NOTES: 1. I don't own them, they do. 2. This story mentions characters, both major and minor, in previous stories ( All the Colors of the World, The Secret Histories, Coup de Grace ); it's not essential to be familiar with those stories, but it might help. 3. You'll find this incredibly hard to believe, but this is not another angst-strewn mess. So proceed with no fear of unhappy endings! 4. Rated PG-13 for lots of swearing & Sapphic shenanigans, but nothing explicit. 5. For further information on Krazy Kat & Ignatz Mouse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krazy_Kat 6. There is no number 6. 7. Any and all feedback greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading!
Ignatz and Isolde
CHAPTER 1: Baer vs. Schmeling
February 14, 1934
When she said yes, he could not believe it.
On a frigid day in early February, Daniel Blaylock had finally worked up the nerve to ask Janice Covington to a Valentine's Day party. At best, his friends had been skeptical—not merely about the odds of her accepting his gentlemanly proposition, but about her in general. Granted, she was not as eccentric as some of the girls on campus—she did not own a pet ferret or carry a teddy bear everywhere or travel from class to class in a go-cart or loudly recite her own poetry in Harvard Square—but dressing in men's clothes, smoking cigars, and swearing like a sailor certainly did place her in a rather untouchable caste for certain young men. Dan loftily believed otherwise, and saw past these mannerisms to a young woman with a first-rate mind, a charming smile, and the most incredibly incandescent eyes he had ever seen.
Those amazing eyes did look rather stunned when he had asked her to the party, but after an exasperated moan and playful shove from her roommate, a squirmy, squeal-prone brunette named Betty, Janice accepted with a mumbled, “Yeah, sure. What the hell.”
And now here they were, alone, sitting together on a sofa in someone's living room while everyone else was congregating in the adjacent room around a punch bowl rife with whiskey, rum, maraschino cherries, and peach juice; the party had taken a turn from a Valentine's Day theme to that of a prohibition-repeal bacchanal. In concession to conformity, Janice was actually wearing a skirt, albeit threadbare, and her hair was combed and neatly subdued into a French braid—the work, no doubt, of the busybody roommate. As she nibbled at a hangnail and glanced with aimless boredom around the room, Dan thought she resembled not so much a grown woman on a date but a petulant child forced to go to church.
He cleared his throat.
Janice gave him a startled look, as if she had forgotten he was there.
“Cigarette?” Dan pulled a cigarette case out of his suit pocket and opened it.
He struck a match to light her cigarette, gulping as the reflected flame discovered colorful new wonders in her eyes —gold, green, silver, even hints of brown and blue—and then hissing in pain as the match's flame moseyed down to his fingertips.
Fortunately Janice disregarded this bit of anti-suavity and nodded at the sleek silver cigarette case. “Nice.”
“Oh, thanks. Dad bought it for me last summer, when we were in New York. It was a really great trip, let me tell you. We had a great time. I love New York—so much to do.” Dan was acutely aware that he babbled, but could not stop himself. “When we were there we hit all the museums, of course, and Macy's, and then there was the boxing match—“
Janice's cigarette drooped in shock, and for the first time that evening, she managed to string words together more than two words. “Boxing match? You mean the Baer-Schmeling match at Yankee Stadium?”
“ Holy shit, you saw that match? ” Janice jumped up from the sofa.
He was fairly certain he had never heard a woman use the word shit before.
“I tried to get tickets to that thing, but couldn't for love or money, ya know?” She grinned, causing his eyelashes to flutter like Betty Boop's. “Baer has a right like a sledgehammer, and I knew he was going to pummel that Kraut but good.”
“It was a great TKO,” he replied, absurdly giddy at successfully mining a topic of conversation.
With beautiful—and slightly intimating—fierceness, Janice struck up a boxing pose. “Yeah? Show me.”
