At the top, though, I had second thoughts.
Buddy singled me out, hesitating there in the red jacket. His arms chopped the air
like khaki windmills. Then I saw he was signaling me to come down a path that had
opened in the middle of the weaving skiers. But as I poised, uneasy, with a dry throat, the
smooth white path from my feet to his feet blurred.
A skier crossed it from the left, another crossed it from the right, and Buddy's
arms went on waving feebly as antennae from the other side of a field swarming with tiny
moving animalcules like germs, or bent, bright exclamation marks.
I looked up from that churning amphitheater to the view beyond it.
The great, gray eye of the sky looked back at me, its mist-shrouded sun focusing
all the white and silent distances that poured from every point of the compass, hill after
pale hill, to stall at my feet.
The interior voice nagging me not to be a fool -- to save my skin and take off my
skis and walk down, camouflaged by the scrub pines bordering the slope -- fled like a
disconsolate mosquito. The thought that I might kill myself formed in my mind coolly as
a tree or a flower.
I measured the distance to Buddy with my eye.
His arms were folded, now, and he seemed of a piece with the split-rail fence
behind him -- numb, brown and inconsequential.
Edging to the rim of the hilltop, I dug the spikes of my poles into the snow and
pushed myself into a flight I knew I couldn't stop by skill or any belated access of will.
I aimed straight down.
A keen wind that had been hiding itself struck me full in the mouth and raked the
hair back horizontal on my head. I was descending, but the white sun rose no higher. It
hung over the suspended waves of the hills, an insentient pivot without which the world
would not exist.
A small, answering point in my own body flew toward it. I felt my lungs inflate
with the inrush of scenery -- air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, "This is what it is to
I plummeted down past the zigzaggers, the students, the experts, through year
after year of doubleness and smiles and compromise, into my own past.
People and trees receded on either hand like the dark sides of a tunnel as I hurtled
on to the still, bright point at the end of it, the pebble at the bottom of the well, the white
sweet baby cradled in its mother's belly.
My teeth crunched a gravelly mouthful. Ice water seeped down my throat.
Buddy's face hung over me, near and huge, like a distracted planet. Other faces
showed themselves up in back of his. Behind him, black dots swarmed on a plane of
whiteness. Piece by piece, as at the strokes of a dull godmother's wand, the old world
sprang back into position.
"You were doing fine," a familiar voice informed my ear, "until that man stepped
into your path."
People were unfastening my bindings and collecting my ski poles from where
they poked skyward, askew, in their separate snowbanks. The lodge fence propped itself
at my back.
Buddy bent to pull off my boots and the several pairs of white wool socks that
padded them. His plump hand shut on my left foot, then inched up my ankle, closing and
probing, as if feeling for a concealed weapon.
A dispassionate white sun shone at the summit of the sky. I wanted to hone
myself on it till I grew saintly and thin and essential as the blade of a knife.
"I'm going up," I said. "I'm going to do it again."
"No, you're not."
A queer, satisfied expression came over Buddy's face.
"No, you're not," he repeated with a final smile. "Your leg's broken in two places.
You'll be stuck in a cast for months."
RE GOING TO DIE
Hilda arched her cat-limbs in a yawn, buried her head in her arms on the
conference table and went back to sleep. A wisp of bilious green straw perched on her
brow like a tropical bird.
Bile green. They were promoting it for fall, only Hilda, as usual, was half a year
ahead of time. Bile green with black, bile green with white, bile green with nile green, its
Fashion blurbs, silver and full of nothing, sent up their fishy bubbles in my brain.
They surfaced with a hollow pop.
I'm so glad they're going to die.
I cursed the luck that had timed my arrival in the hotel cafeteria to coincide with
Hilda's. After a late night I felt too dull to think up the excuse that would take me back to
my room for the glove, the handkerchief, the umbrella, the notebook I forgot. My penalty
was the long, dead walk from the frosted glass doors of the Amazon to the strawberry-
marble slab of our entry on Madison Avenue.
