Authors: J.C. Conaway
For Tom who does and for Megan who doesn't
and for Nick who has yet to find out.
Quarrel with the Moon
"Like wolves, you undertake
A quarrel with the moon, and waste your anger."
- James Shirley
November 9, 1949: The Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia
The moon at last made its appearance. Full and bloated, it drained the countryside of color, causing everything to turn a dull, tarnished silver. The rain which had swept through the mountains was over. In its wake the air smelled wet and rotten. It smelled of decay and dead things. The forest was quiet. No insect, bird or animal stirred. It was as if the entire world was holding its breath.
The silence was suddenly broken by an unearthly howl which sent animals scurrying through the wet undergrowth, and birds flying from their places of safety. A woman hurrying through the night responded to the cry and began to run faster. Her footfalls made soft, moist sounds, and the prints of her heavy shoes quickly filled up with water. The forest became dense as she reached an area known as "the Thicket." The trees lining the path grew close together, knitting themselves above it, ribbing the dark tunnel with their black boughs. The pathway, sodden with leaves, unwound before her like a wet ribbon.
A whitish fog came floating toward her, dampening both her clothes and skin. In the distance the lights of her daughter's cabin seemed to pulse. The terrible cry was repeated. It resounded throughout the mountains, then returned to its place of origin. Avarilla Chastain cursed herself for having left her daughter's side, but who knew that the baby would be three weeks early? She shouldn't have made the ten-mile trip to Jericho Falls. But what was she to do? It was her duty. Her brother's wife was due to be delivered. Avarilla, being the most trusted midwife in the entire country, certainly had to attend her sister-in-law in her time of need. It had been a tragic trip. Earlier that week Leoma had taken a fall. The baby became lodged in her side and had to be turned before it could be born. The poor woman suffered for a long time. It seemed like the baby wouldn't be born at all. And then when it finally came, it was dead. Not that Harley or Leoma held Avarilla responsible. They didn't. Still, it was the first time in her entire midwiving experience that she had lost a child.
Avarilla's face was creased with concern, not only for the child that had been born dead to her brother and sister-in-law, but now for her own daughter. It wasn't good for a woman to go into labor early. That always meant problems. And in Sissy's case there were other considerations. She was a frail young woman of seventeen who had the mentality of a twelve year old. Add to that the fact that Ben, her husband, had been dead for over a year. It was an enigma which troubled Avarilla. Sissy denied having intercourse with anyone but her husband and even refused to acknowledge her own pregnancy. But, as everyone said, Sissy was none too bright.
As she trudged forward, Avarilla turned the list of paternal suspects over in her mind. L.B. Cannon, Lester Brooks, Ketchy Addis. Not one of them would have shied away from marrying Sissy, for despite her strange, awkward ways, she was an oddly beautiful girl. A vapid, ephemeral being with preternaturally bright, empty, blue eyes and blond hair like spun meringue. Each of the men had denied being the father of Sissy's child and Avarilla believed them.
Avarilla Chastain was a muscular, handsome woman of thirty-eight years with a brisk, no-nonsense manner. Her face had a worn patina and her hair was prematurely gray. Her eyes, usually hard and uncompromising, were now full of anxiety. She stopped to catch her breath, leaned against a tree and clutched her heaving chest. If only the road hadn't been washed out, she wouldn't have had to take the long way around and would have been back in time. Upon arriving home Avarilla discovered a note pinned to her screen door. The note read: "Avvie, come quick to Sissy's place. Her water's broke an' she's went into labor - Jewell." At first Avarilla hadn't been worried. She knew that Jewell Runion had a nervous temperament and a tendency to overdramatize. But then she heard Sissy's piercing cry and she knew in her heart of hearts that the delivery was not going to be easy.
A bat, shrieking, flew by and spun away, silhouetted against the metallic sky like a tiny pterodactyl. Avarilla was jolted back to movement. When she reached the porch of Sissy's cabin she discovered Reuben hiding in the shadows. Reuben was twelve and Ben's younger brother. Since both parents were dead he had come to live with Ben and Sissy when they were married. And now that Ben was also dead, the boy, having no other place to go, stayed on.
"Reuben, what are you doin' there? You'll catch your death."
The boy screwed up his face. "Too noisy inside. I was thinkin' of takin' me an' Tooker," he indicated a small pup at his feet, "to the barn to bed down for the night."
Avarilla nodded in agreement. She never liked having children about when babies were being born. "Now that's a fine idea. You had your supper?" The boy nodded. "Bury yourself in the hay to keep warm. Then come back at dawn an' I'll make you a chompin' good breakfast."
