In the summer of 1946 a transformation that had already taken place in America became evident to even the casual observer. In its simplest terms, one segment of the population, predominently young, male, and white, had been taken into the armed forces and shipped overseas. Another segment had been moved from all the forgotten areas of the country to the cities. The latter segment was somewhat older, much more female, and not nearly so white. This shift of population was nowhere so dramatic as in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati happens to be the focal point for some of the most primitive areas of the United States. In the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia the Hatfields and McCoys still exist and flourish. It's believed that Catholic priests eat babies before celebrating mass. A child whose father isn't also his grandfather is viewed as unnatural, and is an object of concern. These people had been flooding into Cincinnati during the war years to work in the munitions factories. They were drawn thither, not by patriotic sentiments, but by reports that Cousin Zeke was working in a factory, and had become rich.
Cousin Zeke had indeed become rich. He had moved into the money economy. After a few initial sprees with his factory wages, he opened an account in a savings bank, very likely the first bank account possessed by anyone in the extended family. When the rest of that family arrived in Cincinnati, the reality surpassed even their expectations. They worked night shifts, day shifts, and swing shifts. Crowded into rooming houses and sub-standard apartments, they made breakfast at all hours of the day and night. Above all, they made money. In the wartime economy there wasn't much on which to spend it. It was greed, pure and simple.
There being little to draw them into the life of the city, these people weren't, at first, terribly visible outside their teeming neighborhoods. When a person such as myself crossed the litter-strewn canal which cut through the center of the city, he confronted this rabble in its ugly reality. But, of course, there was never a good reason to cross that canal.
All this changed in the summer of forty six. By that time, the veterans and their war brides were back. So were a great many other people who had worked as civilians for the military and the government. The mountaineers, instead of returning, remained right where they were.
There were now attractive consumer goods in the stores, and the Appalachians, their pockets bulging with the money they had saved, brought their peculiar accents and attitudes into the downtown shopping streets. The city was full to bursting. Moreover, the combination of the bumptious and confident young veterans and the hillbillies intoxicated with city life created an atmosphere rife with everything from potential violence to slapstick humor. The ordinary citizens of the city, not to mention ourselves, walked open-mouthed, jostled helplessly by the multitudes.
The shops were the first to feel the shock. There would suddenly appear at a counter a man in overalls. He would be mute while others made purchases, but would then make himself felt, perhaps by drumming on the counter. He would point at something he wanted, and perhaps attempt to bargain for it in unintelligible accents. But he would eventually buy. The women in cotton dresses were much the same, but less proud and more likely to try to communicate. Certain shops found it worth their while to encourage custom of this sort.
Among our group, it was Jane, who shopped the most, who first noticed the change. Of course, she had her own salesladies in all the better shops, comfortable-looking middle-aged women who dropped everything and rushed to Jane when they saw her handsome head looming above the others. The Appalachians were still priced out of these shops, but the young wives of veterans, many of them French, began to appear. Jane struck up a conversation with a couple of them, putting her dreadful French together with their lamentable English. What shone through this garbled conversation was that the girls were delighted to be in America. Jane spoke to them of our college, and, in fact, one of their husbands later turned up there.
Maria's school had no place for any of these sorts of newcomers, but, during the summer, she and Biff roamed the city. They would sometimes cross the canal and wander up Vine Street as far as Twelfth Street. That neighborhood was packed tight with Appalachians who, in summer, took over the sidewalks. Sometimes the crowds swirled into the streets, and, at any time, a drunkard was likely to stagger out and fling himself on to the hood of a stopped car.
The many alleys in the district became the property of the young people, especially the boys, who ran through them ragged, often holding brightly colored popsickles.
Needless to say, it was no place for Biff and Maria. However, the former liked to strike up conversations with strangers, and the latter's social sense must have stood her in good stead. We later found that Biff and Maria had been there often enough to have a few acquaintances. These excursions had apparently emboldened them to the point where they ventured into the alleys.
The inevitable finally occurred. At a junction of alleys in the vicinity of Thirteenth and Clay Streets, several boys attacked Biff. He was a sturdy youth, but was on the point of being overwhelmed. Maria then picked up a piece of pipe, and hit one of the attackers over the head. He dropped on the spot, and the other two fled. According to Biff, there was no one else in view. The one boy was lying face down and motionless where he had been felled, but, before Biff could examine him, Maria took him by the wrist and led him to the crowded street. They there mingled and disappeared.
