“You’re a good sport, girl; nobody can take that from you. But just the same, I’m going to let you off without a scratch.”
“‘Good sport’! I’d like to know, anyways, where I come in with all your solid-gold talk. Me that’s stood behind somebody-or-other’s counter ever since I had my working-papers.”
“I’ll get you out of—”
“Have I ever lived anywheres except in a dirty little North St. Louis flat with us three girls in a bed? Haven’t I got my name all over town for speed, just because I’ve always had to rustle out and try to learn how to flatten out a dime to the size of a dollar? Where do I come in on the solid-gold talk, I’d like to know. I’m the penny-splitter of the world, the girl that made the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store millinery department famous. I can look tailor-made on a five-dollar bill and a tissue-paper pattern. Why, honey, with me scheming for you, starting out on your own is going to make a man of you. You got stuff in you. I knew it, Charley, the first night you spied me at the Highlands dance. Somewhere out West Charley Cox is now going to begin to show ’em the stuff in Charley Cox—that’s what Charley Cox & Co. are going to do!”
He shook his head, turning away his eyes to hide their tears.
“You been stung, Loo. Nothing on earth can change that.”
She turned his face back to her, smiling through her own tears.
“You’re not adding up good this morning, Mr. Cox. When do you think I called you up last night? When could it have been if not after my sister broke her confidence to tell me? Why do you think all of a sudden last night I seen your bluff through about Gerber? It was because I knew I had you where you needed me, Charley—I never would have dragged you down the other way in a million years, but when I knew I had you where you needed me—why, from that minute, honey, you didn’t have a chance to dodge me!”
She wound her arms round him, trembling between the suppressed hysteria of tears and laughter.
“Not a chance, Charley!”
He jerked her so that her face fell back from him, foreshortened.
“Loo—oh, girl! Oh, girl!”
Her throat was tight and would not give her voice for coherence.
“Charley—we—we’ll show ’em—you—me!”
Looking out above her head at the vapory sky showing through the parting of the pink-brocade curtains, rigidity raced over Mr. Cox, stiffening his hold of her.
The lean look had come out in his face; the flanges of his nose quivered; his head went up.
Over the silent places of the world flies the vulture of madness, pausing to wheel above isolated farm-houses, where a wife, already dizzy with the pressure of rarefied silence, looks up, magnetized. Then across the flat stretches, his shadow under him moving across moor and the sand of desert, slowing at the perpetually eastern edge of a mirage, brushing his actual wings against the brick of city walls; the garret of a dreamer, brain-sick with reality. Flopping, until she comes to gaze, outside the window of one so alone in a crowd that her four hall-bedroom walls are closing in upon her. Lowering over a childless house on the edge of a village.