Read Campus Tramp Online

Authors: Lawrence Block

Campus Tramp (10 page)

“As a favor to Ken Swinnerton—”

“You don’t print thirty inches of tripe as a favor to Ken Swinnerton. Thirty inches of crap about the goddamned raccoons in the goddamned forest, for God’s sake! Now who in the goddamned world outside of Ken Swinnerton—”

“All right, I was a little short.”

“Thirty inches! And the page two make-up—you must have made up that page right on the stone, it was so lousy. You must have taken all the little diddley-shit that was left over and stuck it on page two and set the heads yourself.”

Don didn’t say anything.

“Look,” Pete said, a little lower in volume this time, “I didn’t come in here to raise hell because I like to raise hell. You know that.”

“Decent of you.”

“Don, listen to me. Look, I don’t care who you lay or how often you lay her, but that little piece in the outer office is taking up so much of your damned time that you’re not putting in any time on the damned paper. You—”

“Pete, not so loud for Christ’s sake.”

“I don’t care whether she hears me or not—you’re not screwing champion, you’re the editor, dammit. If she’s so goddamned insatiable I can get half a dozen guys to slip it to her whenever she’s just too hot to take it any more. But I’m pretty damned sick of the way you spend every minute of every day with the little—”

She didn’t hear what came after that. She couldn’t. She was already out of the office and down the hallway to the stairs.

Crying.

The break-up itself came just two days after that. It was inevitable at that point. For two days she had been walking around in a sort of daze, not hearing people when they spoke to her, not hearing or talking or eating or sleeping or doing much of anything.

Lines flew through her head—the lines from
Julius Caesar
where Portia says:

Am I yourself

But, as it were, in sort of limitation
,

To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed
,

And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs

Of your good pleasure? If it be no more
,

Portia is Brutus’ harlot, not his wife.

That was all she was, something for Don to talk to when he felt like it, to take to bed when he wanted company under the covers. And now she was just ruining his life, taking up time that he had no right to give to her.

She couldn’t live with him or without him.

The blow-up, when it came, was over something that didn’t matter at all. They were at the apartment, talking about a book that Don had read, and she didn’t even remember later what the book was. That, she thought afterward, might give some indication of how vital the quarrel was on the surface.

Anyway, she said something, and Don said that her statement was stupid, and she said he thought he was so smart all the time, and pretty soon they were shouting back and forth, saying things that were mean, taking out everything upon each other in the guise of an argument.

But it wasn’t an argument, not really. Fundamentally it was an outpouring of everything, all the hates and frustrations that had built up between them. She was letting go of all the fear and worry that had been growing day by day; he was hitting out with all the similar emotions of his own.

It was, in short, an argument that should have ended in bed. Arguments of this nature are best settled in bed, with genitals doing the job much better than words can ever hope to do. But the argument did not end in bed. It didn’t get to bed, for that matter, because they broke up before they could tumble into the hay.

Almost before she knew what had happened he had told her to leave, that they were no good for each other and that it would be better if they didn’t see each other any more. They weren’t shouting any more—now they were trying to discuss the whole thing sensibly like reasonable adults.

And then she was saying all right, she would leave, she agreed with him, it was better that way.

And she was picking up the books and clothes that she had been keeping at his place and heading for the door.

At the doorway she faltered. She dropped the books to the floor, remembering the way she had dropped an armload of books the time they first met. And the tears spilled out all at once and she turned and ran to him, clutching at him, burying her face against his chest and soaking his shirt-front with tears.

But that didn’t change things. A few moments later she was on her way again, and this time she held her tears back and carried her clothes and books down the stairs and out of the building. She walked, dry-eyed, back to her own dormitory on campus. She went to her room. Ruth was out and she closed the door and got into bed.

Then she cried. She cried on and on until her eyes were dry solely because there were no tears to come. She ran her hands over her bare body, knowing that her body would go without the touch of a lover now, that Don would probably never touch her breasts and thighs again, never kiss her and arouse her and make love to her.

When she finally slept her pillow was wet with tears. She slept for twelve hours and she dreamed that she was with Don, that he loved her and she loved him and everything would be all right forever.

When she woke up, alone in a bed she hadn’t slept in for weeks, she realized that the dream was a dream and nothing more.

She began to cry again, soundlessly this time.

CHAPTER SEVEN

SHE HAD ALWAYS WONDERED what you did when the world ended. And now it had happened, finally. The whole big beautiful wonderful hopeless terrible stinking world had dissolved in one grand and glorious puff of oily smoke. So she found out what you did when the world ended.

You went on living.

Of course, for a reasonable amount of time you cried on shoulders. Ruth was there, fortunately, and Ruth’s shoulder was a handy one to cry on. So she cried on Ruth’s shoulder, and she told Ruth the whole stinking story from beginning to end, and then Ruth told her everything would be all right and she told Ruth everything most emphatically would not be all right, and then she cried some more.

And went on living.

For three days she lived in an impenetrable little shell. She crawled into the shell and pulled the shell in after her. In a purple fog she went to all her classes, read all her assignments, went to sleep at ten and got up at eight. But she didn’t remember what the professors said in class and the assignments that she read passed directly through her brain and made no impression upon her. She had nine hours of sleep every night but she was still tired in the morning. Her sleep seemed to be one continual bad dream and there were times when she woke up in the middle of the night with terror shrieking through her heart and a scream on her lips.

After the fourth day she couldn’t take it any longer. She had to get Don back or she would go out of her mind. It was terrible—she passed friends in the halls without talking to them, ate her meals without tasting her food, behaved in all like an automaton just going through the motions of living.

