It was the middle of January and there was nothing to look forward to. The radio station went off at dusk and dusk came early in the afternoon and then came the dark and nothing to watch but a bleached out moon lying over fields slick as a frosted cake, and nothing to hear at all.
There was nothing left of Christmas but the cold. The cold slouched and pressed against the people. Their blood was full of it. And their eyes and the food that they ate. The people walked the streets wearing woolen masks as though they were gangsters, or as though they were deformed. Old ladies died of breaks and foolish wounds in houses where no one came, and otters could be seen travelling over frozen pastures, seeking new rivers.
The cold didn’t invent anything like the summer has a habit of doing and it didn’t disclose anything like the spring. It lay powerfully encamped—waiting, altering one’s ambitions, encouraging ends. The cold made for an ache, a restlessness and an irritation, and thinking that fell in odd and unemployable directions. The pain would start in your lap, boring up and tearing through like a big-beaked bird, traveling up your spine then to the base of your skull, entering your brain like fever. So it was explained.
Judy Jaxe and Julep Lee were the best of friends. Each knew things that the other did not, and each had a different manner of going after the things that they wanted. Each loved the handsome chemistry teacher of the high school. Love had different beginnings but always the same end. Someone was going to get hurt. Julep was too discreet to admit this for she tried not to think of shabby things.
They were fourteen and the only thing that was familiar to them was the town and the way they spent their lives there, which they hated.
They slept a great deal and talked about the same things always and made brownies and popcorn and drank Coca-Cola. Julep always made a great show of drinking Coca-Cola because she claimed that her father had given her twenty-five shares of stock in it the day she was born. Judy would laugh about this whenever she thought to. “And my father drives a Tom’s Nuts truck,” she would say. Which was true and which was the funniest thing Judy had ever heard herself say and which her father deserved because he was such a creep and left them long ago.
Their schoolbooks lay open and unread, littered with particles of bread and nail trimmings. Every night that didn’t bring a blizzard, they would spy on the chemistry teacher, for they were fourteen and could only infrequently distinguish what they did from what they merely dreamt about.
The chemistry teacher had enormous trembling eyes like a deer and a name in your mouth sweet as a candy bar. DEBEVOISE. He was tall and languid and unmarried and handsome. He lived alone in a single rented room on the second floor of a large house on the coast. The house was the last one on a street that abruptly became a field of pines and stones and dead elms. Every night the girls would come to the field and, crouching in a hollow, watch him through a pair of cheap binoculars. For a month they had been watching him move woodenly around the small room and still they did not know what it was they wanted to happen. The walls of the room were painted white and he sat at a white desk with his white shirt rolled down to his wrists. The only thing that was on the desk was a tiny television set with a screen the size of a book. He watched it and drank from a glass. Sometimes he would run his own hands through his own thick hair.
Judy Jaxe and Julep Lee felt that loving him was a success in itself.
But still they did not know what they waited for in the snow. The rocks dug into their skinny shanks. Their ears went deaf with the cold. At times, Judy thought that she wanted him to bring a woman up there. Or perhaps do something embarrassing or dirty all by himself. But she was not sure about this.
As for Julep, she seldom said things that she had not said once, long before, so there was no way of knowing what she thought.
* * * *
Julep was the thinnest human being in town, all angles and bruises and fierce joinings. Even her lips were hard and spare and bloodless as bone. Her yellow hair, thick and short and badly cut, was faded out, a parched color, the color of hemp. Her brows and lashes were the same, although her eyes, under heavy round lids that worked slowly as a doll’s, were brown. Judy said to her often,
“You were badly thought out.”
Julep’s parents had moved from the south to the north when she was four months old, and she had lived on the same bitter and benumbed coast ever since. She steered her way through each day incredulously, nonetheless, as though she had been kidnapped and sent to some grim prison yard in another world. She couldn’t employ the cold to any advantage so she dreamed of heat, of a sun fierce enough to melt the monstrous town and set her free. She talked about the sun as though it were a personal friend of hers, waiting in the next room for her to get ready and go out with it.
On Julep’s brow was always a hint of fever. In Julep’s head always waited pictures and lessons, overwhelming in their inapplicability.
