Helen’s bedroom was always straightened while she bathed so that when she came out of the bathroom her dressing table was free of last night’s cream jars and soiled tissues, and there were glimpses in her mirror of flat bedspreads and patted chair cushions. When it was sunny, as it was now, there were bright warm blotches to bring out the pastels chosen from the decorator’s little book. She was brushing her thick red hair when Elsie, the maid, came in.
“Mr. Bobby’s here, ma’am,” said Elsie.
“Bobby?” asked Helen, “I though he was in Chicago. Hand me my robe, Elsie. Then show him in.”
Arranging her royal-blue robe to cover her long bare legs, Helen went on brushing her hair. Then abruptly a tall sandy-haired man in a polo coat brushed behind and past her, snapping his index finger against the back of her neck. He walked directly to the chaise-lounge on the other side of the room and stretched himself out, coat and all. Helen could see him in the mirror.
“Hello, you,” she said. “Hey. That thing was straightened. I thought you were in Chicago.”
“Got back last night,” Bobby said, yawning. “God, I’m tired.”
“Successful?” asked Helen. “Didn’t you go to hear some girl sing or something?”
“Uh,” Bobby affirmed.
“Was she any good, the girl?”
“Lot of breast-work. No voice.”
Helen sat down her brush, got up, and seated herself in the peach-colored straight chair at Bobby’s feet. From her robe pocket she took an Emory board and proceeded to apply it to her long, flesh-pink nails. “What else do you know?” she inquired.
“Not much” said Bobby. He sat up with a grunt, took a package of cigarettes from his overcoat pocket, stuck them back, then stood up and removed the overcoat. He tossed the heavy thing on Helen’s bed, scattering a colony of sunbeams. Helen continued filing her nails. Bobby sat on the edge of the chaise-lounge, lighted a cigarette, and leaned forward. The sun was on them both, lashing her milky skin, and doing nothing for Bobby but showing up his dandruff and the pockets under his eyes.
“How would you like a job?” Bobby asked.
“A job?” Helen said, filing. “What kind of job?”
“Eddie Jackson’s going into rehearsals with a new show. I saw him last night. Y’oughtta see how gray that guy’s getting. I said to him, have you got a spot for my sister? He said maybe, and I told him that you might be around.”
“It’s a good thing you said might,” Helen said, looking up at him. “What kind of a spot? Third from the left or something?”
“I didn’t ask him what kind of spot. But it’s better than nothing, isn’t it?”
Helen didn’t answer him, went on attending to her nails.
“Why don’t you want the job?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want one.”
“Well then what’s the matter with seeing Jackson?”
“I don’t want any more chorus work. Besides, I hate Eddie Jackson’s guts.”
“Yeah,” said Bobby. He got up and went to the door. “Elsie!” he called. “Bring me a cup of coffee!” Then he sat down again.
“I want you to see Eddie,” he told her
“I don’t want to see Eddie.”
“I want you to see him. Put that god damn file down a minute.”
She went on filing.
“I want you to go up there this afternoon, hear?”
“I’m not going up there this afternoon,” Helen told him, crossing her legs. “Who do you think you’re ordering around?”
Bobby’s hand was half fist when he knocked the Emory board from her fingers. She neither looked at him nor picked up the Emory board from the carpet. She just got up and went back to her dressing table to resume brushing her hair, her thick red hair. Bobby followed to stand behind her, to look for her eyes in the mirror.
“I want you to see Eddie this afternoon. Hear me, Helen?”
Helen brushed her hair. “And what’ll you do if I don’t go up there, tough guy?”
He picked that up. “Would you like me to tell you? Would you like me to tell you what I’ll do if you don’t go up there?”
“Yes, I’d like you to tell me what you’ll do if I don’t go up there,” Helen mimicked.
“Don’t do that. I’ll push that glamour kisser of yours. So help me,” Bobby warned. “I want you to go up there. I want you to see Eddie and I want you to take that god damn job.”
“No, I want you to tell me what you’ll do if I don’t go up there,” Helen said in her natural voice.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” Bobby said, watching her eyes in the mirror. “I’ll ring up your greasy boyfriend’s wife and tell her what’s what.”
Helen horse-laughed. “Go ahead!” she told him. “Go right ahead, wise guy! She knows all about it.”
Bobby said, “She knows, eh?”
“Yes, she knows! And don’t call Phil greasy! You wish you were half as good looking as he is!”
“He’s a greaser. A greasy lousy cheat,” Bobby pronounced. “Two for a lousy dime. That’s your boyfriend.”
“Coming from you that’s good.”
“Have you ever seen his wife?” Bobby asked.
“Yes-I’ve-seen-his-wife. What about her?”
“Have you ever seen her face?”
“Yes, why, what’s so marvelous about her face?”
“Nothing’s so marvelous about it. She hasn’t go a glamour kisser like yours. It’s just a nice face. Why the hell don’t you leave her dumb husband alone?”
“None of your business why!” Snapped Helen.