The two then came straight to our house, where Maria took Biff in the back door to the empty kitchen and began to minister to his many cuts and bruises. They were discovered, quite by accident, when Jane went in for a glass of water.
As far as Jane could see, Biff wasn't badly hurt, but she called his mother. Mrs. Smith, in turn, called her husband, whose office was in the city. He came over immediately, had a look at his son, and put the whole misadventure down to youthful inexperience. Brenda and Ralph weren't home, and I took Smith aside to raise the issue of the assailant Maria had disposed of with the pipe. I said,
"Biff saw the blow and was amazed how hard it was. He thinks the boy might even be dead. Maria insisted that they leave before he could check."
Maria had gone into something of a shell, outwardly unchanged, but either unable or unwilling to talk about the incident. Biff, however, was quite eloquent.
"Boy, did she wallop that guy! And then she got us away before I could think twice. We were in the middle of the crowd on Vine Street, as if nothing had happened."
I looked meaningfully at Smith. That Maria knew how to disappear into a crowd came as no surprise. I'm sure we both wondered how much previous experience she might have had with pipes. Jane joined us just then, and Smith explained the situation to her. He then said,
"I'm sure Maria was legally justified is using a pipe or any implement that came to hand. And, of course, I'm glad she did. No telling what those hillbillies might have done to them."
There was then a pause. While Smith wasn't a lawyer, he knew infinitely more about local conditions than we did. Jane and I waited for him to say the rest of what was obviously on his mind.
"If we do nothing, the chances are ninety nine out of a hundred that we'll never hear from this again. But, if there should be a dead body in that alley, the police won't know that it was a matter of self-defense. There'd be a search, and it might well lead to Biff and Maria. If we hadn't reported it, things could get messy."
Jane wanted to consult Maria again before we did anything. It was only then that I realized that Maria hadn't said a word since coming home. She communicated with gestures, and by shaking her head, so well that one hardly noticed that she wasn't speaking. That fact came to light only when she was asked directly to give her version of events. We immediately asked Biff if she had said anything to him since the incident. He replied,
"Gee, I guess not. I must've been too hurt to notice."
It seemed to the rest of us that Maria might have been hurt far more seriously. Under the circumstances, we were happy to agree when Smith suggested,
"I can send my chauffeur to the place where they were attacked. He knows his way around there. He can ask a few questions and perhaps find out what happened."
By great good luck, Smith's chauffeur, by buying ice cream for the boys at Thirteenth and Clay, was able to get them talking. They joked about a boy who had been hit by a girl and knocked out for over an hour. Smith called us immediately, and we told Maria, thinking that it might alleviate her distress. When informed, she did nod appreciatively, but still remained silent. After three days, it was clear that we needed a psychiatrist.
The choice of the right man, or woman, was obviously critical. Brenda felt strongly that a woman would be better, but we quickly discovered that there weren't many. Brenda talked to one, but came away with the impression that the psychiatrist was herself in need of help. I went along with Brenda to interview the next one, it being the belief of the group that I had a good feeling for such things.
Dr. Edna Gardiner, a woman of forty or so, was obviously intelligent and well balanced. As we described the situation, she asked occasional questions and evinced a good deal of sympathy. She then recommended someone else.
"My specialty is building up the egos of women who've been trampled into the ground by their husbands, or by society in general. I've treated teen-agers successfully, but they've had more ordinary problems. This is a matter of unlocking a puzzle."
It turned out that, while Dr. Duane Pettigrew treated both adults and children, he treated the former as if they were the latter. According to Dr. Gardiner,
"He assumes that any undesirable adult behavior is a thinly veiled version of something that a child might do. He tries to point it out in such a way that the patient will laugh about it. He can be very funny. The best thing, though, is that he's willing to improvise and experiment. That's why I'm recommending him in this case."
With such a recommendation, we could hardly go elsewhere. When Brenda called for an appointment, Pettigrew spoke to her himself, and urged us to bring Maria with us. As in the case of the parent-teacher meeting, it seemed ridiculous for all of us to go, and I was nominated to accompany Brenda and Maria.
