|U. Wiggily Sequence
Elwood, very erect, examined the pressure of his fingers. Elwood, in impeccable lemon trousers, noticed little points of light. He heard the faint rustle of fabric and shifted his buttocks in anticipation. Elwood was very clean. His fingers were smooth and warm, and he could feel the tug of the maroon jacket across the back of his shoulders and hear the rustle. It was nearly quiet, and he could feel the elastic of his boxer shorts. Elwood Siever was queasy with anticipation. He could hear the rustle and the soft abrasion of her cotton socks on the white floor, and he could feel the cotton straps of his undershirt and the loop at the neck. And at last in the clean smell of the garments and the room, he heard her voice:
"Ain't you got a mirror, mister? Go ahead, look. It's all right."
Little Janet Garvey was standing in a glitter of cardboard and wrapping paper, in a scatter of all the lovely things he could afford for her, in the rustle and charm and splendor of all he had given her, pulled from the big leaf bag. Little Janet was standing in a shimmer of green, in pleated satin, in ruffles and lace, in bell sleeves so crisp and snug on the slender limbs, in the clean and perfect party dress he had saved for last, pulling each treasure tearfully from the orange bag. And Elwood, turning, felt his heart go warm and sweet, and he felt so faint and clasped his hands in awe. And little Janet Garvey stood there quiet, and she wasn't disappointed.
"Ain't you got a mirror, mister? It's no fun without a mirror. My mother has a big mirror all over her bedroom, and sometimes I stand there for hours, and there are thousands of me everywhere, and it makes me feel funny inside, but she don't like me in there when Mr. Folger's in the house, and these days he's mostly in there. This is a real perfect dress, mister, and I really need a mirror to see my face right on top and the way my arms look. I want to thank you, but I guess there really ain't the right way, and I hope you don't care, cause you seem like a real keen guy, that you like me to buy me this. I wish Prissy Phillips could see me just like this, maybe with some shoes. You know you should of got some shoes, but that's all right. My sneakers will do. You think we could go somewhere? You think we could go for a ride?"
Elwood sat struck, wringing his hands, and couldn't force his answer. He had not known there could be such good feelings, and that life wasn't all dirty and ugly, if you didn't use enough soap and take a lot of care. He didn't know that it would be this perfect. She was so utterly soft and gentle, like looking at the altar before he went through finding about the ugliness.
"You think we could go for a ride, mister?"
"If we go for a ride, you will jump out of the car, and you will run down the street, and someone will grab you, and you will tell them about a man who took you away, and our little visit will be over. And there will be no more nice times for us."
"All right. All right for now. You fix my dress in the back, and then we'll play Uncle Wiggily, and if that don't work maybe some Twister."
They were on the white coverlet with the bright board between. Elwood's hands had fumbled at the dress, but he had set the board down with some precision. He hoped it wouldn't be too exciting, and that he could control himself properly.
"'Nurse Jane Fuzz Wiggily says you must take a red card.'"
"That's not fair. Every time I start I get a red card."
"Janet. The red cards are so often very good. Let's just see. 'Jimmie Wibble Wobble the duck boy takes your Uncle Wiggily two hops forward.' See. It WAS nice. It was very pleasant, and it's my turn."
"Let me read it. Oh it's not fair. 'Each time you pick this card up so your bunny gets five hops you know.'"
Elwood marched his red piece forward briskly and sighed with utter contentment. It was so pleasant on the bed with her little pigtails swinging over the board and the frown of her concentration.
"See over in the corner here? See that, mister?"
"Yes, Janet. That is the Bad Pipsisewah."
"See, his mouth's open. Why's his mouth open?"
"Because he wants to eat Uncle Wiggily. You see this is a very important game. Everyone tries to get to Dr. Possum, and everyone tries very hard, but every so often these little rabbits are gobbled up, perhaps by the Skillery-Scallery Alligator or the Fox, but especially the Pipsisewah. Janet, I've played Uncle Wiggily all my life, and I know very well what a terrible thing it is to try with all your might to get to Dr. Possum."
"Well it ain't THAT important."
