THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?
THE marathon dance was held on the amusement pier at the beach in an enormous old building that once had been a public dance hall. It was built out over the ocean on pilings, and beneath our feet, beneath the floor, the ocean pounded night and day. I could feel it surging through the balls of my feet, as if they had been stethoscopes.
Inside there was a dance space for the contestants, thirty feet wide and two hundred feet long, and around this on three sides were loge seats, behind these were the circus seats, the general admission. At the end of the dance space was a raised platform for the orchestra. It played only at night and was not a very good orchestra. During the day we had what music we could pick up with the radio, made loud by the amplifiers. Most of the time it was too loud, filling the hall with noise. We had a master of ceremonies, whose duty it was to make the customers feel at home; two floor judges who moved around on the floor all the time with the contestants to see that everything went all right, two male and female nurses, and a house doctor for emergencies. The doctor didn't look like a doctor at all. He was much too young.
One hundred and forty-four couples entered the marathon dance but sixty-one dropped out the first week. The rules were you danced for an hour and fifty minutes, then you had a ten-minute rest period in which you could sleep if you wanted to. But in those ten minutes you also had to shave or bathe or get your feet fixed or whatever was necessary.
The first week was the hardest. Everybody's feet and legs swelled - and down beneath the ocean kept pounding, pounding against the pilings all the time. Before I went into this marathon dance I used to love the Pacific Ocean: its name, its size, its color, its smell - I used to sit for hours looking at it, wondering about the ships that had sailed it and never returned, about China and the South Seas, wondering all sorts of things . . . But not any more. I've had enough of the Pacific. I don't care whether I ever see it again or not. I probably won't. The judge is going to take care of tbat.
Gloria and I had been tipped off by some old-timers that the way to beat a marathon dance was to perfect a system for those ten-minute rest periods: learning to eat your sandwich while you shaved, learning to eat when you went to the john, when you had your feet fixed, learning to read newspapers while you danced, learning to sleep on your partner's shoulder while you were dancing; but these were all tricks of the trade you had to practice. They were very difficult for Gloria and me at first.
I found out that about half of the people in this contest were professionals. They made a business of going in marathon dances all over the country, some of them even hitchhiking from town to town. The others were just girls and boys who came in like Gloria and me.
Couple No. 13 were our best friends in the dance. This was James and Ruby Bates, from some little town in northern Pennsylvania. It was their eighth marathon dance; they had won a $1500 prize in Oklahoma, going 1253 hours in continuous motion. There were several other teams in this dance who claimed championships of some kind, but I knew James and Ruby would be right in there for the finish. That is, if Ruby's baby didn't come first. She expected a baby in four months.
"What's the matter with Gloria?" James asked me one day as we came back to the floor from the sleeping quarters.
"Nothing. What do you mean?" I asked. But I knew what he meant. Gloria had been singing the blues again.
"She keeps telling Ruby what a chump she would be to have the baby," he said. "Gloria wants her to have an abortion."
"I can't understand Gloria talking like that," I said, trying to smooth things over.
"You tell her to lay off Ruby," he said.
When the whistle started us off on the 216th hour I told Gloria what James had said.
"Nuts to him," she said. "What does he know about it?"
"I don't see why they can't have a baby if they want to. It's their business," I said. "I don't want to make James sore. He's been through a lot of these dances and he's already given us some good tips. Where would we be if he got sore?"
"It's a shame for that girl to have a baby," Gloria said. "What's the sense of having a baby unless you got dough enough to take care of it?"
"How do you know they haven't?" I asked.
"If they have what're they doing here? . . . That's the trouble now," she said. "Everybody is having babies-"
"Oh, not everybody," I said.
"A hell of a lot you know about it. You'd been better off if you'd never been born-"
"Maybe not," I said. "How do you feel?" I asked, trying to get her mind off her troubles.
"I always feel lousy," she said. "God, the hand on that clock moves slow." There was a big strip of canvas on the master of ceremonies' platform, painted in the shape of a clock, up to 2500 hours. The hand now pointed to 216. Above it was a sign: ELAPSED HOURS - 216. COUPLES REMAINING - 83.