Pettigrew was an older man, large and squarish, who looked like a former football player. When he spoke, it was with an easy southern accent, neither the maddening slowness of the deep south nor a hillbilly twang. He welcomed the three of us and explained,
"I generally don't talk with the parents unless the young person is present. Then they know nothing is being put over on them. I understand that Maria isn't speaking just now. Is that correct, Maria?"
She nodded in a very pleasant and engaging manner. It looked as if she did want to speak to him. He then said to her,
"I'll have to collect a lot of facts from Miss Sanderson and Mr. Thomas. If there's something you take exception to, you can signal with your hand."
It took quite a while to tell Pettigrew what we knew about Maria. She looked embarrassed when we explained how brilliant she was, but didn't invoke the privilege of raising her hand. When we described our peculiar family arrangement, he acted is if it were perfectly normal.
At the end, Pettigrew turned to Maria,
"I wonder if you could sit down at that table with the blocks and demonstrate something."
Maria enthusiastically moved to a card table on which there were many small wooden blocks about the size of dominoes.
"Please make a small tower the way Miss Sanderson would do it."
Maria quickly put blocks together to construct a small regular tower, broad at the base, tapering to a narrow flat top. Pettigrew said,
"Now please make another, but this time the way Mr. Thomas would do it."
The new tower was a crazy-quilt construction of blocks placed on end and sub-structures teetering on each other. It was a wonder it stayed up. We all laughed, Maria included.
Pettigrew next handed Maria a pencil and paper, and said,
"I wonder if you could write a poem."
Maria showed immediate resistance, but he continued,
"Just a copy of one you've already written."
Maria responded with an exact copy of her poem about the Licking River flowing upstream. I explained that it was in reply to a poem of mine, and we carried on a conversation in which Maria very nearly participated.
When we got home, Maria went out for a walk, and the rest of us conferred. I opined that it wouldn't be long before Maria talked with Pettigrew, adding,
"The trouble is, we won't know it. We can't talk with him separately, and I'm sure we're not supposed to ask her about her therapy."
In that time, Maria obviously attempted in every other way to make herself agreeable. One would come in from the heat and collapse in a chair to find Maria at one's elbow proferring an iced lemonade. We started joking about it, asking her if she were going to keep it up after she started speaking. She smiled and shook her head negatively.
One day, Pettigrew came to the house to see all five of us. I had never heard of a psychiatrist making a house call, but he said that it was probably easier to transport himself than all five of us. He was also, he owned, curious to see how we lived. An odd feature of dealing with Pettigrew was that it was impossible to separate his professional curiosity from his purely personal curiosity. Similarly, no outsider would have known whether he was making a social or a medical visit.
In fact, midway through the visit, Biff happened to walk in, as was his wont. We simply introduced him to Dr. Pettigrew, at which point the latter nodded to Maria and said,
"There's no need for you to stay with the old folks if you'd like to go with Biff."
Maria was off quickly, seemingly not at all worried about leaving us alone with her therapist. The latter said,
"I think she now trusts us not to say things she wouldn't want said."
It was really a matter of her trusting him, of course. Brenda suddenly burst out,
"There are days when I won't speak to anyone or come out of my room. Did she learn this from me?"
Pettigrew looked interested and asked a few questions. At the end, he said,
"I think that's a rather different thing. Instead of reacting with silence to an unsettling or shocking experience, you withdraw in order to rest. You know, some people won't take vacations until the boss makes them. You don't have a boss, but you seem to have an internal mechanism that produces the same effect. I certainly wouldn't try to interfere with it."
Brenda looked considerably eased, but replied,
"Still, this business of silence by both of us couldn't be a coincidence, could it?"
"Perhaps not. But, then, you chose Maria. You might have felt comfortable with someone who uses some of the same strategies for living."
I was about to tell him that I had thought Maria disturbed at the beginning, but then realized that I wouldn't have said it in front of her. Jane, who hadn't said much, volunteered,
"Except for Ralph, we're all crazy."
