Authors: Lawrence Block
They were, she decided, nice people. They accepted her quite readily, probably more because she was Don’s girl than anything else, but their acceptance of her mattered to her only as far as it mattered to Don. She could have made a lot more friends among the group if she had cared about it at all, but she didn’t, not down deep. All she cared about was Don—he became more important to her every day.
The two of them became more close every day. Constantly she looked for signs to prove to her how much she meant to him, as if to reassure herself that their relationship would go on forever.
Inside, deep inside, she knew that there was something wrong.
They were sitting across the dinner table in the cafeteria. He held a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She had finished her coffee and she was sitting silently, looking at him.
He looked up.
“What do you want to do tonight?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think I’ll do some reading for that contemporary fiction class.”
“There’s a good movie playing.”
“Rosmini directed it. It’s supposed to be good.”
He shrugged and took a drag of his cigarette.
“See it if you want. I’d better do the reading.”
“Can’t it wait?”
“Probably,” he said. “But I might as well get it out of the way now as some other time.”
“Then I won’t go.”
“Well, I don’t want to see the movie alone.”
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “There’ll probably be some of the group going, or you can go with a bunch of kids from your hall.”
“I hardly know a soul in my hall.”
“Hell, you can find somebody to go with. There’s always a crowd on a Sunday night. Even if you went alone it wouldn’t be so terrible, you know. In a town like Clifton you know half the theater by the time you get there anyway.”
“No,” she said. “I won’t go.”
He put down the empty cup of coffee and reached for her hand. “Linda,” he said, “why don’t you want to go to the movie?”
“I want to be with you,” she said honestly. “If you don’t feel like going it’s all right. But I don’t want to see the movie so much that I’d rather go with somebody else than sit around the apartment with you.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We don’t have to spend every goddamned minute together.”
“I know. I just don’t want to see the picture unless you come along.”
“Look—I’d go, but I really don’t want to see this one and if I don’t get that reading out of the way—”
“It’s all right,” she said quickly. “I don’t want you to come to the picture. I don’t even want to see it any more, Don. I just—”
She stopped and looked at him. There was an unfamiliar edge to his voice.
“Go to the movie,” he told her.
“Go to the movie,” he repeated. “We’re together all the time these days. Go to the picture and it’ll give us a chance to get away from each other for a few hours.”
“But I don’t want to be away from you.”
He didn’t say
But I want to be away from you.
He didn’t say anything, but he might just as well have told her that he didn’t want to see her. She felt as though she had been slapped and she almost burst out crying—even though, actually, he hadn’t done anything at all.
She went to the movie that night. She went all by herself while he went back to the apartment to read. The picture, an excellent Italian import, went completely by her. She kept her eyes on the screen from start to finish but she might just as well have had them shut. She didn’t listen to a word or take note of a thing that happened on the screen. Her mind was too busy with thoughts of its own, thoughts she didn’t want to think but thoughts she couldn’t help thinking.
When she got back to the apartment he asked her how the picture was. She told him that it was a fine picture.
He read until six in the morning. He finished one book and started another—all in all, she saw him pick up and put down five novels in the time between her return from the movie and six the next morning. He read like a machine, taking in the entire contents of a page in just one glance and moving on to the next page, flipping through the book, digesting it and setting it down and reaching for the next one. She had wondered how he was able to get through school spending the little amount of time on it that he did. Now he was giving her a vivid demonstration. He was getting an entire term’s worth of reading done in the course of a single night.
Six was the hour they usually went to bed. Until then she tried to get some of her own studying out of the way but it didn’t work. She just couldn’t keep her mind on what she was reading, and after an hour or so she gave it up and sat around doing nothing. At six she undressed and got ready for bed.
He didn’t hear her the first two times; he was too wrapped up in what he was reading. Then he looked up.
“Coming to bed?”
He shook his head. “I want to get a little more of this out of the way,” he said. “Go ahead—I’ll join you in a little while.”
She crawled under the covers. It was cold, and even with the blankets over her she needed something more than blankets to keep her warm. She needed Don. Alone in the bed she felt lost and unwanted.
She lay there, waiting for him to join her. But he didn’t join her. He went on reading, went on flipping pages while she wanted him so badly she was ready to shriek.
At last, exhausted, she slept.
That, she discovered, was the beginning.
The rest followed in fairly short order. The closer she and Don grew, the farther apart they seemed to be growing at the same time. Every day she loved him more; every day her love became a more possessive thing. She couldn’t stand to have him out of her sight, and the more she needed to be with him the more he seemed to need time to himself.
She couldn’t understand it.
“I’m taking a run down to Xenia,” he told her one night. “I’ve got to pick up some photographic stuff for the darkroom. The photographer’s supposed to take care of that, but nobody else ever manages to do anything around this damned place but me. I guess this is no exception.”
“Just a minute,” he said. “I’ll go with you.”
“Don’t bother—I’ll only take a half hour or so.”
“I don’t have anything to do.”
“Silly for you to come along,” he said. “All I’m going to do is drive eight or ten miles, park the car, buy the junk, get back in the car and drive back to campus. You might just as well hit the books while I’m gone.”
“Let me come along,” she said.
“What for? You’ll be wasting your time.”
“What’s wrong? Don’t you want me along?” She tried to say it lightly, to make a little game out of it, but it didn’t come out quite as light as she had intended it to.
“Sure,” he said. “You can come along.”
They drove to Xenia. But on the way there and on the way back they didn’t have anything to talk about. She sat close to him going and a little farther away coming back, but the distance between them was much greater than the distance between the two posteriors that rested upon the front seat of the car.
