Therese is nineteen and working in a department store during the Christmas shopping season. She dates men, although not with real enthusiasm. One day a . A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol. This content was uploaded by our users and we assume good faith they have the permission to share this book. If you own the copyright to this book and it is.
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Patricia HighsmithTHE PRICE OF SALT CHAPTER 1 THE LUNCH HOUR in the co-workers' cafeteria at Frankenberg's had reac. Title: DOWNLOAD EBOOK THE-PRICE-OF-SALT-OR-CAROL EBOOK EPUB site PDF by Patricia Highsmith, Author: nyrmusic, Name. patricia-highsmith-the-price-of-salt-epub Patricia Highsmith The Price Of Salt Epub Updated a year ago. About · 0 Discussions · 0 Change Requests.
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Suddenly Therese wanted to take infinite pains, wanted to find exactly the doll the woman was looking for.
But the next doll wasn't quite right, either. The doll didn't have real hair. Therese tried in another place and found the same doll with real hair. It even cried when it bent over. It was exactly what the woman wanted. Therese laid the doll down carefully in fresh tissue in a new box. She graduated from nursing school with me, so I made a little uniform like ours to dress a doll in. Thank you so much. And I wish you a merry Christmas! It was the first merry Christmas she had heard from a customer.
Hendrickson asked her, as sharply as if she reproached her. Therese hadn't had it. She got her pocketbook and the novel she was reading from the shelf under the wrapping counter.
How anyone could have read Gertrude Stein without reading any Joyce, Richard said, he didn't know. She felt a bit inferior when Richard talked with her about books.
She had browsed all over the bookshelves at school, but the library assembled by the Order of St. Margaret had been far from catholic, she realized now, though it had included such unexpected writers as Gertrude Stein. The hall to the employees' rest rooms was blocked by big shipping carts piled high with boxes. Therese waited to get through. Therese smiled a little because it was silly. Even down in the cloakroom in the basement, they yelled "Pixie!
She got through, and dodged a shipping cart that hurtled toward her with a clerk aboard. She went on without looking down at her leg, though pain began to blossom there, like a slow explosion. She went on into the different chaos of women's voices, women's figures, and the smell of disinfectant.
Blood was running to her shoe, and her stocking was torn in a jagged hole. She pushed some skin back into place, and feeling sickened, leaned against the wall and held to a water pipe. She stayed there a few seconds, listening to the confusion of voices among the girls at the mirror. Then she wet toilet paper and daubed until the red was gone from her stocking, but the red kept coming. Finally, there was nothing to do but download a sanitary napkin from the slot machine.
She used a little of the cotton from inside it, and tied it on her leg with the gauze. And then it was time to go back to the counter. Their eyes met at the same instant, Therese glancing up from a box she was opening, and the woman just turning her head so she looked directly at Therese.
She was tall and fair, her long figure graceful in the loose fur coat that she held open with a hand on her waist. Her eyes were gray, colorless, yet dominant as light or fire, and caught by them, Therese could not look away. She heard the customer in front of her repeat a question, and Therese stood there, mute. The woman was looking at Therese, too, with a preoccupied expression as if half her mind were on whatever it was she meant to download here, and though there were a number of salesgirls between them, Therese felt sure the woman would come to her.
Then Therese saw her walk slowly toward the counter, heard her heart stumble to catch up with the moment it had let pass, and felt her face grow hot as the woman came nearer and nearer. The damaged valise lay only a yard away. Therese turned around and got a box from the bottom of a stack, a box that had never been opened.
When she stood up, the woman was looking at her with the calm gray eyes that Therese could neither quite face nor look away from. Her eyebrows were blond, curving around the bend of her forehead.
Her mouth was as wise as her eyes, Therese thought, and her voice was like her coat, rich and supple, and somehow full of secrets.
Therese went back to the stockroom for the key. The key hung just inside the door on a nail, and no one was allowed to touch it but Mrs. Miss Davis saw her and gasped, but Therese said, "I need it," and went out. She opened the show window and took the suitcase down and laid it on the counter. She said casually, leaning both forearms on the counter, studying the contents of the valise, "They'll have a fit, won't they?
