In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs (8 page)

BOOK: In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs
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But Robert kept talking about his old girlfriends instead. “I hope it doesn't bother you,” he said. “It's ancient history.” They'd been nuts about him, he said, but he'd had to cut them loose because it just didn't feel right. Most of them came from rich, classy backgrounds—daughters of colonels and district attorneys. “You can't sell yourself cheap,” he told Virginia. “You've got to hold out for Miss Right. Or Mr. Right.” He smiled. “As the case may be.”

She said, “Tell me about your wife.”

Robert turned his mouth down and stared into his glass. “Florence was a whore.”

“What do you mean, Robert?”

“You know.”

“No, I don't. Did she actually go out and sell herself to men? For money?”

Robert shrugged. “She was an amateur. She had to give it away.” He almost smiled at his own joke. “I should have listened to my aunt,” he went on. “She saw through Florence the first time they met.”

“Then why did you marry her?” Virginia hoped that he would tell her that he had married out of love.

“Had to.” He grinned. “You know how it is.”

“Then you have a child!”

He shook his head. “Miscarriage.”

“Where is Florence now?”

“I don't know. Still in Detroit, I guess. I don't know. I don't care.”

“Is she alone?”

“No. She managed to get this guy to marry her. Don't ask me how.”

“What guy?”

“The guy she was fooling around with.”

“There was just one? One man?”

“One that I know of.”

“But you called her a whore.”

Robert's nostrils flared and his brows crept together. He panted softly. “You women,” he said.

Virginia was afraid—not that Robert would hit her, but afraid.

“How come we started talking about Florence, anyway?” Robert said. “The hell with her.” He stood. “Come on, let's go have a drink.”

“I don't want any more to drink. You go ahead if you want.”

He walked her to the lobby, and they waited for the elevator without speaking. He moved towards her a little, his eyes on her face, and she thought he wanted to kiss her. He looked unhappy. Maybe his wife had been a whore. Virginia wanted to believe that. She moved forward slightly, ready to receive his kiss, but he suddenly looked down and rummaged in his pocket.

“Here's the key,” he said.

She could feel the color on her cheeks. She took the key.

“See you later,” he said, and shuffled toward the bar, his arms dangling.

Virginia was sleeping when Robert came in. She only became aware of him when he slid on top of her. At first she didn't know where she was or what was happening. She sat up and pushed
him away. She didn't remember screaming, but she might have, because Robert leaped out of bed and started looking around. “Jesus,” he said, “what's wrong?”

“Oh, Robert.” She rubbed her eyes, trying not to cry. “Please don't do that.”

“Don't do what?”

“Oh, God.” She covered her face.

Robert sat on the bed. “You don't like me, do you?”

“Sure I do. I'm here, aren't I?”

“I don't mean like that. I mean in bed.”

She looked at him, hunched against the cold of the night. “No. Not that way. Not when I'm asleep.”

He nodded grimly. “Whatever you say,” he muttered.

Neither of them slept well. Virginia could feel Robert's misery. She softened. In the morning she reached out to him and began rubbing his back. She had to do this. She rubbed his back, his neck, his shoulders. When she touched his legs he tensed. Then he pushed her hands away and rolled over. “Okay,” he said. He reached out for her.

“No, Robert. It's over. I want to go home.”


They said little during the drive back, until they crested a hill and saw a lake far below. “Boy,” Robert said, “that's really something.”

“It sure is.”

“When I used to see things like that,” he went on, “I used to wish I had someone to see it with me.” He looked at Virginia and laughed.

She saw that he was in some pain. She touched his hand. “I know what you mean. It's bad, sometimes, being alone.”

“Not to complain,” he said. “I do all right. It's different with men and women. The minute a woman gets alone she starts looking for someone.”

“So do men.”

Robert moved his hand away from Virginia's. “Some men,” he said.

“It's natural, Robert, really. All of it. There's nothing to be ashamed of.”

He looked at her with sudden panic and she knew that he was deciding at that moment always to be alone. She started out of herself, became enormous in her pity for him. “Don't give up, Robert. Not just because it didn't work with me.” She wanted to say more but he had left her, gone back to his injury. She exercised her pity on him. The road slipped under the tires. Virginia stared greedily ahead.

