First Things & Final Changes

A Short Fiction Collection

Part IV

Includes Under the Whale, Intruders and All Iggles Are Jargs.
Copyright 1992-95, 2011 Katherine Anne Harris. All rights reserved.

Under the Whale

Great Nature has another thing to do
to you and me, so take the lively air
and, Lovely, learn by going where to go."

~Theodore Roethke

"So he's asking things like what's the similarity between a parakeet and a steamshovel and I'm saying things like Shrink, you let me out of here, I'll research it. And when you're not playing Absurdist Analogies, there's the eternal freakshow. Imagine if you will the Cosmic Bruiser, balloon-fat and ugly as a pit bull, well this guy's game is cruising the hall, bellowing swearwords and trying to wallop the old lady's head. She's a grizzled handwringing Weeper of Doom who floats on and off scene like Queen Margaret. A worse down than Mary Fran, mind you!

"Ubu the Bruiser also wanders into the bedrooms at will, you can't lock up anything, and one day he takes a giant dump in my chair while I'm out front greeting a visitor. My English teacher as it happens. Blessed stylish Mrs. Tarquin, who took charge of me when she heard I was cracking, sweeps in dripping with poetry, erudition, compassion and fringe and I lead her to my little niche in Hades. Directly to the chair that's warm and waiting. Crave more detail, do you?"

During her harangue, shouted over Led Zep, the girl kept decorating. Barefoot in beads and the long coppery dress she'd worn speeding all over Fort Worth and even on the day the world ended, she was climbing on tables, dressertop and mattress to tack up posters, pictures, poems, photos and collages. Pieces of her real life had to move right in with her, if she had to spend the summer in her childroom with its scrolly high-school-sweetheart suite all gilded silly.

Daniel helped her pull down the preposterous blue satin curtains, but mostly he just stood by laughing, looking stunned. She was glad to see him but still acting cross about the way he'd let her down.

It was only two weeks ago when she called him, begging for help because she'd been up for ages and now there wasn't a damn thing left in town, the whole place had gone dry and everybody was hard-crashing. There was a full surf of pain in her head and whenever she tried to shave her legs, for instance, everything in the kingdom got bloody. She didn't want to impose; she wasn't asking him to drop the world and come running: She'd have driven all night to pick up whatever he could score in his neck of the woods, but Daniel couldn't be bothered to try. Too wrapped up in some fraternity intiation crap he was only using for a cover anyway.

When she jumped down for more pretties to hang and wouldn't look right at him, Daniel took hold of her floppy sleevepoints to stop her. "I didn't realize," he apologized with a conspiratory smile, "it was that serious."

Oh it was an emergency all right. But she had to laugh too, and forgive him. "They called it 'an acute schizophrenic reaction' so I asked Reaction to what? and they said it wasn't 'to' anything, that was just a word they used. Imagine! What an abuse of language, not to mention ontology."

Right after the next time Mary Fran looked in on them and bitched about turning down the music, they fired up some hash that Daniel brought. He said again he wished he'd really understood.

"Are you okay now?"

"No thanks to that place, they were making me crazy. After a few days I got smart and stopped swallowing that purple glop, then the fog cleared, the bed stopped spinning. It was getting very A-Minor there for a while. All I needed was sleep and food, y'know."

Daniel turned her hands over and looked so long at the scars she had to yank him back to sense. "Will you please kindly for Pete's sake relight that pipe?" With another hit of the sweet hash, she felt her pores relax.

"Guess Mary Fran was freaked-out but good."

"Lord yes, she kept going Oh no like our Weird-Camp Wailer and muttering about my loony aunt. 'Cara all over again!' Like I'd never see daylight. It was just a marathon run, that's all. Close to a month I'd been living on the floor surrounded by books and notebooks and friends stopping in, everybody flying. But then semester was wrapping up, people I love were all coming over to tell me goodbye and I'd built this three-foot stack of notes but no honors paper.

"That's the stack." She pointed out where it loomed in a corner, taller than the froufrou night table.

"That's a stack," Daniel nodded.

"I knew too much to write it, it wouldn't boil down, and I was getting super space-sick. And there was this thing with Nicky, this Walpurgisnacht thing. Some guy Bonnie brought to my place for a party, I heard the next day that he'd raped me. Too strange. Now I would not have let this nerd near me, were I anywhere near conscious, let alone competent, and everybody else could see that. Bonnie apologized all over herself of course and the other guys went out and ripped his face off. But Nicky blamed me.

"He was just beginning to get over it." The girl stretched out on the floor with her head in Daniel's lap, remembering how she'd only been showing off that night for Nicky, playing Happiest Girl in the World for him, trying to be who he wanted but getting too loaded. "And now he's there and I'm stuck here."

"Less than three months 'til fall term --"

"They're making me change colleges."

"Yeah, I can just hear her." Daniel did his right-on impression of Mary Fran on the Warpath, picking up the pace of her typical whine and pounding hell-drums with the last two words of each sentence. "You're not going back there. We won't have it. You've been running around with the wrong crowd. All those kids are on drugs. They will ruin you!" Mary Fran was very hot on saying "ruin" and "the wrong crowd."

"She doesn't realize you are the wrong crowd," Daniel giggled.

"Same to you." The girl sat up to rub the speed-knots in her neck. "Hey, get me out of here a while. She'll let me out the door with you."

They drove out by the lake, went wading and made plans for Daniel to spring her the next day for her visit with Nicky -- Nick to everyone else except her, his mom and dad. Daniel was glad of a chance to do something for her, given his recent track record, and it was easier than fighting things out with Mary Fran and Ray.

When Nicky had finally managed to track her down, the last day she was in the hospital, they'd arranged by phone a Donovanesque assignation. Tomorrow was "meet me under the whale" time at a natural history museum in Fort Worth. Since it didn't have a whale, actually they were scheduled to meet beneath the brontosaurus. Nicky chose the venue, one of his childhood faves, and in fact the place was billed as a children's attraction. The girl had never been there before or had any urge to go. Her pick would have been one of the art museums, to visit crunchy-gold medieval things or the Munch with dark-electric girls on a bridge. Or the cascade steps in the botanical gardens, where she liked splashing down tier to tier, playing her flute or Ophelia. Or the zoo, but that was best fun at night, breaking in to wish the animals sweet dreams.

The story was she and Daniel would be seeing a movie in Dallas. Mary Fran, who wasn't thrilled at first but didn't put her foot down, turned ultimately chirpy about it because the girl took such pains with her appearance. She wore a very short lace-crusted sundress, pastel rose to match her tights and pink-pearly fingernail polish. Not a dress she usually put on -- in fact she'd gotten it as a costume for a simpy play -- it was the one she'd met Nicky in. That was way back in April, when the first of hot weather made her want to wear something ingenue.

In not a lot of beads, plain crystal, and high-heeled sandals, the girl was looking almost straight. After she washed and ironed her hair, she misted it with her mom's Shalimar. Stacks of bracelets hid the scars.

