'I was sure I was going to find it, studying proteins and genetics and things like that.'
'Is that what this other person was like?"
'Sidney? Yes, I guess so. He was a real nerd.'
'Oh,' the Captain said. 'And I remind you of him?'
'You both talk the same way. He used to ask a lot of questions too. He always had a lot of big ideas.'
'What was he like?'
'Nobody liked him very much. He was very smart and he was always trying to tell you about things you weren't interested in.'
'What did he talk about?'
'Who knows! There was just something about him that made everybody mad at him. He didn't really do anything bad. He just — I don't know what it was — he just didn't ... He was smart but at the same time he was dumb. And he could never see how dumb he was because he thought he knew everything. Everyone used to call him Sad Sack.'
'And I remind you of him?'
'If I 'm such a nerd why did you dance with me last night?' the Captain asked.
'You asked me.'
'I thought you asked me.'
'Maybe I did,' Lila said, 'I don't know. You looked different maybe. They all look different at first.
'You know Sidney really was smart,' Lila said. 'About two years ago I was sitting at a table in this restaurant and I looked up and there he was, much older and he had glasses on and he was getting bald. He's a pediatrician now. He's got four children now. He was really nice. He said, "Hello, Lila," and we talked a long time.'
'What did he say?'
'He just wondered how I was and everything, and was I married and I said, "No, the right one hasn't come along yet," and he laughed at that and said, "Someday he will." . . . You see what I mean?' Lila said.
She excused herself and went down to the bathroom. On her way back she had to hang on to things to keep steady. It didn't matter. She wasn't going anywhere. She sat down again next to the Captain and he asked, 'How long have you known Richard Rigel?'
'Since the second grade,' she said.
'The second grade!'
'God, I'll say! I had no idea.'
She arranged the blanket neatly and settled back and then looked up in the sky. There was so much light from the city there weren't any stars at all. It was just all orange and black. Like Halloween.
'No. Not true,' the Captain said. 'That's what's getting me. Why was he so rude to you? Why wouldn't he talk to you last night?'
'Oh, that's a long story,' Lila said.
'Last night he didn't even say "hello".'
'I know. That's just the way he is. He just doesn't approve of the way I live.'
'Well, that's true," the Captain said.
Lila held up the bottle and showed it to the Captain. 'You know something?'
'I think we are getting a little smashed . . . At least I am. You're not drinking very much.'
'But something's still missing,' the Captain said.
'You never saw him after prep school.'
'I saw plenty of him after prep school.'
'You mean he used to go out with you?'
'Everybody used to go with me,' Lila said. 'You don't know what I was like. I wish you could have seen me when I was younger. I had such a cute figure . . . It sounds like I'm bragging, but it was true. I don't look like so much now, but you should have seen me back then. Everybody wanted to go out with me. I was popular then . . . I was really popular.'
'So you went out with him.'
'Sometimes we'd go out together and then his mother found out about it and she made him stop.'
'Well, you know why. She is very rich and I'm not in their social class. Also women don't approve of people like me. Especially mothers with little sons who are interested in me.'
The booze was hitting real hard now. She had to stop.
'Anyway Richie is a real nice guy,' she said.
The Captain didn't say anything.
'. . . And you aren't,' she added.
'Rigel said you got someone named Jim in trouble.'
'Did he talk about that?' Lila shook her head.
'What was that all about?'
'Oh, God. I wish he hadn't talked about that.'
'What was it about?'
'We weren't doing anything . . . Anything worse than you and me are doing on this boat right now. I told Jim never to tell anyone about us. Then he went and told Richie and Richie told his mother and his mother told Jim's wife. That's when all the trouble started. Oh, God, what a mess that was . . . All because Richie's mother couldn't leave us alone.'
'Look, Richie dotes on his mother, morning, noon and night. That's where he gets all his money. I think he sleeps with her! She really hates me!' Lila said.
'Why did Rigel's mother hate you?'
'I told you. She was afraid I was going to take her little Richie away from her. And she was the one who got Jim's wife to hire the detectives.'
'We were in the motel and they pounded on the door and I told Jim, "Don't answer it!" but he didn't listen. He said, "I'll just talk to them." Sure . . . that's all they wanted. Just to talk . . . Oh, he was so dumb. It was just awful. As soon as he opened the door they came in with flash cameras and took pictures of everything. Then they wanted him to sign
a confession. They said they wouldn't prosecute if he just signed.
