Authors: Horace McCoy
‘This is the manager,’ Rocky said, looking relieved.
The two women looked at Socks. ‘We are the president and the vice-president of the Mothers’ League for Good Morals—’
‘Aw-aw,’ Gloria said, under her breath.
‘We have a resolution for you,’ Mrs Higby said, thrusting a folded paper into his hand.
‘What’s this all about?’ Socks asked.
‘Simply this,’ Mrs Higby said. ‘Our Good Morals League has condemned your contest—’
‘Wait a minute,’ Socks said. ‘Let’s go to my office and talk this thing over—’
Mrs Higby looked at Mrs Witcher, who nodded. ‘Very well,’ she said.
‘You kids come along—you too, Rocky. Hey nurse take these cups and plates away—’ He smiled at the two women. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘we don’t let the kids do anything that would waste their energy. This way, ladies—’
He led the way off the floor behind the platform to his office, in a corner of the building. As we walked along Gloria pretended to stumble, falling heavily against Mrs Higby, grabbing her around the head with her arms.
‘Oh, I beg your pardon I’m sorry—’ Gloria said, looking on the floor to see what she had stumbled over.
Mrs Higby said nothing, looking fiercely at Gloria, straightening her hat. Gloria nudged me, winking behind Mrs Higby’s back.
‘Remember, you kids are witnesses—’ Socks whispered as we went into his office. This office had formerly been a lounge and was very small. I noticed there had been very little change in it since the day Gloria and I had come here to make entries for the marathon. The only change was two more pictures of nude women Socks had tacked on the wall. Mrs Higby and Mrs Witcher spotted that instantly, exchanging significant looks.
‘Sit down, ladies,’ Socks said. ‘What is it, now?’
‘The Mothers’ League for Good Morals has condemned your contest,’ Mrs Higby said. ‘We have decided it is low and degrading and a pernicious influence in the community. We have decided you must close it—’
‘At once. If you refuse we shall go to the City Council. This contest is low and degrading—’
‘You got me all wrong, ladies,’ Socks said. ‘There’s nothing degrading about this contest. Why, these kids love it. Every one of them has gained weight since it started—’
‘You have a girl in this contest who is about to become a mother,’ Mrs Higby said, ‘one Ruby Bates. It is criminal to have that girl running and walking all day when her baby is about to be born. Moreover, it is shocking to see her exhibiting herself to the world in that half-dressed condition. I should think she at least would have the decency to wear a coat—’
‘Well, ladies,’ Socks said, ‘I never looked at that angle before. Ruby always seemed to know what she was doing and I never paid no attention to her stomach. But I can see your point. You want me to put her out of the contest?’
‘Most certainly,’ Mrs Higby said. Mrs Witcher nodded her head.
‘All right, ladies,’ Socks said, ‘anything you say. I’m not hard to do business with. I’ll even pay her hospital bills …Thanks for telling me about it. I’ll take care of that right away—’
‘That isn’t all,’ Mrs Higby said. ‘Do you plan to have a public wedding next week or was that merely an announcement to draw a crowd of morons?’
‘I never pulled nothing phony in my life,’ Socks said. ‘That wedding is on the level. I wouldn’t double-cross my customers like that. You can ask anybody I do business with what kind of a guy I am—’
‘We are familiar with your reputation,’ Mrs Higby said. ‘But even at that I can hardly believe you intend to sponsor a sacrilege like that—’
‘The kids who are going to get married are very much in love with each other,’ Rocky said.
‘We won’t permit such mockery,’ Mrs Higby said. ‘We demand that you close this contest immediately!’
‘What’ll happen to these kids if he does?’ Gloria asked. ‘They’ll go right back on the streets—’
‘Don’t try to justify this thing, young woman,’ Mrs Higby said. ‘This contest is vicious. It attracts the bad element. One of your participants was an escaped murderer—that Chicago Italian—’
‘Well, ladies, you surely don’t blame me for that,’ Socks said.
‘We certainly do. We are here because it is our duty to keep our city clean and free from all such influences—’
‘Do you mind if me and my assistant go outside to talk this over?’ Socks asked. ‘Maybe we can figure this out—’
‘…Very well,’ Mrs Higby said.
Socks motioned to Rocky and they went outside.
‘Do you ladies have children of your own?’ Gloria asked, when the door had closed.
‘We both have grown daughters,’ Mrs Higby said.
‘Do you know where they are tonight and what they’re doing?’
Neither woman said anything.
