions are entirely dishonorable."
"He wouldn't ask you that."
"He wouldn't need to, he could smell it. I emanate lecherous
"He wouldnt . . . care."
"Then he's a bad father. There must be enough of the man
left in him to care."
"Don't," Mayann said. "Just please don't."
"Hell," George said.
"Christ in hell," he said. He flexed the ends of his
fingers and the glass slid two inches away. "Every single goddam afternoon. You
adrenalate my digestion," he said. "I don't like arguing and I hate arguing with
you. It destroys the rest of the evening and then all I can think about is the next day
and five o'clock and you and here. So l can have my next evening destroyed.''
Mayann said: "I said let's talk about something else. Or not
talk." She said quietly: "It's all l think about too. All day."
"If he . . ."
"Double hell to your don't. If you just hadn't made it a
condition the first time I met you, that would have been that. If you'd told me to pick
you up at your apartment and arranged your schedule accordingly, I would have met your
father. But you make it a social condition. I'm damned if 1'll be social. Sociable yes;
social no. I got rid of Park Avenue when I left my own family and took a job, I won't go
back into that now; l can't. I would do anything for you but I can't do that because it
would ruin me and you. I can't play the monkey to your father's plush rules. He's no
better than my own father and I didn't do it for him."
Mayann said: "Oh, no."
"No," she said. "It isn't his rule. I'm quite
free. I told you, he has no rules for me, not any more. He doesn't have to."
George was holding a cigarette about an inch out of the pack. He
let the pack fall on the counter. He said: "You can't mean what I think you
mean." Then he said: "Whose rule is it?"
Looking at him: "Mine," Mayann said, "I thought
"... I don't believe you."
"... You don't lie, do you? You never do lie."
"I never had to," Mayann said.
The cigarette was bent double in his hand. "Not even if you
wanted to be nice?"
She shook her head. "Is lying nice?"
"I won't be here tomorrow."
"Or the day after. I've had it," George said.
"Do you, 1 wonder?"
"... Yes, I think so."
George swung away from her. He put out his right hand and slapped
the counter. His head was down and he examined the hand. Then he took that hand and put it
on top of his thigh and set his head on the heel of the other hand.
After a second she wanted to hold him. It was a new
He turned to her again.
"You are the most incredible guileless bitch l ever
met," he said hard, "how the hell I fell in love with you, I don't know. Or
care. Yes, as a matter of fact, I care. I would like to know how I could have managed to
live so carefully and then fall in love with the likes of you. Maybe I'll do my thesis on
it. How can I love you?"
Princess Pea, Princess Pea.
"Whisper louder," George said.
What have you to say to me?
"Is that all you can say?"
"I . . ."
Princess Stocking, Princess Glove.
"Did you hear what I told you?" George said: "I
told you I'm in . . ."
What have you to say of Love?
Mayann said: "It's a quarter to seven."
"... Yes." George held still. "That's probably
just exactly what it is."
She slid off the stool onto her feet. Her purse was standing
upright on the shelf under the counter. She took it and then plucked at the skirt of her
dress; which was unnecessary.
George said: "That was unnecessary."
"You're neat enough. Too neat. Leave; don't make excuses to
stand there. If what you want to do is leave, then leave."
"It's a quarter to . . ."
"Keep quiet. Christ. Holy, Holy Christ. Did you hear what 1
told you before?"
"Before that, I mean. I said I wouldn't be here
"Yes. I know."
"Do you want it that way?"
"Yes or no. Plain yes or plain no."
"... No." The strap of the bag came off her fingers.
George stepped down. He stooped, picked up her bag, and dusted it
off. He handed it to her.
"Thank you," she said.
"Damn thank you. Damn your whole goddam social being.
Bearing. Social bearing. Can't you breathe? You can't breathe," he said.
"1 don't know . . . what you mean."
"Yes you do. That wasn't true."
It wasn't. She said: "No. That wasn't true."
"I thought you never lied."
"I never did."
"How romantic," George said. "Her first lie."
But his voice was gentle when be said it.
"... I'm going now."
"Taking your rule with you?"
"You know," George said, "you made one slip. You
said it wasn't his rule. You said he didn't hold any rules for you anymore. But you said:
'He doesn't have to.' I think I can . . ."
"I'm going now."
"Go," George said.
