This is part of a serial fictional story I’m sharing on my blog once a week. Did you know that Catcher in the Rye was actually released as a serial first? I didn’t, until this week. Did you know I never read Catcher in the Rye? Gasp! I know. I’ll have to remedy that ASAP.
You can find links to the other parts of the story below:
I loved the smell of books. I loved the feel of them in my hands. My favorite place to be, if I wasn’t in my room reading, was in the library, curled up in against a bookcase in the fiction section. I fell into new and mysterious worlds when I was reading. My boring life faded away into someone else’s adventure. I spent many days wishing the boring away.
Edith didn’t like to read. She found her excitement in the real world. We were the complete opposite for so many years. She liked her dark hair to be curled and each curl to be in its place. She liked her clothes to be the latest in fashion and to hug her curves, but not too close so there was little left to the imagination of the boys who often watched her when she walked by.
She was almost always confident and always had a smart or a flirty remark on the tip of her tongue.
I was the quiet, sometimes painfully shy younger sister she and her friends didn’t know how to talk to. I give Edith credit, though – she tried her best to pull me forward in life, encouraging, or rather nagging, me to experience more than a simple story in a book.
“Daddy, can Blanche and I go to the matinee while you finish your paperwork at the office?” Edith looked at Daddy and batted her eyes, chin on her folded hands.
Daddy didn’t always fall for Edith’s little eye flutters but on this particular day he must have decided she looked a lot like the little girl he used to bounce on his knee because he agreed.
“I’ll drop you off at 2 and you’d better be out front when the movie ends,” Daddy said.
Edith and I agreed.
“And what’s playing anyhow?” He asked.
“‘The Harder They Fall,’ with Humphrey Bogart,” Edith told him.
Daddy was a big fan of Humphrey Bogart. Edith knew he’d have a hard time saying ‘no’ to letting us see Boggie.
“I like that Humphrey Bogart,” Daddy said from behind his newspaper. “He’s a man’s man.”
And he was a man’s man that day on the big screen too. I couldn’t take my eyes off him but Edith’s eyes were on Jimmy Sickler a row over from us, sitting with Annie Welles. I couldn’t read the expression on Edith’s face. It seemed to switch back and forth between angry and hurt.
“I loved it. What did you think?” I asked Edith at the end as we filed to the front of the theater to wait for Daddy.
“It was okay, I guess.”
I knew she’d missed half of it watching Jimmy and Annie.
Jimmy’s voice made my sister look up sharply and I saw fire in her eyes. I only liked drama in my books and wished I wasn’t standing between them. Edith’s gaze trailed to Annie standing next to Jimmy, patting her hair into place. Her tense expression quickly softened and she smiled.
“Well, hello, James,” she said sweetly. “Did you two enjoy the movie?”
“We did,” Jimmy said. “Thanks for asking. You’re looking nice this afternoon.”
He turned his attention to me. “Hey there, Blanche. Some sister time, huh?”
His smile was sweet. I always though Jimmy was one of the most polite boys Edith went out with. His brown hair was always combed neatly to one side and his bright blue eyes were captivating.
I nodded and smiled.
“Did you like the movie?”
“I did. I like Humphrey Bogart a lot.”
I knew I had no idea how to talk to boys and looked at the sidewalk to avoid Jimmy’s gaze, hoping he wouldn’t ask me anymore questions.
I could see Daddy’s Oldsmobile coming down the street toward the theater.
“You two have a good day,” Edith winked at Jimmy and her voice was even sweeter than before, almost too sweet, like sugar on top of a sugar cookie.
She leaned close to Jimmy, hand on his shoulder, mouth close enough to his ear to graze his skin and whispered. I could see Annie’s face just beyond Jimmy’s left shoulder. Her dark red lipstick made her pursed lips look like a cherry on its’ stem and her eyelids were half closed in a furious glare.
I cringed inwardly at Edith’s embarrassing display.
Jimmy’s cheeks and ears flushed pink and he looked as embarrassed as I felt. Edith’s hand slid down his bare arm as she backed away and then a slight smirk tilted her lips as she glanced at the stewing Annie.
Jimmy reached his arm back to pull Annie close to him, his jaw tight.
“Good to see you ladies,” he said curtly as he stepped past us.
Edith’s smile had faded into a scowl and by the time we slid into the backseat of the car the scowl was fading into obvious hurt.
“Good movie?” Daddy asked.
“Oh yes! You’ll love it,” I told him. “You should take Mama next weekend.”
Daddy and I chatted about the movie while Edith sulked, one leg crossed over the other, her foot bouncing and her arms folded across her chest. She snapped the door open and slammed it closed when we pulled up to the house, stomping up the front steps.
Daddy raised his eyebrows and looked at me questioningly.
“Boy troubles,” I said.
Daddy shook his head. His eyebrows furrowed slightly into a scowl
“That girl and those boys.”
Now it was his turn to look sour as he climbed out of the car.
“I don’t know why I even go out with the boys around here,” Edith said when I walked into our room. She tossed her sweater on her bed. “They don’t really like me. They don’t really want to know me or what I think or what I feel.”
