'I'm sure she'll be all right,' she said. 'Carrie only has to go over to Carlin Street. The fresh air will do her good.'
Morton gave the girl the yellow slip. 'You can go now, Cassie,' he said magnanimously.
'That's not my name!' she screamed suddenly.
Morton recoiled, and Miss Desjardin jumped as if struck from behind. The heavy ceramic ashtray on Morton's desk (it was Rodin's Thinker with his head turned into a receptacle for cigarette butts) suddenly toppled to the rug, as if to take cover from the force of her scream. Butts and flakes of Morton's pipe tobacco scattered on the pale-green nylon rug.
'Now, listen,' Morton said, trying to muster sternness, 'I know you're upset, but that doesn't mean I'll stand for-'
'Please,' Miss Desjardin said quietly.
Morton blinked at her and then nodded curtly. He tried to project the image of a lovable John Wayne figure while performing the disciplinary functions that were his main job as Assistant Principal, but did not succeed very well. The administration (usually represented at Jay Cee suppers, P.T.A. functions, and American Legion award ceremonies by Principal Henry Grayle) usually termed him 'lovable Mort.' The student body was more apt to term him 'that crazy ass-jabber from the office.' But, as few students such as Billy deLois and Henry Trennant spoke at P.T.A. functions or town meetings, the administration's view tended to carry the day.
Now lovable Mort, still secretly nursing his jammed thumb, smiled at Carrie and said, 'Go along then if you like, Miss Wright. Or would you like to sit a spell and just collect yourself?'
'I'll go,' she muttered, and swiped at her hair. She got up, then looked around at Miss Desjardin. Her eyes were wide open and dark with knowledge. 'They laughed at me. Threw things. They've always laughed,'
Desjardin could only look at her helplessly.
For a moment there was silence; Morton and Desjardin watched her go. Then, with an awkward throat-clearing sound, Mr Morton hunkered down carefully and began to sweep together the debris from the fallen ashtray.
'What was that all about?'
She sighed and looked at the drying maroon hand-print on her shorts with distaste. 'She got her period. Her first period. In the shower.'
Morton cleared his throat again and his cheeks went pink. The sheet of paper he was sweeping with moved even faster. 'Isn't she a bit, uh-'
'Old for her first? Yes. That's what made it so traumatic for her. Although I can't understand why her mother...' The thought trailed off, forgotten for the moment. 'I don't think I handled it very well, Morty, but I didn't understand what was going on. She thought she was bleeding to death.'
He stared up sharply.
'I don't believe she knew there was such a thing as menstruation until half an hour ago.'
'Hand me that little brush there, Miss Desjardin. Yes, that's it.' She handed him a little brush with the legend Chamberlain Hardware and Lumber Company NEVER Brushes You Off written up the handle. He began to brush his pile of ashes on to the paper. 'There's still going to be some for the vacuum cleaner, I guess. This deep pile is miserable. I thought I set that ashtray back on the desk further. Funny how things fall over.' He bumped his head on the desk and sat up abruptly. 'It's hard for me to believe that a girl in this or any other high school could get through three years and still be alien to the fact of menstruation, Miss Desjardin.'
'It's even more difficult for me, she said. 'But it's all I can think of to explain her reaction. And she's always been a group scapegoat.'
'Urn.' He funnelled the ashes and butts into the wastebasket and dusted his hands. 'I've placed her, I think. White. Margaret White's daughter. Must be. That makes it a little easier to believe.' He sat down behind his desk and smiled apologetically. 'There's so many of them. After five years or so, they all start to merge into one group face. You call boys by their brother's names, that type of thing. It's hard.'
'Of course it is.'
'Wait 'til you've been in the game twenty years, like me,' he said morosely, looking down at his blood blister. 'You get kids that look familiar and find out you had their daddy the year you started teaching. Margaret White was before my time, for which I am profoundly grateful. She told Mrs Bicente, God rest her, that the Lord was reserving a special burning seat in hell for her because she gave the kids an outline of Mr Darwin's beliefs on evolution. She was suspended twice while she was here - once for beating a classmate with her purse. Legend has it that Margaret saw the classmate smoking a cigarette. Peculiar religious views. Very peculiar.' His John Wayne expression suddenly snapped down. 'The other girls. Did they really laugh at her?'