On the road, conversation was made but the girl's head was elsewhere. It seemed so long since she'd seen him. Was Nicky honestly that tall, that powerful, that radiant? Were the eyes behind those horn-rims that alive? Was his laughter that thorough, really, sparks driven upward and out from a forge? And was the languid whiskbroom of his bangs quite that soft?

It was true, all that, she thought an hour later, but was his hello-kiss as plastic as it seemed?

"I didn't know where you were, or I would've --"

"No big deal. Too long a run on speed. They made me sleep and eat, that's all I needed."

The girl skipped to keep up with Nicky, who was in some kind of rush to show her everything. There were gobs of fossils and minerals and Indian relics. There were historic cycloramas out the wazoo. There were cabinets full of satiny Roman glass and one window framed Cycladic statues, a prayerful few, shapes self-contained as shut eyes, tight as reverent hands. Her beads and bracelets clacked like castanets as she went weaving among parents with their sticky strollers and cushiony kiddos, balding toys and bursting bags.

There was the obligatory planetarium, where she expected Nicky's kiss in darkness but it didn't come. Stars were at long last replaced by spotlights. Astro-watchers blinked, stretched, resumed their burdens in an awkward, slo-mo sort of undersea scurry.

Nicky stood and said, "Oh, I saw Julie yesterday."

"Then you know she won her sanity hearing. That was such cool news." When Julie came back to the ward as victor and guest, still wearing the girl's green seed-beads, she said they'd brought her luck. The girl liked to think so.

In the hallway, Nicky led her apart from the crowd. "She said to tell you the bust got thrown out completely. Her pop didn't really want it to stick, so he set it up for the pigs to skip some forms or magic words. He just wanted her back at the family manor, away from Jim."

"Or if necessary declared legally insane and locked up at Zany Acres 'til she's thirty." She didn't mean the giggle that burbled out.

Sounds of a vault door closing. Closing you in. That's to remember after the music, lovewords, poems, birdsong, rainsong and learning are lost. Image of herself and Julie washing in adjacent tubs, since you have to check out a razor to shave your legs and they won't let you use it alone. Sensation of whirling in those few moments when you're really gone for good and all unless you force it, forget those words you heard inside yourself that set the bed revoling with you stuck flat to it. Strategy to fox the keepers. Acrid taste of the soma you have to hold in your mouth until drug cart and nursy wheel away. Scent of Ubu-shit. Cries of Queen Margaret manmanmanmanAmen when Ubu shoulders her into the floor. Stern windowbars and iron-light. Deep, bone-deep cold despite all the June outside. Longings, sharp, for verdure and for rain.

"How'd she look?"


"I'm really glad for her. Thank God we had each other when we were -- in there. That made it not so bad. And lots of friends came to see us, made sure we had all the Bel-Airs we could smoke and plenty of Sugar-Babies. And you should see the mad ashtrays we made, they're magnificent if I do say so."

It had been Nicky who brought the two together in the first place, and the girl was less than pleased at the time. He evidently liked looking after looped pretty girls in soft colors. Shortly after he got her from axiology class -- deeply stoned, wearing pink -- he got Julie at the 7-Eleven. Equally ignited, wearing white eyelet, she was buying Sugar-Babies when Robbie went for Cokes.

"Hey, I know what, Nicky! Let's go see Julie and Jim --"

"Look, I -- I've gotta flash, Lovely." He always called her "Lovely," from Roethke's villanelle, "The Waking."

"Go now?" She was shocked to hear herself sounding like a child.

"Well, soon."

"You look so earnest. But then you often do."

"There's somewhere I have to be at two."

"Someplace important?"

Nicky nodded with a visible gulp and the girl let go his hand that she'd been swinging. "I met this girl last week, Kristin, a really beautiful person. She's -- very young, not quite seventeen, and this sounds absolutely berserk but we're getting married. She's at a wedding shower now and I have to go get her. She -- doesn't drive yet."

"She -- doesn't -- drive -- yet?"

There was that laugh, while Nicky was saying "I know, I know, I know." He confided when he finished spluttering, "She does have a learner's permit," and went on to explain how he met Saint Kristin at a rock concert in Dallas, where she was helping out some kid she didn't even know, who was having a really bad trip. Nicky loved her instantly, of course his parents just adored her instantly, too, and he'd managed to win hers over with all sorts of promises and protestations. Like of course she'd finish high school. The phrase "capturing the Now" turned up repeatedly and, although Nicky agreed that it probably couldn't be done, he had to give it a shot.

The girl kept her smile on, even when it came up that he'd been trying and trying to reach her because Canned Heat was playing and he knew she'd want to hear that concert with him. She couldn't quite keep walking then, however.

Luckily they were in front of the Cycladic stuff again, an array that she could reasonably stop to study. Finally she asked, "What does Kristin call you?"

It was some consolation when he answered, laughing, "Nick."

Nicky laughed again, a huge shower of sparks, and said, "Will you listen to the girl?" when she wished him well, shook hands and told him if it didn't work out he knew where she'd be.

Nicky's walking-away was jaunty. His appointment was with destiny, hers was only with Daniel.

Her eyelashes rainbowed in the exhibition lights as she wandered from case to case, context to context. She experienced history as a random peepshow and herself as scriptless. Worse, Scriptless in Cataclysm. As when glaciers slid, melting and continents sank, the earth groaned and heaved up a new mountain, chasms split and gaped, lava oozed fresh black shorelines and the first sort-of-human stood up on its hind legs, thinking Now what?

Or was it, "Hell's bells! What's apt to happen next?" She had to giggle, in spite of herself, and then she hurried out the door to cry.

From the Children's Museum, where she was too proud to serve as Broken Old Child on Display, the girl ran onto a long greensward -- word she found as noble as the place itself. So intelligently linking many of the city's galleries and stages, the area was one she'd known for two years constantly as viewer and actor. In this public site so large it had to do with peace and privacy, there was separate space enough for crying freely, space enough to hold a soul when it opened.

"So he's marrying some little ray of sunshine barely out of braces," she told Daniel on the way back to Grayson, "someone with whom he's been acquainted for an entire week, give or take a day or two."

"Y'don't mean it."

"Just like that. I can't grasp it, either, I mean Nicky Jarman's the smartest sane person I know. He's the fucking poster child for brains without breakdowns --

"You okay about it?"

"Why do you ask? Did I miss hearing some options?"

"Are you really okay?"

"Things move on. You can't even take out a week for a crackup."

In her brain, "The Hedgehog Song" kept playing, the refrain: You know all the words and you've sung all the notes but you never quite learned the song he sang; I can tell by the sadness in your eyes that you never quite learned the song.

Nicky, who went around so damn untortured, so unbored, had tormented her with that tune, sometimes deliberately, for almost long enough. Hearing the music still hurt like the devil, which would be fine for a while.

She thought about his kind of mastery she'd so admired and never understood. The way he put it was when something enormous is coming at you, say the problem of time, you don't just stand in its way; you step off to one side and try to grab a handle.