Reuben lifted his plain face. His eyes were wet with unchecked tears. "That's not my brother's baby," he said in a broken voice. "I hope she dies." Then he bounded off the porch and ran toward the barn. The fat little pup followed. A sad sound escaped from Avarilla's lips before she went inside.
Two of the area's "granny women" were in attendance. Jewell Runion was a thin, dark-skinned woman, brittle and knobbly as a dead branch whose sap had run dry. In direct contrast was Faye Brooks, a small doughy woman with arms as fat as loaves of bread. Both looked up. Jewell spoke first in a high, staccato voice. "Thank heavens you're here, Avvie. Sissy's havin' a hard time of it. I took the precautionary of callin' in the preacher."
"She was like out of her mind with the pain," added Faye. "But we give her some sulphur an' wine of cordia. That'll work her female organs all together, an' the baby should be born without any trouble." Avarilla grunted. She did not hold with giving "concoctions" to expectant mothers. "We had to," Faye went on nervously. "She was just crazy." She bit down on her lip. "With the pain an' all."
"An' thrashin' about so much we had to tie her to the bed," said Jewell. "Not about to let her hurt the baby."
Avarilla tilted her head to one side and heard her daughter's soft but constant moans coming from the bedroom. "Where's the preacher?"
"Inside with Sissy," answered Jewell. "He's prayin' over her."
Avarilla pursed her lips and nodded. She shouldn't allow herself to become irritated with the granny women. They had come to her daughter's aid and had done what they believed was right. They had brought a laundry basket made of white oak splits for the baby and their bags containing scissors, thread, cloverine salve, "disinfect", clean white aprons and sheets. "When did her water break?" she asked in a softer voice.
"'Bout eight tonight," said Faye. "You might as well have a nice cup of peppermint tea, Avvie. That baby ain't gonna come until midnight for sure."
"I'll look in first, then I'll join you," Avarilla replied.
Avarilla entered the bedroom. The air was stale with the sour smell of sweat, pain and frustration. Reverend Hooper, kneeling next to the four-poster bed, looked up. He smiled wearily and got to his feet. The preacher was a tall man in his middle years, broad shouldered and roughly handsome. His auburn hair lay about his head in soft, corrugated waves, and his eyes were as blue as cornflowers. His voice, usually gentle, sounded as if it had been strained through a coarse piece of material. "I was afeared you wouldn't make it back, Avvie. The roads an' all."
"I had to come the long way, Rev'rend. Bless you for comin'. How's Sissy?"
Without replying, the preacher stepped aside. Avarilla moved next to the bed.
Sissy's gauzy hair was as dank as the hair of a drowned woman and her skin, startlingly white and beaded with perspiration, looked artificial. Her stomach was swollen all out of proportion to her frail body. Strips of sheeting wound around her thin wrists and ankles were attached to the four posters of the bed and kept the girl immobile.
Avarilla touched her daughter's fevered forehead. "Sissy. Sissy, I'm here. Your ma's here." The young woman's lashes flickered open. Her eyes were glazed and shiny but when Avarilla bent to kiss her, Sissy managed an almost indiscernible smile. Avarilla loosened Sissy's restraints and brushed the matted hair from her face. Then she turned to the preacher and said, "Rev'rend, why don't you go an' have some tea? I'll keep watch."
"I'll do that, Avvie. Call if you need us."
Avarilla sat down next to the bed and held her daughter's bound hand.
Toward midnight the spasms were coming nearly every five minutes. Despite the drug, Sissy wailed in misery and helplessness. Avarilla untied Sissy's ankles. Then she and the other granny women held her knees so that Sissy couldn't kick her feet out. The baby began to appear. Sissy shrieked with agony as it made its entrance into the world. It was a boy but he wasn't breathing. Avarilla snatched him up and began to blow in his mouth. After several minutes, the infant's chest began heaving, and Avarilla knew he was all right. She cut the cord and tied it with a string. Meanwhile Jewell had scorched a piece of cloth by putting it on a shovel and holding it over the fire in the kitchen till the cloth was brown. Avarilla put that next to the baby's navel, cut a hole in it and pulled the navel cord through. The cloth was greased with mutton tallow and would remain on the child for five or six days till it disintegrated.
Sissy was still writhing in torment. The afterbirth had not yet come out. Avarilla laid the baby in the padded laundry basket and rushed to the foot of the bed. Sissy's body suddenly convulsed and a scream of terror rent the air. Another baby was being born. Sissy managed to tear one hand free and began clawing at her face. A froth of yellow spittle oozed from her lips.
"Make it come out!" Sissy begged. "Make it come out!"