Dan laughed. While this was not the kind of show-and-tell he had hoped would transpire during the course of the evening, the topic and its resultant enthusiasm gave him hope that it would lead to better things. Frankly, he liked seeing her like this—animated and passionate—so he leapt to his feet and settled into a boxing stance. “Well, it happened in round ten—he got Schmeling on the ropes eventually and just hammered away at the poor fellow.” Dan threw some playful, soft jabs at his date.
Getting serious, she doused her cigarette into a glass of the wretched punch and retaliated with a flurry of fists, one of which narrowly missed his cheek. She was bouncing around him—and in pointed girly shoes—with the loose-limbed ease of Joe Louis.
“Whoa, settle down there, tiger.”
“Sorry. You were saying?”
“Uh, yeah. Once Baer got him on the ropes, he was done. But before that, y'see, he threw this great, wild haymaker in a big arc—I don't know how else to describe it.”
“C'mon, show me,” Janice repeated, and flung another too-close-for-comfort punch at him.
Dan attempted to use the reticule of memory to accurately and safely guide his flailing right hand to close, contact-free approximation, but realized his complete and utter failure when his fist commenced a throbbing samba of pain and he saw Janice sprawled on the floor, bleeding copiously from her lovely—and hopefully unbroken—nose.
An hour later, with a bag of ice resting against her face and several tumblers of dubious punch warming her belly, she slurred, “I'll give you this, you're an innneresting date.” She laid her hand over his.
He thanked the Lord for sending him such an extraordinarily forgiving creature.
Chapter 2: One Night in Hoboken
February 14, 1937
The Rusty Barge Tavern
Hoboken, New Jersey
The bartender cast another look at the bickering odd couple: The longshoreman—one of his regulars—who, at six-foot-four, towered easily over the mouthy little queer girl who had been giving him hell about the New York Giants, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and life in general over the course of an hour. It was like watching a fly buzz around a lazy, lethargic bull. He hoped the mouthy little queer had wits enough to quit while she was ahead, but as she downed another shot of bourbon and opened her mouth yet again, he thought that to be as likely as Hitler parachuting into Hollywood.
“An' I tell ya something, Vince or whatever your name is,” she burbled at the longshoreman. She poked him in the gut; he watched, slowly fascinated, by the repetitive motion of her finger bouncing against his oilskin jacket. “Nothin' you say about the Giants is gonna piss me off tonight.”
“Is that so?” This, Vince's standard retort for all such declarations, served him and his considerable height well through the course of many years of deep, abiding stupidity.
“Yeah.” She poked him in the gut again. “‘Cause I got me a date later, see. A date with a genuine Rockette. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Cochise.”
Cochise? wondered the bartender.
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, that's so, bub. She's got the longest legs on the line, too. They measured ‘em, even.”
Oh shit, the bartender thought.
Vince's eyes narrowed. “That sure is funny, bub, ‘cause my wife happens to be a Rockette, see.”
“Yeah, no shit, and you know what else?”
“ She's got the longest legs on the line.”
The bartender's fingers wound around the tip of the baseball bat behind the counter. He wasn't sure which one he'd have to slug, but by God, he would be ready to take his hacks.
Oblivious, the woman prattled on: “Aw, bullshit. Cora wouldn't lie to me about that.” She paused. “Say, your wife's name isn't—”
The punch in the face that Janice Covington received did indeed confirm that the longshoreman's wife was named Cora.
After Vince stormed off, presumably in search of his faithless wife, the bartender took pity on the vanquished deviant and planted a dirty dish towel wrapped in ice cubes on her swelling yet somewhat attractive face—so pretty, he thought, that it was a shame she was a queer. Nonetheless, he couldn't fault her taste in women.
“Y'know,” she mumbled, “I'm really beginning to hate this fucking so-called holiday.”
The bartender shook his head. “Don't blame Valentine's Day, kid. It's that damn Cora. I've known her and her old man a long time, and just when I think she's run out of fools to sucker with her lines, along comes another one.”
