AN INTRODUCTION BY TYLER MALONE
In 1931, Katherine Anne Porter wrote, “Gertrude Stein and James Joyce were and are the glories of their time and some very portentous talents have emerged from their shadows. Miss Boyle, one of the newest, I believe to be among the strongest.” Elsewhere Kay Boyle was called “Hemingway’s successor.” She was the young it-writer whom numerous other American expats had eye on — she was going places. And she did go places. For a time, she was seen as one of the major writers in American letters. But as sometimes happens, she has now fallen by the wayside, with most of her work currently out of print and her name rarely mentioned. This year, I founded The Scofield with some fellow writers in order to spotlight the works of authors who time seems to have forgotten. Each issue focuses on a spotlighted author and an explored theme. Our second issue is on Kay Boyle & Love.
The day we released the issue was the day Paris was attacked. While bullets were flying in the 10th and 11th arrondissements of the City of Love, we were posting quotes from Boyle: “If love is an element, like weather or wind, then it must go unchallenged.” And yet here was love actually being challenged by bullets and bombs. When we heard the news, we stopped tweeting and were glued to the television like everyone else, watching as the death toll kept growing, paralyzed by the weight of a response. How should one respond to such terror and such tragedy?
Kay Boyle responded to the tragedies of the twentieth century with her art, and through her art, with a belief in love. Sandra Spanier, the premiere Boyle scholar, wrote, “In Kay Boyle’s long journey, a few themes remain constant: a belief in the absolute essentiality of love — whether on a personal or a global scale, an awareness of the many obstacles to its attainment, and a tragic sense of loss when love fails and the gulfs between human beings stand unbridged.” Boyle’s response to Spanier was: “I think your thesis about my work is deeply right: that all human misery can be seen as the failure of love.” As the weekend went on, we found ourselves even more convinced that we had made the right choice to focus on Kay Boyle & Love. It’s often too easy to make blanket statements about a horrific event. All sides seem to do it, often attempting to politicize a moment for personal gain. But at risk of being accused of this, I’ll try to make my own pronouncement: that what the attacks in Paris, in Beirut, and in Baghdad highlight is the failure of love, Boyle’s pet theme. Here, in real time, were the gulfs between human beings standing unbridged, tragically, terrifyingly.
The following story of Kay Boyle’s — “Your Body is a Jewel Box” — is one that engages with these very ideas. The Partisan Review called it a “horror story.” Its horror is the horror of a lack of love. Like the events of Friday the 13th, the story is a terrifying reminder of what can arise from the gulfs between human beings and the gulfs within human beings. What does it mean to love? Can love combat the darkness? Is the darkness always waiting to swallow us whole? How should we treat one another? How should we treat ourselves?
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The Scofield
Your Body is a Jewel Box
by Kay Boyle
The rain was falling just as it did every day at this time of the year, great handfuls of it flung hard on the windows, and when Olive got out of bed she saw that Mildred was sitting on the roof again, holding her knees in her bare arms and crying in the rain.
“For heaven’s sake,” said Olive, opening the window, “come in, Mildred. Don’t sit there like that. Come in, now, do,” she said, reaching her hand out to her sister. The two of them were in their nightgowns still, the dark girl on the roof and the yellow-haired girl standing inside the bedroom. “Come in now, Mildred, and we’ll go down to the fire and get dry.”
But Mildred only raised her head from her arms and looked in what might have been grief at her sister. But in spite of the tears that ran out of her eyes, it was not grief, for there was no look of sorrow in her face; only the black inhuman look of a wounded beast, even in pain, the small, suspicious, weary eye. Her nightdress was so thin and it clung to her so with the wet that the shape of her breasts and her thighs could be clearly seen. Her short hair was in wringing curls all over her head, and down the lower side of her cheek and jaw sprang a little growth of darkness, as on a youth’s still virgin face.
