A Remittance Woman
In her home town of Yazoo City, Mississippi they said that Samantha Valerius was put together from pieces that didn't fit. Her mother was a traditional southern belle from Savannah, Georgia, and Samantha had her voice and a good many of her mannerisms. Her aunt, on her father's side, had been a champion athlete, but was morally suspect. Samantha had her aunt's body. Her prominent muscles looked like ropes and her bones, on contact, felt painfully like pipes. Her face was long, hard, and bony, with a dark complexion, almost that of a red Indian. Her mother considered Samantha the ugly duckling of the family, but people of greater aesthetic flexibility often thought her handsome.
From her father, Samantha inherited a sense of humor which many found upsetting, probably because it revealed a barely masked indifference to almost everything which most people valued. Samantha's mother had married Longstreet Valerius because he was the direct descendant of a line of landowners dating back to the early days in Virginia. He was thus, from her point of view, the real thing. But she got more genuine aristocratic eccentricity than she could have expected.
Right after their honeymoon, Longstreet took up Buddhism and went around telling worthy people that life is an endless cycle of meaningless humiliations and empty glories. Some people wondered if the honeymoon itself had been a case in point.
Later on, he converted to Judaism, his wife said just to upset her family. Whatever his motivation, he took Samantha to Israel one summer, where she took parachute training in a program run by the Israeli Army.
When Samantha was sixteen, her parents' marriage broke up with an explosion that could be heard over the whole county. Amid all the rumors, there was one, ultimately traceable to Samantha's older sister, that Samantha herself was somehow involved in the trouble, and was partly responsible for it. Whatever the truth of the matter, Samantha and her mother found that they couldn't live together after Longstreet's departure. Samantha thus went to live with her aunt, the morally suspect one, while she finished prep school.
While Samantha got on well with her aunt, no one else was able to control her. She was even less predictable than she had been before, and there were occasional violent incidents. Everyone was relieved when it was time for her to go away to college.
The Valerius girls generally went to southern colleges or finishing schools, but everyone was happy when Samantha was accepted by Northwestern University. Her aunt was pleased because she thought that Samantha's considerable intellectual ability wouldn't be challenged by a traditional dewy-eyed southern institution. Everyone else was pleased becuase Northwestern, in a Chicago suburb, was a long way from Yazoo City.
On arriving as a freshman at Northwestern, Samantha went passionately around the campus in army surplus clothing with her red hair tucked up under a forage cap. She wondered idly what the reaction would be if she kicked in a front window of the administration building. It would presumably be judged less serious than bushwhacking the dean on his way to lunch. Departing from these fantasies, she signed up for the gymnastics team.
Most of the gymnasts were also football cheerleaders, and there was, at the moment, a shortage of female ones. Samantha would probably have refused the coach's urging if her sense of humor hadn't intervened. After shocking him profoundly with a quick and cheerful burst of obscenity, Samantha demurely complied with instructions, not forgetting to put a sweet smile on her face.
One of the cheerleaders was a young lady named Debbie, who happened to be an influential member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. Debbie was immediately intrigued by Samantha. She admired her athletic ability, thought her interesting looking, and, after a period of some confusion, decided that she wanted to know Samantha better.
The chapter had never felt complete without a little of the charm of the deep south, and the issue was virtually settled when Debbie made another discovery. Although it wasn't very evident from her manner and her casual conversation, Samantha was smart enough to bring up the academic average of the sorority.
Samantha had had some initial doubts. Joining a sorority was her mother's sort of thing, not her own. On the other hand, she liked Debbie, liked the house, and thought it might be fun.
The selection went through quickly. Samantha then finished her year with a handful of athletic medals and an A in every course with the exception of Introduction to Logic.
In her sophomore year, Samantha made some changes. She was no longer leading cheers, and she also withdrew from the gymnastics team, substituting some activities of her own invention.
The chief of these consisted in racing cars on foot up and down the two mile length of one of Evanston's main streets. There was a traffic light on each block, and, although they favored the main street over the side streets, she could count on her opponent's getting some red lights and encountering some traffic. Samantha, running on the sidewalk, ignored the lights and often darted between moving cars at the intersections.
The drivers of the cars she picked out to race usually didn't realize that they were being raced, but they occasionally caught on, which made it more exciting. One day, a young man in an old MG noticed Samantha whipping by him, and passed in a dangerous place to get ahead of her. Then, when she caught him at the next light, he shouted something she couldn't hear. Burning rubber at the light, he again passed her, only to get caught behind a slow-moving truck.
Samantha had moved a half block ahead when he got past the truck with another burst of acceleration. She got to her chosen finish line first with a good final burst, and then started to jog slowly up the street. To her surprise, the young man in the car pulled up on the sidewalk in front of her and shouted,
"Congratulations! Would you like a drink?"
