Authors: Lee Hays
Barbara was saying, “Yes, Jess and a couple of the others might like to go skiing. They could come up, after, as long as he won’t be there. Maybe. Okay, sure.”
From the hall Jessica watched compassionately; Barbara’s relationship with her mother was an old story.
After exchanging greetings with Clare, Patrick and Phyllis pushed past Jessica into the hall where Barb turned her back and lowered her voice to finish her conversation with her mother. Upstairs the attention was turned to the young couple standing in the doorway as Patrick called outside.
“Hey, wait up, Chris. I’ll give you a ride.”
“Keep it down, will you,” Barb said. “I can’t hear myself think.”
Through the mirror she watched Patrick take Phyllis into his arms and kiss her passionately, running his hands down her back and into her slacks. She wriggled for a moment, then pulled away in mock anger.
“What’s the matter? Why don’t you ever take me seriously?”
“Because you’re an idiot. What will Barb think?”
“That I’m sexy.”
“Yeah. A sexy idiot. Now beat it.”
He grimaced as he said, “I guess I’ll have to.” Then, laughing at his own bad joke he attempted to put his arms around her again.
Firmly she said, “Goodbye, Patrick!” She closed the door in his face and turned to Barbara saying, “A madman with a one-track mind. Excuse me.”
“That’s all right. I’m just hanging up.” Together the two girls went back into the living room as upstairs the figure moved softly into one of the bedrooms.
A cat, sitting on the bed, licking its fur, looked up at the intrusion and scampered away and down the hall. The room was dim but not totally in blackness as one bedside lamp, left on to keep the cat company, burned beside a framed photograph, brown with age, of two young girls dressed theatrically and standing beside a placard on an easel that read, MacHENRY SISTERS—SONG AND DANCE.
Between the lamp and the picture was a telephone, and on the window next to the table, frilly curtains stirred slightly from a breeze that came through the small opening where the window had been cracked to allow a little fresh air into the overheated room. Carefully the figure looked about, then sat on the bed.
Nasty Billy. Just because I liked her hair. I didn’t do anything wrong. It isn’t fair. Why don’t you let me alone? I promise I won’t, but don’t make me do it. Please don’t make me do that. It hurts and I can’t breathe. Oh, please, please stop. Stop!
Carrying the telephone to its place on the table just inside the door of the living room, Barbara looked annoyed. The chattering of the other three girls, Phyllis, Jessica and Clare was irksome, but she finished her drink and then crossed the room, interrupting their conversation.
To Jess she said, “You feel like going skiing for a few days?”
Uncomfortable, Jess looked at Phyl, then ducked her head, saying, “Sure, Barb, Why not? When?”
“Uh, two or three days. My mother has taken a place up at Mount Holly. Then she’s going . . . on a trip. Anybody else want to come? We can make a party out of it.”
After an awkward pause, Phyl said, “I will, Barb. Sure.”
“Great.” Almost defiantly she said to Clare who was passing by her on the way to the kitchen with several glasses and a dirty ashtray, “Who else? How about you, Clare?”
“Thanks, Barb, but I’ve made other plans.”
“Christmas, sure. But the whole vacation? For a couple of days. We won’t corrupt you.”
Clare smiled. “I’m sure you won’t. But I can’t. My father is picking me up tomorrow and then he’s driving me home. It will be a big family thing.”
“For the whole two weeks?”
“More or less. I’ve got lots of relatives nearby. Thank you, really, Barb. I mean it. But I can’t.”
Irritated by the refusal, although Clare was not being unpleasant, Barb poured herself another drink, added ice and said, “It won’t cost anything.”
“No. I think my parents,” she hesitated a moment, “want me to spend the whole holiday with them.” She turned and went through the door that led to the kitchen.
When she was gone and the door had closed, Barbara said, “There goes the only broad in the whole school whose parents sent her here because it’s supposed to be a religious college. Hah! If they only knew.”
There was an embarrassed silence, a long, awkward moment that was finally broken by the ringing of the telephone. Jess stood up quickly, saying, “I’ll get it. It’s probably Peter.”
She picked up the phone, saying, “Hello.” When there was no sound from the other end of the line she repeated, “Hello? Hello!”
She was about to hang up when she heard a moaning sound from the other end of the line. She covered the receiver with her hand and called over to the others, “Hey, quiet. It’s him again. The moaner.”