'Worse. They were yelling and throwing sanitary napkins at her when I walked in. Throwing them like.. like peanuts.'
'Oh. Oh, dear.' John Wayne disappeared. Mr Morton went scarlet. 'You have names?'
'Yes. Not all of them, although some of them may rat on the rest. Christine Hargensen appeared to be the ringleader ... as usual.'
'Chris and her Mortimer Snurds,' Morton murmured.
'Yes. Tina Blake, Rachel Spies, Helen Shyres, Donna Thibodeau and her sister Fern, Lila Grace, Jessica Upshaw. And Sue Snell.' She frowned. 'You wouldn't expect a trick like that from Sue. She's never seemed the type for this kind of a - stunt.'
'Did you talk to the girls involved?'
Miss Desjardin chuckled unhappily. 'I got them the hell out of there. I was too flustered. And Carrie was having hysterics.'
'Um.' He steepled his fingers. 'Do you plan to talk to them?'
'Yes.' But she sounded reluctant.
'Do I detect a note of-'
'You probably do,' she said glumly. 'I'm living in a glass house, see. I understand how those girls felt. The whole thing just made me want to take the girl and shake her. Maybe-there's some kind of instinct about menstruation that makes women want to snarl. I don't know. I keep seeing Sue Snell and the way she looked.'
'Um,' Mr Morton repeated wisely. He did not understand women and had no urge at all to discuss menstruation.
'I'll talk to them tomorrow,' she promised, rising. 'Rip them down one side and up the other.'
'Good. Make the punishment suit the crime. And if you feel you have to send any of them to, ah, to me, feel free-'
'I will,' she said kindly. 'By the way, a light blew out while I was trying to calm her down. It added the final touch.'
'I'll send a janitor right down,' he promised. 'And thanks for doing your best, Miss Desjardin. Will you have Miss Fish send in Billy and Henry?'
'Certainly.' She left.
He leaned back and let the whole business slide out of his mind. When Billy deLois and Henry Trennant, classcutters extraordinaire, slunk in, he glared at them happily and prepared to talk tough.
As he often told Hank Grayle, he ate class-cutters for lunch.
Graffiti scratched on a desk in Chamberlain Junior High School:
Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, but Carrie While eats shit.
She walked down Ewin Avenue and crosssed over to Carlin at the stoplight on the corner. Her head was down and she was trying to think of nothing. Cramps came and went in great, gripping waves, making her slow down and speed up like a car with carburettor trouble. She stared at the sidewalk. Quartz glittering in the cement. Hop-scotch grids scratched in ghostly, rain-faded chalk. Wads of gum stamped flat. Pieces of tinfoil and penny-candy wrappers. They all hate and they never stop. They never get tired of it. A penny lodged in a crack. She kicked it. Imagine Chris Hargensen all bloody and screaming for mercy. With rats crawling all over her face. Good. Good. That would be good. A dog turd with a foot-track in the middle of it. A roll of blackened caps that some kid had banged with a stone. Cigarette butts. Crash in her head with a rock, with a boulder. Crash in all their hearts. Good. Good.
(saviour Jesus meek and mild)
That was good for Momma, all right for her. She didn't have to go among the wolves every day of every year, out into a carnival of laughers, joke-tellers, pointers, snickerers. And didn't Momma say there would be a Day of Judgment.
(the name of that star shall be wormwood and they shall be scourged with scorpions)
and an angel with a sword?
If only it would be today and Jesus coming not with a lamb and a shepherd's crook, but with a boulder on each hand to crush the laughters and the snickerers, to root out the evil and destroy it screaming - a terrible Jesus of blood and righteousness.
And if only she could be His sword and His arm.
