At first, we didn't think we were going to be able to declare a victor this month. The deadline came and went, and we didn't get any entries that really stung us, or sprang out and made us feel the right kind of wrong. We even went so far as to declare "NO WINNER" this month in a huffy, agitated fit, and despaired that there was no one out there who could write about these characters in a way that was convincing, modest, troubling, and true.
But then, yesterday, we got a brown paper parcel in the mail that was (expertly) wrapped in faded yellow twine. We opened it, and within the package was a cracked and twisted leather harness -- the kind you use for yoking oxen together -- and a beautiful silk scarf that smelled in some places like Bay Rum and in other places like gardenias.
Underneath these garments was the following typewritten manuscript. There were some white-outs which were difficult to read, but we managed to re-type it ourselves without too many problems. We wish we could include the doodles in the margins, and show you which sections were typed with real force and speed, but alas -- some things are lost to the electronic medium.
We checked to make sure, and the postmark was from June 21st -- well-within the contest rules. For future reference, PLEASE send your submissions pasted into the body of an email. We are going to let this one slide, however, because we are reasonably convinced that the package was delayed by the antiquated, un-Reconstructed Southern postal system (the same fools who hired William Faulkner), and we would hate to be accused of regional prejudice.
Despite no attribution, the return address on the package was to a "Ms. H. Lee" of Monroeville, Alabama. The "H" was written in a red pen, with extra feet and flourishes. This is probably some young fan having a laugh at our expense, but we will respect the pseudonym anyway, and we offer "Ms. Lee" our deepest congratulations on her victory.
A Father's Love
by H. Lee
When I was little, Atticus always said that there's a logic to human behavior, even if it's not apparent at first. People, he said, make sense when you consider their actions from their point of view. I was living in New York when, for the first time, I found life to contradict this simple maxim. From personal experience, I learned people don't always try to act in their own best interests, and, in fact, often deliberately act contrary to them. The capacity for willful self-destruction exists in everyone.
During the early part of the war, I was working for the Commodity Exchange Authority. Every weekday I would ride to the cramped offices downtown to edit, type, and organize reports on the subject of corn purchases at the New York Mercantile Exchange. This was exacting, though often boring work. I was fortunate, as most females' employment prospects at the time appeared restricted to teacher or nurse. I could not imagine myself interacting with children or sick people for an extended period. Was I to help them? Instruct them? You can't get mad at a suspicious corn futures contract, at least, or feel sorry for it.
This, then, was the orderly if increasingly gloomy life I led my first year in New York, when I met that slag, that impudent fucking roundheels, Holly Golightly. Her earliest appearance was in the company of Martyn Godmund, one the junior advisers who worked on our floor. For about two weeks during the summer of '42, each morning brought the terrible, hyena-like sounds that announced their arrival. As he stepped out of the elevator, surrounded by the fog of her--all scarves and jewelry and obscure, female scents--Martyn's thick-lipped, cherubic face would contort in a desperate laugh. His eyes suggested he hadn't slept that night.
Work tended to come to a halt on those mornings when she was there, not to resume until well into the afternoon. She would sprawl on the desks, use company ink to add new features to the faces of the male employees. That meant all of the employees, save myself and elderly Anna Plaine, one of the secretaries. Martyn acquired a thick black mustache where previously gleamed only his naturally hairless skin. He displayed it to the others with hysterical pride, out of proportion to the supposed joke.
I thought I did a good job of ignoring the circus. As I said, life in New York was wearing me down. I was restless growing up, agitated by that blind and illogical force that seemed to oppose me wherever I turned: the world. Atticus was my one hope and consolation in this frustrating struggle. I was sustained by the thought that eventually I would become like him, patient and competent, in the world yet not of it.
I saw withal that this could never be, not while I remained within the boundaries of Maycomb County. So I found a room in Brooklyn and a job in the Financial District. Before long, I judged New York to be, in many respects, no better than Alabama. People don't inform you of their prejudices here, not explicitly. It's lonelier here.
I had thought for sure that Atticus would stop me when I said that I was leaving. Instead, he had just said, in his characteristic, detached way, that he couldn't oppose me, "if you know this is the course of action you need to take." He said, "You are certainly old enough to make this decision for yourself, Scout." I wonder, in retrospect, if I ever forgave him that.
At any rate, every morning, I heard the peals of animal laughter, and, in its midst, the rough yet musical contralto of the female I came to know simply as H, that bitch, that--woman--who taught me that everything I knew was wrong. Every morning, I would gaze at the long columns of grain prices and yield projections with redoubled concentration. Every morning, except one.