The girl laid that rap on Daniel, who like her was one for getting pulverized.

"Then what you've just seen," he said, "is one weird-ass sidestep."

After a beat, he sighed. "I just try not to think about it. You like to lick up the juice."

"While it lasts, I'll get down a poem or two" was what she replied, but she was already wondering about a kind of Now that can capture you.

"When Roethke wrote, 'what falls away is always,' he was like rocking himself with that, he was kissing some hurt away, trying to, right? This shaking keeps me steady, I should know what falls away is always and is near. Is that how you hear it?"

"Yeah sure."

"But what if it's really true, Daniel?"

Daniel looked at her as he had when she was hanging pictures yesterday, when he'd said he didn't realize things had gotten so serious. Obviously he understood what she was getting at now. If what you lose is always with you, you need someplace to keep it. The Nicky hole could be first among the really big ones. Down there with Walpurgisnacht and with today were the strength and the heat and the taste of him. Lilac night they met, when she was saying such stoned things in class and Nicky saved her from the plastic people, stashed her in his car at intermission, called her beautiful and pink and kissed her into calm. Night, another, when she held him whole through accidental acid, lousy stepped-on stuff somebody slipped him. Greenest afternoon of rainy running, rainy reading. Dawn of drawing picture-poems, ready as breath. Jingling midday splashing in rose-garden fountains. Orange juice-and-Cointreau midnight, sticky dark with Nicky and his tripped-out way-too-sexy friend, flirting as he wished her to and wished her not to. Love they made when he sent Ted away. Down there with everything they'd ever done together, every place they'd been was each occasion when he told her, "Take your watch off," just as though she didn't know time couldn't come where they were going. Down there along with everything they'd been for one another was his calling her "Babe" once instead of "Lovely," calling her all in the black, not a beautiful person, an emotional moron. That was in May but down there it was also April always, April not the cruelest month.

"Oh stop thinking about it," Daniel said, but she could see there'd be a minefield eventually, a Swiss cheese of keeping-holes and nothing but edges to claw onto, nothing whatever but edges aside from those pits, all black but so shiny, all daring you to fly inside.

"You're a hard case," Daniel grinned. "Bet you'd go to the dentist on acid."


"Ray!" some man was shouting, and another guy picked up the cry.

"Ray! Who's seen Ray Ferris?"

Somebody else yelled back, "Twelfth hole!"

"Will somebody go tell him get his daughter off the course!"

It did seem pretty strange that all those people were so agitated. The girl was only walking in the rough, well off the fairway, nowhere near a green, and it made as much sense for her to be reading Yeats out here in the rain as for them to be hitting little white balls. To be less conspicuous, she lay down under a live oak tree, though "Sailing to Byzantium" was better read in motion, and arranged herself to keep the pages from getting very wet. It didn't matter about her, because she was still sopping from the swimming pool.

While she was in the water, the course kept calling her in tones and tones of different green, inviting her to come inside the thick-wooded borderings that ribboned out and out between sculpted slopings of lawn. Her answer was her usual: Why not? At least as much as anybody, she and her Yeats volume belonged out there. It was beautiful. Some of the best scenery in the world was on golf courses, she'd seen enough televised golf with Ray to know that, yet it was being largely wasted -- like those wasted planes on concrete that her ex-lover the pilot always bitched about.

Before she went back to reading, it crossed her mind to wonder what Kent was doing these days; maybe she'd see if that Fresno phone number still worked, not right away but sometime. He was so straight, though.

Today was another Darvon day, another floating-down day, since all she could find in her mom's bathroom was a painkiller stash. Too soon for more speed, anyway, less than a month since the marathon run dumped her at Weird Camp. Strange to be so on-slow, but advisable.

She drifted in and out of her pages, in and out of the green things and rain streaming around her, in and out of recollections and reflections.

How syrupy the pace was, back here in Grayson. Lethargy writ-large. And how little anybody said, although they never stopped talking in their taffy-pulled way that made her want to run around the block a few times while a sentence got finished. In just three weeks, intelligent conversation had become an artifact. By being stuck at her parents' house for the summer, she was also missing out on several interesting classes, at least a couple of plummy stage roles, art museums, concerts, decent films, parties of course, her friends, her lovers, freedom.

Their idea of entertainment in Grayson was watching a kids' ballgame or some mainstream second-run movie, taking picnics to the lake, hanging out at the country clubs or, if you wanted the height of culture, going once a month to whatever production the Community Concert Association managed to book at the high school auditorium. Whoopee-hoo-hah-hot-damn.

Out of sheerest desperate boredom, that's where she'd be this evening, back at Grayson Senior High, last seen when she gave her valedictory address two years ago, thanking nobody because she was O.D.'d on Ayn Rand. She'd also be going to a post-show reception at the newspaper editor's house; as Grayson's prize intellectual and arty person, she had to be asked to that of course. Mary Fran thought the Alfords were oh-so-lovely to invite her daughter, but it was only like being a prize fish or something. The hot-shit locals wanted something indigenous to brag on, all shined up, stuffed and on-show. She was willing, even eager, this evening; anything to take her mind off Nicky, who was getting married in Fort Worth tonight.

Every now and then, the girl could hear Ray's voice; he was roaming the course looking for her, bound to be mad about missing his game.

"I surrender," she finally said and stood up with her hands in the air.

Ray was so red and so angry, like Rumpelstiltskin dipped in fingernail enamel. It took forever to stop laughing.

Now that rain was coming down harder, she didn't mind going back to the pool. She had it all to herself and did another hundred laps or so, swimming in a waterfall.

After showering in the clubhouse, the girl got a coke to wash down a few more Darvons, which was a really dumb-sounding plural. She played with that while she drove home in Felicity Falcon; the form was wrong for "Darva," "Darvae" or "Darvii," but any of them sounded more correct. For future use and the general hell of it, she settled on "Darvoni."

Grant Dannenberg was headed down the road in the opposite direction in his green M.G. and they exchanged horn-taps. She went out with him sometimes and knew he was a freak operating undercover. As usual he was all tricked-out in golf clothes, looking straight-arrow to the max, but Grant was hard-core, blasted, as likely to be on horse as snow.

Back at the house, Mary Fran was lawn-edging with her new weed-eater.She got a kick out of that, after years of edging with what was essentially a pizza-cutter on a broom handle. Hers were ideal tastes for a golf-widow; she grooved out on mowing the grass, too, the exercise and the aroma. While Mary Fran worked on the yard, Evan bounced in his baby-seat, laughing huh-huh-huh, six months old but baritone from birth.

The girl got dressed in a gypsy-looking shirt and sash, her off-the-shoulder peasant blouse and several pounds of beads, then sat down with her ethics text while noshing on potato chips dipped in hot mustard.

"Aren't you going to have dinner?" Mary Fran whined when she came in. "I made a roast and green beans." Good thing she wasn't hungry. Mary Fran's roasts were grey chunks of dessicated corpse; her green beans were slime in pond-water. "You need to eat. You're too skinny."

