The Inverted Forest
by J.D. Salinger
Cosmopolitan December 1947
THE following diary extract is dated December 31, 1917. It was written in Shoreview, Long Island, by a little girl named Corinne von Nordhoffen. She was the daughter of Saray Keyes Montross von Nordhoffen, the Montross Orthopedic Appliances heiress, who had committed suicide in 1915, and Baron Otho von Nordhoffen, who was still alive, or at least, under his gray mask of expatriation, was still breathing. Corinne entered this chapter in her diary on the night before her eleventh birthday.
Tomorrow is my birthday party and I am going to have a party. I have invited Raymond Ford and Miss Aigletinger and Lorraine Pederson and Dorothy Wood and Marjorie Pheleps and Lawrence Pheleps and Mr. Miller. Miss Aigletinger said I had to invite Lawrence Pheleps on account of Marjorie is coming. I have to invite Mr. Miller on account of he works for Father now. Father said Mr. Miller will drive to New York in the morning and bring back 2 cowboy movies and shoe them in the library after dinner. I got Raymond a real cow boy hat to wear just like that cowboy he likes wears. I got everybody else hats also only paper ones. Miss Aigletinger is going to give me Parade Prejudice by Jane Orsten she said. She is also going to give me the elsie I don’t have. She is the most adorable teacher I have had since Miss Calahan. Father is also going to give me more room in the kennles for Sandys puppys and I already saw the doll house from Wanamakers. Dorothy Wood is going to give me an autograph album and gave it to me already 3 weeks ago. She wrote in the front of it In your golden chain of friendship consider me a link. I nearly cried. Dorothy is so adorable. I don’t know what Lorraine and Marjorie are going to give me. I wish that mean Lawrence Pheleps did not have to come to my party. I don’t want Raymond Ford to give me anything for my birthday just as long as he comes is all. He is so poor and not rich at all and you can tell by his cloths. I wish Dorothy had not written on the first page of the album because I wanted Raymond. Mr. Miller is going to give me an alligator. He had this brother in Florida that has alligators and T.B. like Miss Calahan had. I love Raymond Ford. I love him better than my father. Anybody that opens this diary and reads this page will drop dead in 24 hours. Tomorrow night!!! Please dear lord don’t let Lawrence Pheleps be mean at my party and don’t let Father and Mr. Miller talk German at the table or anything because I just know they would all go home and tell their parents about it except Raymond and Dorothy. I love you Raymond because you are the nicest boy in the world and I am going to marry you. Anybody that reads this without my permission will drop dead in 24 hours or get sick.
Close to nine o’clock on the night of Corinne’s birthday party, Mr. Miller, the Baron’s new secretary, leaned forward and volunteered down-table straight at Corinne, “Well, let’s go get this boy. No use sittin’ around moping’ about it all night. Where’s he live, birthday girl?”
Corinne, at the end of the table, shook her head and blinked violently. Under the table her hands were caught hard between her knees.
“He lives right on Winona,” spoke up Marjorie. “His mother’s a waiter at the Lobster Palace. They live over the restaurant.” She looked around, pleased.
“Waitress,” corrected her brother Lawrence, with contempt.
Little Dorothy Wood, at Corinne’s right, shot one of her high-strung glances up-table toward the baron. But the old gentleman was busy examining, somewhat morosely, the cuff of his dinner jacket—he had just brushed his sleeve into his ice cream—the sort of thing that often happened to him. Dorothy’s high-strung glances in his direction were unnecessary, any way. The baron’s hearing device was seldom aimed at table talk, birthday parties not excepted, and all evening he had been missing Lawrence Phelp’s smart-boy alto.
“Well, waitress,” conceded Marjorie Phelps. “Anyways, he lives where I said, because Hermine Jackson’s cousin followed him home once.”
“Winona Avenue.” Mr. Miller stood up confidently. He dropped his napkin of the table and removed his pale green, unfestive-looking paper hat. He was a bald-headed man with a jolly, humorless face. “Let’s go, birthday kiddo,” he said.
Again the hostess shook her head and blinked—wildly, this time.
Miss Aigletinger leaned forward, a committee-of-one for smooth-running birthday parties. “Corinne, dear. Go with Mr. Mueller, why don’t you, honey?”
“Miller,” corrected Miller.
“Miller, excuse me. . . Go with Mr. Miller, dear, why don’t you? It’ll only take a teensy minute. And we’ll all be right here when you get back.” Miss Aigletinger turned rather coyly to the baron, on whose left she was sitting. “Won’t we, Baron?” she asked.
“He isn’t a baron anymore. He’s an American citizen. Corinne said so.” Dorothy Wood stated firmly—and immediately blushed.
“What is it, please?” inquired the baron, aiming his hearing apparatus at Miss Aigltinger.
To the never-stale of all the children present—except Corinne—Miss Aigletinger picked up the baron’s speaking tube and shouted thinly into it, “I say we’ll all be right here when they get back, won’t we? They’re going into town to look for the Ford boy.” She started to relinquish the tube but instead took a firmer hold on it. “Very strange child. Came to us in October,” she shouted elaboratedly. “Not a good mixer.”
Though he hadn’t understood a word, the baron nodded pleasantly.
Dispirited, Miss Aigletinger placed a protective hand to her throat where all he volume had passed through, and willingly gave over to Mr. Miller, who was standing ready beside his chair. Miller picked up the tube and shouted into it, “Wir werden sofort zurück—”
“Kindly speak English,” interrupted the baron.
Miller flushed slightly but shouted, “We’ll be right back. We’re going to look for the youngster who didn’t come to the party.”
The baron understood Miller and nodded; then he glared down-table at Dorothy Wood, a favorite of his, whom he regularly frightened to death. “You didn’t eat anything,” he accused her. “Eat.”
Dorothy was too rattled to do anything but blush.
“She doesn’t eat anything,” the baron complained to no one in particular.
“Get your coat, birthday girl,” Miller said to Corinne, standing over her.
“No,” said Corinne. “Please.”
“Corinne, dear,” intervened Miss Aigletinger, “it’s just possible that Raymond Ford forgot your party. Those things happen in the best of families. There’s no harm, surely, if you don’t just remind—”
“I reminded him this morning. I told him at recess.” It was the longest remark Corinne had made all evening.
“Yes, dear, but he may not be well. He may be ill. He might just be in bed. You could—you could take him a lovely piece of birthday cake—couldn’t she, Mr. Miller?”
“Sure.” Miller placed a hand on the back of Miss Aigletinger’s chair. “Must be quite a youngster,” he mused, sucking his tooth. “What is he, the Frank Merriwell of his class or something?”
“The who?” coolly inquired Miss Aigletinger, addressing the hand on the back of her chair.
“The school athlete. You know. All the gals after him. The demon of the cinder path, the—”
“Him an athlete?” interrupted Lawrence Phelps. “He can’t even catch a football. You know what? Robert Selridge saw Ford coming across the playground and yelled at him and chucked a football at him, not even fast, and you know what Ford did?”
Mr. Miller, inserting the nail of his little finger between two molars, shook his head.
“He jumped out of the way. Honest! He wouldn’t even chase it afterwards. Boy, Robert Selridge nearly socked him one.” Lawrence Phelps turned his burly little face toward his hostess. “Where’d Ford come from anyways, Corinne? He didn’t come from around here anywheres.”
“Mmm,” Corinne replied inaudibly.
“What?” said Lawrence.
“She said none of your beeswax,” Dorothy Wood translated loyally.
“Corinne,” rebuked Mr. Miller, removing his finger from his mouth. “Is ‘at nice?”
“Tell ‘em about his back,” Marjorie Phelps suggested to her brother. She turned brightly to the others, informing them, “Lawrence saw his back at Doctor’s Hour. It’s got all things over it. Big awful marks, like.”
“Oh, that. Yeah,” said her brother. “His mother beats him up.”
The hostess stood up. “You’re a liar,” she accused, trembling. “He hurt himself. He fell and hurt himself.”
“Children, children!” This from Miss Aigletinger, with a nervous glance at the baron, who, undisturbed, went on staring profoundly at an embroidered pattern in the tablecloth.
“All right, all right, he fell and hurt himself,” Lawrence Phelps said.
Corinne sat down, still trembling.
“Lawrence, I don’t ever want to hear you say anything like that again,” Miss Aigletinger said. “It does not happen to be true, in the first place. The school board investigates those things—all those things. If that boy’s mother—”
“Oh, I know why she likes Ford,” Lawrence interrupted ambiguously. “I don’t wanna tell, though.” He glanced over at his hostess’s suddenly upjerked, burning little face. Then, efficiently, as though he were dealing with butterfly wings, he tore his hostess’s horror apart on the spot. “Because Louise Selridge was sore Corinne won the elocution and—right in front of everybody in the wardrobe closet— Louise called Corinne a Heinie spy. And Louise said even her father said why don’t Corinne and her father go to Germany where all the Heinies are—the Kaiser and all. And Corinne started to cry. And Raymond Ford was wardrobe monitor that day, and he chucked Louise Selridge’s coat out in the aisle,” Lawrence said, taking a breath, but not quite finished. “And last week Corinne brought her dog after school to show Ford. And she wrote his name on the blackboard at recess and tried to erase it, but everybody saw it.” No more butterfly wings on hand, Lawrence looked vaguely in the direction of the footman behind him. “Can’t we please have another spoon? Mine fell.”
“Lawrence! We don’t repeat those things.”
“Honest!” said Lawrence, as though his integrity were in jeopardy. “You can ask my sister. Ask anybody. Ford was giving Louise Selridge her coat when she said it. Only he didn’t give it to her. He chucked it right out in the aisle. Everybody—”
“What time is it, Miller?” the baron asked suddenly.
“Twenty past nine, baron.” Miller turned to Corinne. “What’s it gonna be, kiddo? You wanna look for this boy or not?”
“Yes,” said Corinne, and walked with adult dignity out of the dining room.
The dark road was icy and there were no skid chains on Mr. Miller’s automobile—he didn’t believe in ‘em.
“Yours’ll be here tomorrow,” he promised Corinne in the unfraternal darkness. He was speaking incessantly of his brother’s alligators. “Little bit of a fella. But he’ll grow. He’ll grow all right.” He chuckled, tobacco- breathily, toward Corinne.
“Please don’t go so fast.”
“What’s ‘at? Somebody scared?”
“It’s this street,” Corinne said excitedly. “Right here, please—”
“Where?” said Miller.
“You passed it!”
“Well, we can fix that,” said Miller.
The car skidded, selected its own direction, and came to a stop with its forewheels on the sidewalk.
Corinne, shivering, let herself out of the car and ran the slippery quarter of a block to the place where the Lobster Palace should have been shining yellowly.
Something was wrong. The Lobster Palace wasn’t shining at all. Both the front show window and the electric sign were as black as the night itself.
“Closed, ‘eh?” Miller said, reaching Corinne. His breath in the sub-zero air was almost more visible than he was.
“The house can’t be closed. The restaurant maybe, but the house can’t be. People live upstairs. Raymond Ford lives upstairs.”
Instantly, as though in proof of part of Corinne’s remark, a woman carrying two suitcases charged out of the black doorway, brushing past Corinne. No kind of hall light preceded or followed her. She snorted visibly over to the curb, dropped her tow suitcases on the icy walk, and faced the doorway from which she had emerged. Then, just as Corinne felt Mr. Miller pull her neutrally out of the way, another, that of a small boy, came out of the building. Corinne excitedly called his name, but the boy didn’t seem to hear her. He went directly to the woman with the suitcases, stood beside her, and faced as she was facing. He took something out of his pocked, unfolded it, put it on his head, and pulled it down over his ears. Corinne knew that it was his aviator’s cap.
“Listen,” said the lady with Raymond Ford harshly. “I’m entitled to my galoshes.”
Corinne saw with a start that the lady was not addressing Raymond Ford, but something in the doorway—a glowing cigar.
“I toldya,” said the cigar. “The restront’s locked. And it’s gonna stay locked the whole time the boss is at his brudda’s funeral. Listen. You had all afternoona pick up ya galoshes.”
“Yeah?” said the lady with Raymond Ford.
“Yeah,” said the cigar, and got even redder. “You ain’t supposa leave no galoshes in no kitchen. You know that.”
“Listen,” said the lady with Raymond Ford. “I’m gonna stop at the damn pleece station on my way to the station, hear me? A person’s entitleda their property.”
“Let’s go. Please,” Raymond Ford said, taking the lady’s arm. “Please. He’s not gonna give ya the galoshes; can’tcha see?”
“Leggo, you. Don’t rush me,” the lady said. “I’m not leavin’ the vicinity without them galoshes.”
Something like laughter came from the doorway.
“If ya feet get cold, break open one of them bagsa yours,” suggested the cigar. “You got plenty t’keep ya warm. You got plenty to keep you warm.”
“Mother, c’mon. Please,” Raymond Ford said. “Can’tcha see he’s not gonna give ‘em to ya.”
“I want them galoshes.”
A door banged. Frightened, Corinne looked and saw that the cigar was gone.
Raymond Ford’s mother ran a few wild steps on the ice, stopped perilously short, recovered her balance, and began to pound with her fist against the dark show window of the restaurant—at the place where normally the lobsters could be seen winking on cracked ice. She screamed as she pounded, articulating words that Corinne had nervously read from walls and fences. Corinne felt Mr. Miller’s grip tighten on her arm, but Corinne stayed where she was, because Raymond Ford was now standing before her.
He spoke to Corinne just loud enough to be heard over his mother’s activities directly behind her.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your party.”
“That’s all right.”
“How’s your dog?” said Raymond Ford.
“That’s good,” said Raymond Ford, and went over to his mother and began to pull her by the arm. But she wrenched successfully away from him, scarcely losing the rhythm of her violence.
Mr. Miller came forward, cupping his cold ears with his hands. “I’d be glad to drive you people to the station if that’s where you’re going,” he shouted.
Raymond Ford’s mother stopped pounding and shouting. She turned away from the show window, glanced briefly at Miller in the darkness, then at Corinne, then back at Miller. Raymond Ford indicated Corinne with his thumb. “She’s a friend of mine,” he said.
“You got a car?” Mrs. Ford asked Miller.
“How could I take you to the station if I didn’t?”
“Where is it?”