Linda’s only reaction was to try harder and harder to bind the two of them closer together. She cut more classes than usual in order to spend more time with Don. That Friday she didn’t go to sleep at dawn, as she usually did, but stayed up to help him at the pressroom. They didn’t wind up getting to bed until 7:30 that night.
The pressroom was an inky place with pieces of lead on the floor and smoke in the air. It was, all in all, the noisiest place Linda had ever been in—a linotype machine was clacking steadily in one corner, a press was creaking rhythmically in another corner, and the compositor was cursing softly and perpetually as he moved type around on the stone.
She decided that she liked the pressroom. The only trouble was that there was absolutely nothing for her to do there.
Don was constantly busy. After he had picked up the engravings at Fairborn he didn’t get a minute’s rest for the rest of the day. He read page proofs and the few remaining galleys. He wrote a couple last-minute heads and ironed out mistakes that continued to show up while the front page was being made up on the stone. There was always a cigarette between his fingers and his face became more drawn and haggard as the day wore on.
“Great business, newspapering,” he would say time and time again. And he would take another drag from his cigarette and get back to work.
She felt terribly useless, just standing there and watching and getting in the way. It seemed as though every time she turned around one of the men was walking into her or something, and whenever she started to talk to Don he would grunt impatiently and go on with what he was doing. It wasn’t as though she wanted to interrupt him. It was just that she couldn’t stand just sitting around like a corpse.
He was going over the first press-proof when she walked up to him and said: “Honey, isn’t there anything I can do to help you?”
“Yeah,” he growled. “Get the hell away and leave me alone.”
He hadn’t meant it, not really, and she knew that he hadn’t meant it. But the damage was done. She felt empty inside, sure now that the relationship they had was on the rocks in one way or another and for one reason or another. That night after they put the papers in the caf and drove the ancient Chevy back to the apartment, she tore off her clothes and pulled him to the bed and they made love with a frenzy that was almost terrifying, made love fitfully and hurriedly and harshly and desperately, as if the sheer brutality of their lovemaking would be enough to bring them back together again.
But something was missing and she could sense it. The tenderness was gone from his embrace and she knew that she was not an object of love to him but a material possession. She meant about as much to him, she felt, as the car that was parked outside, as much as the pica-hole he used to measure the copy when he set up the paper. She was a thing, not a person, and he took her completely for granted.
She was willing to settle for that. Right now she would settle for anything, anything at all, as long as it meant that she could have Don. But the more she fought to keep him the more she was losing him and she didn’t know what to do about it all. That night, while he slept, she lay awake. She was exhausted but sleep didn’t come to her for almost an hour, even after the frenetic lovemaking, even after all the hours without sleep. For the first time she felt herself half-wishing that she was still a virgin, that all this hadn’t happened to her. Everything was so much more complicated then, everything was so much easier when she wasn’t in love with anybody, when she could live her own life without somebody else tearing her apart.
God, what had happened to her? Linda Shepard, the good little girl from Cleveland, here she was in a man’s bed with a man asleep next to her, tired but sleepless because she loved him more than he loved her.
What in the world was wrong with her?
She reached out a hand to touch Don. He didn’t stir and she ran her hand gently over his broad back as if to make sure for herself that he was there, there beside her, that he hadn’t slipped out of bed and away from her while she was thinking about him. She wanted to pull him to her, to press his face between her warm breasts and love him forever.
If she did, she thought, he’d probably yell at her for waking him up.
She rolled over on her stomach, closing her eyes tight, wishing that sleep would come already. She was on her merry way to hell on a road paved with the best of intentions and she didn’t know what to do about it. She was riding to hell at top speed in a jet-propelled supersonic bus with the destination sign plainly marked FIRST STOP—HELL. And the bus was in high and locked in gear.
What the hell, she thought sleepily.
At least it was a nice ride.
The bus got there the following Thursday.
It started simply enough. It was Thursday night, the night to put the paper to bed and to stay up all day Friday, the night that was the toughest night of all. She was in the outer office proofing galleys; Don was in his private office working on the editorial.
Pete Chatterjee stalked into the outer office. He was the managing editor, the man next in command to Don, a short, wiry-haired junior with a perpetual frown and an equally perpetual case of five o’clock shadow.
She looked up and smiled at him when he walked in, although she didn’t like him much.
He didn’t smile back. Instead he stormed into the inner office. He slammed the door behind him, hard, but the door didn’t stick and swung open again.
Linda could hear the conversation through the open door. She probably could have heard it anyway—Pete was talking in an extremely loud tone of voice.
“I was down at the shop,” he said. “Jesus Christ—you only got four galleys set so far!”
“You know what night this is? This is Thursday, damn it. How the hell are you going to put out a paper with a lousy four galleys in type?”
“The paper’ll come out.”
“When? Ten o’clock tomorrow night?”
“We’ll be out on time.”
“We’ll be late,” Pete said. “We’ll either be late or we’ll stink so bad they’ll smell us in Nova Scotia. What in hell’s wrong with you?”
She didn’t hear what Don said.
“Look,” Pete was saying, “if it was just this once it would be all right. But it’s every week for the past two months, Don. Tuesday nights were supposed to be devoted to staff training sessions. When was the last time we had one of those?”
“They were a waste of time.”
“Of course they were a waste of time. But the staff didn’t
they were wasting their time, you lardhead. They thought they were doing something very important, which meant staff morale was higher as a result, which meant they were with us. You know how many staffers quit us in the past two months?”
“There’s always a drop—”
“Not like this one. And another thing—the content of this rag has been getting consistently worse. How in hell did that raccoon feature wind up on page five?”