But as she passed him he put his hand hard over one of hers. He
said: "Five o'clock?"
And the words made two hot breaths on her forehead.
"Yes," Aunt Sarah said. "Of course."
Mrs. Rhale was coughing and getting the spittle up.
"Of course," Aunt Sarah said. "Of course. He's
already dead. They're just doing a post-mortem."
Mrs. Rhale choked. "Oh, dear God," she said.
"Sarah. Sarah, please. Sarah, hush."
Aunt Sarah said: "That's what they're doing. Those
"Listen, Sarah, hush . . ."
"Those doctors," Aunt Sarah said; "those doctors,
those christawful doctors."
Edmund said: "And what's his name?"
". ..A Jew?"
"I don't know," Mayann said.
"Sounds to be," Aunt Sarah said. "Solomon."
"Well, none of my concern," Edmund said. "You have
your your own life."
"... My own?" Mayann said.
"You have your own tastes, I mean. Your own set of
"You're seventeen. You can take care of yourself."
"Yes," Mayann said. "That I can do. That is all I
Aunt Sarah's glasses dropped, hanging on one ear. She snapped her
hand up to the gold stem and set it right. Then she went on with her knitting.
Edmund chuckled. He said: "That's a lot. That's more than a
lot. If Ive taught you that, I can die happy. What more can a father teach? Rest
comes with time."
In a quiet voice Mayann said: "Does it?"
"Yes, naturally it does. Better to you than to anybody l
know." Edmund sat in the big sofa and stretched his legs out on the floor. "You
never made a mistake, you know that? True, Sarah? Never once in her life. 1 was thinking
the other day. You know what the Simpsons said to me? Said: 'That's the kind of daughter
people dream about. Said: 'Mayann is too good to be true.' And Bill Nelsen said: 'Nothing
will ever hurt that girl.'" Edmund's voice went deep. "It's true. You don't have
anything to worry about, Princess. Nothing ,will ever happen to you. You don't even know
how to make a mistake, you never made one in your life. You never lied, and you never got
yourself hurt, and you never once made a mistake."
"No," Mayann said. "I never had to. You did all
that for me."
Aunt Sarah lowered her knitting into her lap.
Edmund said: "What?" He said: "For a second . .
." And he chuckled another time. He said: "Well, however you meant it, you're
right. 1 did do all that when I was young. And I've told you I did. Before l married your
mother. Im not ashamed of it. Not now. I made enough mistakes for eight people, let
alone two. Yes, I did all that for you."
Mayann whispered: "I know."
"Don't stand up there like you were on jury trial,"
Edmund said, "come sit here by me. Remember when you very small? Come stretch out and
put your head in my lap. Like when you were little."
Mayann picked her way over the patterned carpet.
It was eight precise steps to the sofa.
And the cushions were the same. The feel of Edmund's groin under the
back of her neck ,was almost the same.
Edmund said: "Go on out with your new boy friend. Let the
Jewish boy date you, Princess. Why do I have to meet him? Do I have to?"
"Yes," Mayann said.
"Nuts," Edmund said, ",why? Why do you always
insist I meet them? You've got lots of time. When you fall in love, Princess Pea. When
you're ready to get married that will be time enough for me to meet the man."
"No," Mayann said. "That will be too late."
Edmund lay the round part of his thumb on her throat and moved
it. He stroked her there. "Princess," he said, "let the Jew boy take you
out, for heaven's sake. I don't want to meet him. I know you; that's more than enough for
me. I don't have to tell you what Jews are. Besides this boy might be different, and
anyway it's none of my business. You'll find out for yourself; you're not capable of
making a mistake. I made enough and I suffered enough to value people, Princess. I
couldn't trust anybody evermore as much as I trust you." His deep voice made his
entire groin buzz; it stroked her, like his thumb.
Aunt Sarah rose. She walked evenly out of the room.
"... care, I want Sterling up here now."
"But, dear . . ."
Aunt Sarah said: "Don't dear me. Just get him up here. I'll
go down and get him up myself. He's worked for Edmund's family twelve years running and
when we came back down south he quit his job and came to work for Edmund again. And I want
him up here."
"Sarah, make sense," Mrs. Rhale said. "They
absolutely aren't going to allow a colored visitor on this floor. They wouldn't allow one
in this hospital."