Miller pointed. “Right there.”
Mrs. Ford nodded, absently. She then turned around and, using an Anglo-Saxon verb, gave the dark show window a snort, obscene command. She turned back to Miller. “Let’s get otta here before I go mad,” she told him. She sat beside Miller in the front seat, andthe two children sat in the back with the suitcases. The car moved off on a slippery tangent, straightened out, and went on.
“He wasn’t the guy that engaged me for the position,” Mrs. Ford announced suddenly. “The guy that engaged me was a gentleman.” She was addressing Miller’s profile. “Hey, haven’t I seen you in the restront?”
“I don’t believe so,” Miller said stiffly.
“Live in this lousy burg?”
“No, I do not.”
“Just work here, ah?”
“Mother, don’t ask the man so many questions. Why do you wanna ask the man so many questions?”
She turned savagely around in her seat. “Listen, you. Stay otta the discussion,” she ordered. “When I’m innarested in your two cents I’ll letcha—”
“I’m Baron von Nordhoffen’s secretary,” Miller said quickly, to keep peace in the automobile.
“Yeah? The Heinie on the hill?” She sounded suspicious. “How come you’re ridin’ around in this lizzy tin? Where’s all the lemazeens?”
“This happens to my own car,” Miller said coldly.
“That’s different. I wondered,” Mrs. Ford seemed to reflect for a moment, then sharply and hostilely spoke to Miller’s profile. “Don’t you high-hat me, Charlie. I don’t feel like bein’ high-hatted, the mood I’m in.”
Miller, a little frightened, cleared his throat. “I can assure you,” he said, “nobody’s high-hatting anybody.”
Mrs. Ford abruptly lowered her window, removed something from her mouth, and flicked it into the night. Closing the window, she said, “I come from a damn good family. I had everything. Money. Social position. Class.” She looked at Miller. “You happen to have any cigarettes with ya, by any chance?”
“I’m afraid not.”
She shrugged. “Listen, I could go home right now and say to Dad, ‘Dad, I’m tired of bein’ an adventuress. I wanna settle down and take it easy for a while.’ He’s be tickleda death. I’d make him the happiest dad in the world.”
Raymond Ford’s mother was silent for a moment. When she spoke again her voice sounded more glum than inflamed.
“My trouble is, I married beneath me, I married a chap that was way beneath me, was my trouble. Every way you look at it.”
Miller’s curiosity got the better of him. “Your husband dead?” he asked coldly.
“It was just a beautiful, dumb kid,” Raymond Ford’s mother mused with affection.
Miller repeated his question.
“I don’t know what the hell he is, dead or what,” she said. Then, abruptly, she sat up straight in her seat and began to clear away frost from her window, using the heel of her hand. “We’re here,” she announced dispassionately, and turned in her seat to address her son. “Now listen,” she said to him. “I mean what I toleya. You let that bag flop open like last time, and I’ll break your back.”
“The straps broke,” Raymond Ford said.
“You heard me. I’ll break your back,” said his mother, working the handle of the door. She turned to Miller, saying, “Thanks for the ride, snob,” and got out of the car. Without another glance toward the car or her son or her luggage she began to walk toward the glowing station waiting room.
Raymond Ford opened his door and got out. He then lifted out the two suitcases, one at a time.
Corinne let down her window. “You want me to tell Miss Aigletinger you won’t be in school tomorrow?”
“You can if you want to, I guess.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” Raymond Ford said. “Good-by.”
He picked up the tow suitcases and began to walk after his mother, who had already disappeared. The suitcases were huge and looked dead weight. Corinne saw him fall once on the snow. Then he disappeared.
Corinne’s father died, with equal parts of courage and an alien’s confusion, when she was sixteen. When she was seventeen the Shoreview estate was sold, and Eric, the chauffeur, performed his last duty for the von Nordhoffen menage by driving Corinne to Wellesley.
At seventeen Corinne was nearly six feet tall with low heels. She walked rather like an umpire measuring out yards on a football field. You had to get right up close to her to see that she was a beauty. Actually, her long legs were very interesting-looking. But not only her legs; all of her.
Although her fair hair was just a little anemic—it would later call for tact on the part of her hairdresser, if Madame’s suggestions were a little too fashionable it didn’t really matter. It was the kind of hair that lets the ears be visible now and then, and Corinne’s ears happened to be extraordinary: delicate, almost sweet, in formation and position, with bladethin edges. Her nose was long, but very slender and very high-bridged, it looked lovely even on the coldest day. Her eyes were hazel and, though not enormous, enormously kind. When her lips were ajar—which was seldom, as her face was nearly always caught tight in some private insecurity—but when they were ajar you saw that they were not thin at all; you saw that the middle of her lower lip was full and round. She was a wonderful- looking girl.
When she was seventeen, though, most boys she knew found her anything but wonderful. For one reason, her speech was rapid and uncloying to the point of being brusque, and to go with it, unfortunately, her conversation stuck very close to the facts. While some boy, for example, was giving her the exact figures on the number of highballs he had consumed just the other night, Corinne was entirely apt to break in with some terrible remark, like “If we hurry we can catch the twelve thirty-one instead of the twelve forty. Do you feel like running?”
There was something else. Young men sensed, or actually found out, that
Corinne did not like to be touched unnecessarily. When she was, she either jumped or apologized. It was the sort of thing that can play hell with a man-going-to-Yale-next- year’s Saturday night. So Corinne went right on jumping or apologizing for a long time. Perhaps none of her young men could have helped her anyway. It takes a certain amount of genius to touch anybody properly, let alone a mixed-up young girl.
In college Corinne came out of herself a little bit. Not much, but a little bit. The girls discovered behind her diffidence a sense of humor, and they made her use it; but that wasn’t all. It gradually leaked out all over the dormitory that Corinne could keep a secret, and very early in her freshman year she was unofficially elected Dormitory Kid. On many a cold Massachusetts night, consequently, she was obliged to get out of a warm bed to put out somebody else’s cat of guilt or innocence. To some extent the functions of her office were good for her own well-being. Giving out midnight advice can be highly instructive after it comes poisonously home a few times. But if you’re kept at the job too long—straight through your senior year, say— all the knowledge you pick up finally turns academic and useless.
After graduating from Wellesley she went to Europe. She preferred doing that to going straight to Philadelphia to live with her maternal second cousin. Besides, she had an old, undisciplined urge to visit her dead father’s estate in Germany. She had a feeling that on arriving there she would respond more poignantly to the memory of things long over and ungracefully done with.
Although nothing daughter-sized turned up for her when she did finally see her father’s estate, she stayed on in Europe for three years. She studied and played, more or less after a fashion, in Paris, in Vienna, Rome, Berlin, St. Anton, Cannes, Lausanne. She prescribed for herself some of the usual American-in-Europe neurotic fun, plus some accessible exclusively to girls who happen to be millionairesses. Over a period of thirty-odd months she bought herself nine cars. Not all of them bored her. Some she gave away. Nobody, of course, can make the American rich feel quite as filthy as can a poor-but-clean European.
Corinne knew a great number of men and boys during her three years in Europe, but her only real friend was a young man from Detroit. His name was Pat, but I don’t know whether it stood for Patrick or Patterson. Anyway he was very probably the first young man who had ever successfully ordered Corinne to close her eyes while she was being kissed. He most certainly was the first person whom Corinne had ever allowed to pass vicariously along the streets of her childhood to see a small boy in a woolen aviator’s cap.
The young man from Detroit was no fool. When he found out just how regularly Corinne was making private trips back to her childhood, he tried to do something about it. With the best intentions he tried to set up some kind of detour in Corinne’s mind. But he never really got a chance. He fell off the running board of Corinne’s ninth car, in his swimming trunks, and was killed.
Corinne went back to America after his death. She went to Philadelphia, to her cousin’s house, where she had spent all her college vacations. But she stayed only a month. A girl from Wellesley told her over the telephone about a darling, oversized, overpriced apartment in the East Sixties in New York. The girl said it was just perfect for Corinne.
Corinne took the apartment in New York and sat in it for nearly six months. She read a great deal. The young man from Detroit had first approached her on a like-me-like- the-books-I-read basis, and she was now a heavy reader. She met-a few ex-Wellesley girls for lunch or theater. She signed a few papers when her late father’s lawyer asked her to. But she had been a New Yorker almost seven months before anything significant happened to her.
She was having a few dates with the brother of her last roommate in college. The young man was one of the most successful tomcats in town, and Corinne was young enough to inform him one evening that he had a simply terrible Oedipus complex. Displeased with the information, the young gentleman threw his highball at her, catching her in the right eye with a fresh ice cube. The shiner that developed started Corinne off as a career girl,because when it disappeared she felt she ought to do something constructive by way of celebration. So she telephoned Robert Waner, had lunch with him, and asked him if he could get her a job on the newsmagazine he was working for.
I think I’ll say here, and then let it go, that I am Robert Waner. I don’t really have a good reason for taking myself out of the third person.
Corinne had not seen Waner in nearly four years. During her college years she had seen more of him than any other boy. She had thought he was funny. When Waner had finally found that out, of course, he had begun to get even funnier. He’d got so funny at Senior Prom at Wellesley that Corinne had broken into tears and asked him to please go back to his own college. Waner, in love with Corinne, had left Wellesley immediately. He had written to her while she had been in Europe, sending her as many letters as he could salvage from his wastebasket.
Waner’s boss at the magazine liked Corinne immediately and gave her a job pinning news items together for a rewrite man. Corinne did that for about a year. Then, when the rewrite man wrote a hot novel and went to Hollywood, she took over his job stringing adjectives: tall, gaunt, left- handed Anthony Creep, accompanied by his wife-ninety-three- year-old, web-footed, ex-manicurist, etc. Thereafter, Corinne’s name began to move up the masthead quite steadily until, in another four years, it was on a line with only four other names. Which meant, roughly, that less than forty people on the magazine had a right to push her copy around.
Her career was entirely remarkable. She had started out on it unable to understand just what she had to lose were she to fail as a career girl. In consequence, she was so cool about the whole setup that, in an office full of tense, ambitious people, she was taken at face value for efficient. It wasn’t hard for her later to live up to her own reputation. She happened to be a really good magazine woman. She was not only a competent all-round reporter and editor, but she developed also into a good, if not brilliant, drama critic.
As for Corinne’s personal life during the first five years she worked for the magazine, I guess it could be recorded on a single sheet of any interoffice memo pad:
Her wire-haired terrier, Malcolm, isn’t properly housebroken and probably never will be.
She is an easy, anonymous touch for any institution or individual depending upon charity.
She likes cherrystone clams and usually takes a double order.
She does not lie.
She is very likely to turn around in a taxicab to watch a child cross a street. She will not discuss the idiosyncrasy.
She regularly renews her subscription to Psychoanalytic Quarterly, a publication she barely glances through. She herself has never been psychoanalyzed.
Her legs grow lovelier each year.
Robert Waner bought two things to give to Corinne on her thirtieth birthday. One of them, an engagement ring, Corinne retreated from, and Waner (still the funnyman) tried to drop it into the fare box of a Madison Avenue bus. The other gift—a book of poems, called, The Cowardly Morning—Waner put on Corinne’s desk at the office, with a note saying, “This man is Coleridge and Blake and Rilke all in one, and more.” Corinne took the book home with her in a taxi and tossed it on her bedspread.
She didn’t pick up the book again until she was in bed, late that night. Then she glanced at the cover and opened the book with a dim impression that she was about to read some poems by someone who was not T. S. Eliot or Marianne Moore; someone named Fane or Flood or Wilson.
She raced through the first two poems in the book, both of which happened to be cerebral enough to require the reader’s co-operation, and started emptily on the third poem. But she suddenly felt sorry for the poet for having her as a reader, and she politely turned back to the first poem. She had once done the same thing to Marianne Moore.
The first poem was the title poem. This time Corinne read it through aloud. But still she didn’t hear it. She read it through a third time, and heard some of it. She read it through a fourth time, and heard all of it. It was the poem containing the lines:
Not wasteland, but a great inverted forest /
with all foliage underground.
As though it might be best to look immediately for shelter, Corinne had to put the book down. At any moment the apartment building seemed liable to lose its balance and topple across Fifth Avenue into Central Park. She waited. Gradually the deluge of truth and beauty abated. Then she glanced at the cover of the book. She began to stare at it. Then suddenly she got out of bed and dialed Robert Waner’s number on the telephone.
“Bobby?” she said. “Corinne.”
“It’s all right. I wasn’t asleep. It isn’t even four o’clock.”
“Bobby, who is this Ray Ford?”
“Ray Ford. The man who wrote the poems you gave me.”
“Lemme sleep over it awhile. I’ll see ya at the office.”
“Bobby, please. I think I know him. I may know him. I knew someone named Ray Ford—Raymond Ford. Really.”
“Good. I’ll wait for you at the office. Good ni—”
“Bobby, wake up. Please. This is terribly important. Don’t you know anything about him?”
“I only read the blurb on the back flap. That’s all I—”
Corinne hung up. In her excitement she hadn’t thought of looking at the back flap of the dust jacket. She rushed back to her bed and read the few notes on Ray Ford.
She read that this Ray Ford was twice the winner of the Rice Fellowship for Poetry and three times the winner of the Annual Strauss and that he now divided his time “between his creative work and his duties as an instructor at Columbia University in New York.” He was born in Boise, Idaho—an upsetting fact, as it should have been a decisive one, but Corinne had no idea where “her” Ray Ford had been born.
But the notes said that he was thirty years old. Which was exactly, electrically, right.
Corinne looked to see if there were a dedication. There was. The book was dedicated to the memory of a Mrs. Rizzio. This piece of information might have been a little puncturing, but Corinne’s imagination was already off the ground. It was very simple. Mrs. Rizzio was Raymond Ford’s mother remarried. Corinne didn’t even bother to consider, much less get around, the unlikelihood of an author (or anybody else), referring to his mother in the third person. She didn’t need logic. She needed more excitement. She jumped back into bed with her book.
Sitting erectly in bed, without lighting cigarettes, Corinne read The Cowardly Morning until the maid came in to wake her for breakfast. And even all the while she was getting dressed she felt Ray Ford’s poems standing upright all over her room. She even kept an eye on them in her dressing-table mirror, lest they escape into their natural vertical ascent. And when she left for her office, she closed her door securely.