"How are your legs?"
"Still pretty weak," I said. "That flu is awful stuff. . . . "
"Some of the girls think it'll take 2000 hours to win," Gloria said.
"I hope not," I said. "I don't believe I can hold out that long."
"My shoes are wearing out," Gloria said. "If we don't hurry up and get a sponsor I'll be bare-footed." A sponsor was a company or a firm that gave you sweaters and advertised their names or products on the backs. Then they took care of your necessities.
James and Ruby danced over beside us. "Did you tell her?" he asked, looking at me. I nodded.
"Wait a minute," Gloria said, as they started to dance away. "What's the big idea of talking behind my back?"
"Tell that twist to lay off me," James said, still speaking directly to me.
Gloria started to say something else but before she could get it out I danced her away from there. I didn't want any scenes.
"The son of a bitch," she said.
"He's sore," I said. "Now where are we?"
"Come on," she said, "I'll tell him where he gets off-"
"Gloria," I said, "will you please mind your own business?"
"Soft pedal that loud cussing," a voice said. I looked around. It was Rollo Peters, the floor judge.
"Nuts to you," Gloria said. Through my fingers I could feel the muscles twitching in her back, just like I could feel the ocean surging through the balls of my feet.
"Pipe down," Rollo said. "The people in the box can hear you. What do you think this is - a joint?"
"Joint is right," Gloria said.
"All right, all right," I said.
"I told you once already about that cussing," Rollo said. "I better not have to tell you again. It sounds bad to the customers."
"Customers? Where are they?" Gloria said.
"You let us worry about that," Rollo said, glaring at me.
"All right, all right," I said.
He blew his whistle, stopping everybody from moving. Some of them were barely moving, just enough to keep from being disqualified. "All right, kids," he said, "a little sprint."
"A little sprint, kids," the master of ceremonies, Rocky Gravo, said into the microphone. The noise of his voice in the amplifiers filled the hall, shutting out the pounding of the ocean. "A little sprint - around the track you go - Give," he said to the orchestra, and the orchestra began playing. The contestants started dancing with a little more animation.
The sprint lasted about two minutes and when it was finished Rocky led the applause, and then said into the microphone:
"Look at these kids, ladies and gentlemen - after 216 hours they are as fresh as a daisy in the world's championship marathon dance - a contest of endurance and skill. These kids are fed seven times a day - three big meals and four light lunches. Some of them have even gained weight while in the contest - and we have doctors and nurses constantly in attendance to see that they are in the best of physical condition. Now I'm going to call on Couple No. 4, Mario Petrone and Jackie Miller, for a specialty. Come on, Couple No. 4 - there they are, ladies and gentlemen. Isn't that a cute pair? . . ."
Mario Petrone, a husky Italian, and Jackie Miller, a little blonde, went up to the platform to some applause. They spoke to Rocky and then began a tap dance that was very bad. Neither Mario nor Jackie seemed conscious that it was bad. When it was over a few people pitched money onto the floor.
"Give, people," Rocky said. "A silver shower. Give."
A few more coins hit the floor. Mario and Jackie picked them up, moving over near us.
"How much?" Gloria asked them.
"Feels like about six-bits," Jackie said.
"Where you from, kid?" Gloria asked.
"I thought so," Gloria said.
"You and I ought to learn a specialty," I said to Gloria. "We could make some extra money."
"You're better off without knowing any," Mario said. "It only means extra work and it don't do your legs any good."
"Did you all hear about the derbies?" Jackie asked.
"What are they?" I asked.
"Some kind of a race," she said. "I think they're going to explain them at the next rest period."
"The cheese is beginning to bind," Gloria said.
. . . THAT
FOR THE CRIME
THE FIRST DEGREE . . .
IN THE dressing room Rocky Gravo introduced Vincent (Socks) Donald, one of the promoters.