I'd like this. That's C. And what about clothes? Do these come with it? Therese said, "No, they're separate. If you want doll clothes--these aren't as good as the clothes in the dolls' clothing department across the aisle. Will this get to New Jersey before Christmas? Aird," the woman's soft, distinct voice said, and Therese began to print it on the green C.
The Sweetness of Salt
The name, the address, the town appeared beneath the pencil point like a secret Therese would never forget, like something stamping itself in her memory forever. Therese noticed the woman's perfume for the first time, and instead of replying, could only shake her head. She looked down at the slip to which she was laboriously adding the necessary figures, and wished with all her power to wish anything, that the woman would simply continue her last words and say, "Are you really so glad to have met me?
Then why can't we see each other again? Why can't we even have lunch together today? But nothing came after the "will you? Therese slid the book toward her for her signature. Then the woman picked up her gloves from the counter, and turned, and slowly went away, and Therese watched the distance widen and widen. Her ankles below the fur of the coat were pale and thin. She wore plain black suede shoes with high heels.
Hendrickson's ugly, meaningless face. How do you expect them to claim the download when it comes? Where's the customer? Can you catch her? And with the green slip in her hand, she hesitated a moment, then carried it around the counter, forcing herself to advance, because she was suddenly abashed by her appearance, the old blue skirt, the cotton blouse-whoever assigned the green smocks had missed her--and the humiliating flat shoes.
And the horrible bandage through which the blood was probably showing again. Behind the counter again, Therese faced the stock boxes, sliding them thoughtfully out and back, as if she were looking for something.
Therese waited until the woman must have finished at the counter and gone away. She was conscious of the moments passing like irrevocable time, irrevocable happiness, for in these last seconds, she might turn and see the face she would never see again. She was conscious, too, dimly now and with a different horror, of the old, unceasing voices of customers at the counter calling for assistance, calling to her, and of the low, humming rrrrr of the little train, part of the storm that was closing in and separating her from the woman.
But when she turned finally, she looked directly into the gray eyes again. The woman was walking toward her, and as if time had turned back, she leaned on the counter again and gestured to a doll and asked to see it.
Therese got the doll and dropped it with a clatter on the glass counter, and the woman glanced at her.
Therese smiled. She gave her name and address again, and Therese took it slowly from her lips, as if she did not already know it by heart. That's two days before Christmas.
I don't mean to make you nervous. In an embarrassment so profound there was nothing left to defend, she got the knot tied under the woman's eyes. But I know it'll get there. I always lose them. Therese watched her go away with a step as slow as when she had come, saw her look at another counter as she passed it, and slap her black gloves across her palm twice, three times.
Then she disappeared into an elevator. And Therese turned to the next customer. She worked with an indefatigable patience, but her figures on the sales slips bore faint tails where the pencil jerked convulsively. She went to Mr. Logan's office, which seemed to take hours, but when she looked at the clock, only fifteen minutes had passed, and now it was time to wash up for lunch. She stood stiffly in front of the rotating towel, drying her hands, feeling unattached to anything or anyone, isolated.
Logan had asked her if she wanted to stay on after Christmas. She could have a job downstairs in the cosmetic department. Therese had said no. In the middle of the afternoon, she went down to the first floor and bought a card in the greeting-card department. It was not a very interesting card, but at least it was simple, in plain blue and gold.
She stood with the pen poised over the card, thinking of what she might have written--"You are magnificent" or even "I love you"--finally writing quickly the excruciatingly dull and impersonal: Then she went down to the post office in the basement, hesitated at the letter drop, losing her nerve suddenly at the sight of her hand holding the letter half in the slot.
What would happen? She was going to leave the store in a few days, anyway. What would Mrs. Aird care? The blond eyebrows would perhaps lift a little, she would look at the card a moment, then forget it.
Therese dropped it. On the way home, an idea came to her for a stage set, a house interior with more depth than breadth, with a kind of vortex down the center, from which rooms would go off on either side. She wanted to begin the cardboard model that night, but at last she only elaborated on her pencil sketch of it. She wanted to see someone--not Richard, not Jack or Alice Kelly downstairs, maybe Stella, Stella Overton, the stage designer she had met during her first weeks in New York.