Pettigrew smiled and asked,
"Why do you think you're crazy, Mrs. Smith"
Jane gave him a thumbnail sketch of her sexual history, including that extraordinary interlude with me. She made it rather humorous, but Pettigrew smiled only gently. He then replied,
"I'm sorry you've been disappointed."
I noticed that he very carefully did not say that he was sorry she hadn't had a child. Jane then spilled the beans about Ralph, myself, and Muggs. Not to be outdone, I mentioned my alcoholism and Brenda told about her experiment in prostitution with me. Ralph laughed, but Jane let out a squeal. Pettigrew, absorbing everything, replied easily,
"Many people recognize their problems, and then try to ignore them. You all seem to pursue solutions with an unusual amount of energy."
I felt a little deflated, and it was obvious that Brenda and Jane did as well. Did our craziness consist in nothing more than an energetic attempt to solve problems?
When there was a lull, Pettigrew launched into a few stories about other patients. I was shocked. He didn't mention names, but it struck me that a Cincinnatian might be able to guess. The stories were extremely funny, and also quite instructive. The last was about a group of four children in a mental institution. However, before that could sink in too much, Pettigrew asked Ralph some questions about our college.
The remainder of our get-together was entirely social. Pettigrew seemed to particularly like Ralph, as any reasonable person would, and they had a long discussion concerning education. It was after Pettigrew left that we hardly knew what to say to one another. Jane finally asked,
"Is he going to send us a bill for that?"
A week later, we noticed that Pettigrew did include a home visit in his bill, but for only one hour when he had spent several. He, at least, knew how to separate business from pleasure.
It was quite remarkable how much violence Pettigrew's visit did to our ordinary way of living. We had never discussed Brenda's retreats, and I might still have put them down to recurring physical illness, or perhaps menstruation, had Jane not told me about them that time in my flat on Richmond Hill. Brenda, one night, was on the verge of tears when she asked at dinner,
"Are you all wondering whether I'm going to get out of bed tomorrow?"
We tried to reassure her, but our attempts fell rather flat. Indeed, she became increasingly distraught. She kept up with business as usual, but she began to do and say things that we knew to be abnormal. One morning, apropos of nothing, she mentioned that she had called her mother, Thelma, and asked her to visit.
It might seem an ordinary thing for a woman to invite her mother to come for a visit, but anyone who knew Thelma wouldn't think it ordinary. Moreover, if Thelma was to be dealt with at all by a daughter, it should have been by a daughter in tip-top shape, not one sliding into depression. But, of course, one couldn't very well tell her to steer clear of her mother if she wanted to hold on to what remained of her sanity.
Another day, Brenda told me that she decided to do a great many things she had never done before it was too late. I asked if she meant having a baby.
"No, it's already too late for that. Lots of other kinds of things."
It didn't seem the height of tact to ask if these included resuming sexual relations with me. From her manner, I very much doubted it.
Soon afterwards, Brenda started going to Pettigrew on her own account. It seemed that, having stirred her up, it was now his responsibility to calm her down again.
Maria had now gone three weeks without speaking. I said to Ralph one day when we were alone,
"Pettigrew must sometimes speak to parents alone, and tell them how the therapy is going. I'm sure there are lots of people who wouldn't pay him if he didn't."
"Yes, that's probably true. He evidently sized us up correctly. It may be better for Maria even if it's hard on us."
"I bet she's talking with him by now. Do you think she talks with Biff when we aren't there?"
"I'd guess not. She began by not talking to him. I wouldn't be too surprised, though, if she went into shops and asked for things. I saw her on the street with an ice cream cone yesterday. She might have got it with pointing and some sort of dumb show, but I doubt it somehow."
Ralph's point intrigued me, and I mentioned it to Brenda. Of course, we agreed that it would be unconscionable to spy on Maria, but she replied,
"Maria probably got the ice cream at that little place by the courthouse. I've often been there with her, and he knows us both. Let's go there and mention her in some offhand way. If she wouldn't speak, he'll probably remark on it."
Brenda and I set out immediately for the ice cream shop. The man said that Maria had been in hardly an hour before, and added,
"She said she'd never been anywhere where it got so hot."
We were, of course, delighted. Not only had Maria spoken, but she'd volunteered information in a conversational way. The man mistook our enthusiasm for a liking for hot weather and replied,
"This kind of weather helps me sell ice cream, but I didn't know anyone else liked it."