Wincing, Janice adjusted the ice over what would be a first-class shiner by tomorrow. “It's not the lines, buddy. It's the legs.” She sighed. “It's always the legs.”
Chapter 3: The Monkey's Serenade
February 14, 1938
127 W. 47 th Street, New York City
She did not know why she let Cora into the apartment.
No, this was a lie, a damnable lie of such epic proportions that a special outcropping of hell necessitated creation just for her alone, one of such singular importance that if Dante were still alive he would call shotgun on another road trip with his buddy Virgil and crank out a couple hundred cantos about it, all for her and similar like-minded wretches prone to pathetic, hapless self-delusion. Boredom was at fault, she thought: Once again she was stuck states-side while Harry tried to scrounge up more money for an excavation. She'd been kicked out of every queer joint downtown, not to mention the finest dives in the neighborhood—the kind of joints that wouldn't let you in unless you were terribly weird, undoubtedly cool, obviously artistic, or insanely drunk. Janice believed she was all these things—and more!— but apparently mouthy queer troublemaker hitting on random broads was a bridge too far for these assholes and their watered-down drinks. So not much remained of her snowy nightlife except trying to fix a radio that didn't work and reading overdue library books. Besides, she was awfully impressed that Cora battled a foot-and-a-half of snow to come over to her crummy, freezing little apartment to seek forgiveness. And all the way from Hoboken, no less.
Janice continued to berate herself as Cora sashayed the length of the tiny walkup studio, while revising her internal narrative to reflect the crude truth that she hadn't been laid in months; in fact, she was behind schedule and needed serious maintenance in that department. And Cora did have those amazing legs, currently camouflaged by a ridiculously long fur coat. There was no way in hell Vince could afford a coat like that, Janice thought derisively. Of course, there's no way I could afford something like that either.
Cora sat on the lumpy couch with as much demureness as she could muster. “C'mon, siddown with me,” she whined in a slab of a Bronx accent that made Janice long to shut her up with a kiss. But Janice had made a decision to be firm, resolute. Unaware that the gesture made her look twelve years old, she folded her arms in a petulant manner. Unfortunately, Cora continued torturing the English language: “C'mon, Jan. C'mon c'mon c'mon. Don't be so mean. Jeez Louise, I came all the way over here in snow and the train was so lousy and it's so cold and now you're being so lousy and cold and I just want to say I'm sorry honey about what happened last year and I tried to write you a letter but you know I'm no good at that kinda thing and you were in Cairo or someplace crazy like that where they don't deliver letters cause Ay-rabs don't read—“
“Jesus Christ!” Janice roared. “Take a breath!”
“Then siddown beside me, honey. Whaddya afraid of?”
“Your husband's fist in my face.”
Cora waved a hand. “Don't worry ‘bout him. He's working tonight.”
Reluctantly, Janice settled on the couch at the greatest distance from her. “Took ya long enough to get around to sayin' something,” she retorted gruffly.
Cora creeped closer. “Like I said, you went away on one of your crazy exculpations!”
Janice pinched the bridge of her nose. Was it worth considering dating men again? Or joining a nunnery? No, she'd always had a thing for nuns. Just more heavy drinking, then? But Cora laid a warm hand on her thigh and, God help her, started talking again.
“Come on, sugar, it's a brand new year, a brand new Valentine's Day. You know I'm crazy about you. Don't you love me too?” Fate teasingly intervened. As Cora shifted impatiently on the sofa, her overcoat parted with the solemn significance of the Red Sea, revealing gloriously long, stockinged inches of perfectly toned calf and luscious thigh.
Love? Oh God, no. Janice's gaze drifted worshipfully to the legs. Oh God, yes. “Yes, yes, I love you,” she said to them. Both of you, equally!