Therese had not seen her, she realized, since she had come to the cocktail party Therese had given before she left her other apartment. Stella was one of the people who didn't know where she lived now. Therese was on her way down to the telephone in the hall, when she heard the short quick rings of her doorbell that meant there was a call for her.
It was Richard's usual call around nine o'clock. Richard wanted to know if she felt like seeing a movie tomorrow night. It was the movie at the Sutton they still hadn't seen.
Therese said she wasn't doing anything, but she wanted to finish a pillow cover. Alice Kelly had said she could come down and use her sewing machine tomorrow night. And besides, she had to wash her hair. I can't sleep if my head's wet. We won't use the tub, just a couple of buckets. Richard had been imitating the tub drain with writhings and gluggings, and she had laughed so hard, her feet slipped on the floor.
It's open Saturday afternoon. I can't get away till nine thirty. Well, I'll stay around school and meet you on the corner about nine thirty. Forty-fourth and Fifth. All right? With you? I'm going to see about boat reservations tomorrow. I'll call you tomorrow night. The next day was Friday, the last Friday before Christmas, and the busiest day Therese had known since she had been working at Frankenberg's, though everyone said tomorrow would be worse. People were pressed alarmingly hard against the glass counters.
Customers she started to wait on got swept away and lost in the gluey current that filled the aisle. It was impossible to imagine any more people crowding onto the floor, but the elevators kept emptying people out. It was Mrs.
She had been using a whistle to get attention today. Therese made her way toward her past salesgirls and through empty boxes on the floor.
Hendrickson told her, pointing to the telephone by the wrapping table. Therese made a helpless gesture that Mrs. Hendrickson had no time to see. It was impossible to hear anything on a telephone now. And she knew it was probably Richard being funny. He had called her once before. She dragged the telephone off the table and into the stockroom a few feet away.
The wire did not quite reach, and she had to stoop on the floor. Oh, you're--" "This is Mrs. Aird," she said. Or not. She closed her eyes and wrung the telephone, seeing the intelligent, smiling eyes again as she had seen them yesterday. The woman laughed. Then Therese understood. She had thought it was from a man, some other clerk who had waited on her. Or a drink. Why don't we make it for lunch?
Do you have any time tomorrow? I have an hour, from twelve to one," Therese said, staring at the girl's feet in front of her in splayed flat moccasins, the back of her heavy ankles and calves in lisle stockings, shifting like an elephant's legs.
I--" Therese remembered now she went to work at one sharp tomorrow. She had the morning off. She put her arm up to ward off the avalanche of boxes the girl in front of her had pulled down from the shelf. The girl herself teetered back onto her. Zabriskie said irritatedly, plowing out the door again. The line was dead. It'd be nice to find a quiet one, but there aren't any in this neighborhood. No, you haven't, if you've only got an hour. I think I know a place a couple of blocks west on this street.
Do you think you have time? Therese knew she would be terribly late, and it didn't matter at all. They did not bother to talk on the way. Now and then the crowds made them separate, and once the woman glanced at Therese, across a pushcart full of dresses, smiling. They went into a restaurant with wooden rafters and white tablecloths, that miraculously was quiet, and not half filled. They sat down in a large wooden booth, and the woman ordered an old-fashioned without sugar, and invited Therese to have one, or a sherry, and when Therese hesitated, sent the waiter away with the order.
She took off her hat and ran her fingers through her blond hair, once on either side, and looked at Therese. She looked at the small pearl earrings, that were somehow no lighter than her hair itself, or her eyes. Therese thought her beautiful, though her face was a blur now because she could not bear to look at it directly.
She got something out of her handbag, a lipstick and compact, and Therese looked at her lipstick case--golden like a jewel, and shaped like a sea chest.
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She wanted to look at the woman's mouth, but the gray eyes so close drove her away, flickering over her like fire. Only about two weeks. Therese took one. I'll have another job. In Manhattan? On Sixty-third Street. Her parents were dead, she said. She had lived in New York the past two years, and before that at a school in New Jersey.