"But it is. It IS. And sometimes you're almost there, maybe just two steps out, and the Bad Pipsisewah opens his mouth, and you're swallowed up, and you lose horribly, and everybody laughs and makes fun of you. But there's such a joy when you win. Yes, and that's why you keep on trying. You want to win so badly, and you draw the wrong card, and it's over, or the right one, and it's total victory, and the rest of them just sit and stew. But Janet, I know the Pipsisewah, and what it can do to you."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Come on."
"No. I mean it. Little girls and boys are all afraid."
"Well who's the Pipsisewah? Someone made him up, right?"
"Janet, the Pipsisewahs have always been around."
"Come on. Look here. 'The Uncle Wiggily Game by Howard Garis.'"
"Howard Garis was a very great man because he knew."
"Come on, this is stupid. Ain't it? Whose turn is it?"
"It's yours. I remember now very clearly. It's yours."
"'Two hops for your Uncle Wiggily now. He'll take off his hat and make a bow.'"
"'Now a red card you must draw. In this game it is the law.'"
Elwood trembled reaching for the card. How he trembled.
"'It isn't my fault, but your Uncle Wiggily must jump back three hops so the buzz bug won't bite him.'"
Little Janet giggled horribly and moved Elwood's piece.
"You see that's the whole point of it. I've had a misfortune, and you laugh at it. You enjoy seeing me move behind you. And if I were to draw the Pipsisewah, you would find that funny, amusing. People like to play games, because it's fun to see people lose horribly."
"I don't know what you're talking about. You make me feel funny."
"Janet, when I was a little boy, we had the only house on the block. I suppose I was seven, and I had a kitten. My mother gave it to me, and it was soft and fluffy and gray and white, and it was utterly clean and generous and quiet and cuddly, and it was everything in my world. And then one day, they were mowing with a big machine that sliced the weeds, and I was sitting on the porch with my little friend, Peter Fenzenhagen, and we were watching them slice the weeds, and it went very loud, and the big man was brown from the sun, and you could see the sweat on his skin, and it was running through the weeds, and it happened too sudden, and it was over with Mitsi coming over the weeds, crying like the little ones do, and the tail was gone, and the bottom of the legs, and she was running on the stumps with the bottom parts dragging up to the white porch smears of her bright and red and terrible, and I was screaming stop it stop it, and Peter, little Peter Fenzenhagen, started giggling, and I had the cat and the blood on me, and I can still hear him giggling sometimes in my sleep."
"But don't. No, that's ugly."
"Janet, that's the Bad Pipsisewah."
The living room was of the color of the reading lamp over his mother's shoulder. It was muted and warm in rose shades and deep browns and golds against the shelves and the big soft chair. And Elwood sat distant in the relative darkness of the large bay window and watched her with the JOURNAL, and the lilac brocade at her neck, and the touch of lace, and the spotted hand lifting like a blur of smoke to moisten an index finger to reach for the next page in utter silence. And he loved these moments with his mother even now with the ochre warmth, and the rustle of the crisp paper over into silence, and her face so intent upon something relatively innocent and careful. And he studied his fingers against that light and thought of something pleasant there transfixed, Janet like a butterfly poised on a current forever and ever in an empty room, with the scent of her like jasmine into the permanence of every perishable thing, so quiet.
"I suppose you read the RECORD, Elwood. You had a look."
"Of course. I always give it a look. Sometimes there's nice things."
"Well I suppose you read about the little girl. Little Janet Garvey over in Norwood. You know that's not far away. I want you to stay home nights now. You can't be too careful. You just won't go out alone, and that's absolutely final."
"But mother. What would anyone want with me? Besides, it was a little girl, and it's probably something we haven't discovered. She might be off on a visit. It could be perfectly innocent and nothing to worry about."
"Well I don't want you to go out alone. Someone just might get a strange idea. There are very ugly people on the streets, and this little Janet Garvey could be in their clutches. And it could be a kidnapping. And if you were kidnapped, I just couldn't pay it up, and it would be just horrible waiting for them to find you cut in little pieces like that Getty boy with his ear gone. They might mutilate you, cut your little penis off."
"Mother. That's absolutely disgusting. How could you?"