"Lissen, kids," Socks said, "don't none of you be discouraged because people ain't coming to the marathon dance. It takes time to get these things going, so we have decided to start a little novelty guaranteed to pack 'em in. Now here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna have a derby race every night. We're going to paint an oval on the floor and every night everybody will race around the track for fifteen minutes and the last couple every night is disqualified. I guarantee that'll bring in the crowds."
"It'll bring in the undertaker too," somebody said.
"We'll move some cots out in the middle of the track," the promoter said, "and have the doctor and nurses on hand during the derby. When a contestant falls out and has to go to the pit, the partner will have to make two laps to make up for it. You kids will get more kick out of it because the crowds will be bigger. Say, when that Hollywood bunch starts coming here, we'll be standing 'em up . . . . Now, how's the food? Anybody got any kicks about anything? All right, kids, that's fine. You play ball with us and we'll play ball with you."
We went out to the floor. None of the contestants had anything to say about the derbies. They seemed to think that anything was a good idea if it would only start the crowds to coming. Rollo came up to me as I sat down on the railing. I had about two minutes more of rest before the next two- hour grind.
"Don't get me wrong about what I said a few minutes ago," he said. "It's not you, it's Gloria."
"I know," I said. "She's all right. She's just sore on the world, that's all."
"Try to keep her piped down," he said.
"That's a hard job, but I'll do the best I can," I said.
In a moment I looked up to the runway from the girls' dressing room and I was surprised to see Gloria and Ruby coming to the floor together. I went over to meet her.
"What do you think about the derbies?" I asked her.
"It's one good way to kill us off," she said.
The whistle started us away again.
"There's not more than a hundred people here tonight," I said. Gloria and I weren't dancing. I had my arm around her shoulder and she had hers around my waist, walking. That was all right. For the first week we had to dance, but after that you didn't. All you had to do was keep moving. I saw James and Ruby coming over to us and I could tell by the expression on his face that something was wrong. I wanted to get away, but there was no place to go.
"I told you to lay off my wife, didn't I?" he said to Gloria.
"You go to hell, you big ape," Gloria said.
"Wait a minute," I said. "What's the matter?"
"She's been after Ruby again," James said. "Every time I turn my back she's after her again."
"Forget it, Jim," Ruby said, trying to steer him away.
"Naw, I won't forget it. I told you to keep your mouth shut, didn't I?" he said to Gloria.
"You take a flying-"
Before Gloria could get the words finished he slapped her hard on the side of the face, knocking her head against my shoulder. It was a hard wallop. I couldn't stand for that. I reached up and hit him in the mouth. He hit me in the jaw with his left hand, knocking me back against some of the dancers. That kept me from falling to the floor. He rushed at me and I grabbed him, wrestling with him, trying to jerk my knee up between his legs to foul him. It was the only chance I had.
A whistle blew in my ear and somebody grabbed us. It was Rollo Peters. He shoved us apart.
"Cut it out," he said. "What's coming off here?"
"Nothing," I said.
"Nothing," Ruby said.
Rollo raised his hand, waving to Rocky on the platform.
"Give," said Rocky, and the orchestra started to play.
"Scatter out," Rollo said to the contestants, who started to move away. "Come on," he said, leading them around the floor.
"Next time I'm going to cut your throat," James said to Gloria.
"F-- you," Gloria said.
"Shut up," I said.
I walked away with her, down into a corner, where we slowed up, barely moving along.
"Are you crazy?" I said. "Why don't you let Ruby alone?"
"Don't worry, I'm through wasting my breath on her. If she wants to have a deformed baby, that's okay by me."
"Hello, Gloria," a voice said.
We looked around. It was an old woman in a front row box seat by the railing. I didn't know her name but she was quite a character. She had been there every night, bringing her blanket and her lunch. One night she wrapped up in her blanket and stayed all night. She was about sixty-five years old.
"Hello," Gloria said.
"What was the matter down there?" the old woman asked.
"Nothing," Gloria said. "Just a little argument."
"How do you feel?" the old woman asked.
"All right, I guess," Gloria replied.
"I'm Mrs. Layden," the old woman said. "You're my favorite couple."
"Well, thanks," I said.