Samantha was amused and very thirsty. Too out of breath to say much, she simply hopped into the passenger seat of the car. He asked,
"Didn't you vault over a moving car back there?"
Samantha, getting her breath back, replied,
"He crossed in front of me at that intersection, but he was only going five or ten, so I put a hand on his hood and went over."
While Samantha had expected only a coke, she found herself being taken to the lounge at the Orrington Hotel. It was the sort of place where people's parents stayed when they visited, and, while she had never gone there herself, it promised to be amusing. When they were seated and there were three cokes lined up in front of Samantha, the young man, whose name was Calvin, said,
"I ran the quarter-mile in high school, but I don't think I could've kept up with you today."
"I was going to run track here, but the sports teams in college all take themselves too seriously. So I switched to something no one could take seriously."
"You looked pretty serious out there just now. But I guess I'm the only one who knows."
"If you're a runner, we could do all sorts of interesting things. For instance, you could chase me through the streets of Chicago yelling, 'Stop thief!'"
"The police would arrest you. What would you do then?"
"You'd come running up and say that I deprived you of your honor by refusing to submit to your advances."
"I can see that you haven't met the Chicago police."
"I haven't had the pleasure as yet. I wonder if they're like the police in my home town, Yazoo City, Mississippi."
"The police here are probably pretty different."
"Whenever I've been arrested at home, the police chief tries to give me a real severe talking-to, but we always end up laughing."
"I see. The Chicago police are known more for extortion than laughter. But they might laugh after we bribed them to let us go."
"Well, then, if they aren't going to be any fun, I may just have to study every night."
As they talked on, Calvin marvelled at Samantha's speech. He had heard southern accents before, but hers was so exaggerated that he had to concentrate just to understand what she was saying. He then kept trying to decide whether this young lady was, first, crazy, and then, almost as important, pretty. On the second score, he decided that she wasn't pretty. But, decked out properly, she might be beautiful in an odd sort of way. The first question, complicated by the fact that she came from a very different culture, still hung in the air. When it came time to exchange vital information, Calvin said,
"I'm a sort of psychologist. At least, I have a job downtown as one even though I havn't finished my degree."
"I'm signed up as a psychology major, although I'm thinking of switching to philosophy, or perhaps combining the two."
As regards craziness, Calvin knew that majoring in psychology was a very bad sign. With the conspicuous exception of the staff members of the Berywn Associates, most of the psych majors he had known were just trying to solve their own problems. He doubted that an attraction to philosophy was a mitigating factor. It might well be worse. He nevertheless responded,
"I once took a course in Spinoza."
Samantha replied in her wonderful accent,
"I think Spinoza's a doll. God exists. Certainly. But that's only because he's the sum total of whatever does exist. If nothing exists besides my own present consciousness, I'm God. I can't wait to tell that to my family back in Yazoo City."
"My teacher wasn't that thrilled with him. In fact, he had a joke. If you want to understand what Spinoza meant by cause, think first of billiard balls hitting each other."
"Now think of the logical relation of entailment."
"Now confuse the two, and you've got it."
Samantha laughed quite happily. She then replied,
"That's funny, but it's not fair. Everybody contradicts themselves at times, but Spinoza can be untangled and made coherent. I aim to do it."
"Really? You must be pretty ambitious."
"Sure. Aren't you?"
"Well, the owner of our business doesn't get into the details too much. He isn't really a psychologist. So I'm responsible for keeping it going. But he's quite imaginative, and we've cooked up a couple of things that might be interesting."
Calvin had explained their various operations to Sandy only a week previously, and he was interested to see Samantha's reaction. She began laughing, the more so as he proceeded, and finally said,
"I love anything that smacks of charlatanism and fraud. Your boss must be a delightful old crook."
"I guess it's good that I met you. I was just beginning to sort of assume that we were respectable business people. But, of course, there isn't anything we do that's entirely straight."
"Can I come to you as a client?"
"Sure. I'll fix it so you don't have to pay."
"Don't do that. My daddy sends me all kinds of money, and I wouldn't want to be marked out specially."
"Well, we have just hired a new person. I'd be curious to find out how she treats people. But you have to agree to go out with me, and not someone she finds for you."
"Couldn't I go out with both?"
"Well, we aren't likely to be able to find you anyone at all suitable. But I bet you'd go out with Jack the Ripper to satisfy your curiosity."
"Probably. I'd wait til he got the gleam in his eyes, and then I'd kick him in the balls."
"Would you then take his surgical instruments and cut him up?"
"I'd have to think about that. It'd be mighty tempting."
Samantha said the last words as if they were spelled with some forty letters. Calvin found himself fascinated. She probably was hopelessly crazy, but it couldn't be helped.