A Row of Vending Machines
Mrs. Horatia Blakey-Fenton sat in such a way as to suggest that she really didn't belong in the Pink Room. It wasn't quite as crowded and oppressive as usual, but some boys with faces like rodents were being loud and moderately obscene. Looking pointedly in the opposite direction, she indicated to Jones three girls some distance away.
"Those are the ones I caught imitating me."
"They don't look very interesting. Girls like that are produced by the litter in Cincinnati."
"The one in the middle is attractive enough to marry reasonably well, but she has a sour mouth. She's probably already a malicious gossip, and she'll be a bitchy wife."
"You draw some striking conclusions about people, but you may well be right."
"It's easy in this case. If someone asked those girls about me, they'd say that I'm snobbish, that I'm affected, and that I put on airs. Don't you pick up things like that about people?"
"Not usually. People have told me that I don't even perceive hostility."
"I'm much more sensitive. I've also been told that I'm unable to accept people as they are without trying to mold them. Shall I begin on you?"
Jones, relaxed in his chair, assented. She went on,
"We'll first have to get a few facts straight. It's hardly possible to imagine your having a mother, Jones, but I suppose you do at least have a first name."
"Yes. Hardly anyone uses it, but it's there on the records."
"Are you going to tell me what it is?"
"If you ask."
"All right, I do hereby ask you to tell me your name."
"Ugh. Tom Jones would have literary interest, and something like Montague Jones would have another sort of interest."
"I do also have a mother, and it's hard to imagine her naming me Montague Jones."
"But couldn't she at least have managed Samuel?"
"Probably. But I doubt if anyone thought long and hard about it."
"Did the other children call you Ed?"
"The Jones part started early. I wasn't trusted because I'd sneak up on other boys and knock them down hard. I thought it was funny, but they didn't."
"I'm beginning to see what it is that's wrong with you. Your parents hardly cared what name they gave you, and you responded with random hostility."
"Did you know that there was something wrong with me the first time you saw me."
"Oh yes. And I know I'm not insulting you. You like having something wrong with you."
"It simplifies life in many ways."
"Yes. I suppose it must."
"And, of course, you willingly accept cokes brought you by a man who's defective. I wonder what that must say about you."
"Not what you think. I'm not defective, just adventurous."
"Well, then, you may be able to confirm something I've just noticed."
"I suppose I'll have to ask."
"Do you ask?"
"Yes. I do ask."
"It looks as if all these vending machines are over six feet tall."
"That's right enough. These machines are like a New York City automat with all kinds of sandwiches and whatnot. I've never seen them anywhere else."
"I think automat machines are loaded from the back. These are front-loaders. But there's a narrow space behind them, probably to allow men to maintain and repair them."
"Why this interest? Are you thinking of going into the automat business?"
"No. It's the layout that's interesting. You notice that, after the fourth machine, the wall in back takes about a three foot jog towards us before running straight to the outside wall. So the other machines jut out well beyond the first set, and the last one is almost next to the window."
"You really are a fascinating conversationalist, Edward Jones."
"You don't seem to get the point."
"I can hardly believe that there is one."
"The point is that there must be a small empty space, of some twelve square feet, that can't be observed from any point in the room."
"Jones! You surely aren't suggesting ..."
"I surely am suggesting something to appeal to your sense of adventure. Although it might really be too tame to be adventurous."
Mrs. Blakey-Fenton giggled, put up her hands defensively, and said,
"Now nothing extreme, Jones. Just huggy bear and kissy face."
"Exactly what I had in mind."
Jones blocked the view as Mrs. Blakey-Fenton slipped into the gap behind the machines. Her dark blue cashmere dress and matching pumps looked more incongruous than ever in the grungy area as she stepped carefully over cables. She did manage to avoid touching anything until she was brought up short by some cobwebs stretching across the narrow space. It looked for a moment as if she might retreat in disgust, but she ended by swatting impetously at them, and then brushing off her sleeve with distaste.
Once she turned the corner and disappeared, Jones, trying to look as if he might be about to repair something, slid through. When he turned the corner, Mrs. Blakey-Fenton was looking through a small gap between machines. She whispered,
"I can see out into the room, and they can see in."
"Only if they're lined up exactly right. Anyhow, it would never occur to people buying things to look between the machines."
Just then, they heard coins drop in the pastry machine. One girl, evidently feeling guilt over her purchase, said to her companion,
"How would you describe me? I know I'm not fat, but am I stocky?"
