Authors: Horace McCoy
‘Nothing,’ I said.
‘Nothing,’ Ruby said.
Rollo raised his hand, waving to Rocky on the platform.
‘Give,’ said Rocky, and the orchestra started to play.
‘Scatter out,’ Rollo said to the contestants, who started to move away. ‘Come on,’ he said, leading them around the floor.
‘Next time I’m going to cut your throat,’ James said to Gloria.
‘—you,’ Gloria said.
‘Shut up,’ I said.
I walked away with her, down into a corner, where we slowed up, barely moving along.
‘Are you crazy?’ I said. ‘Why don’t you let Ruby alone?’
‘Don’t worry, I’m through wasting my breath on her. If she wants to have a deformed baby, that’s okay by me.’
‘Hello, Gloria,’ a voice said.
We looked around. It was an old woman in a front row box seat by the railing. I didn’t know her name but she was quite a character. She had been there every night, bringing her blanket and her lunch. One night she wrapped up in her blanket and stayed all night. She was about sixty-five years old.
‘Hello,’ Gloria said.
‘What was the matter down there?’ the old woman asked.
‘Nothing,’ Gloria said. ‘Just a little argument.’
‘How do you feel?’ the old woman asked.
‘All right, I guess,’ Gloria replied.
‘I’m Mrs Layden,’ the old woman said. ‘You’re my favourite couple.’
‘Well, thanks,’ I said.
‘I tried to enter this,’ Mrs Layden said, ‘but they wouldn’t let me. They said I was too old, but I’m only sixty.’
‘Well, that’s fine,’ I said.
Gloria and I had stopped, our arms around each other, swaying our bodies. You had to keep moving all the time. A couple of men moved into the loge behind the old woman. Both of them were chewing unlighted cigars.
‘They’re dicks,’ Gloria said under her breath.
‘… How do you like the contest?’ I asked Mrs Layden.
‘I enjoy it very much,’ she said. ‘Very much. Such nice boys and girls …’
‘Move along, kids,’ Rollo said, walking by.
I nodded to Mrs Layden, moving along. ‘Can you feature that?’ Gloria asked. ‘She ought to be home putting a diaper on the baby. Christ, I hope I never live to be that old.’
‘How do you know those fellows are detectives?’ I asked.
‘I’m psychic,’ Gloria replied. ‘My God, can you feature that old lady? She’s a nut about these things. They ought to charge her room rent.’ She shook her head. ‘I hope I never live to be that old,’ she said again.
The meeting with the old lady depressed Gloria very much. She said it reminded her of the women in the little town in West Texas where she had lived.
‘Alice Faye’s just come in,’ one of the girls said. ‘See her? Sitting right over there.’
It was Alice Faye all right, with a couple of men I didn’t recognize.
‘See her?’ I asked Gloria.
‘I don’t want to see her,’ Gloria said.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Rocky said into the microphone, ‘we are honoured tonight to have with us that beautiful moving picture star, Miss Alice Faye. Give Miss Faye a big hand, ladies and gentlemen.’
Everybody applauded and Miss Faye nodded her head, smiling. Socks Donald, sitting in a box seat by the orchestra platform, was smiling too. The Hollywood crowd had started coming.
‘Come on,’ I said to Gloria, ‘clap your hands.’
‘Why should I applaud for her?’ Gloria said. ‘What’s she got I haven’t? …’
‘You’re jealous,’ I said.
‘You’re goddam right I’m jealous. As long as I am a failure I’m jealous of anybody who’s a success. Aren’t you?’
‘Certainly not,’ I said.
‘You’re a fool,’ she said.
‘Hey, look,’ I said.
The two detectives had left the box with Mrs Layden and were sitting with Socks Donald. They had their heads together, looking at a sheet of paper one of them was holding.
‘All right, kids,’ Rocky said in the microphone. ‘A little sprint before the rest period …Give,’ he said to the orchestra, clapping his hands together and stamping on the platform, keeping time to the music. In a moment the customers were clapping their hands together and stamping too.
We were all milling around in the middle of the floor, all of us watching the minute hand of the clock, when suddenly Kid Kamm of Couple No. 18 began slapping his partner on the cheek. He was holding her up with his left hand, slapping her backwards and forwards with his right hand. But she did not respond. She was dead to the world. She gurgled a couple of times and then slid to the floor, unconscious.