She held the phone up and Phyl and Barb hurried across the room, gathering in a semi-circle to listen.
There was another moan, a low, wailing sound that suggested a wounded animal. At the same time each of the girls felt another thing, too, a kind of creeping of the flesh caused by an insane sexuality about the cry, as though the animal-human were in some sort of orgiastic death-throes. It was chilling and disgusting but so fascinating that none of them, including Clare, who had just come in from the kitchen, could tear themselves away.
Suddenly the moaning stopped and the caller launched into a series of strange voices, calling out as if in a nightmare, twisted, bent, revolting.
“Don’t do that to me. Not that. Do you hear me, I can’t stand it.” Then his voice changed and it was almost as if another person was present, a woman whose sharpness was the antithesis of his orgasmic moaning and vocal writhing. “Nasty Billy. Don’t ever do that again. This will teach you. Do you hear me. What you did was bad. You’re bad, bad, nasty Billy.”
What had been almost humorous to them up until now took on a new shape and form. It was a genuine psychotic who was on the telephone, of that they were all sure. There was no way to feel pity for the disturbed being at the other end of the line, only fear and loathing.
All of them were frightened, genuinely frightened, but it was Barbara who covered it up the best.
Contempuously she said, “He’s expanded his act. Mr. Porno himself. What a sicko.”
Clare said, “Could that be one person?”
As Barb took the phone from Jessica’s hand she said, “One person? No, Clare, that’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with their Annual Christmas Obscene Phone Call and Financial Appeal. Shall we hear more?”
“Sh!” Phyl said.
Barb shrugged. “The girl wants to hear more. Maybe it’s the way Patrick sounds when they’re alone.”
“Knock off the wisecracks, Barb.”
Before they could continue their argument the caller began a stream of invectives, so graphic and so vulgar that even Barbara was nonplussed. She was about to hang up when the words stopped and the mad moaning began anew, this time even more intense and ugly.
She had just had enough to drink, she was just angry enough at her mother and just upset enough by the caller that she could not control herself. Pulling the phone to her head she screamed into it, “Listen you pervert, you sicko fag or whatever you are, why don’t you call the Lamba Chi’s. They’re so uptight they could use a little of this.”
There was a nervous giggle from Clare and Phyllis while Jessica tried to wrest the phone from Barbara’s hand. The caller on the other end of the line was silent and this seemed to provoke Barbara more.
“You creep. You stinking little creep. You get your rocks off scaring girls on the phone. You’d probably run the other way if you met a real woman. What’s the matter, can’t you get it up!”
The silence at the other end held for a moment, then a quiet, low, sickening voice replied evenly, “I’m going to kill you.”
The girls looked to one another and then Barbara, in a mixture of fear and revulsion, said in a cold, vicious voice, “Why don’t you find a wall socket and stick your
in it. That’ll give you a charge, you creep!”
The line went dead in her hand and she looked at the other girls who stood shocked and stunned while she put the receiver back on the cradle.
“Super tongue,” Phyl said, referring to Barbara, “strikes again.”
Flippantly Barbara replied, “Fastest tongue in the west. In or out of wall sockets.”
“God, how disgusting,” Jess said. “That was really sick.”
“What I said. A real sicko. I’m going to have another drink.”
“I don’t think you should provoke somebody like that, Barb,” Clare said.
“Are you kidding? In the city I get about two of those a day. This guy’s a busher, strickly minor league. Christ, what does he know about fancy—”
Clare interrupted her. “All the same, a couple of weeks ago a girl in town was raped.”
“Clare. You can’t
There was a pause before Clare said, “You really are too much.”
Defensively Barbara replied, “Listen, kid, this is a sorority house. Like I told dear old mom, it’s not a convent!”
Mildly annoyed but determined not to get into a further argument with Barbara who she could tell had had too much to drink too fast, Clare said, “I’ve got to pack. See you later.”
When she was gone Jess gave Barbara an angry look and followed Clare into the hall, stopping her at the foot of the stairs.
“Clare,” she called. “Don’t pay any attention to her. Come on, she didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I know. It’s just Barb. Only sometimes I get tired of the needle, that’s all. But I’m not angry or hurt, really. It’s okay, honest. I just have to finish packing.”
