Some Violets Don't Shrink
MORT M. HOROWITZ
Remember the greatest moment of your life — your first dance date? Snubbed by the girl you loved, you asked Marjorie instead. She’d embarrass you for sure but you hoped you could head off disaster before the last waltz
THIS is not supposed to be a thing that happened to me that changed the course of my whole life. Anyway that would be impossible, because I don’t remember ever having any set course.
Neither is it important for me to say exactly how many years ago this was. I was 15 or 16 or 17 years old at the time. Something like that.
I breathed air that was delicious, and I could do anything I wanted to do, and there was nobody I was trying to impress. In a world that was bewildered and shaken, I alone was serene and infallible. While most people will resent such an attitude, I am certain if they had known me then, they would be convinced that it was so.
A girl named Sybil Bostwick first changed all this.
We used to walk home from school together every day. Actually, perhaps that is not exactly the way that it was. In retrospect now, I am able to see certain things which I either then chose to ignore, or just did not understand.
It is true enough that we used to walk home from school together. However, there are implications in such a situation which simply did not exist in ours. Sybil’s father was a doctor.
There is an attitude about doctors in small towns, and as a result of that attitude, and as a result of being the daughter of a physician, Sybil was pretty well up in the social strata of the town.
There was a new and exclusive residential section being built up a few blocks farther out than most of the houses had reached before, and it was in one of these shiny new red brick palaces that Sybil resided.
This very same section had previously been rather poor, respectable but poor, and one by one, most of the wooden homes on these streets had been torn down. As happens many times, two separate and distinct social colonies will exist and flourish side by side, although of course they will never merge.
Our house, which despite snow and rain and mortgages and great age, still stood, just happened to immediately adjoin the Bostwick home. I have dwelt on this point, but it is important.
SYBIL would come out of school with her crowd and I would come out of school with mine. Each group started out in their common direction, and one by one its members drifted off and went their separate ways. Sybil would walk with her group, until the last person had turned off, and then she continued the final few blocks by herself.
I underwent the same process with my group. So the way it always happened, at the moment when both of us had been left alone, Sybil was perhaps a block or a block and a half in front of me, both of us having perhaps five blocks to go from her starting point.
I would always catch her within half a block. The way I figured it, she knew perfectly well that I was behind her, but as she wouldn’t slow her pace until I could join her, I certainly wasn’t going to run after her. I was completely confident of my own virtues then and there was no one I was trying to impress.
So as I never allowed myself to break into a run, this entailed walking at a furious pace until I was just a few steps behind her. Then I would try to sidle up to her very casually, but I was always panting from my effort, and it was difficult to speak until I regained my breath.
It was a complicated little manoeuvre every day, but that was the way I walked home from school with Sybil Bostwick. You can see this is not exactly like walking home from school with girl, in all its magnificent ramifications, but at that time I was unaware of the difference.
Continued on page 38
Continued from page 11
ON THIS particular afternoon, which even now I remember so well, it was just 12 days to our school’s annual spring dance. From 10 days to two weeks was considered a respectable period of grace in which to ask a girl for a date for this dance. If a boy asked a girl and gave her more than two weeks’ notice, he either asked her because he knew she would refuse and he wanted plenty of time to ask another girl, or he was afraid some other fellow was going to ask her first, or he just wasn’t sure of himself all the way around.
No matter how you looked at it, a boy lost face by giving a girl more than two weeks. In the same way, a girl could not very well accept an invitation on less than 10 days’ notice. Calling a girl a week or eight or nine days before the dance was just like saying you had been turned down every place else and you had been saving her for last, or you didn’t care particularly whether she went with you or not.
Mostly it was all cut and dried, because couples who had been paired off together all season long knew they would go with one another, and immensely popular girls like Sybil, who preferred to free-lance, knew they would pick the most promising of the dozen or so invitations they would get, and fellows like myself, with no steady girls, and little likelihood of being chosen by one of the most sought after girls, usually went stag.
Of course, I didn’t realize all this then. At that time, as I have said, I felt that there was nothing I could not do. So getting back to this particular afternoon of the twelfth day before the spring dance, I think if records are kept anywhere of beautiful days, that one stands out as a world beater.
I don’t mean on a weatherman’s chart, where the temperature and the humidity are supposed to establish some kind of a mean. I mean if there were some way of recording a day’s emotional content that this one would stand out.