'You know what he did? He signed . . .
'He wouldn't listen to me. If he'd listened to me there's nothing they could have done. They didn't have a warrant or anything.
'Then they left and you know what Jim did? . . . He started to cry . . . That's what I remember most, him sitting on the edge of the bed, with his big eyes all full of tears.
'I was the one who should have been crying! And what do you suppose he was crying about? . . . About how he didn't want his wife to divorce him . . . Oh, he made me so disgusted. He made everybody disgusted.
'He was weak. He always complained about how she ran his life, but he really wanted her to. That's why he wanted to go back.
'They always talk about how they're going to leave their wives, but they never do. They always go back.'
'Did his wife take him back?'
'No . . . she wasn't dumb. She took his money instead. Almost a hundred thousand dollars . . . She couldn't stand him any more than I could, after that.'
'Did you see Jim after that?'
'For a while. But I never respected him after that. Then he got fired from the bank and I got tired of him and I met this friend from New York, Jamie, and I came down here with him for a while.'
'I thought Rigel said he was Jim's lawyer.'
'He was, but after they got the pictures and the confession there wasn't much he could do.'
'Why did he take the case?'
'Because of me. I'm the one who told Jim to go to him.'
The Captain made a 'tch' sound again. He tipped his head back and looked up at the sky.
He didn't say anything for a long time. He just stared up into the sky like he was looking for some stars.
'There aren't any stars up there,' Lila said. 'I already looked.'
'Is Rigel married?' the Captain asked.
'I don't know. He's all messed up just like everybody else . . . You know something?'
'You're not drinking as much as I am.' She held the bottle up to the sky and looked at it. 'And you know something else?'
'I'm not going to answer any more of your questions.'
'You're the detective. That's what you are. You think you're going to learn something. I don't know what, but you're not going to learn anything . . . You'll never find out who I am because I 'm not anything.'
'What do you mean?'
'I'm not anybody. All these questions you're asking are just a waste of time. I know you're trying to find out what kind of a person I am but you're never going to find out anything because there's nothing to know.'
Her voice was getting slushy. She could tell it was getting slushy.
'I mean, I used to play I was this kind of person and that kind of person but I got so tired of playing all those games. It's such work and it doesn't do any good. There's just all these pictures of who I am and they don't hold together. They're all different people I'm supposed to be but none of them are me. I'm not anybody. I'm not here. Like you now. I can see you've got a lot of bad impressions about me in your mind. And you think that what's in your mind is here talking to you but nobody's here. You know what I mean? Nobody's home. That's Lila. Nobody's home.
'You know what?' Lila said.
'What you want to do is make me into something I'm not.'
'Just the opposite.'
'You think just the opposite. But you're really trying to do something to me that I don't like.'
'You're trying to . . . you're trying to destroy me.'
'Well, you've completely misunderstood what I'm asking these questions for,' the Captain said.
'No, I haven't. I've completely understood it just exactly right,' Lila said. 'All men do that. You're no big exception. Jerry did it. Every man does it. But you know something? It won't work.'
'I'm not trying to destroy you,' he said.
'That's what you think. You're just playing around the edges, aren't you! You can't go to the center of me. You don't know where the center of me is!'
That set him back.
'You're not a woman. You don't know. When men make love they're really trying to destroy you. A woman's got to be real quiet inside because if she shows a man anything they'll try to kill it.
'But they all get fooled because there's nothing to destroy but what's in their own mind. And so they destroy that and then they hate what's left and they call what's left, "Lila," and they hate Lila. But Lila isn't anybody. That's true. You don't believe it, but it's true.
'Women are very deep,' Lila said. 'But men never see it. They're too selfish. They always want women to understand them. And that's all they ever care about. That's why they always have to try to destroy them.'
'I'm just asking questions,' the Captain said.
'Fuck your questions! I'm whatever your questions turn me into. You don't see that. It's your questions that make me who I am. If you think I 'm an angel then that's what I am. If you think I'm a whore then that's what I am. I'm whatever you think. And if you change your mind about me then I change too. So whatever Richard tells you, it's true. There's no way he can lie about me.'
Lila took the bottle and took a swig down straight. 'The hell with glasses,' she said. 'Everybody wants to turn Lila into somebody else. And most women put up with that, because they want the kids and the money and the good-looking clothes. But it won't work with me. I'm just Lila and I always will be. And if men don't like me the way I am, then men can just get out. I don't need them. I don't need anyone. I'll die first. That's just the way I am.'