NEVER PUT CHEMICALS IN YOUR MOUTH UNLESS YOU ARE TOLD TO DO SO
And Julep was an innocent, a Baptist, a clarinetist in the band, a forward on the six-girl basketball team which was famous throughout the state, undefeated, unthreatened, unsmiling in their hybrid intent. She had scabs upon her knees, a blue silk uniform in her locker, fingernails split and ragged from the gritty ball. Julep had passions but no desires.
* * *
Now, Judy Jaxe too was an innocent, but had a tendency to see things in a greedy, rutting way. Judy was tiny and tough and wore a garter belt. Almost every one of her eyebrows was plucked from her head and her hair was stacked over a foot high, for her older sister was a hairdresser who taught her half of everything she knew.
Judy was full and sleek and a favorite with the boys and she would tell Julep things that Julep almost died hearing. She would say, “Last night Tommy Saloma exposed himself to my eyes only in the rumpus room of his house, ” and Julep would almost faint. She would say, “Billy Colter touched my breast in Library,” and Julep would gasp and hold her head at an unnaturally high angle for she felt that if she held her head on the slightest cant, everything inside her would stream terribly from her mouth, everything she was made of, falling out of her head and shaking on the floor in front of them, and Julep knew that after that, everything would be changed and everything ruined.
Judy always told her friend the most awful things she could think of, true or false, and made promises that she would not keep and insulted and disappointed and teased her as much as possible. Julep allowed this and was always deeply affected and bewildered by this, which flattered Judy enormously. This pleasure compensated for the fact that Julep had white hair that Judy would have given anything in the world to have. It annoyed her that her friend had such strange and devastating hair and didn’t know how to care for it properly.
After school, they would often go to Julep’s house. They usually went there rather than to Judy’s because Julep’s room was nicer. Judy’s room was just a closet with a bright light-bulb and a Hollywood bed and no room for anything else except for Judy’s fantasies of being a gun moll holed up after a job.
Julep didn’t like to go there because it smelled of underwear.
They went to Julep’s room and never said much.
* * * *
“Look now,” Judy said, peeling off a strip of scotch tape from her bangs, “why don’t you broaden your conversational base? Why don’t we talk about men or movies? Or even mixed drinks?”
Julep shrugged, “I don’t know anything about those things.” In her head suddenly was a picture as though someone had pushed a slide through a slit just above her ear. She was on a southern river, wide and red and sluggish, and there were enormous moss covered trees and stumps and stiff vines. There were animals watching her with eyes big as pies. The top part of them was bright red and the hind part, black silky hair. She had read once in the Bible that the sun would someday become black as a sackcloth of hair and the moon would turn red as blood. This was because of the evil in people, and Julep worried that this would happen to the sun before she had a chance to get to it. The animals didn’t tell her anything and she stretched her eyes wider and looked at Judy and then they disappeared.
“You don’t know anything is all.” Judy plucked at her sweater and smiled the bittersweet smile she found so crushing on the lips of the girl models of the fashion magazines. Her new breasts rose and fell eerily beneath a sweater of puce.
“I know that someday you’re gonna poke someone’s eye out with those things,” Julep said. “If I were you, I’d be worried sick.”
Judy yawned. Julep stared out the window with her ageless sexless eyes. Judy poked her. The sun was still up but nowhere in sight. The air was blue and the snow falling through it was blue, and the trees were as black as though they had been burned.
“I’m leaving,” Judy said abruptly and swept out of Julep’s bedroom and downstairs to the kitchen.
Julep rubbed at the frost forming inside the windowpane with a thin grey nail which was bleeding beneath the quick. She felt her head sweating. If she pressed her hands to it, it would pop like a too heavy tick on a dog. If Hell were hot then Heaven must be freezing cold. She backed away from the window and thudded down the stairs.
LET US BUILD AN ELECTROLYTIC CELL AND GENERATE SOME OXYGEN WITH IT
Judy had drawn on her boots and coat. She waved coyly at Julep.
“Well, aren’t we going over there tonight to watch him?” Julep asked nervously. She swung her eyes heavily toward her friend. Looking often cost Julep a great deal of effort as though her eyes were boxes of bricks she had to push around in front of her.
“No,” Judy said, for she wanted to punish Julep for her dullness.
Julep moved her mouth back and forth awkwardly. She thought violently and with sudden grief that her life was never going to be used up. It would dangle out of sight somewhere, useless, on a gallows.