"Well you just can't tell what's on their minds, dear. You can't."
They lapsed into silence in the muted light, rich over her silver hair, a pool on the rich brocade, on the JOURNAL, clicking past like finality toward the heavier cover, and the stack to her left. Gladys Siever absolutely adored the JOURNAL, but her most rewarding experience with that august magazine was the article on Truman Capote's paperweights, and she kept that in the top drawer of her dresser next to the Holy Scriptures for a quick read on nights when she was utterly afraid or constipated.
"Mother. What were you like when you were a little girl?"
"Elwood. Why on earth would you ask that? You absolutely know I don't discuss such things. These things should remain buried. Childhood is horribly unpleasant and often unclean, and there are many ugly thoughts not worth repeating."
"Yes. But there must be nice thoughts, mother. Nice things."
"Well yes. But they all turn out horribly."
"But you could tell me. You could tell me something. Something that starts nice. So many things start nice."
"Elwood. You're just too terribly persistent. You've always been that way. Gracious. You just overwhelm me."
"Come on, mother. A nice tubbing now, and you can tell me. You can tell me while you're soaking. A nice tubbing will loosen you up, and a little story will set you just right for bed. It's good to express yourself. Father always said that, even when he was flatulent. Remember? He used to break wind an awful clap, and then you would raise a fuss about it, and he invariably said the same thing—Gladys, it's good to express yourself."
"Yes poor dear. He COULD put things well. That's for certain."
"Well now. Upsy daisy."
Elwood settled her into the chair and wheeled her into the downstairs bathroom, careful over the carpet. He fumbled with the good clothes, fumbled terribly assisting her, until he had her slick into the warm water beyond the curtain. He could hear the gurgle and glug and the slosh as she hummed prettily, the way she had when he was a boy and had his own tubbing, with the hiss of the bath bubbles down to a faint white milky haze skimming the surface.
"Elwood. I believe I was seven, and it was time for the Gruber family reunion out on Fass's acres near Thompsontown. And it was a treat, helping my mother with the potato salad, and the big strudel it was her custom to prepare for that occasion. And I remember climbing into the big Packard with little Elmer John, my older brother, and driving off through a fine mist that broke toward sunlight over by Ickesburg, and we drove on that way, and father was singing SILVER THREADS AMONG THE GOLD, and some of those others that made your heart simply flutter. And mother was in a new bright dress of real linen, and, when we arrived, there were horse shoes, and quoits, and swimming in the big creek, with a little shanty for the girls to change. And all the Grubers were there in their best clothes, with so many good and succulent things to eat. And I remember most the bratwursts, which were so warm and juicy, roasted on the big fires they had built in the outdoor pits. And we all sang some songs, and the children played and swam, and there was a big chestnut with the swings from one branch, mind you. And we played hide and seek, and tag, and hid in the woods, and flipped dandelions, and it was such a lovely day, I thought my heart would simply burst."
Elwood reached in to lift her to the grips, the flesh so slick and creased, and the stubble of the armpits, and he had his eyes tight to even the merest glimpse of those varicose veins down the legs like little blue wriggling snakes, to the pitted blue buttocks and the darker skin between the legs, as he aimed with the brush and soaped the lower parts.
"And then, mother. And what then?"
"Well that's it. That's simply the whole story."
"But there must be more. Riding back perhaps. The evening. You said it always ended so ugly. That's a beautiful story."
"Well there was something more, dear Elwood, but it's not for innocent ears."
He settled her over the white board, and listened to the water suck and gurgle down the drain. He pulled over the nightgown and opened his eyes. He lifted her to the chair.
"But mother. What was it?"
"Well this little Janet Garvey. It puts me to mind."
Gladys Siever bent to the task of brushing her sound teeth.
"What is it, mother? I'm simply a quiver."
"Well Uncle Silas was there at the reunion, and he was one of those ugly people that might have got the Garvey girl."
"But what happened, mother? This is just terrible."
Gladys Siever's words came on gurgling with the white paste:
"Well he was holding me on his lap in front of a couple of the others, the good ones, and he took my little hand, and then he did something horrible I'm not going to ever mention to anyone."
