Read Nine Stories Online

Authors: J. D. Salinger

Nine Stories (9 page)

installment ended there.

Chief took his dollar Ingersoll out of his watch pocket, looked at
it, then swung around in his seat and started up the motor. I checked
my own watch. It was almost four-thirty. As the bus moved forward, I
asked the Chief if he wasn't going to wait for Mary Hudson. He didn't
answer me, and before I could repeat my question, he tilted back his
head and addressed all of us: "Let's have a little quiet in this
damn bus." Whatever else it may have been, the order was
basically unsensible. The bus had been, and was, very quiet. Almost
everybody was thinking about the spot the Laughing Man had been left
in. We were long past worrying about him--we had too much confidence
in him for that--but we were never past accepting his most perilous
moments quietly.

the third or fourth inning of our ball game that afternoon, I spotted
Mary Hudson from first base. She was sitting on a bench about a
hundred yards to my left, sandwiched between two nursemaids with baby
carriages. She had on her beaver coat, she was smoking a cigarette,
and she seemed to be looking in the direction of our game. I got
excited about my discovery and yelled the information over to the
Chief, behind the pitcher. He hurried over to me, not quite running.
"Where?" he asked me. I pointed again. He stared for a
moment in the right direction, then said he'd be back in a minute and
left the field. He left it slowly, opening his overcoat and putting
his hands in the hip pockets of his trousers. I sat down on first
base and watched. By the time the Chief reached Mary Hudson, his
overcoat was buttoned again and his hands were down at his sides.

stood over her for about five minutes, apparently talking to her.
Then Mary Hudson stood up, and the two of them walked toward the
baseball field. They didn't talk as they walked, or look at each
other. When they reached the field, the Chief took his position
behind the pitcher. I yelled over to him. "Isn't she gonna
play?" He told me to cover my sack. I covered my sack and
watched Mary Hudson. She walked slowly behind the plate, with her
hands in the pockets of her beaver coat, and finally sat down on a
misplaced players' bench just beyond third base. She lit another
cigarette and crossed her legs.

the Warriors were at bat, I went over to her bench and asked her if
she felt like playing left field. She shook her head. I asked her if
she had a cold. She shook her head again. I told her I didn't have
anybody in left field. I told her I had a guy playing center field
and left field. There was no response at all to this information. I
tossed my first-baseman's mitt up in the air and tried to have it
land on my head, but it fell in a mud puddle. I wiped it off on my
trousers and asked Mary Hudson if she wanted to come up to my house
for dinner sometime. I told her the Chief came up a lot. "Leave
me alone," she said. "Just please leave me alone." I
stared at her, then walked off in the direction of the Warriors'
bench, taking a tangerine out of my pocket and tossing it up in the
air. About midway along the third-base foul line, I turned around and
started to walk backwards, looking at Mary Hudson and holding on to
my tangerine. I had no idea what was going on between the Chief and
Mary Hudson (and still haven't, in any but a fairly low, intuitive
sense), but nonetheless, I couldn't have been more certain that Mary
Hudson had permanently dropped out of the Comanche lineup. It was the
kind of whole certainty, however independent of the sum of its facts,
that can make walking backwards more than normally hazardous, and I
bumped smack into a baby carriage.

another inning, the light got bad for fielding. The game was called,
and we started picking up all the equipment. The last good look I had
at Mary Hudson, she was over near third base crying. The Chief had
hold of the sleeve of her beaver coat, but she got away from him. She
ran off the field onto the cement path and kept running till I
couldn't see her any more.