“Come in, now, do,” said Olive at the window, and it was as if an evil, black-eyed man were sitting there on the roof, looking distrustingly at the blond young girl in her nightdress as she leaned out into the rain. “You have no right to do like that!” Olive cried out. “If you catch your death, who is it that has to nurse you through? You don’t think of anyone. I’m cold here, I’m catching cold.”
“I’m not cold,” said Mildred, and the animal-dark, animal-wounded eyes looked at Olive, and she drew her knees up closer. The shaking of her flesh could be seen, her quivering, dark-haired arms, and the shaking shape of her rain-wet thighs.
“I’m going to call everyone, then,” Olive said, hugging herself in her arms for warmth. “I’m going to fetch Dr. Peabody over.”
Mildred put her head down on her arms again and she did not answer, and Olive went running downstairs in the little old house. The kitchen was warm, with the fire already red in the kitchener, and Olive ran in and stood shaking in her nightgown with her bare feet on the linoleum floor. The father was eating his breakfast in the kitchen, and the mother was filling the teapot with water from the kettle on the stove.
“Mildred’s out on the roof again,” she said, rubbing her bare arm in the palms of her hands. Her face was wet from the rain and there were drops of it clinging still in her light, uncombed hair.
“For heaven’s sake,” said the mother, putting the kettle down, and the two of them ran upstairs after Olive: the mother shaking her short, little hands from her wrists, and the father with egg on his mustaches.
“Come in now, Mildred, do,” said the father, standing at the window and looking at his daughter sitting there in the rain. “Come in to us, now, there’s a good girl,” he said. His hair was gray, but in his mustaches there was still a shade of russet left, like the flash of a fox’s tail. He had not put on his collar yet, and there was a brassy collar button holding his striped shirt together at the neck. His eyes, pale and innocently blue, were wide open on his daughter.
“Come in now to your dad,” said the mother with her full neck shaking. “Mildred, lovey, this is no way to do.”
“I’m going to fetch Dr. Peabody over,” Olive shouted out impatiently at the window, but Mildred did not lift her head. Olive put on her stockings, pulling them up over her plump, hairless legs and twisting them savagely above her knees. Downstairs, she put on her Wellingtons and her raincoat and ran down the path to the gate. Every house in the block was the same, and the same little pieces of garden ran from the front doors to identical gates on the narrow, quiet street. Dr. Peabody’s house was on the other side, set apart in the grounds, with trees around it. He did not lose a moment, and in spite of his sixty years he hurried as fast as Olive across the street and into the house where Mildred was sitting on the roof overlooking the back yards.
“Now, Mildred,” he said, standing among the members of the family at the window, “I know you want to please us, Mildred. I know you want to be a good girl, don’t you? So you’re going to make us all happy, and you’re going to come in out of the rain.”
Mildred looked up at the sound of his voice, her head quickly lifted and a little cocked to one side, as a dog might at the sound of a whistle he knew. But still she had no intention of coming to them.
“I like it here, Dr. Peabody,” she said with the rain falling over her face. Her neck was strong and short, like a man’s, and broad, with the Adam’s apple riding thick and slow in it as she spoke. “I’m not cold, whatever you say. Like this I don’t get time to think about other things. I feel hot when I’m lying in bed. I don’t feel sick out here in the air like I do closed up in a room. Dr. Peabody.”
Dr. Peabody, Dr. Peabody, save me, said the eyes in the thwarted, manlike face. Let there be some words for the fire in me, that it be suffocated, that it expire. Dr. Peabody, Dr. Peabody, asked the black, mistrusting eyes, and Dr. Peabody answered:
“Look at your mother and father here, Mildred, look how you’re worrying them. Why don’t you make up your mind you’re not going to act like this any more? Think how happy they’d be if you didn’t act like this, Mildred. They’ve got everything they need to make for happiness in this life, and so have you. Health, and work, and a nice home to live in.” Dr. Peabody stood at the window, leaning his old hands on the sill and talking in his equable voice of these things to her: of health and happiness, of tranquility and love, as if the sound of these words of the sane would draw her back from the brink of where she was. “Come back, Mildred,” he said. “You’re freezing to death out there, my dear. You mustn’t try to make us think you’re not. You mustn’t try to deceive us, you know. Now, be a good girl and come along.”
