Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"A Town Called Disdain", Episode 17: Hope

Let us return to the Johnstone Ranch (just a short drive from a town called Disdain) and to the mysterious and lovely Daphne Ridpath (AKA "Smith")...

(Go here to see our previous episode, or click here to return to the beginning of this first-ever uncut and unexpurgated edition of Larry Winchester's long-out-of print cult classic. "I'm so glad this new edition is being made available. My Scotch-taped-up old Gold Medal paperback has sure seen better days!" -- Cormac McCarthy)


She woke up because she was dreaming she was at Miss Porter’s again, except she was grown up because she kept flunking and had never been allowed to graduate (which had almost been the case).

She was in French class and she really had to take a pee but Mademoiselle Louchette made you say everything in French or she would ignore you, and Daphne couldn’t remember how to say she had to go to the lavatory. She was thinking she had to use the subjunctive, which was simply impossible. And then she woke up.

It was night somewhere and she hadn’t the faintest idea where she was. She sat up.

There was Dick, thank God. He was on his back completely passed out. She tried lifting up one of his arms and it fell heavily back to the bed.

She was naked. She didn’t know where her clothes were, she didn’t know where the bathroom was, but she really had to go, and right now.

There was some starlight coming through a couple of windows with gauzy blowing curtains, and as she blinked and looked around she saw a door beneath a small glowing crucifix.

She got out of bed and went to the door. She staggered slightly, although she didn’t feel in the least bit drunk any more. It was just hard to walk for some reason.

She opened the door and saw this old-looking corridor. There was a lit wall lamp in some old yellow fixture. There must be a bathroom on this floor somewhere, and if it was it was probably down at one end or the other. At any rate she determined to find a bathroom, come hell or high water. The house was deathly quiet so she decided not to look for clothes but just go. And as she weaved down the corridor, very gradually finding her sea legs, she realized that this must be that Big Jake’s house. Okay then.

Sure enough the door down at the end on the left was a bathroom, and she sat down just in time, without bothering to close the door or put the light on, and she peed and peed. It was great, and it took so long she sort of wished she had a cigarette while she was doing it.

It took so long that she looked at her thighs in the starlight that came through a window and a skylight, and felt herself for fat, and also twisted her head so she could look down at the side of her bottom, and she felt that too. It was okay but not great. She had gotten that Miss Craig’s 21-Day Shape-Up Program for Men and Women even though Dick had scoffed, and she would have to crack it open soon. She felt her breasts to see if they were saggy at all, and she wondered if they had a tennis court here, or a swimming pool, but then she thought, oh, horses, of course, now there’s a good exercise, riding those big beasts.

Finally the peeing stopped, and she was just about to reach for the toilet paper when this odd light shone through the skylight.

Everything was very still.

She looked up and then suddenly there was this tremendous great flash of light that just made everything white, and she looked down and she could see through the skin of her body to the veins and muscles and bones like one of those pictures in an encyclopedia.

She closed her eyes and she could see through the eyelids, right through the little veins, and then everything disappeared except the whiteness, and she got a funny feeling down through her spine like when she was a little kid on a swing and she had swung up really high, and she was just about to swing down again, and then there came a sound like a heavy wind, and the light was gone, and she opened her eyes and it was just as if someone had popped a flashbulb in her face.

Now what was that all about, she thought, as her eyes adjusted to the bathroom’s returned starlit dimness. She was sure she hadn’t taken any LSD the night before. But perhaps she had overdone it a bit during that long car trip.

Finally she could see well enough to reach for the toilet paper again, and as she did a sort of ethereally beautiful girl of about seventeen or eighteen in a long sangria-colored nightgown appeared in the doorway of the bathroom.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the girl.

But she didn’t look away or leave. She just stood there.

“My fault,” said Daphne. “I should’ve closed the door.”

She wiped herself with the toilet paper, and the silly little bitch just stood there looking at her. She was quite small and pale with long black hair and sad dark eyes. Quite pretty really if you went for that look. Didn’t seem to have much breasts or hips to speak of. But she did have those eyes which seemed to grow larger by the second, and these quite sensuous full lips that Daphne immediately envied.

“I was scared,” said the girl.