From her office, later that morning, she twice telephoned Columbia, but didn’t get to speak to the author of The Cowardly Morning. He was either in class or “not in the building just now.”
At noon she quit work and went home and slept until four o’clock. Then she called the Columbia number again. This time she spoke to Ray Ford.
Corrine began with a good strong apology. “I hope I’m not taking you away from something,” she said rapidly, “but my name is Corinne von Nordhoffen and I used to know someone—”
“Who?” interrupted the voice on the other end.
She said her name again.
“Oh! How are you, Corinne?”
Corinne said she was fine and then supplied quite a gap in the conversation. She was much less taken aback by the fact that this was actually “her” Ray Ford than she was by the fact that her Ray Ford remembered her at all. After all, he was not salvaging her name out of an old cocktail party, but out of a childhood partitioned off by nineteen years.
She became very nervous. “I never expected you to remember me,” she said. She began to think and talk in jumps. “I read your book of poems last night. I’d like to tell you how—beautiful—I thought they were. I know that isn’t the right word. I mean, the right word.”
“It’s very nice,” said Ford evenly. “Thank you, Corinne.”
“I live in New York,” Corinne said.
“I was just wondering about that. You don’t live in Bayonne anymore?”
“Shoreview, Long Island,” she quickly corrected.
“Shoreview—of course! Don’t you live there anymore?”
“No. My father died and I sold the house,” Corinne said, finding her own voice dissonant. “How’s your mother?”
“She died a long time ago, Corinne.”
“I’m not keeping you from a class or something, am I?” Corinne demanded abruptly.
Corinne stood up, as though someone wanted her seat. “Well, I just wanted to tell you how much I loved them—your poems”
“It’s very nice of you, Corinne. Really.”
She sat down again. She laughed. “It certainly is remarkable that you’re the same Ray Ford. I mean who wrote those poems. It isn’t an extraordinary name.”
“No. No, it isn’t.”
“Where—where did you go after you left Shoreview?” Without wanting a cigarette she reached for a cigarette box.
“I don’t remember, Corinne. It’s such a long time ago.”
“It certainly is,” she agreed and stood up. “I’m probably taking your time. I just wanted to tell you how—”
“Will you have lunch with me one day next week, Corinne?” Ford asked her.
Corinne fumbled with a cigarette lighter. “I’d love to,” she said.
Ford said, “There’s a little Chinese restaurant very near here. Do you like Chinese food?”
“I love it.” The lighter slipped out of her hand and fell on the telephone table.
They arranged for lunch the following Tuesday at one o’clock. Then Corinne had a chance to run to her photograph, flick it on, and turn the volume knob all the way to the right.
She listened ecstatically as the music—the Moldau—flowed into the room, very sensibly drawing everything in sight.
January 9, 1937 was a sharp, raw day. The Chinese restaurant was four blocks from Columbia—not, as Corinne had imagined, around the corner from it. Her cab driver had trouble finding it. It was off Broadway and squeezed between a delicatessen and a hardware store. The driver, sounding tricked and annoyed, kept saying that he didn’t know the neighborhood. Finally Corinne told him to pull over to the curb. She got out and, on foot, found the restaurant herself.
Inside the restaurant Corinne selected a boothed-in table opposite the door. She sat down, aware that she was probably the only person in the place who hadn’t either a textbook or a notebook within reach. She felt conspicuous, mink-coatish. Her face ached from the January weather. Her table, just vacated by a couple of beefy students, was wet with spilled tea.
Although she was ten minutes early she began at once to watch the door. She and Ford had not described themselves over the telephone, and all she had to go on was Robert Waner’s melba-toast remark about poets almost never looking like poets because they would be infringing on the rights of all chiropodists who are dead ringers for Byron—this and a badly lighted image in her mind of a small-featured, light-haired little boy. She nervously began unsnapping and snapping the silver catch on her wristwatch band. Finally she broke the thing. While she was trying to fix it, a man’s voice spoke over her head. “Corinne?”
She pushed her disabled wristwatch into her handbag and quickly extended her hand to a man in a gray overcoat.
Ford was suddenly seated and smiling directly at her. She had to look at him squarely now. There wasn’t even a glass for her to reach for.
Even if Ford had been a cyclops, Corinne probably would have flinched a kind of happy, integrating flinch. Actually, the other extremity was the case. Ford was a man. Only the glassed he wore saved him from gorgeousness. I won’t attempt to estimate the head-on effect of his looks on Corinne’s unused secret equipment. She was badly rattled, certainly, and immediately had to use her social wits. “I almost thought I’d better wear my middie blouse,” she said.
Ford started to make some comment, but he didn’t get a chance. The Chinese waiter, clinging to some greasy mimeographed menus, was suddenly hanging over him. The waiter knew Ford and immediately mad some report to him about a book that had been left at the table the day before. Ford spoke to the waiter at some length, explaining that the book was not his, that it belonged to the other man and that the other man would be in later. Before the waiter could pass this bit of information along to the boss, Ford ordered lunch for Corinne and himself. Then Ford turned to Corinne, smiling kindly and with real warmth. “That certainly was quite right,” he said to Corinne—as though resuming an interrupted discussion of last Saturday night at the Smiths’. “What ever happened to that man? Your father’s secretary. Or whatever he was.”
“Mr. Miller? He stole a lot of money from Father and went to Mexico. I guess his case is outlawed by now.”
Ford nodded. “And your dog?” he asked.
“He died when I was in college.”
“He was a nice dog. Are you doing anything now, Corinne? Some kind of work, I mean? You were a very rich little girl, weren’t you?”
They began to talk—that is, Corinne began to talk. She told Ford about her job, about Europe, about college, about her father. She suddenly told him all she knew about her lovely, wild mother, who had, in 1912, in full evening dress, climbed over the promenade deck railing of the S.S. Majestic. She told him about the Detroit boy who had fallen off the running board of her car in Cannes. She told him about her sinus operation. She told him—just about everything. Ordinarily Corinne was not a talker but nothing could have stopped her that afternoon. She had whole years and even days full of information which suddenly seemed transferable. Apropos, Ford happened to have a high talent for listening.
“You’re not eating,” Corinne observed suddenly. “You haven’t touched your food at all!”
“Yes, I have. I’m listening to you.”
Corinne’s mind jumped happily to something else.
“A friend of mine, Bobby Waner—he’s my boss at the magazine—told me something yesterday. He said there are two lines in American poetry which regularly blow off the top of his head. That’s the way Bobby talks.”
“What are the lines?”
“Uh—Whitman’s I am the man, I suffered, I was there and one of yours, but I won’t say it in front of—I don’t know—the chow mein and stuff. But the one about the man on the island inside the other island.”
Ford nodded. He was quite a nodder as a matter of fact. It was a defense mechanism, surely, but a nice one.
“How—how did you become a poet?” Corinne asked—and stopped to qualify her excited question. “I don’t mean that. How did you get an education? You were—you weren’t exactly on the right track when I last saw you.”
Ford removed his glasses, and, squinting, cleaned them with his pocket handkerchief. “No, I wasn’t,” he agreed.
“You went to college. What did you do, work your way through?” Corinne pressed innocently.
“No, no. I’d already made enough money to go, before that. When I was in high school, in Florida, I worked for a bookmaker.”
“A bookie? Really? Horse races and all?”
“Dog races. They were at night, and I could go to school during the day.”
“But isn’t there a law preventing minors from working for bookies?”
Ford smiled. “I wasn’t a minor, Corinne. I didn’t go to high school until I was nineteen. I’m thirty now and I’m only of college three years.”
“Do you like teaching?”
He took his time answering.
“I can’t write poetry all day long. When I’m not writing it, I suppose I like to talk about it.”
“Don’t you have any other interests? I mean—don’t you have any other interests?”
This time he took even more time answering.
“I don’t think so,” he said carefully. “I used to. But I’ve lost them. Or used them up. Or just got rid of them. I don’t know anymore. Not exactly anyway.”
Corinne thought she understood and nodded appreciatively, but her mind was still clicking like a lover’s. Her next question was entirely uncharacteristic of her—but it was that kind of afternoon.
“Have you ever been in love or anything?” she asked him, suddenly wanting to know about the women he had known, how many and what kinds.
One can guess, however, that she put the question to Ford less inexcusably than it records. Some of her lovely lopsided charm must have come through with it, because Ford responded to the question with a real laugh.
He shifted a little in his seat—the booth was narrow and hard—and replied, “No, I’ve never been in love.” But he frowned over his own statement, as though his craftsman’s mind suspected itself of oversimplifying—or of having bad material to work with. He looked up at Corinne, as though he hoped she was already losing interest in her question. She wasn’t. His handsome face frowned again. Then, he undoubtedly took a guess at what Corinne really wanted to know—or what she ought to have wanted to know. At any rate, his mind began to select and juxtapose its own facts. At last, perhaps solely for Corinne’s benefit, he began to talk. Ford’s voice was not very good. It was overly husky and just missed being monotonous.
“Corinne, until I was eighteen I had never even had a date with a girl—except when I was a child and you invited me to your party. And that time you brought your dog to show me— you remember that?”
Corinne nodded. She was very excited. But Ford frowned again. He seemed dissatisfied with the way he was beginning. For a moment he seemed likely to chuck the whole idea…. Probably, Corinne’s immodestly responsive face helped lead him through his own strange story.
“Until I was almost twenty-three,” he said abruptly, “the only books I had read—outside school—were the Rover Boys and Tom Swift series.” The sound of italics was in this sentence, but he was speaking with a subsurface equanimity now, as though things were going in the right direction. “The only poems I knew,” he told Corinne, “were the chanting little ballads I’d had to memorize in grade school. When I was in high school, somehow Milton and Shakespeare never quite got over the teacher’s desk.” He smiled. “Anyway, they never got to my aisle.”
The waiter came and picked up their half-full bowls and plates of chow mein and fried rice. Corinne asked him to leave the tea.
I was a grown man a long time before I knew that real poetry even exists.” Ford said, when the waiter had left. “I’d nearly died looking for it. It’s—It’s a legitimate enough death, incidentally. It’ll get you into some kind of cemetery.” He smiled at Corinne—not self-consciously—and added, “They may write on your tombstone that you fell off a girl’s running board in Cannes, for example. Or that you climbed over the railing of a transatlantic liner. I’m sure, though, the real cause of death is accurately recorded in more intelligent circles.” He interrupted himself. “You feel cold, Corinne?” he asked solicitously.
“Do you want to hear all this? It’s long”
“Yes,” she said.
Ford nodded. He blew into his hands and then set them on the table.
“There was a woman,” he told Corinne. “who used to come to the track every evening, in Florida. Woman in her late sixties. She had bright henna hair and wore a lot of make- up. Her face was pretty jaded and all that, but you could tell that she had once been very wonderful-looking.” He blew into his hands again. “Her name was Mrs. Rizzio. She was a widow. She always wore silver foxes, no matter how hot it was. I saved her a lot of money at the track one evening—several thousand dollars. She was a heavy, crazy better. She was very grateful to me and wanted to do something about it. First she wanted to send me to her dentist. (My mouth was full of gaps in those days. I’d had some dental work done, but not much. When I was fourteen some two-dollar dentist in Racine had pulled nearly all my teeth.) But I just thanked her and told her I went to high school during the day and that I didn’t have the time to go to the dentist. She seemed very disappointed. She sort of wanted me to become a movie actor. I think. I thought that was the end of it. But it wasn’t. She had another way of showing her gratitude.” Ford said. “Are you sure you’re not cold, Corinne?”
Corinne shook her head.
He nodded, and took what seemed to be an extraordinarily deep breath. Exhaling, he said, “She began to push little white slips of paper into my hand every evening when she saw me at the track. She always wrote me in green ink, and in a small but very legible handwriting. She printed. The first slip of paper she gave me had “William Butler Yeats” written at the top of it, and under Yeats’ name the title, The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Under the title, the complete poem was written out for me. I didn’t think it was a gag. I just thought she was nuts. But I read the poem,” he told Corinne, looking at her. “I read it under the arc lights. And then, just for the hell of it, I memorized it. I started reciting it to myself under my breath while I waited for the first race to start. And suddenly the beauty of it caught on. I got very excited. I had to leave the track after the first race. I went straight to the drugstore where I knew they had dictionaries. I wanted to find out what “wattles” were and what a “glide” was and what a “linnet” was. I couldn’t wait to know.
For the third time Ford blew into his long hands.
“Mrs. Rizzio gave me a poem every evening,” he said. “I memorized, and learned, all of them. Everything she gave me was fine. I’ve never really reconciled her taste in poetry with her idea about my going into the movies. Maybe she just approved of money. Anyway, she gave me the best of Coleridge, Yeats, Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley. Some Whitman. A little Eliot.
“I never once thanked her for the poems. Or even told her what they were meaning to me. I was afraid of breaking the spell—the whole thing seemed magic to me. I knew I’d have to take some kind of action before the season was over. I didn’t want the poems to stop reaching me because the season was over. I didn’t have sense enough to do any investigating at a public library on my own. I could very well have used our high school library, for that matter, but somehow I didn’t connect our high school library with poetry.
“I waited till the last evening of the season. Then I asked her where she was getting the poems. She was very kind. She invited me to her house to see her library. I went along with her that same night. My heart nearly pounded me out of the cab.
“The day after she showed me her library I was supposed to tell my boss whether I’d join him in Miami after my graduation from high school. Graduation was only a week away. I made up my mind not to go to Miami. Mrs. Rizzio had told me I could use her library whenever I wanted. She lived in Tallahassee, and I figured I could hitchhike there in less than an hour, any time of the day. So I quit my job.
“As soon as I got my high school diploma, I started spending eighteen, nineteen hours a day in Mrs. Rizzio’s library. Never less. I did that for two months, until my eyes finally gave out under the strain. I didn’t wear glasses in those days, and my eyes were very bad. The left eye, particularly; I don’t see much of anything out of it.
“But I kept coming to her library anyway. I was afraid she’d stop letting me use it if she knew I could no longer read the print in her books. So I didn’t say anything to her at all about my eyes. For about three weeks I sat in her library from early morning until late at night, with a book in front of me, pretending to be reading, in case anyone came into the room.