She had tried to fit. She had defied Momma in a hundred little ways, had tried to erase the red-plague circle that had been drawn around her from the first day she had left the controlled environment of the small house on Carlin Street and had walked up to the Baker Street Grammar School with her Bible under her arm. She could still remember that day, the stares, and the sudden, awful silence when she had gotten down on her knees before lunch in the school cafeteria-the laughter had begun on that day and had echoed up through the years.
The red-plague circle was like blood itself-you could scrub and scrub and scrub and still it would be there, not erased, not clean. She had never gotten on her knees in a public place again, although she had not told Momma that. Still, the original memory remained, with her and with them. She had fought Momma tooth and nail over the Christian Church Camp, and had earned the money to go herself by taking in sewing. Momma told her darkly that it was Sin, that it was Methodists and Baptists and Congregationalists and that it was Sin and Backsliding. She forbade Carrie to swim at the camp. Yet although she had swum and had laughed when they ducked her (until she couldn't get her breath any more and they kept doing it and she got panicky and began to scream) and had tried to take part in the camp's activities, a thousand practical jokes had been played on ol' prayin' Carrie and she had come home on the bus a week early, her eyes red and socketed from weeping, to be picked up by Momma at the station, and Momma had told her grimly that she should treasure the memory of her scourging as proof that Momma knew, that Momma was right, that the only hope of safety and salvation was inside the red circle. 'For straight is the gate,' Momma said grimly in the taxi, and at home she had sent Carrie to the closet for six hours.
Momma had, of course, forbade her to shower with the other girls; Carrie had hidden her shower things in her school locker and had showered anyway, taking part in a naked ritual that was shameful and embarrassing to her in hopes that the circle around her might fade a little, just a little-
(but today o today)
Tommy Erbter, age five, was biking up the other side of the street. He was a small, intense-looking boy on a twenty-inch Schwinn with bright-red training wheels. He was humming 'Scoobie Doo, where are you?' under his breath. He saw Carrie, brightened, and stuck out his tongue.
'Hey, ol' fart-face! Ol' prayin' Carrie!'
Carrie glared at him with sudden smoking rage. The bike wobbled on its training wheels and suddenly fell over. Tommy screamed. The bike was on top of him. Carrie smiled and walked on. The sound of Tommy's wails was sweet, jangling music in her ears.
If only she could make something like that happen whenever she liked.
She stopped dead seven houses up from her own, staring blankly at nothing. Behind her, Tommy was climbing tearfully back on to his bike, nursing a scraped knee. He yelled something at her, but she ignored it. She had been yelled at by experts.
She had been thinking:
(fall off that bike kid push you off that bike and split your rotten head)
And something had happened
Her mind had ... had ... she groped for a word. Had flexed. That was not just right, but it was very close. There had been a curious mental bending, almost like an elbow curling a dumbbell. That wasn't exactly right either, but it was all she could think of. An elbow with no strength. A weak baby muscle.
She suddenly stared fiercely at Mrs Yorraty's big picture window. She thought:
(stupid frumpty old bitch break that window)
Nothing. Mrs Yorraty's picture window glittered serenely in the fresh nine o'clock glow of morning. Another cramp gripped Carrie's belly and she walked on.
The light. And the ashtray; don't forget the ashtray.
She looked back
(old bitch hates my momma)
over her shoulder. Again it seemed that something flexed ... but very weakly. The flow of her thoughts shuddered as if there had been a sudden bubbling from a wellspring deeper inside.
The picture window seemed to ripple. Nothing more. It could have been her eyes. Could have been.
Her head began to feel tired and fuzzy, and it throbbed with the beginning of a headache. Her eyes were hot, as if she had just sat down and read the Book of Revelations straight through.
She continued to walk down the street toward the small white house with the blue shutters. The familiar hate-love-dread feeling was churning inside her. Ivy had crawled up the west side of the bungalow (they always called it the bungalow because the White house sounded like a political joke and Momma said all politicians were crooks and sinners and would eventually give the country over to the Godless Reds who would put all the believers of Jesus - even the Catholics - up against the wall), and the ivy was picturesque, she knew it was, but sometimes she hated it. Sometimes, like now, the ivy looked like a grotesque giant hand ridged with great veins which had sprung up out of the ground to grip the building. She approached it with dragging feet.