"I tried to enter this," Mrs. Layden said, "but they wouldn't let me. They said I was too old. But I'm only sixty."
"Well, that's fine," I said.
Gloria and I had stopped, our arms around each other, swaying our bodies. You had to keep moving all the time. A couple of men moved into the loge behind the old woman. Both of them were chewing unlighted cigars.
"They're dicks," Gloria said under her breath.
". . . How do you like the contest?" I asked Mrs. Layden.
"I enjoy it very much," she said. "Very much. Such nice boys and girls . . ."
"Move along, kids," Rollo said, walking by.
I nodded to Mrs. Layden, moving along. "Can you feature that?" Gloria asked. "She ought to be home putting a diaper on the baby. Christ, I hope I never live to be that old."
"How do you know those fellows are detectives?" I asked.
"I'm psychic," Gloria replied. "My God, can you feature that old lady? She's a nut about these things. They ought to charge her room rent." She shook her head. "I hope I never live to be that old," she said again.
The meeting with the old lady depressed Gloria very much. She said it reminded her of the women in the little town in West Texas where she had lived.
"Alice Faye's just come in," one of the girls said. "See her? Sitting right over there."
It was Alice Faye all right, with a couple of men I didn't recognize.
"See her?" I asked Gloria.
"I don't want to see her," Gloria said.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Rocky said into the microphone, "we are honored tonight to have with us that beautiful moving picture star, Miss Alice Faye. Give Miss Faye a big hand, ladies and gentlemen."
Everybody applauded and Miss Faye nodded her head, smiling. Socks Donald, sitting in a box seat by the orchestra platform, was smiling too. The Hollywood crowd had started coming.
"Come on," I said to Gloria, "clap your hands."
"Why should I applaud for her?" Gloria said. "What's she got I haven't? . . ."
"You're jealous," I said.
"You're goddam right I'm jealous. As long as I am a failure I'm jealous of anybody who's a success. Aren't you?"
"Certainly not," I said.
"You're a fool," she said.
"Hey, look," I said.
The two detectives had left the box with Mrs. Layden and were sitting with Socks Donald. They had their heads together, looking at a sheet of paper one of them was holding.
"All right, kids," Rocky said into the microphone. "A little sprint before the rest period . . . . Give," he said to the orchestra, clapping his hands together and stamping on the platform, keeping time to the music. In a moment the customers were clapping their hands together and stamping too.
We were all milling around in the middle of the floor, all of us watching the minute hand of the clock, when suddenly Kid Kamm of couple No. 18 began slapping his partner on the cheek. He was holding her up with his left hand, slapping her backwards and forwards with his right hand. But she did not respond. She was dead to the world. She gurgled a couple of times and then slid to the floor, unconscious.
The floor judge blew his whistle and all the customers jumped to their feet, excited. Customers at a marathon dance do not have to be prepared for their excitement. When anything happens they get excited all at once. In that respect a marathon dance is like a bull fight.
The floor judge and a couple of nurses picked up the girl and carried her off, her toes dragging, to the dressing room.
"Mattie Barnes, of Couple No. 18, has fainted," Rocky announced to the crowd. "She has been taken to the dressing room, ladies and gentlemen, where she will have the best of medical attention. Nothing serious, ladies and gentlemen - nothing serious. It just proves that there's always something happening at the world's championship marathon dance."
"She was complaining last rest period," Gloria said.
"What's the matter with her?" I asked.
"It's that time of the month," Gloria said. "And she'll never be able to come back either. She's the type that has to go to bed for three or four days when she gets it."
"Can I pick 'em?" said Kid Kamm. He shook his head, disgusted. "Boy, am I hoodooed! I been in nine of these things and I ain't finished one yet. My partner always caves in on me."
"She'll probably be all right," I said, trying to cheer him up.
"Nope," he said, "she's finished. She can go back to the farm now."
The siren blew, meaning it was the end of another grind. Everybody ran for the dressing rooms. I kicked off my shoes, piling on my cot. I felt the ocean surge once - just once. Then I was asleep.