It was good enough for Cora, who threw herself atop Janice and mauled her quite pleasingly on the sofa for several long, satisfying minutes. Suddenly her cheap perfume was as intoxicating as fresh jasmine on a summer's day and Janice was about the offer up her belt for the unbuckling when they both became aware of a light, persistent knocking at the door. “Ignore it.” Something about Cora's breathless command took the edge off her Bronx braying.
But Janice sighed and squirmed out from under a maze of long, warm limbs. “It's just my crazy neighbor. I gotta get rid of her, otherwise she'll bug me all night.” The extraction was so heavenly that she could only expect a pleasant reentry ( rear entry? she wondered—well, she might suggest that later) into that luxurious labyrinth. She anticipated another frantic visit from her next-door neighbor, a poetess with a pet monkey ( damn silly Vassar girls )—the latter of this intrepid pair frequently the cause of the former's visits because of his habit of escaping to the questionable freedom of Janice's fire escape and requiring rescue off said fire escape by the poetess and Janice singing “Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby” with accompaniment by Janice on ukulele. And thus she failed to envision that the personage at the door would instead be the large, sullen Vince who, in a rare flash of common sense and simple detective work—finding Janice's address scrawled over Clark Gable's forehead on the cover of Cora's latest Modern Screen —decided to follow his wayward wife to her romantic rendezvous in Hell's Kitchen.
But yeah, stupid, you should have known. This was her last thought before he flattened her again.
This time she awoke alone, to a swollen nose, a black eye, a blood-spattered shirt, a hasty “Dear Jane” letter pinned under a distressingly empty fifth of scotch, and, from the fire escape, the cheerful, gibbering serenade of the poetess's monkey.
Chapter 4: Reversing the Curse
February 14, 1948
“I can't believe you're still going on about this nonsense!” Mel exclaimed while donning a pair of silver and sapphire earrings. She glanced into the vanity mirror atop the bureau for confirmation of her perfection, received it in spades, and proceeded to strap a slender Cartier watch to her wrist.
Janice imagined there was probably a hideously sinister Technicolor portrait of this ridiculously beautiful woman moldering in an attic somewhere. Her enjoyment of watching Mel get dressed—not quite the same thrill as watching her undress, but one made do with the circumstances of life—was tempered by the fact that they were arguing first thing in the morning. Even before coffee. An anomaly among women of Southern heritage, Mel hated scenes in public, largely because it was extraordinarily difficult to argue effectively in furious undertones; but apparently arguing in private was a blood sport Southerners could partake in at any time of the day. Janice rubbed her brow. “And I can't believe,” she growled, “that you still think it's not real.”
“You're not cursed. It's absurd.”
“Then what am I?” Janice demanded.
“Accident-prone, occasionally too drunk, and possessing an unfortunate tendency toward poaching other men's wives.”
From her position of lounging upon the freshly made bed, Janice sat up angrily. “I guess you've conveniently forgotten what happened last Valentine's Day.”
Guiltily, Mel hesitated before owning up to it. “All right. That one was my fault.”
“How many times did I tell you that I did not want a demonstration of your backhand ? And why the hell were you taking tennis lessons in the middle of winter anyway?”
“Gunilla still says my backhand is not what it should be.”
“If you think Gunilla the goddamn tennis pro and goddamn Ingrid Bergman lookalike is so goddamn wonderful why don't you go back to goddamn Goteborg with her?” Janice was relieved that this salacious Swede's work permit, which apparently had a release clearing her for shameless flirtation with both sexes, had finally run out.
“Don't be silly. It snows worse in Goteborg than it does here.” When Mel saw that this bit of drollery did not go over as well as intended, she sat down on the bed beside her surly lover, leaned in for an apologetic kiss—and watched in dismay as Janice skittered away from her as if she had just eaten a bulb of garlic. “This is precisely why I told Sheridan that we would come to his party tonight—because you refuse to spend a single minute alone with me today!”