Therese did not tell her that the school was semi-religious, Episcopalian. She did not mention Sister Alicia whom she adored and thought of so often, with her pale-blue eyes and her ugly nose and her loving sternness. Because since yesterday morning, Sister Alicia had been thrust far away, far below the woman who sat opposite her.
Even the pearl at her earlobe looked alive, like a drop of water that a touch might destroy. Sketched and painted sometimes, carved things like cats' heads and tiny figures to go in her ballet sets, but that she liked best to take long walks practically anywhere, liked best simply to dream? Therese felt she did not have to tell her. She felt the woman's eyes could not look at anything without understanding completely.
Therese took some more of her drink, liking it, though it was like the woman to swallow, she thought, terrifying, and strong. The woman nodded to the waiter, and two more drinks arrived.
It's the way things should be at Christmas. And this year I like it especially. She laughed, putting her head back. It was a sound more beautiful than music.
It made a little wrinkle at the corner of her eyes, and it made her purse her red lips as she drew on her cigarette.
She gazed past Therese for a moment, her elbows on the table and her chin propped up on the hand that held her cigarette. There was a long line, from the waist of her fitted black suit up to the widening shoulder, and then the blond head with the fine, unruly hair held high. She was about thirty or thirty-two, Therese thought, and her daughter, for whom she had bought the valise and the doll, would be perhaps six or eight. Therese could imagine the child, blond haired, the face golden and happy, the body slim and well proportioned, and always playing.
But the child's face, unlike the woman's with its short cheeks and rather Nordic compactness, was vague and nondescript. And the husband? Therese could not see him at all. Therese said, "I'm sure you thought it was a man who sent you the Christmas card, didn't you? No, I'm delighted. Therese leaned closer toward it, looking down at her glass.
She wanted to thrust the table aside and spring into her arms, to bury her nose in the green and gold scarf that was tied close about her neck. Once the backs of their hands brushed on the table, and Therese's skin there felt separately alive now, and rather burning. Therese could not understand it, but it was so. Therese glanced at her face that was somewhat turned away, and again she knew that instant of half-recognition.
And knew, too, that it was not to be believed. She had never seen the woman before. If she had, could she have forgotten? In the silence, Therese felt they both waited for the other to speak, yet the silence was not an awkward one. Their plates had arrived. It was creamed spinach with an egg on top, steamy and buttery smelling.
But not in tedious detail. In six sentences, as if it all mattered less to her than a story she had read somewhere. And what did the facts matter after all, whether her mother was French or English or Hungarian, or if her father had been an Irish painter, or a Czechoslovakian lawyer, whether he had been successful or not, or whether her mother had presented her to the Order of St.
Margaret as a troublesome, bawling infant, or as a troublesome, melancholy eight-year-old? Or whether she had been happy there? Because she was happy now, starting today. She had no need of parents or background.
It was right. She was still smiling, as if she had just learned how to smile and did not know how to stop. The woman smiled with her, amusedly, and perhaps she was laughing at her, Therese thought. It's changed," Therese explained awkwardly. Please don't ever call me Carole.
The way you do," she answered. Carol pronounced her name the French way, Terez. She was used to a dozen variations, and sometimes she herself pronounced it differently.
She liked the way Carol pronounced it, and she liked her lips saying it. An indefinite longing, that she had been only vaguely conscious of at times before, became now a recognizable wish. It was so absurd, so embarrassing a desire, that Therese thrust it from her mind. Nothing in particular. What do you do? If you'd like to visit me sometime, you're welcome to. At least there's some country around where I live. Would you like to come out this Sunday? There was a measure of humor in them, Therese saw.
And what else? Curiosity and a challenge, too. She wasn't cold at all tonight, she realized suddenly, even though other people on the streets were hunched in their overcoats. She took Richard's arm and squeezed it affectionately tight. She was ten minutes late. I was waiting. She looked at Richard's face in the flare of his match.
The smooth slab of his forehead overhung his narrowed eyes, strong looking as a whale's front, she thought, strong enough to batter something in. His face was like a face sculpted in wood, planed smooth and unadorned.
