Fiction

Two In Love

Moonlight and mockingbirds weren’t for her. Love was ¡ust a biological trap, Julie said. Which made it tough for a hearts-and-flowers guy like Jake, who wanted to be trapped.

LT. ALFRED J. CARTER February 1 1950
Fiction

Two In Love

Moonlight and mockingbirds weren’t for her. Love was ¡ust a biological trap, Julie said. Which made it tough for a hearts-and-flowers guy like Jake, who wanted to be trapped.

LT. ALFRED J. CARTER February 1 1950

Two In Love

Fiction

Moonlight and mockingbirds weren’t for her. Love was ¡ust a biological trap, Julie said. Which made it tough for a hearts-and-flowers guy like Jake, who wanted to be trapped.

LT. ALFRED J. CARTER

I MET her at a party. It was one of those intellectual things: a lot of yap about the U.N. and existentialism with girls in leather sandals. Don’t ask me why I was there.

I was standing back against the wall and I’d just made up my mind to leave when this girl popped up. She was wearing one of those dresses that makes you want to know what keeps it up. It was long and green and her shoulders were white and smooth. The girl stood in front of me and stared into my face like she was mad at somebody.

“Who are you?” she demanded. “What’s your name? I never saw you before.” Her voice was low, kind of husky, but smooth and nice.

I decided it was too early to go home. “Jake Holcomb,” I said.

“Glad to know you, Holcomb,” she said. “Mine’s Bennet.”

“Isn’t that enough? Your friends call you Holcomb, don’t they?”

“No,” I said. “My friends call me Jake.”

She waved a hand. “It doesn’t matter.” She pointed a finger at my nose. “What do you think about the Woman Question?”

I hadn’t thought about it. “I don’t know. I’m in favor of it, I guess.”

Her lips came together tight. “You’re like all the others,” she said. “You think it’s funny. You don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.”

It wasn’t my fault. I just wasn’t built right for it. I looked around at the party. The smoke was a little thicker, the yap was a little louder. I looked back at the girl. She was standing there with her chin stuck out and her hands on her hips, and she came about to my shoulder.

“Bennet,” I said, “you’re absolutely right. Let’s go somewhere and discuss it.”

I grinned when I said it, and for a minute she looked like she might slap me. Then she had an idea; you could see it working in back of her eyes. I was light-minded, frivolous. I didn’t care about the Woman Question. Okay—she’d convert me. She made a smile that didn’t quite get to her eyes. “Yes,” she said. “Allright. Where shall we go?” Her name was Julie. We found a hole-in-the-wall and sat in a booth. Her hair shone, her eyes were big and brown and lovely.

“Bennet,” I said, “you’re crazy. What have you got to worry about?”

The eyes were earnest, indignant. She leaned across the table toward me and her voice got intensity in it. “I’m a woman,” she said.

That I couldn’t deny. “So are a lot of other people. What’s your beef?”

She bit her lip, staring at me. Somebody dropped a nickel in the juke box and the music played sweet and soft and her eyes looked past me into the distance.

“I feel so—frustrated,” she whispered. “I want to express myself. I want to find fulfillment.” The eyes were big and unhappy. I decided not to laugh. She said, “But I’m a woman, and—what can I do? What is there for me?”

She seemed to expect an answer. I drank some beer. Then I said, “Why not get married?”

“Married! Tie myself to some man, be his slave, cook for him, darn his socks!” It was too much. She couldn’t go on.

“Some women like it,” I said. “Have you ever been in love?”

“Oh—love!” She shrugged it off. “Love is just a trap. A biological trap.”

Trap or not, it had its points. I looked at Julie and rubbed my chin with my hand. This was what came of teaching women to read. Maybe the old days were the best.

“What about a job?” I said.

She made a scornful laugh. “I’ve got a job. Do you know what I do?”

I shook my head. “I left my crystal ball at home. What do you do?”

“I’m a reporter. I go to weddings and write what the bride wore!”

It was a job, wasn’t it? The Prime Minister can’t say more. His job pays a little better, maybe, but on the other hand it’s temporary.