I woke up, my nose full of ammonia. One of the trainers was moving a bottle across my chin letting me inhale it. (This was the best way to arouse one of us from a deep sleep, the doctor said. If they had tried to wake you up by shaking you, they never would have done it.)
"All right," I said to the trainer. "I'm all right."
I sat up, reaching for my shoes. Then I saw those two detectives and Socks Donald standing near me, by Mario's cot. They were waiting for the other trainer to wake him up. Finally Mario rolled over, looking up at them.
"Hello, buddy," said one of the detectives. "Know who this is?" He handed him a sheet of paper. Now I was close enough to see what it was. It was a page torn out of a detective magazine, containing several pictures.
Mario looked at it, then handed it back. "Yeah, I know who it is," he said, sitting up.
"You ain't changed much," said the other detective.
"You wop son of a bitch," Socks said, doubling his fist. "What're you trying to pull on me?"
"Nix, Socks," the first detective said. Then he spoke to Mario. "Well, Giuseppe, get your things together."
Mario started tying his shoes. "I ain't got nothing but a coat and a toothbrush," he said. "But I would like to say good-bye to my partner."
"You dirty wop son of a bitch," Socks said. "This'll look good in the newspapers, won't it?"
"Never mind your partner, Giuseppe," the second detective said. "Hey son," he said to me, "you tell Giuseppe's partner good-bye for him. Come on, Giuseppe," he said to Mario.
"Take that wop son of a bitch out the back way, boys," said Socks Donald.
"Everybody on the floor," yelled the floor judge. "Everybody on the floor."
"So long, Mario," I said.
Mario did not say anything. It had all been very quiet, very matter-of-fact. These detectives acted as if this kind of thing happened every day.
. . . OF WHICH
YOU HAVE BEEN
OF THE JURY . . .
SO MARIO went to jail and Mattie went back to the farm. I remember how surprised I was when they arrested Mario for murder. I couldn't believe it. He was one of the nicest boys I'd ever met. But that was then that I couldn't believe it. Now I know you can be nice and be a murderer too. Nobody was ever any nicer to a girl than I was to Gloria, but there came the time when I shot and killed her. So you see being nice doesn't mean a thing . . . .
Mattie was automatically disqualified when the doctor refused to let her continue in the contest. He said if she did go on with the dance she would injure some of her organs and never be able to have a baby. She raised hell about it, Gloria said, calling the doctor a lot of names and absolutely refusing to quit. But she did quit. She had to. They had the axe over her.
That teamed her partner, Kid Kamm, with Jackie. Under the rules you could do that. You could solo for twenty-four hours but if you didn't get a partner by then you were disqualified. Both the Kid and Jackie seemed well satisfied with the new arrangement. Jackie had nothing to say about losing Mario. Her attitude was that a partner was a partner. But the Kid was all smiles. He seemed to think that at last he had broken his hoodoo.
"They're liable to win," Gloria said. "They're strong as mules. That Alabama is corn-fed. Look at that beam. I bet she can go six months."
"I'll string along with James and Ruby," I said.
"After the way they've treated us?"
"What's that got to do with it? Besides, what's the matter with us? We've got a chance to win, haven't we?"
"Well, you don't seem to think so," I said.
She shook her head, not saying anything to that. "More and more and more I wish I was dead," she said.
There it was again. No matter what I talked about she always got back to that. "Isn't there something I can talk about that won't remind you that you wish you were dead?" I asked.
"No," she said.
"I give up," I said.
Somebody on the platform turned the radio down. The music sounded like music now. (We used the radio all the time the orchestra wasn't there. This was in the afternoon. The orchestra came only at night.) "Ladies and gentlemen," Rocky said into the microphone, "I have the honor to announce that two sponsors have come forward to sponsor two couples. The Pompadour Beauty Shop, of 415 Avenue B, will sponsor Couple No. 13 - James and Ruby Bates. Let's give the Pompadour Beauty Shop, of 415 Avenue B, a big hand for this, ladies and gentlemen - you too, kids . . . ."