Chief didn't go after her. He just stood watching her disappear. Then
he turned around and walked down to home plate and picked up our two
bats; we always left the bats for him to carry. I went over to him
and asked if he and Mary Hudson had had a fight. He told me to tuck
my shirt in.

as always, we Comanches ran the last few hundred feet to the place
where the bus was parked, yelling, shoving, trying out strangleholds
on each other, but all of us alive to the fact that it was again time
for "The Laughing Man." Racing across Fifth Avenue,
somebody dropped his extra or discarded sweater, and I tripped over
it and went sprawling. I finished the charge to the bus; but the best
seats were taken by that time and I had to sit down in the middle of
the bus. Annoyed at the arrangement, I gave the boy sitting on my
right a poke in the ribs with my elbow, then faced around and watched
the Chief cross over Fifth. It was not yet dark out, but a
five-fifteen dimness had set in. The Chief crossed the street with
his coat collar up, the bats under his left arm, and his
concentration on the street. His black hair, which had been combed
wet earlier in the day, was dry now and blowing. I remember wishing
the Chief had gloves.

bus, as usual, was quiet when he climbed in--as proportionately
quiet, at any rate, as a theatre with dimming house lights.
Conversations were finished in a hurried whisper or shut off
completely. Nonetheless, the first thing the Chief said to us was
"All right, let's cut out the noise, or no story." In an
instant, an unconditional silence filled the bus, cutting off from
the Chief any alternative but to take up his narrating position. When
he had done so, he took out a handkerchief and methodically blew his
nose, one nostril at a time. We watched him with patience and even a
certain amount of spectator's interest. When he had finished with his
handkerchief, he folded it neatly in quarters and replaced it in his
pocket. He then gave us the new installment of "The Laughing
Man." From start to finish, it lasted no longer than five

of Dufarge's bullets struck the Laughing Man, two of them through the
heart. When Dufarge, who was still shielding his eyes against the
sight of the Laughing Man's face, heard a queer exhalation of agony
from the direction of the target, he was overjoyed. His black heart
beating wildly, he rushed over to his unconscious daughter and
brought her to. The pair of them, beside themselves with delight and
coward's courage, now dared to look up at the Laughing Man. His head
was bowed as in death, his chin resting on his bloody chest. Slowly,
greedily, father and daughter came forward to inspect their spoils.
Quite a surprise was in store for them. The Laughing Man, far from
dead, was busy contracting his stomach muscles in a secret manner. As
the Dufarges came into range, he suddenly raised his face, gave a
terrible laugh, and neatly, even fastidiously, regurgitated all four
bullets. The impact of this feat on the Dufarges was so acute that
their hearts literally burst, and they dropped dead at the Laughing
Man's feet. (If the installment was going to be a short one anyway,
it could have ended there; the Comanches could have managed to
rationalize the sudden death of the Dufarges. But it didn't end
there.) Day after day, the Laughing Man continued to stand lashed to
the tree with barbed wire, the Dufarges decomposing at his feet.
Bleeding profusely and cut off from his supply of eagles' blood, he
had never been closer to death. One day, however, in a hoarse but
eloquent voice, he appealed for help to the animals of the forest. He
summoned them to fetch Omba, the lovable dwarf. And they did. But it
was a long trip back and forth across the Paris-Chinese border, and
by the time Omba arrived on the scene with a medical kit and a fresh
supply of eagles' blood, the Laughing Man was in a coma. Omba's very
first act of mercy was to retrieve his master's mask, which had blown
up against Mlle. Dufarge's vermin-infested torso. He placed it
respectfully over the hideous features, then proceeded to dress the

the Laughing Man's small eyes finally opened, Omba eagerly raised the
vial of eagles' blood up to the mask. But the Laughing Man didn't
drink from it. Instead, he weakly pronounced his beloved Black Wing's
name. Omba bowed his own slightly distorted head and revealed to his
master that the Dufarges had killed Black Wing. A peculiar and
heart-rending gasp of final sorrow came from the Laughing Man. He
reached out wanly for the vial of eagles' blood and crushed it in his
hand. What little blood he had left trickled thinly down his wrist.
He ordered Omba to look away, and, sobbing, Omba obeyed him. The
Laughing Man's last act, before turning his face to the bloodstained
ground, was to pull off his mask.

story ended there, of course. (Never to be revived.) The Chief
started up the bus. Across the aisle from me, Billy Walsh, who was
the youngest of all the Comanches, burst into tears. None of us told
him to shut up. As for me, I remember my knees were shaking.