“That was how I began to write poetry myself.
“I began writing eight or ten words of my own on a sheet of paper, in very large letters that I could read without any trouble. I did that for over a month, filling a couple of small, dime-store writing tablets. Then suddenly I quit. For no particular reason. Chiefly, I was saddened by my own ignorance, I think. Then, too, I was a little afraid I was going blind. There’s never just one reason for anything. But anyway I quit. It happened to be October. So I went to college.”
His voice now clearly implied that he was either coming to an end or had already reached it. He smiled at Corinne.
“You look as though you’re still in school, Corinne. Look at your hands.”
Corinne’s hands were folded on the table, classroom style.
“The point is—” he said suddenly—and broke off.
Corinne didn’t prompt him. He began again at his own convenience.
“The point is,” he said, looking at Corinne’s folded hands, “that for seven and a half years I’ve had nothing in my life except poetry. And the years before that I had nothing but,”—he hesitated—”well, discord. And malnutrition. And— well, the Rover Boys.” He stopped dead again and Corinne thought he was going to tell her point-blank how his equipment for survived differed from that of other men. But when he spoke again there still was mostly organized information in his voice. He still was not really using his own poetry for the occasion.
“I’ve never taken a drink in my life,” he said very quietly, as though to take the edge of confession off his statement. “And not because my mother was an alcoholic. I’ve never smoked either. It’s just that somebody told me when I was a small boy that drinking and smoking would dull my sense of taste. I still think that, in a way, I can’t get past half my childhood dogmas.” At this point Ford sat back rather stiffly in his seat. The little movement was quite unobtrusive. But Corinne caught it. It was the first time he had shown ever the very slightest need for self- control of any kind. But he continued—easily enough it seemed. “Every time I but a ticket on a train I wonder that I have to pay full price. I feel momentarily cheated— gypped—when I see an ordinary, adult’s ticket in my hand. Until I was fifteen my mother used to tell conductors I was under twelve.”
Casually, Ford looked at his wristwatch, saying, “I really have to get back, Corinne. It’s been nice seeing you.”
Corinne cleared her throat. “Will you—can you come up to my apartment Friday night?” she asked rapidly, “I’m having a few very good friends,” she said.
If he hadn’t already seen, Ford saw now that Corinne was in love with him and he gave her a brief look that is fairly difficult to describe yet extremely easy to overanalyze. It had in it nothing quite so melodramatic as a naked warning, but surely a strong suggestion of, “Why don’t you try to be very careful? That is, about me and all.” The admonition of a man who either is in love with someone or something he doesn’t happen to be regarding at the moment or who suspects himself of having, at some time in his life, either lost or forfeited some natural interior dimension of mysterious importance.
Corinne pushed the book away and fumbled in her handbag. “I’ll give you my address,” she said. “Please try to come. I mean, if you can.”
“I certainly will,” he said.
The week Corinne looked forward to seeing Ford again was an unfamiliar, rather awful week in which she—nervously, willfully—reclassified her whole person, calling her beautiful, high-bridged nose too big and her symmetrical, tall body big-boned and hideous. She read Ford’s poetry constantly. In her lunch hours she wandered intensely through Brentano’s basement, searching literary magazines for poems by, or articles about, her love. Evenings, she went so far as to get out her dictionary to translate Gide’s now well-known essay on Ford, “Chanson…enfin” (which first appeared, rather incongrously, in a Harper’s Bazaar- ish French magazine called Madam Chic.)
At ten o’clock on the evening Ford was expected, Corinne’s telephone rang. She had somebody turn down the volume of her phonograph while she was listened to Ford apologize for not having arrived. He explained he was working.
“I understand,” Corinne said. Then, immediately, “How long do you think you’ll be working?”
“I don’t know, Corinne. I’m just in the middle of something.”
“Oh,” she said.
Ford said, “How long do you think your party will keep going?”
“It isn’t a party,” she denied.
“Well, your friends. How long will they be there?”
She made her friends stay until four in the morning, but Ford didn’t show up.
He did telephone her again, though, at noon the next day. He tried her apartment first, where the maid gave him her office number.
“Corinne, I’m terribly sorry about last night. I worked all night.”
“That’s all right.”
“Can you have dinner with me tonight, Corinne?”
At this point I could very nicely use two old Hollywood characters. The calendar that gets its days blown off by an unseen electric fan. And the glorious studio tree that bursts, in about two seconds, out of the bitterest winter into the lushest early spring.
During the next four months Corinne saw Ford at least three times a week. Always uptown. Always surrounded by the marquees of third-run movie houses, and nearly always over bowls of Chinese food. But she didn’t mind. Neither did she especially mind that her evenings with him seldom—if at all—lasted until later than eleven, at which hour Ford, who imposed deadlines on himself, felt that he had to go back to work.
Sometimes they went to a movie, but usually they stayed in the Chinese restaurant until it closed.
She did almost all the talking. If he talked at any length at all he talked about poetry or poets. On a couple of rare evenings he talked whole essays away. One on Rilke, one on Eliot. But nearly all of the time he listened to Corinne, who had her life to talk away.
He took her home every evening—via subway and crosstown bus—but he came up to her apartment only once. He looked at Corinne’s Rodin (which had once belonged to Clara Rilke), and he looked at her books. She played two records for him on the phonograph. Then he went home.
Although Corinne was accustomed to moderate drinking—most of her friends were either middling-heavy or downright heavy drinkers—she never ordered even one cocktail in Ford’s company. Or near it, for that matter. She was afraid he might have a sudden, untimely impulse to take her in his arms—perhaps in the shadow of some familiar uptown landmark: a haberdashery or an optometrist’s shop, for example—and find her breath repulsive to some degree.
When he finally did kiss she had, inevitably, just arrived from a cocktail party at the office.
The kiss happened in the Chinese restaurant. About ten weeks after they had first met there. Corinne was reading proof on some of her own copy for the magazine—waiting for Ford. He came up to her, kissed her, took off his overcoat, and sat down. It was the average, disenchanted kiss of the average disenchanted husband just checked into the living room straight from the office. Corinne, however, was much too happy with it to wonder just when he passed through a period of enchantment. Later, when she gave the incident a little thought, she arrived at the satisfactory conclusion that the evolution of their kisses was going to take place backwards.
The same evening he kissed her, she asked him whether he couldn’t find time to meet some of her friends.
“I have such nice friends,” she told him enthusiastically. “They all know your poetry. Some even live on it.”
“Corinne, I don’t mix too well—”
Corinne leaned forward joyfully, remembering something.
“That’s what Miss Aigletinger once yelled about you into my father’s thing. Do you remember Miss Aigletinger?”
Ford nodded unnostagically. “What would I have to do if I met them?” he asked.
“My friends?” said Corinne. But she saw that he was serious. So she wasn’t. “Oh, just juggle a couple of Indian clubs, tell ‘em who your favorite movie stars are.”
But her jokes around Ford never had any follow-through. She reached for his hand across the table. “Darling, you wouldn’t have to do anything. These people just want to see you.”
A thought struck her—fell across her. “You don’t realize, do you, what your poetry means to people?”
“Yes, I guess I do.” But he had hesitated. Anyway, it wasn’t Corinne’s idea of a good answer.
She began rather intensely. “Darling, you can’t pick up a literary magazine in Brentano’s without seeing your name. And that man you introduced me to? The trustee or something? He said he knows three people who are writing books about The Cowardly Morning. One man in England.” She ran her fingers through the knuckle-grooves of Ford’s hand. “Thousands of people are waiting for Wednesday,” she said tenderly. (Ford’s second book of poems was due to come out, she meant by that.)
He nodded. Something else was on his mind, however. “There won’t be any dancing at your party, will there? I can’t dance.”
A week or so later a tableful of Corinne’s best friends met Ford at Corinne’s apartment. Robert Wager arrived first. Then came Louise and Elliot Seermeyer. Corinne’s sensible Tuckahoe friends. Then came Alice Hepburn, who taught something at Wellesly—or had. Seymour and Frances Hertz. Corinne’s intellectual friends, arrived next, in the same elevatorload with Ginnie and Wesley, Corinne’s badminton friends. At least five of these people had read both of Ford’s books. (The brand-new one, Man on a Carousel, had just come out.) And at least three of the five were honestly and permanently excited by Ford’s genius.
Ford arrived nearly an hour late, and his shyness lasted almost to the dessert course. Then all of a sudden his guest-of-honor behavior turned gently perfect.
For a full hour he spoke to—and with—Robert Waner and Elliot Seermeyer on Hopkins’ poetry.
He gave Sy Hertz not only the right attitude for Sy’s book (then in preparation) on the Wordworths, but the title and the first three chapters, too.
He took on without batting an eyelash all of Alice Hepburn’s strident, suffragette-ish interruptions.
He very kindly and uselessly explained to Wesley Fowler why Walt Whitman isn’t “dirty.”
Nothing he said or did during the evening even faintly smacked of performance. He simply was a great man whose greatness had been cornered at a dinner party, and who fought his way out not with theatrical aphorisms or with boorish taciturnity, but—generously, laboriously—with himself. It was a great evening. If not everyone actually knew it, everyone at least felt it.
The next day, at the magazine office, Corinne had an interoffice telephone call from Robert Waner.
As generally happens to people who overload themselves with any one virtue, Waner’s voice over the phone was so full of control that some of it could not help but leak out.
“It was a very nice party,” he began.
“Bobby, you were wonderful!” Corinne responded ecstatically. “Everybody was wonderful. Listen. Speak to the operator. Find out if I can kiss you.”
“Nothing doing.” Waner cleared his throat. “Here on a mission for my government.”
“No kidding!” Corinne felt almost sick with affection for Bobby. He was really wonderful. “What government?” she demanded happily.
“He doesn’t love you, Corinne.”
“What?” Corinne said. She had heard Waner perfectly.
“He doesn’t love you,” Waner courageously repeated. “He isn’t even considering loving you.”
“Shut up.” Corinne said.
There was a long pause. But Waner’s voice came in again. It sounded quite far off.
“Corinne, I remember, a long time ago, kissing you in a cab. When you first got back from Europe. It was sort of an unfair, Scotch-and-soda kiss—maybe you remember. I bumped your hat.” Waner cleared his throat again. But he put the whole thing through. “There was something about the way you raised your arms to straighten your hat, and the way your face looked in the mirror over the driver’s photograph. I don’t know. The way you looked and all. You’re the greatest hat-straightener that ever lived.”
Corinne broke in coldly. “What’s the point?” Nevertheless, Waner had touched her, probably deeply.
“None, I guess.” Then: “Yes, there is a point. Of course there’s a point. I’m trying to tell you that Ford’s long past noticing that you’re the greatest hat-straightener that ever lived. I mean a man just can’t reach the kind of poetry Ford’s reaching and still keep intact the normal male ability to spot a fine hat-straightener—”
“You sound rehearsed,” Corinne interrupted cruelly.
“Maybe I am.”
“What makes you think—” She broke off; started over. “I thought poets were supposed to know more about those things than anyone else”—defiantly.
“They do if they feel like writing verse. They don’t if they stick to poetry,” Waner said. “Listen, Corinne. In both of Ford’s books there’s hardly a line of verse. It’s nearly all poetry. Do you have any idea what that means?”
“You tell me,” Corinne said coldly.
“All right. It means that he writes under pressure of dead- weight beauty. The only kind of men who write that way—”
“You are rehearsed,” Corinne cut in.
“I wasn’t going to phone you without having something to say. If I were—”
“Listen,” Corinne said. “You’re implying that he’s some kind of psychotic. I won’t have it, Bobby. In the first place it isn’t true. He’s—he’s serene. He’s kind, he’s gentle, he’s—”
“Don’t be a fool, Corinne. He’s the most gigantic psychotic you’ll ever know. He has to be. Don’t be a fool. He’s standing up to his eyes in psychosis.”
“What makes you think he doesn’t like me?” Corinne demanded ambiguously. “He likes me very much.”
“Sure he does. But he doesn’t love you.”
“You said that. Please shut up.”
But Waner distinctly ordered, “Corinne, don’t marry him.”
“Now, listen.” She was very angry. “If he doesn’t love me— as you’ve so gallantly pointed out—my chances of marrying him aren’t very hot, are they?”
Waner tried to avoid sounding smug, but his text was against him. “He’ll marry you,” he said.
“Because he just will, that’s all. He likes you and he’s cold, and he won’t be able to think of any reason why he shouldn’t—or he’ll refuse to think of a reason why he shouldn’t. At any rate—”
“He’s not cold,” Corinne interrupted angrily.
“Of course he’s cold. I don’t care how tender you find him. Or how kind. He’s cold. He’s cold as ice.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Corinne. Please. Stay out of it. Don’t try to find out if it makes sense.”
Corinne and Ford were married on April 20, 1937 (about four months after they had met as adults), in the chapel at Columbia. Corinne’s matron-of-honor was Ginnie Fowler, and Dr. Funk, of the English Department, stood up for Ford. About sixty of Corinne’s friends came to the wedding. Only two people besides Funk came expressly to watch Ford get married: his publisher, Rayburn Clapp, and a very tall, very pale man, an instructor of Elizabethan Literature of Columbia, who remarked at least three times that the flowers bothered his “nasal passages.”
Dr. Funk cancelled Ford’s lectures for ten days, insisting that Ford and Corinne take a short honeymoon.
They drove to Canada, in Corinne’s car. They returned to New York, to Corinne’s apartment, on the first Sunday in May.
I know nothing at all about their honeymoon.
That’s a statement, not an apology, I’d like to point out. If I had really needed the facts, I probably would have been able to get them.
The Monday morning following their return to New York, Corinne got a letter in the first mail, which she considered rather touching. It read as follows:
32 MacReady Road
April 30, 1937
Dear Mrs. Ford,
I saw last week in the Sunday edition of the New York Times that you and Mr. Ford were married, and I am taking the liberty of writing to you, hoping that Columbia will know your home address and forward this letter accordingly.
I have read Mr. Ford’s new book of poems, Man on a Carousel, and feel that I must somehow ask him for advice. But rather than risk disturbing him at his work I am writing first to you.
I am twenty and a junior at Creedmore College here in Harkins. My parents are dead, and since early childhood I have lived with my aunt in what is probably the oldest, largest, and ugliest house in America.