"The second couple to be sponsored," Rocky said, "is No. 34, Pedro Ortega and Lillian Bacon. They are sponsored by the Oceanic Garage. All right, now, a big hand for the Oceanic Garage, located at 11,341 Ocean Walkway in Santa Monica."
Everybody applauded again.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Rocky said, "there ought to be more sponsors for these marvelous kids. Tell your friends, ladies and gentlemen, and let's get sponsors for all the kids. Look at them, ladies and gentlemen, after 242 hours of continuous motion they are as fresh as daisies . . . a big hand for these marvelous kids, ladies and gentlemen."
There was some more applause.
"And don't forget, ladies and gentlemen," Rocky said, "there's the Palm Garden right down there at the end of the hall where you can get delicious beverages - all kinds of beer and sandwiches. Visit the Palm Garden, ladies and gentlemen . . . . Give," he said to the radio, turning the knob and filling the hall with noise again.
Gloria and I walked over to Pedro and Lillian. Pedro limped from a game leg. The story was that he had been gored in a bull ring in Mexico City. Lillian was a brunette. She too had been trying to get in the movies when she heard about the marathon dance.
"Congratulations," I said.
"It proves somebody is for us," Pedro said.
"As long as it couldn't be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer it might as well be a garage," Lillian said. "Only it seems a little queer for a garage to be buying me underclothes."
"Where do you get that underclothes stuff?" Gloria said. "You don't get underclothes. You get a sweatshirt with the garage's name across the back of it."
"I get underclothes, too," Lillian said.
"Hey, Lillian," said Rollo, the floor judge, "the woman from the Oceanic Garage wants to talk to you."
"The what? . . ." asked Lillian.
"Your sponsor, Mrs. Yeargan-"
"For crying out loud," said Lillian. "Pedro, it looks like you get the underclothes."
Gloria and I walked down by the master of ceremonies' platform. It was nice down there about this time of the afternoon. There was a big triangle of sunshine that came through the double window above the bar in the Palm Garden. It only lasted about ten minutes but during those ten minutes I moved slowly about in it (I had to move to keep from being disqualified) letting it cover me completely. It was the first tune I had ever appreciated the sun. "When this marathon is over," I told myself, "I'm going to spend the rest of my life in the sun. I can't wait to go to the Sahara desert to make a picture." Of course, that won't ever happen now.
I watched the triangle on the floor get smaller and smaller. Finally it closed altogether and started up my legs. It crawled up my body like a living thing. When it got to my chin I stood on my toes, to keep my head in it as long as possible. I did not close my eyes. I kept them wide open, looking straight into the sun. It did not blind me at all. In a moment it was gone.
I looked around for Gloria. She was standing at the platform, swaying from side to side, talking to Rocky, who was sitting on his haunches. Rocky was swaying too. (All the employees - the doctor, the nurses the floor judges, the master of ceremonies, even the boys who sold soda pop - had been given orders to keep moving when they talked to one of the contestants. The management was very strict about this.)
"You looked very funny standing out there on your toes," Gloria said. "You looked like a ballet dancer."
"You practice up on that and I'll let you do a solo," Ruck. said, laughing.
"Yes," Gloria said. "How was the sun today?"
"Don't let 'em kid you," Mack Aston, of Couple No. 5, said as he passed by.
"Rocky!" a voice called. It was Socks Donald. Rocky got down from the platform and went to him.
"I don't think it's very nice of you to razz me," I said to Gloria. "I don't ever razz you."
"You don't have to," she said. "I get razzed by an expert. God razzes me. . . . You know what Socks Donald wants with Rocky? You want some inside information?"
"What?" I asked.
"You know No. 6 - Freddy and that Manski girl. Her mother is going to prefer charges against him and Socks. She ran away from home."
"I don't see what that's got to do with it," I said.
"She's jail bait," Gloria said. "She's only about fifteen. God, with all of it running around loose it does look like a guy would have better sense."
"Why blame Freddy? It may not be his fault."
"According to the law it's his fault," Gloria said. "That's what counts."
I steered Gloria back to where Socks and Rocky were standing, trying to overhear what was being said; but they were talking too low. Rather, Socks was doing all the talking. Rocky was listening, nodding his head.