"There'll be food at the party, I guess." The girl took off as soon as she'd stuffed semistrained glop into Evan and put him in his pen.

The performance was, at best, uneven. The girl knew a thing or two about ballet; since it was part of the theatre department at T.C.U., she took some classes herself and was friends with ballet majors. At least there weren't lighting fiascos; Mary Fran still giggled about the show last Christmas when somebody freaked out on the board and kept changing colors during Norman Luboff and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Finally he said he wished they had a fountain to go with all the colored lights.

The party crowd, as she'd anticipated, was the blue-haired set, aside from the performers and a small coterie of rich home-from-college kids who clustered around the Alfords' daughter, Fleur. The girl had classes with Fleur during junior and senior high school, but she'd never been inside her house before and it was frankly dazzling. From the ceiling down to the furniture tops, every wall in the living room was hung with oil paintings, rather nice ones in monstrous gleaming frames, and the walls were covered with a pleated material that was darkest bottom-of-the-bottle wine. Prisms glinted, dangling from the Alfords' lamps not just their chandeliers, and the comparison was wretchedly banal but the place was a jewelbox. Fleur's French mother, also called Fleur, was dressed to match and sparkled.

Through a wide arch open to the dining room, the girl could see the dancers milling around a table, scarfing goodies. Dancers were always starving. One of them, the principal male dancer, was obviously thinking, "Delicious," but he was looking right at her, not at Madame Alford's pretty buffet supper.

On her way over there, the girl stopped to visit with Miss North, who'd been her favorite high school teacher, and was pleased to hear that she been teaching English at the junior college since the city school system made her retire last term at sixty-five. Mimi Reynolds, chatting in the same clump, asked the girl a typical bunch of nosy questions but didn't rave on about her daughter Marley the way she always had before. The girl's academic arch-rival until she finally gave up and went off to private school where she could make valedictorian, Marley'd been studying piano in New York though nowhere important. When the girl inquired specifically about her, Mrs. Reynolds answered in a subdued way that Marley recently got married and suspended her studies for a while. Presumably knocked-up, not that she herself had any room to talk about that.

The dancer watched through all her conversations and met the girl a few steps apart from the table, with a champagne glass ready to place in her hand. He clicked his heels, bowed and she curtsied of course.

She'd always fancied champagne, which Kent considered the right ladies' drink except at spots like Trader Vic's where you had vivid things named for tropical storms. She fancied dancers, too. Until she fell for Nicky, her top-favorite lovers this spring were ballet majors, Matt and Alan. Nothing short of amazing, what dancers could do. Nicky was nowhere near that good but it didn't matter; he wrote really well and was better in the sack than her ex-husband Hal, the physics major, aberration of l967 or any other year.

"Senorita," the hunky dancer said, "I am Julio."

"Si, Senor. Comprendo." She knew his name from the program, and that he trained in Argentina before moving to New York. He was tall for a dancer, seriously muscular, with black hair curling damp on the broad forehead of a face like a streetwise cherub. It was furnace-hot close to him.

Julio introduced her to his colleagues, fluttery girls dark and fair, still wearing dancer-eyes and pony-tails, and one other guy, Chad, a blond obviously gay. Male dancers were like actors that way, either gay as a yellow duster or assured by God that they were His gift to women.

Colleen and Sarah were barely older than she, just nineteen and twenty. The guys were mid-twenties. They'd been working together for only a few weeks in this little troupe, but fused already like the cast of a play. Touring during the down season, the dancers had been hitting such cultural high spots as Baton Rouge, Tulsa and Wichita Falls. They made fun, themselves, of how rough the show had been and the girl was able to commiserate about the high school's stage, a fierce concrete slab that had Colleen's feet so wrecked she was wearing house-slippers. It was even brutal to act on, if you had to stay standing for long.

When other people came up to chat, the dancers were polite but clearly bored silly. Not having much to say or receiving any encouragement, the stage-struck locals quickly drifted off and fun was poked at them, representing types the performers had seen everywhere.

"Pillar-of-the-community banker, am I right?" Sarah said after getting rid of Mr. Whorter. "Expensive suit, inscrutable smile, that inflexible walk."

Yeah, Whorter was rigid with his own bullshit. Sarah, who was dark-haired and so indoor-pale that she looked like a commedia harlequin, specialized in the businessman types. She could identify jewelers by their fine hands and diminutive movements, for example, and owners of fashion stores by the width of their gaze as well as their own outfits. The girl helped her out on some regionals like the lake land developers, moneyed-looking good-ole-boys towed by tiny bleached-blonde first wives or towing tall second-go-around bimbos. Similar to oil people but with marginally more social polish and better-coordinated clothes. Kewpie-doll Colleen, whose face-colors were just slightly askew as though the painting machine missed aim by a fraction, could tell a teacher a mile away by voice inflection and those hold-the-crowd gestures. Chad picked out the idle country club women, tanned, spacious in motion, sloshing back booze.

"Ah, La Reine," Julio said when he saw Mimi Reynolds approaching with her I-am-so-seriously-au-courant expression.

"That's the Queen Bee, all right. They own this town." Mimi's eyebrows lifted even higher when the girl proceeded to make introductions.

After Madame Alford presented Fleur and her set, who were greeted and subsequently ignored, the dancers rated them overdressed, overprivileged, overaged children, sorority and frat sorts who wouldn't recognize an idea if it came up and chewed on them, people who'd try to fly off a building if you you got them stoned, no heads at all.

"Ah my soul. Assholes," Julio sighed in that marvelous accent. "Pero si," he raised his glass to the girl, "we find in this miserable town a bloody-fucking angel. I saw you in the audience, my angel, I knew you would be wonderful. Did I not tell you so, Sarah?"

Sarah nodded. "Yes, Darling, you said so. We all saw you, sitting by yourself, actually paying attention." The girl knew that was true; she'd noticed them noticing her.

"We figured you for a dancer," Colleen said.

"What are you doing in this berg, anyhow?" Chad asked, so she told about the speed run, crash-and-burn, the wrist-slash, the hospital where she was never really released, only sprung for her divorce hearing and then whisked back to the parental village, transferred into nearby Austin College where she was doing philosophy since she already had enough theatre and English credits for those majors.

"She must come to us, no? Come to me. This autumn I return to New York and you will come, si? You do not belong here, my angel."

"Yes, do," the others said. "Please come." While Julio was noting his Greenwich Village address on her program, Chad went into the bathroom chop snow on Sarah's compact-mirror. One by one, they slipped in to share.

From across the glittering claret living room, both rejected Fleurs were eying the girl with unmasked jealous hatred, evil fairies with a bushel of poisoned apples up their sleeves. They'd go on and on about how she'd monopolized their guests and how they'd never ask her back of course. Miss North, on the other hand, gave an airy little blessing-wave, registering with pleasure that the girl was enjoying herself.