She flopped back on the bed, laying on her back and starring at the ceiling.
“What do you mean? All the boys love you,” I said, confused.
“They don’t love me. They love what I give them,” Edith said.
I saw tears in her eyes.
A chill cut through me.
“What do you mean what you give them?” I asked nervously.
Edith blew her nose into her handkerchief and folded her knees up against her chest.
“Edith…you aren’t giving those boys – I mean, you’re not really…” I felt sick to my stomach.
Edith had her head on her knees and wouldn’t look at me.
“Not everything,” she mumbled. “Just enough to keep them coming for more.”
I sat on my bed and didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure what “just enough” was and didn’t even want to know what “more” was. Mama said I didn’t need to know what men and women did when they were alone, besides kissing, but I’d heard a lot what “it” was at school, in books, and from Emmy, who had an older brother.
“Why do you need them to like you so much?” I asked softly.
Edith shrugged. “I don’t need them to like me, but I like them to,” she said. “It’s nice to be adored and paid attention to, you know?”
“Mama and Daddy love you and – “
Edith snorted. “Please. Daddy likes you more than me. You’re smarter and do better in school and he knows you’ll do something with your life. I’ll just be a hairdresser.”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not true. You can be whatever you want to be. Times are different than when Mama was a girl,” I said. “Besides, Mama thinks I’ll just stay home and be a housewife. She doesn’t think I can be anything else.”
Edith wiped the tears off her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“You’re going to be more than a housewife. Don’t you let them tell you what you can be,” she said. “I’m just not good enough to be anything other than someone who cuts hair and files nails and I know that. And by the way, getting attention from your parents is way different than getting it from a cute boy. Someday you’ll understand that.”
I laid on my side on my bed and leaned on my arm.
“Are you and Jimmy even going steady?” I asked.
Edith laid there in silence for a few moments and sighed.
“I don’t know. We’ve never discussed it. But – I guess I thought we were. I guess I didn’t realize how much I liked him until I saw him with that silly Annie Welles. I just thought – I guess I thought if I reminded him what I could give him that Little Miss Prude won’t he’d want to forget about her.”
Edith wiped her hand across her face.
I flopped back on my bed on my back.
We both laid there for a few moments in silence.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a hairdresser,” I said finally. “They make women look pretty and they get to gossip all day.”
Edith laughed softly, sat up, and drew her hands down over her hair to straighten it.
“Well, those are two things I enjoy so maybe it won’t be so bad,” she said and smiled.
I sat up to look at her.
“Maybe Jimmy’s different than the other boys, Edith. Maybe he doesn’t only want one thing.”
Edith rolled her eyes and slid the record player from under her bed.
“All boys want one thing from girls. Another lesson you’ll learn as you get older.”
She paused as she lifted a box of chocolates off her nightstand.
“Blanche? You know you don’t have to give it to them right?”
“Give them what?” I asked feigning innocence.
“You know what, Blanche. Don’t play games with me. You’ve got more going for you than I do. You don’t have to – well, you know – there’s a lot more reasons for a boy to like you.”
I touched her hand and she looked at me.
“There are a lot more reasons for a boy to like you too, Edith,” I said.
She looked away from me, and smiled a little as she shook her head.
“You’re too nice, Blanche.”
She placed a Frank Sinatra record on the roundtable and we ate chocolate and spent the rest of the afternoon talking about boys we thought were cute and the newest fashions she’d read about at her beauty classes.
It took her mind off Jimmy Sickler and Annie Welles and my mind off my sister basing her worth off what a man thought of her.
“I’ll never be like her,” I told myself, not knowing then that we often become who we don’t want to be.
One day when I was in ninth grade, I saw Edith sitting outside the ice cream shop next to Eddie Parker on my way home from school. The way she laughed every time he spoke made me roll my eyes. No one was that funny. I couldn’t figure out why talking to a boy made her act like she’d lost part of her mind. I vowed never to give up my brain for the attention of some boy.
When I was a junior in high school I must have forgotten about that day. I wouldn’t say I gave up any part of me for Hank’s attention, at least at first, but I know there were times I threw caution and common sense not only into the wind but into the gutter.
I was surprised by how many nights I was able to leave the house in the middle of the night without my parents hearing me. There were some nights Hank came but I couldn’t slip out because Mama and Daddy were still awake chatting in their bedroom or sitting in the living room watching Ed Sullivan.
On those nights I kneeled at the window and waved him away. He’d take a drag on his cigarette, blow a stream of smoke into the dark and blow me a kiss before he left with a shrug and a smirk. When I could slip away I always made sure I wasn’t wearing shoes and I tip-toed across the floor, skipping the boards I knew squeaked.
The mornings after we met I was always tired, but I knew Mama thought it was because I’d been up late reading.
“When I started singing it made my dad angry and I liked that,” Hank said one night as we sat under the maple. “He never liked anything I did. I didn’t even cry the night he kicked me out. I was glad to finally be free. I was only 16 at the time.”
He flicked a leaf at the ground and stared at it wistfully.
“Where did you go?” I asked.