“I’m not trying to deceive you, Dr. Peabody,” said Mildred, with her black, hard, animal eye on him in distrust. “I’m not trying to deceive anybody. Only I don’t think I’m a girl. I think something’s happening to me. I don’t think I’m a girl any more.”
“Of course, you’re a girl,” said Dr. Peabody. He looked at the mother’s and father’s faces and smiled in gentle sympathy as he quietly shook his head. “Enough of this now, Mildred,” he said in a brisker tone. “You come right in now and we’ll get you warm and dry, and I’ll give you a warm drink that’ll send you off to sleep for a little while.”
“No,” said Mildred, putting her head down again on her bare shaking arms. “I want to stay here.”
It was as well the time of year for the birds to be flying, and there was a great movement of them now through the rain. There were small black birds of one kind or another passing over the roofs with quick, unswooping strokes of the wing, and these came, as if in curiosity, to settle on the wires that stretched through the back gardens, and now at the windows of the houses behind there were other onlookers gathering. The family could see the shirt sleeves and the aprons of their neighbors moving with guilt behind the curtains of their kitchen or back bedroom windows, watching the sight of Mildred, wearing nothing but a nightgown, sitting on the roof in the rain.
In a little while, the father had to go off to work, and Dr. Peabody left the house to telephone the police station and tell the constables to come. The last time it had been the fire department that came when Mildred set fire to the rug in the dining room. The mother stayed at the window, talking in a low, loving, tremulous voice to her daughter, but Mildred never answered.
“Leave her be, why don’t you?” said Olive in anger as she dressed quickly in the bedroom before the constables would come. She put her corsets on over her soft, white, apple flesh, and snapped her stockings fast. “She’s just doing it on purpose,” she said over her bare shoulder to her mother. She could not bear to think of the neighbors watching the scene on the roof from their houses. “She ought to be ashamed,” she said. She was wondering which of the constables would be sent. She combed her hair out quickly and rolled it into a bun at the back of her neck, and then she put on her brown wool dress. Her face was round and sweet-looking in the glass before her, and she put on her brooch with care. “She ought to be ashamed,” she said to her mother bitterly, “sitting there showing her legs and everything like that.” She looked a good, pure, healthy girl standing there fixing her hair before the mirror, with her backside shaped out broad and soft in her dress.
The mother turned back from the window and looked at Olive with her little eyes.
“I read a thing in the paper last night,” she said, and she clasped her swollen little hands together. “Maybe it would bring her to her senses, Olive. You run and get me the paper. I don’t know what to do.”
She had a blue apron tied around her, and her spectacles were on her nose, and when Olive brought her the paper from the kitchen, she stood pressing herself against the sill of the open window, reading the poem out loud to Mildred on the roof.
“Listen to this, Mildred,” she said. “You listen, lovey, to what it says. It goes: ‘Your body is a jewel box, Given to you to hold A gift that is more precious Than rubies, pearl, or gold.’ That’s pretty, isn’t it, now, Mildred?” Olive stood with her back to the window, angrily fastening on her low, brown shoes. “‘Guard it from marauders,’” the mother’s voice went on, reading out loud, “‘Let nothing sordid soil it. No smirch of soot or coal. Your body is a jewel box,’” said the mother’s shaking voice, and she could see the neighbors watching slyly from their windows. “’The jewel is your soul.’”
The mother put down the paper, and there were tears standing underneath her spectacles. She said:
“That means you oughtn’t to let all those strange people look at you, Mildred, lovey. You ought to be too proud to let them see you haven’t got anything on.”