‘Maybe I can give you a rough idea,’ Gloria said. ‘While you two noble characters are here doing your duty by some people you don’t know, your daughters are probably in some guy’s apartment, their clothes off, getting drunk.’
Mrs Higby and Mrs Witcher gasped in unison.
‘That’s generally what happens to the daughters of reformers,’ Gloria said. ‘Sooner or later they all get laid and most of ’em don’t know enough to keep from getting knocked up. You drive ’em away from home with your goddam lectures on purity and decency, and you’re too busy meddling around to teach ’em the facts of life—’
‘Why—’ said Mrs Higby, getting red in the face.
‘I—’ Mrs Witcher said.
‘Gloria—’ I said.
‘It’s time somebody got women like you told,’ Gloria said, moving over and standing with her back to the door, as if to keep them in, ‘and I’m just the baby to do it. You’re the kind of bitches who sneak in the toilet to read dirty books and tell filthy stories and then go out and try to spoil somebody else’s fun—’
‘You move away from that door, young woman, and let us out of here!’ Mrs Higby shrieked. ‘I refuse to listen to you. I’m a respectable woman. I’m a Sunday School teacher—’
‘I don’t move a — inch until I finish,’ Gloria said.
‘Your Morals League and your goddam women’s clubs,’ she said, ignoring me completely, ‘— filled with meddlesome old bitches who haven’t had a — in twenty years. Why don’t you old dames go out and buy a — once in a while?
‘That’s all that’s wrong with you …’
Mrs Higby advanced on Gloria, her arm raised as if to strike her.
‘Go on—hit me,’ Gloria said, not moving. ‘Hit me!—You even touch me and I’ll kick your head off!’
The door opened, bumping Gloria away from it. Socks and Rocky came in.
‘This this—’ Mrs Higby said, shaking her finger at Gloria.
‘Don’t stutter,’ Gloria said, ‘—say it. You know how to say the word. Whore. W-h-o-’
‘Pipe down!’ Socks said. ‘Ladies, me and my assistant have decided to take any suggestions you have to offer—’
‘Our suggestion is you close this place at once!’ Mrs Higby said. ‘Else we shall go to the City Council in the morning—’
She started out, followed by Mrs Witcher.
‘Young woman,’ Mrs Higby said to Gloria, ‘you ought to be in a reform school!’
‘I was in one once,’ Gloria said. ‘There was a dame just like you in charge. She was a lesbian …’
Mrs Higby gasped again and went out, followed by Mrs Witcher.
Gloria slammed the door behind them, then sat down in a chair and began sobbing. She covered her face with her hands and tried to fight it off, but it was no use. She slowly leaned forward in the chair, bending double, shaking and twitching with emotion, as if she had completely lost control of the upper half of her body. For a full moment the only sounds in the room were her sobs and the rise and fall of the ocean which came through the half-raised window.
Then Socks went over and laid his hand tenderly on Gloria’s head, ‘Nix, kid, nix—’ he said.
‘Keep all this under your hat,’ Rocky said to me. ‘Don’t say anything to the others—’
‘I won’t,’ I said. ‘Does this mean we’ll have to close up?’
‘I don’t think so,’ Socks said. ‘It just means we’ll have to try to grease somebody. I’ll talk to my lawyer in the morning. In the meantime, Rocky break the news to Ruby. She’s got to quit. A lot of women have been squawking about her—’ He looked at the door. ‘I should have stuck to my own racket,’ he said ‘Goddam bastard women …
to death …
HOURS ELAPSED: 855
Couples Remaining: 21
MARATHON DANCE WAR STILL RAGES
Mothers’ League Threatens Mass Meeting Unless City Council Will Close Contest
IS THIRD DAY OF CONTROVERSY
Good Morals continued their war on the marathon dance today, threatening to take the issue directly to the citizens themselves unless the City Council closes the contest. The marathon dance has been in progress at a beach resort for the past 36 days.
Mrs J. Franklin Higby and Mrs William Wallace Witcher, president and first vice-president of the Morals League, appeared before the City Council again this afternoon, protesting the continuance of the dance. They were told by the Council that the City Attorney was making a thorough study of the law to determine what legal steps could be taken.
‘We can’t take any action until we know how the law reads,’ Tom Hinsdell, Council chief, said. ‘So far we have failed to find any specific statute that covers this case, but the City Attorney is examining all the codes.’