The baby's head, covered with a mist of black hair, appeared. Avarilla's outstretched arms began shaking and she gave a start so violent that it seemed as if a hand with frozen fingers had squeezed her heart. "Lord God in Heaven!" she cried as the infant continued to emerge.
It was completely covered with the fine black hair and at the end of each of its grasping hands were thick, curved nails, now dripping with its own mother's blood. Jewell and Faye fell to their knees and began praying to fight the bile rising in their throat. Avarilla, her mind numbed with shock, nonetheless did what had to be done. Automatically she severed the umbilical cord and put the greased cloth into place. She stood holding the writhing infant, not knowing what to do with it. Sissy raised her head and when she saw what had come out of her body she began banging her head against the wall and screaming anew. Something within her that had always been fragile had finally shattered. It was her sanity.
The preacher, aroused by the commotion, rushed into the bedroom. When he saw what Avarilla was holding in her hands, he gasped and drew back in horror and revulsion. Summoning all his strength, he denounced the child as "the spawn of Satan" and commanded that it had to be destroyed. Jewell and Faye nodded in silent agreement. He made the granny women swear before God never to reveal the circumstances of that blasphemous night and then he sent them home. They hurried away from the cabin with relief.
Avarilla tried to close her mind to the preacher's words which assailed her like hurrying nightmares. He coaxed, cajoled, and argued, until at last she spat out the terrible words ... "No, no, I'll do it, Rev'rend. It's my ... it's my own blood." Their eyes met briefly, flickered with terror, then were swiftly averted.
"I'll dig the grave," offered the preacher. "It has to be here, you know. It can't be buried in the churchyard." He took one last look at the male infant, shuddered and said, "Let God's will be done."
For a long time Avarilla held the strange child in her arms, trying to avoid its piercing yet inquiring eyes. When she heard the sound of the shovel striking the earth outside the house she was prompted to action. She carried it into the kitchen and laid it on the table. A bar of moonlight made a wavering silver band down the full length of its body.
Avarilla went to the cabinet drawer and withdrew a butcher knife. She held it high and looked at it. Light from the hanging lantern glanced off the blade and struck her eyes. A sudden pounding filled the room. Then she realized it was the beating of her own heart. Scarcely daring to breathe, she crossed to where the child lay waiting and forced herself to look down.
The color drained from her face and the knife clattered to the floor. She slammed her fist against her mouth to keep from crying out. The hair was fast disappearing from the infant's skin. It was as if it was being pulled beneath the surface from within. Blinking and unblinking, Avvie stared at the phenomenon which was taking place before her eyes. The hair continued receding until the child's flesh was soft and amorphous, like an underexposed print. Even the nails had disappeared. The child looked normal, as normal as its twin who lay in the laundry basket in the bedroom. Was she hallucinating? She looked out the window and saw the preacher silhouetted in the harsh light of the moon. He was there and he was digging a grave beneath the willow tree.
She fell to her knees and clawed at her own cheeks, digging into them as if to tear them off, pull them out by their very ligaments. She could hear herself straining for air. Her tongue felt thick and there was a bad taste in her mouth. It was the coppery flavor of blood. She had bitten through her lower lip. Oblivious to the blood flowing from the corner of her mouth, she worked her lips in a soundless prayer. A sign - she pleaded - something to guide her. She couldn't kill her own grandson even though he was a creature of the night. Slowly, as if by an act of will, Avarilla's eyes rolled back in her head and she both saw and understood what she must do.
The moon had faded into a translucent disk. The preacher stood next to the small open grave, his boots and trousers covered with mud. He saw Avarilla approaching through the veil of limp branches and reached for his coat which he had hung over the handle of the shovel. She walked slowly toward him like a somnambulist clutching the blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms. He took it from her and felt the cloying warmth of the small body inside. He could not help but notice the stain of seeping blood like an opening flower. He knelt on the wet earth and placed the ghastly package in the grave. Then he righted himself and in a tremulous voice began an improvised prayer, a prayer he had never uttered before and never would utter again. As he intoned the words he glanced at Avarilla. She quickly bowed her head so that he couldn't see her face and perhaps know what she had done.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in
the midst of wolves; be ye therefore
wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
St. Matthew, 10:16
August 23, 1982
The moon, full and orange as an overripe pumpkin, hovered over the city, threatening to fall from the skies. A breeze moved languidly through Central Park, barely rippling the surface of the artificial lake. It brought no relief to that sweltering summer night, and the parched grass seemed to sigh in resignation.