It was the kind of spring day, it seemed to me then, where you can not only breathe and feel the goodness in the air, you can taste it and smell it and walk on it and smile back at it and grasp it in your fingers and roll it in your palms.
So you understand now that on such a day I was walking home from school with Sybil Host wick, and there were 12 days to go to the spring dance. And you understand how I felt then, that someone had built the world just for me to walk through in the spring and have a good time in, and that this was good and right and just.
And there was nobody I was trying to impress.
I had chosen this twelfth day in advance to ask Sybil to go to the dance with me, simply out of deference to her. Feeling as confident as I did, it had never occurred to me that there would ever be something I wanted that I couldn’t have.
With this kind of an attitude, I certainly couldn’t ask her the full two weeks in advance. Somehow I felt that would be lowering myself. But here we had been walking home from school together all year every day for practically five full blocks, and there were all those things between us that two people will have in similar circumstances.
What I mean is somewhat hazy to me now, but I was positive then that there was some relationship in our association, and I could have described it perfectly. Sybil was a handsome girl with black hair and ringlets that jostled against each side of her forehead as she walked, and sea-blue eyes that used to give me an odd, painful feeling whenever she turned them
I wanted to fight somebody, or shout or jump, or run down the street and race back to her like a puppy dog. The peculiar thing about this effect was that it so numbed me, I never quite realized all I really wanted to do, when she looked at me, was to take her in my arms and kiss her and stroke the ringlets out of her eyes.
Anyway, feeling that way about her, I didn’t want to make her wait until just 10 days before the dance. I wanted her to know I cared for her in a sort of special way, even above merely asking her to go with me.
So that was why I picked this particular day.
1CAME up alongside of her, panting a little, and she turned her eyes qn me apathetically. You understand that I am reconstructing all this, to the best of my recollection, exactly as it happened, but when 1 understand something that happened then in a better light, as of now, I am giving you the benefit of this present-day understanding.
But mostly, this is just the way that it happened. I am not making it up as I go along. So when I say now that she looked at me apathetically, that is something I have divined at this date.
Then, on that day of magic, I was just as sure it was something like love in her eyes. Anyway, being that I was panting from having walked that last half block so fast, and being that it was difficult for me to speak when she looked at me that way, it was another half block before I could say anything.
I was in no hurry, and there was nobody I wanted to impress. We still had four blocks to go.
I usually trusted my instinct in these situations. I don’t believe I had ever before consciously thought out approaches to opening a conversation. But in this half block of stony silence I found myself trying and discarding opening lines.
“Gonna be some dance this year. ’ The general approach.
“Made any date for the dance?” The wary approach.
“How’s a6out you and me for the dance?” The direct approach.
Unwittingly, as soon as my breath came back, I blurted out something that sounded like, “Ulp—
Sybil looked at me and frowned. “What?”
“Didn’t you say something?”
“I didn’t say anything. What would
“I don’t know, it just sounded as though you said something.”
When we got that off our chests, there were just three blocks to go, and we were closing fast. There was a tacit understanding about when we reached the porch of her house. She would go up the steps and call, “Good night.”
I would then say either, "So long,” or “See you tomorrow,” or something like that. We had it pretty well systematized. So I knew there would be no dallying when we got to her porch. I had to do it in these next three blocks. “I’ve been thinking about the dance I could feel the cold water over my head as I took the plunge. “I want to take you to the dance, Sybil.” I just kept walking and turned to gaze at her fondly and give her the benefit of my personality.
It was when I had turned and there was no one at my side, Sybil having completely disappeared, that I first thought to look back. Evidently she was so shocked at my asking her that she had stopped short and was now standing still several steps to my rear.
As we had never before so much as lost a footstep in our journeys home, for some reason her stopping now pleased me. I chose to interpret it as a sign in my favor.
Sybil pulled herself together then and we continued at a brisk pace. “I think Eddie Conners is taking me,” she
“What do you mean, you think Eddie Conners is taking you?”
“Well, he’s probably waiting for the last minute, but he’s going to ask me all right.”
I was stunned. If it were not for the fact t)iat Sybil kept walking relentlessly, I would have wanted to stagger around a bit. Eddie Conners wasn’t anybody at all. He wasn’t on the football team any more than I was. He wasn’t even as tall as I was, or at the most, he was maybe an inch or so taller than I was.
“You mean that he hasn’t even asked you yet, and I have asked you already, and you are going to wait for him to ask you anyway?”