Hilda moved like a mannequin the whole way.
"That's a lovely hat, did you make it?"
I half expected Hilda to turn on me and say, "You sound sick," but she only
extended and then retracted her swanny neck.
The night before I'd seen a play where the heroine was possessed by a dybbuk,
and when the dybbuk spoke from her mouth its voice sounded so cavernous and deep you
couldn't tell whether it was a man or a woman. Well, Hilda's voice sounded just like the
voice of that dybbuk.
She stared at her reflection in the glossed shop windows as if to make sure,
moment by moment, that she contained to exist. The silence between us was so profound
I thought part of it must be my fault.
So I said, "Isn't it awful about the Rosenbergs?" The Rosenbergs were to be
electrocuted late that night.
"Yes!" Hilda said, and at last I felt I had touched a human string in the cat's cradle
of her heart. It was only as the two of us waited for the others in the tomblike morning
gloom of the conference room that Hilda amplified that Yes of hers.
"It's awful such people should be alive."
She yawned then, and her pale orange mouth opened on a large darkness.
Fascinated, I stared at the blind cave behind her face until the two lips met and moved
and the dybbuk spoke out of its hiding place, "I'm so glad they're going to die."
"Come on, give us a smile."
I sat on the pink velvet loveseat in Jay Cee's office, holding a paper rose and
facing the magazine photographer. I was the last of the twelve to have my picture taken. I
had tried concealing myself in the powder room, but it didn't work. Betsy had spied my
feet under the doors.
I didn't want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn't know why I
was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the
tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I'd cry for a
week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is
unsteady and too full
This was the last round of photographs before the magazine went to press and we
returned to Tulsa or Biloxi or Teaneck or Coos Bay or wherever we'd come from, and we
were supposed to be photographed with props to show what we wanted to be.
Betsy held an ear of corn to show she wanted to be a farmer's wife, and Hilda held
the bald, faceless head of a hatmaker's dummy to show she wanted to design hats, and
Doreen held a gold-embroidered sari to show she wanted to be a social worker in India
(she didn't really, she told me, she only wanted to get her hands on a sari).
When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn't know.
"Oh, sure you know," the photographer said.
"She wants," said Jay Cee wittily, "to be everything."
I said I wanted to be a poet.
Then they scouted about for something for me to hold.
Jay Cee suggested a book of poems, but the photographer said no, that was too
obvious. It should be something that showed what inspired the poems. Finally Jay Cee
undipped the single, long-stemmed paper rose from her latest hat.
The photographer fiddled with his hot white lights. "Show us how happy it makes
you to write a poem."
I stared through the frieze of rubber-plant leaves in Jay Cee's window to the blue
sky beyond. A few stagey cloud puffs were traveling from right to left. I fixed my eyes
on the largest cloud, as if, when it passed out of sight, I might have the good luck to pass
I felt it was very important to keep the line of my mouth level.
"Give us a smile."
At last, obediently, like the mouth of a ventriloquist's dummy, my own mouth
started to quirk up.
"Hey," the photographer protested, with sudden foreboding, "you look like you're
going to cry."
I couldn't stop.
I buried my face in the pink velvet facade of Jay Cee's loveseat and with immense
relief the salt tears and miserable noises that had been prowling around in me all morning
burst out into the room.
When I lifted my head, the photographer had vanished. Jay Cee had vanished as
well. I felt limp and betrayed, like the skin shed by a terrible animal. It was a relief to be
free of the animal, but it seemed to have taken my spirit with it, and everything else it
could lay its paws on.
I fumbled in my pocketbook for the gilt compact with the mascara and the
mascara brush and the eyeshadow and the three lipsticks and the side mirror. The face
that peered back at me seemed to be peering from the grating of a prison cell after a
prolonged beating. It looked bruised and puffy and all the wrong colors. It was a face that
needed soap and water and Christian tolerance.
I started to paint it with small heart.
Jay Cee breezed back after a decent interval with an armful of manuscripts.