When I got my first good look at her, she was wearing a white summer dress. The dress was surprising in its simplicity. It was surprising, also, in how much it revealed of her body. No doubt she seemed so naked because of how pale she was. Something about her blond hair and far-apart eyes reminded me of playing outside as a child, and this association caused my gaze to linger over her more than was strictly necessary or polite.
I was never good at hiding what I felt. My shock at the nerve it would take to appear in the offices of a US government agency dressed like that was too much for my limited capacity for dissimulation. H saw the implicit criticism in my raised-up head. Nothing escaped her bird-like, appraising gaze.
"Say, I wouldn't form any judgments of what I didn't know the first thing about, were I in your shoes," she said to me, from amidst a knot of admirers. "You're a dyke, that's plain as the reason you're here. Moldering away with all these unhappy young... men." She examined Martyn, sadly.
This remark made the others very uncomfortable. Martyn Godmund said, "Come on, leave Jean Louise alone." Even Anna Plaine, from her ancient desk at the other side of the floor, cast a black look in our direction.
I was furious. I didn't know what "dyke" meant; I knew only that, in my ignorance, I had somehow made a grotesque spectacle of my rustic origins. The memory of being exposed by such a ridiculous young thing made me burn the whole day. But when I learned the definition of the contentious word from one of my tenement neighbors, my discomfort reached a new order of magnitude.
The next morning, I bit my lip so I wouldn't look at her while she made the others laugh and shame themselves. I wasn't a "dyke." I knew that. It was simply that something about her voice and her manner her suggested a fatal yet welcome distraction from the drab affair that my life had become. As long as she was in the room, I didn't have to be rational or kind anymore. I had always found it natural to strive for these virtues. I was newly conscious of what a burden they could become.
As I hunched over my work, she addressed me in her harsh-melodic tone: "I quite honestly can't stand to see you like this. You want to have coffee with me or what?" In my next conscious moment, I saw that I had ripped a page out from the ledger that lay on my lap.
And that was how it began.
In the following weeks we became, H and I, what I suppose people call "lovers." It was a confusing and difficult process. I have to admit that, on my end, there was almost as much hatred as there was love. The problem was, whenever I mauled her breasts, trying to get them to lose their shape--they reminded me of an anthill my brother and I destroyed once, such a miniature and perfectly formed thing, we felt so bad, no, so stupid, afterward--whenever I did this, or whenever I trussed her up like one of the Cunningams' hogs--I imagined Atticus watching me.
I couldn't help it. The more I tried not to think about it, the more he was there. His clear gray eyes were tolerant and just. "If you know this is the course of action you need to take, Scout," he seemed to be saying.
I hated her, yes, for what she made me do. I hated her because she made it so I couldn't think of Atticus anymore without wanting to put ammonia on my generative organs. But that is not the whole picture.
As we risked our lives, rowing rented boats out to South Brother Island so that H could achieve her whim of being raped and left to die, like Iphigenia, in front of the East River, I finally grasped why I was so drawn to her, even while inflamed with hatred. H had a way of making the ordinary special. She had passions, and allowed me to imagine myself their cause. In this way, she made me feel that I was living, again, in that world that existed once between Jem and Dill and myself, the one delimited by Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose's house two doors in one direction and the Radley house three doors in the other.
She let me feel powerful, only to make my powerlessness all the more evident in her absence. She let me do bad things to her, only to render me, in her absence, the helpless victim of self-contempt and remorse. I resented being bound to her, yet couldn't stand it when others, when men, infringed on that bond. Yes, I felt--truly helpless--for the first time in my life.
Eventually, it got so that being with her was nearly as intolerable as being alone. Paradoxically, the worse it got, the more pleasure I derived from our savage and humiliating physical union. I did not realize the full extent to which my relationship with H had degraded me morally until the autumn of that year, when Atticus came to New York.
He had been assigned a famous case, which involved a suspected embezzler with New York connections. The case dragged on. There was talk of a mistrial, of moving the trial to Montgomery for a sure conviction. Atticus was in New York City to gather evidence and meet with the district attorney. He was doing everything in his power to keep the trial in Maycomb, where the courts still had a chance, however slim, of rendering a just verdict.
At first, I was so happy to see him that I quickly forgot, or almost forgot, the iniquities of my recent life. We discussed the war, Roosevelt's new economy, the case he was working on, and my job at the Commodities Exchange Authority. From there, we branched out into more general discussions of psychology, religion, science versus faith, and the concept of personal destiny. After all those years, I was still amazed by the scope of his learning, the unyielding rigor of his reason.
We never mentioned love.