The floor judge blew his whistle and all the customers jumped to their feet, excited. Customers at a marathon dance do not have to be prepared for their excitement. When anything happens they get excited all at once. In that respect a marathon dance is like a bull fight.
The floor judge and a couple of nurses picked up the girl and carried her off, her toes dragging, to the dressing room.
‘Mattie Barnes, of Couple No. 18, has fainted,’ Rocky announced to the crowd. ‘She has been taken to the dressing room, ladies and gentlemen, where she will have the best of medical attention. Nothing serious, ladies and gentlemen—nothing serious. It just proves that there’s always something happening at the world’s championship marathon dance.’
‘She was complaining last rest period,’ Gloria said.
‘What’s the matter with her?’ I asked.
‘It’s that time of the month,’ Gloria said. ‘And she’ll never be able to come back either. She’s the type that has to go to bed for three or four days when she gets it.’
‘Can I pick ’em,’ said Kid Kamm. He shook his head, disgusted. ‘Boy, am I hoodooed! I been in nine of these things and I ain’t finished one yet. My partner always caves in on me.’
‘She’ll probably be all right,’ I said, trying to cheer him up.
‘Nope,’ he said, ‘she’s finished. She can go back to the farm now.’
The siren blew, meaning it was the end of another grind. Everybody ran for the dressing rooms. I kicked off my shoes, piling on my cot. I felt the ocean surge once—just once. Then I was asleep.
I woke up, my nose full of ammonia. One of the trainers was moving a bottle across my chin letting me inhale it. (This was the best way to arouse one of us from a deep sleep, the doctor said. If they had tried to wake you up by shaking you, they never would have done it.)
‘All right,’ I said to the trainer. ‘I’m all right.’
I sat up, reaching for my shoes. Then I saw those two detectives and Socks Donald standing near me, by Mario’s cot. They were waiting for the other trainer to wake him up. Finally Mario rolled over, looking at them.
‘Hello, buddy,’ said one of the detectives. ‘Know who this is?’ He handed him a sheet of paper. Now I was close enough to see what it was. It was a page torn out of a detective magazine, containing several pictures.
Mario looked at it, then handed it back. ‘Yeah, I know who it is,’ he said, sitting up.
‘You ain’t changed much,’ said the other detective.
‘You wop son of a bitch,’ Socks said, doubling his fist. ‘What’re you trying to pull on me?’
‘Nix, Socks,’ the first detective said. Then he spoke to Mario. ‘Well, Giuseppe, get your things together.’
Mario started tying his shoes. ‘I ain’t got nothing but a coat and a toothbrush,’ he said. ‘But I would like to say good-bye to my partner.’
‘You dirty wop son of a bitch,’ Socks said. ‘This’ll look good in the newspapers, won’t it?’
‘Never mind your partner, Giuseppe,’ the second detective said. ‘Hey son,’ he said to me, ‘you tell Giuseppe’s partner good-bye for him. Come on Giuseppe,’ he said to Mario.
‘Take that wop son of a bitch out the back way, boys,’ said Socks Donald.
‘Everybody on the floor,’ yelled the floor judge. ‘Everybody on the floor.’
‘So long, Mario,’ I said.
Mario did not say anything. It had all been very quiet, very matter-of-fact. These detectives acted as if this kind of thing happened every day.
… of which you have been convicted by verdict of the jury …
ARIO WENT TO
jail and Mattie went back to the farm. I remember how surprised I was when they arrested Mario for murder. I couldn’t believe it. He was one of the nicest boys I’d ever met. But that was then that I couldn’t believe it. Now I know you can be nice and be a murderer too. Nobody was ever nicer to a girl than I was to Gloria
but there came the time when I shot and killed her. So you see being nice doesn’t mean a thing …
Mattie was automatically disqualified when the doctor refused to let her continue in the contest. He said if she did go on with the dance she would injure some of her organs and never be able to have a baby. She raised hell about it, Gloria said, calling the doctor a lot of names and absolutely refusing to quit. But she did quit. She had to. They had the axe over her.
That teamed her partner, Kid Kamm, with Jackie. Under the rules you could do that. You could solo for twenty-four hours but if you didn’t get a partner by then you were disqualified. Both the Kid and Jackie seemed well satisfied with the new arrangement. Jackie had nothing to say about losing Mario. Her attitude was that a partner was a partner. But the Kid was all smiles. He seemed to think that at last he had broken his hoodoo.
‘They’re liable to win,’ Gloria said. ‘They’re strong as mules. That Alabama is corn-fed. Look at that beam. I bet she can go six months.’