"These'll amuse you," she said. "Have a good read."
Every morning a snowy avalanche of manuscripts swelled the dust-gray piles in
the office of the Fiction Editor. Secretly, in studies and attics and schoolrooms all over
America, people must be writing. Say someone or other finished a manuscript every
minute; in five minutes that would be five manuscripts stacked on the Fiction Editor's
desk. Within the hour there would be sixty, crowding each other onto the floor. And in a
year. . .
I smiled, seeing a pristine, imaginary manuscript floating in mid-air, with Esther
Greenwood typed in the upper-right-hand corner. After my month on the magazine I'd
applied for a summer school course with a famous writer where you sent in the
manuscript of a story and he read it and said whether you were good enough to be
admitted into his class.
Of course, it was a very small class, and I had sent in my story a long time ago
and hadn't heard from the writer yet, but I was sure I'd find the letter of acceptance
waiting on the mail table at home.
I decided I'd surprise Jay Cee and send in a couple of the stories I wrote in this
class under a pseudonym. Then one day the Fiction Editor would come in to Jay Cee
personally and plop the stories down on her desk and say, "Here's something a cut above
the usual," and Jay Cee would agree and accept them and ask the author to lunch and it
would be me.
"Honestly," Doreen said, "this one'll be different"
"Tell me about him," I said stonily.
"He's from Peru."
"They're squat," I said. "They're ugly as Aztecs."
"No, no, no, sweetie, I've already met him."
We were sitting on my bed in a mess of dirty cotton dresses and laddered nylons
and gray underwear, and for ten minutes Doreen had been trying to persuade me to go to
a country club dance with a friend of somebody Lenny knew which, she insisted, was a
very different thing from a friend of Lenny's, but as I was catching the eight o'clock train
home the next morning I felt I should make some attempt to pack
I also had a dim idea that if I walked the streets of New York by myself all night
something of the city's mystery and magnificence might rub off on to me at last
But I gave it up.
It was becoming more and more difficult for me to decide to do anything in those
last days. And when I eventually did decide to do something, such as packing a suitcase, I
only dragged all my grubby, expensive clothes out of the bureau and the closet and
spread them on the chairs and the bed and the floor and then sat and stared at them,
utterly perplexed. They seemed to have a separate, mulish identity of their own that
refused to be washed and folded and stowed.
"It's these clothes," I told Doreen. "I just can't face these clothes when I come
And in her beautiful, one-track way, Doreen started to snatch up slips and
stockings and the elaborate strapless bra, full of steel springs -- a free gift from the
Primrose Corset Company, which I'd never had the courage to wear -- and finally, one by
one, the sad array of queerly cut forty-dollar dresses. . .
"Hey, leave that one out. I'm wearing it."
Doreen extricated a black scrap from her bundle and dropped it in my lap. Then,
snowballing the rest of the clothes into one soft, conglomerate mass, she stuffed them out
of sight under the bed.
Doreen knocked on the green door with the gold knob.
Scuffing and a man's laugh, cut short, sounded from inside. Then a tall boy in
shirtsleeves and a blond crewcut inched the door open and peered out.
"Baby!" he roared.
Doreen disappeared in his arms. I thought it must be the person Lenny knew.
I stood quietly in the doorway in my black sheath and my black stole with the
fringe, yellower than ever, but expecting less. "I am an observer," I told myself, as I
watched Doreen being handed into the room by the blond boy to another man, who was
also tall, but dark, with slightly longer hair. This man was wearing an immaculate white
suit, a pale blue shirt and a yellow satin tie with a bright stickpin.
I couldn't take my eyes off that stickpin.
A great white light seemed to shoot out of it, illuminating the room. Then the light
withdrew into itself, leaving a dewdrop on a field of gold.
I put one foot in front of the other.
"That's a diamond," somebody said, and a lot of people burst out laughing.
My nail tapped a glassy facet
"Her first diamond."
"Give it to her, Marco."
Marco bowed and deposited the stickpin in my palm.