After a while Lila looked around and saw that all the boats were lying straight in line just like the Captain said they would be. That's pretty good. He'd figured that out. She told him about it. He didn't say anything. He hadn't said anything for a long time.
A bad feeling started to creep up. He wasn't drinking. Was he getting mad? That's what happens when you don't keep up drinking. You get mad.
She was talking too much. Sober up, Lila, before it's too late. Hang on. Sober up.
'You know what?' Lila said.
'I'm really sick of talking about me. Let's talk about something else.'
'It's getting cold out here,' the Captain said.
He got up. 'I didn't get any real sleep last night,' he said, 'I'm going to bed early.'
Lila got up and followed him into the cabin. He went into the bunk at the front of the boat and she could hear him lie down and then he was quiet.
She looked around the cabin. All this food and things to put away. What a mess.
Suddenly she remembered the chocolate pudding never got made.
In the forecabin Phaedrus turned back the bed covers, then sat on the bunk and slowly pulled off his sweater and his other clothes. He felt weary.
Some archaeological expedition, he thought. Garbage and more garbage.
That's what an archaeologist is, really — a highly trained garbage man. You see all the great finds in museums. You don't see what they had to go through to find them . . . Some of those ancient ruins, Phaedrus remembered, were located under city dumps.
Rigel would really be gloating now. 'What do you think now?' he'd say. 'Does Lila have Quality? What's your answer?'
A light flashed through the porthole and then disappeared. Somebody's searchlight, or a beacon maybe. But it was too irregular to be a beacon. Phaedrus waited for it to reappear, but it didn't.
This really wasn't his day. Funny how everything kept going back to high school with her. That's what this was. This was one of those high school disasters where you take the girl home early and do not kiss her good night and if you call again later and ask her out she is going to be doing something else.
She really was that girl on the streetcar.
And he really was that guy. That was him. The guy who doesn't get the girl.
What was it she had said about 'Sad Sack'?'... He was quiet most of the time . . . You thought it was because he was listening to you . . . but he wasn't. He was always thinking about something else. Chemistry, I guess . . . I felt sorry for him . . . He knew a lot but he just didn't know what was going on. He didn't understand women
because he didn't understand anybody . . . You never could get close to him. He was very smart in some ways, but in other ways he was very stupid, you know what I mean?
Phaedrus knew what she meant. He knew who she meant.
He slowly stretched his legs out down under the blankets, and remembered something else he hadn't thought of for years.
It was a movie he watched long ago when he was a chemistry student. There was a pretty girl, played by Priscilla Lane, he seemed to remember, who was having romantic difficulties with the handsome young leading man - maybe it was Richard Powell. For comic relief Priscilla Lane had a dumb-cluck girlfriend who gave everybody laughs and warm feelings of self-importance because they knew that stupid as they might be they weren't as stupid as she was. They loved her for that.
In one scene the dumb-cluck girlfriend came home from a dance and met Priscilla Lane and Richard Powell who were standing arm in arm - blue-eyed, radiant and beautiful - and they asked her, 'How was the dance?'
She said, 'Awful. I danced every dance with a chemistry professor.'
He remembered how the audience tittered.
'Have you ever danced with a chemistry professor?' the dumb-cluck girlfriend asked. The audience laughed. 'Ohhhwww, my feet!' she groaned.
The audience howled with laughter.
Except one. He sat there, his face burning, and finished the movie with the same kind of stunned depression he felt now, a feeling of dislocation and paralysis, devoured for a moment by this other pattern that made himself and everything he believed in worthless and comic.
He didn't remember what he did after that. Maybe just got on the streetcar and went home.
That could have been the night Lila was on the streetcar . . .
. . . That smile. That's what he remembered most. There it was. Lila on the streetcar. Lila and the lilacs in spring. The little suppressed smile. The little half-hidden contempt. And the sadness that nothing he could do or say could ever make her smile at him in any other way.
He remembered once there was a huge cottonwood tree in the night and he stood alone under it and listened and its leaves rattled slightly in the night breeze. It had been a warm night and there was a smell of lilacs in the breeze.
These patterns of his mind slowly vanished into sleep.
After an unknown time some new patterns returned in the form of shimmering water. The shimmering was above him. He lay at the bottom of the ocean shoal on a bank of sand. The water was faintly bluish but so clear he could see little hills and ripples in the surface of the sand as clearly as if no water were there.