To be brief as possible, I have written some poems that I would very much like Mr. Ford to see, and I am enclosing them. I beg you to show them to him, as I feel I need his advice so badly. I know I haven’t the right to ask Mr. Ford to sit down and write me a letter of detailed criticism, but if he could possibly just read of even look through my poems, that would be enough. You see, our spring vacation begins next Friday, and my aunt and I are coming to New York City next Saturday, May eighth, on the way to attend my cousin’s wedding in Newport. I could very easily speak to you on the telephone about the poems.
I shall be everlastingly grateful to you both for any kind of guidance, and may I, at this time, wish you both all happiness for you married life?
Mary Gates Croft
If it were said now that Corinne pushed the verses over to Ford because she had been touched by the young-sounding appeal of the letter and because she wanted her qualified, brand-new husband to meet the appeal, the greatest part of the truth would be told. But the truth in its entirety seldom comes in one big neat piece. She had another reason. Ford was eating his corn flakes without cream or sugar. Absolutely dry and unsweetened. Corinne wanted a legitimate excuse to make him look up so that she could suggest, preferably in a casual voice, that he try eating his corn flakes with cream and sugar.
“Darling,” she said.
The groom looked up politely from his dry corn flakes and his lecture notes.
“If you have any time today, would you read this?”
Corinne felt like hearing her own voice in the quiet breakfast room. She went into details: “It’s a letter and some poems from a college girl in Vermont. The letter’s sweet. You can see she spent hours and hours writing it. Anyway, if you can possibly decipher her handwriting and can read the verses, you’re to make some comment to me…” As she looked at her new husband’s handsome, Monday-morning- go-to-work-for-the-first-time face, her trend of thought drifted away from her. She reached across the table, stroked his hand, and finished weakly, “She’s coming to New York and plans to phone me for your criticism. All very complicated.”
Ford nodded. “Be glad to,” he said, and stuffed the letter and verses into his jacket pocket.
But it was a much too simple and final reply. Corinne wanted to draw him closer, physically and otherwise, to her. She wanted the oblique shafts of breakfast-table sunshine to fall on them together, not singly, not one at a time.
“Wait a minute, darling. Just give me her address for a second. I’ll drop her a line and ask her to tea Sunday.”
“All right. Fine.” Ford handed over the envelope, smiled, and finished his corn flakes.
But as late as the following Sunday noon Ford still hadn’t read the verses. Corinne finally rapped on his door.
“Ray. Darling. That girl I wrote to is coming here in a couple of hours,” she said gently. “Do you think you could just glance through her verses? Just so you can say a few words to her?”
“Sure! I was just looking at some things here. Where are they?”
“You have them, darling. They’re probably still in the coat of your blue suit.”
“I’ll get dressed and look at them right away,” he said efficiently.
But he stayed at his desk, working, until at three o’clock the front doorbell rang.
Corinne rushed back to his study, “Darling, have you read the poems yet?”
“Is she here already?” Ford asked incredulously.
“I’ll entertain her. You read. Come out when you’re finished,” Corinne closed the door hurriedly. Rita, the maid, had already answered the doorbell.
“How do you do, Miss Croft,” Corinne said—all hostess— moving forward toward her guest in the living room.
She was addressing a slight, fair-haired girl with a receding chin, who might almost have passed for eighteen instead of twenty. She was hatless and wearing a good gray flannel suit—very new.
“It’s awfully nice of you to let me come, Mrs. Ford.”
“Won’t you sit down? I’m afraid my husband will be a little late.”
Both women sat down, Miss Croft saying, “I think I’ll recognize him. I saw his picture in Poetry Survey. Wasn’t it a wonderful picture? I never say anyone so handsome.” Her voice wasn’t giddy, but it had in it all the reputed frankness of youth. She looked at her hostess enthusiastically.
Corinne laughed. “I never did either,” she said. “How do you like New York, Miss Croft?”
Corinne sat with her guest for an hour and a half without any appearance by Ford.
Conversation was not difficult, however. On the contrary, Miss Croft seemed to have arrived forewarned of the deadly platitudes usually exchanged between out-of-towners and resident New Yorkers. It seemed she had brought her own fresh dialogue. She confessed to Corinne, to begin with, that she liked New York, but only to live here, not to visit. Corinne was genuinely amused—as had been intended— and began to feel sorry for her guest’s little receding chin and to notice that her calves and ankles were really quite nice.
“I’m trying,” Miss Croft suddenly confided, a little glumly, “to persuade my aunt to let me stay in New York to study. I don’t have much hope, though. Especially after last night. A drunken man came into the dining room at the hotel.” She grinned. “I’m not even allowed to wear lipstick.”
Corinne leaned forward on an impulse. “Look. Would you really like to stay and study?”
“More than anything else in the world, I guess.”
“What about Creedmore? You’d want to finish there, wouldn’t you?”
“I could go to Barnard. Then I could study at Columbia in the evening,” Miss Croft said readily.
“Do you think it would help if I spoke with your aunt? I mean, an older woman? I’d be very glad to, if it’s what you really want,” Corinne offered with characteristic kindness.
“Oh, golly, that’s awful nice!” said Miss Croft. But she shook her head immediately. “But, thanks. I think I’d better fight it out alone for the few more days we’re here. You couldn’t help anyway. I’m afraid. You don’t know Aunt Cornelia.” She looked down self-consciously at her hands. “I’ve never really been away from home. I live in a way that—” She broke off with a smile Corinne found extremely winning. “What’s the difference? I’m really very grateful to be here at all.”
Corinne asked quietly, “Where are you staying, dear?”
“At the Waldorf. I think we’re going back next Sunday.” Miss Croft giggled. “Aunt Cornelia doesn’t trust the servants with the silver. Especially the ‘new’ cook—she’s only been with us nine years and hasn’t really proved herself.”
Corinne laughed—really laughed. She suddenly disapproved the possibility of this bright small person going back to Vermont with all or surely most of her challenges unmet.
“Mary—may I call you Mary?” Corinne began.
“Bunny. Nobody calls me Mary.”
“Bunny, you’re perfectly welcome to stay here for a while after your aunt leaves. If she’ll let you. Really. We have a lovely room that we don’t even—”
Emotionally, Bunny Croft pressed Corinne’s hand. Then she placed both her hands into the side pockets of her suit. Her fingernails were bitten down to the quick.
“I’ll work out something,” she said with confidence, and smiled.
Apparently it was not her nature to be hopelessly depressed by adverse circumstances. With considerable tea-table enterprise she began, verbally, to conduct Corinne around her home in Vermont, pointing out with mixed affection and abhorrence things that had stood of greenly stretched or lay unrepaired all through her childhood. Aunt Cornelia came into focus: a funny, humorless spinster who evidently was carrying on a private war on may fronts, chiefly against progress and dust and fun. Corinne listened attentively, sometimes laughing out loud, sometimes vicariously oppressed, shaking her head.
But it was when the servants began to move through the house that Corinne was most personally moved. As Bunny began to speak tenderly and inclusively of an old butler named Harry, whom she had unqualifiedly loved and depended upon, Corinne was acutely, almost painfully reminded of Eric, her father’s old chauffeur, so long dead.
“And Ernestine!” Bunny exclaimed with great warmth. “Golly, I wish you could meet Ernestine. She’s Aunt Cornelia’s maid. She’s a terrible kleptomaniac,” she fondly classified. “Has been ever since I can remember. But when I first came to Aunt Cornelia’s. Ernestine was the only one in the house—except Harry—who had any idea that a little girl wasn’t just a young, short adult.” She giggled. A gleam of real mischief cam into her eyes—her eyes were very pretty: gray-green, and quite large. “For years I confessed to all kinds of petty thefts around the house. I still do. Golly. Aunt Cornelia would discharge Ernestine in a minute if she knew about her—her ‘trouble’.” She grinned.
“What did your aunt do—I mean when you were a child—when you took the blame for Ernestine?” Corinne asked, amused and interested. Interested in, and somewhat envious of, the apparent resourcefulness by which her guest (apparently unscathed) had passed through childhood.
“What would she do?” Bunny shrugged her shoulders—a gesture curiously immature for her age, Corinne thought. Bunny grinned. “She wouldn’t do much about it. Forbid me the use of the library. Ernestine would get the key for me anyway. Or tell me I couldn’t ride in the horse show. Something like that.”
Corinne looked at her wristwatch suddenly. “Ray should be here,” she apologized. “I’m awful sorry he’s so late.”
“Sorry!” Bunny looked shocked. “Golly, Mrs. Ford. To think that he’d—I mean, that he’d find the time to see me at all . . .” Self-consciously she scratched her frail wrist, but asked, “Has he had a chance at all to look at my poems? I mean, had he had the time at all?”
“Well, so far as I know—” Corinne started to stall, but turned in her chair gratefully, as she heard the double doors to the living room open. “Ray! Finally. Come in, darling.”
Corinne attended to the introductions. Bunny Croft was visibly flustered.
“Sit down, darling,” the bride addressed the groom. “You look a little dragged. Have some tea.”
Ford sat down on the chair between the two women, pushed it back a little, and immediately asked, “Have you tried to have published any of these poems you have written, Miss Croft?”
Involuntarily Corinne arched her back a little. Her husband’s question was ice-cold.
“Well, no, Mr. Ford—I don’t know. I just thought—well, I thought I ought to find out whether I’m any good or not. . . I don’t know.” Bunny’s eyes flashed Corinne an appeal for help.
“Darling, have some tea,” Corinne suggested, confused. Her husband had not come into the room altogether intact. He had brought his handsome head. And probably all of his genius. But where was his kindness?
“No tea, Corinne, thank you,” Ford declined, looking a little naked without his kindness.
Corinne handed Bunny Croft a fresh cup of tea, and looked at her husband evenly. “Are the poems interesting, darling?” she asked.
“How do you mean, interesting?”
Corinne carefully put cream in her own cup of tea. “Well, I mean are they lovely?”
“Are your poems lovely, Miss Croft?” Ford asked.
“Well—I—I hope so, Mr. Ford.”
“No, you don’t,” Ford contradicted quietly. “Don’t say that.”
“Ray,” Corinne said, upset. “What’s the matter darling?”
But Ford was looking at Bunny Croft. “Don’t say that,” he said to her again.
“Gol-lee, Mr. Ford, if my poems aren’t—well, at all lovely— I don’t know what they are. I mean—golly!” Bunny Croft flushed and put her hands into her jacket pockets, out of sight.
Ford abruptly stood up. He looked down at Corinne. “I have to go, Corinne. I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Go?” Corinne said.
“I promised Dr. Funk I’d drop by if we got back today.”
It was a lie, however unelaborate. It waylaid deftly any oral response from Corinne. She looked up at her husband and just nodded. Ford turned to Bunny Croft, saying, “Good- by” and sounded curiously logical.
The groom bent over and kissed the bride, who immediately got her voice back. “Darling. If you could just give Miss Croft a little constructive criticism that might…”
“Oh, no!” Bunny Croft protested. “Please. It isn’t—I mean it isn’t at all necessary—really!”
Ford, who had caught a head cold during the drive back from Canada, used his handkerchief. He replaced it, saying slowly, “Miss Croft, I’ve read every one of the poems you sent to me. I can’t tell you you’re a poet. Because you’re not. And I’m not saying that because your language is dissonant, or because your metaphors are either hackneyed or false, or because your few attempts to write are so flashy that I have a splitting headache. Those things can happen sometimes.”
He sat down suddenly—as though he had been waiting for hours for a chance to sit down.
“But you’re inventive,” he informed his guest—without a perceptible note of accusation in his voice.
He looked at the carpet, concentrating, and pushed back the hair at his temples with his finger tips.
“A poet doesn’t invent his poetry—he finds it,” he said, to no one in particular. “The place,” he added slowly, “where Alph, the sacred river ran—was found out, not invented.”
He looked out the window from where he sat. He seemed to look as far out of the room as he could. “I can’t stand any kind of inventiveness,” he said.
Nothing led away from this statement.
He sat still for a moment. Then, as abruptly as he had sat down, he stood up. He took Miss Croft’s sheaf of poems out of his jacket pocket and rather anonymously placed them on the tea table, not directly in front of anyone. He then removed his reading glasses, narrowing his eyes as people with extremely bad eyesight usually do when they undress their eyes. He put on his other pair of glasses, his street glasses. Then one more he bent owver and kissed his bride good-by.
“Ray, darling. Miss Croft is terribly young. Isn’t it possible that—”
“Corinne, I’m late now,” Ford said, and stood up straight. “Good-by,” he said inclusively. He left the room, looking pressed for time.
Corinne’s right-and-wrong reflexes had been uncomfortablly overactive most of her life, and at four-thirty in the afternoon her husband’s walkout, his general behavior toward his guest, his unelaborate but obvious lie—all had, to her, a very high unacceptableness, whether taken singly or collectively. But around six in the evening, one of those connubial accidents happened to her which disable a wife—sometimes for months—from speaking up. She happened to open a closet door and one of Ford’s suit jackets—one she had never seen—fell across her face. Besides having a certain natural olfactory value to her, the jacket had two great holes at the elbows. Either hole alone could have pledged her to loving silence. At any rate, when at seven Ford came home, she had been ready for at least an hour to be the last person in the world to ask him for an explanation.
Not once all evening did Ford himself allude to the afternoon in any way. He was quiet at dinner but, as he was often reflectively quiet, he quietness at dinner wasn’t obstrusive, didn’t necessarily imply that he was carrying around some new X-quantity.
After dinner the Fowlers dropped by—unannounced and disconcertingly tight—to see the returned newlyweds. They stayed until after midnight, Wesley Fowler incessantly one- fingering the keyboard of the piano, and Ginnie Fowler, obviously postponing a crying jag by smoking handfuls of cigarettes. By the time the Fowlers had pulled out Corinne had half forgotten the afternoon, or had informally convinced herself that there is nothing real about a Sunday afternoon, anyway.
Monday noon, when Bunny Croft telephoned Corinne at the magazine, the call came almost as a surprise. But her second reaction was annoyance. Annoyance with herself for having asked Bunny Croft to meet her. “Look, why don’t you call me at the magazine tomorrow, and let’s have lunch together,” and annoyance with Bunny Croft not only for taking advantage of yesterday’s invitation, but for still being in New York. Trying people’s loyalty to their husbands, keeping people from running over to Saks’ Fifth Avenue in their lunch hours.