It dazzled and danced with light like a heavenly ice cube. I slipped it quickly into
my imitation jet bead evening bag and looked around. The faces were empty as plates,
and nobody seemed to be breathing.
"Fortunately," a dry, hard hand encircled my upper arm, "I am escorting the lady
for the rest of the evening. Perhaps," the spark in Marco's eyes extinguished, and they
went black, "I shall perform some small service. . ."
". . .worthy of a diamond."
The hand round my arm tightened.
Marco removed his hand. I looked down at my arm. A fhumbprint purpled into
view. Marco watched me. Then he pointed to the underside of my arm. "Look there."
I looked, and saw four, faint matching prints.
"You see, I am quite serious."
Marco's small, flickering smile reminded me of a snake I'd teased in the Bronx
Zoo. When I tapped my finger on the stout cage glass the snake had opened its clockwork
jaws and seemed to smile. Then it struck and struck and struck at the invisible pane till I
I had never met a woman-hater before.
I could tell Marco was a woman-hater, because in spite of all the models and TV
starlets in the room that night he paid attention to nobody but me. Not out of kindness or
even curiosity, but because I'd happened to be dealt to him, like a playing card in a pack
of identical cards.
A man in the country club band stepped up to the mike and started shaking those
seedpod rattles that mean South American music.
Marco reached for my hand, but I hung on to my fourth daiquiri and stayed put.
I'd never had a daiquiri before. The reason I had a daiquiri was because Marco ordered it
for me, and I felt so grateful he hadn't asked what sort of drink I wanted that I didn't say a
word, I just drank one daiquiri after another.
Marco looked at me.
"No," I said.
"What do you mean, no?"
"I can't dance to that kind of music."
"Don't be stupid."
"I want to sit here and finish my drink."
Marco bent toward me with a tight smile, and in one swoop my drink took wing
and landed in a potted palm. Then Marco gripped my hand in such a way I had to choose
between following him on to the floor or having my arm torn off.
"It's a tango." Marco maneuvered me out among the dancers. "I love tangos."
"I can't dance."
"You don't have to dance. I'll do the dancing."
Marco hooked an arm around my waist and jerked me up against his dazzling
white suit. Then he said, "Pretend you are drowning."
I shut my eyes, and the music broke over me like a rainstorm. Marco's leg slid
forward against mine and my leg slid back and I seemed to be riveted to him, limb for
limb, moving as he moved, without any will or knowledge of my own, and after a while I
thought, "It doesn't take two to dance, it only takes one," and I let myself blow and bend
like a tree in the wind.
"What did I tell you?" Marco's breath scorched my ear. "You're a perfectly
I began to see why woman-haters could make such fools of women. Woman-
haters were like gods: invulnerable and chock-full of power. They descended, and then
they disappeared. You could never catch one.
After the South American music there was an interval
Marco led me through the French doors into the garden. Lights and voices spilled
from the ballroom window, but a few yards beyond the darkness drew up its barricade
and sealed them off. In the infinitesimal glow of the stars, the trees and flowers were
strewing their cool odors. There was no moon.
The box hedges shut behind us. A deserted golf course stretched away toward a
few hilly clumps of trees, and I felt the whole desolate familiarity of the scene -- the
country club and the dance and the lawn with its single cricket.
I didn't know where I was, but it was somewhere in the wealthy suburbs of New
Marco produced a slim cigar and a silver lighter in the shape of a bullet. He set
the cigar between his lips and bent over the small flare. His face, with its exaggerated
shadows and planes of light, looked alien and pained, like a refugee's.
I watched him.
"Who are you in love with?" I said then.
For a minute Marco didn't say anything, he simply opened his mouth and breathed
out a blue, vaporous ring.
"Perfect!" he laughed.
The ring widened and blurred, ghost-pale on the dark air.
Then he said, "I am in love with my cousin."
I felt no surprise.
"Why don't you marry her?"
Marco shrugged. "She's my first cousin. She's going to be a nun."
