The best break I had in years, when I got home the regular night elevator boy, Pete, wasn't on the car



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   The best break I had in years, when I got home the regular night elevator boy, Pete, wasn't on the car. Some new guy I'd never seen was on the car, so I figured that if I didn't bump smack into my parents and all I'd be able to say hello to old Phoebe and then beat it and nobody'd even know I'd been around. It was really a terrific break. What made it even better, the new elevator boy was sort of on the stupid side. I told him, in this very casual voice, to take me up to the Dicksteins'. The Dicksteins were these people that had the other apartment on our floor. I'd already taken off my hunting hat, so as not to look suspicious or anything. I went in the elevator like I was in a terrific hurry. He had the elevator doors all shut and all, and was all set to take me up, and then he turned around and said, «They ain't in. They're at a party on the fourteenth floor.» «That's all right,» I said. «I'm supposed to wait for them. I'm their nephew.» He gave me this sort of stupid, suspicious look. «You better wait in the lobby, fella,» he said. «I'd like to-I really would,» I said. «But I have a bad leg. I have to hold it in a certain position. I think I'd better sit down in the chair outside their door.» He didn't know what the hell I was talking about, so all he said was «Oh» and took me up. Not bad, boy. It's funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they'll do practically anything you want them to. I got off at our floor-limping like a bastard-and started walking over toward the Dicksteins' side. Then, when I heard the elevator doors shut, I turned around and went over to our side. I was doing all right. I didn't even feel drunk anymore. Then I took out my door key and opened our door, quiet as hell. Then, very, very carefully and all, I went inside and closed the door. I really should've been a crook. It was dark as hell in the foyer, naturally, and naturally I couldn't turn on any lights. I had to be careful not to bump into anything and make a racket. I certainly knew I was home, though. Our foyer has a funny smell that doesn't smell like anyplace else. I don't know what the hell it is. It isn't cauliflower and it isn't perfume-I don't know what the hell it is-but you always know you're home. I started to take off my coat and hang it up in the foyer closet, but that closet's full of hangers that rattle like madmen when you open the door, so I left it on. Then I started walking very, very slowly back toward old Phoebe's room. I knew the maid wouldn't hear me because she had only one eardrum. She had this brother that stuck a straw down her ear when she was a kid, she once told me. She was pretty deaf and all. But my parents, especially my mother, she has ears like a goddam bloodhound. So I took it very, very easy when I went past their door. I even held my breath, for God's sake. You can hit my father over the head with a chair and he won't wake up, but my mother, all you have to do to my mother is cough somewhere in Siberia and she'll hear you. She's nervous as hell. Half the time she's up all night smoking cigarettes. Finally, after about an hour, I got to old Phoebe's room. She wasn't there, though. I forgot about that. I forgot she always sleeps in D. B. 's room when he's away in Hollywood or some place. She likes it because it's the biggest room in the house. Also because it has this big old madman desk in it that D. B. bought off some lady alcoholic in Philadelphia, and this big, gigantic bed that's about ten miles wide and ten miles long. I don't know where he bought that bed. Anyway, old Phoebe likes to sleep in D. B. 's room when he's away, and he lets her. You ought to see her doing her homework or something at that crazy desk. It's almost as big as the bed. You can hardly see her when she's doing her homework. That's the kind of stuff she likes, though. She doesn't like her own room because it's too little, she says. She says she likes to spread out. That kills me. What's old Phoebe got to spread out? Nothing. Anyway, I went into D. B. 's room quiet as hell, and turned on the lamp on the desk. Old Phoebe didn't even wake up. When the light was on and all, I sort of looked at her for a while. She was laying there asleep, with her face sort of on the side of the pillow. She had her mouth way open. It's funny. You take adults, they look lousy when they're asleep and they have their mouths way open, but kids don't. Kids look all right. They can even have spit all over the pillow and they still look all right. I went around the room, very quiet and all, looking at stuff for a while. I felt swell, for a change. I didn't even feel like I was getting pneumonia or anything any more. I just felt good, for a change. Old Phoebe's clothes were on this chair right next to the bed. She's very neat, for a child. I mean she doesn't just throw her stuff around, like some kids. She's no slob. She had the jacket to this tan suit my mother bought her in Canada hung up on the back of the chair. Then her blouse and stuff were on the seat. Her shoes and socks were on the floor, right underneath the chair, right next to each other. I never saw the shoes before. They were new. They were these dark brown loafers, sort of like this pair I have, and they went swell with that suit my mother bought her in Canada. My mother dresses her nice. She really does. My mother has terrific taste in some things. She's no good at buying ice skates or anything like that, but clothes, she's perfect. I mean Phoebe always has some dress on that can kill you. You take most little kids, even if their parents are wealthy and all, they usually have some terrible dress on. I wish you could see old Phoebe in that suit my mother bought her in Canada. I'm not kidding. I sat down on old D. B. 's desk and looked at the stuff on it. It was mostly Phoebe's stuff, from school and all. Mostly books. The one on top was called Arithmetic Is Fun! I sort of opened the first page and took a look at it. This is what old Phoebe had on it:
   PHOEBE WEATHERFIELD CAULFIELD 4B-1
   That killed me. Her middle name is Josephine, for God's sake, not Weatherfield. She doesn't like it, though. Every time I see her she's got a new middle name for herself. The book underneath the arithmetic was a geography, and the book under the geography was a speller. She's very good in spelling. She's very good in all her subjects, but she's best in spelling. Then, under the speller, there were a bunch of notebooks. She has about five thousand notebooks. You never saw a kid with so many notebooks. I opened the one on top and looked at the first page. It had on it:
   Bernice meet me at recess I have something very very important to tell you.