Sheridan Marler, the presumptive host of the party Janice had been shanghaied into attending this evening, was a minor artist whose middling landscapes and sloppy sculptures decorated the common rooms and offices of American colleges along the eastern seaboard and beyond, as a result successfully transforming his mediocrity into a cottage (or college) industry. Like Mel, he was a Southerner in exile, and this quality drew them together into gossipy friendship. To Janice's astonishment, and despite the fact they had grown up in different regions of the South—Sheridan was from Louisville—they inexplicably and intimately knew by heart the same elaborate, crisscrossing map of dubious acquaintances and disreputable relatives, resulting in exchanges in which the following was dismally (to Janice, anyway) typical:
“Well, Mamsie Duveen is Ronnie Sue's cousin—we were Tri-Delts together at Vandy,” Mel had murmured during their most recent visit with Sheridan, the one where she had four mint juleps and admitted to both Sheridan and Janice that two of her cousins (“Second cousins, I'm fairly certain—oh Lord, they do look a little alike…”) had recently married, a disturbing development that strengthened Janice's resolve to keep Mel in the chilly safety of the Northern tundra lest she succumb to a similar desire for inbreeding.
Sheridan, who resembled a butcher version of Vincent Price, had leaned into Mel. “Then surely you know,” he said in a conspiratorial undertone, “about Ronnie Sue's abortion in Tupelo!”
“No! Oh honey, tell me you're joking!” Shocked, Mel squeezed Sheridan's gabardine-covered knee and Janice reminded herself that around fellow Southerners Mel called everyone honey and darling and they called her such in return and those affectionate touches on the knee or arm meant nothing but, all the same, it was essential to recall that these genteel-seeming people, incubated in that fabled wonderland of shaded trees, sprawling landscapes, tart lemonade, sweet drawls, and even sweeter whiskey, started a goddamn war because they were too frigging lazy to pick cotton themselves.
Finally, Janice could not endure any more stories about backstreet abortions—Ronnie Sue's was the third one of the day—and had muttered, “Jesus, doesn't anyone down there know what rubbers are?” She was promptly glared at by both parties and sent to the kitchen to make more mint juleps.
The other thing about Sheridan, though, Janice now attempted to use to her advantage. “Why do you want me to come to this party anyway? You keep saying that Sheridan is all hot for me.”
Mel's lips flattened disapprovingly. “Yes. He wants to paint you nude.”
“I only do that for pay.”
“ What? ”
“Never mind. Seriously then, what's the point of dangling me in front of him, like candy in front of a baby?”
“That's precisely the point. I can't have him thinking for a single moment that I'm afraid to have you in his presence. That's why you have to wear something low-cut and very tight. Good Lord, Janice, where's your sense of strategy?” Mel walked out of the bedroom and headed downstairs with Janice's imprecations, implorations, and stomping feet trailing in her wake.
“It's not like I'm doing this on purpose.” Janice clambered down the stairs. “I want to celebrate Valentine's Day with you. I want to be all romantic and shit.”
“Hmm. I believe could do without the latter item.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I know. But honey, I'm not really upset. Valentine's Day itself—well, you know, it's not really about love, it's all about commerce.” Mel was determined to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and hopefully increase her chances for a candlelit, post-party bubble-bath rendezvous later that evening. “One of many manufactured holidays that dominate the calendar year, created to not only break up the monotony of the oppressive winter season, but also to put money in merchants' pockets. Chocolates, flowers, cards—is it any coincidence that as a holiday Valentine's Day gained traction and popularity during the Industrial Revolution? The first mass-produced Valentine cards started in England in the early nineteenth century—”
Janice squinted suspiciously. “What, suddenly you're a fucking Marxist?”
“No, I'm merely trying to say that contrary to what you think, I don't require a lot of maintenance, as you would put it, on this day. I don't need lavish gifts or grand gestures to mark special occasions. But—something modest, something simple, perhaps some flowers, a nice dinner—would've been nice. That's all.” Mel sighed regretfully. “But in lieu of that, I will settle for a pleasant evening out with friends. And you.”