Poor Robert, she thought.

len left Depoe Bay a couple of hours before sunup to beat the traffic and found himself in a heavy fog; he had to lean forward and keep the windshield wipers going to see the road at all. Before long the constant effort and the lulling rhythm of the wipers made him drowsy, and he pulled into a gas station to throw some water in his face and buy coffee.

He was topping off the tank, listening to the invisible waves growl on the beach across the road, when a girl came out of the station and began to wash the windshield. She had streaked hair and wore knee-length, high-heeled boots over her blue jeans. Glen could not see her face clearly.

“Lousy morning for a drive,” she said, leaning over the hood. Her blue jeans had studs poking through in different patterns and when she moved they blinked in the light of the sputtering yellow tubes overhead. She threw the squeegee into a bucket and asked Glen what kind of mileage he got.

He tried to remember what Martin had told him. “Around twenty-five per,” he said.

She whistled and looked the car up and down as if she were thinking of buying it from him.

Glen held out Martin's credit card but the girl laughed and said she didn't work there.

“Actually,” she said, “I was kind of wondering which way you were headed.”

“North,” Glen said. “Seattle.”

“Hey,” she said. “What a coincidence. I mean that's where I'm going, too.”

Glen nodded but he didn't say anything. He had promised not to pick up any hitchhikers; Martin said it was dangerous and socially irresponsible, like feeding stray cats. Also Glen was a little browned off about the way the girl had come up to him all buddy-buddy, when really she just wanted something.

“Forget it,” she said. “Drive alone if you want. It's your car, right?” She smiled and went back into the station office.

After Glen paid the attendant he thought things over. The girl was not dangerous—he could tell by how tight her jeans were that she wasn't carrying a gun. And if he had someone to talk to there wouldn't be any chance of dozing off.

The girl did not seem particularly surprised or particularly happy that Glen had changed his mind. “Okay,” she said, “just a sec.” She stowed her bags in the trunk, a guitar case and a laundry sack tied at the neck like a balloon, then cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Sunshine! Sunshine!” A big hairy dog ran out of nowhere and jumped up on the girl, leaving spots of mud all over the front of her white shirt. She clouted him on the head until he got down and then pushed him into the car. “In back!” she said. He jumped onto the back seat and sat there with his tongue hanging out.

“I'm Bonnie,” the girl said when they were on the road. She took a brush out of her purse and pulled it through her hair with a soft ripping noise.

Glen handed her one of his business cards. “I'm Glen,” he said.

She held it close to her face and read it out loud. “Rayburn Marine Supply. Are you Rayburn?”

“No. Rayburn is my employer.” Glen did not mention that Martin Rayburn was also his roommate and the owner of the car.

“Oh,” she said, “I see, here's your name in the corner. Marine Supply,” she repeated. “What are you, some kind of defense contractors?”

“No,” Glen said. “We sell boating supplies.”

“That's good to hear,” Bonnie said. “I don't accept rides from defense contractors.”

“Well, I'm not one,” Glen said. “Mostly we deal in life jackets, caps, and deck furniture.” He named the towns along the coast where he did business, and when he mentioned Eureka, Bonnie slapped her knee.

“All right!” she said. She said that California was her old stomping grounds. Bolinas and San Francisco.

When she said San Francisco Glen thought of a high-ceilinged room with sunlight coming in through stained glass windows, and a lot of naked people on the floor flopping all over each other like seals. “We don't go that far south,” he said. “Mendocino is as far as we go.” He cracked the window a couple of inches; the dog smelled like a sweater just out of mothballs.

“I'm really beat,” Bonnie said. “I don't think I slept five straight minutes last night. This truck driver gave me a ride up from Port Orford and I think he must have been a foreigner. Roman fingers and Russian hands, ha ha.” She yawned. “What the hell, at least he wasn't out napalming babies.”

The fog kept rolling in across the road. Headlights from passing cars and trucks were yellow and flat as buttons until they were close; then the beams swept across them and lit up their faces. The dog hung his head over the back of the seat and sighed heavily. Then he put his paws up alongside his ears. The next time Glen looked over at him the dog was hanging by its belly, half in front and half in back. Glen told Bonnie that he liked dogs but considered it unsafe to have one in the front seat. He told her
that he'd read a story in the paper where a dog jumped onto an accelerator and ran a whole family off a cliff.