Jessica watched her walk up the stairs before she moved back to the other room. Barbara was at the bar and Jess went to her saying, “Hasn’t she had enough trouble fitting in here without you getting at her all the time?”
“I know a professional virgin when I see one.”
“Sure. She’s always advertising her wares. Something to sell—for marriage. That’s why she advertises. And speaking of professionals, not the virginal kind, however—here comes the Queen of Vaudeville. Circa eighteen sixty-one or thereabouts.” In a loud voice, trumpeting she said, “Ta-daaaaaaa.”
At Barbara’s announcement they all turned to watch Mrs. MacHenry, their house mother, come bustling into the room carrying an armload of packages. A woman in her late fifties, she dressed as though she was thirty. No doubt it was due to her theatrical upbringing, for it was her room in which the picture of the two girls sat, said picture being of her and her deceased sister. Myrtle and Maude McHenry had been a third-rate vaudeville act which had toured the country. Third-rate or not, they had found work for a number of years before motion pictures successfully retired them and in an alcoholic haze she saw those years as being far better, more glamorous and more prosperous than they had really been. So she lived in the past while at the same time playing sycophant to all of “her girls,” as she called them, as well as to the college authorities.
She always seemed to have a smile and good word, though under her breath but just loud enough to hear if the listener were not a threat she would comment disparagingly on all the world and all that took place in it. She was concerned with propriety and proper conduct, but it was a surface concern. She really could not have cared less what the girls under her charge did—as long as there were no scandals or repercussions. In other words, she got along with everyone in order not to jeopardize her comfortable existence.
She made, from time to time, a great fuss about the rules, but it was a game that the girls soon caught onto; mostly they played along with her. Smiling and fawning to one and all she secretly detested almost everyone in the college and all of the girls in the sorority house. Her words were often clever and biting but she was usually careful not to go too far. Her drinking was well-known by the girls and they took pleasure in trying to catch her at it. She was really ingenious at hiding her bottles of sherry and nipping at them when no one was looking.
“Looks like Santa’s here,” Barb said.
“Where’ve you been, Mrs. Mac?” Jess asked.
“Shopping! Last minute shopping. Serves me right for waiting. Oh, my God, the people who are buyers for these shops must take tacky lessons. I’ve never seen such garbage in all my life. And the prices . . .” She raised her eyes to the heavens in a practised vaudeville gesture.
Jessica and Phyllis took the packages from her hands and put them on a nearby table. Barbara handed her a glass of eggnog and said, “Well, drink this down. We apologize, there’s a bit of alcohol in it. Not much, of course. Just to keep us warm. We know you can’t approve.”
“Well, just this once, since it’s Christmas, the season to be jolly and friendly and all of that.”
As Mrs. Mac gulped down the drink, Barbara said, “Speaking of that, we just had best wishes from old St. Nick himself and all his bloody reindeer.”
“Huh, what’s that, dear?”
“Oh, nothing important. Just our gentleman caller going ‘ho-ho-ho’ for the benefit of one and all. I invited him over but he said he had other stops to make first with little bits of happiness for all and sundry.”
“Oh, God, Barbara, will you stop!” Jessica pleaded.
“Okay, but what d’ya say? Shall we give Mrs. Mac her present?”
“I should get Clare.”
“She’s packing, remember. Come on, I want to see her face. And maybe she’ll wear it tonight, model it for us.”
So as Clare, upstairs, prepared to pack for her journey the next day, the party downstairs picked up, growing noisy enough so that she would not be heard when she most needed to be.
Clare, as she moved across her room toward the closet where her suitcase was sitting on the floor ready to be packed, noticed an object on her bed. She switched on the light and Claude, Mrs. Mac’s cat, looked up lazily, stretched his hind legs and rolled his shoulders suggestively.
“There you are, Claude. Mrs. Mac’s been looking all over for you. She thought you’d run away.”
She picked up the cat and was allowed by an indifferent Claude to cradle it in her arms for a moment before he leaped away and began to prowl the room. Clare shrugged and reached into the closet, dragging the suitcase to her bed where she lifted and opened it preparatory to putting in the clothes that were already stacked on the far end of the bed. Claude had been sleeping on them. Once the small things were packed she flipped the center divider and went to the closet to get out her dresses, opening the door wider. From downstairs she could hear the shrieks of the girls and Mrs. Mac, and she divined that they were giving her that absurd present, the one that she had been opposed to their buying.