"I bought you some pajamas," Annice's mother said. She laid them on the bed among stacks of washed and ironed clothes, still in their cellophane envelopes from Sears Roebuck. Corny ones, Annice thought, red-checked gingham and a repulsive flowered print.
"I don't wear pajamas," she said, thinking, I won't pick a fight, not the last minute like this, I won't let her make me mad. She bent over her suitcase, rearranging the blouses her mother had already packed.
Mrs. Harvey said, "You might have a little decent gratitude." She was small and thin like Annice; anyone seeing them together would have known they were mother and daughter. But her reddish hair lacked gloss, her skin was dry, and the two creases between her eyes were permanent. She wore a starched gingham dress and low-heeled oxfords. Annice reassured herself with a glance at her own toreador pants. Even if I haven't got any chest, hardly, she thought, I wouldn't wear house dresses. Or cotton stockings. Or those ugly kitcheny aprons.
"Even if you won't wear nightgowns, you can wear shorty pajamas like the other girls. It isn't decent to lie around with nothing on, a big girl like you."
"Oh, Mother!" Annice yelled. There, she had broken all her good resolutions--no temper, no shouting, keep it sweet and friendly the last day. She picked up the top blouse and fingered it nervously, meanly pleased to see the wrinkles fan out between her fingers. Her mother had laundered it--had worked her fingers to the bone to keep things nice, was the way she put it whenever she thought the family was guilty of ingratitude. And that was most of the time. Annice dropped the garment on the bed, feeling better. She stretched. Four hours till train time, two hundred and forty minutes, how many seconds? "I'll be glad to get out of this crummy place."
Mrs. Harvey refolded the blouse. "Are you taking this?"
"Makes no difference. I don't care what I take, just so I have my notebooks."
"All adolescents think they can write poetry. They get over it."
And that's a lie, her daughter thought. That prim figure had never been shaken by desire or abandoned to passion; had never wept because an April tree was so beautiful and frail; had never walked in mist like the inside of a pearl. No, her concern on a rainy morning was all for muddy footprints on the kitchen linoleum. Annice lifted her chin. "After today I'll be with my own kind of people."
"If you mean that big sloppy Pat, I don't think much of your taste. I'd rather see you in your grave than have you running after boys the way she does."
Shows how much mothers know. That night of the Senior Prom, when we danced till three and then drove to Uniontown for chicken and fries--well, parents always think you're safe if you square-date. It was Pat's date-- that good-looking Johnny Cutler, who had wanted to stop at the motel--anyhow, the first one to come out and say so. But after the boys had paid and made up fake names, it was Pat who had chickened out. Not me, Annice thought proudly. She remembered the urgency and excitement, and then, driving home, the letdown half-ashamed feeling because they hadn't gone through with it. The very first chance I get, she promised herself, ashamed to be so inexperienced at eighteen. Aloud she said, "Pat just happens to be my best friend."
"Speak of the devil," Pat said from the bedroom doorway. She flashed a good-natured smile at both of them, knowing how all the mothers hated this business of walking in without knocking. Until this year, when she was finally allowed to drive the family car, the Harveys' place had been too far out in the country for free and easy visiting; now she took great pleasure in dropping in at odd hours. She leaned against the doorjamb and lit a cigarette.
Mrs. Harvey's lips tightened. The hem of Pat's skirt was torn and a pack of cigarettes, unevenly ripped open, stuck out of her jacket pocket. Her nail polish was bright, and her legs were bare. She was wearing raffia slippers with little straw dolls on the toes, a man on one and a woman on the other, dancing and hobbling with each step she took. Pat grinned, her face alive and very pretty. "You most ready, kid?"
"I don't think I'll ever be ready. All this junk."
"Mom tossed all my stuff in Kevin's old foot locker. I'm all set." Pat crossed to the dressing table. "Hey, don't forget your glamor."
Annice caught the bottle of Tabu neatly and dropped it into the suitcase, on the disarrayed blouses. Her mother glanced at the rejected pajamas, then at the slip straps and unmated nylons dangling over the suitcase edge. She walked out of the room, ramrod-stiff, closing the door precisely. Pat flopped down on the bed. "Fight?"
Annice scowled. "Doesn't do any good to fight with her, she's always right. You can't tell her anything, she knows it already." She picked the cellophane envelopes up distastefully and shook the despised new-smelling garments out on the bed. "Now I have to be modest when I sleep. The house might burn down or something."
"Take them along. You might be sick some time."
There was a moment of silent struggle. Torn between common sense and resentment, Annice finally laughed and laid them with her other clothes. "I can come home if I get sick. I should be glad I've got a good home to come to."
Her tone implied that she'd rather die in a charity ward. "Or I can write home for money if I run over my allowance." Rather starve, too.