“Well,” I said. “Somebody’s got to do it.” “Everywhere I turn,” she said, “there’s a blank wall. Because I’m a woman.”

1 had an idea. “How long have you had this job?”

“Why “three weeks.”

And they hadn’t made her city editor. Her path was rugged. “Uh-huh. And before that?” She shrugged again. “It’s the same story everywhere. Fashion drawing,

Continued on page 45

Two in Love

Continued from page 15

social work—even politics. A blank

It sounded like a crowded life. She couldn’t have been much over twenty. I said, “Listen. Have you ever sung with the Metropolitan?”

Julie sat up straighter. A look came into her eyes. “No,” she admitted. “But I used to sing in the choir at home. Do you suppose . .”

I stopped that, quick. “Frankly, no. They tell me it takes something special.”

She looked disappointed, but nodded. “Yes. I guess it would only be another wall.” All of a sudden her fist banged on the table. The glasses jumped. “It isn’t fair!” she cried. “Just because I’m a woman!”

I looked into my glass. I didn’t say anything. After a minute she said: “I’m sorry.” Her voice was softer. She was smiling a little, watching me, and she’d taken the chip off her shoulder. She looked friendly. “Tell me about your work. What do you do?”

“Advertising.”

“Advertising,” she said. “It sounds fascinating.”

“Well, it’s a job.” I watched her for a minute and I didn’t think it would do any good but I tried it anyway. “Bennet,” I said, “take a piece of advice. Forget about expressing yourself. A job’s a job. Grab one and stick with it. Or grab a man and get married.”

The friendly look went away. “It’s easy for you to talk. You’re a man. You don’t realize what it’s like, for women.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I realize, all right. They’re frustrated.” I slid out of the booth and held out my hand. “Come on, let’s take a ride through the park.”

WE RODE and looked at the moon, and after a while I took her home. She turned at the door of her apartment and smiled.

“Good night,” she said. “It was fun, wasn’t it?” She was standing close to me, looking up, her lips parted a little, and there was only one thing I could think of to do.

I did it.

For a minute she held still. Then she kissed back. Then she pulled away from me, and the smile was gone. “Men!” she said. It sounded bitter. “What’s the matter now?”

“You’re all alike. Kiss, kiss, kiss!” What was I supposed to do, talk about the Woman Question? “Maybe you’ve got some suggestions?”

Her eyes were still bright, but not soft. They were making sparks. She said, “You could shake hands. You could forget I’m a woman.”

I could forget my name, too, but it would be a terrible effort. I stuck out my hand. “Yeah,” I said. “Well, good night, Bennet. It was nice knowing you.”

ANYBODY with an I.Q. of over 50 would have left it there. But I kept thinking about her, the next few days, and wondering.

After three days of that I had a thought. I picked up the phone to invite her to dinner.

I took a deep breath and swung into it. “Listen, Bennet. I’ve been thinking about this Woman Question, and I think you’ve got an idea there. I’d like to talk to you about it.”

She said “Oh,” then: “Why, I’d

love to.”

She looked very smooth in a blue dress with her hair shining above it. I still couldn’t see why she had to worry about the Woman Question. We went

to a joint I knew, with little lamps on the tables and shadows all around and a guy in short pants who drifted around playing a violin. When we got down to coffee and cigarettes I leaned forward and looked into her eyes.

I said, “Tell me, Bennet, how are you getting along on the paper?”

Her eyes got dark. “Don’t talk to me about the paper! I’m quitting!” “Why, what’s the matter?”

“I wanted to cover this murder trial that’s come up. And do you know what that bald-headed old demon said?”

I could have made a close guess. “No, what?”

“He laughed at me! He said maybe in a year or two I might make a reporter!”

Maybe I ought to send him a box of cigars. I said “H’m.” I looked at Julie and rubbed my chin. I made my eyes narrow. “Bennet,” I said, “I’ve got an

“Yes?”

“You’ve done some fashion drawing. You’ve had newspaper experience. It’s all good background.” I looked at her, hard. “How’d you like to come over to our place?”