Since she'd never dream of intruding on their group, Miss North had to be introduced formally and the girl led the performers over to her, a small parade of tribute. When she said Miss North was her favorite person in Grayson and explained how she'd stood up to the self-righteous principal who tried to interfere on moral grounds with the girl's scholarships, they treated her with the utmost respect. Julio kissed her hand, which was going a bit far with somebody like Rachel North, but no harm was done.

"We will go now, my angel," Julio said and the girl was more than ready. They stepped out as though going for air, still sipping their champagne, and fled, leaving the glasses on the porch.

It was hard to know what to make of a guy like Julio; he was so effusive you couldn't tell how much he meant. As she drove Felicity Falcon through the park near his hotel, he kept raving about New York and begging her to promise that she'd come to him before these leaves had fallen. Not that she could, but what would he do if she really showed up?

"It's not so easy, Julio. I've still got a year of college to finish, and I've got a child."

"So? There are children in the city also, there are colleges if you wish to study --"

"It's not so easy."

"Because money?"

"No, the scholarships would pay."

"So come."

"Julio, it's like this. My mother and father would take Evan away if I split. They always say so."

"Your child they would take? This is not possible, not possible." The way he kept shaking his head every few seconds, you'd think he had water in his ears.

She parked the car, said "c'mon" and they walked through green blackness, black greenness, holding hands. Invisible cicadas and white stars whirred. Beyond the trees, trucks passed on the highway, sudden as moths. She kicked off her sandals and ran, then Julio caught up with her, lifted her, spun her around in the sky. For that instant she was the dancer she might have been if Mary Fran hadn't forced her to choose, at age four, between more dancing lessons or kindergarten. At seventeen, in Fort Worth, she learned she had perfect natural turn-out. Even stuffy kids who who hated her liked watching her boogie; one nerd said last year, "You should dance everywhere you go," which was her second-favorite compliment. The best was backstage after a show, when a gorgeous little Alice in Wonderland came in dragging her shy fat don't-bother-the-actors mother because she had to hug the girl and cry, "I love you -- you're so good!"

Julio lowered her into his arms and wouldn't set her down. He whirled her, kissed her furiously on lips and face, hair and shoulders, He nibbled down her arms to her wrists where the scars were. "You must come to me, my angel, you must live," he breathed. He smelled gingery, biting soft butterfly bites through her clothes, licking her toes.

For the second time today she heard Ray calling. Deargodno.

"It's my father. He must've phoned the Alfords and they must've told him that we'd gone. Probably to your hotel."

Julio shrugged. He didn't get what they were up against. "So we will speak to him. You are grown woman, we tell him you are fine with me, you come home soon. He will no longer worry, si?"

"Dream on."


"It isn't going to work out that way, Julio."

Julio set her down and she squeezed him, kissed him again and said, "Stay where you are." Then she went back to the lamp-lit path near the parking lot, answering Jay. "Right over here, Daddy. I'm fine."

The furious gnome advanced up the little hill, wheezing with his emphysema. "What the hell are you doing out here in the middle of the night? Are you out of your mind?" He was maroon with ire, mad as the devil, looking just like one of the Wicked Witch of the West's flying monkeys.

"I'm only taking a stroll, Daddy."

"You get in that car and come home this minute."

"Wow, don't get in such an uproar."

"Mrs. Alford told me what you've been up to. Where's that man, that dancer you've been carrying on with all night? Where is he?"

"At his hotel, I guess. That's where I took him. He was tired."

The lie didn't work because Julio didn't stay put. By now he was practically behind her.

"Sir," he said and tried to shake hands but Ray wouldn't. "Do not blame your daughter, please, for walking with me. I suggest this, she is beautiful lady, I look after her. Okay?"

"You just leave her alone, Mister. Get on back to wherever you belong and leave this girl alone. You're coming with me," Ray said and grabbed her arm.

"Sir, no. She does nothing bad, Sir."

"You stay out of this." Ray slammed the girl into his Buick; he wouldn't even let her drive Felicity home.

"I want my car, Dad."

"I'll bring you back for it tomorrow, when that man you picked up is long-gone. Your mother and I will not have you running around like a tramp, not in this town."

Mary Fran was out in the front yard, pacing. "Well thank goodness you found her. Was she in his hotel room? Is that where you were?"

"The park, Mom. I was in a public park."

"With that man, some foreigner. He tried to get me to go off and leave her with him, Mary."

"Brazen as brass. And you're common trash, aren't you? Selfish common trash. You don't give a hoot about anyone but yourself. You don't care how you embarrass us. After what Mrs. Alford told me, I'm ashamed to show my face. You're a disgrace, making a spectacle of yourself at her nice party, and then driving off with that man, letting him use you."

"Nobody was using me."

"Oh that's what you think. That man finds some silly girl to pick up, everywhere he goes. I just don't know what to do, Ray. I don't know what to do with her. Here we are trying to help her, trying to give that sweet baby a chance at a decent life. And this is how she repays us."

"If you don't stop treating me like a child, Mom, I'm going to pack Evan up and just go."

"Listen to that! You jtry it. We'll find you and we'll get custody of that baby if it's the last thing I do. You're not stable and he needs somebody who is. You may ruin your own life, I'll bet you do with all your drugs and your men, but you're not dragging that baby down in the gutter with you. Mark my words."

When Mary Fran stopped for breath, Ray began on the golf course issue. "Can't even play a round of golf anymore without trouble. I tell you, this has got to stop."

Mary Fran pursued the girl down the hallway. "Can't you see you're killing us? Killing us!"

"Will you just let me be for a while?"

"Lower your voice, or you'll wake that baby up."

"You're yelling, Mom. I'm not."

The girl reached in the crib and patted little dumpling Evan, who opened his huge eyes and went huh-huh-huh at her.

"Hello," she said, "Hello, hello," and he repeated it -- huh-lo -- the way she'd gotten him to do since he was much too tiny for that to seem plausible. He took her hand and rubbed between her little finger and the next one.

Evan's eyes rolled back with exhaustion and she felt the same way.Mary Fran was still haranguing. Not that she approved of any of the girl's Fort Worth friends, but she even said, "No wonder your boyfriend down there found someone else to marry."

It had been a mistake of course to mention that.

"Will you at least let me rest, Mom? Will you please for pity's sake get out of my room?"

"Your room!" she humpfed and stomped away.

The girl took Evan to bed with her and they wiggled together, finding all the better and even better places to be.

All Iggles Are Jargs

Whoa. Wow. Woe. Was it all in her mind (hence, even more horrid) or were those words actually printed on the page before her? She studied question one again and it still read, "All iggles are jargs. Most jargs are numphals. Numphals are never medlids, but sometimes flods. Some medlids are jargs; true or false?"

Beyond the shock, she got a grip and that one proved graspable. Even on acid (especially on acid maybe), the girl could see there were iggle-jargs and numphal-flod-jargs -- none of which ever resembled a medlid -- but three fucking legal-sized pages were filled with nonsense-syllogisms which grew progressively harder to figure. Obverses, converses and worses. All in iggle-speak, which conjured squirmy blind protozoans.