“Do you know where the Colony is?” Corinne asked Bunny over the telephone—aware that there was something unkind about the question.
“No, I don’t. I can find it though.”
Corinne gave directions. But she suddenly didn’t like the way her own voice was sounding, and broke in with, “Do you think your Aunt Cornelia would like to join us? I’d love to meet her.”
“She would I know, but she’s in Poughkeepsie. She’s visiting somebody she used to go to Vassar with, that has to be fed through tubs or something.”
“Oh—well . . .”
“Mrs. Ford, are you sure I’m not inconveniencing you? I mean I don’t want—”
“No, no! Not at all. One o’clock then?”
In the taxi, on the way to the Colony, Corinne planned to be perfectly pleasant at lunch, but at the same time to let it be known that once dessert was over her term of hospitality would naturally expire.
Lunch, however, was different from what Corinne had vaguely expected of allowed for. Lunch was nice. Lunch was really quite nice, Corinne had to admit. Lunch was gay—lunch was really quite gay. On the first Martini, Bunny Croft began describing with mixed indifference and penetration, two of her young men callers in Harkins, Vermont, one of them a medical student, the other a dramatics student. Both young men sounded extremely young and serious and funny to Corinne and several times she laughed out loud. And as Bunny’s casual, superior dormitory talk kept coming across the table, and as the waiter brought a third round of Martinis, Corinne herself began to feel distinctly collegiate. Characteristically, she looked around for something generous to say in repayment.
“Let me get you a date while you’re here,” she offered abruptly. “The magazine staff is full of young men. Some of them quite nice and bright. . . I’m getting tight.”
Bunny looked on the verge of showing interest in Corinne’s offer. But she shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said thoughtfully. “I want to go to some lectures while I’m here. And—well, I write a little when I don’t have to chase around looking at lamps or something with Aunt Cornelia. Thank you, though.” She looked down at her Martini glass, then up at the table. “I suppose if I had any sense,” she said uncomfortably, “I’d quit writing altogether. I mean— well, golly. After what Mr. Ford said.”
Corinne sat up straighter, in her seat. “You mustn’t feel that way,” she ordered uneasily. “Ray has a nasty cold he caught on the drive back to Canada. He’s not at all himself. It’s all in his chest. He really feels quite horrible.”
“Oh, I guess I won’t really quit. I mean, not really.” Bunny smiled, but averted her eyes self-consciously.
Corinne gave in to the nearest impulse.
“Come to the theatre with us tonight. I have to see this play, for the magazine. I have a ticket for my husband, and I’m sure I can get another. The show’s lovely in places.”
She saw that Bunny, though attracted to the idea, was going to make the proper gesture under the circumstances.
“Do you think Mr. Ford would—” Bunny broke off awkwardly. “Since yesterday I’ve been feeling like—golly, I don’t know. Like an old crone that goes around with a sack of poisoned apples.”
Corinne laughed. “Now stop that. You just come along with us. We’ll pick you up at the Waldorf?”
“Are you sure it’s all right?” Bunny asked anxiously. “I mean I don’t have to go.”
“Of course you have to go.” Corinne’s voice lowered itself to fill up with love. “Really,” she said. “You’re very mistaken. My husband is the kindest man in the world.”
“I’d love to come,” Bunny responded simply.
“Good. We’ll pick you up at the Waldorf. Let’s eat. I’m getting tight as a coat. I must say you seem to able to hold your liquor like an old trooper.”
“Could I meet you at the theatre? I have to see somebody with my aunt at six.”
“Certainly, if you like.”
Here is a note Corinne sent to me:
I didn’t mean to hold out on you when I came to the Big Business. It was just that I didn’t feel up to talking about it. I’ve written it down for you, though. I’ve written it down in the form of a private detective’s log, a technique straight out of a Freshman English Comp I wrote at Wellesley when I thought it might be nice to become a lady detective later on. I got a C-plus for the comp along with an infuriating note from the instructor saying I was quite original, but a little precious, and that we don’t really “tail” a scarlet tanager, do we, Miss von Nordhoffen. . . I’ll take the same grade and a similar remark from you, and gladly, in exchange for the comfortable delusion that I couldn’t possibly have known—in person, I mean—any of the ladies mentioned in the report. Anyway, here it is. Sleep no more.
On Monday evening, May 10, 1937, Mr. and Mrs. Ford—who had been married three weeks to the day—met Miss Croft outside the Alvin Theatre and the three went inside together to attend the performance of Hiya, Broadway, Hiya. After the theatre the three went to the bar of the Weylin Hotel, where just after the midnight performance of some singers known as The Rancheros, Mr. Ford leaned across the table and in a very cordial manner invited Miss Croft to attend his lecture at the institute the following morning. Mrs. Ford impulsively reached forward and pressed her husband’s hand. The three people remained at the Weylin bar until approximately one A.M., speaking together in a most friendly manner and watching the entertainment. Mr. and Mrs. Ford dropped Miss Croft off at The Waldorf-Astoria at approximately one-ten A.M. Emotionally, almost at the point of tears, Miss Croft thanked both Mr. and Mrs. Ford for “the loveliest evening of my life.”
Mrs. Ford held her husband’s hand as the taxi continued on its way to their apartment house. Mr. Ford remarked, as they ascended in the elevator to their apartment, that he had a splitting headache. Once they were inside their apartment Mrs. Ford insisted that Mr. Ford take two asprins: one for being the “best boy in the world” and one to make him eligible to kiss his wife.
On Tuesday morning, May eleventh, Miss Croft attended Mr. Ford’s eleven-o’clock lecture, sitting in the rearmost seat in the lecture hall. She then accompanied Mr. Ford to lunch at a Chinese-type restaurant located three blocks south of the university. Mr. Ford quietly mentioned this fact to Mrs. Ford at dinner. Mrs. Ford asked Mr. Ford which table he and Miss Croft had sat at. Mr. Ford said he didn’t remember; near the door he believed. Mrs. Ford asked Mr. Ford what he and Miss Croft had talked about at lunch. Mr. Ford replied quietly that he was sorry, but that he really hadn’t brought along a Dictaphone for lunch.
After dinner Mrs. Ford informed her husband that she was going to take the dog for a walk. She asked Mr. Ford if he would like to join her, but he declined, saying that he had a great deal of work to look over.
When Mrs. Ford returned to the apartment two hours later— from a walk up Park Avenue almost as far as the Spanish Quarter—the lights were out both in Mr. Ford’s study and in his bedroom.
Mrs. Ford sat alone in the living room until shortly after two A.M., at which time she heard Mr. Ford screaming in his bedroom. She then burst into Mr. Ford’s bedroom, where she found Mr. Ford apparently asleep in his bed. He continued to scream although Mrs. Ford shook him as violently as she was able. His pajamas and sheets were wringing wet with perspiration.
When Mr. Ford came to, he reached at once for his glasses on the night table. Even with his glasses on he seemed unable for several seconds to recognize his wife, although Mrs. Ford frantically continued to identify herself. At last, staring at her evenly, he spoke her name; but with great difficulty, like a man physically and emotionally exhausted.
Mrs. Ford, stammering badly, told Mr. Ford that she was going to get him a cup of hot milk. She then moved unsteadily out to the kitchen, poured some milk into a pot, searched rather wildly for the Magic Ignition Light, finally found it. She heated the mild and returned with a cup of it to her husband’s room. Mr. Ford was now asleep again, with his hands clenched at his sides. Mrs. Ford set the cup of milk of the night table and climbed into bed beside Mr. Ford. She lay awake the rest of the night. Mr. Ford did not scream again in his sleep, but between the hours of four and five A.M., he wept. Mrs. Ford maneuvered her whole body as close as possible to Mr. Ford’s, but there seemed to be no way of relieving him of his sorrow or even reaching it.
Wednesday morning, May twelfth, at breakfast, Mrs. Ford casually (so she thought) asked Mr. Ford what he had dreamed during the night. Mr. Ford looked up from his dry corn flakes and replied unelaborately that last night he had dreamed his first “unpleasant dream” in a long time. Mrs. Ford asked him again what he had dreamed. Mr. Ford replied quietly that nightmares are nightmares and that he could get along without a Freudian analysis. Mrs. Ford said equally quietly (so she thought) that she didn’t want to give Mr. Ford a Freudian analysis even were she qualified to do so. She said she was merely Mr. Ford’s wife and that she wanted to make Mr. Ford happy. She began to cry. Mr. Ford placed his face between his hands, but after a moment he stood up and left the room. Mrs. Ford rushed after him and found him standing in the outer hall, holding his briefcase, but without a hat. He was waiting for the elevator. Mrs. Ford asked Mr. Ford whether he loved her. But at that instant the elevator doors opened, and Mr. Ford, entering the car without his hat, said he would see Mrs. Ford at dinner.
Mrs. Ford dressed and went to her office. Her behavior at the magazine offices, that Wednesday afternoon, might be called “erratic.” She was observed to slap the face of Mr. Robert Waner, when the latter lightly addressed her, at an editor’s meeting, as “Mary Sunshine.” After the said act, Mrs. Ford apologized to Mr. Waner, but she did not accept his invitation to accompany him to Maxie’s Bar for a drink.
At seven P.M. Mr. Ford telephoned his apartment and told Mrs. Ford that he would not be home to dine as he was obliged to attend a faculty meeting at the university.
Mr. Ford did not come home until eleven-fifteen P.M. at which time Mrs. Ford, who was out walking her wire-haired terrier, encountered him on the street. Mr. Ford objected when the dog attempted to greet him by jumping on his person. Mrs. Ford pointed out that Mr. Ford ought to be flattered that Malcolm (the dog) had learned to love him in such a short time. Mr. Ford said he could get along without having Malcolm jump all over him with his filthy paws. They then went up in the elevator together. Mr. Ford remarked that he had a great deal of work to look over and went into his study. Mrs. Ford went into her own room and closed the door.
At breakfast Thursday morning, May thirteenth, Mrs. Ford remarked to her husband that she wished she hadn’t made a theatre date with the little Croft girl for that night. Mrs. Ford said she was tired and didn’t care to see the play a second time, but that Miss Croft ought to see Bankhead if she had never seen her. Mr. Ford nodded. Then Mrs. Ford asked him if by chance he had seen Bunny Croft again. Mr. Ford asked, in reply, how in the world could he possibly have seen Miss Croft. Mrs. Ford said she didn’t know; she said she just thought Miss Croft might have attended his lecture again. Mr. Ford finished his breakfast, kissed Mrs. Ford good-by, and left.
Thursday evening Mrs. Ford waited outside the Morosco Theatre until eight-fifty P.M., at which time she went to the box office, left a ticket in Miss Croft’s name, and entered the theatre all alone.
At the end of the first act of the play she went directly home, arriving there at approximately nine-forty P.M. She learned at the door from Rita, the maid, that Mr. Ford had not yet come home form his Thursday-evening class and that his dinner was getting “ice-cold.” She instructed Rita to clear the table.
Mrs. Ford stayed in a hot bath until she felt a little faint. Then she dressed herself for the street, leashed Malcolm, and took him out for a walk.
Mrs. Ford and Malcolm walked five blocks north and one block west, and entered a popular restaurant. Mrs. Ford left Malcolm in the checkroom; then she sat down at the bar and, in the course of an hour, drank three Scotch old- fashioneds. Then she and the dog returned to the apartment, arriving there approximately eleven forty-five P.M. Mr. Ford still had not arrived home.
Mrs. Ford immediately left her apartment again—leaving Malcolm behind.
She went down in the elevator and the apartment-house doorman got her a taxi. She ordered the driver to stop at Forty-second Street and Broadway. There she got out of the taxi and proceeded west on foot. She entered the De Luxe Theatre, and all-night movie house, and stayed there throughout one complete performance, seeing two full-length films, four short subjects, and a newsreel.
She then left the De Luxe Theatre and went by taxi directly home, arriving there at three-forty A.M. Mr. Ford still had not arrived home.
Mrs. Ford immediately went down in the elevator again with Malcolm. At approximately four A.M., having twice walked completely around the block, Mrs. Ford encountered Mr. Ford under the canopy of their apartment-house as he was getting out of a taxi. He was wearing a new hat. Mrs. Ford said hello to Mr. Ford and asked him where did he get the hat. Mr. Ford did not seem to hear the question.
As Mr. and Mrs. Ford ascended in the elevator together, Mrs. Ford’s knees suddenly buckled. Mr. Ford tried to draw Mrs. Ford up to a normal standing position, but his attempt was strangely incompetent, and it was the elevator operator who lent Mrs. Ford real assistance.
Mr. Ford seemed to have a great difficulty inserting his key into the lock of his apartment door. He suddenly turned and asked Mrs. Ford if she thought he was drunk. Somewhat inarticulately, Mrs. Ford replied that she did think Mr. Ford had been drinking. Mr. Ford asked her to speak more distinctly. Mrs. Ford said again that she thought Mr. Ford had been drinking. Mr. Ford, successfully unlocking his front door, stated in a loud voice that he had eaten an olive from “her” Martini. Mrs. Ford, trembling, asked from whose Martini. “From her Martini,” Mr. Ford repeated.
As the two entered their apartment together, Mrs. Ford, still trembling, asked her husband whether he knew that Miss Croft had left her standing at the Morosco Theatre. Mr. Ford’s reply was unintelligible. He walked, swayed perceptibly, toward his bedroom.
At approximately five A.M. Mrs. Ford heard Mr. Ford get out of his bed, and apparently ill, go into his bathroom.
With the use of sedatives Mrs. Ford managed to fall asleep at approximately seven A.M.
She awoke at approximately eleven-ten A.M., at which time she rang for her maid, who informed her that Mr. Ford had left the apartment more than an hour ago.
Mrs. Ford immediately dressed and without eating breakfast went by taxi to her office.
At approximately one-ten P.M. Mr. Ford telephoned Mrs. Ford at her office to say that he was at Pennsylvania Station and that he was leaving New York with Miss Croft. He said that he was very sorry and then hung up.
Mrs. Ford carefully replaced her phone and then fainted, loosening one of her front teeth against a filing cabinet.