"Is she beautiful?"
"There's no one to touch her."
"Does she know you love her?"
I paused. The obstacle seemed unreal to me.
"If you love her," I said, "you'll love somebody else someday."
Marco dashed his cigar underfoot.
The ground soared and struck me with a soft shock. Mud squirmed through my
fingers. Marco waited until I half rose. Then he put both hands on my shoulders and flung
"My dress. . ."
"Your dress!" The mud oozed and adjusted itself to my shoulder blades. "Your
dress!" Marco's face lowered cloudily over mine. A few drops of spit struck my lips.
"Your dress is black and the dirt is black as well."
Then he threw himself face down as if he would grind his body through me and
into the mud.
"It's happening," I thought. "It's happening. If I just lie here and do nothing it will
Marco set his teeth to the strap at my shoulder and tore my sheath to the waist. I
saw the glimmer of bare skin, like a pale veil separating two bloody-minded adversaries.
The words hissed by my ear.
The dust cleared, and I had a full view of the battle.
I began to writhe and bite.
Marco weighed me to the earth.
I gouged at his leg with the sharp heel of my shoe. He turned, fumbling for the
Then I fisted my fingers together and smashed them at his nose. It was like hitting
the steel plate of a battleship. Marco sat up. I began to cry.
Marco pulled out a white handkerchief and dabbed his nose. Blackness, like ink,
spread over the pale cloth.
I sucked at my salty knuckles.
"I want Doreen."
Marco stared off across the golf links.
"I want Doreen. I want to go home."
"Sluts, all sluts." Marco seemed to be talking to nimself. "Yes or no, it is all the
I poked Marco's shoulder. "Where's Doreen?"
Marco snorted. "Go to the parking lot. Look in the backs of all the cars."
Then he spun around.
I got up and retrieved my stole from the darkness. I started to walk off. Marco
sprang to his feet and blocked my path. Then, deliberately, he wiped his finger under his
bloody nose and with two strokes stained my cheeks. "I have earned my diamond with
this blood. Give it to me."
"I don't know where it is."
Now I knew perfectly well that the diamond was in my evening bag and that
when Marco knocked me down my evening bag had soared, like a night bird, into the
enveloping darkness. I began to think I would lead him away and then return on my own
and hunt for it.
I had no idea what a diamond that size would buy, but whatever it was, I knew it
would be a lot. Marco took my shoulders in both hands. "Tell me," he said, giving each
word equal emphasis. "Tell me, or I'll break your neck." Suddenly I didn't care.
"It's in my imitation jet bead evening bag," I said. "Somewhere in the muck."
I left Marco on his hands and knees, scrabbling in the darkness for another,
smaller darkness that hid the light of his diamond from his furious eyes.
Doreen was not in the ballroom nor in the parking lot. I kept to the fringe of the
shadows so nobody would notice the grass plastered to my dress and shoes, and with my
black stole I covered my shoulders and bare breasts.
Luckily for me, the dance was nearly over, and groups of people were leaving and
coming out to the parked cars. I asked at one car after another until finally I found a car
that had room and would drop me in the middle of Manhattan.
At that vague hour between dark and dawn, the sunroof of the Amazon was
Quiet as a burglar in my cornflower-sprigged bathrobe, I crept to the edge of the
parapet. The parapet reached almost to my shoulders, so I dragged a folding chair from
the stack against the wall, opened it, and climbed onto the precarious seat.
A stiff breeze lifted the hair from my head. At my feet, the city doused its lights in
sleep, its buildings blackened, as if for a funeral.
It was my last night.
I grasped the bundle I carried and pulled at a pale tail. A strapless elasticized slip
which, in the course of wear, had lost its elasticity, slumped into my hand. I waved it, like
a flag of truce, once, twice. . . The breeze caught it, and I let go.
A white flake floated out into the night, and began its slow descent. I wondered
on what street or rooftop it would come to rest.
I tugged at the bundle again.
The wind made an effort, but failed, and a batlike shadow sank toward the roof
garden of the penthouse opposite.
Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved
one's ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would
never know, in the dark heart of New York.
HE FACE IN THE MIRROR
looked like a sick Indian.
I dropped the compact into my pocketbook and stared out of the train window.
Like a colossal junkyard, the swamps and back lots of Connecticut flashed past, one
broken-down fragment bearing no relation to another.
What a hotchpotch the world was!
I glanced down at my unfamiliar skirt and blouse.
The skirt was a green dirndl with tiny black, white and electric-blue shapes
swarming across it, and it stuck out like a lampshade. Instead of sleeves, the white eyelet
blouse had frills at the shoulder, floppy as the wings of a new angel.
I'd forgotten to save any day clothes from the ones I let fly over New York, so
Betsy had traded me a blouse and skirt for my bathrobe with the cornflowers on it.
A wan reflection of myself, white wings, brown ponytail and all, ghosted over the
"Pollyanna Cowgirl," I said out loud.
A woman in the seat opposite looked up from her magazine.
I hadn't, at the last moment, felt like washing off the two diagonal lines of dried
blood that marked my cheeks. They seemed touching, and rather spectacular, and I
thought I would carry them around with me, like the relic of a dead lover, till they wore
off of their own accord.
Of course, if I smiled or moved my face much, the blood would flake away in no
time, so I kept my face immobile, and when I had to speak I spoke through my teeth,
without disturbing my lips.
I didn't really see why people should look at me.
Plenty of people looked queerer than I did.
My gray suitcase rode on the rack over my head, empty except for The Thirty Best
Short Stories of the Year, a white plastic sunglasses case and two dozen avocado pears, a
parting present from Doreen.
The pears were unripe, so they would keep well, and whenever I lifted my
suitcase up or down or simply carried it along, they cannoned from one end to the other
with a special little thunder of their own.
"Root Wan Twenny Ate!" the conductor bawled.
The domesticated wilderness of pine, maple and oak rolled to a halt and stuck in
the frame of the train window like a bad picture. My suitcase grumbled and bumped as I
negotiated the long aisle.
I stepped from the air-conditioned compartment onto the station platform, and the
motherly breath of the suburbs enfolded me. It smelt of lawn sprinklers and station
wagons and tennis rackets and dogs and babies.
A summer calm laid its soothing hand over everything, like death.
My mother was waiting by the glove-gray Chevrolet.
"Why lovey, what's happened to your face?"
"Cut myself," I said briefly, and crawled into the back seat after my suitcase. I
didn't want her staring at me the whole way home.
The upholstery felt slippery and clean.
My mother climbed behind the wheel and tossed a few letters into my lap, then
turned her back
The car purred into life.
"I think I should tell you right away," she said, and I could see bad news in the set
of her neck, "you didn't make that writing course."
The air punched out of my stomach.
All through June the writing course stretched before me like a bright, safe bridge
over the dull gulf of the summer. Now I saw it totter and dissolve, and a body in a white
blouse and green skirt plummet into the gap.
Then my mouth shaped itself sourly.
I had expected it.
I slunk down on the middle of my spine, my nose level with the rim of the
window, and watched the houses of outer Boston glide by. As the houses grew more
familiar I slunk still lower.
I felt it was very important not to be recognized.
The gray, padded car roof closed over my head like the roof of a prison van, and
the white, shining, identical clapboard houses with their interstices of well-groomed
green proceeded past, one bar after another in a large but escape-proof cage.
I had never spent a summer in the suburbs before.
The soprano screak of carriage wheels punished my ear. Sun, seeping through the
blinds, filled the bedroom with a sulphurous light. I didn't know how long I had slept, but
I felt one big twitch of exhaustion.
The twin bed next to mine was empty and unmade.
At seven I had heard my mother get up, slip into her clothes and tiptoe out of the
room. Then the buzz of the orange squeezer sounded from downstairs, and the smell of
coffee and bacon filtered under my door. Then the sink water ran from the tap and dishes
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