"I couldn't care less what they allow," Aunt Sarah
said. "I want him up here for Edmund to die. I'll go down and get him myself. I . ..
want . . . him . . . up . . . here."
"Don't shush me; I'll do it myself."
"All right, dear, all... right. I'll go see what I can
"Don't see," Aunt Sarah said. "Just get Sterling
up here. If they won't take him in the elevator, walk him up the stairs. But get him up
"All right, dear."
Princess Stocking, Princess Glove.
The dark smell of cooked garlic. The hall was cold, drafty,
Soiled walls. Dust on the unwaxed wood floor. Some light up the
stairwell, the sliced shadows of the railings and the banister.
"There's nothing up there," the woman's voice said.
"Hall closet's been closed for four years already. Bottom halfs full of crates.
Couldn't fit anything in there if I wanted to, except up in the top half, and the rats are
particular. There's nothing up there. If it was a letter they would have put it in your
box, and if it was too big to put in your box or if it was a package, and if you wasn't
in, then they would have left it with me. Same as always. You got me out of my bath."
George's voice sounded ten years too young for George. It said:
"I just thought there might be someplace else."
"No place else," the woman's voice said, "because
it don't exist, another place. And anyway lm here all the time. I was sitting in my
bath when you rang."
"Uh-huh . . . Maybe they slipped it under your door. Did you
"No. I'm sure not. She wouldn't have gone upstairs."
"... What's she, crippled?"
"No," George said. "She's just not the type of
girl would go upstairs alone to a man's apartment."
"Is she by any chance between one and three years old?"
"No," George said.
The woman said: "That's the type of girl won't go upstairs
alone to a man's apartment. After that they can walk."
"This one wouldn't."
"She really wouldn't."
"Uh-huh. I ain't saying nothing."
"You don't have to believe me."
"Thanks," the woman said.
George said: 'Well, anyway. If she comes, let me know right away,
"Sure. What's she extract from, the foreign?"
"She can read English?"
"Ever see a bell button, the lady?"
"Well," the woman said, "now after she reads the
name on your box and pushes your bell under it, I will know somehow and I will get up out
of my bath again, and I will rush out here dripping wet in the cold with a towel wrapped
around me like I am now; and whistle."
"Thanks," George said. "Sorry for the trouble. I
meant if she comes here to your apartment."
"She's likely to do that," the woman said. "...
Through two closed doors and a shower curtain, she will recognize in me a mother. And it's
no trouble. By then I'll be able to whistle on three different notes at the same time,
with my mouth wide open. I'll have triple pneumonia."
"I can't imagine what for," she said. "I haven't
enjoyed myself so much since my husband died, unless it was the time I was seven months
pregnant and sat down naked on one of Mr. Shoenbergs lobsters."
"Oh. How did it get into your apartment?"
"Everything gets into my apartment," the woman said,
"you shouldn't think of yourself as a priority. That's what landladies are for. Silly
questions, dead men and live lobsters."
George said: "She left a message in the drugstore for me to
come straight back to the apartment building."
"Uh-huh. Apartment building . . . So do tell me more."
"That's all. But there must be a letter around here
"I see what you mean. Would you like to come in and look
under the bed?"
"No. I . . ."
"Why don't you do that already? She might have walked in
here and left it under the bed. I was in the bath so I wouldn't really know. And there's
only a double Yale lock on this door and a chain bolt inside, so she probably walked right
on in and left it under my bed, yet. Most likely place. I never keep a thing under there.
Not since Mr. Wielmann left for Chicago."
George said: "Just look down, will you, Mrs. Stein? Maybe
she pushed it under your door."
"I did, already. She didn't. Now what makes you think she would do
an ordinary thing like that?"
"I . . . well . . . she mightn't have wanted to disturb you
in your bath."
"I can't imagine why not," the woman said. "Can
George said: "Mrs. Stein... I'm in love."
"You're kidding me," she said. "Making fun with an
old lady, already."
"Really? The amazement is too much. It don't hardly show at
all, I never would have guessed."
"... I am, though."
"Ever been that way before?"
"You'll get used to it," the woman said. "Like
getting triple pneumonia. It's only the first time it bothers you."
"Oh. Well . . . I'd better let you get back to your
"What bath?" the woman said. "Whatever for?"
"I'll see you later, Mrs. Stein."
"Yes indeed. Come back in about five minutes. And bring a
priest. I'll be dead."