She put her hand over the dog's muzzle and shoved hard. He tumbled into the back seat and began noisily to clean himself. “If everybody got killed,” Bonnie said, “how did they find out what happened?”

“I forget,” Glen said.

“Maybe the dog confessed,” Bonnie said. “No kidding, I've seen worse evidence than that hold up in court. This girl friend of mine, the one I'm going to stay with in Seattle, she got a year's probation for soliciting and you know what for? For smiling at a guy in a grocery store. It's a hell of a life, Glen. What's that thing you're squeezing, anyway?”

“A tennis ball.”

“What do you do that for?”

“Just a habit,” Glen said, thinking that it would not be productive to discuss with Bonnie his performance at golf. Being left-handed, he had a tendency to pull his swing and Martin had suggested using the tennis ball to build up his right forearm.

“This is the first time I've ever seen anyone squeeze a tennis ball,” Bonnie said. “It beats me how you ever picked up a habit like that.”

The dog was still cleaning himself. It sounded awful. Glen switched on the tape deck and turned it up loud.

“Some station!” Bonnie said. “That's the first time I've heard 101 Strings playing ‘76 Trombones.'”

Glen told her that it was a tape, not the radio, and that the song was “Oklahoma!” All of Martin's tapes were instrumental—he hated vocals—but it just so happened that Glen had a tape of his own in the glove compartment, a Peter Paul and Mary. He said nothing to Bonnie about it because he didn't like her tone.

“I'm going to catch some zees,” she said after a time. “If Sunshine acts cute just smack him in the face. It's the only thing he understands. I got him from a cop.” She rolled up her denim
jacket and propped it under her head. “Wake me up,” she said, “if you see anything interesting or unusual.”

The sun came up, a milky presence at Glen's right shoulder, whitening the fog but not breaking through it. Glen began to notice a rushing sound like water falling hard on pavement and realized that the road had filled up with cars. Their headlights were bleached and wan. All the drivers, including Glen, changed lanes constantly.

Glen put on “Exodus” by Ferrante and Teicher, Martin's favorite. Martin had seen the movie four times. He thought it was the greatest movie ever made because it showed what you could do if you had the will. Once in a while Martin would sit in the living room by himself with a bottle of whiskey and get falling-down drunk. When he was halfway there he would yell Glen's name until Glen came downstairs and sat with him. Then Martin would lecture him on various subjects. He often repeated himself, and one of his favorite topics was the Jewish people, which was what he called the Jews who died in the camps. He made a distinction between them and the Israelis. This was part of his theory.

According to Martin the Jewish people had done the Israelis a favor by dying out; if they had lived they would have weakened the gene pool and the Israelis would not have had the strength or the will to take all that land away from the Arabs and keep it.

One night he asked whether Glen had noticed anything that he, Martin, had in common with the Israelis. Glen admitted that he had missed the connection. The Israelis had been in exile for a long time, Martin said; he himself, while in the Navy, had visited over thirty ports of call and lived at different times in seven of the United States before coming home to Seattle. The Israelis had taken a barren land and made it fruitful; Martin had taken over a failing company and made it turn a profit again. The Israelis defeated all their enemies and Martin was annihilating his competition. The key, Martin said, was in the corporate gene
pool. You had to keep cleaning out the deadwood and bringing in new blood. Martin named the deadwood who would soon be cleaned out, and Glen was surprised; he had supposed a few of the people to be, like himself, new blood.

The fog held. The ocean spray gave it a sheen, a pearly color. Big drops of water rolled up the windshield, speckling the gray light inside the car. Glen saw that Bonnie was not a girl but a woman. She had wrinkles across her brow and in the corners of her mouth and eyes, and the streaks in her hair were real streaks—not one of these fashions as he'd first thought. In the light her skin showed its age like a coat of dust. She was old, not
old, but old: older than him. Glen felt himself relax, and realized that for a moment there he had been interested in her. He squinted into the fog and drove on with the sensation of falling through a cloud. Behind Glen the dog stirred and yelped in his dreams.