“I went to live with my grandma at first, but then she died so I found a place in town and got a job,” he said. “I won’t lie that I miss my mama and grandma a bit – at least their cooking, but I’m doing al’right on my own. I can cook a mean can of beans.”
He laughed and I laughed with him.
“I saw you with your mama at church on Sunday,” I told him.
“She asked me to take her so I did. The old man never does anymore. Too busy drinking on Saturday night to get up early on Sunday morning. I’m not much for that religion stuff, but I’ll go for mama.”
I could tell he seemed interested in changing the subject by the way his gaze drifted to the field lit by the dim light of the moon.
“So, what new books you been reading?” he asked.
“I started reading Catcher in the Rye,” I said with a shrug. “Mrs. Libby at the library gave it to me, but I don’t know what I think about it. It’s about this kid who is sort of depressed all the time and rebelling against his parents. It’s kind of new I guess.”
“Maybe you’re not sure you like it because it’s too close to how your life is right now,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean – aren’t you rebelling against your parents by being out here with me?” he asked. “Maybe you’re a little like that guy in the book.”
I shook my head.
“I’m nothing like him,” I said. “I’m not that depressed or moody.”
He was smiling at me.
“Well, most of the time,” I admitted, thinking how I had yelled at Edith that morning to stop stealing my clothes. “But I love my parents. It’s just – I don’t know – sometimes they try to tell me what I’m going to be and I don’t like that.”
“They try to live their lives through you,” Hank said. “It’s a parent thing. I was lucky. My dad just hated me. He’s never cared what I did with my life. And Mama is too afraid of Daddy to care much about what I do. I think that’s easier because now I just live my own life. I don’t have to answer to anyone but me and most of the time I don’t even answer to me.”
I looked at him again, watching as he pulled leaves off the tree while leaning against the fence post. He was wearing a white undershirt with a plaid button up shirt over it and a pair of faded blue jeans and black dress shoes. His hair was long in the front. While we talked he pushed his hand through his hair and pushed the longer strands back on his head and I could see his eyes better.
Even though the moon was only a quarter moon and the light by the old shed was dim, I could see how beautiful the shape of his mouth was. I hated how I wished he was kissing me again. I felt silly and childish at the way my stomach felt like butterflies were alive in my belly as I studied him.
“Why do you care what I’m reading anyhow?” I asked.
“Because I like to know what you like,” he said and shrugged. “I don’t read a lot so I like to know what kind of stories spark your interest. Plus, if you tell me all about what is in those books, then I don’t have to take the time to read them. More time for singing and playing and dancing with pretty girls.”
He noticed my eyes dropped to the ground when he mentioned dancing with pretty girls.
“Now, don’t you worry, little Chatterbox. I’m only dancing for fun. I’d much rather be dancing with you, but you won’t come with me.”
I shifted my weight from one leg to the other.
“You know I can’t –“ I said, softly. “My parents –“
He sighed. “I know, I know. Your parents would blow a gasket. But I don’t get it. What have they got against me anyhow? I’ve never done anything to them. They don’t even know me.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Daddy just said you like a lot of women and aren’t good to be around.”
Hank threw a handful of leaves at the ground and laughed.
“Yeah, I like women. I like a lot of women,” he was smiling and watching me as he moved closer to me. “And right now, I like the woman who is right in front of me.”
I didn’t close my eyes until his mouth was on mine. I loved the smell of him. I loved how his hands felt when they fell to my waist and pulled me against him. I loved when he deepened the kiss and slid his hands into my hair.
“You feel good, Blanche,” he whispered against my ear, his hands slipping up to the middle of my back, then starting to slide down.
I pushed his hands away and stepped back from him.
He cleared his throat.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “Sometimes my hands get away from me. It just felt right to move them there.”
“I know, but I don’t want to – to –“
“And I won’t ask you to,” he said, his finger under my chin, gently lifting my face to look at him. “I won’t. You hear? Not until I put a ring on that finger and the preacher says we’re married.”
Ring? Married? I was surprised by his use of the words. They held a heaviness in them I wasn’t ready for. I still had another year of school and I knew Daddy would never let me marry him.
I nodded silently and he kissed me again.
“Hey. I was thinking. Let’s meet somewhere else one day,” he said, still holding me. “Can you sneak out on a Saturday? I’ll drive us to town and we can watch a movie.”
“I don’t know. What if someone sees us together?” I asked.
“We’ll go in separately. You meet me in the back when the lights go off.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on. It will be fun. Don’t you want to have some fun once in a while?”
I did want to have some fun. It was time someone had fun besides Edith and the characters in my books.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I said.
“I’ll meet you at the bottom of the hill in my truck about 6:15. Wear your best dress. Tell your Daddy you’re going to Bible study or something.”
I laughed softly because I knew Daddy would believe me about the Bible study, but then I felt guilty about even considering lying to my daddy.
“I’ll try,” I said as he kissed my neck.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “Now get your butt back inside before your parents catch us and your daddy shoots me.”
His hand slapped my bottom as I turned to run toward the house. I looked over my shoulder and smiled. He was smiling back.
I’d never felt so alive.