She saw his eyes open like unexpected spots of blue sky in the darkness. He smiled at her. Want to walk down the block? You can't smoke in there. Like a cigarette? The gallery was just beside them, a row of lighted windows, each with a Christmas wreath, on the second floor of the big building. Tomorrow she would see Carol, Therese thought, tomorrow morning at eleven.
She would see her only ten blocks from here, in a little more than twelve hours. She started to take Richard's arm again, and suddenly felt self-conscious about it. Eastward, down Forty-third Street, she saw Orion exactly spread in the center of the sky between the buildings.
She had used to look at him from windows in school, from the window of her first New York apartment. I talked with the ticket fellow, and I think he can get us outside rooms, if I keep after him. Richard swung her hand as they walked.
As if they were lovers, Therese thought. It would be almost like love, what she felt for Carol, except that Carol was a woman. It was not quite insanity, but it was certainly blissful. A silly word, but how could she possibly be happier than she was now, and had been since Thursday? We can go in the Mansfield around the corner. Let's have it later. The gallery was a series of high-ceilinged, plush carpeted rooms, a background of financial opulence for the commercial advertisements, the drawings, lithographs, illustrations, or whatever that hung in a crowded row on the walls.
Richard pored over some of them for minutes at a time, but Therese found them a little depressing. She was thinking of something else. If she stopped scrimping to save money for Europe--which had been silly anyway because she wasn't going--she could download a new coat.
There would be sales right after Christmas. The coat she had now was a kind of black polo coat, and she always felt drab in it. Richard took her arm. She felt very close to him suddenly, as warm and happy with him as she had been the first night she met him, at the party down on Christopher Street where Frances Cotter had taken her.
Richard had been a little drunk, as he had never been since with her, talking about books and politics and people more positively than she had ever heard him talk since, too. He had talked with her all evening, and she had liked him so very much that night for his enthusiasms, his ambitions, his likes and dislikes, and because it was her first real party and he had made it a success for her. I've had enough when you have. Richard introduced Therese to them.
She could tell they were not close friends of Richard's, but he announced to all of them. Outside, Fifth Avenue seemed empty and waiting, like a stage set for some dramatic action. Therese walked along-quickly beside Richard, her hands in her pockets.
Somewhere today she had lost her gloves. She was thinking of tomorrow, at eleven o'clock. She wondered if she would possibly still be with Carol this time tomorrow night.
The family asked if you could come out this Sunday and have dinner with us. She had visited the Semcos four or five Sunday afternoons. They had a big dinner around two o'clock, and then Mr. Semco, a short man with a bald head, would want to dance with her to polkas and Russian folk music on the phonograph. She wants to measure you for it. Semco's embroidered blouses, white blouses with rows upon rows of stitches.
Semco was proud of her needlework. Therese did not feel she should accept such a colossal labor. Want to come out around noon? They haven't made any great plans, have they? I'd rather. His hand was moist, which made it icy cold.
She heard Richard sigh, and they walked along in silence for a while. She's going crazy with frustration with no girls in the family but Esther. She was hungry suddenly. She had spent her dinner hour writing something, a kind of letter to Carol that she hadn't mailed and didn't intend to. They caught the uptown bus at Third Avenue, then walked east to Therese's house. Therese did not want to invite Richard upstairs, but she did anyway.
He put a foot on the first step. You're miles away. I can tell. After all, don't you--" "What," she prompted. She knew what he was about to say, that she gave him practically nothing in the way of affection, but he wouldn't say it, because he knew very well that she wasn't in love with him, so why did he really expect her affection? Yet the simple fact that she wasn't in love with him made Therese feel guilty, guilty about accepting anything from him, a birthday present, or an invitation to dinner at his family's, or even his time.
Therese pressed her finger tips hard on the stone banister. I'm not in love with you," she said. That's the hell of it. How do you love me? I felt tonight, a few minutes ago," she said, hammering the words out however they sounded, because they were true, "that I felt closer to you than I ever have, in fact. Just let's try, will you? Now she felt miserable and ashamed, sorry for herself and for him, because it was so impossible, and so embarrassing because she didn't want it.
There was always that tremendous block of not even wanting to try it, which reduced it all to a kind of wretched embarrassment and nothing more, each time he asked her. She remembered the first night she had let him stay, and she writhed again inwardly. It had been anything but pleasant, and she had asked right in the middle of it, "Is this right?