The breath was coming short in her breast, and suddenly the constable’s head moved up beyond the rain gutter. There were his helmet and his face just above the rain gutter, and then the tops of his shoulders in his waterproof could be seen. He was standing on a ladder, waiting to be told what to do. Dr. Peabody and another constable came up the stairs without ringing the doorbell and came into the bedroom. Olive saw it was the young constable, and she looked swiftly at her reflection in the glass.
“Mildred,” said Dr. Peabody from the window, but Mildred gave no sign. “I’ve called some friends of mine here to persuade you to come in and put some clothes on. But I know you’re going to come along without making any more fuss about it.”
But in a little while there was nothing for the young constable to do but to squeeze himself through the window and start making his way across the roof in the rain to where Mildred was sitting.
“If she makes a jump for the edge, you get her,” he called out to the other constable, who was waiting on the ladder. He was holding on to the rain pipe now and he nodded his head. The young constable slid cautiously along toward the seated girl, and as he came close to this dark, strange, inhuman creature, a rush of excitement filled his heart. He could see everything clearly through her thin white nightdress, and even the color of her flesh where the cloth clung fast.
All the neighbors were watching from their back windows quite openly now, and some of them were laughing as the constable moved along the sloping roof until he had come between Mildred and the edge. There was just place for him there to squat down, with his hands holding on to the rain-wet shingles.
“Come on, now, Miss,” he said, squatting before her in his raincoat. “You must be cold sitting there like that. You don’t want to do a thing like that, you know.”
Mildred sat with her face hidden in her arms and the rain falling thick and fast upon her, and in every line of her body, in the naked, dark-haired arms, and the shape of the legs revealed, there was a terrible power that roused and impelled him. And yet he felt that he would be sick if he had to touch her with his hands.
“Just help her up here to the window, Constable, please,” said Dr. Peabody, leaning out in the rain. The young constable stood up and moved forward toward Mildred, and put his fingers, a little hesitant, underneath her arm. The skin was cold and wet, and he felt his soul recoil within him, and yet she seemed to him a marvelously strange, marvelously evil thing.
“Come along, now, Miss,” he urged with a husky voice, and without a word Mildred rose and went with him back up the roof and in through the open window. She stood in the middle of the bedroom, and Dr. Peabody, was her anguish saying, Dr. Peabody, save me from the down springing up on my face and the heaviness in my groins that I cannot give away. There was no sign of it in her wary eyes as she stood with the rain dripping from her, looking in distrust from one face to the other, looking at her own mother and at her sister and at the doctor and the constable, as if she could never comprehend them as long as she lived.
The rain had drawn off for a little in the afternoon, but Olive and Mildred were wearing their raincoats when they left the house. The doctor’s double-seated car was stopped by the curb, with the light-tan top up over it and the isinglass curtains fastened all around, and because the doctor could not get off that afternoon, his nephew was sitting in the driver’s seat. Beside him sat his friend, the chemist’s son, a responsible young man, whom the doctor had asked to go. As the girls came down the front walk to the little gate, the young constable, wearing plain-clothes now, got out from the back seat and opened the door of the car for them.
“Mildred’s very glad to be going for a ride this afternoon,” said Olive, looking the young constable full in the face. The color ran up from under his collar and into his ears as he helped Olive in. The two young men in the front seat of the car lifted their hats and said good afternoon to her. “We’ve been telling Mildred how nice it was of you to ask us driving,” she said, and she gave a sly, quick glance out the open door to the sight of Mildred standing there with her head averted.
“I don’t want to go,” said Mildred, scarcely aloud.
“Of course, you want to come,” said Olive, and she leaned forward and smiled wisely at the young men. “We’re just going for a little ride, Mildred. You know that’s all we’re going to do.”
“You help Mildred in, now, Fogarty,” said the doctor’s nephew, nodding to the constable. The mother was standing in the sitting-room bay, watching them, with her handkerchief up to the side of her face. She saw the young constable help Mildred in, and then follow her into the car, and close the door behind them. When the car started down the street, she waved her handkerchief and the tears fell down her face, but no one in the doctor’s car looked out through the yellowing, misted glass.