“You're making me feel bad,” Janice mumbled, then adding as she reveled in the glorious sight of Mel's languorous, hip-rolling stroll to the front door: “And good at the same time. Who else can make fetching a paper look—fetching?” Mel opened the door, bent over, and retrieved the newspaper. She wondered if the neighbors were taking photographs. In an effort to shake herself out of this sexual stupor, Janice blinked and shook her head. She even considered slapping herself—why not, she thought, that's always how Valentine's ended up anyway. “Look, I can't stand another disappointment, another day of so-called fucking romance that ends up with me getting a bloody nose or a black eye or both. I've tried to explain it to you—I even made a graph to illustrate it, remember? 1939: Fell out of a truck and broke my ankle. 1940: Slapped repeatedly by a Frenchman. 1941: Got frostbite from standing half-naked on a fire escape for an hour. 1942: Double date with a Nazi. Need I go on? Hell, think about it, we've never had a normal Valentine's Day. The first Valentine's Day we spent together, London was bombed! And I fell off the bed and hit my face on the nightstand!”
“I suppose you're going to blame me for that one as well! I couldn't help getting a cramp in my calf and—” Mel blushed furiously and added in an undertone, as if the prurient neighbors had their house bugged, “—it was your idea to try that position!”
“It's not my fault you couldn't hold still for a minute. I was really close. ” Strange how three years later, the sexual frustration of that failed incident burned hotter and brighter than noontime in the Sahara.
“I know— I was there. ” Mel's pupils expanded, her voice dropped sweet and low, and she took a dangerous step closer to her perpetually horny prey. “But I bet if I do some stretches first, we could try—”
Like a bunny undergoing electroshock therapy, Janice leaped backward. “No! That proves my point. It was a disaster, just like every other Valentine's Day. I know you think we have some sort of epic love going on, like fucking Tristan and Isolde, but it's really like Krazy Kat! I'm not Isolde, I'm Ignatz!”
Confused, Mel pointed out unhelpfully, “But Ignatz is the one who throws the bricks at Krazy.”
“It doesn't matter! Every year I'm expecting love but getting clobbered with the brick! Every year! Not even you—the one I've waited for my entire life, a good woman with a good heart, a brilliant brain, and a killer set of legs—can save me from this!”
Janice was far too occupied with delivering the penultimate moment of her melodramatic speech to notice that Mel had tightly rolled the newspaper into a little black and white club. A rare moment of spontaneity overtook her: She lightly smacked Janice on the nose with the paper-club, as if the latter were a misbehaving terrier.
“Ah! There we are!” Mel grinned triumphantly. “The curse is taken care of for this year.”
This poorly timed joked, this ignoble refutation of her curse, this thoughtless ridicule by the one person she loved the most, was all too much for Janice to endure. She clutched her tingling, newsprint-smudged nose and bellowed, “You are fucking out of your mind!”—thus deviating from her standard patterns of language usage by employing fucking as an adverb and not as adjective, something that the hopelessly academic Mel could not help but focus on although circumstances required her to file this away for further examination as she humbly trailed after Janice—who stomped into the kitchen while using fuck as noun, adjective, adverb, and preposition—repentant, apologetic, and determined to make amends on this, the glorious holiday of love.
Chapter 5: North vs. South
Janice's choice of “amends” for her winter-averse lover was truly insidious: She would accept nothing less than heartlessly sending Mel out into twenty-degree weather to Janice's office at the college, where she would retrieve a stack of student essays that required Dr. Covington's bleary gaze and bourboned assessment. Mel made the best of it by squeezing in a pit stop at the library; one could never have too many books for one's dissertation. Cradling a stack of books, wearing a knit hat and a bulky wool coat, and with a pair of steamed glasses and a thick, striped university scarf obscuring most of her face, she firmly believed Mildred the department secretary would not recognize her as she trundled blindly through the office.