Growing from the bottom were dark green blades of eel-grass that rippled in the current of the water like eels struggling to get free of the sand. He could feel the same currents against his own body. They were pleasant gentle currents and he felt serene. His lungs had stopped their struggle long ago and everything was quiet now. He felt like he belonged here. He had always belonged here.
Above the tips of the grass in the faint blue water were hundreds of milky pink and white jellyfish floating through the water. They seemed to drift at first but then as he watched closely he saw they propelled themselves by pulsing in-and-out, in-and-out, as if they had some mysterious goal. The littlest ones were so thin and transparent he saw them mainly by refraction of the shimmering water above them as they passed between him and a dark shape suspended on the surface. The dark shape was like that of a boat which from the bottom of the ocean seemed more like a spaceship suspended
in the sky. It belonged to another world that he had come from. Now that he was no longer attached to it he felt better.
One of the peculiar milky-white creatures swam toward him and nudged against his body, first on his arm and then on his side, alarming him a little. Was the creature being friendly? Was it hungry for something? He tried to get up and move away from it but found he couldn't. He had lost all power of motion. The creature nudged and stroked and nudged and stroked until he gradually felt himself being released from a dream.
It was dark now and he felt the nudging again. It was a hand. He didn't move. The hand moved up and down his arm, carefully and deliberately, then began to make further and further adventures across his body. By the time the hand had reached far enough to arrive at its destination, its destination was rigid and waiting. The dream-like feeling of helplessness and motionlessness persisted and he lay silently as he had lain at the bottom of the ocean, letting this happen to him, as if he were watching it from afar, a kind of spectator to some ancient ritual he was not supposed to see or understand.
The hand continued to stroke and caress and gently grasp and then, slowly in the darkness the body of Lila rose above him, and slid itself over him, kneeled and lowered itself gently and slowly down until it enveloped what it had come for.
. . . Then it tightened. Then, slowly, it lifted and paused. Then it eased and descended. Then it lifted and tightened - and released and descended again. Then again. And again. Each time a little less slow. Each time a little more coaxing. Each time a little more demanding of what it was there to receive.
Surges of excitement in his body grew with each demand. They became stronger and stronger until his hands rose up and seized her hips and his own body began to move with hers in each rise and fall. His thoughts were swamped by this ocean current of feeling and the huge jellyfish-like body hovering over him pulsing in and out, in and out, expanding and contracting on and on. He could feel huge waves of emotion that were not directed by anything. He could feel the explosion almost coming . . .
Then ALMOST coming . . .
Then . . . her body was suddenly tense and rigidly hard around him and she gave a crying-out sound and his whole self let go into her and his mind leapt out to some place beyond anywhere.
. . . When it returned he could feel the vulval pressure slowly releasing and the flesh of her hips became soft again.
She was still for a long time.
Then a tear fell on his cheek. It surprised him.
'I do that for someone I like very much,' her voice whispered. It seemed to come from some place other than the body that was above him; from someone who perhaps had also been an onlooker at all of this.
Then Lila lay back beside him, stretched the full length of her body against him and wrapped her arms around him as if to possess him forever.
They lay there together for a long time. Her arms held him but his mind began to drift free in an ebb tide of thought nothing could hold.
After a time he heard a steady breathing which told him she was asleep.
Sometimes between sleep and waking there's a zone where the mind gets a glimpse of old active subconscious worlds. He'd just passed through that zone and for a moment had seen something he would forget if he went back to sleep. But he'd forget it if he became any more awake too.
This was the first time he'd been passive like this. Before it had been his idea, his aggression, his carnal desires. Now this passivity seemed to open something up.
What he seemed to have seen was that maybe 'he' hadn't had anything to do with it at all. He tried to hang on to it, half awake, half asleep.
A light shone again in the port. Maybe a car headlight from shore. Lila turned under the covers and brought her arm up over her face so that her hand opened upward toward him. Then she lay quietly.
He put his own hand up next to it. They were the same. The pattern that had caused her to come in and do this had also made these two hands alike. They were like leaves of trees, with no more knowledge than leaves have of why their cells produced them or made them so alike.
That was it, maybe. That was the thing, the other thing that was doing this that was not Lila and not himself.
The car headlight vanished and then, in the fading mental image of her hand, he thought he had seen something else. On her forearm near the wrist had been long scars, one of them slightly diagonal to the others. He wondered if it was something she had done herself.