“Had an aunt used to get ‘em something awful. Lock herself up in a bedroom, shut off the light, pull the shades, you wouldn’t see her for twenty-four hours.”

“She’s got my sympathy.”

Trey puffed his cigar. “Well, she long dead and all now, but I’ll pass it upstairs in my prayers tonight. She was a mean woman anyway, headache or not. Used to beat me and my brother with a hickory stick.  Sometimes for nothing. I’d say, ‘Auntie, what I do?’ She say, ‘I don’t know, but you thinking about doing something terrible.’ What you do with a woman like that?”

He truly seemed to be waiting for an answer, so Chuck said, “Run faster.” ‘ Trey let out a low “Hell, hell, hell” around his cigar. “Ain’t that the truth. Yes, sir.” He sighed. “I’m gone go dry off. We’ll see you later.” “See you.”

The room was filling up with men coming in from the storm, shaking the moisture off black slickers and black forest ranger hats, coughing, smoking, passing around the not-so-secret flasks.

Teddy and Chuck leaned against the beige wall and spoke in flat tones while facing the room.

“So the words on the calendar...”


“Didn’t say ‘Vacation on Cape Cod.’ “


“What’d they say?”

“ ‘Patient sixty-seven.’ “

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“That’s enough, though, huh?”

“Oh, yeah. I’d say so.”

HE COULDN’T SLEEP. He listened to the men snore and huff and inhale and exhale, some with faint whistles, and he heard some talk in their sleep, heard one say, “You shoulda told me. That’s all. Just said the words...” Heard another say, “I got popcorn in my throat.” Some kicked the sheets and some rolled over and back again and some rose long enough to slap their pillows before dropping back to the mattresses.  After a while, the noise achieved a kind of comfortable rhythm that reminded Teddy of a muffled hymn.

The outside was muffled too, but Teddy could hear the storm scrabble along the ground and thump against the foundation, anGhe wished there were windows down here, if only so he could see the flash of it, the weird light it must be painting on the sky.  He thought of what Cawley had said to him.

It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.

Was he suicidal?

He supposed he was. He couldn’t remember a day since Dolores’s death when he hadn’t thought of joining her, and it sometimes went further than that. Sometimes he felt as if continuing to live was an act of cowardice. What was the point of buying groceries, of filling the Chrysler tank, of shaving, putting on socks, standing in yet another line, picking a tie, ironing a shirt, washing his face, combing his hair, cashing a check, renewing his license, reading the paper, taking a piss, eating— alone, always alone—going to a movie, buying a record, paying bills, shaving again, washing again, sleeping again, waking up again...

.. if none of it brought him closer to her?

He knew he was supposed to move on. Recover. Put it behind him.  His few stray friends and few stray relatives had said as much, and he knew that if he were on the outside looking in, he would tell that other Teddy to buck up and suck in your gut and get on with the rest of your life.

But to do that, he’d have to find a way to put Dolores on a shelf, to allow her to gather dust in the hope that enough dust would accumulate to soften his memory of her. Mute her image. Until one day she’d be less a person who had lived and more the dream of one.  They say, Get over her, you have to get over her, but get over to what? To this fucking life? How am I going to get you out of my mind?  It hasn’t worked so far, so how am I supposed to do that? How am I supposed to let you go, that’s all I’m asking. I want to hold you again, smell you, and, yes too, I just want you to fade. To please, please fade... .  He wished he’d never talen those pills. He was wide awake at three in the morning. Wide awake and hearing her voice, the dusk in it, the faint Boston accent that didn’t reveal itself on the a and r, so much as the e and r so that Dolores loved him in a whispered foreva and eva. He smiled in the dark, hearing her, seeing her teeth, her eyelashes, the lazy carnal appetite in her Sunday-morning glances.

That night he’d met her at the Cocoanut Grove. The band playing

a big, brassy set and the air gone silver with smoke and everyone

dressed to the nines—sailors and soldiers in their best dress whites,

dress blues, dress grays, civilian men in explosive floral ties and double-breasted

suits with handkerchief triangles pressed smartly into the

pockets, sharp-brimmed fedoras propped on the tables, and the

women, the women were everywhere. They danced even as they

walked to the powder room. They danced moving from table to table

and they spun on their toes as they lit cigarettes and snapped open

their compacts, glided to the bar and threw back their heads to laugh, and their hair was satin-shiny and caught the light when they moved.

Teddy was there with Frankie Gordon, another sergeant from

Intel, and a few other guys, all of them shipping out in a week, but he

dumped Frankie the moment he saw her, left him in midsentence and walked down to the dance floor, lost her for a minute in the throng

between them, everyone pushing to the sides to make space for a sailor and a blonde in a white dress as the sailor spun her across his back and then shot her above his head in a twirl and caught her coming back down, dipped her toward the floor as the throng broke out in applause and then Teddy caught the flash of her violet dress again.  It was a beautiful dress and the color had been the first thing to catch his eye. But there were a lot of beautiful dresses there that night, too many to count, so it wasn’t the dress that held his attention but the way she wore it. Nervously. Self-consciously. Touching it with a him of apprehension. Adjusting and readjusting it. Palms pressing down,on the shoulder pads.

It was borrowed. Or rented. She’d never worn a dress like that before. It terrified her. So much so that she couldn’t be sure if men and women looked at her out of lust, envy, or pity.

She’d caught Teddy watching as she fidgeted and pulled her thumb back out from the bra strap. She dropped her eyes, the color rushing up from her throat, and then looked back up and Teddy held her eyes and smiled and thought, I feel stupid in this getup too. Willing that thought across the floor. And maybe it worked, because she smiled back, less a flirtatious smile than a grateful one, and Teddy left Frankie Gordon right there and then, Frankie talking about feed stores in Iowa or something, and by the time he passed through the sweaty siege of dancers, he realized he had nothing to say to her. What was he going to say? Nice dress? Can I buy you a drink? You have beautiful eyes?

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