“Sorry,” Judy said loudly. Her books were lying on the table beside a small dish that said, LET ME HOLD YOUR TEABAG. Judy rolled her eyes and then shook her head at Julep. Julep’s father owned a little grocery store. In the window, specked with ancient flies, was a hand-lettered sign.
WHY MAKE THE RICH RICHER
PATRONIZE THE POOR
“How can you stand to live in such a dump?” she asked. “With such dummies?” Julep didn’t know. Judy left and walked through the heavy snow to dumb Julep’s father’s dumb store where she bought Glamour and lifted a mascara and eyeliner set.
Julep ate supper. Chowder, bread, two glasses of milk and three pieces of cake. She felt that she was feeding something inside her that belonged in a pen in the zoo down in Boston. A plow traveled up the street, its blade ringing against the stone of sidewalk curbs, its orange light chopping through the blackness. She went to bed early, for she had tests and a basketball game the next day. She thought of the tropical ocean, of enormous white flowers on yellow stalks motionless in the sun. Things would carry distantly over the water there. Things would start out from ugly places and never reach Julep at all.
* * * *
CHEMISTRY INVOLVES EXPERIMENTATION AND EXPLANATION
Judy Jaxe and Julep Lee had become friends the summer before when they were on the beach. It was a bitter, shining Maine day and they were alone except for two people drowning just beyond the breaker line. The two girls sat on the beach, eating potato chips, unable to decide if the people were drowning or if they were just having a good time. Even after they disappeared, the girls could not believe they had really done it. They went home and the next day read about it in the newspapers. From that day on, they spent all their time together, even though they never mentioned the incident again.
* * * *
WHENEVER A SITUATION THAT IS AT EQUILIBRIUM
IS SUBJECTED TO SOME SORT OF STRESS THE
SYSTEM WILL THEN CHANGE IN SUCH A WAY
AS TO RELIEVE THE STRESS
Debevoise was thirty-four. He didn’t care for women and he couldn’t care for men. He was the only roomer in a shabby but respectable boarding house and took no part in adventure. It was a corner room and had two windows. One overlooked the field and the other the sea. There were no curtains on the windows and he never pulled the shades. He paid $30 a month and ate breakfast with the elderly owners. Coffee, ice, soda crackers any time. He drank a fifth of bourbon every week, ate lunch every noon at the high-school and drove to a hotel in the next town for dinner every night. He spent the rest of his salary on skiing gear and sports coats. He was stern and deeply tanned and exceptionally good looking. As for the teaching, he barely recognized his students as human beings, considering them all mentally bludgeoned by the unremitting landscape. He couldn’t imagine chemistry doing any better or worse by them than anything else.
Debevoise was like an arid pretty canyon with the wind blowing through it.
And the girls felt hopeless, stubborn and distraught, for they had come a long way on just a whisper more than nothing.
* * * *
They could approach the house either by walking up the beach, climbing the metal rungs welded into the rock, which was dangerous and gave them no cover, or they could walk through the little town and across the field. Their post was a small depression beside an enormous pine, the branches of which swept the ground. Further away was a rim of rocks which they had assembled as another hiding place. Every night they could see everything from either one of these locations.
Every night the chemistry teacher was projected brightly behind the square window glass and watching him was like watching a museum. It was like condoning the dead. The girls would often close their eyes and even doze off for a time, and the snow would fall on them and freeze in their hair. Sometimes he would take off all his clothes and walk around the room, punching at the wall but never hitting it. Seeing him naked was never as exciting as the girls kept on imagining it would be since no one had ever told them what to feel about this.
Even so. Julep would come back to the house smiling, as though someone had made a very exciting promise to her. No one was there to notice this, for her mother was always locked in her room, powdered and rouged and in a lacy bed-jacket like an invalid, watching TV and eating ice-cream from the store, and her father had been sleeping for hours, twitching and suicidal, dreaming of meat going bad in faulty freezers.
On the nights when the girls saw the chemistry teacher without his clothes, Judy pretended to swoon with delight but actually felt very hostile and dissatisfied. The vision was both improbable and irresistible. His body was brown all over and did not seem real. The boys she knew were so comprehensible. Of Debevoise, she understood nothing. She could pretend he was a movie star, beside her, naked, about to press his tongue against her teeth. Mr. Debevoise was going to put a bruise on her neck! He was going to take her hand and place it on his belt!! But she was not truly interested, and it made her mad.