She waited, desperately, for Don to come to her. In the back of her mind she couldn’t help knowing that he wouldn’t come to her, that the only way she could possibly see him was for her to go to him, to seek him out and try to explain to him how much she needed him, how much she had to have him back.

And, in the back of her mind, she knew that this wouldn’t work either. Nothing would work, and no matter how much she tried Don would be irrevocably lost.

But she had to try.

She started to go to the
Record
office one afternoon, fairly confident that she would find him there. She was on the second floor of the Union building before she changed her mind. She couldn’t see him there, not with the chance of finding others around, not with the chance of somebody like Pete Chatterjee stepping in and blowing everything to hell.

Instead she walked to his apartment. The front door was open and she walked up the stairway to Don’s apartment. He never locked his door; she went inside to wait for him.

The apartment was a mess again—piles of debris all over the floor, the bed unmade and the room generally filthy. Without thinking she began to clean it up, to put the books where they belonged, to hang the clothing in the closet and stuff the dirty clothes in his laundry bag. She threw out the garbage, piled the scraps of paper neatly on his desk, made the bed and generally created order out of chaos. It gave her something to do, and at the same time it made her feel close to Don again the way she had felt when the two of them lived together and when cleaning the apartment was part of her daily routine.

When she had finished, when the apartment was as clean as it had ever been, she sat down in a chair to wait for him.

He came home an hour or so later. He walked into the apartment, not seeing her at first, not even seeming to notice that the room had been cleaned or anything. Then he looked over at her and a strange expression appeared on his face.

“What the hell—”

She saw at once that he had been drinking. His eyes were a little bit bloodshot and out of focus and his step wasn’t as sure as it normally was. He could walk and talk straight even after hitting the bottle hard for a long period of time, but she knew him well enough by this time to know that he was more than a little drunk.

“I wanted to see you,” she said.

He lit a cigarette, dragged on it and expelled the smoke from his lungs. Then he kicked off his shoes and sat down on the edge of the bed. He didn’t say anything to her.

“I had to see you,” she went on. “I … I need you.”

“Like you need a broken collarbone.”

It wasn’t working at all. What did she have to do—get down on her knees and crawl to him?

“Don—”

She broke off after saying no more than his name. Now that she was here and he was with her she didn’t know what to say. She had an insane desire to run to him and throw herself into his arms, but she felt that if she did he would probably slap her face.

“Linda, you shouldn’t have come here.”

She looked at him but his eyes were turned downward as if he didn’t want to look her in the face.

“There’s nothing left for us,” he said. “I’m sorry for any pain I’ve caused you, but the only thing you can do now is get along without me. If we go on it’ll just be that much worse for both of us.”

She opened her mouth and closed it again without saying anything.

“We just aren’t right for each other,” he said. “I’m too old for you and you’re too young for me. I should have left you alone to begin with but I wanted to let you make your own decisions. Maybe they were the wrong ones, I don’t know. But if we get involved again it’ll be that much worse.”

“Don—”

“Please,” he said, and he sounded very tired all of a sudden. “Please, Linda. I wish you’d go now. If we keep away from each other it’ll be better for both of us.”

She took a deep breath and held it as long as she could while he sat silent upon the edge of the bed. Then she let the air out of her lungs, slowly, and began to speak.

“Just one more time,” she said. “Just make love to me one more time even if it’s the last time. I want you, Don.”

For a moment he didn’t say anything.

“See how shameless I am?” she went on. “But I can’t help it, Don. I need you and even if all it is is one more night or one more hour I want to have you.”

He looked up.

“No,” he said.

“I—”

“Damn it, can’t you get it through your head that
I
don’t want
you?
I want this to be over once and for all, Linda. I wish you’d just get the hell away and leave me alone.”

“Please, Don—”

“Get the hell away from me,” he said, his voice low and angry. “If you’re so hard up go back to your dorm and find yourself a candle.”

She went back to her dorm, but not to find a candle. She went back, walking blindly and not looking where she was going. Don didn’t want her, not at all, not even for one last bounce in a bed, and she knew now that the world had definitely ended, that there was nothing left for her, nothing at all.

She undressed before her mirror, taking a long slow look at herself, studying her firm breasts and flat stomach, handling herself all over to assure herself that it was a good body, a desirable body, a body that men would want to make love to. Her hands cupped her breasts and held them like burnt offerings to the image in the mirror, and she studied her reflection and wished that the hands that held her breasts were Don’s hands instead of her own, that Don’s eyes instead of her own eyes were busy studying the curves and contours of her body.

She didn’t want to go to sleep that night. But she didn’t want anything else, either.

She knocked herself cold with four sleeping pills and slept through all her classes the next morning.

Joe Gunsway called her the next day. She went to the phone convinced that the call was from Don even though she knew he would never call her, went to the phone on the run and grabbed the receiver and held it to her ear, saying
Hello
right away and praying that Don’s voice would come to her over the wire.

But the voice was Joe’s.

“I wanted to get in touch with you,” he said. “I … heard that you and Don broke up.”

“That’s right,” she said, amazed how calm she sounded to herself. “We broke up.”

“I … well, I wondered if I could see you this evening.”

At first she didn’t answer and he repeated what he had said, thinking that she hadn’t understood him. But she had understood him, all right.

And she couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do less than go out with Joe Gunsway.

“No,” she said. That was all—just the one word. She wasn’t in the mood to go into details.

“Linda—”

He stopped. She waited for him to go on.

“Linda, why not?”

A logical question, she thought. It deserved an equally logical answer.

So she said: “I don’t want to see you.”

“But why?”

Because you’re too good for me
, she wanted to say.
Because I’m Don Gibbs’ cast-off whore and nothing more than that. Because I’m a lousy little tramp and you’re a nice square guy and you can do better than me.

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