As usual, the chain-smoking Mildred was surrounded by enough cigarette smoke to make Mel feel as if she had stumbled into a speakeasy and not an academic office; Janice frequently referred to this perpetual scrim of smoke as “the Shroud of Mildred.” The secretary didn't hazard a glance at Mel while pecking at her typewriter and announcing, to no one in particular, “Miss Pappas.”
Which flummoxed Mel. “How'd you know it was me?”
“Are you kidding? You're the tallest broad on campus. It's like having a tree indoors. So why're you here? It's Shorty's day off.”
After being told earlier—and repeatedly—that she was a “goddamn lunatic,” comparison to a tree was a vast improvement. “I'm playing errand girl for Dr. Covington. She forgot her papers.” Mel jangled a set of keys for emphasis. “I'll be in and out of your shroud before you know it.”
“Er, never mind, Mildred.” She stumbled down the hallway, silently cursing her fogged glasses. Once inside the office she tucked them away for the moment and blindly, spitefully shoveled papers into her satchel. If they're wrong, serves her right. She really didn't care anymore—in fact, she was going to go to Sherman's party tonight, cold weather be damned, and drink as many champagne cocktails as she wanted and tell everyone about the time she was accidentally engaged to her first cousin, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, for approximately a weekend before her father realized it and had a conniption, and she was going to do this because she was a “goddamn lunatic” and a proud Southern degenerate who lived in a glass menagerie on God's little acre while entertaining herself with reflections in a golden eye.
For a moment, Mel stopped stuffing papers in her bag as she pondered this. That's a rather good rant. Must write that one down. Sheridan will love it.
She thought she heard Mildred in the distance yelling at someone, but paid no heed. It was only when she stood outside Janice's office locking the door that she became aware of a decidedly unfriendly presence lurking in the hallway, a man who was directing a question at her: “So you're Dr. Covington, eh?”
The question, made an unpleasant accusation by tone of voice, came from an angry, balding, middle-aged man in a dark cashmere overcoat draped over a double-breasted pinstriped suit—even half-blind, Mel could discern fine attire. In contrast he rhythmically smacked a pair of lambskin gloves against the palm of his hand—a cheap gangster move if ever she saw one. This powerful whiff of bad manners left Mel disinclined toward niceties, particularly one of correcting an obvious mistake. “And you are?”
“Murgatroyd Saltonstall II.”
Mel remained squinting at him.
“Oh, that's rich. You don't know me. My son is in your class, you imbecile.”
At a distinct—and irritating—disadvantage because of her sight, she patted her coat pockets in search of her glasses. “Sir, before you continue hurling insults at me, I think you should know—“
“What I know, you overgrown suffragette,” Murgatroyd Saltonstall II continued in a menacing voice, “is that you gave my son a C+ on a paper he labored on for weeks. Weeks! ”
The sense of entitlement exacerbated her annoyance; if her father had ever behaved similarly on her behalf, she would have been appalled. “Perhaps he rightfully earned that grade.”
“That's a load of bull and you know it!”
“Actually, I don't know that—”
“Don't play semantic games with me. You know what I'm talking about. He's a straight-A student! This is his major, for God's sake! He can't afford anything lower than an A!”
The unholy chill and mounting frustrations of the day compelled Mel to force what she hoped was a semi-tactful message through clenched teeth: “Then I sincerely hope his next effort is better.”
Alas, Murgatroyd Saltonstall II sputtered with rage. “Why, you—you rotten bitch! I ought to have you fired! You think you can get away with talking to me like that?”
While quite resigned to accept the status of an imbecile, lunatic, suffragette, or even a tree on this farce of a holiday, Mel could not accept this. Her cool ungloved palm met his cheek with such force he staggered back against the wall and his shoulder bumped askew a Sheridan painting hanging there, a modern take on Alma-Tadema's A Reading from Homer, with robust blond prep boys in bags and flannels replacing languid Greek youths—privately Sheridan called the painting “Yankee Dumbasses Learn to Read.” Fervently Mel hoped that Murgatroyd Saltonstall II would rise above his status as a Yankee Dumbass and accept his slap like a man, as any decent Southern gentleman would do, for she was about to bring all her diplomatic charm to the forefront and offer the most unctuous and insincere apology know to man because she wished nothing more than to bring about an end to not only this unpleasant case of mistaken identity, but also the entire unblessed day.
