J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye (Chap. 23)
I made it very snappy on the phone because I was afraid my parents would barge in on me right in the middle of it. They didn't, though. Mr. Antolini was very nice. He said I could come right over if I wanted to. I think I probably woke he and his wife up,
Because it took them a helluva long time to answer the phone. The first thing he asked me was if anything was wrong, and I said no. I said I'd flunked out of Pencey, though. I thought I might as well tell him. He said "Good God," when I said that. He had a good sense of humor and all. He told me to come right over if I felt like it.
He was about the best teacher I ever had, Mr. Antolini. He was a pretty young guy, not much older than my brother D.B., and you could kid around with him without losing your respect for him. He was the one that finally picked up that boy that jumped out the window I told you about, James Castle. Old Mr. Antolini felt his pulse and all, and then he took off his coat and put it over James Castle and carried him all the way over to the infirmary. He didn't even give a damn if his coat got all bloody.
When I got back to D.B.'s room, old Phoebe'd turned the radio on. This dance music was coming out. She'd turned it on low, though, so the maid wouldn't hear it. You should've seen her. She was sitting smack in the middle of the bed, outside the covers, with her legs folded like one of those Yogi guys. She was listening to the music. She kills me.
"C'mon," I said. "You feel like dancing?" I taught her how to dance and all when she was a tiny little kid. She's a very good dancer. I mean I just taught her a few things. She learned it mostly by herself. You can't teach somebody how to really dance.
"You have shoes on," she said.
"I'll take 'em off. C'mon."
She practically jumped off the bed, and then she waited while I took my shoes off, and then I danced with her for a while. She's really damn good. I don't like people that dance with little kids, because most of the time it looks terrible. I mean if you're out at a restaurant somewhere and you see some old guy take his little kid out on the dance floor. Usually they keep yanking the kid's dress up in the back by mistake, and the kid can't dance worth a damn anyway, and it looks terrible, but I don't do it out in public with Phoebe or anything. We just horse around in the house. It's different with her anyway, because she can dance. She can follow anything you do. I mean if you hold her in close as hell so that it doesn't matter that your legs are so much longer. She stays right with you. You can cross over, or do some corny dips, or even jitterbug a little, and she stays right with you. You can even tango, for God's sake.
We danced about four numbers. In between numbers she's funny as hell. She stays right in position. She won't even talk or anything. You both have to stay right in position and wait for the orchestra to start playing again. That kills me. You're not supposed to laugh or anything, either.
Anyway, we danced about four numbers, and then I turned off the radio. Old Phoebe jumped back in bed and got under the covers. "I'm improving, aren't I?" she asked me.
"And how," I said. I sat down next to her on the bed again. I was sort of out of breath. I was smoking so damn much, I had hardly any wind. She wasn't even out of breath.
"Feel my forehead," she said all of a sudden.
"Feel it. Just feel it once."
I felt it. I didn't feel anything, though.
"Does it feel very feverish?" she said.
"No. Is it supposed to?"
"Yes--I'm making it. Feel it again."
I felt it again, and I still didn't feel anything, but I said, "I think it's starting to, now." I didn't want her to get a goddam inferiority complex.
She nodded. "I can make it go up to over the thermoneter."
"Thermometer. Who said so?"
"Alice Holmborg showed me how. You cross your legs and hold your breath and think of something very, very hot. A radiator or something. Then your whole forehead gets so hot you can burn somebody's hand."
That killed me. I pulled my hand away from her forehead, like I was in terrific danger. "Thanks for telling me," I said.
"Oh, I wouldn't've burned your hand. I'd've stopped before it got too--Shhh!" Then, quick as hell, she sat way the hell up in bed.
She scared hell out of me when she did that. "What's the matter?" I said.
"The front door!" she said in this loud whisper. "It's them!"
I quick jumped up and ran over and turned off the light over the desk. Then I jammed out my cigarette on my shoe and put it in my pocket. Then I fanned hell out of the air, to get the smoke out--I shouldn't even have been smoking, for God's sake. Then I grabbed my shoes and got in the closet and shut the door. Boy, my heart was beating like a bastard.
I heard my mother come in the room.
"Phoebe?" she said. "Now, stop that. I saw the light, young lady."
"Hello!" I heard old Phoebe say. "I couldn't sleep. Did you have a good time?"
"Marvelous," my mother said, but you could tell she didn't mean it. She doesn't enjoy herself much when she goes out. "Why are you awake, may I ask? Were you warm enough?"
"I was warm enough, I just couldn't sleep."
"Phoebe, have you been smoking a cigarette in here? Tell me the truth, please, young lady."
"What?" old Phoebe said.
"You heard me."
"I just lit one for one second. I just took one puff. Then I threw it out the window."
"Why, may I ask?"
"I couldn't sleep."