Daphne got up, looked for the toilet handle, then saw it was one of those handle-and-chain affairs. She gave it a good yank and the toilet flushed with this absolutely unnerving racket.

“Didn’t you see it?” said the girl.

“See what?” said Daphne. She went to the sink. The tap handles squeaked when she turned them, and the water just sort of belched angrily out of the spigots.

“That -- that light,” said the girl.

Ivory soap. Daphne would have to bring her Neutragena in here. And of course take it out with her after each use.

“Didn’t you see that light?” said the girl.

“Oh. Yeah. Thought it was just me. You know, a little bit too much partaken last night.”

“No! I saw it too! It woke me up!”

“Well, don’t you worry, sweety, it was probably just a --” A what? “-- a comet or something.”

“It was not a comet.”

Daphne realized now that she was horribly thirsty, but she was dubious of the little Archie and Veronica glass in the metal holder above the sink. She cupped her hands under the cold water tap (not that the hot water tap produced water much different in temperature) and drank a bit. It tasted funny, like clams and damp cotton.

She could see the earnest almost opalescent face of the girl in the mirror.

The towel looked clean, and Daphne dried her hands and lips.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, but I am quite starkers at the moment and it is just a teeny bit chilly tonight.”

“You have a beautiful body.”

“Oh. Do you think so?”

Daphne was always ready to drop everything for a compliment. She looked down at herself. True, not bad, especially when compared to a waif-like creature like this kid.

“You have such beautiful breasts,” said the girl.

“Oh, thank you so much for saying so.”

Daphne touched their undersides with her fingers.

“My husband’s always saying, ‘Get pregnant!’ but I can just see these turning into great floppy water balloons.”

“I don’t think they will.”

The girl came softly forward, floating in that lacy shiny nightgown, and she put her hands on Daphne’s hands. She had an almost birdlike touch. But this was getting far too weird. Daphne slipped her own hands down to the girl’s wrists, her fingers easily went all the way around them, and she gently but firmly lowered the girl’s hands to her side.

“I’m sorry,” said the girl, and she looked up at Daphne with those great oval dark eyes. “You’re just so beautiful.”

“Thank you darling but now I simply must return to bed. I am ready to drop with sleepiness.”

“Okay.”

She didn’t move, so Daphne stepped around her.

“My name is Hope,” said the girl.

Daphne turned.

“Hi, Hope. I’m Daphne.”

“Hi, Daphne.”

Daphne almost turned again but then she said, “By the way, Hope, um, do you -- live here?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. And would you by any chance be some sort of relation to this Big Jake person?”

“He’s my father.”

“Okay. Well -- good night, Hope.”

“Good night, Daphne.”

Daphne turned and started padding off back up the corridor, but then the girl called out in a stage whisper:

“Daphne!”

Daphne turned again and saw the girl outside the bathroom doorway, lit up by the yellow wall lamp that made her look like a wax statue.

“I’m glad I met you, Daphne! I hope we can be friends!”

Daphne smiled uneasily and waved, then padded off again.

She made it back to the room and closed the door.

She found her shoulder bag on the floor, got out her cigarette case and lighter.

She sat crosslegged on the bed next to the oblivious Dick, and lit a cigarette. There was a small ashtray on the table, from The Sands in Las Vegas.

This big sort of empty sound, this sense of something really huge outside. The cigarette smoke swirled around in the air blowing in from the windows, the air smelling cool and fresh, but along with that absolutely heaven-sent aroma of burning tobacco there were odd little tints of things like cowshit and burnt dirt and squashed lightning bugs, but it was nice.

She saw the lights of a full squadron of airplanes pass by the window in the distance but she couldn’t hear them at all.

A coyote or what she assumed to be a coyote started to howl somewhere, just like in a movie. After a while it quieted down, and then everything was quiet and still except for that huge soft sound of the earth slowly turning through space.

All of a sudden she got really, really sleepy. She ground out the cigarette, got under the covers, pushed Dick’s arm away from the pillow and fell asleep at once.

(Continued here, and until someone stops us.)


2 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

The glorious Daphne knows no fear...
I think a light that acted like an X-ray appearing in the middle of the night would make me scream.

Dan Leo said...

Yeah, it's just another night for old Daphne...