Carole is a shy, overweight scholarship student who finds herself under the spell of the charismatic, pedigreed Naomi—it’s an unlikely friendship that will set in motion a series of events with dire and far-reaching consequences.
Enter Eddie, a slick Upper East Side prep school dropout, expelled from a half-dozen private schools on the East Coast. Eddie is handsome, fatally charming, and more than willing to help the girls accomplish their goal. But something about him is not quite right—his overly familiar way with Naomi, his hair-trigger temper, the stories that just don't add up—and on one bitterly cold holiday weekend in an isolated cabin deep in the Vermont woods, a horrifying twist develops in the girls’ plan.
#1 bestselling author Wally Lamb says, “Pam Lewis is a sly and sure-footed storyteller whose literary tale of treachery, deception, and truth sits comfortably alongside Donna Tartt's The Secret History and Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley."
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Sold by:||SIMON & SCHUSTER|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
March 28, 1965
It was pitch-black. Black above and below. The only way to know up from down was by the pinprick stars. Ahead the sounds of Eddie Lindbaeck's boots fell heavily in the snow, his full weight coming down and then pushing off. Carole's footsteps were quieter because she'd worn her new Capezio flats to make her feet look pretty and to impress him. Capezio flats, black stretch pants with the loop under the arches to keep them from riding up, Naomi's gold mohair sweater, and her aunt Emily's brown parka with the cream vee. She couldn't help the jacket. It was all she could scrounge up in the warmth department. But now her feet were numb. She had to come down hard on her heels to get any traction at all, and it made her feel foolish.
She had the sinking feeling he'd forgotten she was even here. If anything, he was getting farther ahead. When he'd picked her up at the Double Hearth, he'd been aloof, not at all like he was on the train. A car passed them, whipping their shadows together. Afterward, it was even blacker than before.
"Is it much farther?" she called to him.
The sound of his boots stopped somewhere up ahead. "Is she tired?"
"No," she said. "She isn't. She's just cold." She wouldn't want him to send her back to the Double Hearth and ask for Naomi tonight instead. She'd won going first, and she was going through with this no matter what.
"It's not far," he said. "It's something out of Cannery Row. You girls didn't exactly go all out, did you?"
"You're the one who made the reservations."
Another car beamed from behind them, and she saw the sign up ahead. SNOWTOWN MOTEL. She knew exactly how far it was now because it was where the taxi had dropped him off after the train today. After the turn, the driveway snaked through a forest and then ended up at a clearing and the bunch of cabins, a big ring of them, with an office off to the left. Maybe it was crummy, but she wasn't going to take the blame for it. He was the one who'd supposedly been here before.
"You didn't give me much to work with." When she caught up, he put an arm around her shoulders and breathed into her ear. "No matter," he said.
The sound of his words triggered a spreading warmth, followed by a tight cluster of sensation, as though a string were being tugged deliciously somewhere deep within her. Naomi said the whole world is divided between those who have done it and those who haven't. Men can tell.
"I couldn't believe what you did this morning," she said.
Carole and her mother had arrived at Grand Central early and had had to wait near the information booth, where the floor was disgusting. Carole had Aunt Emily's skis and was wearing Aunt Emily's urine-colored stretch pants. In her suitcase she had Aunt Emily's long underwear and a hat she wasn't going to be caught dead in. She'd never carried skis before, and she kept hitting people with them by accident. When she set them down, they slithered every which way. Her mother kept trying to kick all the equipment into a tidy pile.
Carole had felt a little bad that her mother had gone to all the trouble of getting the skis from Emily when Carole didn't care about skiing. They'd had to get the car out of the garage and drive up to Tarrytown. Emily had taken the bindings to be oiled or something, and had the sides sharpened, and it was a very big production. She'd shown Carole and her mother those old pictures from a hundred years ago when she had been, in her words, a big girl too. Before she'd dieted herself into oblivion. Back then you had to walk up and ski down. Emily had said that a hundred times. Now they had chair lifts. Emily thought walking up made her superior. Emily was always saying things like that.
So Carole and her mother had been standing there waiting when they heard a voice bellowing out across the whole station. "You guys!" There Naomi was with Eddie right next to her on that giant marble landing that looked out over all of Grand Central. Carole had frozen on the spot. What did Naomi think she was doing? She had on all black and one of those serape things her father and Elayne were always bringing her back from South America. A sort of shawl in bright red. The odd couple, Carole thought. Eddie had looked preppie in his gray Shetland sweater and tweed jacket. He had blandly handsome features, a Scandinavian face -- wide, high cheekbones, narrow dark blue eyes, and a full mouth. His lank hair was the color of sand. Naomi's eyes were thick with kohl, something she'd just started doing. Carole counted. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. She knew exactly what was coming. On four one-thousand her mother leaned over. "Isn't it a shame what Naomi does to herself. She could be such a pretty girl."
Naomi and Eddie came barging through the crowd toward Carole and her mother, Naomi in the lead, Eddie following, carrying both their suitcases. Naomi pretended not to know his name. She called him "this nice man" and said he'd been kind enough to share his taxi, that if he hadn't, she'd have missed the train for sure. Eddie had grinned shyly as though embarrassed at all the fuss, as if, aw shucks, all he'd really done was what any decent person would do. Carole had held her breath in desperate, paralyzing fear that any minute now her mother would catch on and Carole would be in the biggest trouble of her young life.
But her mother hadn't had a clue. She'd believed what Naomi had said and shaken Eddie's hand, her manner the same as when she met Carole's father's business associates -- overly chatty and nervous. What a nice thing it was of you to do...People in this city don't usually...Now where I'm from...On and on, blushing and squirming in her coat like a complete idiot. She was forty, for God's sake, and Eddie was twenty-six. It killed Carole the way her mother could get, especially when she was the one going to bed with him later. It was so pathetic. She hadn't dared to look at Naomi, who she knew would be smirking dangerously.
"The nerve of you," she had said to Naomi when they finally ditched her mother and got on the train. "The absolute balls!"
They managed to get two pairs of seats facing each other and throw their stuff all over the other two. Then they'd had to fight people off who wanted to sit with them, saying the seats were taken. Naomi was best at that, coolly and calmly putting her hand on the vacant seat and saying, "I'm afraid these are already spoken for," ignoring people's dirty looks once the train got going and the seats stayed empty. If it had been up to Carole, she would have given them away. She was weak when it came to things like that.
Somewhere in Connecticut, Eddie made his way up the aisle and flopped down in the seat next to Carole. He leaned against her, and she let him, feeling his warmth. But that was nothing. The next thing she knew, Naomi, who was sitting opposite, slipped her stockinged foot between Eddie's big boots, inched it up the front of the seat between his knees, and rested it right between his thighs, wriggling her toes and laughing. Where had she learned to do that? He made a kissing motion at Naomi and then at Carole, and Carole dared to make the same noise back. After that, anything went. Whatever they felt like doing, they did. Whatever they felt like saying, they said. What a feeling it was. Think it, do it. For mile after mile of swaying tracks and stops and people getting on and off, staring at them, some of them making remarks. The girls switched places, took off their shoes and socks, touched his feet, each other's feet and ankles, until, some time in the afternoon, they all fell into a semi-sleep, tangled and barefooted.
"So I'll see one of you later," he said as the train was pulling into the Waterbury station.
"Me." Carole was drunk with him. Eddie had bedroom eyes, half shut all the time, with fat lids. And thick lips. His whole face reminded Carole of sleep, like you'd have to stick a pin in him to get his attention. So sexy, she thought.
