E X C E R P T
Frank Sinatra, Jr., was saying, “I don’t have to take this,” getting up out of the guest chair, walking out. Howard Hart was grinning at him with his capped teeth.
Virginia was saying, “‘What’s Frank Sinatra, Jr., doing? What’s Howard Hart doing?”
Elwin sidearmed an empty Early Times bottle at the TV set, shattering the sixteen-inch screen, wiping out Howard Hart’s grin and Frank Sinatra, Jr., going out the door. Elwin took down the presidential plates from the rail over the couch—-Eisenhower, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, all the portraits done in color—-and sailed the plates one at a time at the piano, trying to skim off the silver-framed photograph of Virginia seated at the console of the Mighty Hammond organ. He missed five out of five but destroyed each of the plates against the wall back of the piano. The Early Times bottle was still good, so he smashed the photograph with that, looked around for something else, and threw the bottle end over end, like a tomahawk, exploding the big picture window for the high ultimate in glass-shattering noise.
Then he grabbed Virginia, the real Virginia—-thirty pounds heavier than the smiling organist in the photograph—-and as she pushed and clawed at him, trying to get loose, he threw a wild punch that grazed her head and set her screaming. Finally he was able to connect with a good one, belting her square in the face, grazing that long, skinny nose, hitting her hard enough that he hurt his hand and had to go out in the kitchen and run water on it.
When Bill Hill arrived Elwin let him in and went back through the living room to the kitchen, saying only, “She called you, huh? When she do that?” Elwin didn’t care if he got an answer. He reached up to a top cupboard shelf and pulled a fifth of Jim Beam from behind the garden-fresh canned peas and cream-style corn.
Bill Hill had on his good light blue summer suit and a burgundy sport shirt with the collar open to show the heavy gold chain and medallion that was inscribed Thank you, Jesus. He had his dark hair swirled down over his forehead and sprayed hard, ready to go out for the evening, almost out the door when Virginia called. She was on the sofa now sobbing into a little satin pillow. He bent over her and said, “Here, let me see,” gently taking the pillow from her face. The dark hollows of her eyes were wet, her rouge smeared and streaked, one side of her face swollen as though she had an abscessed tooth. The skin was scraped, beginning to show a bruise, but it wasn’t cut or bleeding.
“What’d he hit you with, his fist?”
Virginia nodded, trying to raise the pillow again to her face. The satin material was probably cool and it was a place to hide. Bill Hill held onto the pillow, wanting her to look up at him.
“How long’s he been drinking? All day?”
“All day, all yesterday.” Virginia was trying to talk without moving her mouth. “I called the Center, it was about an hour ago, but nobody came. So I called you.”
“I’ll get you a wet cloth, okay? You’re gonna be all right, Ginny. Then I’ll have a talk with him.”
“He never was this bad, all the other times.”
“Well, they get worse,” Bill Hill said, “from what I understand.”
It was hot and close in the house and smelled of stale cigarette smoke, though the attic fan was going, sounding like an airplane in the upstairs hall. Elwin had a hip pressed against the sink, using a butcher knife on the Jim Beam seal. His shirt was messy, sweat-stained. His old-timey-looking slick hair hung down on both sides of his face from the part that showed white scalp and was always straight as a ruler no matter how drunk he got.
Bill Hill said, “‘You’re a beauty. You know it?”
“I’m glad you come over to give me some of your mouth,” Elwin said. “That goddamn woman, I got her shut up for a while, now I got you starting on me. Why don’t you just get the hell out of here. I didn’t invite you, I know goddamn well.” He got the top off and poured half a jelly glass full of Jim Beam and added a splash of Seven-Up from a bottle on the counter. The sink was full of dishes and an empty milk carton. Elwin said, “You want a drink, help yourself.”
“I want to know what’s wrong with you,” Bill Hill said, “beating up on Ginny like that. You realize what you did?”
“I realize I shut her goddamn mouth. I warned her,” Elwin said. “I told her, Jesus, shut your mouth for a while, give us some peace. She kept right on.” Elwin’s voice rose, mimicking, as he said, ” ‘What’re you doing, you drinking again? Getting drunk, aren’t you, sucking on your whiskey bottle.’ I said I’m having a couple for my goddamn nerves to lie still.”
“For a couple of days,” Bill Hill said. “But I guess you know what you’re doing, don’t you?”
“I got her shut up,” Elwin said. “How many times I said, Shut up! She kept right on, yak yak yak, her mouth working like it’d never stop. Yak yak yak yak, Jesus.”
“Well, you stopped her,” Bill Hill said. “You gonna take her to the hospital or you want me to?”
“Hospital, shit, there’s nothing wrong with her. I give her a little shove.”