‘I’ll string along with James and Ruby,’ I said.
‘After the way they’ve treated us?’
‘What’s that got to do with it? Besides, what’s the matter with us? We’ve got a chance to win, haven’t we?’
‘Well, you don’t seem to think so,’ I said.
She shook her head, not saying anything to that. ‘More and more and more I wish I was dead,’ she said.
There it was again. No matter what I talked about she always got back to that. ‘Isn’t there something I can talk about that won’t remind you that you wish you were dead?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she said.
‘I give up,’ I said.
Somebody on the platform turned the radio down. The music sounded like music now. (We used the radio all the time the orchestra wasn’t there. This was in the afternoon. The orchestra came only at night.) ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Rocky said into the microphone, ‘I have the honour to announce that two sponsors have come forward to sponsor two couples. The Pompadour Beauty Shop, of 415 Avenue B, will sponsor Couple No. 13—James and Ruby Bates. Let’s give the Pompadour Beauty Shop, of 415 Avenue B, a big hand for this, ladies and gentlemen—you too, kids …
‘The second couple to be sponsored,’ Rocky said, ‘is No. 34, Pedro Ortego and Lillian Bacon. They are sponsored by the Oceanic Garage. All right, now, a big hand for the Oceanic Garage, located at 11,341 Ocean Walkway in Santa Monica.’
Everybody applauded again.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Rocky said, ‘there ought to be more sponsors for these marvellous kids. Tell your friends, ladies and gentlemen, and let’s get sponsors for all the kids. Look at them, ladies and gentlemen, after 242 hours of continuous motion they are as fresh as daisies … a big hand for these marvellous kids, ladies and gentlemen.’
There was some more applause.
‘And don’t forget, ladies and gentlemen,’ Rocky said, ‘there’s the Palm Garden right down there at the end of the hall where you can get delicious beverages all kinds of beer and sandwiches. Visit the Palm Garden, ladies and gentlemen …Give,’ he said to the radio, turning the knob and filling the hall with noise again.
Gloria and I walked over to Pedro and Lillian. Pedro limped from a game leg. The story was that he had been gored in a bull ring in Mexico City. Lillian was a brunette. She too had been trying to get in the movies when she heard about the marathon dance.
‘Congratulations,’ I said.
‘It proves somebody is for us,’ Pedro said.
‘As long as it couldn’t be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer it might as well be a garage,’ Lillian said. ‘Only it seems a little queer for a garage to be buying me underclothes.’
‘Where do you get that underclothes stuff?’ Gloria said. ‘You don’t get underclothes. You get a sweatshirt with the garage’s name across the back of it.’
‘I get underclothes, too,’ Lillian said.
‘Hey, Lillian,’ said Rollo, the floor judge, ‘the woman from the Oceanic Garage wants to talk to you.’
‘The what? …’ asked Lillian.
‘Your sponsor, Mrs Yeargan—’
‘For crying out loud,’ said Lillian. ‘Pedro, it looks like you get the underclothes.’
Gloria and I walked down by the master of ceremonies’ platform. It was nice down there about this time of the afternoon. There was a big triangle of sunshine that came through the double window above the bar in the Palm Garden. It only lasted about ten minutes but during those ten minutes I moved slowly about in it (I had to move to keep from being disqualified) letting it cover me completely. It was the first time I had ever appreciated the sun. ‘When this marathon is over,’ I told myself, ‘I’m going to spend the rest of my life in the sun. I can’t wait to go to the Sahara Desert to make a picture.’
Of course, that won’t ever happen now.
I watched the triangle on the floor get smaller and smaller.
Finally it closed altogether and started up my legs. It crawled up my body like a living thing. When it got to my chin I stood on my toes, to keep my head in it as long as possible. I did not close my eyes. I kept them wide open, looking straight into the sun. It did not blind me at all. In a moment it was gone.
I looked around for Gloria. She was standing at the platform, swaying from side to side, talking to Rocky, who was sitting on his haunches. Rocky was swaying too. (All the employees—the doctor, the nurses, the floor judges, the master of ceremonies, even the boys who sold soda pop—had been given orders to keep moving when they talked to one of the contestants. The management was very strict about this.)
‘You looked very funny standing out there on your toes,’ Gloria said. ‘You looked like a ballet dancer.’
‘You practise up on that and I’ll let you do a solo,’ Rocky said, laughing.
‘Yes,’ Gloria said. ‘How was the sun today?’