Authors: John Kennedy Toole
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary
When I came down in the store again, she was reading one of the comic books from the magazine shelf. I told her the prescription would be ready in a little while, and she said okay, she'd wait. I wanted to go back up in the room with Mr. Williams, because every now and then she looked over at me where I was sitting on a stool behind the counter, and I scraped my feet along the floor and started to whistle and looked the other way.
When she went back to her comic book, I looked at her. She was about sixteen, maybe a little older, but I couldn't say how much. Only a few people in the valley had black hair. I didn't see it very often, so I looked at hers. Hers was prettier than most people's. It was long and wavy and shiny. She had some curls on her forehead, and then it was straight until her shoulders, where she had some more curls. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were black too, but her skin was white. Not only her face, but her arms too. Plenty women in the valley got their faces white, but their arms were still red.
She was pretty and could have been on the front of a magazine if it wasn't for her mouth. It was just a little too big, but I liked the way her lips curved. She had on a pretty color lipstick that looked red when the light was on her lips but looked purple when she was in the dark. I liked it with her eyes and hair.
Her breasts were big for only about sixteen, and high too. She was wearing a dress with a flower pattern on it that I didn't like, but it didn't look bad on her. I liked the way her big belt made her waist look real small. It looked like you could put your hands around it and your fingers would touch. I looked through her sandals and saw even the skin on her feet was white and soft. She looked at me just then. I looked away and began scraping my foot again.
Mr. Williams came down into the store a little while later with the prescription. He gave it to her and told her something about when to take it while I rang it up on the cash register. I stood next to Mr. Williams and listened to what he was telling her, and I noticed something I never noticed before: I was taller than Mr. Williams. I looked down at the girl. She was looking at Mr. Williams, but all of a sudden she looked up at me, and I saw her eyes again.
I saw her in the store a lot after that first day. She read the magazines and comic books while Mr. Williams filled the prescriptions for her grandfather. Sometimes she wore shorts, and I saw her legs were even whiter than the rest of her body, especially up near her thigh. And her knees weren't rough like the other girls in the valley, who had hard gray-looking knees. They were soft and white and had just one little crease in them.
After she had been coming in for about a month, I spoke to her one day. She started talking, though. I was just sitting behind the counter looking at her.
"Do you have this month's
She was looking through the magazines.
I came from behind the counter and went over to the shelf. I began to tell her that I'd look for it, but my voice sounded strange to me, so I stopped and cleared my throat. She looked at me.
"I asked if you had this month's
"Yes, I know. I don't know if we have it, but I'll look."
I started going through the magazines, and she said, "Thanks." Whenever someone is looking at me from behind, I seem to know it, and I knew she was looking at me now.
"Do you work here all the time?"
She had her hand resting on the shelf near my head, and I looked at its whiteness.
"Yes, I do. All the time the store's open and from thirty minutes before it does."
"How old are you, about nineteen?"
I stopped going through the pile of magazines. I turned around and looked at her. I started to tell her I was only about her age, but I thought of how tall I was, and I couldn't keep from looking in her eyes.
"Yes, just about. Nineteen and a half."
We looked at each other for a while and didn't say anything. Then she looked back at the pile of magazines. I turned around and started going through them again. After that she kept quiet, so I started talking.
"You're from out of the valley, aren't you?"
"Yes, my mother came here to take care of her father, Grandpa. He's been getting along poorly. If he gets better, we're going home again -- Springhill."
"That's where you're from?"
"Yes. You ever been there?"
"No, I've never been out of the valley."
"Well, if you ever do get out, don't go there. This place is prettier."
I was surprised to hear anyone say the valley was pretty. I never thought much about it, but I was happy to be talking with her, so I went along with what she said.
Mr. Williams was done with the prescription before I could find her magazine, so she paid and left. Mr. Williams went back into the other room. A few seconds later, the front door opened again, and she stuck her head in.
"I forgot to tell you goodbye."
"Goodbye. I'll be in again if Grandpa has another prescription."
She smiled and closed the door. I smiled too, and was still smiling when Mr. Williams came in again. He asked me what I was smiling for, and I told him nothing.
I thought about her all the time after that. When Mother and I listened to the radio at night, I didn't hear what they were saying, and when she asked me something about the program, I usually couldn't answer her. She finally told Aunt Mae I didn't care about her anymore and cried and laid her head on the kitchen table. I didn't know what to tell Aunt Mae, but she didn't fuss about it because she knew the way Mother was.
A few nights after that, Aunt Mae and I were sitting on the porch. Mother was asleep upstairs. It was one of the nights Aunt Mae wasn't with Clyde. I hadn't been with her alone for a long while, and I wanted to talk. We sat and talked about everything, almost. The town was growing, and that was what we were talking about just then.
All up the hills where there were pines just a year ago houses were being built. Some big ones, but mostly little small ones that looked like boxes. The veterans all had children now, and they couldn't live with their families down in town anymore, so they were moving into the hills. Some were starting at the foot of our hill. When I went down the path to the store, I could see the little foundations being laid a short distance from the street they were cutting there. Our hill wasn't being improved as fast as some, though. It was too steep to build on very well, and it was too full of clay, they said. That made me happy. We had been on the hill for so long I didn't want to see it full of those little homes. I wondered what was going to happen to them down there at the foot of the hill when a good rain came. That's where the clay was really soft, where the water stayed after it had come all the way down from about where we lived.
Aunt Mae was looking at the other hills. The one across town from where we lived was almost full of those little houses now, all the same white kind. The hill to the side of ours was really developed too. Even in the dark we could see the path of the roads they were cutting on it that made it look like the crossword puzzles Mr. Farney used to try to get us to work, but no one knew enough words to fill them out.