"But mother. Please don't torture me."
"You swear over your good father's body you won't tell?"
"Not anyone. Not even Mrs. Klurgel."
"Well he took my little hand and put it on his pants to feel, and I thought it was one of those hot steaming bratwursts we'd had, the big white ones he'd put in his pants, and I got sick and screamed, and Clabor Gruber saw it, he was teller at the bank there in Thompsontown, and he and three of the others beat up old Silas, who was 73, and a pervert, and old enough to know better. And I never did know what it was in those pants, until your father conceived you in the big north bedroom where you have YOUR special room now that one night, and, when it happened, I was so SICK I thought I'd never quit throwing it up, that whole first dinner I cooked for us our first night in the new home."
Gladys Siever gargled and spit a big clot of paste into the sink. It was very hot in the room with the steam on the mirror, and that sound in the drain, and Elwood quivering with utter repulsion and nausea, until finally he gathered himself.
"Mother, that was the most touching story I've ever heard."
She turned around with the white foam clotted teeth.
"Well it's true. Every particle is true and unadorned."
"Mother, I think . . . I'M . . . going to be . . . sick."
"Yes. Well you just say a little prayer tonight for Janet Garvey."
It was near-utterly-white and quiet over Janet's head. The colors below were mobile and innocent. The hair—plaited and dark over the pale of the face and little even teeth, so white opening to the darker pink, as she giggled again at Elwood on the straight chair, fussy on the pleated cushion, and made little I don't believe you gestures with the slender hand, flutters from the wrist. The crimson of the dress with the yellow pale descending—that fabric jiggling as Elwood called to mind another face and scratched, silly Elwood making the monkey in the silence under the white ceiling and the utterly-red notches like the stump-leaks of kitten blood over a white-washed porch.
"Do the rabbit again, mister. With the big teeth."
Elwood bared his upper teeth and chewed the air.
"No, that's the beaver. Do the rabbit. The little bunny."
Elwood nibbled and twitched his nose, quivered nervously.
"Wait till I tell my friends about you. Wait'll I tell Prissy."
Elwood blanched suddenly and shifted on the cushion, inspected his fingernails as if something cryptic were written on the clear gloss. It was suddenly as totally silent as an airtight magnesium lid down over his own airtight, totally dead body. He cleared his throat and examined the ceiling.
"The little birdlings of the air are utterly clean. They bathe daily in fresh bubbling brooks. The air cleanses them as they thrash nobly through the sky. The fishes of the sea are clean. They bathe in the freshest depths to maintain their purity and cleanliness. Little kittens are clean and pure, washing constantly with their pink little tongues, so clean that even their most private parts and areas are given daily, even hourly ministrations by that same vehicle. I speak of all the little feathered creatures of the earth. I speak of all the furred creatures and those with even the lowly scales. All are utterly clean and perfect. Only the human breaks into pustules and suppurations from the vilely clogged pores of his rank and putrid anatomy. Only the human itself sits naked in its own stench. And cleanliness, which in the animal kingdom is a fact of nature, has been deigned a virtue by the human family. A virtue so often neglected. Consider the hippies themselves."
"I know what you're talking about. You want me to take a bath. I know what you're after. You make all those big words and things and talk so strange, I feel jumpy, and you just want me to take a bath. I know you pretty good, mister. You want me to take a nice long bath, cause I stink. I guess I know you pretty good, right?"
"Janet, it HAS bothered me horribly. I must confess."
"I take baths, mister. Every time my mother says so."
"Yes, but there's a problem. It's not just that simple. You see MY mother is downstairs sleeping, and we might wake her up. We would have to be utterly quiet and . . . Janet, I'm not certain I can trust you. I hope you aren't offended. After all, you did try to get out that one time, now, didn't you? I don't want to offend you. I hope you understand."
"Mister, I'm not going to do a thing. Cross my heart."
"You see they would take you away from me. But to see you fresh and crisp, shiny and scrubbed, I would take that risk. Just to see you restored to your original mint condition, so to speak, fresh as a tubbed little puppy, cute and innocent, clean and crackling."
"You hide your eyes, and I'll get ready. That's what you want, ain't it?"