* * * *
ASK YOUR MOTHER FOR AN OLD METAL SPOON THAT SHE NO LONGER NEEDS
The morning after Judy had refused to go spying. Julep woke with a headache and a terrible thirst. She thought for a moment that she had taken up the watch all by herself and something awful had happened to her. As soon as she stepped outside, someone was going to tell her about it.
* * * *
MANGANESE DIOXIDE IS A DIRTY BROWN PRECIPITATE
The sky was grey with pieces of black running through it like something that had died during the night. Walking to school, Julep suddenly started to cry. Her throat ached and her head felt heavy. She pulled savagely at her colorless hair, arranging it so that it fell more directly into and around her eyes. She stood in front of the school, her arms dangling, looking at her feet. She looked and looked, shocked. There she began. There were her boots, tall scuffed riding boots, her only winter footwear, which let in the damp, staining her feet each day the color of her socks. Then came her chapped knees, yellow and grey from spills on the gymnasium floor. Then her frayed and ugly coat. Her insides, too, were not what she would wish, for she knew that she was convulsively arranged—a steaming mess of foods and soft scarlet parts, Baptist Bible quotes and queer bumpings and pains as though there was something down in her frantic to get out.
Debevoise, she knew, was pure and warm with not a speck of debris about him.
Julep walked to school and moved down the busy halls like a wraith, meek and bony and awkward, her tow head glowing like a lamp. The classes before Chemistry were endless. The cold seeped past the window sills and over the plastic rosebud on the teachers’ desks.
The classroom fell away and she was alone with Debevoise in a rubber raft on a clear green ocean. Small sweet fish nibbled on each other without rancor and parts of them fell off with no blood attached. Julep’s knees touched his and they both had cameras and were taking pictures of each other. The sun was burning a hole in the top of her head. . . .
* * * *
No one ever played in the snow or used it for anything. It came too often and it stayed too long. In the cafeteria, the windows were even with the ground and criss-crossed with a steel mesh to protect the glass from objects flying through the air and across the ground. The snow was higher than the windows. Judy sat alone at a long wooden table. Old food and bobby pins were lodged in its cracks. The cafeteria was a terrible place which everyone recklessly frequented. When Judy saw her friend’s narrow nervous frame move jerkily across the room she decided on the spot that she would forgive her and they would resume watching Debevoise that very night. Afterwards, they would go to Julep’s room and drink gin and Coca-Cola. They would have highballs and she would make Julep talk about men whether she wanted to or not. Julep could provide the Coca-Colas since she was making money on drinking them.
Julep sat down and looked at Judy shyly. The chemistry teacher walked past them and sat at the faculty table on the other side of the room. He wore a lemon colored suit, a dark blue shirt and deep yellow tie and the fixed smirk that was his usual workaday expression.
They watched him respectfully. Julep closed her eyes. It was like wallowing in the sun just looking at him. Judy jabbed her friend’s arm. With her eyes shut. Julep looked sick and unconscious, beyond the range of instruction. “What do you really want him to do? What would you have him do if you had your way?” Judy asked impatiently.
“He’d take me away.” Julep said. “He’d keep me warm.”
Judy scowled. She tapped her fingers on the table and then leaned toward Julep and whispered in her ear.
“The way you’re sitting there and the way you’re talking, you look for all the world as though you’d just gotten raped.”
Julep’s eyes fell open, blurred and out of focus for several seconds as though they’d been somewhere other than her head for the last few years. “You could ruin the heavenly city itself,” she finally said.
* * * *
Judy called her “Heavenly City” for the rest of the afternoon. In chemistry laboratory, she muttered at her until she had ruined her titration experiments. Julep poured the chemicals in the trough of running water that flowed down the center of the slate work table, and pressed her hands to her roaring head. She could feel Debevoise standing silently beside her, smell the cologne and the new shirt. His bright clothing rested on the rim of her eye like a giddy tropical bird.
THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE IS TO KNOW WHAT
TO EXPECT BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING
IN THE LABORATORY
After classes, in the gymnasium. Julep sat on a bench behind the scorer in her shining uniform and the high white sneakers that she had won in a state-wide set-shot contest the year before. She could not remember why she had become obsessed with playing basketball. She taped up her wrists.