Unfortunately, Murgatroyd Saltonstall II was not a gentleman. Only a rich one.
Chapter 6: Melinda's Sense of Snow
“You're going to have a hell of a shiner,” Janice said proudly.
Disconsolate, Mel sat in an unladylike sprawl upon their living room sofa with an ice pack resting on her left eye. Her head throbbed. At least the roaring fireplace was a warm, soothing balm upon the wretched day.
“You seem to forget who won the battle,” she glumly reminded Janice.
“Aw, it wasn't that bastard who won—it was good old Mildred.” After Mel's ungentlemanly caller struck her, Mildred promptly clubbed Murgatroyd Saltonstall II into unconsciousness with one of Mel's books—a 900-page tome on Platonic theology, never before so practically applied in its entire bookish existence—and called the police. It was no wonder Mildred always made the department's softball team, Mel wondered; she had a marvelous swing. Regardless, Mr. Saltonstall could now look forward to a court date and a mini-scandal. Gingerly Janice sat down on the sofa beside her companion, her warring words at odds with her gentle demeanor: “But I tell you, if I ever lay eyes on that guy again, I'm going to kick his balls up through his throat.”
Janice's uses and abuses of English never failed to fascinate her.
“I'm sorry,” Janice said.
“That punch was meant for me.”
“Yes, but your curse is truly reversed now, isn't it? And you know it, don't you?” Mel's uncovered eye glared at her accusingly. “You seem positively radiant. ”
“I think it's just the firelight. It's kinda romantic, isn't it?” She took Mel's hand, and Mel reveled in the warmth that radiated throughout her body from such simple contact. “And I must say, the ice pack really brings out the blue in your eye.”
“You're just happy you're getting out of Sheridan's party.”
“Man, it was a kick to telephone him and say we weren't coming because you got in a fight.” No sooner had Sheridan drawled “What?” in such a fashion that stretched his baritone into falsetto territory than Janice hung up on him. “But be honest.” She slid closer to Mel. “Wouldn't you rather spend Valentine's here, in front of the fire, with a great bottle of claret—“
Mel regarded her suspiciously. “Where on earth did you get a great bottle of claret?”
“Borrowed it from the Dean.”
“Actually, I consider it my Christmas bonus. Kinda stupid of him to leave his wine cellar open during a faculty party. Anyway, we got a good bottle of wine and a couple of steaks—and I'll make yours nice and bloody, just the way you like it. It's a perfect night to stay in. Hell, Sheridan's party is doomed anyway because it's supposed to snow at least a foot tonight—”
Alarmed, Mel sat up—and winced as the icepack tumbled off her face and into her lap. Snow! It was her kryptonite; the mere thought of the white stuff weakened her. “ More snow? Are we prepared? Do we have supplies? Salt for the sidewalk? A shovel? Peanut butter?”
“Peanut butter?” Janice echoed. “Gotta love your priorities.”
“Are we going to be snowed in? Good Lord, if we're snowbound, what are we going to do—“ Her panic was abolished with a kiss—to be precise, a kiss of the stomach-dropping, toe-curling, skin-tingling, ache-between-the-legs, come-to-Jesus-and-be-saved variety. She had no recourse but to wantonly sink back into the sofa, taking Janice with her. “Oh.”
“Glad you figured that one out, baby. Hey!” Janice brightened. “Maybe we can try that position again!”
“Er, let's wait until tomorrow.”
Janice went in for another kiss, but hesitated. “So. How does it feel to be cursed?”
Mel pulled her closer. “Ask me again next year.”