We were a little hesitant about telling Ralph and Jane. In our little group they were the ones who didn't resort to intrigue. Brenda solved the problem.
"We'll tell them what he said without saying that we went there for that purpose."
"Ralph won't be fooled, but that's all right."
This little bit of good news made us feel better for a while. At least Maria wasn't losing the ability to speak. On the other hand, there were times when Maria was, at best, pensive and withdrawn. It was obvious that the incident with the boys in the alley had called up something that wouldn't soon go away.
I worked it out for myself that Maria had probably killed someone in Poland or Germany. It couldn't have been a soldier or Gestapo agent. That would probably have been impossible for her, and it would have been too late anyway. The person Maria killed would have been someone whom she thought was going to expose her. That person could have been of either sex, and of any age. In Nazidom, even a child could go to the authorities and denounce someone as a Jew.
The trouble is that, if you do kill someone you think is about to inform on you, you never know, in the nature of the case, whether you were right. Maria couldn't have known whether she was, quite simply, a murderess. If these lines are not deleted by Brenda, I can say this much to Maria: Her sense of reality, and of danger, was in those days so finely and accurately honed that she almost certainly acted rightly.
I never did mention this conclusion to anyone else. I felt that it was a matter which, if handled badly, could precipitate Maria into incurable mental illness.
I nevertheless wondered who else had reached the same conclusion. Pettigrew would, if he hadn't already done so. But, of course, I had no way of reading him. I suspected that Ralph had arrived at the same point before I had. It was basically a problem in logic, and he was quicker than I. Moreover, it would explain his relative lack of surprise at Maria's illness.
Such a thing would never have occurred to Jane. She didn't lack intelligence or insight, but she didn't progress steadily from premises to conclusion. It was probably no accident that Maria, now more than ever, felt most comfortable with Jane. Her secret was safe there. That left Brenda.
I could imagine Brenda following the same chain of reasoning as myself. She must certainly have guessed that Maria had killed someone. But that wasn't much. Did she realize that Maria might be tortured by the possibility that she had killed an innocent person?
I probably would have talked of these things with Brenda in her normal state. We have always been of like mind; our rather similar ways of thinking are nothing like those of Ralph, but, again, in almost a different world from those of Jane. On this occasion, however, Brenda herself was deteriorating. She would stand alone in a room, bolt upright, her hands on her stomach, and her beautiful face showing a great deal of pain. I couldn't chance burdening her with a new worry.
I have since known a number of cases where a child has had fairly severe problems and the mother has, after a certain delay, ended up in a psychiatric ward herself. A few weeks inside, and she then returns, often to something like her normal life. Brenda, at that time, was accustomed to saying that Maria's mother was dead, and that she, Brenda, was one of her guardians. It was by entering a depression that she proved that she really was Maria's mother.
It was lucky that we had Pettigrew. I later found out that many psychiatrists refuse to treat more than one member of the same family, fearing that they will be caught between them. Things of that sort didn't stop Pettigrew, but even he couldn't stop Brenda's downward slide.
The chronicle of that decline is one that Brenda will probably choose to excise from the present work. Indeed, I should advise her strongly to delete at least the account of the episode that immediately follows. It began when Brenda said to me one morning,
"Thomas, will you take a trip to Louisville with me? It's going to be difficult and embarrassing for you, but there'll be a reward for you at the end."
I had no idea what she had in mind, but the reward could be only one thing. I accepted with alacrity.
Two days later, we were standing on the raised platform of the railway station at Covington, looking across the bridge for our train. Brenda was beginning to explain the situation.
"Pettigrew says I'm depressed. Some people define depression as anger turned inward, which perhaps doesn't make much sense. Anyhow, he says that people with my symptoms often try to hurt themselves. They often do things like sticking pins into their fingers, and, at the extreme, they kill themselves. He thinks I won't do that. I'm more likely to humiliate myself, or to harm myself in indirect ways. I might marry someone horrid, or I might become an alcoholic. He's most worried about the latter. That would, in itself, humiliate me, and it would seem to give me license to do a great many other self-destructive things."
"I see why you've come to me."