The two policemen glanced uneasily at one another. Their uniforms were damp and their faces glistened with beads of perspiration. They were both rookies and they were both nervous. One - Michael McCafferty, twenty-four, had been on the force two years to the month. The other, Leander Bullins, had been with New York's finest just short of six months. As they approached the edge of the lake, McCafferty cleared his throat in nervous tension and Officer Bullins blinked the sweat out of his eyes. The beams of their powerful flashlights crisscrossed the body which lay face down three feet from the water's edge.
"Jesus," muttered McCafferty. "Do you think he's been mugged?"
"Let's turn him over and find out," replied Bullins.
There was a sudden flapping sound. "Oh, my God. What's that?" groaned McCafferty.
"Settle down, for Christ's sake. It's only the ducks."
Bullins knelt down and in a quick movement rolled the body over. The policeman leaned a little closer and the odor of alcohol struck him in the face like a fist. Bullins sighed with relief. "He's alive. Not mugged, not killed, just Goddamn drunk."
McCafferty ran the flashlight up and down the man's body. "Look, he's barefoot. Do you suppose somebody swiped his shoes?"
"That would be a new one." Bullins began shaking the man. "Come on, buddy, wake up. The party's over." The man didn't budge. Using his hands as cups, McCafferty carried some water from the lake and dumped it on the drunk's face. The man's eyes snapped open. They were light grey and flecked with gold, and at the moment completely uncomprehending. "Get up, buddy. You can't sleep it off here," growled Bullins and nudged the man's shoulder with his night stick.
The man groaned and sat up. The two policemen appraised him. He was about thirty-two years old and very handsome. Thick black hair, a ruddy complexion and an athletic physique gave him the appearance of someone in the peak of physical health. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands and stared at the uniformed men until they came into focus. Then he glanced at his surroundings and asked, in a tone which was apologetic and arrogant at the same time, "How the hell did I get here?"
"You better tell us," Bullins said softly. His voice had lost some of its strident quality. "Hell, you're lucky to be alive. Central Park at three A.M. Hey, have you got your wallet?"
The young man slapped his hand against his chest, felt the familiar outline and withdrew a slender leather billfold. "Credit cards O.K. And what money I didn't spend is here."
"Let me see that," Bullins held out a broad and somewhat battered hand. He quickly checked the identification. "You're Joshua Allen Holman? 200 West Seventy-Seventh Street?"
"What's left of him," the man replied dully.
"What's your line of work, Mr. Holman?"
"Anthropology. I work at the New York Institute of Anthropology."
"How did you get here?"
Josh closed his eyes and winced. His recollections were embarrassing, "I had a fight with my girlfriend. We were at the Krypton Klub. I left her there and - well, hit a couple of bars."
"Why did you end up in Central Park?"
"I like to run," he replied matter-of-factly. "I run here every morning."
"Do you always run barefoot?"
Josh shook his head and was immediately sorry. A jolting pain caused him to wince. "No, of course not. I have several pairs of running shoes."
"Well, you either removed jour shoes yourself or some bum came along and removed them for you. I opt for the first. If somebody took your shoes, they probably would have taken a good deal more than that."
Josh stared forlornly at his bare feet. This was a new low - even for him. Why did he have blackouts when he drank? Why could he not remember his actions? And how long would it be before it happened again?
The cops discussed Josh as if he weren't there. "What do you think we ought to do with him?" asked McCafferty.
Bullins dug a thick finger beneath the collar of his uniform and ran it around the full circumference of his neck. Wiping the perspiration on his trouser leg, he replied, "He's harmless enough. No point in taking the poor son of a bitch to the station house. Come on, we'll drive him home."
They pulled Josh unceremoniously to his feet. "I really appreciate this," Josh grunted. "I'm going to be in enough trouble at home."
"You and your lady friend live together?" asked Bullins. Josh nodded. "Then I don't envy you. My old lady would be waiting with her mouth open and her legs closed. You understand that we're going to have to take you right to your door?" Josh looked sharply at the officer. "Regulations, Mr. Holman. We got to make sure that you're really who you and your wallet say you are."
"But I don't want Cresta to see me arriving with a police escort."
"Sorry, Mr. Holman. We can't bend the rules that far. We should be taking you down to the station house."
Josh's eyes flashed with anger, but he said nothing.
The policemen walked on either side of Josh in case they were needed for support. But the young man seemed to regain his sobriety with each step. A serpentine path led them through the maze which was called "the Rambles." The air became filled with the sickening sweet smell of honeysuckle. A half-dozen lightly clad figures who had been leaning against a railing began to move with purpose toward the exit.
"Goddamn fags," muttered McCafferty.