"We had a race, and she won," Naomi said.
"You did?" Eddie said, waking up, a little confused. "A footrace?"
"Sort of," Carole said. Eddie's expression bothered her, and she didn't feel like giving him the details. It had been her idea and now it seemed sort of dumb and she was embarrassed. She and Naomi had chosen a course. Carole would start at 100th and Madison, while Naomi started at 20th and Madison. Whoever got to 60th and Madison first, the exact midpoint, won the right to go first with Eddie. Carole had won by six minutes.
"You must have cheated, eh?" Eddie pressed two fingers into Carole's belly and jiggled them. She knew what he was thinking. That she was too fat to outrun Naomi. But she'd only had to outwit Naomi. She'd zigzagged through the city, plunged into traffic midblock, and raced through red lights. She counted on Naomi's getting distracted by stores and people, and she had.
"No," she said.
"Well, lucky me," Eddie said.
In the headlights of an oncoming car she saw him ahead now, getting ready to cross the road to the motel. He waited for the car to pass and then ran for it. She wished he'd wait for her, but maybe it was because he was an actor that he was this way. Maybe he was going over lines in his head or thinking about how to do a scene. She'd read in Confidential Magazine that Danny Kaye did that all the time. People would see him on airplanes and ask for his autograph, and he wouldn't even hear them because he was so preoccupied with a script.
He waited for her to cross the road. She couldn't see him very well and had to grope for him in the dark. Her hands hit the soft layers of his jacket. "Hold still," he said. His gloved hands came to rest on her arm, and she smiled secretly. He tucked her hand under his elbow and pressed it hard against his side. "Come on," he said. "It's fucking cold out here." The word thrilled her. She'd never heard it spoken like that, so casually, as if he said it all the time. He set off fast, but she couldn't keep up and soon her hand slipped from under his arm. He took a few steps without her and then stopped. Utter silence. She could be anywhere with anybody -- it was that dark. She was too scared to take any more steps by herself.
"Eddie?" She groped the dark again. "Come on. This isn't funny."
He grabbed her from behind and she screamed. He clamped a leather glove that smelled like gasoline over her mouth. "Sshh," he said and kissed her, the warmth of his lips and tongue a sudden shock, more terrifying still. "Come on. Not much more." By now she could see a little bit of light through the trees ahead. She had her hand tucked in again between his elbow and his side and she was a little bit behind him. She liked it this way, the feeling of being taken somewhere. Against her will, but not really.
He led the way to the second cabin from the left. The ones to either side were dark, and the office was dark except for a neon sign with pieces of the letters missing. The cabin was dark wood, or painted brown, she couldn't tell. It had white shutters tilting off. She knew what he meant about it being crummy. "Ours is only a dorm," she said about the Double Hearth, where she and Naomi were staying. "At least you have some privacy."
He fumbled in his pocket for the key, opened the door, and switched on the light. "See what I mean?" It smelled of bats and mice inside, like a summerhouse that had been closed up. There were two twin beds with beige-and-brown-striped bedspreads, an armchair, and a bureau. His suitcase lay open on the floor. It was one of those fiberglass ones that you could drop from an airplane and it wouldn't break. His shaving stuff was spread out on a fake mantel. There was an electric heater. He switched on the heater, and they both watched the coils start to glow red. He went to one of the beds, jiggled the mattress, and grinned. He sat on the bed, took off his parka and sweater, and threw them into a corner. He started undoing the top button of his shirt and then stopped. "Don't just stand there," he said.
Her parka crackled with static electricity when she took it off. The yellow mohair sweater came way down over her hips, but even so she tugged it down and sat on the bed across from him, holding the parka in her lap. She had never thought about this part, the part right before. She had no idea how they were ever going to get from here into one of the beds. How she'd even get out of her clothes. How Eddie would. She studied the lamp on the table between the beds. It had a cowboy roping a steer on the shade. He probably wished Naomi was here instead of her.
Eddie unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt, took it off, and threw it on top of the sweater and parka. She wondered if he would just keep on going and take off all his clothes. Then what? It was all happening too fast. But he stopped and sat staring at her in his undershirt and khaki slacks. Her father sometimes looked at her the same way. He'd once said she was never going to be cute. "No sirree," he had said. "You're going to be handsome. A handsome woman." She hadn't dared to tell that one to Naomi. She didn't want anybody to know. It was so awful. At the time, she didn't even dare ask what he meant -- what women did he think were handsome? What if he said Golda Meir or Lillian Hellman? Well, no, she knew she didn't look like them. That much she could say. She didn't have a great big nose and little eyes, for one thing. Her nose was nice. And she had arresting eyes, everybody said, which was, in her opinion, too much like "handsome" to be much comfort. Her eyes were pale blue, like ice. In her wildest dreams she wondered about Sophia Loren. She hoped to God that Sophia was handsome. Generous features on Sophia, that was for sure. But dark. And Carole was so fair. Maybe, just maybe.
"Stop that thing with your foot, will you?" Eddie said. "It makes me nervous."
She took a breath and looked around.
"So?" he said.
"So?" she said.
He took a bottle of scotch from his suitcase, poured two little cone-shaped paper cups, and handed her one. The hot liquor ran down to her stomach like fire. He poured her another. "So you're eighteen?"
She remembered what Naomi had said. Whatever you bloody do, don't bloody tell him you're only bloody sixteen. Bloody was Naomi's word of the month. Naomi said he might not go through with it if he knew. He might think she was too young. "I got held back in the fourth grade. I couldn't get my multiplication tables." She added the last bit to make it authentic. Actually, she was young for her year and headed to Vassar in the fall. She had been accepted on early decision, the only girl in her class who had, and she would turn seventeen in her first month of college. She was a brain. She'd spent her whole life getting straight A's.
Eddie crumpled the cup in his hand and looked her up and down. There was something so bold in the way he stared at her breasts that it took her breath away, and when he slowly raised his eyes to meet hers, she felt so weak she could barely move.
"Give," he said. He reached for the parka she held, loosely now, in her lap. "Stand up and turn around. Let me get a look at you."
The old dread came back full force. She was fat, and her thighs rubbed when she walked.
"Just be natural. Trust me. Look at yourself in the mirror."
She stood and turned to the mirror over the dresser. Her face was flushed from the walk and the liquor. "Nice," he said. He stood behind her, examining her in the glass. He cupped her chin, pulled her hair back. It was blond and curly, almost frizzy. He lifted it from her back to the top of her head and kissed her neck, playing with the hem of her sweater at the same time. When she felt his hands along her bare midriff, she pulled in her stomach on reflex. "Don't do that," he said. "Just relax. You're fine."
"I don't know what to do."
"It isn't what you do. It's what I do. Lesson number one."
His hands lifted the sweater and she raised her arms automatically, like a child. When he pulled the sweater over her head, she was ashamed of the twisted and frayed straps of her bra. She covered the rolls of fat on her midriff with her arms as best she could, but again Eddie stopped her, smiling at her from behind in the glass. He undid the hooks of her bra and pulled it away. "Look," he said. She watched in shock as his fingers took her nipple and pinched it. It hurt just a little, but she didn't let him know that. She wanted to be brave. "They change." His smile held a trace of cruelty that only made her like him better. "Did you know that?"
Of course she did, but she shook her head. He'd said it was what he did, after all.