"It's not what you think. I don't need to be convinced not to be an alcoholic. Pettigrew took me all through the physical side of it. I don't want any part of it."
"All right. What's the plan, then?"
"I really have a stong urge to do some of the things that alcoholics do. Pettigrew told me to go ahead with anything that doesn't have permanent harmful effects. He suggested that I pretend to be drunk if that helps."
I had never heard of a psychiatrist who recommended anything remotely similar, but I wasn't particularly surprised. I replied,
"So you need advice on how to pretend to be drunk. I dare say I can help you there."
"I also need someone to stand by and keep me out of trouble. That will be embarrassing for you."
At that point, I gave way to laughter. The whole thing was highly rational, and could be elaborately defended, but it was still mad. If Brenda had been anywhere near her usual self, she, too, would have thought it funny. As it was, she looked exhausted from the effort of having explained it to me. She was also very thirsty. There was fortunately a stand on the platform which sold iced drinks. She downed one lemonade, and was on her second when there appeared on the bridge a tall column of smoke which moved slowly toward us.
We checked in at the best hotel in Louisville, one that had a European atmosphere about it. When we sat down to dinner, Brenda had had nothing to drink at all. However, we gave the impression of having just come from the cocktail lounge. When the waitress asked if we'd like anything to drink, I declined for both of us. Brenda loudly dissented. We then had a spirited little argument in front of the waitress, a pretty young girl who looked embarrassed. I didn't, in the course of this discussion, omit to repeat several times,
"You know how you always get!"
In the end, I relented and Brenda had a martini. I, in indignant protest, had a tomato juice.
I had stressed with Brenda that it was important to display maudlin sentimentality, something altogether alien from her normal personality. She accordingly spoke loudly of her sister, who was dying of concer, repeatedly telling me that we ought to do more to help.
Brenda's sister might have been fictional, but, after the first couple of minutes, it no longer mattered. The anger that she directed at me for wanting to abandon that mythical sister was entirely real.
The martini didn't last long, probably not as long as it would have with a real alcoholic. We had previously decided that Brenda wouldn't actually drink more than one cocktail, no matter how many she ordered, but I could hear the sighs from nearby diners as Brenda called raucously, half across the room, for a second martini. These poor people, who had heard entirely too much about Brenda's sister, must have reckoned their dinners ruined. In fact, they were destined for quick relief.
When the second drink did arrive, and I instructed the waitress to take it back, Brenda screamed, grabbed the drink, and threw it at me. This, again, was something that a real alcoholic wouldn't have done, but I doubt whether anyone noted the inconsistency. Brenda then rose from the table, lurched, and fell forward. I shoved money on to the table, picked Brenda up, as if I were used to the situation, and half dragged her out the door. We there passed the man who had been detailed to throw us out. He merely looked on, nodding with satisfaction as we headed upstairs. We proceeded to my room, where we collapsed into chairs. I asked,
"Do you feel better?"
"I think so, a little. What must those people think of me?"
"A loud and obnoxious drunk. Some of them may have enjoyed watching our exit, but I imagine that the women, particularly, feel great hostility."
"Do they feel contempt, too?"
"I dare say."
"What will they do tommorow, when I go in to breakfast?"
At that point the manager rang up on the phone. He informed me tersely that we would be checking out in the morning. I replied with dignity that such had been my intention. I then rang off and replied to Brenda,
"I'm not sure there will be a breakfast tomorrow."
She replied, with something like her old humor,
"We'll insist. Half the payoff to me will be the looks I'll get tomorrow. Things happened so fast tonight that I didn't get to savor the feelings."
"I gather Pettigrew would approve of this?"
"I should think so. I'm right on track."
The next morning, no one challenged our right to breakfast. We did get some long looks, and I could hear whispering behind me. Brenda looked better than she had in weeks. Indicating a couple on her left, she said,
"They were here last night."
"Yes, I think they were."
"Now that I'm being charming, I bet the woman's even madder than she was last night."
"I would say that she's remarking on the gall of a woman who, after a disgusting performance last night, can show her face the next morning as if nothing had happened."
When I went to pay the bill at the hotel desk in the lobby, the man said unpleasantly,
"You will not return here, please."