And Richard had laughed, long and loud and with a heartiness that had made her angry. And the second time had been even worse, probably because Richard had thought all the difficulties had been gotten over. It was painful enough to make her weep, and Richard had been very apologetic and had said she made him feel like a brute. And then she had protested that he wasn't. She knew very well that he wasn't, that he was angelic compared to what Angelo Rossi would have been, for instance, if she had slept with him the night he stood here on the same steps, asking the same question.
Richard's lips parted in a stunned way. Therese could not bear to look at the frown above them. Because I can't," she said, every word agony.
Forget about it, honey, will you? And in Europe, too? But I can't, she thought. I've got to think about it sometime, because you think about it. It seemed to her that she spoke the words and that they were solid as blocks of wood in the air between them, even though she heard nothing. She had said the words before to him, in her room upstairs, once in Prospect Park when she was winding a kite string. But he wouldn't consider them, and what could she do now, repeat them?
Good night, honey. I love you, Terry. The wind flung itself around the tall cement corner of Frankenberg's as if it were furious at finding no human figure there to oppose. No one but her, Therese thought, and grinned suddenly at herself. She might have thought of a more pleasant place to meet than this.
The wind was like ice against her teeth. Carol was a quarter of an hour late. If she didn't come, she would probably keep on waiting, all day and into the night. One figure came out of the subway's pit, a splintery thin hurrying figure of a woman in a long black coat under which her feet moved as fast as if four feet were rotating on a wheel. Then Therese turned around and saw Carol in a car drawn up by the curb across the street.
Therese walked toward her. I thought you weren't coming. Are you freezing? The car was warm inside, a long dark-green car with dark-green leather upholstery. Carol drove slowly west. Where would you like to go? She could see freckles along the bridge of Carol's nose. Her short fair hair that made Therese think of perfume held to a light was tied back with the green and gold scarf that circled her head like a band.
It's pretty out there. It was like riding inside a rolling mountain that could sweep anything before it, yet was absolutely obedient to Carol. She had a cigarette in her mouth. She drove with her hands resting lightly on the wheel, as if it were nothing to her, as if she sat relaxed in a chair somewhere, smoking.
A wild, inexplicable excitement mounted in Therese as she stared through the windshield. She wished the tunnel might cave in and kill them both, that their bodies might be dragged out together. She felt Carol glancing at her from time to time. She supposed she was pale. She had started to have breakfast, but she had dropped the milk bottle in the sink, and then given it all up.
It's there in the thermos. Carol stopped by the side of the road. Then Carol took the thermos herself and poured some into the cup, steaming and light brown. Therese looked at the coffee gratefully. It sent strength through her.
When the cup was half empty, Carol started the car. Therese was silent. What was there to talk about? The gold four-leaf clover with Carol's name and address on it that dangled from key chain on the dashboard? The stand of Christmas trees they passed on the road?
The bird that flew by itself across a swampy looking field? Only the things she had written to Carol in the unmailed letter were to be talked about, and that was impossible. They had just driven into a little town and out of it. Now on the driveway that made a great semicircular curve, they approached a white two-story house that had projecting side wings like the paws of a resting lion.
There was a metal door mat, a big shining brass mailbox, a dog barking hollowly from around the side of the house, where a white garage showed beyond some trees. The house smelled of some spice, Therese thought, mingled with a separate sweetness that was not Carol's perfume either. Behind her, the door closed with a light, firm double report. Therese turned and found Carol looking at her puzzledly, her lips parted a little as if in surprise, and Therese felt that in the next second Carol would ask, "What are you doing here?
And she's far away," Carol said, as if in reply to some question of Therese's. It's almost noon. It's more comfortable. Upstairs, there was a short hall with four or five rooms around it. Carol went into a room with green carpet and walls, and took a cigarette from a box on a table. She glanced at Therese as she lighted it. Therese didn't know what to do or say, and she felt Carol expected her to do or say something, anything.
Therese studied the simple room with its dark-green carpet and the long green pillowed bench along one wall. There was a plain table of pale wood in the center. A game room, Therese thought, though it looked more like a study with its books and music albums and its lack of pictures. It had flowered cotton upholstery and plain blond woodwork like the table in the other room.