By its heading, she knew this was the test she'd have to give her undergraduates, poor flods, this afternoon. Now Dr. Jessop was laying it on the graduate teaching fellows, warming up for mass extermination with an ambush. Oh god oh jeez-louise oh humiliation utter and public impending, the unfamiliar specter of Intellectual Shortcoming had found her; it was staring out from the quiz with a zillion quizzical eyes, mimeograph-blue, wondering don't-I-know-you-from-somewhere?

Ah, yes. When the Terror of Not Knowing last struck, it concerned fractions. The girl was seven. Coming into last half of third grade after first half of second, she faced a chalkboard hazed with numbers stacked on lines, faced these and froze. The universe held signs she'd never seen and couldn't fathom how to deal with. Then and again she searched a windowful of sky the same color as ground. World upside-down with Not Knowing. Arctic waste without dogs, without sled-tracks. An igloo for brains, empty-white as snow falling then and again.

She limped through the first page, frostbitten, marked and unmarked page two, ice-flakes of doubt fast infilling each footprint. Cold gales blew through her but the room was barely breathing. Fluorescent tubes crackled appallingly overhead, threatening avalanche, while linoleum eddied ever more more slowly around her boots, congealing.

Methods of Teaching Philsophy, a one-hour course every Thursday, was normally a bore but a sail -- cruisable, windy. Otherwise, she wouldn't have dropped white lightning for breakfast. It was smooth stuff and she'd gotten far past rushing but, while the others were answering pages two and three, she could only pretend to. Her heartbeats and stomach-twists were great bears shaking and growling, great wet bears just discovering themselves pinned between ice-floes. Maintain, maintain; one must maintain.

Arthur Jessop, PhD, paced along the sidelines. A little pit-bull of a man -- crew-cut, stocky, stunningly featureless -- he'd be perfectly cast as a high school football coach, make that assistant coach, and part-time sadistic Sunday School teacher. What was he doing here as a full professor of philsophy? What was he contemplating doing with that harpoon?

More to the point, what was she doing among such hostile forces? She was a specialist in existential aesthetics, goddamn it; how the merry hell had she landed in this nest of symbolic logicians? But what would she do if she weren't here? Graduate fellowships that paid enough to live on didn't grow on trees and with a hippie-style degree in theatre, English and philosophy, the job outlook in l970 was treeless tundra. So what could she do if she lost this gig except trudge home to Grayson and obey ensuing orders? Never mind that she was two years past eighteen, no matter how old she got her mom would never let the girl take off and try to act; unless she behaved respectably and provided for Evan, Mary Fran would haul her into court and take Evan away.

"You have to put him first," Mary Fran had been saying since Evan was born. "It's his turn now."

A chorus of iggles rephrased that: People who screw up lose out forever; you screwed up; therefore you lose. Or as jargs, paddling by in another kayak, put it: Actors don't have stable lives and reliable money; parents must have stable lives and reliable money; therefore, no parents can be actors. Do-wah, they finished and vanished into fog.

"You're all he has," was something else her mother liked to say, meaning foolish people with irresponsible ex-husbands have to be extra-practical; you foolishly married Hal, who split for Canada to miss the war and pays no child-support; ergo. Numphals, semifrozen fish beneath the flooring's icy watercrust, burbled this in baritone and a totem pole of alto flods harmonized on Ergo ergo ergo Do-wah. Those hidden syllogisms were as firm and clear in Mary Fran's excuse-for-a-mind mind as vagaries of iggles and their kin were in Jessop's head.

Or Tom Clark's. Tom, a reedlike bearded guy who honestly liked logic, had already finished and was advancing toward Jessop's desk, holding the test in one hand, adjusting his halo with the other. Things were coming down to the wire now, which would slice her up like a weed-eater.

Jessop shook his head at Tom, though, leaving the trail a windshield wiper makes during a night-storm, and waved him back to his seat, stirring air currents that melted the floor surface back into swirling. Good Grief (contradiction in terms), were they going to swap papers across the aisles and mark them right in class? Merciful Heaven (tautology), was Jessop going to have her branded "A" for acid-head in front of God and everybody?

"I don't need those back from you," Jessop said, speaking roses she could smell across the room, filling silver balloons that massed against the ceiling and burst to free parrots, canaries, macaws. "Stop anywhere. I only wanted you to see the exam and get acquainted with the format."

Well how do you do? She nodded at the format, which tilted blue teeth into grinning. How-do-you-do? Quite passably now, thanks. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.

After emphasizing that it was a purer test of logic when statements were deprived of conversational sense, as though that needed emphasis, Jessop ended class early, handing a heavy sheaf of exams to each teaching assistant and an answer-stencil for grading. Released to become her mentor's implement of torture, with a half-hour before her first l0l section, the girl clattered down to her basement office and phoned Evan's baby-school to check on him.

Evan was well again thanks to the Popsicle Doctor in St. Louis, who turned out not to be an apparition after all. Actually it was a fudgsicle he'd been eating when the girl found him alone Monday night in the nearest hospital's emergency area, a deserted Chirico until she spotted one enormous easter-egg shape far down a long hallway. Lilting side to side like a badly loaded boat, utterly unhurried, sucking ice cream through a sandy upturned mustache, Dr. Tilden wore tweeds, vest and all, instead of doctors' gear.

The most implausible of doctors -- a medlid among medics she'd say now -- he nonetheless knew what he was doing. He cooled Evan off and shot him full of penicillin. Anybody could've done it but in wretched Granite City nobody would; that afternoon she'd called all the doctors and they wouldn't take anyone new. When Evan got red as Plath's sick tulips, his eyes rolling, his teeth grinding with fever, she had to drive a long way across the river. She'd never seen a convulsion before, but the Fudgsicle Doctor told her what to do and not to worry. He was cordial, damned unusual around here, even before they realized they'd both gone to Austin College in Texas. Next day he phoned to see about Evan and he'd found them a doctor close by. That was the nicest thing that had happened since she came north. Truly the nicest thing, which spoke volumes.

Dialing the school, the girl was enchanted -- as always on acid -- by Sheer Mechanism, awed by supermachines doing what supermachines do. She, who never noticed technology otherwise, became a wise child in a friendly world, a magic forest of accommodating metal where supermachines gave you cigarettes, sodapop, candy. You just fed them metal, imagine! And if you spun a metal disc, you could talk to anyone, anywhere.

Evan's favorite, Miss Polly, answered and said that he was doing fine, they were thrilled to have him back. At barely two, he was the youngest there, with free-run of the cookie drawer, the teachers' and bigger kids' special dolly. He'd been equally glad to see them, after several sick-days with a mousy shiftless neighbor who was married and pregnant but looked about fifteen and had the I.Q. of eggplant. Caution: Boring to Toddlers.