"I don't like that, Phoebe. I don't like that at all," my mother said. "Do you want another blanket?"
"No, thanks. G'night!" old Phoebe said. She was trying to get rid of her, you could tell.
"How was the movie?" my mother said.
"Excellent. Except Alice's mother. She kept leaning over and asking her if she felt grippy during the whole entire movie. We took a taxi home."
"Let me feel your forehead."
"I didn't catch anything. She didn't have anything. It was just her mother."
"Well. Go to sleep now. How was your dinner?"
"Lousy," Phoebe said.
"You heard what your father said about using that word. What was lousy about it? You had a lovely lamb chop. I walked all over Lexington Avenue just to--"
"The lamb chop was all right, but Charlene always breathes on me whenever she puts something down. She breathes all over the food and everything. She breathes on everything."
"Well. Go to sleep. Give Mother a kiss. Did you say your prayers?"
"I said them in the bathroom. G'night!"
"Good night. Go right to sleep now. I have a splitting headache," my mother said. She gets headaches quite frequently. She really does.
"Take a few aspirins," old Phoebe said. "Holden'll be home on Wednesday, won't he?"
"So far as I know. Get under there, now. Way down."
I heard my mother go out and close the door. I waited a couple of minutes. Then I came out of the closet. I bumped smack into old Phoebe when I did it, because it was so dark and she was out of bed and coming to tell me. "I hurt you?" I said. You had to whisper now, because they were both home. "I gotta get a move on," I said. I found the edge of the bed in the dark and sat down on it and started putting on my shoes. I was pretty nervous. I admit it.
"Don't go now," Phoebe whispered. "Wait'll they're asleep!"
"No. Now. Now's the best time," I said. "She'll be in the bathroom and Daddy'll turn on the news or something. Now's the best time." I could hardly tie my shoelaces, I was so damn nervous. Not that they would've killed me or anything if they'd caught me home, but it would've been very unpleasant and all. "Where the hell are ya?" I said to old Phoebe. It was so dark I couldn't see her.
"Here." She was standing right next to me. I didn't even see her.
"I got my damn bags at the station," I said. "Listen. You got any dough, Phoeb? I'm practically broke."
"Just my Christmas dough. For presents and all. I haven't done any shopping at all yet."
"Oh." I didn't want to take her Christmas dough.
"You want some?" she said.
"I don't want to take your Christmas dough."
"I can lend you some," she said. Then I heard her over at D.B.'s desk, opening a million drawers and feeling around with her hand. It was pitch-black, it was so dark in the room. "If you go away, you won't see me in the play," she said. Her voice sounded funny when she said it.
"Yes, I will. I won't go way before that. You think I wanna miss the play?" I said. "What I'll do, I'll probably stay at Mr. Antolini's house till maybe Tuesday night. Then I'll come home. If I get a chance, I'll phone ya."
"Here," old Phoebe said. She was trying to give me the dough, but she couldn't find my hand.
She put the dough in my hand.
"Hey, I don't need all this," I said. "Just give me two bucks, is all. No kidding--Here." I tried to give it back to her, but she wouldn't take it.
"You can take it all. You can pay me back. Bring it to the play."
"How much is it, for God's sake?"
"Eight dollars and eighty-five cents. Sixty-five cents. I spent some."
Then, all of a sudden, I started to cry. I couldn't help it. I did it so nobody could hear me, but I did it. It scared hell out of old Phoebe when I started doing it, and she came over and tried to make me stop, but once you get started, you can't just stop on a goddam dime. I was still sitting on the edge of the bed when I did it, and she put her old arm around my neck, and I put my arm around her, too, but I still couldn't stop for a long time. I thought I was going to choke to death or something. Boy, I scared hell out of poor old Phoebe. The damn window was open and everything, and I could feel her shivering and all, because all she had on was her pajamas. I tried to make her get back in bed, but she wouldn't go. Finally I stopped. But it certainly took me a long, long time. Then I finished buttoning my coat and all. I told her I'd keep in touch with her. She told me I could sleep with her if I wanted to, but I said no, that I'd better beat it, that Mr. Antolini was waiting for me and all. Then I took my hunting hat out of my coat pocket and gave it to her. She likes those kind of crazy hats. She didn't want to take it, but I made her. I'll bet she slept with it on. She really likes those kind of hats. Then I told her again I'd give her a buzz if I got a chance, and then I left.
It was a helluva lot easier getting out of the house than it was getting in, for some reason. For one thing, I didn't give much of a damn any more if they caught me. I really didn't. I figured if they caught me, they caught me. I almost wished they did, in a way.
I walked all the way downstairs, instead of taking the elevator. I went down the back stairs. I nearly broke my neck on about ten million garbage pails, but I got out all right. The elevator boy didn't even see me. He probably still thinks I'm up at the Dicksteins'.
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