   That was all there was on that page. The next one had on it:
   Why has south eastern Alaska so many caning factories? Because theres so much salmon Why has it valuable forests? because it has the right climate. What has our government done to make life easier for the alaskan eskimos? look it up for tomorrow!!! Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield Phoebe W. Caulfield Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield, Esq. Please pass to Shirley!!!! Shirley you said you were sagitarius but your only taurus bring your skates when you come over to my house
   I sat there on D. B. 's desk and read the whole notebook. It didn't take me long, and I can read that kind of stuff, some kid's notebook, Phoebe's or anybody's, all day and all night long. Kid's notebooks kill me. Then I lit another cigarette-it was my last one. I must've smoked about three cartons that day. Then, finally, I woke her up. I mean I couldn't sit there on that desk for the rest of my life, and besides, I was afraid my parents might barge in on me all of a sudden and I wanted to at least say hello to her before they did. So I woke her up. She wakes up very easily. I mean you don't have to yell at her or anything. All you have to do, practically, is sit down on the bed and say, «Wake up, Phoeb,» and bingo, she's awake. «Holden!» she said right away. She put her arms around my neck and all. She's very affectionate. I mean she's quite affectionate, for a child. Sometimes she's even too affectionate. I sort of gave her a kiss, and she said, «Whenja get home7' She was glad as hell to see me. You could tell. «Not so loud. Just now. How are ya anyway?» «I'm fine. Did you get my letter? I wrote you a five-page-« «Yeah-not so loud. Thanks.» She wrote me this letter. I didn't get a chance to answer it, though. It was all about this play she was in in school. She told me not to make any dates or anything for Friday so that I could come see it. «How's the play?» I asked her. «What'd you say the name of it was?» «'A Christmas Pageant for Americans. ' It stinks, but I'm Benedict Arnold. I have practically the biggest part,» she said. Boy, was she wide-awake. She gets very excited when she tells you that stuff. «It starts out when I'm dying. This ghost comes in on Christmas Eve and asks me if I'm ashamed and everything. You know. For betraying my country and everything. Are you coming to it?» She was sitting way the hell up in the bed and all. «That's what I wrote you about. Are you?» «Sure I'm coming. Certainly I'm coming.» «Daddy can't come. He has to fly to California,» she said. Boy, was she wide-awake. It only takes her about two seconds to get wide-awake. She was sitting-sort of kneeling-way up in bed, and she was holding my goddam hand. «Listen. Mother said you'd be home Wednesday,» she said. «She said Wednesday.» «I got out early. Not so loud. You'll wake everybody up.» «What time is it? They won't be home till very late, Mother said. They went to a party in Norwalk, Connecticut,» old Phoebe said. «Guess what I did this afternoon! What movie I saw. Guess!» «I don't know-Listen. Didn't they say what time they'd-« «The Doctor,» old Phoebe said. «It's a special movie they had at the Lister Foundation. Just this one day they had it-today was the only day. It was all about this doctor in Kentucky and everything that sticks a blanket over this child's face that's a cripple and can't walk. Then they send him to jail and everything. It was excellent.» «Listen a second. Didn't they say what time they'd-« «He feels sorry for it, the doctor. That's why he sticks this blanket over her face and everything and makes her suffocate. Then they make him go to jail for life imprisonment, but this child that he stuck the blanket over its head comes to visit him all the time and thanks him for what he did. He was a mercy killer. Only, he knows he deserves to go to jail because a doctor isn't supposed to take things away from God. This girl in my class's mother took us. Alice Holmborg, She's my best friend. She's the only girl in the whole-« «Wait a second, willya?» I said. «I'm asking you a question. Did they say what time they'd be back, or didn't they?» «No, but not till very late. Daddy took the car and everything so they wouldn't have to worry about trains. We have a radio in it now! Except that Mother said nobody can play it when the car's in traffic.» I began to relax, sort of. I mean I finally