The girl felt another bad cold coming on like an egg up her nose, beginning to crack. With every step upstairs, she cursed the foul midwestern weather, snow that didn't melt in an hour or two but piled deeper, dull-as-dust graduate seminars on Locke and Hume, her fellow-graduate students who didn't care about anything but showing off by picking other people to pieces, the fact that she was seven hundred miles away from anyone who gave a goddamn about her. With Todd and Michael, other two of the Three Mutants, off in California and everybody else around Dallas, all the mirrors that showed who she was were covered.

In this frigid hick place there weren't even any guys with a body you'd want and no one was a bit congenial except Evan's Miss Polly, sweet but so pitifully countrified and about half-bright, an emergency-room doctor who looked like a big tweedy baby and "Deviants Are My Life" Bachofen, a wild-eyed sociology prof who had the office next door and kept wanting to interview her about the effects of drugs on sex. Desolation Row. Maybe California was the place to be. Even Texas looked preferable. Nowadays, when people made fun of Texas, the girl always said she'd never met a redneck until she moved to Southern Illinois.

Coming out of the stairwell with its aluminum-colored twanging light, she ran into Jake Steiner, the philosophy department's token Young Prof, not more than thirty and mistakenly convinced he was cool. Worst thing about his type was that they didn't age at all well; he'd still be playing The Young Understanding Sensitive One ten years from now, still wearing rumpled tan corduroys, black turtlenecks and suede-elbowed cardigans, still smoking a pipe, still trying to identify with his students and hustle the girls. It was particularly obscene when those guys taught poetry or political science; with lyricism or revolution in the arsenal, they could hit on girls like shooting ducks in the water.

Naturally Dr. Steiner, visibly crumbling like Dorian Grey, asked the girl to stop by his office after her class. She shrugged, "Sure," as his eyelids and jowls fell, his hair frosted and thinned, his ears sprouted white whiskers. Maintain, maintain; one must maintain.

Most of her flods (word which was holding on somehow) were older than she. Some of them could be her parents easily, because this was a state school which had to take anyone and because, strangely, basic logic was required for every major. Maybe three people in the classroom were there because they wanted to be, and she wasn't one of them. Her sympathy was sincere when she doled out exams and heard widespread groaning.

"Right on," she agreed. "It's a hassle."

Mrs. Johnson, a thin middle-aged brunette, was looking even edgier than usual when she put her hand up. "D'you think he'll grade on a curve?"

"I genuinely hope so."

While they suffered, the girl retreated from their and her own seasons in hell into Rimbaud's. It was such a stoned book, and the illustrations in her French edition were breathtakingly schizo-kindergarten. Matching flames in hues of Wonder Bread Balloons licked the page-borders and left her fingertips feeling soapy-sticky, although this trip was clearly on the downslope. She was messed-up of course but no higher than mushroom-level. Pity the flight got bummed by iggles and jargs clogging up the machinery.

As time wore on, emery-board against the cosmic fingernail, the girl switched to her logic text and conquered next Tuesday's lesson. Best she could do, never having taken logic herself, was stay a hop-skip-and-a-jump ahead of her flods. Next term she'd be much better prepared, if the profs went along with her bid to assist Dr. Kane, teaching history of philosophy.

Tests began to filter in and she did a little marking with the stencil. First papers were invariably the best. Eventually she was alone with the plodders, three guys who blended in with the wallpaper and three women she knew from counseling and class participation. Doris Mitchell, a 30-ish waitress, was strictly low-wattage, but Loretta Posey, a pudgy black teenager, might with luck make it through. She was smart enough, but had major home-probs. The girl had arranged for her to retake one quiz before, when Loretta explained she couldn't study because she had to sneak out of the house with her little sister and brother to keep her dad from beating them up along with her mom. That could have happened again.

The puzzle was Andrea Johnson, whose work was usually average, done in an average time. A pleasant housewife-type, high-strung and tentative but no more than a lot of them, today she was way out in space. She kept twiddling and dropping her pencil, losing her place on the page, erasing every answer she'd put down, shredding Kleenex, scratching red ribbons into her wiry tennis-tan arms.

After Doris and Loretta gave up and left, the girl allowed Mrs. Johnson a little while longer. Class time had technically ended twenty minutes ago, so she decided on a limit of ten minutes more. Unless she got on the road pretty soon, there'd be hassles; she'd be late picking up Evan and she'd be driving part-way in darkness, too, as well as snow.

"We should be going," she said finally.

"I know." Mrs. Johnson fisted her hands and let both of them fall. "I can't think straight today."

"Some days are like that." The girl stopped packing books and tests, to offer a smile. "Bet you did better than you expect. I'll mark your paper now if you like."

"I can't turn this in," Mrs. Johnson sighed. "Please help me. Can I come tomorrow and finish? Or take a different exam, if that's more fair?"

"Why don't we see how bad it is before we talk about that?" The girl positioned her stencil and they could both see the result was disaster.

Mrs. Johnson bit into a knuckle. "It's my son, it's that lottery last night. His birthday came up number seven. He is nineteen years old! Nineteen! They're going to draft him and send him to Vietnam."

"Well what are you going to do?"

"Do?" Mrs. Johnson's face went blank as Doris Mitchell's. Simian.

"There are things you can do. Deferments. Isn't he in school?"

"He played around and flunked out."

"There's conscientious objection, there's always Canada --"

"My husband would never hear of that."

So big hairy what? the girl wanted to say, but these people were past figuring out. Their minds were blunt instruments. Herself, she'd do whatever she had to, sell off everything, beg in the streets if that's what it took someday to get Evan where he'd be safe.

In the midst of this, she was actually glad when Jake Steiner poked his head in the door. "Get out of here," he grinned. "I am. Forget coming by my office, stop at the pad for a drink."

"I need to pick my little boy up."

"Just a quick one," Jake insisted, then he shifted into things-going-on-that-you-don't-know mode. "We had that meeting about the graduate students this morning and I'm delegated to talk to you about it."

"Oh, wow, can I work with Dr. Kane next term?"

"Never mind," Jake waved, backing out with a wink. "I'll tell you all about it later."

After promising Mrs. Johnson she'd speak to Dr. Jessop about a retest, the girl managed to wrench her exam away. Fully laden, she slogged down a long snowfield to the herd of hulking white animals and set to work excavating her car. She was lucky to have a new car with good snowtires, an Opel station wagon Mary Fran and Ray provided last summer as her graduation and going-away present. They wanted to ensure Evan's well-being in frosty yankeeland and incidentally her own. Misplaced a few times in sudden snowdrifts, now it was easily identifiable by its antenna wound with lavish florists' bows.

For a year, Don Brown had kept sending her flowers, boxes big enough to play in, so many blossoms she had to use empty Coke bottles for vases. He sent champagne, too, and cards and, when she said what she wanted from him was silence, he found a recording studio to sell him a blank record in a blank album cover. Mary Fran thought that was clever; she was very much in Don's corner and not averse to laying on the "Evan needs a father" rap.