Her face began to glow.

I said, “Of course you’ll have to start as a copy writer. But there’s plenty of room to move up. How about it?”

Her eyes shone. “It sounds wonderful.”

“Fine. That’s settled, then. Come in and see me tomorrow.” I leaned back in my chair and smiled at her. I felt pretty good. She smiled back. Then her eyes got far away and dreamy.

“I can’t wait to tell Elwood,” she

I stopped feeling good.

“He’ll be so happy,” she said.

I hadn’t figured on any Elwood. Not after the way she’d talked. I said, “Who’s Elwood?”

“We work together,” she explained, “on the Committee.”

Something else I hadn’t heard about. I chewed on my lip. “What committee?”

“Why, the Committee for the Advancement of Woman in the Modern World. Elwood’s very active in it.”

A Joe with a social conscience and wavy hair and a bunch of frustrated females.

“He’s really very sympathetic,” Julie said. “You must meet him.”

I’d done without for nearly thirty years. Why make a change now? Probably he spent hours every day on his hair-do. And smoked scented cigarettes.

“And wears socks with holes in them,” I said.

Julie blinked. “I—beg your pardon?” “Nothing. Nothing at all.” I got up. “Let’s blow,” I said.

IT WAS still early; there weren’t any cabs, and she lived close; so I walked her home. We didn’t say anything. The air was clear and warm and the moon was just fading away from the full. I could smell Julie’s perfume.

At her door she looked up and smiled. “I’m awfully grateful to you,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. She was standing close to me, looking up, and she was moonlight and honeysuckle and mockingbirds. My breath went into a quick samba. But I still remembered the last time.

I shook hands with her. I said, “Good night.” Then I walked away. I could feel her looking after me, but I didn’t look back.

Getting her in was easy. The Old Man had a hot outfit, we were expanding all the time. The trouble I had was keeping her there. All through that fall and winter, regularly, twee a month, I had to talk her out of quitting.

She kept getting frustrated.

The funny thing about her, she was good. She had the old socko. She started as a copy writer but before long she moved up into an executive spot, handling some of the smaller accounts.

By spring, though, she’d kind of settled down. There was a whole month, March, when she didn’t say a word about quitting. And meanwhile I kept seeing her a couple or three evenings a week.

We went dancing. We went to shows. We had dinners át homey restaurants, steak suppers in her apartment, long rides in the country on Sundays. It was a pretty good winter.

Of course it was still strictly business, still Bennet and Holcomb. But we were together a lot and every time I looked at her something happened in my throat.

THEN it was April. Grey skies all day and a black night. Rain spattering against the window of her apartment. She sat there curled up in a big chair and she had that look in her eye. I wondered what it was this time.

“Holcomb,” she said, “it’s no use. I’m going to quit.”

I looked sympathetic, the way I always did. “What’s wrong now?” She didn’t look at me. “For a while I thought it was going to be different. But it’s the same old blank wall.” She stared at the floor, twisting a handkerchief in her hands. “I feel so-so . . .” “Frustrated,” I said. “Yeah. Suppose you tell me.”

Rain made little ticking sounds on the window pane. She pulled at the handkerchief.

“It’s just no good. I’m going to quit and give my full time to the Committee. Elwood needs somebody to help him.”

My face got stiff. It was the first time she’d mentioned Elwood in a couple of months.

“Bennet,” I said, “don’t be a fool. What more do you want? You’ve got a nice apartment, a good job, everything. You just had a raise last week. What’s biting you?”

She looked at me. Her eyes were big and dark and unhappy. “It’s—you,” she said. It came out soft, a whisper. “I don’t know how to say it. But— you’re going to Montreal.”

I blinked. I swallowed a couple of times. I thought about it. I knew the Old Man was planning to open a Montreal branch, but it was a tossup whether I could do more good there or

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked. “It’s all over the office.”

I looked at her. I was thinking fast, and the more I thought the better it sounded. We’d been friendly enough all winter, we’d had a lot of fun together, but she hadn’t shown any signs of wanting to darn my socks. Now it looked like I was getting somewhere. But I played it cagey.