Judy was a fan in the bleachers, surrounded by boys. The boys were all running combs through their hair and all wore jeans and hunting boots. “Heavenly City!” Judy shouted. “Heavenly City!”
Julep watched the girls from the other team. They caught the basketball delicately as though it were covered with some dreadful slime.
On the court she played extravagantly, her hard white head cresting above the others clutched beneath the board, her bony elbows shocking the girls in the ribs. Her nostrils filled with dust and the tapping heat of the radiators. Julep’s team was far ahead. The cords of the net creaked as the ball floated through. Basketball was serious business and Julep felt no levity. Life was what you figured out for yourself.
“Heavenly City, Heavenly City!” Judy persisted from the stands. “Look to your right!” All the boys around her looked soberly down on the court and chewed great wads of gum. “Look to your right,” Judy shrieked, “and get a fright!”
Julep moved her eyes gingerly along the sidelines. The opposing forwards had the ball and were moving it softly around on the other half of the court. She stood panting and slightly bent, looking through the stands until her weary eyes rested on Debevoise. He was smiling kindly and looking at her. His dark handsome face was smooth and empty of habitual boredom and disgust, and his lips, in the instant that she saw him, seemed to be moving toward an expression that she had never seen him have before. It was then that the ball hit her squarely in the head and blinded, she fell to her knees. She heard a noise from the bleachers, something corrosive and impersonal, a rush and a hissing bubble as though her head had opened up and a wave was coming through it. A titter and blurred silence. As someone helped her up and off the court, she could see the chemistry teacher, his head slightly averted, smiling and smiling into his hands as though his jaws would crack.
Julep walked home slowly in a freezing dusk, her coat in her arms. Her brain was pumping madly, although her heart was still. She didn’t know what she thought or how she should now proceed. The afternoon past was concise and attenuated. Hers to keep like a dirty photograph.
Judy came over at nine o’clock, a bottle of gin zipped up in the lining of her coat. She had found it lodged behind the record player in her house. The bottle was very dusty and about two inches of its contents were gone. Judy didn’t know if it was still good or not.
Julep was in the bathroom, pressing a hot washcloth against her left eye. Almost all the white had disappeared into a soak of red. Judy did not speak to her about the embarrassment of the basketball game. She thought Julep was crazy to get so excited about playing a boy’s game and she was also suspicious that too much of that sort of thing would change her friend’s hormones. Magazines told her terrible things and she believed in most of them.
Judy went to the kitchen for glasses and something to mix with the gin. From behind a closed door, she heard a television going and a woman’s voice above it. No, the voice said. No, that bum is up to no good. There was a shot, then a bump and rising music. I told you, the voice said. Judy gathered up a handful of stale cookies and went up to Julep. The cookies were in the shape of stars and burnt at the edges.
“Holiday relics,” Julep said, mopping at her eye.
“We could make a batch of obscene cookies for Valentine’s Day,” Judy giggled, pouring the gin.
Julep squinted, not able to imagine what they would be like. She saw herself and Debevoise eating sweets together and her mouth contracted. They linked arms and fed each other cookies, thin as glass, of almond and sugar, in the shape of men and birds. They were very intricate, resembling, somehow, something recognizable.
“I don’t know if you could do that around here,” she said. “Maybe in a foreign country you could.”
They each drank a glass of gin and then walked through the town. The town was all one color with hardly anything moving in it and the night was very cold and clear. Beyond the field, the sea was flat as a highway in the moonlight.
“I feel just beautiful,” Judy said in a high wet voice.
Julep said nothing. She felt only hot and ponderous, as she had when she woke up that morning. She arranged her head scarf over her injured eye. Every once in a while, the eye seemed to roll backward and study her instead of bearing outward toward the night.
They settled beneath the giant tree and Judy fumblingly took the binoculars from her coat. She dropped them in the snow and giggled as she dug them out. She thought that Julep was just trying to be smart and had no doubt poured her gin into the rug or something when she wasn’t watching. She pushed against her rudely and raised the binoculars.
“God,” she said loudly. “He’s nude again.”