“I don’t want to go,” said Mildred. She had a white felt hat on, and her hair stood out dark and bushy from underneath the brim. Her nose was small and pinched in her face and her cheeks were as white as candles. She was holding her bare hands clenched between her legs.
“You’re fine and dandy here now, Mildred,” said Olive, looking across her to the young constable in his plain brown suit sitting on the other side. “You know it was nice of these young men to ask us out, now, wasn’t it, Mildred?” she said, and her mild, blue, wide-set eyes were on the constable.
“I know where you’re taking me,” said Mildred. The car took the corner of the street and set out fast on the highway.
“We’re taking you for a little drive, Mildred,” said the doctor’s nephew, looking around from the wheel. “You ought to be tickled to death,” he said.
He winked at Olive, and she gave him a broad, quick smile.
“All you have to do is to lean back and stop worrying,” said the chemist’s son.
“I don’t want to go there,” said Mildred. She was riding with her hands pressed down between her legs and her eyes fixed on the soiled, worn bit of carpet on the floor. The constable had folded his arms across his chest and he rode with his face turned away from Mildred, his eyes staring straight at the dark isinglass through which nothing could be seen. The air was beginning to fill with the smell of the girls’ rubber coats as the five of them rode in the curtained-in, swaying car.
“Everything’s going to be all right, you’ll just see,” said Olive. She looked, half smiling with pleasure, at the two heads and the shoulders of the young men riding before them, and then she glanced at the constable sitting on the other side. “Mildred’s being a very good girl, isn’t she, Mr. Fogarty?” she said.
“Yes,” said the young constable with a start, and then his voice stopped in his throat.
“I don’t want to go there,” said Mildred, and he could feel her flesh beside him. Their thighs were pressed close in the unwieldy, shaking car, their knees withdrawn, their feet apart, and he sat looking into the strange afternoon of yellow isinglass, his heart stirred by the wild power of her hidden flesh. It might have been the most beautiful woman of all riding there beside him, for the terrible, the unbearable love he had for her as he looked into the isinglass. But when his gaze slid sideways to her face, he saw there was nothing of beauty about her, but only her youth, and something like perversion in her body or mind, and this appetite that was starving in her, and crying for food whenever he turned away.
“We’re not taking you anywhere, Mildred,” said the doctor’s nephew, looking around from the wheel again and smiling at Olive. “You just trust us and there won’t be any trouble.”
“I think Mildred ought to be very grateful to you for taking the afternoon off like this, Mr. Fogarty,” said Olive, looking across her sister to the young constable. Suddenly Mildred turned her head and looked straight at her sister with her small, black, wary eyes.
“Don’t take me there, don’t take me there,” she said quickly. Her two hands were held down tight between her knees. “Don’t do it. Don’t do it to me,” she said. “Don’t do it, Olive.”
“Come on now, Mildred,” said the chemist’s son. He turned halfway around in his seat and looked at Mildred. “Look here, we’re all good friends of yours,” he said. “You know me, and Kingdom and Jim Fogarty riding there beside you. We wouldn’t do anything to do you any harm.”
“Don’t take me there,” said Mildred in a low, quick voice. She looked with her small, inhuman eyes at the chemist’s son, at the back of the other man at the wheel, and then she turned to the constable, who sat with his arms folded over beside her. “Please don’t take me there,” she said.
The road was running now along the edge of the lake, and through the glass of the windshield they could see the quiet waters, wide and black and still, as the deep waters of the sea might be. The constable could not bring himself to look into her face, and he sat watching the toes of his shoes on the carpet near the long, black-strapped shoes of the girl who rode beside him in the car. She was so near to him that he thought his heart would burst with his desire, but then when his gaze slid to the side of her face, he saw there was nothing in it to draw a man: there was nothing in the pinched, white nostril, and in the piece of the hard, thick, manlike neck that showed.
