The Deep Blue Good-Bye Part 16
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"Listen, you idiot woman! How do you know you're not being taken? Maybe I got it all from him. Why should you take my word about anything?"
"You did good. I didn't even know you got a thing. You keep half like we said."
I reached and grabbed her purse. I crammed the money into it and managed to fasten the catch.
"I got all I want!"
"There's no call to yell. You want me to have it, I'll take it. And I thank you kindly. Travis."
I kicked the table out of the way and slumped onto the couch beside her. The d.a.m.ned humble, docile, forgiving woman. I wanted to beat her. I wanted to do some ugly thing that would destroy that mute earnestness, that anxiety to please me. I hooked a hand around her neck and pulled her over to me, stroked her body and kissed her roughly. I released her and she sagged back and moistened her lips and stared at me with a little frown between her brows.
"Well?" I said.
"If'n you're telling me you want me, and waiting that I should say yes or no, I guess it would be yes, if it would comfort you some, if you think it's what you want off me. I made bad trouble for you... and there isn't much I can do one way or another."
I got up and caught her wrist and pulled her along. She came willingly. I pushed her into the stateroom ahead of me. She looked around the room. I stumbled and sat on the bed. She undid a side zipper on that blue dress and gave me a quick and earnest look as she did so, teeth biting into her underlip, a boyish tousle of blonde hair falling across her forehead, her worried little frown still in place. She pulled the dress off over her head and hung it over the back of a chair. She balanced herself and slipped her shoes off. She wore very plain white nylon underthings, trim panties and a functional-looking bra.
"My G.o.d, Cathy," I said, "you're not under any compulsion." She looked blank. "You're not obligated."
"You're hurting, ain't you?" she said, and reached her arms behind her and unhooked the bra.
"It was a lousy idea. Get dressed and go."
I saw the tears come then, spilling, but not changing the expression of her face. "You got to know what you want," she said. "I'm not so much. I guess you know that. But drinking and all, you got to know or have somebody tell you."
I stretched out with my back to her. "I'm sorry" I said. "Just take off, will you?"
I listened for some sound. I guess she was standing there staring at me. Then she came around the bed and crawled on from the other side, came crawling into my arms, in just her little white pants, tugging and fitting my arms around her, hitching up so she could pull my face into the soft hollow of her throat. She smelled soapy-clean, and faintly of some flower perfume.
"Cathy, I didn't mean..."
"Hush up," she said. "It don't have to be that, I know. What you want to do, you want to smash and kick and fight. I know about that, honey. I know about. something else too. You got to let go. It's hard to let go. G.o.d love you, I know that. A woman can cry it off some. But you listen. I'm just somebody close right now, for you to hold to, and that he'ps too. It don't matter what you want or don't want, or do or don't do. You just hang on close, and you try to let her go. She's gone. You got to let her go the rest of the way, with no blaming yourself. I'm here with you. Just somebody to be with. You can use me just to hang onto, or love me or whip me or cry some if you could. Or talk about her or anything. I'll be with you now. I'm off tonight. Now you think for a minute and say go or stay."
"I guess... stay"
With her free hand, with strong fingers, she worked at the tension in the nape of my neck, in the muscles of my shoulders. I did not realize how tense I had been until from time to time I sighed and at each long exhalation I seemed to settle and soften against her.
In the last of daylight I took her hand and looked at it, at the weathered back of it, the little blue veins, the country knuckles. It seemed a very dear hand indeed. I kissed her, and felt the little ridge where they'd st.i.tched my mouth. Her brown eyes glinted in the last of the light, and in a little while her breathing quickened. It was all strange and deep and sweet and unemphatic, as though it was an inescapable extension of that comforting closeness, as natural as all the rest of it.
In darkness she said in a murmurous voice, "With that money, I should be near my boy. It will last good and long down to Candle Key. I could spell Christine, watching over the kids. She wants a waitress job again, tired of being alone there. I can give notice. Honey, what you should do, you should come on down there in this boat and tie on up to our old dock down there. Put you to work, on handyman stuff that's piled up. With the other kids in school, we could maybe take Davie fis.h.i.+ng in the skiff sometimes. What we could be... I guess is a comfort to one another for a time down there, just sweet and close like this was, and we would know when it was time for you to leave. It wouldn't be no obligation to you, Travis."
And so we did. And I was mended as much as I could ever expect. And left finally, wondering if I was not perhaps the world's fool for not settling for that, for keeps.
On the late November day when I left, she grinned away tears, made our jokes which had become familiar to us, and stood on the dock holding the kid's hand, waving until I was past the island and out of sight.
The Deep Blue Good-Bye Part 16
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The Deep Blue Good-Bye Part 16 summary
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