Bonnie woke up outside Olympia. “I'm hungry,” she said, “let's score some pancakes.”

Glen stopped at a Denny's. While the waitress went for their food Bonnie told Glen about a girl friend of hers, not the one in Seattle but another one, who had known the original Denny. Denny, according to her girl friend, was muy weird. He had made a proposition. He would set Bonnie's girl friend up with a place of her own, a car, clothes, the works; he wanted only one thing in return. “Guess what,” Bonnie said.

“I give up,” Glen said.

“All right,” Bonnie said, “you'd never guess it anyway.” The proposition, she explained, had this price tag: her girl friend had to invite different men over for dinner, one man at a time, at least three days a week. The restaurateur didn't care what happened after the meal, had no interest in this respect either as participant or observer. All he wanted was to sit under the table while they ate, concealed by a floor-length tablecloth.

Glen said that there had to be more to it than that.

“No sir,” Bonnie said. “That was the whole proposition.”

“Did she do it?” Glen asked.

Bonnie shook her head. “She already had a boy friend, she didn't need some old fart living under her table.”

“I still don't get it,” Glen said, “him wanting to do that. What's the point?”

“The point?” Bonnie looked at Glen as if he had said something comical. “Search me,” she said. “I guess he's just into food. Some people can't leave their work at the office. This other girl friend of mine knew a mechanic and before, you know, he used to smear himself all over with grease. Can you feature that?” Bonnie went at her food—a steak, an order of pancakes, a salad and two wedges of lemon meringue pie—and did not speak again until she had eaten everything but the steak, which she wrapped in a place mat and stuck in her purse. “I have to admit,” she said, “that was the worst meal I ever ate.”

Glen went to the men's room and when he came out again the table was empty. Bonnie waved him over to the door. “I already paid,” she said, stepping outside.

Glen followed her across the parking lot. “I was going to have some more coffee,” he said.

“Well,” she said, “I'll tell you straight. That wouldn't be a good idea right now.”

“In other words you didn't pay.”

“Not exactly.”

“What do you mean, ‘not exactly'?”

“I left a tip,” she said. “I'm all for the working girl but I can't see paying for garbage like that. They ought to pay us for eating it. It's got cardboard in it, for one thing, not to mention about ten million chemicals.”

“What's got cardboard in it?”

“The batter. Uh-oh, Sunshine's had a little accident.”

Glen looked into the back seat. There was a big stain on the
cover. “Godalmighty,” Glen said. The dog looked at him and wagged his tail. Glen turned the car back on to the road; it was too late to go back to the restaurant, he'd never be able to explain. “I noticed,” he said, “you didn't leave anything on your plate, considering it was garbage.”

“If I hadn't eaten it, they would have thrown it out. They throw out pieces of butter because they're not square. You know how much food they dump every day?”

“They're running a business,” Glen said. “They take a risk and they're entitled to the profits.”

“I'll tell you,” Bonnie said. “Enough to feed the population of San Diego. Here, Sunshine.” The dog stood with his paws on the back of the seat while Bonnie shredded the steak and put the pieces in his mouth. When the steak was gone she hit the dog in the face and he sat back down.

Glen was going to ask Bonnie why she wasn't afraid of poisoning Sunshine but he was too angry to do anything but steer the car and squeeze the tennis ball. They could have been arrested back there. He could just see himself calling Martin and saying that he wouldn't be home for dinner because he was in jail for walking a check in East Jesus. Unless he could get that seat cleaned up he was going to have to tell Martin about Bonnie, and that wasn't going to be any picnic, either. So much for trying to do favors for people.

“This fog is getting to me,” Bonnie said. “It's really boring.” She started to say something else, then fell silent again. There was a truck just ahead of them; as they climbed a gentle rise the fog thinned and Glen could make out the logo on the back—WE MOVE FAMILIES NOT JUST FURNITURE—then they descended into the fog again and the truck vanished. “I was in a sandstorm once,” Bonnie said, “in Arizona. It was really dangerous but at least it wasn't boring.” She pulled a strand of hair in front of her eyes and began picking at the ends. “So,” she said, “tell me about yourself.”

BOOK: In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs
6.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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