He unhooked her pants, ran the zipper down, and pulled them to the floor. She shut her eyes. She hated seeing herself all bigger than life. Without looking, she remembered the underpants she had on and blushed. They were gray and soft from so many washings. He pulled them to the floor and stood up behind her as his hands slid across her belly, down to the place between her legs, his fingers making small circles that suddenly felt good. Incredibly good. "You like that, don't you?" he said, and she opened her eyes and glanced at what he was doing, riveted now by the sight of his hand on her and the feel of his breath on her shoulder. She nodded. She could not speak.
Then he turned and went to the bed, where he lay down, leaving her stranded, with her panties and slacks around her feet. She wished he'd make this easier. But he didn't. He didn't tell her anything now, which wasn't fair. It was supposed to be about what he did.
He lay back on the pillows. "Beautiful," he said, and she was able to smile for the first time all night. "You're a diamond in the rough, you know that?" He beckoned her over and she went, kicking out of her pants. She lay down beside him easily. She felt as fluid as water while his hands traveled over her body, exploring, and she was carried along for what seemed like hours until he rolled away, stood beside the bed, dropped his pants, picked them up, and took something from the pocket. A rubber. He fumbled with himself, and she saw for the first time his thing in the dim light, bobbing and unruly. She couldn't take her eyes off it. The bulk of it, and that stocking thing dangling off the end. The fact of her looking at it that way did something to him, made him bigger. He lay down next to her. He touched her. "God, you're wet," he said.
"I'm sorry," she said.
It made him laugh so hard that he had to roll onto his back. He turned back to face her. "It's a good thing," he said. "I see we've got a lot of ground to cover."
She felt pleased with herself for making him laugh out loud, thrilled at his evident enjoyment of her although she didn't know exactly what had been so funny. Well, not funny. The way he laughed wasn't so much comic as appreciative. He liked her better for what she had just said. It's a good thing. She smiled, remembering the nice way he'd said that, as she felt his hands trace lightly over her abdomen and breasts and then make gentle, tantalizing circles, spreading slowly down, to her navel, below her navel. Her hand slid down his arm to his hand, wanting, needing whatever was next. She opened easily to him and felt again that sweet tugging and the sense that the place between her legs was the only part of her that existed, that everything else -- body, thought, even consciousness -- was gone, fully in the service of this sudden enlargement.
And then there was a moment of searing pain, and she realized that he was inside her. He started pumping rhythmically against her, aggravating the pain. She didn't want to cry out in case she was mistaken again and lay waiting for that flicker of pleasure to return, but it didn't. She shifted under him a little, and it did something odd. He hesitated as though he was listening for something, his body rigid and absolutely still. He seemed to get a second wind and boom boom boom. Then he slumped down on top of her with all his weight and stayed there until she could hardly breathe and had to squeeze out from under him.
Were they finished or was this still the middle? She waited for some other new thing to happen, but nothing did. She was getting her own second wind and wanted to go another round or whatever you'd call it. This couldn't possibly be all there was to it, not after what everybody said. "The central moment of the young wife's life," according to the book her mother had made her read. But he was snoring. She felt so wide awake. How could he be asleep so soon? She stared at the ceiling. It reminded her of summer camp with its plain pine boards. She used to lie on her bunk and stare at the knots until they looked like faces or animals, but she was too jumpy for that now. She considered racing out of here so she could tell Naomi. For once she'd have a leg up on Naomi. I did it first. But if she left, she might miss something. It wasn't even nine o'clock.
She looked around the room for something to do. There was no TV or radio. Not even a book as far as she could see. Just his stuff. She tiptoed to the suitcase on the floor and opened it up, but it was cold in the room and she went back and got his T-shirt from off the floor. The suitcase was olive green. Inside were a few pairs of those same khakis, all folded, and some shirts and underwear. She opened a drawer. Inside, there were a magazine, a box of rubbers, and some ten-dollar bills in a paper clip.
She opened the magazine. It was a dirty magazine on bad paper, with drawings of naked men and women in it and some fuzzy photographs. She pulled it out carefully and looked through it, glancing often at Eddie in case he woke up. She had a feeling he'd be mad if he knew she was in his stuff. She'd never seen pictures like this. Everything was the color of raw beef.
She opened the other top drawer and started to fill it with his underwear until it occurred to her that if he found all his things put away, he'd know she'd seen the magazine. That might not be okay. She didn't really know him that well. What if he thought she had taken some of the money? She undid everything, quietly slipping the clothes out of the drawer and back into his suitcase.
She went to the mantel, where his shaving things were all lined up. There was a little rectangular hairbrush and a tortoiseshell comb. She ran her hands over all his things as though they were her own. She picked up the hairbrush and ran it through her tangled curls. He had a leather toilet kit filled with half-used tubes and bottles. She went into the bathroom, emptied the kit out on top of the toilet tank, held it under hot water, and scrubbed. She flattened his toothpaste and rolled it tightly from the bottom. She wanted to take care of him now. Make everything easy and clean for him.
Her mother had explained about sex when Carole turned ten. It had been just awful. Her mother had been embarrassed, looking away most of the time and not meeting Carole's eyes. She had said that one day Carole would fall in love, get married, and then have intercourse. She'd blushed when she got to the part where the man's penis became rigid and was inserted into the woman's vagina. Even at ten, Carole had been pretty sure something was missing from the explanation, and now she knew. Her mother had left out the urgency of it all, how at a certain point there was no stopping. It had to be the whole reason anyone wanted to do it in the first place. Sex wasn't a chore at all but an unstoppable pleasure that could have gone on forever if only Eddie hadn't fallen asleep. When Carole had asked her mother about falling in love -- what it meant, how it happened, how you knew -- her mother had said, "You'll just know." Maybe it was happening right now.
"Where'd you go?" He was calling from the bedroom. She opened the door and looked out at him. "Don't go touching my stuff."
She sat on the side of the bed. "Do I look different? Now that...you know. They say girls look different after. That men can tell. I just hope Daddy can't tell. He'd kill me."
"You look fine. Don't worry."
"I feel different."
"Can I see you back in New York?"
He lay back down and grinned at her. "So?" he said.
"Do you like me?"
"Yes," she said, flattered and a little taken aback to be asked. She wouldn't have dared ask him that question herself. What if he said no?
He pulled her down beside him. "Sure, you can see me back in New York."
"Can I go to one of your actor parties?" There was no question in her mind that he'd want her to. That really she was just making this easier for him. Saving him from having to ask. He'd said she was beautiful, after all.
"Maybe I can come to your place," he said.
The thought of Eddie in her bedroom electrified her.
"So tell me," he said. "You walk into your apartment, and what's there? Is it like a hall or what?"
She walked him through the apartment, starting with the dining room and the den off that, the corridor to her parents' room. He wanted every little detail -- what was on the walls, what the furniture was like, what they could see out the window. She told him about the home for unwed mothers across the street and all the pregnant girls her age who played cards, watched TV, and waited for their babies. Her mother said it served them right.
"She's pathetic, isn't she?"
She'd said her mother was pitiful a thousand times to Naomi. But she hated hearing him say it. "I don't know."
"I know, and I only met her for two minutes." He laughed. "Hot to trot."
"She has a hard life." What she meant was personally. Her mother wasn't cut out for the life she was leading. She should have stayed in the Midwest, where the people didn't scare her. Her father's business friends made her mother so nervous that she sometimes drank too much.