Don was wild about Evan; he wanted them both. He had it so bad that he even drove all weekend last September to bring Evan's high-chair she'd forgotten to pack. Trouble was, whatever it took to turn her on, Don just didn't have a speck of. She liked older guys but not that old. He'd be thirty this year, and he took her weird places, the fanciest restaurants in Dallas and clubs where they played music she barely remembered slow-dancing to in junior high, Johnny Mathis and other such shit.

Jake played outdated music, too -- nothing newer or livelier than Moody Blues -- the night when he had the graduate students over for sherry, a memorably obnoxious drink. He lived up the road in Alton, the wrong direction for her to be going, in a big white clapboard farmhouse he'd decorated in the most minimal style. Among plants and bookcases of rough wood, a few pieces of black leather furniture floated here and there on stalky chrome legs, thunderheads over lightning.

The girl thought about dropping some speed in the interest of clarity, but then she'd be up all night for sure. And it wouldn't do to get too wired; she might even get off on rapping with Jake Steiner. On speed you could enjoy scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. Acid-aftermath was a state of vague but incontrovertible sensory disturbance, as if a giant airliner took off maybe an hour ago from the top of your skull. She felt shaken on a cellular level, atoms trembling at a high pitch inside. For leveling-off, probably a drink would be best. Anything but sherry.

Dr. Steiner had a gorgeous blaze going in his stone fireplace, toward which he pointed the girl as soon as she arrived. "Kick your boots off, Doll, relax," he said after taking her coat. "I'm making us something hot to drink. Right back."

He padded off, sock-footed, toward the kitchen and she unzipped her boots to toast her toes. Ramsey Lewis jazz -- oh really avant -- was playing. On the mantelpiece was the same Wittgenstein volume she recalled from last month's group visit, still book-marked at the same spot. There was a new wooden bowl of pale wooden apples on the coffee table.

Jake came back with a pot of hot chocolate, poured it into mugs and topped them up with peppermint Schnapps. Just about perfect, she had to admit; she could feel the hot milk calming iggles and jargs who'd been plucking her nervous system like a zither.

"Yum," she said.

"Glad you approve." Jake stoked his pipe, fired it up, lighted her Bel-Air. "Haven't seen much of you," came out through smoke. "You boycotting our faculty gatherings or what?"

"It's hard to get a sitter."

"Haven't missed much," he conceded. "Not feeling quite at home here,are you?"

"Well no. Not yet."

"We've decided to let you take on the history course. Think that'll help you adapt?"

"Oh yeah, thanks a lot. Logic's not my thing."

Jake leaned far back on the sofa, stretched his arms out wide along the back. Usual first step toward putting the moves on somebody, getting an arm around. "Good," he said, putting on his Exuding Empathy face. "You'll be happier. We'd like to see that. No one's complaining about your work, far from it, but frankly your behavior is causing some concern."

Uh-oh. There was a lecture brewing. The girl stuck her stuffy nose inside her mug, breathing the mint, anticipating a straighten-up-and-fly-right-you-hippie-doper-freak harangue. Sympathetic profs back at A.C. had cautioned that she wouldn't have her own private game-preserve here. No more passing out on sidewalks, no more slaps on the hand from the honors advisor. ("You're not dealing, are you?" "No, I'm not dealing." "Well go away and keep cool.") Up here she'd really have to play it straight, they warned, or she'd blow it.

"Yeah well. I'll do better," she said, hoping the problem wasn't anything she couldn't fix with an apology and maybe a quick fuck. "Straighter clothes, huh? A haircut? Honest, I'll clean up my act; I can play Decorous. I really do take my responsibility seriously, Dr. Steiner."

Jake spluttered into his cocoa, "No! No, no, and call me Jake. This department's full of decorous people. We want you not to be."

What the hell was going on here? "Excuse me."

"Based on your record and recommendation letters, we expected you to be -- more unconventional, even radical. Besides sound academic credentials, we wanted someone to stir things up, get involved, be a catalyst. That's what we need."

Hanged for a jarg instead of a medlid; that was a new one. "You picked me out to be your freak-show?"

"That's one way to put it. No offense intended, though. We only want you to be yourself."

It wasn't herself they wanted, but some particular self, the one she was when she was among friends and taking courses she delighted in; when she didn't have a job to do or bills to pay; when she was free to come and go without worrying about a child, sometimes a sick child, and finding baby-sitters; when she wasn't always halfway sick herself.

"Just doing my work isn't enough?"

"I wouldn't say that. We're simply -- disappointed."

"And that's supposed to be my problem, too?"

"I see," he said, no longer smiling but not squirming. "Shall I report that as your reaction?"

Tacky, she thought. Tacky-tacky.

Jake stroked his mustache. "Hm. You might be happier elsewhere."

You bet your bippy, she thought. Anywhere. Well almost anywhere. When she started to reach for one of her boots, Jake held her arm.

"I'll make more cocoa, we'll talk further. Believe me, I'm interested in hearing what you have to say."

"I'm interested in picking up my son on time, Dr. Steiner. He's been sick and I'm not feeling too swift, either."

"It's Jake, remember? Call them from here, say you're slowed down by the weather."

While he was in the kitchen this time, she considered how easy it'd be to give him a freak-show he'd remember. Tab of white lightning in his mug. Of course that was against the Honorable Freak Code. The girl called Miss Polly and explained work hung her up and the weather was foul but she'd get there as fast as she could. It wasn't really a problem since they stayed open until six, but she liked to get Evan by five.

Jake set the chocolate pot down, didn't pour. "Let me give you the nickel tour," he said. "You haven't seen the rest of the house."

The girl nodded. She knew when she was whipped.

"Hope I didn't hurt your feelings," Jake said on the stairs. "You're such a brilliant girl. That's why we expect so much of you. You just need to loosen up, don't you? Let's loosen you up." He stopped on the second landing to rub her shoulders and her neck. Expertly. In the bedroom, he lay across his furry bedspread, fired up a jay, passed it to her with one hand, pulled her down with the other.

Exchanging pleasantries, she'd come to call it. And like the Dylan song said, "You won't die, it's not poison." She'd have been dead long ago.

For a linguistic analyst, Steiner wasn't bad and naturally it was easier to talk once the ice got broken. In a lot of cases, actually, sex worked as prepayment for a decent conversation.

"Not quite wild enough for you, huh?" she teased once they got back to the grass.

"Mistaken hypothesis," he purred.

"That'll teach you to draw conclusions before you clarify terms."

"Guilty, Doll. Totally wrongheaded."

She offered him a tab of acid before she left; Steiner declined of course but was suitably impressed. She even described the iggle debacle, and he grooved out on her being ripped out of her mind when nobody knew it.

The girl could see two options, twin beams ahead on the blizzardy road: ignominy of staying here or ignominy of marrying Don. Might as well decide with daisy petals or a lottery. Jarg equalled iggle on the whoredom level, on the boredom level and every other level she could think of, too.