As she was alone in her office and no one had heard her fall she remained unconscious for several minutes.
She regained consciousness by herself. She then drank a quarter of a glass of brandy and went home.
At home she found Mr. Ford’s bedroom and closets completely empty of his few personal effects. She then rushed into Mr. Ford’s study—followed by Rita, the maid, who explained rather laconically that Mr. Ford himself had pushed the desk back against the wall. Mrs. Ford looked slowly around the freshly reconverted playroom, then again fainted.
On May twenty-third—another Sunday—Rita, the maid, rapped imperiously on the door of Corinne’s bedroom. Corinne told her to come in.
It was about two o’clock in the afternoon. Corinne was lying on her bed, fully dressed. Her window blinds were drawn down. She knew, vaguely, that she was a fool not to let the sunshine into the room, but in nine days she had grown to hate the sight of it.
“I can’t hear you,” she said, without turning over to face Rita’s unattractive voice.
“I said, Chick the doorman’s on the house-phone,” Rita said. “He says there’s a gentleman in the lobby wansta see you.”
“I don’t want to see anybody, Rita. Find out who it is.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rita went out and came in again. “You know a Miss Craft or somebody?” she demanded.
Corinne’s body jumped under the bedspread she had drawn over her. “Tell whoever it is to come up.”
“Yes, Rita. Now.” Corinne stood up unsteadily. “And will you please show him into the living room?”
“I was just gonna clean in there. I haven’t cleaned in there yet.”
“Show him into the living room, Rita, please.”
Rita walked sullenly out of the room.
As people do who have chosen to live in a supine position, once she was on her feet Corinne went into action a little crazily. It seemed of prime importance to her to take out from under her night table Ford’s two books of poems and walk up and down the room with them for a little while.
She suddenly replaced the books under her night table. Then she combed her hair and put on lipstick. Her dress was badly wrinkled, but she didn’t change it.
As she walked carefully into the living room, a man with wavy blond hair stood up. The man was in his early thirties, with a physique that was turning fat, but which had a look of tremendous animal power. He was wearing a pale green sports coat and a yellow polo shirt open at the collar. Several inches of white handkerchief drooped out of his breast pocket.
“My card.” He pushed something into Corinne’s hand.
Corinne slanted the card toward the daylight:
I’M HOWIE CROFT
Who the Hell
Are you, Bud?
She started to return the card, but Mr. Howie Croft sank away from her into the upholstery of the couch, waving a hand. “Keep it,” he said generously.
Framing the card in her hand, Corinne herself sat down in the red damask chair opposite her visitor.
She asked a little stiffly, “Are you closely related to Miss Croft?”
“Are you kidding?”
Corinne’s reply was delivered down her handsome nose: “Mr. Croft, I’m not especially in the habit of—”
“Look, hey. I’m Howie Croft. I’m Bunny’s husband.”
Impressed, Corinne immediately fainted.
When she came to, she had a choice of looking into either or both of the alarmed, faintly inconvenienced faces of Howie Croft and Rita. She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them. Howie Croft and Rita placed her feet up on the couch. She swung then now, a trifle arrogantly, to the floor. “I’m all right, Rita,” she said. “I’ll take some of that, thought.” She drank half a pony of brandy. “You can go, Rita. I’m all right. I’m damned sick and tired of fainting…”
As Rita left the room, Howie Croft moved uneasily over to the red damask chair Corinne had vacated. He sat down and crossed his legs—which were huge; each thigh a whole athlete in itself.
“I’m sure sorry to of scared you that way, Mrs. Field.”
“I meant Ford—I know a coupla people named Field.” Howie Croft uncrossed his legs. “Uh—so you didn’t know I and Bunny were married?”
“No. No. I did not.”
Howie Croft laughed. “Sure. We been married eleven years,” he said. “Cigarette?” He snapped the bottom of a fresh pack to cigarettes with his finger, then sociably, without getting up, extended the pack to Corinne.
“What do you mean you’ve been married eleven years?” Corinne demanded coldly.
For a split second Howie Croft looked like a schoolboy unjustly accused of chewing gum in class, but whose involuntary reaction is to swallow when challenged.
“Well, ten years and eight months, if you wanna be so eggzact,” he said. “Cigarette?”
Something in Corinne’s face told him to stop offering her a cigarette. He shrugged his forehead, lighted his own cigarette, put the pack back in his breast pocket, and carefully rearranged his handkerchief.
Corinne spoke to him.
“I beg your pardon?” Howie Croft said politely.
Corinne repeated her question, in a harsh voice.
“What girl’s twenty years old?” Howie Croft inquired.
“Bunny?” Howie Croft snorted. “You’re nuts. She’s older’n me and I’m thirty-one.”
Swiftly Corinne wondered whether doormen and people had sense enough to cover up immediately the bodies of people who jumped out of apartment-house windows. She didn’t want to jump without a guarantee that somebody would cover her up immediately. . . She forced herself to pick up Howie Croft’s voice.
“She looks a lot younger,” Howie Croft was analyzing, “because she’s got small bones. People with small bones don’t get old the way people like you and I. Know what I mean?”
Corinne didn’t reply to this question, but asked a question of her own.
Howie Croft didn’t hear her. “I don’t getcha,” he said, and cupped his ear. “Say that again.”
She repeated her question—louder.
Before replying, Howie Croft got rid of a troublesome bit of tobacco on his tongue. Then he said, not impatiently, “Look, hey. She can’t be twenty. We got a kid eleven years old.”
“Call me Howie,” he suggested. “Unless you wanna stand on this ceremonies stuff.”
With a shiver Corinne asked him if he were telling her the complete truth.
“Look, hey. What would I lie for? I mean what would I lie for? How old did she tell you she was?” But he waved away his interest in a reply. “She’s nuts,” he pronounced rather cheerfully. “She was always nuts.”
He settled back comfortably on the lower part of his spine and assumed the kind of philosophical countenance available to him.
“Look, hey. I come home on Thursday. From this special trip I hadda make for the firm. I look around the house. No Bunny anywheres. Even though she was supposta be back at least a week awreddy. So I call up my mom. My mom tells me Bunny hasn’t got back yet. She starts yellin’ her head off on the phone. She tells me the kid’s broken—broken—his leg climbin’ on some roof. She keeps yellin’ over the phone about how she hasn’t strength enough to take care of the kid and where’s his mother anyways, and so finly I hang up. I can’t stand somebody yellin’ in my ear over the phone.
“So I spend around an hour tryin’ to put two-in-two together, like. So I knew where I’m at, at least. And so finly I look in the mailbox and I see a letter from Bunny. She tells me her and this Ford guy are goin’ away somewheres together. What a screwball!” He shook his head.
Corinne took a cigarette from the box on the table beside her and lighted it. She then cleared her throat, as though to make sure her voice still functioned.
“Thursday. This is Sunday. It took you a long time to get here.”
Howie Croft finished what he was doing—he was blowing a smoke ring at the ceiling—then he answered. “Look, I don’t live on Park Avenue or somewheres. I work for a living. I go where the firm sends me.”
Corinne took her time. “You mean you’re here on business?”
“Certainly I’m here on business!” Howie Croft said indignantly.
“You let her come to New York? You knew she was coming here?” Corinne asked dizzily.
“Certainly I knew she was comin’ here. You don’t think I’d let her come all the ways to New York without knowin’ what’s what, do ya?”
It took him a moment to smooth out his feathers.
“She told me she wanted to meet this Ford guy—this Ford chap—your husband. So I figure: Let her get it out of her system. She’s drivin’ me nuts; he’s drivin’ me nuts—” He interrupted himself. “Your husband makes a lot of dough writin’ books, don’t he?”
“He’s only written two books of poems, Mr. Croft.”
“I don’t know about that, but . . . he makes a lot of dough on what he writes, don’t he?”
“There is no money in poetry, Mr. Croft.”
Howie Croft looked suspiciously around him.
“Who pays the rent here?” he demanded.
“I do,”—shortly. “Mr. Croft, must we—”
“I don’t get it.” He turned to Corinne, a real appeal in his rather sizeless eyes. “He’s a big shot, isn’t he?”
“He’s probably the finest poet in America.”
But her shook his head. “If I’d known this I wouldn’ta let her come,” he said bitterly. He looked at Corinne accusingly, as though she were personally responsible for his private dilemma. “I thought your husband could kinda show her the ropes.”
“The ropes, the ropes!” Howie Croft said impatiently. “She keeps writin’ these books. . . You know how many books she’s wrote since we been married? Twelve. I read ‘em all. The last one she wrote for Gary Cooper. For a picture with Gary Cooper in it. She sent it out to the movies, and they didn’t even send it back. She’s had some tough breaks.”
“What?” Corinne asked sharply.
“I said she’s had some tough breaks.”
Corinne felt her cigarette burning hotly close to her finger. She unloosened the cigarette over an ashtray.
“Mr. Croft. How did your wife hear of my husband?”
“From Miss Durant,” was the brief answer. Howie Croft was deep in thought.
“Who,” Corinne said, “is Miss Durant?”
“Her drinkin’ buddy. Teaches at the high school. Durant and Bunny talk about all that kinda stuff.”
“Would you like a drink?” Corinne asked abruptly.
Howie Croft looked up. “You’re not kiddin’,” he said. “Say. What’s your first name anyways?”
Corinne stood up and rang for Rita. By the time she sat down, his question had sufficiently cleared the room.
With a drink in his hand, Howie Croft suddenly asked a question. “What’d she do here in New York, anyways?”
Corinne drank part of her drink. Then she told him what she knew—or what she was able to bring herself to relate. He listened to her in a way that, at first, she thought was disconcertingly alert. Then, abruptly, it occurred to her that he was examining her legs. She crossed her legs and tried to bring her account to a rapid close, but he interrupted her.
“Who’s this ‘Aunt Cornelia’ you’re talking about?”
Corinne stared at him. Her hands began to tremble, and she wonder-ed if it might not be best to sit on them.
She managed to ask the obvious question.
Howie Croft concentrated briefly, but shook his head.
“She’s got an Aunt Agnes,” he suggested constructively. “Got a lotta dough, too. Runs the movie house over at Cross Point.”
As though there were some manual way to stop the horrible ceremony beginning to take place inside her head, Corinne put her hand to her forehead. But it was too late. Already a gallant single file of people was approaching the precipice of her brain. One by one—she couldn’t stop them— they dived off. First came lovable but eccentric, faintly mustached Aunt Cornelia. Then came Harry, the sweet old kite-building butler. Then came dear old kleptomaniacal Ernestine. Then came the funny medical student and the funny drama-tics student. Then came to Poughkeepsie friend of Aunt Cornelia’s who was being fed through tubes. Then at last The Waldorf-Astoria itself was moved into position, given a competent push and sent hurtling after the others . . . “I think I’m going to faint again,” she informed Howie Croft. “Would you hand me that glass of Brandy?”
Howie Croft rushed forward, semi-alarmed again, and Corinne drank what was left in the pony of brandy.
When things looked all right, Howie Croft backed off toward the couch and re-ensconced himself. He gulped down the last of his high-ball. Then, with an ice cube clicking in the side of his mouth, inquired, “Wuss you firs’ ‘ame, anyways?”
Corinne lighted another cigarette without answering. Her guest watched her, unaffronted.
“Mr. Croft, had your wife ever gone off like this before?”
“Hoddaya mean?” he asked, beginning to chew the ice cube in his mouth.
“I mean,” Corinne said with control, “has she ever gone on trips with men?”
“Lis-sen. Wuddaya think I am—a fool?”
“Of course not,” Corinne said quickly, politely.
“I let her go on trips once in a while. Just to break up the monotony, like. But if you’re inferring-like that I let her chase around—”
“I didn’t really mean that,” Corinne hastily lied, in spite of herself.
Howie Croft started to work on the other ice cud in his glass.
“Mr. Croft, what do you intend to do about all this?”
“About all what?”—sociably.
Corinne took a deep breath. “About your wife and my husband going away together.”
Howie Croft held up his reply until he had finished crunching his second ice cube into liquid. When he finished he looked at Corinne, oozing with confidential confidence. “Well, I tellya—what’s your first name anyways?”
“Corinne,” Corinne said dully.
“Corinne. Well, I tellya, Corinne. Strickly between you and I and the lamppost, I and Bunny haven’t been getting’ along so good. We haven’t been getting along so good in the last coupla years. Know what I mean? . . . I don’t know. Maybe she’s had a little too much dough to spend. I’m makin’ one- ten a week now—plus expenses, plus a darn good bonus every Christmas. It’s maybe gone to her head, kinda. Know what I mean?”
Corinne nodded intelligently.
“And that year she went to college didn’t do her no good— any good,” Howie Croft pointed out. “Her Aunt Agnes never shoulda let her go. It warped her mind, like.”
Then something strange happened. Howie Croft suddenly took off the fullback’s shoulder pads he was wearing under his sports jacket. Without them he looked like a different man and required fresh observation.
“Somethin’ else, too,” the new man said, uneasily. “She kinda drove me nuts.”
“What?” said Corinne with respect.
“She kinda drove me nuts,” he repeated. “Know what I mean?”
Corinne shook her head and said, “No.”
“Howie,” Corinne said.
“Atta girl. Yeah. She kinda drove me nuts sometimes.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “It wasn’t too bad when we first got married. But—I don’t know. She got funny pretty quick. Mean. Mean with me. Mean with the kid, even. I don’t know.” He suddenly blushed. “Once she—” But he broke off. He shook his head.
“Once she what?” Corinne demanded.
“I don’t know. It don’t matter anymore, anyways. I’ve forgot about it already. She just changed a lot. I mean she just changed a lot. Boy! I can remember how she used to come to all the games when I was playin’. Football. Basketball. Baseball. She never missed a one.” His mouth tightened; he was almost finished. “I don’t know. She just changed a lot.”
He was finished. He could look over at Corinne easily now. Some trusty interior whistle had blown just in time. The molly-coddle, for some reason, had been taken off the scrimmage line and Good old Hammerhead Dukes was back in his old position. “This is darn good bourbon ya got, Corinne,” he said brandishing his empty glass.
But Corinne stood up. She said something about a previous appointment. She thanked him for dropping by.