"What if she knew?" Eddie said and laughed. "About this. Her little girl giving up her virginity to a cad." He rolled over and started kissing her neck, her breasts. "What if she knew I was doing this?" His hand slid down between her legs. "So answer me. What if they knew? Your parents."
"Well, they won't."
"But just say, just suppose you were going to give me something in return for my keeping our little secret. What would it be?"
"That's not funny."
He sighed and rolled onto his back. "It's a game, for chrissake. Pick me out a present."
"Well, you don't have to shout," she said. Eddie sighed deeply. "Okay," she said. "There's a silver cigarette box lined in ivory, about yea big." She made the small shape with her hands. "There are always cigarettes in it left over from parties." It was her favorite thing. She loved the way it smelled of tobacco and the smooth, cool bone lining.
"You can do better than that. Something big," he said. "Something valuable."
She was a little hurt because she treasured that box. The only expensive items they owned, or at least the only ones she could think of, were the ancestor prints in the hall, but they were huge.
"Oh, forget it. Turn over," he said. She lay with her back to him so he could curl himself around her. "I like you," he said, running his hand back and forth along her thigh, then pushing up the T-shirt to help her remove it. "I like big women. That Naomi is skin and bone. A real Bony Maroni."
"She's going to be beautiful. Everybody says."
"Not if she doesn't put some meat on her."
Carole took a deep breath and relaxed. She'd never once expected him to like her better. It just never happened. "Naomi's mother went insane," she said and then stopped short. Maybe she shouldn't be telling him this.
"Oh, yeah?" Eddie said. She could hear the interest rise in his voice.
She nodded. Now she hoped he'd just let it go. She shouldn't have said anything.
"Insane how?" He tickled her side. "Come on, Carole. How?"
Well, when she thought about it now, she remembered how on her first day at Spence, Amanda Howe had pointed out Naomi and said, "That's the girl whose mother slit open her wrists with a fork and bled to death in a mental hospital." Her words exactly, so okay, maybe it wasn't really privileged information. It wasn't as though Naomi had ever sworn her to secrecy. Everybody knew.
"She died in an institution. She killed herself. Her stepmother, Elayne, she's Czech, she does Hazel Bishop commercials on What's My Line?" She paused to let him speak, but he didn't. "You know, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, John Charles Daly. When they have a break, this red light goes on over on the left side of the set, which means she's on. Then her hands get all lit up. She's only twenty-four. She holds up a bottle of nail polish so you can see the lipstick and nails together."
Eddie ignored the story. "I bet that Naomi ends up in an institution too. Like mother, like daughter, don't you think?" It shocked her again, the way he was talking, but she liked it even though she shouldn't. "That one has a screw loose, no question about it." Eddie turned over, and in a few moments he began to snore again.
She'd been so afraid that she wouldn't know what to say and there she was saying too much. And it had all been so different from what she'd expected. Nothing like that idiotic book of her mother's, which mostly told how to use your elbows to keep a boy from touching your breasts. Oh, cripes. She had been afraid of Eddie seeing her naked, but he'd liked the way she looked. She'd been afraid he'd like Naomi better, and here he thought Naomi was skinny and crazy. She'd been afraid of everything, and now here she was, perfectly relaxed and not a virgin anymore. She pulled the covers to her chin and smiled. It must have been midnight, and he obviously expected her to stay overnight. She had never dared to think that might happen. Never in a million years.
She woke later because of a meowing sound at the door. It took a minute to remember where she was. The sound was human, though, somebody pretending to be a cat. Eddie sat up like a shot. "I'll get it," he said.
"They'll go away." Carole grabbed for his arm. "They'll go away if no one answers the door." She was afraid it was Naomi ruining her night.
"Let go." Eddie pulled away, wrapped the bedspread around his waist, and went to the window. He opened the curtain and strained to see out. Then he let the curtain fall. "Oh, for crying out loud," he said.
"Who is it?"
He turned the doorknob. Carole sat up, drawing the covers over herself.
Eddie opened the door slightly and pressed against the opening, whispering to whoever was out there. Carole strained to see, but Eddie was in the way. Then he said something she couldn't make out. She got up and stood behind him, her hand on his bare back. Startled, he turned from the door to face her. The woman outside used the opportunity to push herself past him and into the room. She shuddered, hugging herself and stomping her feet against the cold.
She had on a fur hat, pointed on top and tied under the chin, a navy-blue parka that came almost down to her knees, and big men's boots. She was carrying a large plastic pocketbook. Carole thought it was the motel owner's wife, here to kick her out. She'd heard you had to register as man and wife, and even then they made you prove it. You had to show them something with your married name on it. The owner must have figured out that Eddie had sneaked Carole in and wasn't going to have "it" going on in his establishment. She braced for the woman's anger, for a scolding. But instead the woman came in, took off her hat, and smiled. She had long reddish-brown hair, skin as pink as bubble gum from the cold, and a broad, plump face. She was a lot older than Carole.
"Let me take that," Eddie said to her, reaching for her parka.
"What's going on?" Carole said.
The woman turned her back to Eddie while he removed the parka. She shot Carole a look. Under the parka she had on a loose red sweater. She kicked off the boots and pulled off the sweater. Her olive-green dress had straps as thin as shoelaces that dug into her fleshy shoulders. She sat in the wooden chair beside the dresser, crossed her sausage legs, pulled a cigarette out, and held it up. "You got a light?" Her voice was higher than Carole would have expected, like a little girl's. He flicked the match with the thumbnail of one hand and dragged it across the tip of her cigarette.
"Eddie?" Carole said. If it wasn't the owner's wife, who was it? And who did she think she was, anyway? Sitting there like she owned the place. Carole went to the bed, the one they'd been in, and sat down. She'd been here first.
"It's okay," he said.
The woman smoked in a heavy, leisurely way, inhaling deeply and blowing out smoke from the corner of her mouth in a jet. She let the ash grow until it was almost as long as the cigarette. She held the pack of Kents out to Carole. "Want one?"
"I don't smoke."
Carole had the feeling that if she moved too quickly, something bad would happen. She watched the woman's hand raise the cigarette to her lips and only then realized that both of them, Eddie and that woman, were staring at her. She felt stricken, the way she felt when she had to stand up in front of the class and recite. "Eddie?" She wanted somebody to say something, to break the tension in the room.
The woman sighed, shrugged her shoulders, took another long, deep drag of her cigarette, and handed it to Eddie, who dropped it into a glass, the move all smooth and choreographed like they'd done this a million times. Eddie smiled, a disturbing kid's smile, and let the bedspread fall to the floor. "You dropped -- " Carole began but stopped because the woman uncrossed her legs and let herself down to the floor, to her knees, right there in front of Eddie. She pulled her hair back with both hands, twisted it behind her neck, and then did something unbelievable. She took Eddie's thing in her mouth, and Eddie just let her do it. Instead of pulling away, instead of getting angry or upset, he stayed right where he was, looking down at the woman like he was in a trance. The whole thing made Carole want to gag. Wouldn't the woman get a disease? She should leave, get out of here. She looked for her clothing and saw Naomi's yellow sweater on the floor by the door. There was no way she could go over there so close to the two of them. And if Eddie wanted her to stay and she went, she'd never go to those parties in New York. She'd never see him again. He motioned for her to come over to where they were.
"Maybe I should go home," she said. What she really wanted was for the woman to go, and she wanted one of them to say that, but the woman laughed and pulled away from Eddie and got to her feet.
"Don't be silly." The woman looked at herself in the mirror, turning this way and that. "I'm Rita. Eddie isn't too good on the introductions." The easy familiarity with which she said Eddie's name made Carole's stomach heave.