quit worrying about whether they'd catch me home or not. I figured the hell with it. If they did, they did. You should've seen old Phoebe. She had on these blue pajamas with red elephants on the collars. Elephants knock her out. «So it was a good picture, huh?» I said. «Swell, except Alice had a cold, and her mother kept asking her all the time if she felt grippy. Right in the middle of the picture. Always in the middle of something important, her mother'd lean all over me and everything and ask Alice if she felt grippy. It got on my nerves.» Then I told her about the record. «Listen, I bought you a record,» I told her. «Only I broke it on the way home.» I took the pieces out of my coat pocket and showed her. «I was plastered,» I said. «Gimme the pieces,» she said. «I'm saving them.» She took them right out of my hand and then she put them in the drawer of the night table. She kills me. «D. B. coming home for Christmas?» I asked her. «He may and he may not, Mother said. It all depends. He may have to stay in Hollywood and write a picture about Annapolis.» «Annapolis, for God's sake!» «It's a love story and everything. Guess who's going to be in it! What movie star. Guess!» «I'm not interested. Annapolis, for God's sake. What's D. B. know about Annapolis, for God's sake? What's that got to do with the kind of stories he writes?» I said. Boy, that stuff drives me crazy. That goddam Hollywood. «What'd you do to your arm?» I asked her. I noticed she had this big hunk of adhesive tape on her elbow. The reason I noticed it, her pajamas didn't have any sleeves. «This boy, Curtis Weintraub, that's in my class, pushed me while I was going down the stairs in the park,» she said. «Wanna see?» She started taking the crazy adhesive tape off her arm. «Leave it alone. Why'd he push you down the stairs?» «I don't know. I think he hates me,» old Phoebe said. «This other girl and me, Selma Atterbury, put ink and stuff all over his windbreaker.» «That isn't nice. What are you-a child, for God's sake?» «No, but every time I'm in the park, he follows me everywhere. He's always following me. He gets on my nerves.» «He probably likes you. That's no reason to put ink all-« «I don't want him to like me,» she said. Then she started looking at me funny. «Holden,» she said, «how come you're not home Wednesday?» «What?» Boy, you have to watch her every minute. If you don't think she's smart, you're mad. «How come you're not home Wednesday?» she asked me. «You didn't get kicked out or anything, did you?» «I told you. They let us out early. They let the whole-« «You did get kicked out! You did!» old Phoebe said. Then she hit me on the leg with her fist. She gets very fisty when she feels like it. «You did! Oh, Holden!» She had her hand on her mouth and all. She gets very emotional, I swear to God. «Who said I got kicked out? Nobody said I-« «You did. You did,» she said. Then she smacked me again with her fist. If you don't think that hurts, you're crazy. «Daddy'll kill you!» she said. Then she flopped on her stomach on the bed and put the goddam pillow over her head. She does that quite frequently. She's a true madman sometimes. «Cut it out, now,» I said. «Nobody's gonna kill me. Nobody's gonna even-C'mon, Phoeb, take that goddam thing off your head. Nobody's gonna kill me.» She wouldn't take it off, though. You can't make her do something if she doesn't want to. All she kept saying was, «Daddy s gonna kill you.» You could hardly understand her with that goddam pillow over her head. «Nobody's gonna kill me. Use your head. In the first place, I'm going away. What I may do, I may get a job on a ranch or something for a while. I know this guy whose grandfather's got a ranch in Colorado. I may get a job out there,» I said. «I'll keep in touch with you and all when I'm gone, if I go. C'mon. Take that off your head. C'mon, hey, Phoeb. Please. Please, willya?' She wouldn t take it off, though I tried pulling it off, but she's strong as hell. You get tired fighting with her. Boy, if she wants to keep a pillow over her head, she keeps it. «Phoebe, please. C'mon outa there,» I kept saying. «C'mon, hey… Hey, Weatherfield. C'mon out.» She wouldn't come out, though. You can't even reason with her sometimes. Finally, I got up and went out in the living room and got some cigarettes out of the box on the table and stuck some in my pocket. I was all out.
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