Julep sat hunched, her arms around her knees. Her clothes were soaked with sweat and rivulets of perspiration ran from the corners of her mouth.
Judy was rocking back and forth beside her. “You’d never know what to do with him if you ever got to him.”
“You’re yelling,” Julep said. “Someone will hear you. “She tried to think of her own nakedness and what it might mean to somebody, even herself, but she had never paid any attention to her own body. Her eye shuddered and then became a piece of raw meat lying tamely in her head.
Debevoise was clamping a sunlamp above his bed. He turned it on and then lay on his back with his hands beneath his head. The bulb hung over him blankly for a moment and then lit shrilly. Almost at the same instant, the door of the house opened and a flashlight beam bored over the field. Judy gave a small shriek and pushed herself backward against the tree trunk.
“Who’s there!” a man demanded. “I know you’re there.” Behind the voice was a pink hallway, an old woman standing in a shawl, her hand in a fist moving across her mouth. There seemed deadening light everywhere. The sea and snow and sunlamp and now the old man walking toward them. The girls knelt beneath the tree like jacked deer.
“Don’t go over there, Ernest,” the old woman said.
The man stopped and moved the light in a wide arc. “It ain’t the first time you been here. You come out or there’s going to be trouble.”
“Ernest,” the old woman said fretfully, turning the porch light off and on as though she were guiding in a ship. Judy and Julep bolted, stumbling across the field, spinning off tree limbs, their hands over their faces.
“Hey!” they heard behind them. “Hey! You get outta here.”
* * * *
WHEN WE WRITE THE EQUATION OF A CHEMICAL
REACTION WE USE AN ARROW TO INDICATE
THE DIRECTION IN WHICH THE
Julep was sick for three weeks and never moved from the bed. She could hear children on their horses, cantering in the streets. She could hear the plows. She drank soup and sniffed herself beneath the damp bedclothes. She felt that she was an exceedingly fragile organism lying beneath complex layers of mulch. She also felt that something she could not locate was rotting or even removed. Her face was shrunken and without structure, as though something were burning it up and coring it out from within. The snow fell eternally out of a withered sky and inside. Julep, beyond the range of dream or reasoning, continued to burn.
She couldn’t decide if it had been coming for a long time and she had just gotten in the way of it or if it had always been there with her and she had just recognized it.
Ever since the afternoon of the basketball game, she could not remember how she had once regarded Debevoise. He was the pain and the heat of her head, and no longer something she could think about.
Judy also could not bear to think about Debevoise. It frightened her to think they might be caught. Everyone would think she was queer. The girls would laugh and the boys would take advantage of her whereas now they fought over her and loved her and were half scared to death of her. She was glad that Julep was sick and they didn’t have to sit around in the snow. She would never admit that she was being cautious or afraid, but she would tell Julep sometime after she got well that she was bored and had learned everything she wanted to know about Debevoise and didn’t care to love him anymore.
Judy would come to visit Julep but didn’t like to look at her. Once, Judy said, “He asked about you, you know.” Julep smiled politely and studied the hem of her sheet.“He asked if you had moved and I said no, you were sick and then he said girls keep themselves too skinny these days as a fashion and they don’t eat the right foods and get sick.”
She had wanted to be cruel but she could never tell anymore if Julep was listening to her or not.
After the fever passed. Julep was remaindered, cold and dry like something tossed up from water to a seaside shelf. She returned to school and everything was tiny, as in a dream, and moving with blinding speed. She could not keep up with it all, her muscles, resting for so long, were useless for anything. In the laboratory, she spilled potassium permanganate, staining her skirt and hands a deep brown. The marks could be removed only by wear. She watched her hands accompany her now like a dark disease, like a man’s hands, soaked and sordid.
BE ESPECIALLY CAREFUL WITH YOUR SOURCES OF HEAT
She was cold, she was cold.
* * * *
Julep went out now alone to watch Debevoise. Judy was surprised and she became defensive and intrigued, imagining that Julep was at last succeeding in something they had not been able to accomplish together.
“I can’t imagine anything going on that we haven’t already seen,” she said peevishly. “The only thing that could happen is if one of us got up there in that room right with him and we were looking out of that window instead of looking into it. You’re going to get sick out there and freeze and go unconscious and they’re going to find you out there.”