Her friend, another girl, replied tactfully. Jones whispered in Mrs. Blakey-Fenton's ear,
"I bet she really is stocky."
The latter nodded in agreement, and Jones added,
"You're not at all stocky. You have a nice slim waist."
"Thank you. Hey, what are you doing?"
"Not so loud. I'm unzipping your dress at the side to prove my point."
Jones then slid his hand inside her dress exploringly. She removed his hand firmly, but offered no objection when he turned her toward him and kissed her. She also seemed to like it when he paid attention to her neck and ran his hands lightly over her body. Unzipping her in back, he murmured,
"It's time to take off your dress."
"I don't think so. No, I mean, I'm sure not. I feel half disrobed as it is."
"Up with your arms, and I'll lift your dress off."
"I can't here. It's practically a public place. Those people we hear talking are about five feet away."
"They're too busy talking to peek. Anyhow, sophisticated women get out of their dresses the first thing. They worry about getting them mussed."
"I'm not really sophisticated. I'm as fake as those girls think I am. I'm really Hortense Schultz from western hills."
"That's okay, Hortense. Just lift your arms."
"This is a clingy dress. My slip will come right up with it."
"Let's just see about that."
She managed to keep her slip mostly down, and Jones hung the dress carefully on a valve handle protruding from a pipe. She looked surprisingly small and young without her dress, and Jones said as much as he brought her gently to him. She replied,
"Without expensive clothes, I could go back to being a waitress, and no one would look at me twice."
"You have lovely underwear."
She replied, somewhat breathlessly,
"It's meant to convey a certain modesty and elegance, not like the skimply little things those girls out there wear."
Jones turned Mrs. Blakey-Fenton away from him, toward the back wall, and lifted her slip to her waist. Then, with his right hand on her slightly protruding silken tummy and the other just under her doubly fabric-covered right breast, he whispered in her ear,
"Shall we drop your pants?"
"Absolutely not! I'm already too excited. I'll cry out if we go any further."
Just then, one of the girls they had seen before, the one with the sour mouth, popped her head around the corner of the machine and greeted them pleasantly. Mrs. Blakey-Fenton's body suddenly became completely rigid in Jones' grasp. The noise she made wasn't a scream, but something perhaps suggesting the swallowing of the tongue. The girl laughed and disappeared.
It was a moment or two before Mrs. Blakey-Fenton was steady enough to be let go, and she then had to be helped back into her dress and zipped up. When they had made their way out to the sidewalk in front of the building, she spoke for the first time since her exposure.
"I'm going home, and I'm never coming back to this damn place again!"
Jones remonstrated mildly, and she replied,
"I couldn't possibly ever face that horrid girl again. She must have seen us go in there and waited for her moment."
"At least, she didn't catch us in the act. Besides, other women see you undress in the locker room when you swim, don't they?"
"That's different. Anyway, we have private cubicles."
"Besides, you look great with your skirts up. That girl is probably jealous."
Somewhat calmer, she replied,
"You really don't understand, Jones. Besides being utterly humiliating, it was an intense physical shock, something that might have laid me out flat if you hadn't been holding me."
"I do know about shocks. Those occur in warfare. The man suddenly caught in a searchlight beam in enemy country at night is likely to make a mess in his pants."
"Yes, it could be worse. Speaking of that, it's a wonder I didn't wet myself. Women under stress are likely to do that."
"With men, it seems to be the other thing."
"Have you ever lost control?"
"No. I understand that combat infantrymen often do in frontal assaults, but we didn't have those in the navy."
"Anyhow, it was all your idea. It would never have occurred to me to do such a thing."
"You seemed to be enjoying yourself up to the interruption. Perhaps we could find a more private place."
"I just don't know, Jones. I've got to recover first. I must look a wreck."
"No, you look as usual, as if nothing particularly had happened."
"I can hardly believe that."
"Well, there are wrinkles in your stockings."
"I suppose it doesn't matter at this point."
"Will I see you Wednesday?"
"I guess I'll come to class. But I'm not going near that Pink Room. Anyhow, it looks like a cafeteria in the worst sort of high school. It's no wonder most of the students are like that little slut."
"Now that we've given her the idea, she'll get her boy friend to take her behind the machines. With luck, you could surprise her in less than you had on."
Mrs. Blakey-Fenton laughed for the first time since the incident.
"You're incorrigible in a certain way, Jones. I must have been crazy to think I could mold you."