“Suppose I do go,” I said. “Why should it bother you?”

I held my breath, waiting. Julie pulled the handkerchief. Then she raised her eyes to mine. “Because,” she said. “I want to go.”

I started toward her. I opened my mouth to yell. Then she started talking again and I stopped and closed my mouth.

She said, “I should have known better than to expect anything. A mere woman. But I’ve been doing good work. I deserve the chance. I thought—”

She stopped. She was looking at me and she must have seen something in my face. I felt like the wrong end of a rabbit punch. Julie got up and came toward me and put her hand on my

“Holcomb,” she said, and her voice was earnest. “Don’t feel so bad about it. I’m not blaming you. It isn’t your fault. There’s nobody else I’d rather

She stopped again. I ran a finger around inside my collar. There was nobody else she’d rather see in Montreal. I hadn’t been doing so well after all.

I did some thinking. Me in Montreal. Julie working on her Committee —with Elwood. Maybe she didn’t intend to fall for the guy, but I knew her better than she did. In spite of the man-to-man stuff, Julie was all woman. And some day she’d wake up and realize it.

When she did, who’d be the first one she saw? Elwood.

And where would I be? Montreal.

I said, “Wait. Listen, Bennet! Don’t do anything rash.” My mind was coming out of storage. “Promise me one thing. Wait till it’s definite, will you?”

She said, “Well—”

“You’ve got a good job. The Old Man likes you. You’ve got a fine career ahead of you. Don’t kick it away until you’re sure.”

I walked home slowly in drizzling rain. Montreal, Julie. Elwood. Rain hit my face like little needles. It smelled like spring.

Rain. Montreal. Julie. There was only one answer. She had been doing good work. She deserved the chance.

I decided that, strictly for the best interests of the firm, I had to stay put.

IT WAS Sunday night. We’d spent the afternoon drifting here, drifting there, making all our old spots. Now we were sitting in our favorite restaurant. The same little tables, (he same shaded lamps, the same fiddler in shorts. I called him over and bought Liebestraum for a buck.

Julie said, “I can hardly believe it. It seems so sort of unreal.”

It was her last day, her bags were checked at the station; she had the tickets in her purse. Short of getting mail with a Montreal address I didn’t see how it could be any more real.

I was feeling pretty good. For a while there it had been close, but I’d done it. With Julie safe in Montreal, Elwood and the Committee would just have to struggle along. I was a brilliant guy. I’d found an answer to the Woman Question.

But it wasn’t all good. I looked across the table at Julie, dressed for traveling, and my throat kept getting tighter and the fiddle moaned, with tears and heartbreak. Liebestraum had been a bad buy.

Julie said, “I’m—going to miss you, Holcomb.”

“Uh,” I said. I kept reminding myself that there’d be a lot of space between her and Elwood.

The trouble was, there’d be a lot of space between her and me, too. I said, “Don’t forget to send in your

reports — in triplicate.”

She nodded. I looked at my watch. It was almost time. “And if you have any trouble, call me.”

She nodded again, twisting her glass around and around.

I said, “There’s nothing to be nervous about. You can handle it, Bennet. You’ve got what it takes.”

She didn’t answer. Her eyes looked around the room. Then, suddenly, she brightened up a little. She lifted a hand and waved at somebody behind me. “Elwood!” she cried. “Oh, Elwood !” That was all we needed. Elwood. I turned slow and looked. I blinked and looked again.

All I could do was gulp. He was a scrawny little character with a thin neck and a shiny bald head. He had a red bow tie. He had something else, too. He turned to bring her into it.

“My dear,” he said, “this is Mr. Holcomb—Mrs. Elwood.”

It rated another gulp. She was kind of round and kind of grey, with friendly blue eyes. She had a paper bag under one arm. She smiled at me and turned to Julie.

“We’re so glad for you, dear,” she said. “Aren’t we, Charles?”

“Yes, my dear.”

“Think of one of our own girls getting a chance like this!” Mrs. Elwood said. “Such an inspiration for the Movement. Isn’t it, Charles?”