All of a sudden I told Aunt Mae I saw a girl in the store that I really liked.
"I was wondering when you were going to say something like that, hon."
Aunt Mae stopped rocking, and I wondered if she was mad.
"Why don't you ask her out, Dave? All the other boys and girls I see down in town have been going out for a long time. You can't sit up here every night with your Mother like you do."
"I don't mind it, and besides. . ."
"Yes, I know, hon. But look at how old you are now. It isn't natural for you to be here every night with her. I shouldn't have let it go on like it has, but Clyde's been getting us some good jobs, you know. We couldn't let her in the house alone."
"I know that, Aunt Mae, that's. . ."
"No, no. Listen to me. You know I'm home some nights. You ask this girl out, and I'll make it my business to be here that night and look after Mother."
I didn't say anything just then. She started rocking again.
"Suppose she won't go out with me."
"Don't worry, Dave, she will. You're a nice-looking boy. You're tall, that's for sure. You look better than those little kids I see coming into the roadhouse when I sing there."
"I don't have any money like they do, Aunt Mae. It costs a lot to go to the roadhouse. You have to buy beer, and you have to use a car to get there."
"Well, go to a show in town, then. How much is it? Thirty cents apiece? Well, that's sixty cents there, and that isn't much. Even I got that much."
She started laughing, but I didn't feel like laughing with her. I wondered if Jo Lynne would want to go just to the movie.
"Do you think she'll go if I ask her, Aunt Mae?"
"I think she will. Anyway, there's no harm in asking."
It sounded easy the way Aunt Mae spoke about it, but I didn't ask Jo Lynne for a while. I waited until she came in two times after that, and then I did. She said she could, and I was surprised.
The night we were going out Aunt Mae stayed home with Mother. I knew Clyde had a good job for them that night, but Aunt Mae said the place was almost seventy miles away and she didn't mind missing it. I wore a flowered shirt I bought in town and a pair of Poppa's good pants he bought before the war. When I left the house, Mother saw them on me and said she thought she saw them someplace before. Aunt Mae told her they were new, though, so I told them both good night.
Jo Lynne was waiting for me down in town on Main. She said it would be better if we met somewhere instead of me going to her grandfather's house to get her. He didn't want her to go out, she said, and it would have made trouble. It didn't matter to me. I was glad I didn't have to go meet him and her mother.
She was on the corner where she said she would be. I thought she looked good. Her hair was tied back with a green ribbon, and she had on a flowery sort of dress and sandals. That lipstick she used made her lips look dark at night, dark purple. It was a hot night, and there were a lot of people on Main walking around. Some of the men who were crossing the corner where she was turned around after they passed her and looked at her. The women looked at her too, because she looked different from them, and they knew she was a stranger in town and probably wondered where she was from. The breeze that was coming up Main blew her skirt and the ribbon in her hair just a little. I liked the way it did that.
She smiled when she saw me. We stood there and spoke for a while, then we started for the movie, which was two blocks down. I said hello to some people I knew, most from the drugstore, but Jo Lynne didn't know anyone to say hello to. They all looked at us, though, because they thought I stayed up on the hill with Mother all the time.
I don't remember what the movie was. It was one of those cheap ones they always showed on Saturday nights with gangsters or cowboys. Some people who went to school with me and who went to the high school now were in the show with girls. I knew they always went on Saturdays, then went to the roadhouse after and danced and drank. When I saw them, I wished I had a car so we could go out there too. Everyone said it was a lot of fun.
It was hot in the show, and it smelled like always. The old fans they had to keep it cool made so much noise that you couldn't hear the actors sometimes. All the little children were sitting up in the first and second row about three feet from the screen. I never thought about them too much before, but they bothered me tonight, always running up and down the aisle and talking and throwing things up at the screen. I wished the sheriffs brother would come get them and put them out, but he charged more on Saturday nights, and if he put them out, he had to give their money back.
Jo Lynne's arm was touching mine. I couldn't keep my mind on the movie, but I kept looking at the screen. The actors moved around and talked and shot at each other, but I didn't know what the story was about. I looked down at her once. The white light from the screen was shining on her lips, and they were wet, and I wondered why. She didn't notice me looking. She kept looking at the movie. I looked from her face down to where her arm was touching mine. It was white, and it felt soft and smooth. After a while I took her hand, which was hanging over the arm of her chair, and held it. She didn't even look at me, but she tightened her fingers over my hand, and I was surprised.
The movie ended, and everybody started getting up. Only the little children in the first and second row stayed in their seats, but they always stayed for two movies. They were hitting on each other and screaming, and I wondered where their mothers were. Jo Lynne and I got up. My hand was wet from having held hers. I wiped it on Poppa's old pants, and it stained them, so I held my hand over the spot till we got out.
When we were out on the street, Jo Lynne said she thought the movie was good. I said I liked it too and asked her where she wanted to go. I wanted to take her to the restaurant, but she said her grandfather didn't want her coming home too late. She said she'd rather go for a walk.
The breeze was still blowing, and it was a little cooler. We started off down to where she lived. I held her hand, and she didn't say anything. She squeezed it again like she did in the show. We talked a little about the movie. I didn't remember much about it, so I went along with what she said and agreed with her. After we finished talking about that, she said she was glad I asked her to go out because she got tired of sitting at her grandfather's every night. I didn't tell her I was surprised she said she would go, and I let it go at that.
I didn't know why I felt frightened. I just did. We were walking along not saying anything for a long while, and I couldn't think of anything to say to start a conversation. I felt silly holding her hand and not saying anything, but Jo Lynne didn't try to speak either. Maybe she didn't have anything to say too. I don't know. I just know we were getting closer to her grandfather's house. It was near the base of the hill across from ours.