Rita hesitated, then gave Eddie an uncertain smile. She came over to where Carole was sitting and sat down. "We met a couple of times. Get her a cigarette, will you, sweetheart?" Rita said to Eddie. "You should really smoke a cigarette, honey. It'll calm you right down." Rita's eyes were light brown, and for the first time, they seemed kind.
Carole shook her head. "No," she said. The truth was she'd made a deal with her parents not to smoke until she was twenty-one. They'd promised to give her a hundred dollars. Almost all the girls in her class smoked.
Eddie was looking from one of them to the other. "Nice," he said, grinning. "Say, Carole, why don't you help Rita with that zipper."
They were both watching her now. Eddie, erect, still standing where he was. Rita beside her, her face close and smiling. "What's your name again, honey?" Her voice was lower now, more like a regular person.
She shook her head. Her name was none of Rita's business.
"Carole," Eddie said.
"Aw," Rita said. "You and Jumbo here were having a nice time, right?"
Carole just stared at her.
"And in comes little old me," Rita said with a laugh.
"Right," Carole said.
Rita patted her hand. "I won't bite."
"Pull down the zipper," Eddie said, his voice stronger, almost demanding. He came over and sat beside her on the bed so that now she was flanked. "Come on." He kissed her neck. "You wanted an education."
Carole could have died. It wasn't like that. She stole a sidelong glance at Rita, who smiled back. "This might not work," Rita said to Eddie.
"Sure it will. Hand me that bottle there."
Eddie held the bottle of scotch up for Carole to sip. "A little lubrication is what you need," he breathed into her ear, nuzzling her hair back. "Trust me." She took the bottle and tilted her head back. The liquor came in a rush, filling her mouth. It seemed to explode inside her.
Rita burst out laughing. "Wow," she said.
"I told you," Eddie said.
Carole had to catch her breath. The liquor burned at her center and made her eyes water.
"She's good," Eddie said. So much was going on all of a sudden. The low light, the fetid but almost pleasant smell of the place, the sudden warmth she felt oozing out from the center of herself. She had to blink to see if it was real. "She's good," he said again. Good. It meant everything just then, like getting an A.
"Say, how old are you anyhow?" Rita's face was still pink, her brows bunched up.
"She's eighteen," Eddie said.
"She doesn't look any eighteen to me," Rita said.
"Well, she is," he said. "Right?"
Carole nodded. The scotch was making her feel soft and damp in her head.
"Let's get the show on the road." Eddie rocked from foot to foot. Rita turned and held up her hair so that Carole could take the little black zipper tab and pull it down.
"I don't know," Carole said. It was happening too fast. Everything was so confusing.
"Go on," Eddie said. "Just do it."
Carole pulled on the zipper and the dress opened, exposing more of Rita's fleshy back. Good. It was covered with ugly pimples.
Rita stood and wriggled out of the dress, leaving a dark green doughnut on the floor. She had on a red garter belt and black stockings. Nothing else. Rita winked at Carole, as though standing there nearly naked was cute or something. Carole had to look away because she felt embarrassed for Rita, whose breasts were long and walleyed, looking off in both directions. She was shaped like Sydney Saltonstall, a girl in her class who Carole had seen naked one time after gym and who had rolls of fat around her middle and no waist at all. Carole might be fat, but at least her body had a shape.
"Let's move these two beds together," Eddie said. "Up up up!"
They pulled away the little nightstand and shoved the beds together. "Rita's going to give you a back rub."
"It's okay," Rita said. "Lie down. Do like he said. A little back rub won't kill you." The sudden feeling of Rita's cold hand on her shoulder made her jump. "Hey, relax. I'm good at this." Rita's thumbs dug deep. They traveled up the back of her neck, massaging hard, and then into her hair. Rita purred things to her: "You're all tense....That's better....Don't worry, honey. Nobody's going to hurt you. Honest." Eddie draped a purple towel over the cowboy lamp, and the room went all weird blue. His weight settled on the bed, then his hands on her, or so she thought. She tried to picture the hands, but there seemed to be so many. She felt herself losing her bearings. Through the fog of sensation, she knew this much: What was happening was freeing her. Rita purred out the wrong name. "Garrett," she said. Or something like that. Wrong guy, Carole was thinking dreamily. Eddie didn't say anything back. He liked her, Carole, and not Rita, she thought with faint satisfaction. He wanted to see her in New York. He said she was good. A diamond in the rough.
They surrounded her, wedging and shifting, their arms and legs entangled, their skin growing moist and sticky. The sensation of hands and lips on her body was strange but not frightening at all, not now, and she felt carried along, lulled and excited, until everything was happening by itself, until she was moving with them, on her knees over them and then down, lying on her back, everything luscious and thrilling. The beds slipped apart, and they crowded onto the one close to the wall. Rita moaned, purred, whispered to Carole what to do. She should touch Eddie here and then there. And she was right because Eddie was like somebody new, kissing and touching her, Carole, and not Rita. She was the one he liked, she thought dreamily. Better than he liked Naomi. Better than Rita. Maybe Rita had set everything in motion, but now all of Eddie's attention was on her, on Carole. All of it.
There came a sobering draft. Somebody had got up. She opened her eyes and tried to make out who in the dim light. Eddie stood beside the bed, the bottle of scotch in his hand. He took a sip, then passed the bottle to Rita, who passed it to Carole. She took a long swallow and handed it back, but Eddie said to take another, and she did. It was easy this time, the liquid rushing through in a pleasurable way. She could see now why her mother liked to drink.
He shoved one of the beds aside. "Move over," he said to Carole, his voice gruff. He climbed back onto the bed and straddled Rita. He had something in his hands. Ropes or cords. "Watch this," he said.
He took one of Rita's hands, wound the rope around her wrist, and tied the other end to the bedpost. Then he did the same with her other hand. Maybe he was tying Rita up to get her out of the way. The thought made Carole giggle, the sound erupting in the silence of the room.
Eddie didn't even notice her laugh. He was different all of a sudden, serious, focused on what he was doing. Rita lay writhing, animal sounds coming out of her, egging him on -- "Big boy, big daddy, come to Mama." Eddie's hand explored under Rita's chin the way Carole's speech teacher, Miss White, had instructed them so they could feel how the words vibrated in there. Eddie and Rita were taking up all the room on the bed, forcing Carole over to the side and off until she was kneeling beside the bed. The scotch made her feel outside herself, not knowing where she was, even though she knew she could remember if she would only try. And she did try now, slumped beside the bed, to shake off the unpleasant clumsy feeling gathering in her head. This was the motel they'd gotten. Snowtown. Stupid name. But that's where she was. With Eddie, who had only just tonight taken her virginity. Changed her forever.
She looked at Rita's upturned face, bland as cheese. Cheap, Carole thought. She wasn't even supposed to be here. Carole had even paid for half this room. He was hers, not Rita's. Carole rose, suddenly feeling bold, a little angry. She didn't care what anybody thought. She leaned in and tried to kiss Eddie, angling her face around, insinuating herself between him and Rita. But Eddie fell back on his haunches, and his hand slammed against the wall to keep from falling. "Jesus," he said.
"Eddie?" She'd only meant to keep it going like before. "Move over, okay?"
"You're too fucking big," he said. "Too much weight." He pushed at her shoulder. "Shit, you're big as a horse. Make yourself scarce."