They had been an hour driving, and the doctor’s nephew turned around from the wheel
“It won’t be much longer now,” he said.
At the sound of his voice, Mildred started up as if from sleep and her thigh in the raincoat pressed hard against the constable’s leg.
“I don’t want to go there,” she said, and Olive, with her hands folded over in her lap, smiled at the chemist’s son.
“Let’s have a song,” she said. She looked toward the constable. “I’m sure you have a
good singing voice, Mr. Fogarty,” she said.
“I never sing, I can’t sing,” said the constable, and the color ran into his neck.
“Oh, I’m sure you’re a fine singer, Mr. Fogarty,” said Olive, smiling. “I always think a good song makes the time pass quicker, don’t you?”
“Well, anyone can sing “Tipperary” or anything like that,” said the chemist’s son. They had finished the stretch of country now and were coming into a town.
“Here’s Sloughcombe,” said the doctor’s nephew, and Mildred said:
“Don’t do it. Don’t do it to me, Olive.”
The darkness was beginning to come, and here and there along the city street a few of the windows were lighted.
“Getting ready for Christmas,” said the doctor’s nephew above the sound of the car rattling over the cobbles. There were festoons of green and red paper, and strings of tinsel, strung across a stationer’s and a toyshop’s glass. In a moment they were out of the town and mounting the hill on the other side, and Mildred said:
“Please don’t do this to me.”
Her voice came out of the dark to them, small and cold, without entreaty or despair. The doctor’s nephew leaned forward and turned on the headlights of the car, and on one side of the road the hedges stood up, as green as if flooded with sunlight.
“We’re coming to it now,” said the chemist’s son under his breath, and the doctor’s nephew slowed down the car to take the curve at the gateway. As they drove up the private road of the grounds, they could see the lighted windows of a building hidden in the darkness and trees before them, and Olive took a pair of gloves out of her raincoat pocket and drew them over her hands.
“Put your hat on straight,” she said quickly to Mildred.
The car came to a stop at the steps of the building. There were bars at the windows, and an attendant in a white coat opened the door to let them in.
It was seven o’clock at night by the time they had settled everything for Mildred. They left her sitting on a chair in the big hall, and they went out and got in the car again and drove away.
“Well, it all went off without any trouble, after all,” said the doctor’s nephew at the wheel.
“She was meek as a lamb, wasn’t she?” said Olive. She was sitting in the back seat alone with the constable now. He sat far from her, in the other corner, and she could just make out the shape of him, sitting erect, with his arms folded over, swaying with the motion of the car.
“We ought to be thankful it passed off the way it did,” said the chemist’s son. “The time I went there with Weston’s brother, it took four of us to hold him down. You never knew what he was going to do next. But that was shell shock. That wasn’t the same thing.”
“You ought to be glad she’s where she’s off your hands,” said the doctor’s nephew, driving. “She’ll be better off there than anywhere else. When they’re like that, it’s all the same to them. They don’t know if they’re home or where they are. They’re living on another plane, you know.” He said this easily and with authority, for he was studying to be a doctor himself. “You only have to look at her eyes to know she’s not like everybody else,” he said, watching the road before him. “There’s no use trying to reason with them when they’re that way.”
The lights of the town were coming up before them, and just within the paved street the chemist’s son said:
“Why don’t we stop and have a drink?”
“That’s just what I need,” said the doctor’s nephew.
Olive glanced at the constable as the car drew up at the curb before the public house. She could see his profile outlined clearly against the dim, glowing curtain of isinglass. His nose was short, like an Irishman’s nose, and his lip was long, and his underjaw was square and firm. Under his brows there was a fringe, and this was the curving brush of his lashes thrusting thick and ferny against the yellow light.
“Come in and have a drink, Olive,” said the chemist’s son, opening the door of the car. But Olive shook her head.