The fingers of his right hand suddenly dug into the hollow of her shoulder. She yelled out in pain, turned, and from an awkward position but with all her might, slammed his hand with the flat of her hairbrush. He sucked in his breath, pivoted swiftly so that his back was both to Helen and to Elsie, the maid, who had come in with his coffee. Elsie set the tray on the window seat next to the chair where Helen had filed her nails, then slipped out of the room.
Bobby sat down, and with the use of his other hand, sipped his coffee black. Helen, at the dressing table, had begun to place her hair. She wore it in a heavy old-fashioned bun.
He had long finished his coffee when the last hairpin was in its place. Then she went over to where he sat smoking and looked out the window. Drawing the lapels of her robe closer to her breast, she sat down with a little oop sound of unbalance on the floor at his feet. She placed a hand on his ankle, stroked it, and addressed him in a different voice.
“Bobby, I’m sorry. But you made me loose my temper, darling. Did I hurt your hand?”
“Never mind my hand,” he said, keeping it in his pocket.
“Bobby, I love Phil. On my word of honor. I don’t want you to think I’m playing around, trying to hurt people?”
Bobby made no reply.
“My word of honor, Bob. You don’t know Phil. He’s really a grand person.”
Bobby looked at her. “You and your grand persons. You know more god damn grand persons. The guy from Cleveland. What the hell was his name? Bothwell. Harry Bothwell. And how ‘bout that blond kid used to sing at Bill Cassidy’s? Two of the goddamndest grandest persons you ever met.” He looked out the window again. “Oh for Christsake, Helen,” he said finally.
“Bob,” said Helen, “you know how old I was. I was terribly young. You know that. But Bob, this is the real thing. Honestly. I know it is. I’ve never felt this way before. Bob, you don’t really in your heart think I’m taking all this from Phil just for the hell of it?”
Bobby looked at her again, lifted his eyebrows, thinned his lips. “You know what I hear in Chicago?” he asked her.
“What, Bob?” Helen asked gently, the tips of her fingers rubbing his ankle.
“I heard two guys talking. You don’t know ‘em. They were talking about you. You and this horsy-set guy, Hanson Carpenter. They crummied the thing inside and out.” He paused. “You with him, too, Helen?”
“That’s a goddamn lie, Bob,” Helen told him softly. “Bob, I hardly know Hanson Carpenter well enough to say hello to him.”
“Maybe so! But it’s a wonderful thing for a brother to have to listen to, isn’t it? Everybody in town gives me the horse-laugh when they see me comin’ around the corner!”
“Bobby. If you believe that slop it’s your own damn fault. What do you care what they say? You’re bigger than they are. You don’t have to pay any attention to their dirty minds.”
“I didn’t say I believed it. I said it was what I heard. That’s bad enough, isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s not so,” Helen told him. “Toss me a cigarette there, hmm?”
He flipped the package of cigarettes into her lap; then the matches. She lighted up, inhaled, and removed a piece of tobacco from her tongue with the tips of her fingers.
“You used to be such a swell kid,” Bobby stated briefly.
“Oh! And I ain’t no more?” Helen little-girl’d.
He was silent.
“Listen, Helen. I’ll tell ya. I had lunch the other day, before I went to Chicago, with Phil’s wife.”
“She’s a swell kid. Class,” Bobby told her.
“Class, huh?” said Helen.
“Yeah. Listen go see Eddie this afternoon. It can’t do any harm. Go see him.”
Helen smoked. “I hate Eddie Jackson. He always makes a play for me.”
“Listen,” said Bobby, standing up. “You know how to turn on the ice when you want to.” He stood over her. “I have to go. I haven’t gone to the office yet.”
“Helen stood up and watched him put on his polo coat.
“Go see Eddie,” Bobby said, putting on his pigskin gloves. “hear me?” He buttoned his overcoat. “I’ll give you a ring soon.”
Helen chided, “Oh, you’ll give me a ring soon! When? The Fourth of July?”
“No, soon. I’ve been busy as hell lately. Where’s my hat? oh, I didn’t have one.”
She walked with him to the front door, stood in the doorway until the elevator came. Then she shut the door and walked quickly back to her room. She went to the telephone and dialed swiftly but precisely.
“Hello?” she said into the mouthpiece. “Let me speak to Mr. Stone, please. This is Miss Mason.” In a moment his voice came through. “Phil?” she said. “Listen. My brother Bobby was just here. And do you know why? Because that adorable little Vassarfaced wife of yours told him about you and I. Yes! Listen, Phil. Listen to me. I don’t like it. I don’t care if you had anything to do with it or not. I don’t like it. I don’t care. No, I can’t. I have a previous engagement. I can’t tonight either. You can call me tomorrow, Phil. No. I said no, Phil. Goodbye.”
She set down the receiver, crossed her legs, and bit thoughtfully at the cuticle of her thumb. Then she turned and yelled loudly: “Elsie!”
Elsie moused into the room.
“Take away Mr. Bobby’s tray.”
When Elsie was out of the room, Helen dialed again.
“Hanson?” she said. “This is me. Us. We. You dog.”
- Ve a ver a Eddie
- El Puma y El Dante*