I was wondering whether Sybil didn’t belong in some sort of institution, “he’ll ask me all right.” She was evading the question.
“Well, suppose he doesn’t ask you at all? Will you go with me then?”
We. were at her porch by this time and she ran up the stairs a little faster than usual. “You better get some other girl. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
WHEN she was gone, I realized her last line was meant to be a concession. Instead of just saying good night she was telling me she would see me tomorrow. Actually, she was sort of looking forward to seeing me tomorrow.
I was still stricken. She would rather have a chance to accept Eddie Conners, if and when he asked her, than have a sure thing in me.
I also understood that from now on it must be different between us. How would it be? Would I lag behind her for those five blocks purposely, from now on, to avoid walking with her? Would we ever speak again?
It was still a beautiful day, but my whole life, my whole proper little niche, all of my tomorrows, were unsettled.
I didn’t let it throw me right away. Sybil was about the only girl in school I had ever spoken to away from school. She was the only one, really, whom I could logically ask to go with me.
But I figured there were at least a dozen girls I could ask. There wasn’t anything, or at least there wasn’t anything very much, that I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it.
It was too early to try out for the football team, but the baseball team was working out every day. That next afternoon I avoided the problem of walking home with Sybil. I tried out for the baseball team.
“You’re awfully little,” the coach
“Little!” I shouted at him. “Me little!” I thought he was crazy.
He gave me a bat and told me to hit a few. One of the substitutes on the team threw them in to me. I didn’t like baseball. I’d never played baseball. I knew I could do it all right, I’d just never put my mind to it before.
I didn’t even swing at the first two balls the substitute threw in. I can’t say that I know this for certain, but I have an idea now that they came perfectly straight across the plate, about waist-high.
I let them go past me, to thud against the wire backstop. “Get them over,” I called out to the substitute. “You afraid to throw me one I can hit?”
I swung at his third pitch. I-brought the bat away around from behind my shoulders, and swung out straight in a beautiful rhythmical swing, and I followed through on the stroke at the ball, and I remember thinking ini' that second that no one had ever hit a baseball this far.
They probably would never find this ball again. I would drive it out past the city dump.
Then I heard another thud, and I looked down and the ball had gone past me, into the backstop. I hadn’t touched it at all. The coach wasn’t even watching any more, and the substitute had stalked off the mound.
I didn’t care any more, because I knew I could hit a baseball farther than anyone else in the world, but I wasn’t going to beg them to let me show them.
I didn’t even care about playing baseball. There was nobody I wanted to impress.
I knew I was going to that spring dance, all right, and I wasn’t going stag, either. The next afternoon I didn’t walk with Sybil. I didn’t mean to punish her, but I just had other things to do.
I had to hire a tuxedo for the dance. Some very few of the feiiows had their own tuxedos, and most of the fellows used their dads’ tuxedos, but for the others there was only one place in town that rented tuxedos.
IT WAS a place called “SAM’S— EXPERT TAILORING — TUXEDOS FOR HIRE,” run by an old man everybody called Sam. I don’t think anyone ever knew his last name. He always talked to you with pins in his mouth, and there was always a piece of white chalk in his hand.
When I told him what I wanted, he looked at me kind of funny. “You’re so little, I don’t think I can fit you. Unless I take in a pair of pants for you, maybe.”
I’d never realized until then that Sam was a little out of his mind, practically a maniac. “Little!” I shouted at him. “Me little!” I stomped around the shop, which smelled of the big steam presser, and I wanted to throw something.
“I’ll show you,” Sam said. He held a pair of pants up to my waist. “This is the smallest I got.” The pants drooped down over my shoe tops. “Also,” Sam added, “I will have to do some work on the coat, so you can bring out from the sleeves your arms. This will cost a little extra.”
I was in a bad humor when I left
The next day I just didn’t happen to see Sybil after school because I had something very important to do. I had to order a corsage for the night of the dance. Miss Reed, the florist, asked me, “To whom shall I send it?”
“I’ll let you know,” I said. Actually,
I didn’t have the slightest idea, but I was sure I could ask any number of girls to go with me.
“What do you mean, you’ll let me know?” Miss Reed asked.
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll check on it. You just have it ready. I'll let you know all right.”
Miss Reed set her lips like she disapproved, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t trying to impress Miss Reed.