“I’ll wait here,” she said, smiling at them. The young constable made no move to get out of the car.
“You drink, Fogarty?” asked the doctor’s nephew.
“No,” said the constable, shifting a little. “I don’t care about having a drink.”
“Don’t you think you ought to have one after a ride like this?” said Olive, looking toward his corner.
“No, thank you,” said the constable, uneasily. Olive watched the other two go through the door to the public bar.
“I thought the weather was going to clear,” said Olive, turning her head again toward Fogarty. “The radio said last night it was going to clear.”
“It looks as if it might rain now,” said the constable, looking into the isinglass. He cleared his throat, and recrossed his legs. Olive smoothed the front of her raincoat out.
“Well, it passed off very well, didn’t it?” she said in a moment.
“Yes,” said the constable, starting as he spoke.
“It was the first time I was ever inside an asylum,” said Olive, looking toward him brightly. “I suppose it was the first time you were ever inside an asylum, Mr. Fogarty? I think it was a very interesting experience to have.”
The two young men came out of the public house and climbed into the car again.
“It certainly sets you up to have a drink like that,” said the doctor’s nephew. “Fogarty, you and Olive would feel better if you had. We’ve a long way to go and we won’t get home till late.”
“You see, I don’t like going in,” said Fogarty.
“Oh, you’re all right without your uniform, aren’t you?” said the chemist’s son. “Look,” he said as the motor started, “I’ll run in and get you each a drink. What’ll it be, Fogarty?” He opened the front door of the car again and jumped down into the street. “I don’t mind having another myself,” he said. “What’ll it be, Olive?”
“Oh, I’ll just have a little whisky,” said Olive, “with a splash of soda in it.”
“I’ll have the same thing,” said the constable from the corner of the car.
“Nobody’s going to get ahead of me,” said the doctor’s nephew. He turned the motor off and followed the other man into the bar. Olive and Fogarty sat waiting for their drinks to come.
“They’re a pair, the two of them!” said Olive, laughing. But the constable was thinking that if he were a man with a wife there would not be this fear and trembling in him. He was scared of his life that Olive would sit nearer to him, or that she would reach out and touch him with her hand. “I feel as if a weight had been lifted off me,” Olive was saying. “We’ve been talking for months now about taking Mildred to the asylum, and Dr. Peabody has been urging us to do it. Of course, Mom and the rest of us were against it all the time. But I know it’s all for the best, and she’ll be in good hands there.”
The constable sat erect in the corner of the car, with his arms folded over, not daring to turn his head to her, to speak, not daring to see her, for fear that she stir him as Mildred had done. But even as he took down his drink, and the car started off, even then he could feel her turned toward him in the dark. He could see her face, wide and peach-colored under her felt hat, the yellow hair rolled up from her neck in back, and her lips half open.
“I’m sure we’ve done the right thing for Mildred,” she was saying, and the doctor’s nephew looked back from the wheel and said:
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that.” He talked with authority to her over his shoulder. “They’ve got good men there,” he said. “The kind of methods they put into operation ought to bring anyone around if there’s any hope for them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mildred walk out of there as sane as you and me at the end of a couple of years.”
“I know,” said Olive, looking toward the constable in the dark.
“Look, there’s a pub along here in a minute,” said the chemist’s son. “What do you say we all pop in and have a drink?”
“That’s a good idea,” said the doctor’s nephew.
This time the four of them went in, and the constable stood a little apart from the others, tall and clean-looking in his plain brown suit, drinking his whisky quickly down. They had two drinks each, and Olive stood at the bar, laughing, with the two young men. The constable saw her pure-white throat, laughing and bare in the collar of her coat, and the color that was shining on her face. He watched the chemist’s son put his arm around her as they went out the door. When they got to the car, he said:
“Say, I’m going to join you two in back, Olive. I think you need a chaperon.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” laughed Olive, getting into the car, as she sat down, gasping with laughter, between Fogarty and the chemist’s son. As the doctor’s nephew took his place at the wheel and started the motor she began singing: I’m in the Mood for Love.