few minutes later, when I stepped out of the Chief's bus, the first
thing I chanced to see was a piece of red tissue paper flapping in
the wind against the base of a lamppost. It looked like someone's
poppy-petal mask. I arrived home with my teeth chattering
uncontrollably and was told to go right straight to bed.

at the Dinghy

was a little after four o'clock on an Indian Summer afternoon. Some
fifteen or twenty times since noon, Sandra, the maid, had come away
from the lake-front window in the kitchen with her mouth set tight.
This time as she came away, she absently untied and re-tied her apron
strings, taking up what little slack her enormous waistline allowed.
Then she went back to the enamel table and lowered her freshly
uniformed body into the seat opposite Mrs. Snell. Mrs. Snell having
finished the cleaning and ironing was having her customary cup of tea
before walking down the road to the bus stop. Mrs. Snell had her hat
on. It was the same interesting, black felt headpiece she had worn,
not just all summer, but for the past three summers--through record
heat waves, through change of life, over scores of ironing boards,
over the helms of dozens of vacuum cleaners. The Hattie Carnegie
label was still inside it, faded but (it might be said) unbowed.

not gonna worry about it," Sandra announced, for the fifth or
sixth time, addressing herself as much as Mrs. Snell. "I made up
my mind I'm not gonna worry about it. What for?"

right," said Mrs. Snell. "I wouldn't. I really wouldn't.
Reach me my bag, dear."

leather handbag, extremely worn, but with a label inside it as
impressive as the one inside Mrs. Snell's hat, lay on the pantry.
Sandra was able to reach it without standing up. She handed it across
the table to Mrs. Snell, who opened it and took out a pack of
mentholated cigarettes and a folder of Stork Club matches.

Snell lit a cigarette, then brought her teacup to her lips, but
immediately set it down in its saucer. "If this don't hurry up
and cool off, I'm gonna miss my bus." She looked over at Sandra,
who was staring, oppressedly, in the general direction of the copper
sauce-pans lined against the wall. "Stop worryin' about it,"
Mrs. Snell ordered. "What good's it gonna do to worry about it?
Either he tells her or he don't. That's all. What good's worryin'
gonna do?"

not worryin' about it," Sandra responded. "The last thing
I'm gonna do is worry about it. Only, it drives ya loony, the way
that kid goes pussyfootin' all around the house. Ya can't hear him,
ya know. I mean nobody can hear him, ya know. Just the other day I
was shellin' beans--right at this here table--and I almost stepped on
his hand. He was sittin' right under the table."

I wouldn't worry about it."

mean ya gotta weigh every word ya say around him," Sandra said.
"It drives ya loony."

still can't drink this," Mrs. Snell said. ". . . That's
terrible. When ya gotta weigh every word ya say and all."

drives ya loony! I mean it. Half the time I'm half loony."
Sandra brushed some imaginary crumbs off her lap, and snorted. "A
four-year-old kid!"

kind of a good-lookin' kid," said Mrs. Snell. "Them big
brown eyes and all."

snorted again. "He's gonna have a nose just like the father."
She raised her cup and drank from it without any difficulty. "I
don't know what they wanna stay up here all October for," she
said malcontentedly, lowering her cup. "I mean none of 'em even
go anywheres near the water now. She don't go in, he don't go in, the
kid don't go in. Nobody goes in now. They don't even take that crazy
boat out no more. I don't know what they threw good money away on it

don't know how you can drink yours. I can't even drink mine."

stared rancorously at the opposite wall. "I'll be so gladda get
backa the city. I'm not foolin'. I hate this crazy place." She
gave Mrs. Snell a hostile glance. "It's all right for you, you
live here all year round. You got your social life here and all. You
don't care."

gonna drink this if it kills me," Mrs. Snell said, looking at
the clock over the electric stove.

would you do if you were in my shoes?" Sandra asked abruptly. "I
mean what would you do? Tella truth."

was the sort of question Mrs. Snell slipped into as if it were an
ermine coat. She at once let go her teacup. "Well, in the first
place," she said, "I wouldn't worry about it. What I'd do,
I'd look around for another--"

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