So the way that it was after that, I was all set. I had everything I needed. All the arrangements made. There remained just the very simple matter ¡ of inviting any one of dozens of girls to go with me.
This simple matter, of course, was the nub. The very core. The baseball was really unimportant. I could play the silly game or not. There was nothing I could not do if I set my mind to it.
As for the tuxedo, it was not my fault about Sam. The man was making a living. In his hands a needle and thread were a pair of sheep shears, but the man was supporting himself. He wasn’t a public charge.
And Miss Reed, too, probably had years of useful service before her. That she chose to become a florist, rather than a butcher’s wife, was her own flight of fancy. To me, none of all that mattered.
But my getting a girl for the dance was different. This I had to give everything I had. So the next day I did not walk home with Sybil, either. I walked home with Marjorie Hatch.
When a fellow asked a girl to the dance, who was in a lower form than he was, he usually took the attitude that he couldn’t stand any of the girls in his own form, and besides, this particular girl he was taking was going to develop into a raving beauty in another year anyway, and he was just reserving her.
Marjorie Hatch, of course, was in a lower form than I was. She was much shorter than I was, too. We had never spoken to each other outside of school before, but I knew there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it, so I asked her to go to the dance with me.
She was stunned at first, but in a different way than Sybil, and then she said it was all right with her, but I’d have to ask her father. “What do you want me to ask him for? I don’t expect him to come with us.” I was annoyed at these small details that kept popping up and getting in my way.
“I’ve never been out with a boy before, and if you want me to go with you, you’ll just have to ask poppa first.”
Marjorie Hatch was about 15, a gangling sort of girl, with a round prim face. She had blond hair, however, and the reason I’d chosen her was that from the back, just seeing her hair, a person might have thought she’d be pretty.
There were dozens of other girls I could have taken, but I told Marjorie I would call on her father that evening. One girl was a lot like another and there was no one I wanted to impress.
Mr. Hatch, who by his own description was a minister but a broadminded minister, seated me in a straight-backed chair across the way from him. This was in the Hatch living room, and Mr. Hatch sprawled back in an easy chair, with his hands sort of fondling his middle, the finger tips pressed against each other like we were getting ready for evening prayer.
There was a small end table alongside his chair with a family Bible on it. On the great couch, at right angles to us, sat Mrs. Hatch, a prayer book in one hand and Marjorie’s hand in the other. Marjorie sat stiffly, with her head bowed and her eyes glazed. There were three cushions to this couch, and the two Mrs. Hatch and Marjorie occupied were sunk down, but the third one at the end of the couch was puffed up and forbidding, like there was a rope across it and it was waiting to bite anybody who tried to sit down on it.
“I believe devoutly, as does Mrs. Hatch, in young people having a good time,” the minister said.
I was not impressed, but I wanted to give him every chance.
“Healthy pursuits,” he continued, “are vital to the molding of young minds."
“Sure,” I said. “Sure.” I certainly wished Marjorie would say something
Mr. Hatch sprang out of his seat then, scaring me so badly that I almost toppled the straight chair over backward. “Just where do you wish to take my daughter?” he demanded. I realize now that he was a kindly man, who carried his pulpit about with him willynilly, but it was certainly hard on me at the time.
“It’s only a dance!” I yelled at him. “The whole school’s going, and all everybody’s gonna do is dance!” I was shaking a good bit, and Mrs. Hatch got up and patted me on the shoulder.
Mr. Hatch smiled at me then, and I guessed everything was all right. “Now that we’ve settled that,” Mr. Hatch spoke to Marjorie, but he sort of grinned sideways at me, “Marjorie, dear, perhaps you’d like to ask your young friend to stay and pray with us awhile.”
Marjorie gave a short snicker and Mrs. Hatch beamed and passed out the prayer books and there we were. The minister pressed something in the wall and an organ popped out, and with absolutely no prearranged signals of any kind they started singing “God will watch o’er thee, o’er all the way, through all the day.”
Mrs. Hatch had a harmless voice, deep for a woman, and her husband’s was ruggedly restrained, not bothering you too much the way it was, but planting in the back of your mind the idea that he could go off at any time and deafen you with a well-placed note.
But that Marjorie. She was a quiet girl, almost belligerently constrained, if you can imagine such a thing, and I guess all her life, all her energies had been poured into that one channel, the family evening prayer meetings. From hearing her bellow “Ruler of the storm was He, on the raging Galilee,” I was amazed that she had strength every day to get back and forth to school.