Julep looked at her wrecked hands and rubbed at them briefly with a piece of flannel she had started to carry around with her.
Judy was suspicious. She worried that something interesting had happened. “You’ve got to have somebody caring for you all the time,” she said. “I’m going to go with you one more time but then I’m never going again and I’m going to stop you from going out too.” How she would do this last thing, she didn’t know. She could tell on Julep, she supposed. That would stop it all dead. She looked on Julep righteously and Julep looked back.
The night was black, moonless and starless, with only the snow shining dully with its own light, and the ice hanging in webs from the trees. They walked with their hands strung out in front of their faces and their elbows sticking out, shuffling a little so they wouldn’t trip.
The ground was ice-buckled and sunk. Judy’s knees dipped and she bit her tongue, her jaw joggling as though it had come unhinged. She had fallen out of practice, out of step with the land and her reason for being on it. Julep walked steadily ahead and Judy followed, somewhere in a movie war, a lusted after orphan, in full bloom and in danger all the time. If only Julep had imagination, she thought, she wouldn’t get so involved in things.
They settled down beside the tree, in a new and deeper ditch, with a stone base and the sides smooth ice, alarmingly, impossibly, like a home.
The second floor was in darkness.
“He’s not even here,” Judy said accusingly.
Julep’s face stuck out of her wool wrappings, grainy, white as sugar. “He’s here,” she said.
“Well, what’s he doing in the dark!” Judy shouted. “Have you been watching him do something in the dark?” She was getting angry. They crouched in a cloud of her perfume. She suddenly knew she hated the scent and she waved her arms around her head, striking Julep. She felt like throttling Julep who was tilted slightly toward her, in a trance and satisfied, dumb and patient. She looked toward the house, feeling Debevoise moving thunderously in the dark and making no sense to her. She was getting so angry she thought she would bust. She gave a little squeal and stamped her feet, then stood up and started to make her way back across the field. She was moving fast, kicking her feet out in front of her, moving so fast that she thought when she felt her boots sliding away that she could still catch up with them before she fell, but her legs kept moving forward while the rest of her slid back at a dizzying speed and she tipped over with a crack.
She lay there whimpering. Unlike Julep, she had never hurt herself in her life. She had never been bruised or sick or burnt and nothing had ever broken. She remained on her back, prodding herself gently, singing to herself in a little girl’s voice. She was suddenly pulled roughly to her feet and shaken hard. Debevoise had grabbed her by the coat front and was pushing her back and forth, pinching her breasts, pushing and pulling at her as though to a music beat, his face riding from side to side only inches in front of her, as though it was his head that was wagging and not her own. His face was raging. It seemed on the verge of flying apart. He was saying several simple words to her but she could not seem to understand them. He would propel her back as he said each word and then yank her toward him in the silence between the words and it was as though someone was turning a radio on and off.
Then she simply stopped rocking and with his hands still on her coat, he toppled toward her, turning her slightly to the left as he fell so that they both sank side by side in the snow. His head settled and then broke slowly through a crust of ice. One eye filled up with snow while the other continued to stare at her.
Julep, a rock in each hand, took several steps forward and knelt beside him. There were two wounds in the back of his well-shaped head. She raised her hands again, dropping them with a slow, hard force against his skull. They made almost no sound. The eye that was still staring at Judy seemed to shake. His mouth was closed tightly but there was blood coming from between his lips, dropping on his collar. Judy backed away. His hands remained on her coat but then dropped off and she crawled away to a tree, wrapping her arms around it and groaning like a leashed dog.
Julep had lost her mittens. The backs of her hands were cold from the snow but the mottled palms were hot from the man’s head. Pieces of his hair came off on her fingers. Her brain felt simple at last and was wide as the sky. There was nothing working its way through it anymore to damage and confuse her. All the lessons had been learned and were gone. She was white and glistening, turned inside out, scrubbed down and aired. She lay down and tucked herself beside him, running her hands over the thin shirt he wore, feeling his collar bone, his ribs, the hot muscles of his stomach. She unbuttoned his shirt and pressed her lips against his left nipple. It was hard, withered, much like her own. His neck and chest were damp and salty to her mouth as though he had been swimming or crying. She browsed around his chest and tasted the salt. She lay her colorless famished head upon his shoulder and felt herself slipping into, lapping up, swallowing the sun.