There was a long plain mirror over the dressing table, and throughout a look of sunlight, though no sunlight was in the room. The bed was a double bed. And there were military brushes on the dark bureau across the room.
Therese glanced in vain for a picture of him. There was a picture of Carol on the dressing table, holding up a small girl with blond hair. And a picture of a woman with dark curly hair, smiling broadly, in a silver frame. Carol opened a wall panel in the hall. Through all the house, there was no sound but those they made. Therese did not want the cold drink, but she took the bottle and carried it downstairs after Carol, through the kitchen and into the back garden she had seen from the window.
Beyond the fountain were a lot of plants some three feet high and wrapped in burlap bags that looked like something, standing there in a group, Therese thought, but she didn't know what.
Carol tightened a string that the wind had loosened. Stooped in the heavy wool skirt and the blue cardigan sweater, her figure looked solid and strong, like her face, but not like her slender ankles.
Carol seemed oblivious of her for several minutes, walking about slowly, planting her moccasined feet firmly, as if in the cold flowerless garden she was at last comfortable. It was bitterly cold without a coat, but because Carol seemed oblivious of that, too, Therese tried to imitate her. Play some records? She was preoccupied with something, and regretted after all inviting her out to the house, Therese felt.
They walked back to the door at the end of the garden path. She was looking into the big refrigerator. She lifted out two plates covered with wax paper. That would count for something, she thought, that would be the single important thing she could tell about herself.
But this was not the time. Now she replied slowly, trying to sound as detached as Carol, though she heard her shyness predominating, "I suppose it's educational. I learn how to be a thief, a liar, and a poet all at once. She wanted to say, and how to love. She had never loved anyone before Carol, not even Sister Alicia.
Carol looked at her. I haven't stolen yet, but I'm sure it's easy there. There are pocketbooks all around, and one just takes something. They steal the meat you download for dinner. One could laugh at it with Carol.
One could laugh at anything with Carol. They had sliced cold chicken, cranberry sauce, green olives, and crisp white celery. But Carol left her lunch and went into the living room.
She came back carrying a glass with some whisky in it, and added some water to it from the tap. Therese watched her. Then for a long moment, they looked at each other, Carol standing in the doorway and Therese at the table, looking over her shoulder, not eating.
Carol asked quietly, "Do you meet a lot of people across the counter this way? Don't you have to be careful whom you start talking to? Just three or four? And Carol looked fixedly at her, as if she demanded another word, another phrase from Therese.
But then she set the glass down on the stove top and turned away. Just play something. In a chair on the other side of the room. Carol sat listening relaxed and motionless, not even sipping the new glass of whisky and water. Therese played the C major Sonata, which was slowish and rather simple, full of broken octaves, but it struck her as dull, then pretentious in the trill parts, and she stopped. It was suddenly too much, her hands on the keyboard that she knew Carol played, Carol watching her with her eyes half closed, Carol's, whole house around her, and the music that made her abandon herself, made her-defenseless.
With a gasp, she dropped her hands in her lap. The question seemed not of now but of always. Therese could see her hands in her memory--flexible and strong, the delicate tendons showing as they pressed her shoulders. It seemed an age as her hands moved toward her neck and under her chin, an age of tumult so intense it blotted out the pleasure of Carol's tipping her head back and kissing her lightly at the edge of her hair.
Therese did not feel the kiss at all. She went with Carol upstairs again. Therese pulled herself up by the banister and was reminded suddenly of Mrs. Therese looked at the bed. She had hardly slept the night before. Carol sat down on the edge of the bed. Older than ninety-one.
Carol's eyebrows frowned, though she smiled a little. Therese felt that she thought of something so intensely, one might have touched the thought in the air between them. Then Carol slipped her hands under her shoulders, and bent her head down to Therese's throat, and Therese felt the tension go out of Carol's body with the sigh that made her neck warm, that carried the perfume that was in Carol's hair.