The crisis began on the Brooklyn Bridge. Atticus and I were on our way to the courthouse, finishing up one of the many rambles through the city that accompanied our conversations, when I spotted H walking in the opposite direction. I felt that I had been physically impaled when I saw her in her crisp little sweater-and-skirt ensemble, her scarf fluttering blue against the gray of water and sky. I had managed to keep those two facets of my life, him and her, separate thus far. That is, although I had told her about him, I tried to ensure that they never met in reality--despite the terrible and complicated ways they were conjoined in my mind.
I wanted to remain permanently rooted to where I stood, on that long stretch of suspended concrete. Instead, I approximated, as best as I could, my natural gait of but a few moments prior. I approached H, and introduced her only as someone I knew from work.
She looked into his eyes, and said, "Jean Louise told me a great deal about you." Atticus nodded. Almost immediately, he started to walk in the same direction we had been walking before, but faster. He did not stop to wait for me until he had almost crossed the bridge into Manhattan.
From then on, and until his departure the next day, Atticus was distant and morose. He acquired a habit of looking at his hands during the silences that began to fill our time together. Our dealings with one another had always differed from, I imagine, those of most families. They had always been characterized by a certain civility and reserve--a certain degree of tact, especially where any sort of emotional subject matter was concerned. Yet, up until that moment on the bridge, an underlying familiarity, long-assumed and evident to us both, had informed our talk, and had lent our conversations the warmth that was outwardly lacking. After that mumbled encounter between H, Atticus, and myself, all warmth was gone. We became like two cordial, deeply uncomfortable, strangers.
I was troubled by this change, as one might expect, and unable to ascertain its cause. I wondered if H's manner, or the way I explained her to him, had tipped him off that something was wrong. At the train station, we shook hands and I noticed for the first time how old he looked. I wondered when I would see him I again. I knew I couldn't go back to Alabama. I felt one of my fits of violence coming on.
I never did learn to control my temper, and H, unfortunately, had a way of encouraging my worst tendencies, in this respect. I checked the time: about four in the afternoon. She would just be getting out of bed. I took the subway to her apartment on the Upper East Side, teeth clenched the whole time.
"Oh, for god's sake, I'm so sorry Scout," were her first words after she buzzed me in, as soon as she saw my anguished and angry expression. She got that look of genuine sympathy that was so devastating on her. It was like a face from a movie, in a way, but in another way it was like everything that came before was the moving picture and she was the only real thing, then or ever.
"Guess there isn't a need to be sorry," I said sullenly. "Guess I should have introduced you two earlier."
"No, I mean I--I fucked him, Scout," said Holly Golightly. "You didn't need to introduce us. I had sex with Atticus. With your father."
While I tried and failed to process this information, she continued. "I was over by the district court a few days ago, trying to help our Chinaman friend, you know the one--he got us the 'dream for two' powder, that was what he called it, that wonderful man--anyway, I finished my parley with the district attorney, and I saw him on the way out and he--he looked so serious and sad surrounded by all that cold marble--"
"Scout! Scout, stop it, I didn't know it was him!" she cried, as she saw my hands close around her pale, slender neck.
"He--gack--he refused--augh, ack--to tell me his real name"--she gasped for air as my grip slackened momentarily, my mind racing to think up new ways of inflicting pain. "He--told me to call him Sisyphus," she said quickly, during the ensuing respite. "You know, Scout, the one who kept pushing that rock uphill! He kept saying he needed to release his load, saying it over and over--"
At this, I started holding her neck so tightly that she turned blue. I didn't let go until I was sure she wouldn't be able to speak or move. When I looked up, I saw him once more, that same gentle and patient expression on his stern old face. He's picked up his burden again, I thought involuntarily. Well, then, so have I!
I tried to spit at the beloved features, but I couldn't, so I spat on the hardwood floor. I ransacked the messy apartment for the good, rough, two-inch-diameter sisal rope we'd stolen from the docks. I did an efficient job of stripping her and tying her up before she regained consciousness. I even had time to take the mattress off her bed, and I lashed her naked, willowy body to its frame. I tied her arms behind her using a Japanese technique in which the rope did triple-duty, at once restricting movement, compressing the breasts, and pushing them up. Soon, I found that I needed to take off my own clothes, as well.
When she came to, I was sitting on top of her, just grazing her nipples with that same buck knife Atticus had given me as a memento, before I left for New York. I forced myself on her until I collapsed from exhaustion. Afterward, she made tea and we drank it in silence, in the rapidly darkening apartment.
I kept seeing H all through that year, until she ran off to Brazil. I didn't see Atticus again except at his funeral, in 1954, and by then it was too late.
Posted by miracle on Mon, 07 Jul 2008 04:08:14 -0400 -- permanent link