I was amazed that we all hadn’t heard her every night all these years at my house, which was only a half mile or so away.
When I left, Marjorie squeezed my hand, and her palm was all sticky and moist. Mrs. Hatch kissed me on my hair and the minister gave me a prayer book for my very own. They were kind and decent people, the Hatches, and I often wonder what became of them.
I do not include Marjorie in this, because I know pretty well what must have happened to her. I imagine she was confined shortly after reaching adulthood, as a public menace because of what she would do to people’s ears, once she was turned loose.
She was turned loose the night of the dance all right; though for a while she was fairly quiet. For a short time nobody even noticed us. Eddie Conners was there with Sybil, and you’d have thought everybody would scream at the way his tuxedo fit, his legs being barely able to reach the ground, but none of them noticed.
EACH couple was something of a separate little island. Marjorie and I were a desert island. We only danced in one small corner, and I kept her with her face to the wall for as long as I could. We made a sort of tableau,
I figured, and anybody that dirl happen to notice would just see me, and the back of the head of what might have been a pretty blonde.
I was safe as long as Marjorie stayed by the wall.
“Where’d you learn to dance?” she asked me once.
“I taught myself.”
She said, “Oh,” and for some reason I resented her tone.
I still think everything would have gone along fairly well. I figured to make sun? Sybil saw me a few times, l every time she and Eddie danced past us I nestled down against Marjorie, covering her face, and running my fingers through her hair.
I couldn’t be sure whether Sybil noticed or not, but one time Eddie Conners traced the trail of my fingers with his eyes, and I told myself he looked hungry.
But then somebody got them to singing. It was getting late and everyone was having a wonderful time, and they turned the lights down low, and then somebody started singing. They went from one song to another. Sentimental songs.
“Let me Call You Sweetheart.” Things like that. Marjorie took off very slowly at first. Just a mild hum. I nudged her. “Down, Marjorie,” 1 snapped. The response was good, and she piped down and gave no sign of wanting to leave our corner.
Then she got to mumbling the words. “My Darling.” “It’s Only A Paper Moon.” “Japanese Sandman.” She started very softly. “Okay if you’ll keep it quiet,” I whispered.
I was living dangerously. I was playing with a short fuse around a 16inch cannon. “They’re singing,” she croaked. Our corner couldn’t hold her for long.
There were some things I couldn’t do, all right. I couldn’t shrink up and vanish like a puff of smoke. I couldn’t put a bullet through my brain.
“Okay,” I said. “Get in there,” I said. “Give it everything you’ve got.”
She looked up at me funny like, the way a puppy looks when you take off his leash in the park, and I knew they were going to get it good. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t do if I put m\ mind to it, and I guess my girl mad the most noise at that dance, all right
She dragged me right out with her, onto the centre of the floor. I had to stand next to her, while she clenched my hand in her grubby little fist, ar.d they turned the spotlights on us, and Marjorie bellowed like a sick calf.
In the Hatch living room, with just the family and myself, it had sounded loud, but here in a large room, where the notes could get loose and stretch until they bounced against the faraway walls, the effect was stupendous.
Marjorie wasn’t loud, she was an earthquake. The floor shook, and I was afraid blood might rush out of my ears. “It’s Marjorie Hatch,” I heard somebody say in a second that Marjorie quieted to suck in air.
“Who’s that with her?” came next, and I sort of drew myself up.
They say there never was a spring dance like that one. It sounded more like a livestock show. Overnight. Marjorie Hatch became a celebrity, and everywhere people were pointing me out as the little guy who took her to the dance.
THE following Sunday, when it was rumored her father was going to let her lead the choir after his sermon, Reverend Hatch’s church was filled to overflowing.
The big thing was that I could be the greatest man in the world, but that wouldn't matter to all the people in this town at all. If Marjorie hadn't torn down the housethat night, they’d never even have noticed us.
Maybe at one time or another they all had the same idea about themselves That they could lxthe greatest man or the greatest woman in the world But it really didn't matter in the long run. And I got to kiss Marjorie Hatch go»xl night, too, my first girl on my first date and I got her to kiss me gixxl night.
Ko that’s why even now I sometimes figure there’s nothing in this world I can’t really do, so long as I pul my mind to it. Until I remember Sybil Bostwick And even then, I'm not sun;.