A door closed. A lock. A bolt.
He might leave.
His footsteps on the stairs. Creaking. He came up slowly,
creaking. One flight up. Then he coughed. Then he started up again, faster, ,with his
shadow on the wall.
Mayann leaned back into the dark corner and measured his
footsteps with her heart.
Aunt Sarah said: "Sterling, is that you running up those
"Yes, ma'am." In the waiting room now.
"Why were you running? Where's Gwen? Where's Mrs.
"She's downstairs arguing, ma'am. They didn't want to let me
come up here. She done told me to run it and she stayed downstairs to argue."
"Good for her, I didn't think she had the guts. You run fast
for an old man. Now sit down over there. Anywhere. Sit in one of those chairs."
"Ma'am, right in here with . . ."
"Just sit down over there like I'm telling you. Sit
Aunt Sarah said: "And wait."
Wait. With a praying fly.
Marry is an interjection from Shakespeare.
Princess Stocking, Princess Glove, Princess . .
The rolling of his hips, flat--the tense rolling. When she
opened her eyes and saw the walls around them, the room was doing it too.
He said one thing, toward the end, just once. A nonsensical
thing, voiceless, but with more than voice, wild and incredibly anxious. He said:
She did not speak: had not spoken at all.
And before--he had only talked once.
Before. After he came up the stairs; halted on the fifth step
from the top seeing her feet in a patch of light and looked up and saw her. After he held
still for half an age. And then walked slowly up those five steps and across the hollow
floor, never halting again, slowly walking until he had walked right into her.
The door open; for them both. Herself ahead into the black room
and the stale air. Then dark yellow light from two small lamps. Nothing overhead. No snap
from behind her; the turning slipping hit of a lock; and when she turned, his arms. His
soft hair. The strength of him and the soft hair. And the dark of the dimming yellow
George stepped back a pace. He grew taller. He had electric eyes.
He said: "You're full of buttons." And it was not the young voice she had heard
Then naked ,waiting on the bed. The bathroom light out and George
coming in from the dark. The yellow lamps red on his body, shining there. Smoothly glowing
skin. His long legs sloping all the way into the narrow hips. And a body down from
Swinging down over her.
In the fury of the room. Showing her to help him and they were
And that part of herself left alone to wait, dizzy in doubt--to
undream dreams of wild sensation. Feeling; and no sensation. Nothing but the roaring of
his groins. Together and alone and the rolling, still be ,was so much too mild till be
lost his breath at the end.
And then the peace of the room was the fury and still be held
over her, holding her there: then in that pain born from a used violence of caring she
knew she bad never known tenderness before.
Finally--lying back from her: "God. My God."
On his side, one arm around her belly. "Darling, I . .
"Did I . . ."
"Yes, I think you hurt me. Yes," she said. "I
think it's all right."
"... Darling . . ."
"Yes," she said. "There was that. I think so. I'm
Yes, yes, yes, I think you hurt me. Yes."
"But . . ."
"That was why l came here," she said. "l really
think it's going to be all right."
"I couldn't help it. I've never been in love before."
"Hey." He took the bedcovers in his hand. "Lift
up," he said. "Cover up, quick."
"I'm not cold."
"Hardly any heat in here. Only three hours in the morning
and three in the evening. Got to buy an electric heater. It's always too cold."
"I'm not too cold," Mayann said.
"You must be," be said. "I know it's cold in here.
Everybody . . . it's cold in here."
"No," she said, "I'm not too cold."
George opened a drawer in the bedside table behind him and pulled
out something white. "Here," he said. "Take care." And after he had
handed it to her he said: "I am your husband now. You will have to do as 1 say. It
would be perfectly ridiculous for us to do the social thing and get married . . . I am
already your husband. Marry is an interjection from Shakespeare . . . It would be an
insult to us both that would require the greatest love and understanding to overlook. So
let's just overlook it," he said. "Let's get married."
Mayann said: "Oh."
"That all you have to say?"
"... Yes." It was.
"You're not seventeen a month yet."
"Only a month."
"Near a year to go. Nope. Can't wait. Have to meet your
father and get his permission. Never thought I'd be going back social because I wanted to.
Nicey, nicey; 1 can do it too. Know that? 1 can really do it when I want. You watch me
meet your father."
"Mayann said: "No."
"No," she said. "Not now."