Horse. The words hung in the stinking air, draining the life out of her. Horse. She felt so heavy with shame, as though she'd been struck in the stomach. She reached for the bottle of scotch and took a sip, then another, and it helped. Maybe she'd breathe again after all, maybe she'd live through this. And then another sip, longer this time, grateful for the way it dulled the humiliation.
"Hey," Rita said to her, lolling around, sort of out of it. She indicated with her chin the space at the head of the bed, between her head and the headboard in the tangles of rope. "Up here, honey. Just get the hell out of his way. He goes a little crazy sometimes." It was the only place Carole could be now, other than the chair, off by herself out in the cold, and she wasn't about to do that. No way.
She crawled over Rita's arm, into the cramped space between Rita's upturned face and the headboard. No space at all, not nearly enough for her, bracing herself, knees spread apart for balance. One hand on the wall, the other shielding her crotch from Rita's gaze. If she tried to leave, it was going to piss Eddie off again. The bed began to rock with his movements, and she was stranded. It was like being in the lavatory of a moving train -- the way you can never get your balance, your legs useless and your body lurching all over the place. And the sounds of Eddie and Rita. Sickening sounds. The croon of their breathing below her and the steady pound of the headboard against the wall. She just wanted it to be over. She wanted to leave.
She shut her eyes, but the room spun and she felt nauseated. Eddie was breathing harder, grunting out every breath like an animal, and there were other sounds too, more tortured, the gravelly suck of air, which could be him or Rita. And then finally, finally, Rita relaxed, and Carole was so relieved she could have cheered. So there, she thought, Rita doesn't want to play anymore, and neither do I. But Eddie hammered on, and she was still on that train being thrown forward and then back, one side and then the other, bracing with whatever she could, her hands, her thighs, out of control until everything came screeching to a stop, with Eddie slumped beneath her, as motionless as if he'd been shot.
She didn't dare move until he raised himself and looked at her, his face inches away and grotesque in the dark purple light. "God, what a jolt," he said. "I bet you never saw anything like that before."
She waited for him to roll away before she crawled like an animal back over Rita's body, aware of her own immense size, her ungainliness and the awful picture she must make. She didn't know what she should say or do. She stood beside the bed. Eddie reached out, brushed her leg lightly, and grinned up at her. "First time for everything."
The room was very still, too quiet.
Something was the matter.
"Loosen up, will you?" he said. "Try to have some fun for once."
Rita's eyes were half open. "What's the matter with her?" Carole said.
"Nothing," he said. He whipped the towel off the lamp, throwing the room again into a stark cold light. "Believe me, she's better than she's ever been."
"Hey," Carole said quietly to Rita, but Rita still didn't move. She didn't even blink. "There's something the matter."
Eddie patted Rita's bare thigh. "Okay, sweetheart," he said. "Fun's over."
Rita still didn't move. Eddie stood, waiting, then scowled and knelt on the bed, leaning into Rita. He shoved her hard at the shoulder. "Hey, Rita. Hey, puss. Wake up."
He waited several beats, then placed his ear to her breast. He touched her neck with the tips of his fingers, just under the jaw. In that awful light, Rita looked bluish. He untied the cords and tried to raise her to a sitting position, but she was limp like a big doll, and he let her go like she was something dirty. Rita flopped to one side, her hand dangling close to the floor. They remained that way in silence, Eddie on his knees, Carole standing beside the bed.
"Oh, shit," Eddie said.
"What?" Carole wanted him to say something else, anything other than what she knew.
Carole suddenly felt so sick to her stomach that she knew she was about to throw up. She bolted for the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet, where she dropped to her knees, thrust her arms around the toilet bowl, and vomited scotch and bile. When it was over, she stayed sitting on the floor, exhausted, hoping that when she went back out to the room, it wouldn't be true. She hadn't heard him right. Rita would be alive. Carole stood and looked at herself in the mirror. Her skin was gray, with dark circles under her eyes. She splashed water over her face and dried it with a towel. Then she went back into the room. Eddie was sitting on the bed. He looked up at her. "What the fuck did you do?" he said.
She felt she could throw up again. Her head was throbbing. "I didn't do anything. I only -- "
"Only what?" He rubbed his face hard in his hands. "Only what? You only what?" Eddie leaned over Rita to look at her again. He touched Rita's neck. He nudged her head, ran his fingers along her neck. "You were all over her. Her neck's busted. You must have busted her neck."
"No." That wasn't possible. "No," she said again.
"Well, it wasn't me."
"There's a phone in the office," she said. "We can call somebody."
He took in a deep breath and shut his eyes for a long moment. "Call somebody?" He stayed that way with his eyes closed as though pained by her stupidity. "I don't think you understand." His voice was thick with contempt. "You stupid cow. You killed her."
"I don't see how -- "
"You don't know your own strength, Fatcakes. I thought that the first time I saw you. She's a big girl, I said to myself." He looked her up and down. "A huge girl. A dangerous girl."
"But you said -- " Beautiful. She was aware of her nakedness all of a sudden. Of her large body, the rolls of flesh across her stomach, the expanse of bare thighs. She crossed her hands over her breasts, then her abdomen.
"I told you to get off the goddamned bed, remember? But oh, no. You go crawling all over her. What's the matter with you?"
"She told me to," Carole said, looking down at her hands and then away, anywhere else.
"Don't bullshit me." He gathered a bedspread from the floor and threw it to her. "Cover her up." He went into the bathroom but came out again. "And don't fucking touch her. You got that?"
Not that she even could. Not that she could even look at Rita. She opened the bedspread and held it out, staring at her hands again, hands that seemed like they belonged to somebody else. And the room too looked like a place she'd never seen before, static and out of scale, like a room in a dollhouse. She threw the bedspread, which fluttered and landed in a tangle across the body.
When Eddie came back, he was calmer. He pulled a window curtain aside, holding his hand to his eyes, and looked out. Then he shut the curtain and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. "Here's what we do." She felt better hearing this, back on steady ground. They would do something. "Well, let me back up here. Before I get to that." He took in a breath, held it and then let it all out. "This is a big problem," he said. "A very big problem you have. Nobody can find out about this."
"But they will," she said. "When -- "
"For somebody smart, you're not catching on. Maybe I'd better spell it out. Nobody is ever going to find out. Just you, just me. So here's what we do. We take her up there." Eddie indicated the window, the back of the motel.
She was afraid he'd hit her, the way his fists clenched. "What's illegal was you breaking her fucking neck." He pulled away the bedspread, raised Rita's head, and let it fall. Carole had to look away, or she'd throw up again at the sight of Rita's face, her eyes still partly open. "If you call the police, we have to tell them what you did."
"But I didn't mean to do anything." She was frantic, trying to think, trying to remember doing what Eddie said she did, but it was as hopeless as remembering a dream. There, and then gone. All she could remember was the feel of it, the way she'd been thrown around in the dark. She had a memory of her hands on either side of Rita's head, and her thighs too, and hating the way Rita's hair stuck to her thighs and the hot fat feel of Rita's shoulder under the heel of her hand. All that she remembered. Maybe. Maybe accidentally.
He came over, so close she could smell him. Like metal or blood. "You were all over her." He spoke softly, nicely even. "You busted her neck." She was about to speak, but Eddie put a finger to his lips. "Don't," he said. "You were drunk. Shit, you're drunk now. Look at you."
"I never drank before."
"You were on her like a fucking gorilla," he said, still in the same soft voice.