Howie Croft looked disappointed by the abrupt termination of his visit. But he obediently stood up and allowed Corinne to lead him to the front door. On the way he turned to address her.
“I’m gonna be in town a coupla days. Okay if I give ya a ring? How ‘bout us doin’ the town?”
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid not.”
He shrugged, undeflated. He put on a light gray hat in front of the hall mirror and creased it tenderly.
“Maybe you could tell me a coupla shows I oughta see while I’m in town. Stage shows. This Hiya, Broadway, Hiya! any good?”
Howie Croft, his hat finally set satisfactorily on his head, turned in the doorway. He grinned at Corinne. “Don’t look so worried-like,” he recommended. “You’re better off. You’re better off, in the long run. If your husband’s as nuts as my wife is.”
At that point Corinne let go of the doorknob—and everything else. She informed Howie Croft at the top of her voice that she wanted her husband back.
Howie Croft fled into the elevator when it arrived, and Corinne went inside her apartment and closed the door. Her legs then dissolved and she slipped to the floor, sobbing. Later, she went to her bedroom and at once took some sedative capsules.
When she awoke—at one of timeless hours people awake from strong sedatives—she felt something crushed damply in her hand. She pressed the object into shape, then turned on her bed lamp. Howie Croft’s personal card was in her hand. She stared at it. Then she lay still for several minutes, looking at her dim reflection in her dressing-table mirror across the room. Suddenly she asked herself aloud: “Who the hell are you, Bud?” The question struck her as very funny and she laughed for a quarter of an hour.
Corinne never stopped trying to find out where Ford had run off to. Neither did Ford’s publishers stop trying. Neither did Columbia.
Often they all thought they had a lead, but invariably it faded way over a long-distance telephone call, or died between the simple declarative sentences of some hotel manager’s letter.
At one time Corinne even considered hiring a private detective. She even had one report to her apartment for instructions. But she sent him back to his office unused. She was afraid he would give her a lot of dirt and no husband . . . Corinne’s search for Ford was an intense one, but a curiously legitimate one.
We know now that the itinerary of Ford and Bunny Croft, once they had left New York together, was rather like that of two quarter-blooded gypsies. We know that they turned back North when they reached Charleston, West Virginia, and back East when they reached Chicago, and that after only ten weeks of wandering they settled down in a Middle Western city. A city that obscured their liaison under a natural screen of smoke and grit.
It was Robert Waner who found out where they were living. It took him about eighteen months to find out. When he did he phoned Corinne’s apartment, and by the way he began, “Corinne? . . . Now Listen. Don’t get excited—” Corinne knew what was coming.
Waner knew that Corinne would want to go to see Ford. It was his intention to go along with her. But it didn’t work out that way. She lifted the facts from him over the phone, then packed a bag and an hour later boarded a train alone.
Her train got into the city Waner had named at six in the morning. It was November, as as she walked down the gray empty platform toward the taxi stand she felt sleet on her face and down her neck. Monday sleet, at that.
She checked into a hotel, took a hot bath, dressed herself again, and proceeded to sit in her room for the next seventeen hours. She looked at five magazines. She counted bricks in the office building across the street; vertical patterns, horizontal and diagonal patterns. When it got dark outside she put three coats of polish on her nails.
While she was waiting for her third coat of polish to dry she suddenly stood up from her chair, walked over to the telephone, and placed a hand on it. But there was an electric shock on the same table with the phone. She saw almost with delight that it was eleven o’clock at night. She felt saved. It was much too late to do any phoning. It was much too late to tell her husband all she had learned about Bunny from Howie Croft. It was much too late to find out if her husband needed any money. It was exactly the right time to take another hot bath.
She did so. But with the bath towel still wrapped around her she suddenly walked straight to the telephone and asked the operator for the number she knew by heart.
This is the extraordinary conversation that followed:
“Hello.” Bunny’s voice.
“Hello. I know it’s late. This is Corinne Ford.”
“Corinne! Well, golly! I can’t believe it!” A voice full of rich, creamy delight. “Are you in town?”
“Yes. I’m in town,” Corinne said. Her own voice didn’t sound like her voice; it sounded like a man’s—as though all her glands were through with her.
“Well, golly, Corinne! I don’t know what to say! This is wonderful. We’ve been meaning to get in touch with you for ages and ages. This is wonderful.” Then, a little shyly, a little ashamedly: “Corinne, I feel just awful about what’s happened and stuff.”
“Yes.” Corinne said.
It was any apology. A rather wonderful one, in a way. It wasn’t delivered like any apology at all that a woman of thirty-three might essay while standing up to her ears in richly assorted, connubial garbage. It was the apology of a very young salesgirl who has buttonheadedly sent the blue curtains instead of the red.
“Yes,” Corinne said.
“Golly, where are you anyway, Corinne?”
“I’m at the Hotel King Cole.”
“Well, look, now.” Warm, chocolate plans on the way. “It’s not at all late. You’ve got to come over here this minute. You’re not in bed or anything.”
“Good. Ray’s in the other room, working. But listen. You hop in a cab—you know our address, Corinne?”
“Swell . . . Well, we’re dying to see you. You hurry up, now.”
For a few seconds Corinne didn’t talk at all.
“Corinne? You there?”
“Well, you hurry up, now. We’ll be waiting. G’by!”
Corinne replaced the phone on its hook.
She then went into the bathroom and got back into the tub for a few minutes to get warm. But all the hot water in the hotels in the world couldn’t have warmed her. She got out of the tub and dried and dressed herself.
She put on her hat and coat and looked around the room to see whether she had left several cigarettes burning. Then she left her room and rang the elevator bell. She could feel her pulse beating close to her ear, the way it does when the face is pressed against the pillow in a certain way.
The sleet had turned to snow during the seventeen hours she had spent in her room, probably since darkness, and part of an inch of slush covered the walk outside the hotel. A neon sign across the un-New York-looking street cast its ugly blue reflection on the black wet street. The hotel doorman who got her a cab needed to use his handkerchief.
Corinne rode for nearly fifteen minutes; then the cab stopped and she asked animatedly, “Is this the place?” and got out and paid her fare.
She found herself standing on an empty, dark, slushy street of rebuilt tenements.
But she walked up the stone steps and went through the first double door. She searched in her handbag, found her cigarette lighter, and flicked it on. A panel of names and buttons were before her. She found the name FORD, written in green ink, and she pushed the correspond-ing button casually, like a salesman or a friend.
A buzzing sound followed, and the inner door opened. Almost at once Corinne heard her own name, with a gay question mark trailing from it, ring down a dark spiral staircase. And Bunny Croft scampered down to meet her.
Bunny slipped her arm through Corinne’s and said things to her and continued to say things to her as they climbed the stairs together. Corinne heard nothing. Suddenly Corinne’s coat was being taken from her and she was being seated in a room and she was being asked by Bunny Croft which she’d rather have: rye or bourbon. But Corinne just looked down at her own legs. She saw that her stockings didn’t match. This seemed a very strange and highly provocative fact to her, and she resisted a strong temptation to lift her legs hip-high, knees together, and remark to anyone within hearing distance, “Look. My stockings don’t match.” But she only said, “What?”
“I said, you look cold, Corinne. Brrr! I’m going to make you a drink whether you want it or not. No arguments. Go in and see Ray while I’m doing stuff. He’s working, but he won’t care. Right through that door.” Bunny disappeared on the run, through a kitchen push door.
Corinne stood up and walked over to and through the door that Bunny pointed to.
Ford was sitting at a small bridge table, with his back to the door. He was in his short sleeves. An undressed watty little bulb burned over his head. Corinne neither touched him nor even walked directly toward him, but she said his name. Without perceptibly staring, Ford turned around in the wooden restaurant chair he was sitting on an looked at his visitor. He looked confused.
Corinne went over and sat down on the chair close to his table, within touching distance of him. She already knew that everything was wrong with him. The wrongness was so heavy in the room she could hardly breath.
“How are you, Ray?” she asked, without crying.
“I’m fine. How are you, Corinne?”
Corinne touched his hand with hers. Then she withdrew her hand and placed it on her lap. “I see you’re working,” she said.
“Oh, yes. How’ve you been, Corinne?”
“I’ve been fine,” Corinne said. “Where are your glasses?”
“My glasses?” Ford said. “I’m not allowed to use them. I’m taking eye exercises. I’m not allowed to use them.” He turned around in his seat and looked at the door Corinne had entered through. “From her cousin,” he said.
“Her cousin? Is he a doctor?”
“I don’t know what he is. He lives on the other side of town. He gave her some eye exercises to give me.”
Ford cupped his eyes with his right hand, then put down his hand and looked at Corinne. For the first time since she had entered the room, he looked at her with some kind of real interest.
“You in town, Corinne?”
“Yes. I’m at the Hotel King Cole. Didn’t she tell you I phoned?”
Ford shook his head. He pushed some papers around on his bridge table. “You in town, eh?”
Corinne saw now that he was drunk. Under his awareness, her knees began to knock together uncontrollably.
“I’m just going to stay overnight.”
Ford seemed to give this remark a great deal of concentration. “Just overnight?”
Narrowing his eyes painfully, Ford looked down at the papers strewn messily all over the bridge table. “I have a lot of work here, Corinne,” he said confidentially.
“I see, I see you have,” Corinne said, without crying.
Ford again turned around to glance at the door to the room— this time almost falling off his chair. Then he leaned forward toward Corinne, warily, like a man in a crowded, decorous room who is about to risk telling someone at his table a bit of choice gossip or an off-color joke.
“She doesn’t like my work,” he said, in a surreptitious voice. “Can you imagine that?”
Corinne shook her head. She was now half-blinded with tears.
“She didn’t like it when she first came to New York. She thinks I’m not meaty enough.”
Corinne was now crying without making any attempt to control herself.
“She’s writing a novel.”
He drew himself back from his confidential position and began again to push papers around on his bridge table. His hands stopped suddenly. He spoke to Corinne in a stage whisper. “She saw my picture in the Times book section before she came to New York. She thinks I look like somebody in the movies. When I don’t wear my glasses.”
Then, fairly quietly, Corinne lost her head. She begged him to come home with her. She wildly touched his face with her hand.
But he suddenly interrupted her, blinking painfully, but sounding like the soberest, most rational man in the world. “Corinne, you know I can’t get away.”
“I’m with the Brain again,” Ford explained briefly.
Corinne shook her head, choked with despair and incomprehension.
“The Brain, the Brain,” he said rather impatiently. “You saw the original. Think back. Think of somebody pounding on the window of a restaurant on a dark street. You know the one I mean.”
Corinne’s mind traveled anfractuously back, reached the place, then partially blacked out. When she looked at her husband again he had picked up a movie magazine, and was squinting at its cover. She turned away.
“Staying in town, Corinne?” he asked politely, putting down the magazine.
Corinne didn’t have to answer, because her hostess’s voice suddenly called—hollered—from the other side of the door. “Hey, open up, you two! My hands are full.”
Ford rushed awkwardly to open the door. A highball was suddenly deposited in Corinne’s boneless hand.
The other two people, with glasses of their own, sat down— Ford at his messy little bridge table, Bunny Croft on the bare floor on the other side of the table.
She was wearing blue jeans, a man’s t-shirt and a red handkerchief knotted cowboy-style around her throat.
She stretched out her legs pleasurably, as though a good bull-session were about to begin.
“You’re terrific to come and see us, Corinne. It’s marvelous. We were going to go to New York last spring, but somehow we never did.” She pointed a moccasined foot at Corinne’s husband. “If this big lug would stoop to writing for money once in a while we might be able to do a couple of ambitious things.” She broke off. “I love your suit. You didn’t have that when I saw you in New York, did you?”
Corinne wet her lips with her highball. The glass was filthy.
“Well, you didn’t wear it. At least I didn’t see it.” Bunny crossed her legs lithely. “How do you like our dive? I call it the Rat’s Nest. I may have to sublet one room. Then Ray’ll have to sleep in the medicine cabinet—won’t you darling?”
“What?” Ford said, looking up from his drink.
“If we sublet this room, you’ll have to sleep in the medicine cabinet.”
Bunny turned to Corinne, asking, “Where are you staying in town, anyway, Corinne?”
“At the Hotel King Cole.”
“Oh, you told me. I love that little bar downstairs. With all the swords and stuff on the wall? Have you been in it?”
“The barkeep there looks exactly like some guy who’s in the movies. Some new guy. But exactly. I never can think of his name.”
Ford stirred in his chair, and looked over at Bunny Croft. “Let’s have another drink,” he said. His glass was empty.
Bunny looked back at him. “What am I supposed to do? Jump?” she inquired. “You have the combination to the bottle.”
Ford stood up, holding onto the back of his chair, and left the room.
He was gone about five minutes—or five days, so far as Corinne knew. Bunny spoke to her steadily in his absence, but she missed nearly all of it except about the novel. Bunny said she hoped Corinne would have time while she was in town to at least take a look at her novel.
Ford came back into the room with about four fingers of undiluted whisky in his glass. Then Corinne stood up and said she had to go.
“Right now?” Bunny wailed. “Well, look. What about having lunch with us tomorrow or something?”
“I’m leaving on an early train,” Corinne said, starting to walk out of the room unescorted. She heard her hostess spring to her moccasined feet, heard her say, “Well, golly . . .”
All of them—Ford, too—filed toward the front door of the apartment. Corinne first, Bunny at her heels, Ford in the rear.
At the door, Corinne abruptly turned around—in such a way that her shoulder was adjacent to Bunny’s face, partially blocking off Bunny’s view.
“Ray. Will you come home with me?”
Ford did not hear her. “I beg your pardon?” he said politely, unforgivably.
“Will you come home with me?”
Ford shook his head.
The action over, Bunny came briskly out from behind Corinne’s shoulder, and as though no entreaty of real significance had just been made and rejected, took Corinne’s hand. “Corinne. It’s really been terrific seeing you. I wish we could all write to each other or something. I mean, you know. Are you still at the same place in New York?”
Corinne took back her hand and extended it to her husband. He half pressed it; then she took it away from him.
“Golly, I hope you get a cab all right, Corinne. In this weather. Oh, you’ll get one . . . Turn on the hall light for Corinne, stupid.”
Without looking back Corinne went as quickly as she could down the stairs, and broke into an awkward, knock-kneed kind of run when she reached the street.