edited by professor dan leo
illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus
executive producer: kathleen maher
part nine of fifteen
to begin at the beginning, click here
Thank God (or, more likely, thank his opposite number, Jack Scratch’s employer), she behaved. For the time being.
“What the hell is that?” said Steve, leaning forward over the table. ”Barbie’s evil twin? Put her on the table.”
I took her out of the box, and, adjusting her legs, sat her, (comfortably I hoped) on the table, facing inward.
“Extraordinary,” said Steve.
“Quite,” said Miss Rathbone.
“Nice, Arnold,” said Larry.
“That’s not for me, I hope,” said Elektra.
“No, sorry,” I said.
“Because that’s the creepiest looking doll I’ve ever seen,” she said.
I was holding Clarissa by both her arms, and I could feel her little muscles twitch, as if she were about to start swinging at Elektra.
“She’s not creepy,” I said, holding her more tightly. “She’s just -- unusual.”
“Unusually creepy, Arnold,” said Elektra.
“I like her,” said Larry.
I could still feel Clarissa’s arm muscles pulsing, but I held her down, and at least she was keeping to her word about remaining silent.
“Where did you ever get her?” asked Steve.
“Well, she’s Dick Ridpath’s doll, actually,” I said.
“So what are you doing with her?”
I knew I needed to give an edited version.
“Well, Dick and I ran into each other, and we were on our way back here when we saw Miss Evans and the DeVores come out --”
“We told them we hadn’t seen you, Arnold,” said Steve.
“Thank you, Steve.”
“So, did they waylay you?” asked Miss Rathbone, pronouncing each syllable very distinctly.
“Well, before they could, Dick asked the proprietor of the Whatnot Shoppe if we could hide in his store for a while --”
“You lead a very interesting life, Arnold,” said Steve. Both he and Miss Rathbone were still drinking Manhattans, although Larry and Elektra were drinking draft beer.
“Do go on, Arnold,” said Miss Rathbone. She was smoking one of her pink Vanity Fair cigarettes.
“Well -- the proprietor, Mr. Arbuthnot, gave Dick the doll. To give to Daphne.”
“Why did he give Dick the doll?” asked Steve.
I couldn’t tell Steve it was because we had saved the universe. So I told a white lie.
“I guess because he likes Dick,” I said.
“Oh,” said Steve. “He likes Dick.”
“Yes. He gave me a pen.”
“Yes. And ink. They’re in my pockets.”
“But you still haven’t explained why you have the doll.”
“Oh, Dick asked me to hold her while he lit a cigarette, and then he walked away, to find Daphne, and he accidentally left her with me.”
“I wonder if she has a name?” asked Miss Rathbone.
“Yes,” I said. “Clarissa.”
“Clarissa,” said Elektra.
Was it my imagination or was Clarissa staring coldly with her dark eyes at Elektra?
“I think she’s darling,” said Steve. “Hello, Clarissa!”
The “Blame It On The Bossa Nova” song had gone off by now, and another girl was singing a song about the end of the world.
“Can’t you put it back into the box?” said Elektra.
Again I felt a twitching of those small but puissant muscles and tendons.
Fortunately, Steve came to the rescue.
“Don’t you dare put her back in her box,” said Steve. “I think she’s absolutely darling.”
Clarissa turned her gaze indulgently on Steve, and I tried to make it look as if it was I who was turning her.
Fortunately our waitress appeared just then, loaded down with plates of hamburgers and baskets of French fries.
“Okay, eat, Arnold,” said Elektra, “we were optimistic about your return and we ordered for you.”
I put the box on the floor beneath the table and Clarissa on my lap, and I set to work on the food. I was ravenously hungry.
Just when I was ready for it a pitcher of beer appeared on the table, and an empty mug for me, which I assented to allow the waitress to fill, and which I emptied two-thirds of in three long gulps.
I felt Clarissa pinch my thigh, and I realized I was comporting myself piggishly. I deliberately laid the last quarter of my burger on my plate instead of devouring it as quickly as I had each of its other three quarters. Then I forced myself to pick up merely one French fry and to eat only the first half-inch of it rather than all of it at once along with four or five of its fellows in a mouthful, which I had just done two or three times in less than a minute.
Clarissa patted my thigh, as if to say, “Good boy!”
What could I do? I picked up that ragged last quadrant of my burger and devoured it, as slowly as I could, then washed it down with beer. Then, not standing on ceremony, I filled my mug again from the pitcher.