I detected a certain Tuetonic element in his bearing and speech. That "please" on the end of his sentence was, I wagered to myself, a translation of "bitte." I replied in the British manner.
"I shouldn't take such a hard line, old boy. The lady only had an eeny weeny itsy bit too much to drink."
The man was utterly speechless, but Brenda, at my side, giggled girlishly.
We proceeded to the other main hotel in Louisville, down by the river front. When we attempted to book rooms, the clerk asked our names, and then said he was full. It was clear that we were notorious in Louisville. There was little alternative but to return to the railway station. We there decided on Indianapolis as our next destination.
We were fortunate enough to have hit a streak of fine cool weather. The crossing of the Ohio River on a high iron bridge was impressive, after which we headed into the sparsely populated hills of southern Indiana.
As we rolled along, Brenda's mood, bouyant at the start, seemed to decline. I began to fear that, while humiliation did her good, she might need more than could be arranged. For all I knew, she might need it daily for months or years. Could it, I wondered, be as addictive as alcohol? After all, there had been something wrong from the beginning, and Maria's difficulties had served only to bring it to the surface.
My feeling of unease, if not desperation, caused some rather extreme solutions to cross my mind. It did occur to me that a short stint in a women's prison should provide anyone with enough humiliation for a lifetime. There were, however, undesirable side effects. It would also be bad for business.
Somewhat more feasible would be the possibility of hiring a preacher from one of the primitive southern religions to berate Brenda for her sins on a weekly basis. The trouble there was that the effect would soon wear off unless Brenda was turned over the preacher's knee and paddled. That, too, seemed inadvisable.
More realistically, I was aware that a certain sort of psychiatrist could make his patient wish to crawl under the rug thrice weekly. I could hardly imagine Pettigrew doing anything of the sort. Perhaps he could recommend someone else in such cases.
Even as these extreme solutions went through my mind, Brenda seemed to come to a little. It turned out that she was planning our next round of activity.
The first day and evening in Indianapolis was uneventful. Brenda went off by herself a good deal, and I puttered around the city. I even found a good bookstore. I must admit that I was considerably relieved to find that there was to be no scene at dinner. It was a pleasant meal. Brenda's mood wasn't at all bad, but she did let on that she had plans for the morrow, of which I would be informed in due course.
It was the next afternoon that I was taken firmly in hand and led to a little park a few blocks from the hotel. Brenda had, she said, an appointment with someone she had met at the bus station.
"She looked honest, so I paid her in advance. I hope she shows up."
The other woman was already present, and she waved pleasantly to Brenda. She was red-haired and looked as if she had just come from a farm. I couldn't imagine what was in the offing. Brenda indicated for me to stay back and said,
"Don't intervene unless things go too far."
Leaving me with that ambiguous instruction, she advanced to meet her new acquaintance. I sat down on a bench. There was a middle-aged couple on another bench, and, across the way, a woman with two small children. I was looking idly about when I realized that Brenda and the other woman were exchanging sharp angry words. Then, to my amazement, they began to fight physically. There were blows and slaps, and I saw Brenda grab the woman's hair. The other responded by punching Brenda in the stomach and ripping her blouse off. Brenda, at a disadvantage in her high heels, lost her grip on the other woman and stood, almost helpless, as she was pummelled.
I got up, wondering whether things had, indeed, gone too far, when the red-haired woman pushed Brenda toward a flower bed and yanked her skirt down. There was then a sharp kick to the rear, and, as Brenda went sprawling, her assailant left with a contemptuous,
"That's what you've needed all along, sweetie pie."
The other bystanders gaped and remained transfixed for the best part of a minute. I, having had some inkling of what to expect, stepped quickly into the flower bed. Brenda, despite some blood and many bruises, didn't seem to be seriously hurt. I said to her,
"It's lucky the police didn't come up and arrest you both."
Brenda nodded, but continued to sit there, recovering her breath and some of her clothes. The other people came up, a little ambiguously, but seemed well disposed. Brenda had been knocked out of her shoes, but we found them and helped her out of the flower bed. The children, initially as surprised as the others, were now delighted. They asked their mother many questions, which she answered as minimally and as tactfully as possible.