"You promise me now. I MUST trust you. It's utterly everything."
"I'll get ready right now. Don't worry about a thing."
Elwood waited in the corner with a dry throat, his eyes pressed tight into waves of light, with the rustle of fabric and the pad of her feet on the painted plywood. And then he felt her little hand and cocked his head, and she was there in the quilted little morning coat, so soft and delicate, so small and innocent, so pale there trusting up toward his feverish eyes.
"See. I'm all ready. And I'll be quiet as a mouse."
Elwood had the door open, and they were in the corridor, and he could feel her little hand so soft as they eased along toward the distant bathroom door.
"Where is it, mister? Where's the bathroom?"
"It's the big white door on the end. Whisper, dear. Be utterly quiet."
"I feel so shivery. Think she might hear us?"
"Well I checked her an hour ago, and she was sound asleep."
"Well I'm going to WAKE HER UP."
She hollered that and bolted for the door with Elwood struck, clutching his heart and then pursuing, as she flashed screaming and kicking through the white and slamming the wood, and he could hear the bolt snick in a gap of her screeching, and he was full steam the length of the hall to splinter the door and pull her, thrashing, down the hall into the soundproof room to state hoarsely in his exhaustion, as he thrust her forward to her knees in exasperation.
"You are evil. You are a wretched child and a disappointment."
And he shoved the door tight, and secured it, and waited with his heart burning and his mind dancing wild blurs of light and confusion in the silent corridor for his mother's voice:
"Elwood. Is that you, dear?"
"Yes. Yes, mother. Is . . . something . . . wrong?"
"I thought I heard voices, confusion. Is something amiss?"
"No mother," he called out. "It was a dream. You go back to sleep."
"Good night, dear. Sleep well now."
"Yes mother. Good night."
And Elwood Siever sank sobbing gratefully to his knees.
He measured the bathtub finally with the tape from the bottom drawer of his dresser and descended two flights to the basement. There among the scraps of lumber he fashioned a flat wide U of two by fours, cutting them carefully, quietly, with the handsaw. He attached two extra hoops that he had saved from the soundproof room and carried the contraption into the large section of the basement, the finished section, where he found the flat small canister with the rag. Ever softly climbing, he ascended again to the corridor and waited against the door for three-quarters of an hour. He cracked the door and peered in. Little Janet was sleeping in the white room under the white coverlet in her soft pajamas, utterly quiet and innocent.
Elwood barred the door and entered the bathroom. He fitted the wide U contraption down into the tub and ran in lukewarm water with a dose of bath fizzies of the lavender scent. He removed his jacket and tested the water with his elbow. He entered the corridor.
Elwood Siever removed the bars and pulled the door back. She was lying utterly soft and quiet. He reached into his trousers for the flat canister and opened it carefully. He removed the rag and held it ever so softly, prepared for the struggle, over the little one's face. It didn't come. He sealed the rag in the canister and breathed freely in tight spasms. He lifted Janet Garvey and carried her limp body down the corridor to the bathroom. He laid her on the floor very carefully and removed the pajamas. His eyes were partly shut, so that he could only see the outline of her body, and that indistinctly. He gathered her up, fearful of the contact, and settled her down into the tub with the arms hooked back over the flat U contraption. He sat back breathing heavily.
At last he was ready. He soaped up a small cloth and leaned in over the tub, dizzy at last with the lavender. It was so utterly quiet with the soap and cloth and her flesh there indistinct against the enamel, so white and utterly quiet with her arms hooked back, and her pigtails in the foam, and the white, and working over the face and neck, and at last the torso, and so white and so more clearly visible, as at last everything was bright and clear and so white, and the flesh slick with the soap of his ministrations. And he was soaping her at last with his hands, for that was really the only way to get her totally clean, so good to know that she was so clean and pure. And as his eyes focused to the clear sharp image, that was so much more real than he had ever in his wildest fantasies imagined, the clear sharp image of her body, he felt a warm sweet liquid feeling, so giddy with the first faint stirrings of something he had never ever truly known, and having never known, could not truly identify, the first faint queasy stirrings of desire.