Pete has done a day of factory work...
At six o'clock they blew the whistle and Pete was glad to be done. His skin felt like it had a thin coating of machine oil all over, with little bits of metal grit sticking here and there. His ears buzzed, and his right arm and left calf ached.
He was walking without conscious effort as he got off the train. He just shuffled along with everybody else, pleasantly tired and numb, enjoying the thought that, unlike the others, he didn't have to go back the next day. He thought he might not even eat dinner, he might just collapse into bed.
Actually, he felt like buying a bottle of whiskey with some of the money in the envelope in his pocket, and drinking all evening. The image of himself passed out at his kitchen table with a half-empty bottle of booze beside him, that had some appeal. But he knew that in reality he simply didn't like hard liquor.
So, on his way to the apartment from the subway, he stopped off and bought four quart bottles of beer. He thought he might have a fine drunken evening with Carl and starling.
The only problem was that Carl had just left, and starling wasn't in a particularly sociable mood, and that left it mostly up to Pete.
"Did Carl say where he was going?" he asked after a while, thinking that if Carl had been on his way to The Quarter, Pete might rush right over there and join him.
starling shook her head. "He just made a face and said not to wait up." She rolled her eyes in imitation of Carl's leer. Pete sat back. That didn't sound like The Quarter.
"I feel like I haven't seen him in a week," Pete said. "Henshaw said he hasn't been to the hospital either." He sighed and drank some more beer. "I wish he was here," he said.
"Me, too," starling replied, which Pete thought was rather odd. She held out her hand and he passed her the bottle. He lit himself a cigarette and slid the pack across to her.
"I found out something today," Pete said after a while. "It's hard to keep secrets from your friends." She looked up, obviously waiting for him to say more.
"I ran into Chet after work,"he explained. "He said how sorry he was to hear about Jenny, and it was obvious he knows about me and her. I wonder how long he's known. Maybe a long time, though I guess it doesn't really matter. It's not like he'd run and tell Henshaw."
starling looked at him as if she wanted to talk about something but wasn't sure how to bring it up. After a few minutes of silence, on a sudden impulse he said her real name. She looked up, startled. "I suppose," he said slowly, "it would be weird if I started to call you that. Only when we're alone, of course."
"Huh?" she asked.
"Forget it," he said quickly. "Bad idea." They both drank some more beer. Pete wondered for a moment if this was the last bottle. It seemed very important that they not run any risk of running out.
"You know," he said, "I've been thinking. I think those newspapers aren't really fair to you." He gestured in the approximate direction of the clippings on the wall. starling squinted as if she expected to be able to read them from where she sat.
"For example," he said, "let's take this piece of paper. I'm going to make two columns, one for you and one for me." He carefully divided the page down the middle. She looked at it, then she got up and went across the room to where her jacket hung on its peg. She took out her glasses and came back, stopping on the way to get another bottle of beer from the refrigerator.
"I didn't want to run out," she explained as she put it on the table.
"Good thinking," he said, finishing the bottle he had. She sat beside him, put on her glasses and looked at the sheet of paper.
"Now," Pete said, "what about the seven deadly sins?"
"What?" she asked.
"No, this is important," he said. "Here, let me list them."
Pete starling ____ ________ Lust Envy Greed Gluttony Jealousy Rage Avarice
She looked at this carefully and then nodded. "I've heard of them," she said.
He nodded. "Good. Now, let's see how we stack up. As far as I can tell, the only one you have is rage. Difficulty with conflict resolution, we might say. Me, I've got all kinds of sins. Lust, I certainly have. And envy. And jealousy, too. We're both doing okay on greed and gluttony, the other hand, and luckily there doesn't seem to be a category for drunkenness, so let's see how we stack up."
Pete starling ____ ________ Lust Yes No Envy Yes No Greed No No Gluttony No No Jealousy Yes No Rage No Yes Avarice
"Oh, hang on," he said, "avarice is another word for greed. There must be another one." He tried to focus on the question while she examined the list carefully. "Vanity!" he said. "That's the other one. Well, it's no wonder, looking at the two of us, that we didn't think of that one. Let's add it in."
Pete starling ____ ________ Vanity No No
"Well, that improves our totals, I must say. Now . . . " He shook his head. "I forgot about sloth. That belongs in there. And I'm afraid that's another one I've got."
Pete starling ____ ________ Sloth Yes No
"That's eight," she said.
He nodded. "I'm afraid you're right. I must have something wrong." He looked at the list. "It's possible that they think jealousy and envy are the same thing. Which I don't agree with, by the way. Envy is 'I want what you have,' while jealousy is 'I don't want you to be touching what's mine.' That's two different things, I would say."
"I'd have to start calling you 'Paul'," she said suddenly.
"What?" he asked.
"If you started calling me Katherine, I'd have to start calling you Paul."
She drew out the hated name "Paul" until he held up his hands.
"Okay!" he said, laughing. "I give! Uncle! I'll call you starling until the day you die."
"Hee hee," she said, covering her mouth. "Just don't call me Miss Starling."
"Miss Starling. Some kid was here before, looking for you, and he called me Miss Starling."
"Fifteen!" Pete said. "Movie night! It's tonight." He stood up, the whole room whirling around with excitement. "We should go."
She looked at him as if he'd just gone mad. "What?"
They never did make it to movie night that week, partly due to drunken inertia and partly because Pete had a lot of trouble explaining what it was.
Sometime later, he was swirling the dregs around in one of the bottles, making sure that his most recent cigarette butt was completely soaked. starling had pushed her chair back from the table and was leaning forward, her arms folded on the table in front of her. She rested her chin on her forearm, looking like she was starting to fade.
"Doug," she said suddenly.
He looked up. "Huh?"
She looked surprised, as if she hadn't realized she'd spoken out loud. "Sometimes," she said slowly, "you sort of remind me of him." She looked sad as she said it, and didn't seem inclined to elaborate.
"Well, is that good or bad?" he asked after a moment, trying to sound casual.
She sighed. "He was very good to me," she said, her voice getting more slurred and her eyelids drooping a little. "I was really hurt, and he took care of me."
"What happened to him?" he asked, and then a second later he cursed himself as his alcohol-addled brain finally lurched into gear and he realized what she was talking about.
"I killed him," she said. "We . . ." Her voice trailed off as her mouth went slack and her eyes closed. Her head lolled to one side.
The article wasn't on the wall, but Pete had read it. He knew what she and Douglas Gold has been doing when she'd grabbed her gun and fired two bullets through his stomach.
He waited a minute, but she seemed to be totally out. He went across to her sleeping bag and opened it up. Then he went back to the table and slipped his hands under her, lifting her up. He was pretty wobbly, but he made it across the room without dropping her. He lay her down on the sleeping bag and knelt to take off her sneakers.
Then he tucked the sleeping bag around her and zipped it part of the way closed. He don't know why he didn't remove more of her clothing. He had certainly seen her naked enough times, and she'd never been shy about it.
It was probably because the story of Doug Gold was still on his mind. He didn't want her to wake up suddenly, see him removing her clothes and get the wrong idea. He took off his clothes and got into his own bed, wondering when the room was going to stop spinning around.