The air was heavy and oppressive, as if a damp blanket had been dropped over the entire city. A rolling bank of storm clouds obliterated the moon and chased away the stars. A roar of thunder rose and fell and lightning bounded across the horizon, filling the atmosphere with a sulphurous aroma which was almost tangible. Josh stared at the swirling sky as if it somehow held the answer to his dilemma.
As they walked up the dimly lit path toward Central Park West and Seventy-Seventh Street, they heard a rustling in the undergrowth. The bushes suddenly parted and an indistinct form rushed at them. McCafferty instinctively stepped in front of Josh to protect him; Bullins raised his revolver. The amorphous form of Maggie Meehan, a robust bag lady and denizen of Central Park, materialized under the street light. Both cops relaxed and holstered their revolvers. Maggie was harmless. Brandishing an umbrella like a sword, Maggie danced around the group, making thrusting parries with her weapon.
"Sons o' bitchin' cops! Why haven't you found my cart? They took my cart an' you ain't even looked for it." She scrutinized Josh with rheumy eyes set in a grotesquely made-up face. "Oh
You're too busy gatherin' nuts to find my cart."
"Now, Maggie," said Bullins affectionately, as if speaking to a child, "you know that we've looked for your cart. We've looked and we've looked, but it's nowhere to be found. Perhaps you should go back to the A&P and get yourself another one."
"They been lockin' 'em up at night, the sons o' bitches," the old woman grunted.
"Have they now?" Bullins continued. "Well, I don't think they do over at the Big Apple."
"The Big Apple," the old woman rolled the words around in her mouth like a piece of hard candy. "Didn't think of the Big Apple!"
"I hear their carts are better anyway," grinned McCafferty.
The bag lady smiled broadly, revealing a profusion of teeth which resembled burnt tree stumps. Then she opened her umbrella. It was torn, its ribs showing, but that didn't seem to matter to her. As proudly as a drum majorette leading a parade, Maggie marched ahead of the trio until they reached the sidewalk. Then, with a flourish, she bent over, wiggled her buttocks at the passing cars and farted. Then, shrieking like a banshee, she disappeared into the night.
Josh glanced at the two policemen. "You seem to have your hands full tonight. I'm sorry to add to your problems."
"Hell, Mr. Holman," said Bullins. "Our night's just beginning. I'm sure you're the least of them."
The fast-traveling clouds, black and blue and roaring gray, broke apart. The rain cascaded down in silver sheets, scattering the hustlers, homosexuals, drug addicts, and winos from the shadows of the park to the safety of doorways and awnings. Cursing, the policemen hurried Josh to their patrol car.
A short time later the police pulled up in front of 200 West Seventy-Seventh Street. The building was 18 stories high and occupied one-quarter of a block. It had a shabby grandeur and had only survived because it had been proclaimed a landmark (albeit minor) by the City of New York. A pair of winged gargoyles stood sentinel at the entranceway. Perhaps they were guarding the aged doorman who slept inside on a once-elegant, rococo chaise.
For once Josh was pleased that the doorman was not alert and fulfilling his duties. He continued sleeping soundly as his tenant, escorted by the two policemen, walked across the marble tiles to the elevators beyond. They stepped inside and the gilded birdcage of an elevator noisily began its ascent. Josh glanced nervously at the policemen, hoping that would change their minds about escorting him to the door, but they ignored his silent entreaties.
The elevator jolted to a stop and the men stepped off. There were two apartments on the penthouse floor, and the hallway was in much better condition than the lobby of the building. Josh and the other penthouse occupant had chipped in to have the walls repainted and the floor recarpeted. They had purchased Victorian brass ceiling fixtures and mirrors in ornate frames for decoration. As Josh was fumbling with the three different keys which it took to gain access to the apartment, the door opened.
The police, startled, took a step backwards. Cresta Farraday was an astonishing-looking young woman. A model by profession and a very successful one, she was five feet, ten inches tall. Her bright hair hung around her face like a hood of silver-gold cloth. Her eyes were huge and a brilliant green, but smoldering rather than cold, like emeralds on fire. Her nose was narrow and had an insouciant tilt at the tip. In contrast, her mouth was broad and her lips full and sensuous. Perhaps her skin was her most arresting feature. It was golden and made her appear as if her veins ran with honey.
Cresta was dressed in a white satin gown cut on the bias which she had obviously worn for the evening, for now it was wrinkled. Her face showed anger, worry and something else. Perhaps weariness of a situation which had occurred before.
Cresta flashed her eyes, first at Josh, then at the policemen. "Josh, what's this? What have you done?"
Bullins was the first to regain his composure. Officer McCafferty, his mouth hanging open like an unclosed drawer, continued to gape. "Ma'am, is this Joshua Allen Holman, and does he live here at 200 West Seventy-Seventh Street?"