Pat stubbed out her cigarette butt. She lit another, snicking the silver lighter open with a practiced thumbnail. "Four more hours. I can't believe it,"
"I never thought they'd say yes."
"Seven of us, Mom's glad to get rid of me."
Smoke curled elegantly out of her nose. Annice made another resolution--to start smoking the minute the train pulled out of the station. It was one of the things her mother hated most about Pat, along with Pat's bare legs, her buttonless blouses, her religion, her casual profanity, her naturally curly hair and the hours she came home from dates. Therefore it was one of the things Annice envied and wanted to copy.
"Do people always hate their parents?"
"Always. It's psychology." Pat rolled over on her stomach. "Especially only children. I never thought Barby's folks would let her go, did you?"
"There's something creepy about that setup."
"All middle-aged people make me feel creepy. They don't really have any more reason for being alive." Pat lowered her voice, glancing at the door. "It's not so awful with a big family though, they sort of spread it around. One reason mine gave in, they think it'll break me up with Johnny."
"If he really loves you he'll write. Or something."
"I don't know. I'm not ready to be married yet."
"I'm not talking about being married. That's for the birds." She giggled. "And the bees."
"Well, but it's a sin. I'm going to wait for the man I marry. I made my mind up that night--honest, Annice, I couldn't go through with it. I know you were mad about it, but I can't help it." She looked at her feet, making the dolls jounce. "It's okay to read poetry about free love and all that jazz, but I bet you haven't gone all the way with a boy yet. Not unless you've been holding out on me."
"That's because nobody around here's worth bothering with." Annice stared out of the bedroom window, past the barn and machine shed, the RFD mailbox and the road that led to the county seat. She pictured a future filled with handsome intellectual men--or better--fascinating, ugly intellectual men. Her eyes shone.
Pat shrugged. "Anyhow we're going. Big deal."
They grinned at each other, the whole bright-colored future unrolling before them. Chicago. Jobs. An apartment. Annice's jaw set like her mother's. She'd go to college if she had to, but not a day longer than it took to make her first sale to a poetry magazine. They didn't need to think she was going to spend her life in a classroom, learning dull dates and facts out of books, when there was life to be lived.
"Barby's father thinks it would be nice if we stayed in a girls' club."
Annice twiddled the windowshade cord. The familiar landscape was uglier than ever, with rescue so near. She pulled the shade down with a snap, shutting out buildings, combine, and the neighbors' feedlot. "I hate this place. I hate everything about it. It smothers me, it's so fat and bourgeois and corn-and-hoggy. If I ever get out of it I'm never coming back, not even for a visit."
"You don't know. You've always lived in town." She overlooked the fact that the town had a population of three thousand, with three grocery stores, two churches and a handful of filling stations. "You don't know what it's like to always be a country kid and have to go to school on the bus, like a--a peasant or something. It isn't money, it's a question of soul."
"Can't be any worse than these little hick towns."
"Anyhow, we're getting out."
Mrs. Harvey mounted the front stairs, her steps light and even but somehow emphatic. The girls looked at each other in perfect understanding. She had worked off her righteous indignation--had defrosted the refrigerator or cleaned the pantry shelves probably--and was ready to make a sign of forgiveness, an overture of friendship that would make them feel adolescent and uncouth. They would rather have been left to nurse their resentment.
"If you girls want to come downstairs you can have some cocoa." Peace offering, because she believed it was bad for the digestion to eat between meals, and she had never become reconciled to the tons of cheeseburgers, salted peanuts, candy bars, cokes, and pizza the high-school generations wolfed down. She was ready to meet them half-way by suggesting food, and fattening food at that.
In theory, they despised cocoa and never ordered it in the school lunchroom. They would rather have had black coffee or--more adult because it was forbidden--beer. Actually, the rich, sugary smell floating up the stairs made their mouths water. They arranged their faces into the expression of bored tolerance worn by fashion models, and got to their feet.
"Go ahead," Annice said. "I have to go to the John." She had grabbed at the first excuse she could think of, because suddenly she felt an unexpected need to be alone for a minute.
I'm leaving my childhood behind, she thought, standing in the middle of the floor and looking around at the flowered wallpaper, the familiar bleached-wood furniture. When I come back, if I ever do, I'll be changed. She tried to feel some suitable emotion, but all she could conjure up was the familiar irritation at the flowered curtains her mother had made and the matching dressing table skirt.
Her going wasn't likely to make much difference here. The empty drawers of the dresser yawned, in the closet a tangle of wire hangers swayed slightly. Her childhood books and high school annuals still stood in the white-painted bookcase, and there were gaps where she had taken out the modern novels and slim volumes of poetry. It could have been any teen-age girl's room. She had no feelings about it at all.
She shut the door behind her quietly, as her mother had done.