There was a sound outside. Footsteps, right at the door. "Somebody's out there," she said.
Eddie switched off the light and they waited.
"I saw that." The voice was Naomi's. "Open up, you guys." She was right there, right on the other side of the door. She pushed it open. There was a rush of cold. "Pewey. It stinks in here."
Suddenly Naomi was standing before them in a raccoon coat, her mouth wide open, looking around. "You guys?" Her eyes traveled from one of them to the other. She burst out laughing and turned away. "Cover up, will you?" Carole snatched up a sheet and wrapped it around herself.
Eddie got up and put a hand on her shoulder, guiding her back toward the door. "Go on back," he said. "Get out of here."
"Wait." She was looking at the bed, at Rita. She took a step toward the bed. The bedspread had only partly covered Rita. Her hand dangled beneath it, her hair spilled down. A calf was exposed. "Who's that?"
"Shit," Eddie said and shut the door.
"Carole?" Naomi was still staring at Rita.
"You'd better tell her," Eddie said.
Carole shook her head.
"Tell her the truth."
"What truth?" Naomi said. "Somebody?" She looked from Carole to Eddie and back to Rita. "She looks -- "
"Your friend's quite the pistol," Eddie said.
Naomi took a few steps toward the bed and stopped, staring for several seconds at Rita. "Everybody just shut up," Eddie said, even though nobody had said a word.
Naomi turned to Carole with a look of confusion, her mouth shaping the word what. Carole looked away.
"We have a problem," Eddie said.
"Not me," Naomi said. "Don't look at me."
"All of us," Eddie said. "But your friend in particular."
Naomi sat on the floor, her dark hair covering her face. "What did she do?"
"Let me lay it out for you," Eddie said to her. He put on a pair of underwear and a T-shirt, then he drew a chair over and sat facing Naomi, as though Carole wasn't even there. "Things got out of hand. Your friend here got carried away."
Naomi turned to look at Carole, her mouth wide in amazement, then back at Eddie.
"She got rough."
"I didn't mean -- " Carole started.
"I don't have a lot of time for this." Eddie gestured toward Carole. "Fatcakes here leans on my friend while we're going at it. She's got the bitch's head in a knee lock." He demonstrated, spreading his bent knees, fists balled between them, like Rita's head. "And she lets fucking loose," he said, twisting his knees, fists flying out from the force. "And crack. End of story. I'm trying to help her. All I'm trying to do is get her out of this."
"Is she the...?" Naomi indicated Rita with her thumb.
"The what?" Carole asked.
"Nobody," Eddie said. "She's nobody. You're here. Okay? You've seen. That makes three of us. Okay, okay." He flicked his hands as if they were wet. "Here's what we do." He opened the curtain again. It was still dark outside. "Who's got the time? Doesn't anybody wear a fucking watch?" He was getting so agitated. Fierce. He looked again.
"It's about four," Naomi said. "I waited up. That's why I came over here."
"Then we do this fast. Do it now. We take her up there, up over the field and the woods back there. We bury her in the snow. Nobody will know. Not ever. It's a fucking wilderness out there."
"We can't. The police. It's too fast," Carole said.ar
Eddie exploded. "Will you please ask your friend why she doesn't understand she fucking killed this girl, fucking broke her fucking neck, and I'm only trying to help her here?" He kicked the wall, slammed his hands against his temples. "Okay. You think it's too fast. Let me tell you about fast. Fast is when they get wind of this back at East Sixty-second Street. Fast is what happens to your dad's job at Ivey and Mason when this gets out. And all those boards of directors. What, Continental Pipe, the water company. Or your mom out there hobnobbing at Sign of the Dove. I know. I do my homework, Fatcakes. Fast is what happens when Mom and Dad find out where you are, who you're with, what you did. That's fast. Compared to that, this is molasses. Believe me. They'll turn on you so fast you won't know what hit you. And which college again? Vassar? Wellesley? It doesn't matter. You're not going anywhere when this gets out. Your dad will be shining shoes for a living."
How did he know all this? "But I didn't mean to do anything," Carole blurted out.
"So it was an accident. Big deal. Try explaining that. Rich spoiled fat girl from the city kills a little piece of ass from the sticks. Oh, it'll play all right. You won't have a chance."
He waited for a few seconds and then said, "The room is in your name." Her name? She couldn't take it in at first. "This. This room. Not that it matters. How's it going to look? Big-deal lawyer's daughter pays for a shitty motel room, pays to get herself fucked because nobody else will step up to the plate."
It was all coming at her too fast. The details about her parents and now the room. She couldn't keep up. Couldn't sort it all out, but it was bad. That was for sure.
Eddie sat on the bed. "Look, you two." His face glistened with sweat. "We're running out of time. We're going to take her out in back right now and bury her before it gets light."
"Not me," Naomi said. "I'm not going out there. It's freezing out there."
"It's not a choice."
"I didn't do anything."
"She's your friend. And you," he said to Carole. "Get yourself dressed."
Carole looked over the floor and tried to understand what he meant. Rita's dress lay at her feet, and her stockings and sweater were a few feet away. She wondered how she would ever find what she needed.
"Now!" Eddie bellowed, and she dropped to her knees and crawled about the room, gathering up what was hers, afraid to touch Rita's things. She couldn't figure out her own pants at first with those confusing straps under the feet, or the sweater. This was going to kill her parents. Their good girl. Their reliable daughter. She thought about the night at Giovanni's and her heart sank. Her parents had been a little drunk. It was the day she got her acceptance to Vassar. "You're going to make the grade," her father'd said. "It's just a matter of time."
Rita's purse was on the table next to the bed, and Carole watched Naomi pick it up and look inside.
"What's that?" Eddie said.
Naomi pulled out a red and blue plastic Minnie Mouse wallet. "God," she said. The way she held it up by one corner made Carole want to weep. She snatched the wallet from Naomi and thrust it into the pocket of her parka. "Nothing," she said.
It was hard to follow his orders. They were all mixed up, full of contradictions. He was telling her something about her shoes. Her Capezios. The only boots were Rita's, and he made her put them on. They were short for her, and painful. He checked the window. "Hurry," he said.
Carole was in the middle, bearing the weight of Rita's wide hips, which were sickeningly hard, with Eddie at the front, facing her, walking backward, and Naomi at the feet. When he opened the door, there was a rush of cold air. Instinctively she gathered the spread over Rita to keep her covered from the cold. The body was heavy and warm. She had to pause and hoist again and again.
At first they moved well, quickly around the outside of the cabin to the edge of the field. But it was so cold and snowing hard, and the snow got in everywhere, at her neck, into her boots, her wrists, and she couldn't stop shivering. They dipped down and crossed a brook. In the field, the spread began to fall away from the body, bunching up at the hips so that Rita's breasts and face were exposed. Eddie and Naomi didn't seem to care. They wouldn't stop. They kept pushing forward through the snow. Carole had to adjust the cover the best she could, with one hand, or even with her teeth. They moved in starts, lost their balance. "Forget that," Eddie said when the bedspread fell away for the umpteenth time.
It was impossible to see where they were going in the thick snow, and Rita's body was slippery, harder and harder to hold onto. The spread was soaked through from dragging along the ground. Carole kept pulling it up and throwing it around Rita over and over.
"He said forget it." Naomi was hoarse from exhaustion. "Just let it go."
The field was uneven under the snow, with ditches and boulders, strands of barbed wire that wrapped around their legs. Twice they put the body down to untangle themselves. Carole could hardly move her hands. When they got to the woods, the going was even slower, a few steps at a time, ducking branches and stepping through thick brush, but at least the wind wasn't so fierce.