"Well, yes," she replied, her voice rising. "What has he done?"
"Nothing, ma'am. He just ... lost his way."
"And his shoes," McCafferty added with a grin.
Cresta looked down at her lover's feet. "Were you robbed, Josh?"
Josh uncomfortably shifted his weight and replied in a barely audible voice. "I was running in the park."
"Running in the park!" Cresta exploded. "For Christ's sake, now I've heard it all!"
Embarrassed, the cops look another step backwards. "Well, ma'am, we have to go now. We just wanted to see him home safe."
"Thanks, officers." Cresta replied vaguely. Then Josh stepped inside and she slammed the door.
While they were waiting for the elevator, Officer McCafferty remarked, "I don't know why he'd want to go running with something like that waiting at home, do you?"
Bullins shook his head. "Well now, Mike, I've never claimed to understand people and their relationships."
Inside the apartment, Josh made his way down the long hall and turned to the kitchen. He threw off his jacket and went to the refrigerator. His mouth was dry and he wanted a beer. He opened one and was drinking it when Cresta entered.
"Haven't you had enough alcohol for one night?" she asked with a sharp edge to her voice.
He swung around. "Why don't you just go to bed, Cresta?"
"No. No, I'm not going to bed. I want to fight!" She ran at him and began beating her fists against his chest. "Damn you! Damn you to hell!" Josh pushed her away, and her pent-up tears burst forth. "I've been up half the night sick with worry. I've got a sitting in the morning, and I'm going to look like a piece of shit. Where did you go this time? Do you remember? I think that's just an excuse anyway. Were you out getting another stray piece?"
"Cresta," his eyes were pleading, "that only happened once."
"Once. You mean I only found out once. Why the hell don't you go West and become a Mormon? There you wouldn't have to keep up the pretense of being monogamous."
"Cresta, I swear to you it only happened once."
"How can you say that for sure, Josh? Really for sure? You don't remember what happens during these 'dark times.'"
"Why do you have to put a trendy label on everything?
It sounds like a power failure."
"Well, isn't that what it is, a blackout? What else would you call it? Christ, Josh, how can I help you if you won't help yourself?"
He finished his beer and took out another one. "I don't drink that often."
"No, you don't. But...."
"I only get drunk about once a month. God, Cresta, you're acting like I was an alcoholic."
Cresta sighed. "Well, aren't you, Josh? Dr. Benjamin said that you don't have to drink often to be an alcoholic."
"Stuff Dr. Benjamin! I don't give a shit what your fancy Park Avenue psychiatrist has to say about me. Let him take care of
"It's not just his opinion. It's fact."
"So what do you want me to do? Go to an AA meeting? Stand up among all those stumblebums and confess my wrongdoings? I haven't
any thing wrong, for God's sake!"
"You're doing wrong to yourself. One of these nights you're going to get yourself killed. Or worse."
Josh began laughing. "
What can be worse than getting killed?"
Cresta began laughing too. "Goddamn it, you know what I mean." Josh reached out for Cresta, but she backed away. "No, no, not this time." She was half-laughing, half-sobbing. "I want what I want, Josh."
"What do you want, Cresta?" he exploded and slammed the beer can down on the counter.
Her voice was tight, brittle, and controlled. "I want you to do something - see a psychiatrist, go to AA, join
est ... anything! Just do something!
" She clenched and unclenched her hands as tears streamed down her face. "Jesus, I'm going to be a wreck in the morning. My eyes will be as puffy as poached eggs." She grabbed a paper napkin, wiped her eyes and nose and stared at Josh.
His straight black hair fell over his forehead like spilt paint, shadowing his haunting gray eyes. He returned her gaze with a pathetic little-boy look, a look she knew and loved. Cresta, at twenty, was not inexperienced in affairs of the heart. She had had two other lovers, but neither of them, neither, excited her like Josh Holman. Perhaps it was because he never catered to her; he hadn't even pursued her, for that matter. And once they were together, he accepted her with a casual affection which she found refreshing after so many overanxious men and tiresome compliments. She also loved him because he was intelligent, kind, and possessed a good sense of humor. But there was that other side to him. He was often moody, sometimes sharp, withdrawn and even cruel.
Cresta shook her head in consternation. "Josh, if you love me, then fight for me. Aren't I worth it? I love you with all my heart. I want to marry you. I want to have your children. But ...," she began crying again, "not the way things are. Please,
I - I can't - help you if you won't help yourself."
He touched her arm. "I'll try, love. I'll really try."