“It’s a shame I’ve got to drive this car,” said the doctor’s nephew, looking around at her. The chemist’s son put his arm around her again.
“You watch the road, Kingdom!” he called out. “You’ve got enough to keep you busy driving in this rain.”
Fogarty could feel Olive’s body close to him on the seat. He could feel the pressing of her heavy thigh in the raincoat beside him, and the seeking of her legs for his while she lay in the other man’s arms. She was trying to sing, with her head pulled away from the other man in the corner, and he could feel her eyes, and her legs, and her body turning toward him and seeking him out.
But, as if riding in the car with them, there was Mildred as well: the figure bowed double in the raincoat, the hat that was not white any longer, and the voice saying, the voice repeating. He could see the side of the nostril, the down dark on the jawbone, and the manlike neck descending, bone by bone, to where the small breasts sprang. In a moment, he saw that they had stopped again, and the light from another public house was blurring the yellow isinglass.
“Get us a drink, you, Fogarty,” said the chemist’s son. “I’m not moving from where I am.”
“Come along in with me, Fogarty,” said the doctor’s nephew. “We’ll bring those two their drinks outside.”
The constable walked into the bar behind Kingdom and began drinking very fast. He drank three whiskies, and then he carried the two glasses out to Olive and the man in the car. He stood on the sidewalk, waiting while they drank, not looking in at them, but lifting his face like a blind man to the fine, fast-falling rain. Kingdom was still drinking when he went back into the bar with the empty glasses, and Fogarty had another glass with him. When he climbed into the back seat of the car again he was thinking of Mildred and how they had left her sitting in the insane-asylum hall.
“Don’t, don’t, please, don’t,” came Olive’s voice out of the darkness.
“Some chaps have all the luck,” said Kingdom from the front seat, jerking his head toward the chemist’s son. “You better come up for air, Geoffrey,” he said as he started the motor.
“Mind your own business, Kingdom,” said the chemist’s son in a muffled, tight voice from the depths of the seat of the car.
“I’ll call a policeman if you try anything like that,” said Olive, laughing. She drew away from him and closer to Fogarty.
“Come on, now, come on,” wooed the chemist’s son. He was trying to draw her down again into the darkness of the seat. “Come on, come on, now,” came his soft whispering, wooing voice as the car went rattling, racing on through the dark and the falling rain.
Fogarty sat upright in the corner, holding his hands fast under his folded arms. Olive’s legs were feeling for his, softly, yearningly closing on his as she pulled away from Geoffrey. And if he had a wife, Fogarty was thinking, if he had a wife of his own the fire would not be burning like this in his body. Deeper and deeper, and wilder and wilder burned his blood until he felt that his bones themselves were utterly burned away.
“Say, you chaps back there,” said the doctor’s nephew with a whine, “you’ve got all the luck. Who wants to drive this car and let me have a chance?”
“Come on back,” Olive called out. “There’s always room for one more!”
Suddenly she turned around on the seat and faced the constable in the corner. His leg was running to wax against her, and he could hear the breath in her mouth. The whisky, or madness, or love was swinging in his head as he put his arms in agony around her, and her mouth came wet and moaning to his mouth.
“Hey, Fogarty — “ shouted the chemist’s son, and Kingdom looked back, whining, from the wheel.
“Say, I’ve been among the onlookers just about long — “ he began, but he did not finish. What they took for a sudden downpouring of the rain hit the glass of the windshield like a wave, and the lights went out with it, without terror, and without sound. The movement of the car had ceased as if a hand had closed upon it in the dark.
It was not until the next afternoon that anyone thought of looking into the lake for the doctor’s car, and there it was, sure enough, with the marks showing clearly where it had left the road. The four corpses were sitting in it, the four young people, just as death had found them, inside the curtains of isinglass.