‘Would the City Council hesitate if a plague threatened our city?’ Mrs Higby said. ‘Certainly it wouldn’t. If there are no specific laws to fit this situation let them pass emergency laws. The marathon dance is a plague—it is low and degrading and in the same hall there is a public bar that is a rendezvous for gangsters, racketeers and notorious criminals. Surely this is not the proper atmosphere for children …’
I handed the newspaper back to Mrs Layden. ‘Mr Donald told us his lawyer said the city couldn’t do anything,’ I said.
‘That doesn’t make much difference,’ Mrs Layden said. ‘Those women are out to close it and, law or no law, they’ll do it.’
‘I don’t see any harm in the marathon,’ I said, ‘but they’re right about the bar. I’ve seen a lot of tough characters in the Palm Garden …How long do you think it’ll take them to close us up?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘But they’ll close it. What are you going to do then?’
‘The first thing I’m going to do is get a lot of sun,’ I said. ‘I used to love the rain and hate the sun, but now it’s the other way around. You don’t get much sun in here—’
‘After that what are you going to do?’
‘I haven’t made any plans,’ I said.
‘I see. Where’s Gloria?’
‘She’s putting on her track suit. She’ll be out in a minute.’
‘She’s beginning to weaken, isn’t she? The doctor said he had to look at her heart several times a day.’
‘That doesn’t mean anything,’ I said. ‘He looks at all of them. Gloria’s all right.’
Gloria wasn’t all right and I knew it. We were having a lot of trouble with the derbies. I never will know how we got by the last two nights. Gloria was in and out of the pit a dozen times in the two races. But I didn’t jump at conclusions simply because the doctor examined her heart six or seven times a day. I knew he could never locate her trouble with a stethoscope.
‘Lean over here, Robert,’ Mrs Layden said. It was the first time she had ever used my given name and I was a little embarrassed. I leaned over the railing, swaying my body so nobody could say I was violating the rules of the contest by not being in motion. The hall was packed and jammed. ‘You know I’m your friend, don’t you?’ Mrs Layden said.
‘Yes’m, I know that,’
‘You know I got you your sponsor, don’t you?’
‘Yes’m, I know that.’
‘You trust me, don’t you?’
‘Yes’m, I trust you.’
‘Robert—Gloria’s not the right kind of girl for you.’
I didn’t say anything, wondering what was coming next. I had never been able to understand why Mrs Layden had taken such an interest in me unless …But it couldn’t be that. She was old enough to be my grandmother.
‘She’ll never be any good,’ Mrs Layden said. ‘She’s an evil person and she’ll wreck your life. You don’t want your life wrecked, do you?’
‘She’s not going to wreck my life,’ I said.
‘Promise me when you get out of this you’ll never see her again.’
‘Oh, I’m not going to marry her or anything like that,’ I said. ‘I’m not in love with her. She’s all right. She just gets a little depressed sometimes.’
‘She’s not depressed,’ Mrs Layden said. ‘She’s bitter. She hates everything and everybody. She’s cruel and she’s dangerous.’
‘I didn’t know you felt that way about her, Mrs Layden.’
‘I’m an old woman,’ she said. ‘I’m a very, very old, old woman. I know what I’m talking about. When this thing is over Robert,’ she said suddenly. ‘I’m not as poor as you think I am. I look poor but I’m not poor at all. I’m rich. I’m very rich. I’m very eccentric. When you get out of here—’
‘Hello—’ Gloria said, coming from nowhere.
‘—Hello,’ Mrs Layden said.
‘What’s the matter?’ Gloria asked quickly. ‘Am I interrupting something?’
‘You’re not interrupting anything,’ I told her.
Mrs Layden opened the newspaper and started reading it. Gloria and I walked towards the platform.
‘What was she saying about me?’ Gloria asked.
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘We were just talking about the marathon closing—’
‘You were talking about something else too. Why did she shut up like a clam when I got there?’
‘You’re imagining things—’ I said.
‘Ladies and gentlemen—’ Rocky said into the microphone, ‘—or maybe after reading the newspapers,’ he went on when the crowd had quieted down, ‘I should say—Fellow Morons.’ There was a big laugh at this; the crowd knew what he meant. ‘You can see we’re still going in the world’s championship marathon dance,’ he said, ‘and we’ll keep on going until only one contestant is left the final winner. I want to thank you very much for coming out tonight and I’d like to remind you that tomorrow night is the night you can’t afford to miss, our big public wedding, when Couple No. 71 Vee Lovell and Mary Hawley—will be married right here before your very eyes by a well-known minister of the city. If you haven’t made your reservations you better do so at once.