She managed a smile. "That's all I wanted to hear. Now, I'm going to sleep in the guest room tonight. When you drink, you snore, and I have precious few hours left to get my beauty sleep."
"Josh, I have to. I'm doing close-up work tomorrow. It's that lipstick commercial. I can't go in without any sleep at all. Rudy will probably have a devil of a time making me up anyway." She kissed him lightly on the cheek and hurried out of the kitchen.
Josh finished his beer, then viciously crushed the can in his hands. She was punishing him. No matter what she said, she was not free of anger or doubt concerning his intentions. He knew that she had a right to be both angry and pessimistic. They had been through it all before. She had made the same entreaties and he had made the same promises.
Josh knew that he would break them again, and that knowledge saddened him more than anything.
The alarm went off at eight. Josh groaned, reached out to turn it off, and knocked it on the floor. "Cresta," he mumbled, "I knocked the Goddamn clock on the floor." Suddenly he became aware that the only warmth in the bed was emanating from his own body. He raised his head. His brains felt scrambled. Leaning against the brass headboard, he tried to wish the throbbing away. He recalled having three more beers after Cresta had gone to bed. That had raised his alcohol level to such a point that he was able to sleep. Josh kicked off the light cover and looked down at his body. His feet were dirty and cut in several places. It came back to him in a rush. Central Park ... running ... the cops. Then he remembered that he didn't remember all of it.
He did remember the disco. The Krypton Klub was the "in" discotheque for all the beautiful, with-it people. It was the last place in New York City that Josh had wanted to be. But because Cresta was a top model, she was invited to attend every screwy affair in town. It was an opening night party for a rock musical which he had also had to endure - a pretentious piece of junk about a mass murderer.
As usual, Josh had acquiesced to Cresta's wishes; he would attend the show and later the party. The musical put him in a foul mood. And Josh knew on entering the Krypton Klub that only alcohol would allow him to deal with the deafening music, the flashing lights, and the shrill crowd.
Josh and Cresta were crammed at a miniscule table with five of Cresta's "dearest friends." The fat homosexual wearing giant pink glasses was a successful dress designer and fancied himself "out
ous." Josh found him merely loud and obnoxious. There were two models who worked at the same agency as Cresta. Both were vapid and pretty, and both glittered in punk rock gear. And their dates: a blandly handsome actor in a soap who experimented with kinky sex and was more than happy to tell you about it, and an advertising executive who was fighting his age. His sunlamp tan, capped teeth and dyed hair only added to the artificiality of his life. The ad exec kept all of them (except for Cresta and Josh) supplied in "the best snow in town." As the rest of the table not-so-discreetly sniffed cocaine, Josh concentrated on drinking while Cresta glared at him. An hour later she coerced him onto the dance floor, and there they had a fight. Josh didn't remember what about. The play? Probably. Her friends? Most likely. The disco? Most assuredly.
After that everything was a blank except ...
Josh staggered into the bathroom, peered at himself in the mirror and decided that he didn't look as bad as he should have. He looked in the guest room. Cresta was already off to her modeling assignment. The campaign bed was neatly made. When Josh entered the kitchen he expected to find a note from Cresta. It was a habit of hers. A note asking him to pick up something from the market or reminding him of a social engagement, or simply a reaffirmation of her love. The note was noticeably absent.
He looked around the kitchen. Well, at least she had made the coffee. Josh poured himself a mug. While he was waiting for it to cool, he dissolved two Alka Seltzers in a glass of beer, drank it down and emitted a healthy belch. He wanted to call Cresta just to measure her mood, but he couldn't remember where she had said she would be shooting that morning. He knew that he could check with Famous, Inc., the model agency that handled her, but she didn't like to have her work interrupted unless it was an emergency. And since when was a hangover an emergency?
Josh closed his eyes and savored the aroma of the coffee. Suddenly the odor became mixed with something else. A dry summer night, stagnant water and hot, fetid air. A blurred image of vegetation, rocks, and undergrowth rushed past his mind's eye like an unfinished watercolor. He was running, running faster than he ever had. Running as if he were being pursued ... or was he the pursuer? The predator or the prey?
Running in Central Park. Josh grunted, shaking off the disturbing images. It just ...
make any sense.
After finishing his coffee, Josh went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. He glanced at himself in the fogging mirror, flexed his muscles, and smiled at his reflection. He was fully aware of his sensual good looks, his impressive physique, and he savored them, knowing that he looked nearly a decade younger than his actual thirty-two years. His shoulders, if not overly broad, were solid, and corded with muscle. His sharply defined pectorals were high and covered with a light spray of black hair which trailed down to his deeply set navel and exploded around his formidable genitals. He turned and examined his back. His spine was sharply defined and a soft circle of black hair grew just above the crevice of his buttocks which were deeply indented on either side. The outline of his bathing suit was still evident. Josh's skin seemed to drink up the rays from summer weekends and winter vacations and retained them the year round. Once again he examined his feet. They were not badly torn up. The soles were hard from years of going barefoot at every chance.