The young mother sided unequivocally with Brenda against her absconded attacker. The middle-aged man was also extrmely solicitous, although I suspected that there might have been some voyeurism in his interest. His wife was very dubious. Indeed, she soon grabbed him by the arm and said in an unpleasant tone,
"Come away this instant, George."
As we made our way along the street, a number of people asked if a man had attacked Brenda. In each case, I affected a low accent and replied,
"Nah, she got inta a fight with a girl."
By the time we arrived back at the hotel, I was rather concerned. We were being followed by youths and cat-calls, and there wasn't a policeman in sight. The doorman chased the youths away, and, instead of giving him the same story, I told him that Brenda had tried to intervene in a fight between two women. A doctor was sent for as we helped her to the elevator.
I, of course, wasn't present while Brenda was examined, but I came in to see her immediately afterwards. She was in good spirits, propped up in bed on several pillows. I asked,
"Are you hurt?"
"Nothing serious. I am sore, though. Dotty gave me quite a beating."
"Was she supposed to?"
"Yes. She just turned out to be stronger than I expected."
"Were you trying to fight?"
"A little. At the end I knew she was going to kick me, though. I just bent over, and then there I was with my face in the primroses. It's an amazing experience."
"Was she supposed to tear your clothes off?"
"That too. I have a good deal of exhibitionism in addition to my need for humiliation."
"I have only one question, Brenda. Is this enough, or will you need to undertke increasingly extreme and dangerous projects?"
"This is certainly enough for now. There was a lot of pain in the episode today. Not only the physical pain, either. Walking along exposed and being called a whore by all and sundry is a pretty intense thing. I have a strong urge to get out of here and go home."
There was good news when we got home. Pettigrew had called the day before and asked for a meeting with the four of us. Maria wouldn't be present, but the meeting would take place at her request. She was, he said, making good progress.
Brenda could hardly wait. Pettigrew's secretary found us an opening in his schedule, and we duly trooped over. The doctor, as relaxed as ever, had his secretary provide coffee, a selection of coffee cake, and doughnuts. It turned out that his own partiality was for the latter. He, in fact, talked between bites.
"Maria wants you to know that she's been talking with me, and also with relative strangers around town. The point about the strangers is that they won't bring up subjects she doesn't want to talk about. I don't think any of you would bring up such subjects either, but she might think that you wanted to and were carefully staying clear of them."
"How can we ever get to the point where she wouldn't think that?"
"That's the problem, of course. However, she'll get gradually less sensitive as this incident fades into the background. Even now, she wants to start talking at home, but a little at a time. She'll start asking you all to pass the salt, but she's not ready to participate in the generalized discussions about life that you seem to go in for."
"I didn't know we did."
The rest of us laughed. Pettigrew replied,
"That's her perception. And, I might add, from what I know of you, it doesn't seem unlikely."
Brenda then shot out,
"Is the problem that Maria killed someone she thought was going to inform on her?"
I must have jumped a foot. Ralph, on the other side of Brenda from me, spilled some coffee into his lap. I was pretty sure, however, that his surprise was not at the notion Brenda had put forward but at the fact that she had arrived at it and expressed it. Jane simply gaped.
Pettigrew acted as if Brenda had asked him some perfectly ordinary question. He didn't claim not to know the answer, but replied casually,
"That's the sort of question she wouldn't like to have put to her. By not talking at all, she's precluded the possibility. Seemingly erratic behavior almost always has a rational basis. However, she now realizes that the remedy is stronger than it needs to be."
Ralph then spoke, a little hesitantly,
"I suppose there'll always be a number of subjects we'll have to avoid. I wonder how many."
"After she's recovered, not so many. If someone's murdered in the next block, go ahead and talk about it. I'd just avoid talking about physical violence in relation to her, in either the active or passive role. Some people keep telling girls they'll be attacked if they go to certain places. I wouldn't with Maria. From now on, she'll be prudent without that."
Part of Pettigrew's doughnut broke off and fell in his lap. He found it and popped it into his mouth. The interview then ended, and we made small talk as we filed out. I heard Brenda tell Pettigrew that she had some things to talk about. He asked if they would keep until their next session. She said she guessed they would.
When we got home, Maria greeted us at the door and asked if we would like some tea. We all said we would be delighted.