I woke up after nine hours of solid sleep and felt like crawling back under the covers again. My mouth had a nauseous taste to it and my head ached in a most peculiar manner, as though the top of it was about ready to fly off and sail across the room. I felt hung over, and this was out of the question if only because I hadn’t had more than one or two drinks a day in... well, three months, at the very least. A cold glass of beer at Green’s over on Columbus Avenue once an afternoon, that was my limit.
And every afternoon I felt hung over.
While the shower down the hall was turning me from one of the living undead to one of the living dead again, I thought about the way every morning was another morning after, the way every afternoon was a gentle trip to Limbo with a bearded and gaunt Charon at the helm, too tired to pull on the oars. I thought about three months in New York, three months that were supposed to be therapy and that didn’t seem to be having much in the way of therapeutic value.
I got out of the shower, tried to get dry with the little postage stamp Mrs. Murdock jokingly called a towel, and finally gave up and padded back to my room. The window was open and the breeze that came through it was as warm as a willing wench. I let it do the job that the towel couldn’t do.
Therapy. It was half joke and half serious and I never knew just which end was up. If it was doing me any good I couldn’t quite see it. But it was better than going back. Bad as it was, it was one hell of a lot better than going back.
Back to a reporter’s desk on the Louisville Times. Back to a house on Crescent Drive, a small postwar house that was falling apart a little because they never did learn how to build houses after the war was over. A house that was not only falling apart but that was also quite empty; so empty that you could not only hear a pin drop but the fallen pin would echo hysterically in every room.
A cheap, crumbly house. But a house where every room smelled of Mona. Her scent was everywhere, and whether I actually smelled her or only imagined it didn’t make much difference at all. She was gone, gone forever, and the little frame house on Crescent Drive still reeked so strongly of her that I would wake up nights with a scream dying on my lips and cold sweat standing up on my forehead.
Those were bad days. I lasted almost two months in Louisville from the day Mona left me. But they were two very bad months. I lived on liquor and prowled dark streets from dusk to dawn, afraid of the house that was empty now, afraid of the night that covered up the city, afraid most of all of myself. Mona Lindsay was gone, gone with a nameless and faceless man, and Ted Lindsay walked empty streets with liquor in his belly and terror in his eyes.
I managed the job. It was easy work by then; after three years swinging Police Beat you can do it with your eyes closed, or half-open at best. There were no murders, no colorful outbreaks of juvenile jollity, nothing that required the services of a sober and serious reporter. All I had to do was drop on down to the station once a night, take the more significant details off the blotter, pound out fifty inches of tripe for the first edition and go back home to sleep.
I did my job and nothing more. The penetrating features, the exciting style, the little insights that had qualified me for Police Beat to begin with — those weren’t there anymore. But I swung my desk competently and nobody was going to fire me. Hanovan occasionally told me that my copy was dull, but Hanovan was always telling somebody that unless you turned out Pulitzer-grade copy every time a cat got caught in a tree. I did my job, earned my salary, and lived alone in my own private section of hell.
And I remembered. I remembered Mona — long golden hair breaking over creamy shoulders. Eyes like blue ice, cold and hot at once, ice and fire. I remembered all the delicious details of her delicious body. It was worth remembering — big, firm breasts, beautiful legs, skin as soft as feathers.
So much to remember. How much happens in two years of marriage? How many times had we made love? How many times had I kissed her, touched her, run my hands over that soft smooth skin?
Too many times. Too many times to just throw in the towel and forget it when some smooth-talking son of a bitch picked her up and carried her off into the night.
Too many times.
I would drink without tasting the liquor while it made its way down my throat. Then I would walk all over Louisville and the whole little drama would make its way through my mind. I would try to figure out why it had happened, why it had turned out the way it did. I never did figure it. I’m sure I never will. It happened. Period.
One day they found me sitting on a bench in the park across from a water fountain. I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t passed out. I was just sitting with my hands folded neatly in my lap and my eyes focused on nothing special. They talked to me and I didn’t answer. Then they stood me up and led me away and showed me to a doctor.
Dr. Strom was all right. A decent guy. For about an hour we just sat staring at each other; then I started talking. I don’t remember what I told him and I do not want to remember, but I probably told him damn near everything. He sat through the whole bit without saying a word, just looking at me and nodding now and then.
Then he told me what the therapy would be.
“Lindsay,” he said, “I could have you come in three times a week to stretch out on the couch and bitch to me for fifty minutes at a time. You don’t want that. I don’t want it either. Frankly, I don’t think it would do you a hell of a lot of good. You’ve got something on your mind and you’re not going to get rid of it like that.”
I agreed with him. I’d considered analysis — I guess everybody does when he runs up against something that turns out to be a little too big for him. But it never appealed to me.
“I’d like you to try something else,” he went on. “A rather drastic treatment, perhaps, but one with a much better chance of success.”
I waited for him to go on.
“Your life is empty right now,” he said. “For the past two years you’ve been living a certain type of life. In that life your wife has played a predominant role. Now you’re attempting to continue living the same life with your wife left out of it. Obviously the life is not going to be a full one. Obviously any life you lead in Louisville now, living in the house where you both lived and seeing the people you both knew — well, such a life is going to be a strain upon you. A tremendous strain.”
“What do you suggest?”
“You ought to get out of town,” Strom said. “Sell your house, quit your job, head for another town. Take a job that doesn’t mean anything to you; something very different from newspaper work. Manual labor or office work or selling, something like that. Go to a big city and let yourself get lost in it. Make new friends, see new people, be alone with yourself. Develop a completely new routine. Read new books. See new movies. Try to find yourself.”
I interrupted him. “Look,” I said. “Look, it sounds fine. But I can’t do that. I’ve spent one hell of a long time getting where I am right now. It’s my whole life, damn it. I can’t just pack up and turn into somebody else. I can’t do that. I’d go nuts.”
I looked at him.
“Nuts?” he repeated. “Lindsay, I wonder if you know just where you are right now. Do you?”
I shook my head.
“You’re about three steps away from catatonia,” he said. “Schizophrenic catatonia. Keep on the way you’re going and one of these days you’ll start staring at a wall and you won’t stop. I’m not saying this to scare you, but I wouldn’t be playing it straight with you if I didn’t let you know just how rocky your present situation is. Your present existence is a whirlpool and you’re trying to swim out of it. Did you ever hear of anybody swimming out of a whirlpool?”