She lifted her head. Therese watched her through half-closed lids, worried by Carol's restlessness, though she loved the cigarette, loved to see her smoke. She knew from the tenderness and the concern in her voice, as if she were a child sick with fever. Then Therese said it: Then she left the room. And Therese lay in a limbo of anxiety and sleepiness all the long while until Carol reappeared with the milk in a straight-sided white cup with a saucer under it, holding the saucer and the cup handle, and closing the door with her foot.
Plain like that? Therese was propped on one elbow. The milk was so hot, she could barely let her lip touch it at first. The tiny sips spread inside her mouth and released a melange of organic flavors. The milk seemed to taste of bone and blood, of warm flesh, or hair, saltless as chalk yet alive as a growing embryo. It was hot through and through to the bottom of the cup, and Therese drank it down, as people in fairy tales drink the potion that will transform, or the unsuspecting warrior the cup that will kill.
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Then Carol came and took the cup, and Therese was drowsily aware that Carol asked her three questions, one that had to do with happiness, one about the store, and one about the future.
Therese heard herself answering. She heard her voice rise suddenly in a babble, like a spring that she had no control over, and she-realized she was in tears. She was telling Carol all that she feared and disliked, of her loneliness, of Richard, and of gigantic disappointments. And of her parents. Her mother was not dead. But Therese had not seen her since she was fourteen. Carol, questioned her, and she answered, though she did not want to talk about her mother.
Her mother was not that important, not even one of the disappointments. Her father was. Her father was quite different. He had died when she was six--a lawyer of Czechoslovakian descent who all his life had wanted to be a painter.
He had been quite different, gentle, sympathetic, never raising his voice in anger against the woman who had nagged at him, because he had been neither a good lawyer nor a good painter. He had never been strong, he had died of pneumonia, but in Therese's mind, her mother had killed him.
Carol questioned and questioned her, and Therese told of her mother's bringing her to the school in Montclair when she was eight, of her mother's infrequent visits afterward, for her mother had traveled a great deal around the country. She had been a pianist--no, not a first-rate one, how could she be, but she had always found work because she was pushing.
And when Therese was about ten, her mother had remarried. Therese had visited at her mother's house in Long Island in the Christmas holidays, and they had asked her to stay with them, but not as if they wanted her to stay. And Therese had not liked the husband, Nick, because he was exactly like her mother, big and dark haired, with a loud voice, and violent and passionate gestures.
Therese was sure their marriage would be perfect. Her mother had been pregnant even then, and now there were two children. After a week with them, Therese had returned to the Home. There had been perhaps three or four visits from her mother afterward, always with some present for her, a blouse, a book, once a cosmetic kit that Therese had loathed simply because it reminded her of her mother's brittle, mascaraed eye-lashes, presents handed her selfconsciously by her mother, like hypocritical peace offerings.
Once her mother had brought the little boy, her half brother, and then Therese had known she was an outsider. Her mother had not loved her father, had chosen to leave her at a school when she was eight, and why did she bother now even to visit her, to claim her at all? Therese would have been happier to have no parents, like half the girls in the school. Finally, Therese had told her mother she did not want her to visit again, and her mother hadn't, and the ashamed, resentful expression, the nervous sidewise glance of the brown eyes, the twitch of a smile and the silence--that was the last she remembered of her mother.
Then she had become fifteen. The sisters at the school had known her mother was not writing. They had asked her to write, and she had, but Therese had not answered. Then when graduation came, when she was seventeen, the school had asked her mother for two hundred dollars. Therese hadn't wanted any money from her, had half believed her mother wouldn't give her any, but she had, and Therese had taken it.
I never told anyone but you. Some day I want to give it back. She was sitting on the arm of the chair, resting her chin in her hand, her eyes fixed on Therese, smiling.
When you forget about paying her back, then you'll be an adult.As if they were lovers, Therese thought. Therese got the doll and dropped it with a clatter on the glass counter, and the woman glanced at her. We can go in the Mansfield around the corner. Santa Claus was supposed to bring the dolls, Santa Claus represented by the frantic faces and the clawing hands. It was the first merry Christmas she had heard from a customer.
I'd like to come. She was suddenly out of control. When she stood up, the woman was looking at her with the calm gray eyes that Therese could neither quite face nor look away from.
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