He said, “Yes, indeed.” He blinked a few times and thought of a word for himself. “Marvelous,” he said.

I just stood there and watched the bottom fall out. This was what I drew for being a wise guy. I was brilliant, all right. I thought of all the trouble I’d gone to to get Julie away from Elwood and I stood there with knots in my tongue.

“You must write,” Mrs. Elwood said, “and tell us how you get along.” She set the bag on the table, pulled out a couple of socks and a needle and started darning. She smiled at Julie and me. It was a nice smile.

“I’m sure you’ll excuse me,” she said. “I have so little time. And Charles is so hard on socks.”

She and Elwood looked at each other and there was something in their eyes.

I began to like them. Socks or no socks, there was nothing frustrated about that woman.

All of a sudden I had to get out of there. I shoved back my chair. “Bennet,” I said, “I hate to break it up, but you’ve got a train to catch.”

We shook hands all around and I got her out and into a cab. There was a full moon for anybody who wanted to look at it.

We got to the station, got her bags, and walked slowly along the platform to her car. She held out her hand. “Well,” she said. “Good-by, Hol-

SOMEBODY was yelling “Boooard!” Julie put a foot in the car and turned back, looking at me. I shoved

my hands into my pockets and tried to grin.

Her face looked funny. She stepped back to the platform and started toward me.

“What’s the matter?” I said. “Forget something?”

She shook her head. Her eyes were wide with shadows. She said, “I.” She said, “Holcomb.” Then she said very fast, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going.”

Somebody yelled “Board!” again.

“What are you talking about?” I said. “This is your big chance. Of course you want to go.”

She shook her head again.

I said, “You’ve got to go. It’s your job.”

Her head kept going from side to side. “I don’t want the old job anyway,” she said. “I’ll quit. I’m not going.”

I’d had all I could take for one night.

I stared at her and I was mad. I let it go. I said, “Women!” I said, “Frustrated! No wonder you’re frustrated! Why don’t you try making up your

Her eyes were big and dark and a" tear was starting out of the left one. Now she was going to cry. Well, let her cry. All it made me was madder.

“You’re going,” I said, “if I have to pick you up and throw you onto this train. I talked myself blue to sell the Old Man on you and Montreal. If you think I’m going to let you back out

Her mouth had dropped open. She stared at me. Then she came to life. “You!” she said. “You did it?”

“Who else?”

The lips quivered. The tears spilled. She said “But—-but why? Why are you so anxious to get ruh-rid of me?”

I was mad enough to tell her. Where had strategy ever got me, anyway? “Why do you think? Why have I been chasing around after you all winter? Why did I get you the job in the first place?”

I glared at her and told her. “Because I love you, that’s why. Because I want to marry you. And I’m the hardest guy on socks you’ll ever meet, so go on to Montreal. Go start a Committee.”

Her eyes were wide, her mouth was open, the tears were gone. “But you never said anything!”

Somebody yelled “Board!” and meant it. The train began to move, slowly. I grabbed her and put her in the car and the porter caught her arm.

“After that first night?” I said. “I should stick my neck out?”

1 STARTED to walk, keeping pace with the train. Julie was crying again. She said, “I don't care about the socks. Oh, darling, I know now why I kept running from one job to another.

I know why I felt frustrated. I know what I was looking for.”

It was a fine time to find out. I started to trot to keep up. She leaned out and kissed me, quick, and the porter grabbed her and pulled her back. There was a lot of noise.

I raft a little faster. “Listen,” I yelled. “You mean you want to marry me?”

She nodded, crying.

I yelled, “I’ll fly to Montreal next week end For the wedding.”

She leaned far out, nodding and waving and the tears running down her cheeks.

An arm in a white coat reached out and pulled her back. I stood there watching a couple of red lights going away from me.

Julie was gone.

Even though I know I'd be flying to Montreal next week, there was only one word to fit how I felt,

I felt frustrated, ir

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THE MYTH OF VICTORIA, B.C.

By Bruce Hutchison

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