While the needles of water stung his flesh, Josh contemplated how he was going to deal with Cresta. Perhaps he would pick up tickets to that rock concert she wanted to see. Or else take a stroll through Bloomingdale's and select an expensive little nothing which might please her fancy.
He knew it would take more than that. Hell, Cresta would much rather he stopped drinking. But, damn it, socializing made that impossible. Besides, he didn't always drink too much, and he didn't always have blackouts.
After briskly drying with a towel, Josh went into the bedroom to get dressed.
Even though the other members of the New York Institute of Anthropology did not approve his mode of dress, Josh wore what he pleased to work. As he was pulling on a blue knit shirt, the running scene flashed across his mind once again. The blur of images puzzled him. He seemed to be seeing them from a speeding car.
"Maybe I run faster when I drink," he mused.
Josh put on a pair of worn jeans, sandals, and threw a faded madras jacket in shades of red and blue over his shoulder. He took one last look in the mirror and hurried down the hall of the apartment. He nearly tripped over the guitar, which was propped up next to the closet. "Goddamn it, Cresta!" He picked it up and jammed it into the closet. "Why does she keep it lying around? She's never going to learn to play."
Sometime during the night the rain had stopped. New York looked washed, battered, wrung out to dry. Ruffled gray clouds, rimmed in the west with pink, looked pinned against the sheet of startlingly blue sky. It seemed that the heat wave had passed and the people's spirits were high and their faces split by smiles. Like a gift from the gods, the clement weather had seduced the city into a false sense of security.
Josh reached Central Park West and, preferring the closer contact with nature, crossed over to walk on the park side. Sunlight streamed through the branches of the trees overhead and scattered across the sidewalk like golden coins. A whey-faced nun in her drab, modern-day garb ushered a wavering line of unruly boys into the park. They were indistinguishable from one another, wearing the same school uniforms, bandaged knees and sly smirks. Several of them gawked admiringly at Josh, momentarily making him the object of their "I want to be like that when I grow up" fantasies. As he passed the bus stop a young woman waiting for the uptown express turned to openly admire Josh. He managed a self-conscious look and stifled a desire to tell her that he appreciated her appreciation of him. Josh knew that he was thought handsome by most women - Cresta had mentioned it often enough. He turned and favored her with a dazzling smile. She burst into self-conscious giggles.
On the corner there was a newsstand where Josh picked up his morning newspaper. While he was waiting for change, his eyes scanned the magazines hanging by clothespins from wires. Cresta was on the cover of that month's
, a leading fashion magazine. Josh was immediately struck by feelings of guilt, not only for the previous night and other nights in the past, but because of his playful game with the girl at the bus stop. He was, as always, incredulous that he was involved with somebody who was in some circles a celebrity. Josh touched the magazine cover with his fingertips. Cresta was wearing a designer's version of a farmgirl outfit and was posed against a background of straw. She was looking at the camera (and the viewer) with what one fashion wag had called "a million-dollar come-'n'-get-it look." Josh had seen that expression many times before. She unconsciously employed it when she was interested in having sex. The glossy cover shimmered in the sunlight, and Cresta the farmgirl was transformed into Cresta the beguiling bride. He recalled their meeting two years earlier in the spring of 1980.
It had been a green-gold morning softened by a vaporous mist. The sun was a bright, yellow knot and Josh felt that he could reach up and pull it down from the sky. He had been up since before dawn and had already run two miles. He was about to leave Central Park by the Seventy-Second Street entrance when he was drawn to a small group of people gathered around the wisteria arbor just inside the park. At first Josh reacted like any native New Yorker and assumed that there had been some sort of trouble - an early morning mugging perhaps. Then as he came closer he noticed the lights, the reflectors and the camera. Apparently someone was shooting a photograph.
Curious, Josh edged his way to the periphery of the busy circle of people. No one paid any attention to him. They were all involved in a magazine advertisement shoot. Everyone - photographer, art director, makeup man, wardrobe mistress, and a handful of assistants - had their attention focused on the entrance to the arbor.
The rustic log arbor was a structure left over from the Victorian age. It formed a tunnel of sorts over and around which the grapevines grew. The spring rains had been particularly abundant that year and the arbor was replete with lush vines and leaves. A perfect spot for a lovers' meeting.