"Here." Eddie stopped and dropped his end. "We've got to dig a hole."
She fell to her knees and tried to wrap the bedspread around Rita, to cover her face and feet and tuck it in along the sides, but the ends kept coming loose.
"Help us!" Naomi screamed at her. They were scooping out snow with their hands. Eddie yanked her by the arm and pulled her down. "Dig, for Christ's sake." She scooped up the snow, her hands numb. Eddie got into the pit they were digging and worked in a kind of frenzy, like a dog. There was the sound of ice collapsing under him, and he sank slightly before her eyes. "Bingo." He stamped, breaking through underfoot. "This is good." He reached from the pit and started to pull the body toward him by the arm.
Carole tried to pull back on the body. "Don't just let her fall. Somebody get her feet."
But they shoved the body sideways toward the pit, and Eddie scrambled out of the way as the body fell heavily in. They stood quietly, all of them looking down. The pit, the snow, the color of Rita's skin were all the same gray except for the darkness of her eyes and lips, and the patch of her pubic hair. After some moments, Carole opened the spread to cover Rita.
Eddie snatched it away. "Are you crazy?"
"We need to cover her," Carole said. It was the least they could do.
"And have the cops trace it to the motel? And then to you?"
They pushed the snow back over Rita and smoothed it out. Eddie stamped on the filled grave, his boots making a soft, hollow sound. Carole fell to her knees, struck down by what they'd just done. Rita had been alive an hour ago, and now she was only a few feet beneath this perfectly smooth snow. It was impossible. It was a terrible dream, a horrendous dream. She blinked to wake herself, but it was real.
"Let's get out of here," Eddie said.
Carole smoothed the snow where Eddie's boots had left deep marks. "Rest in peace" was all she could think of to say. It was pitiful. It was not nearly enough. Nothing she did would ever be nearly enough.
When she stood, Eddie and Naomi were gone. It was lighter out, but still snowing and hard to see. She made her way back down through the brush and when she reached the edge of the field saw that the footsteps they made coming up here had already blown over. Only Naomi's and Eddie's new ones leading back down toward the cabin were visible. Soon the field would be swept clean.
She stopped to watch their two gray shadows ahead. She wished Naomi had waited. She needed her right now. She started walking again, but the sound of a car passing on a road nearby stopped her cold. What if it was someone looking for Rita? She held her breath and listened. The sound moved away and disappeared. But what if somebody else came? What if somebody was planning to pick her up and they went to the room? She had one terrifying thought after the other. Maybe lots of people knew where Rita had gone tonight and were coming to look for her at this very moment.
She sped up to keep from thinking and was relieved when she reached the ring of cabins, which sat quiet, motionless. She had to narrow her eyes against the murk and the falling snow to see, but she could just make out Eddie and Naomi. They were together in front of the cabin, drawing close to each other. Perhaps it was only one of them saying something to the other in a whisper. Or the fact that to be heard, Eddie would have had to lean down. But it looked like a kiss, and it lasted like a kiss. Longer even. She felt the last bit of life drain out of her. As she got closer, she got up her nerve to brush past them into the cabin. She found her Capezios and kicked off Rita's boots. Outside again, she passed Naomi and Eddie without a word, but he grabbed her by the sleeve.
"Hey," he said. "Wait a minute." He pulled her close. "You know, I know, Naomi knows. It would have been better if it were only you and me. Safer for you. But Naomi's your friend and she isn't going to say anything. We already talked about that. So there's only one way for you to have a problem and that's if one of us opens our mouth and it won't be me, got it?"
Carole nodded and turned to leave, but Eddie didn't open his grip. "You've got everything to lose here, Carole. Remember that. We're on your side. We're going to keep this quiet for your sake. Next couple of days we'll know if we're okay."
She pulled away and headed back toward the mountain road. It was light enough to see through the falling snow, to the towering jade evergreens, the road ahead of her. A few minutes later she heard the sound of someone running behind her.
She stopped. When Naomi caught up, Carole turned to her. "Why did you put it in my name?"
"The room, Nay. You're the one who made the reservations. You and Eddie. Why didn't you use your own name?"
"Somebody might recognize it. Elayne's famous, in case you didn't know."
"She's not famous."
"More famous than you," Naomi said.
Carole turned in a fury of tears and walked fast to get away from her. And then she remembered. She looked back. "What were you doing kissing him?" Her voice rang in the cold air.
"Shush," Naomi hissed at her. "You want to wake up the whole world?"
Carole turned away and broke into a run along the snow-covered drive, her lungs burning with a sharp smart pain, her feet stinging with cold. Where it turned to pavement she ran faster, harder, her feet crunching the pebbles of salt. She ran until a car rushed past going the other way, and stopped short. What if people saw? The car sped away, not even slowing. She breathed in relief. Maybe they hadn't noticed. Maybe they didn't care. A girl on the road before dawn like this. Maybe it happened all the time. Oh, please, God, if only.
Copyright © 2005 by Pamela Lewis
Reading Group Guide
Reader's Group Guide for Speak Softly, She Can Hear
1) Describe the various settings in which the story takes place. What does Vermont in particular symbolize for Carole? The story takes place during the 1960s and 1970s. How does this unique period in history figure into the story?
2) From the very beginning of their encounter, Carole defers all power to Eddie both sexually and psychologically, instantly believing his version of the events in Stowe. Why do you think she does this? Discuss Carole's personality. Are there other instances with other characters in which Carole surrenders power? Do you think of Carole as weak or strong? Why? Do you feel her personality changes by the end of the story?
3) At the end of the novel, Carole is visited by her estranged father and the theme of family relationships comes full circle. How is this theme of family explored throughout the novel? How does Carole's relationship with her parents change after the events in Stowe? What is the nature of Naomi's family life? How do the familial relationships in the novel define and shape the characters and their actions?
4) What is the nature of Naomi and Carole's friendship at the beginning of the novel? Why do you think Naomi befriended Carole? What motivates Naomi to continue seeing Eddie, even after the events in Vermont? What is your overall opinion of Naomi? Do you consider her a product of her own design or a tragic character, the victim of unfortunate circumstances?
5) What is the symbolic significance of snow throughout the novel? Use examples from both the opening chapter and the final chapters of the novel. What does the method in which Eddie and Naomi die symbolize?
6) Describe Will and Carole's relationship. Why do you think Carole decides to finally tell the truth to Will? How does he react to the story, and what does that reveal about his character? What is the significance of Will's profession as a survival expert?
7) Though Rita's character is never explored in depth, she is ever present in the novel. How do you think she came to the motel room that fateful night? Why do you think there were very few articles and no in-depth murder investigation after the body was found? Is she a sympathetic character or merely mysterious? What do Rita's presence and subsequent death symbolize to Carole?
8) Morality is a major theme in the novel. Discuss the significance of morality in Carole's situation. Do you think morality played a part in her decision to keep quiet for so many years, or was it only fear? Who are the characters in the novel that represent morality? Are there peripheral characters that have questionable morality? Discuss these characters and their situations.
9) Do you agree with Carole's decision to perpetrate the myth of the events leading to both Naomi's and Eddie's deaths? Why do you think she withholds the truth from the public at large? Do you feel Carole achieves vindication for everything that Eddie did to her? If so, how?
10) What does the title of the novel mean? Who might the "she" in the title refer to?