"Right now," I heard Socks say, and Rocky nodded that he understood and came back on the floor, winking wisely to Gloria as he passed. He went to Rollo Peters and called him aside, whispering earnestly for a few seconds. Then Rollo left, looking around as if he were trying to find somebody, and Rocky went back to the platform.
"The kids only have a few more minutes left before they retire for their well-earned rest period," Rocky announced into the microphone. "And while they are off the floor, ladies and gentlemen, the painters will paint the big oval on the floor for the derby tonight. The derby tonight, ladies and gentlemen: don't forget the derby. Positively the most thrilling thing you ever saw - all right, kids, two minutes to go before you retire - a little sprint, kids - show the ladies and gentlemen how fresh you are - You, too, ladies and gentlemen, show these marvelous kids you're behind them with a rally-"
He turned up the radio a little and began clapping his hands and stamping his foot. The audience joined in the rally. All of us stepped a little more lively, but it was not because of the rally. It was because within a minute or two we got a rest period and directly after that we were to be fed.
Gloria nudged me and I looked up to see Rollo Peters walking between Freddy and the Manski girl. I thought the Manski girl was crying, but before Gloria and I could catch up with them the siren blew and everybody made a dash for the dressing rooms.
Freddy was standing over his cot, stuffing an extra pair of shoes into a small zipper bag.
"I heard about it," I said. "I'm very sorry."
"It's all right," he said. "Only she's the one who did the raping . . . . I'll be all right if I can get out of town before the cops pick me up. It's a lucky thing for me that Socks was tipped off."
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"South, I guess. I've always had a yen to see Mexico. So long. . . ."
"So long," I said.
He was gone before anybody knew it. As he went through the back door I had a glimpse of the sun glinting on the ocean. For a moment I was so astounded I could not move. I do not know whether I was the more surprised at really seeing the sun for the first time in almost three weeks or discovering the door. I went over to it, hoping the sun would not be gone when I got there. The only other time I ever was this eager was one Christmas when I was a kid, the first year I was big enough to really know what Christmas was, and I went into the front room and saw the tree all lighted up.
I opened the door. At the end of the world the sun was sinking into the ocean. It was so red and bright and hot I wondered why there was no steam. I once saw steam come out of the ocean. It was on the highway at the beach and some men were working with gunpowder. Suddenly, it exploded, setting them on fire. They ran and dived into the ocean. That was when I saw the steam.
The color of the sun had shot up into some thin clouds, reddening them. Out there where the sun was sinking the ocean was very calm, not looking like an ocean at all. It was lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely. Several people were fishing off the pier, not paying any attention to the sunset. They were fools. "You need that sunset worse than you do fish," I told them in my mind.
The door flew out of my hands, slamming shut with a bang like that of a cannon going off.
"Are you deaf?" a voice yelled in my ear. It was one of the trainers. "Keep that door closed! You wanna be disqualified?"
"I was only watching the sun set," I said.
"Are you nuts? You ought to be asleep. You need your sleep," he said.
"I don't need any sleep," I said. "I feel fine. I feel better than I ever felt in my life."
"You need your rest anyway," he said. "You only got a few minutes left. Get off your feet."
He followed me across the floor to my cot. Now I could notice the dressing room didn't smell so good. I am very susceptible to unpleasant odors and I wondered why I hadn't noticed this smell before, the smell of too many men in a room. I kicked off my shoes and stretched out on my back.
"You want your legs rubbed?" he asked.
"I'm all right," I said. "My legs feel fine."
He said something to himself and went away. I lay there, thinking about the sunset, trying to remember what color it was. I don't mean the red, I mean the other shades. Once or twice I almost remembered; it was like a name you once had known but now had forgotten, whose size and letters and cadence you remembered but could not quite assemble.
Through the legs of my cot I could feel the ocean quivering against the pilings below. It rose and fell, rose and fell, went out and came back, went out and came back . . . .
I was glad when the siren blew, waking us up, calling us back to the floor.