Of course, there had been the stones.
She stopped again, blinking vapidly at the day. The stones. Momma never talked about that; Carrie didn't even know if her momma still remembered the day of the stones. It was surprising that she herself still remembered it. She had been a very little girl then. How old? Three? Four? There had been the girl in the white bathing suit, and then the stones came. And things had flown in the house. Here the memory was, suddenly bright and clear. As if it had been here all along, just below the surface, waiting for a kind of mental puberty.
Waiting, maybe, for today.
From Carrie: The Black Dawn of T.K. (Esquire Magazine, September 12, 1980) by Jack Gaver:
Estelle Horan had lived in the neat San Diego suburb of Parrish for twelve years, and outwardly she is typical Mrs California: She wears bright print shifts and smoked amber sunglasses; her hair is black-streaked blonde; she drives a neat maroon Volkswagen Formula Vee with a smile decal on the petrol cap and a green-flag ecology sticker on the back window. Her husband is an executive at the Parrish branch of the Bank of America; her son and daughter are certified members of the Southern California Sun 'n Fun Crowd, burnished-brown beach creatures. There is a hibachi in the small, beautifully kept back yard, and the door chimes play a tinkly phrase from the refrain of 'Hey, Jude.'
But Mrs Horan still carries the thin, difficult soil of New England somewhere inside her, and when she talks of Carrie White her face takes on an odd, pinched look that is more like Lovecraft out of Arkham than Kerouac out of Southern Cat.
'Of course she was strange,' Estelle Horan tells me. lighting a second Virginia Slim a moment after stubbing out her first. 'The whole family was strange. Ralph was a construction worker, and people on the street said he carried a Bible and a .38 revolver to work with him every day. The Bible was for his coffee break and lunch. The .38 was in case he met Antichrist on the job, I can remember the Bible myself. The revolver ... who knows? He was a big olive-skinned man with his hair always shaved into a flattop crewcut. He always looked mean. And you didn't meet his eyes, not ever. They were so intense they actually seemed to glow. When you saw him coming you crossed the street and you never stuck out your tongue at his back, not ever. That's how spooky he was.'
She pauses, puffing clouds of cigarette smoke toward the pseudo-redwood beams that cross the ceiling. Stella Horan lived on Carlin Street until she was twenty, commuting to day classes at Lewin Business College in Motton. But she remembers the incidents of the stones very clearly.
'There are times,' she says, 'when I wonder if I might have caused it. Their back yard was next to ours, and Mrs White had put in a hedge but it hadn't grown out yet. She'd called my mother dozens of times about "the show" I was putting on in my back yard. Well, my bathing suit was perfectly decent - prudish by today's standards - nothing but a plain old one-piece Jantzen. Mrs White used to go on and on about what a scandal it was for "her baby." My mother..-. well, she tries to be polite, but her temper is so quick. I don't know what Margaret White did to finally push her over the edge - called me the Whore of Babylon, I suppose - but my mother told her our yard was our yard and I'd go out and dance the hootchie-kootchie buck naked if that was her pleasure and mine. She also told her that she was a dirty old woman with a can of worms for a mind. There was a lot more shouting, but that was the upshot of it.
'I wanted to stop sunbathing right then. I hate trouble. It upsets my stomach. But Mom-when she gets a case, she's a terror. She came home from Jordan Marsh with a little white bikini. Told me I might as well get all the sun I could. "After all," she said, "the privacy of our own back yard and all."
Stella Horan smiles a little at the memory and crushes out her cigarette.
'I tried to argue with her, tell her I didn't want any more trouble, didn't want to be a pawn in their back-fence war. Didn't do a bit of good. Trying to stop my mum when she' gets a bee in her hat is like trying to stop a Mack truck going downhill with no brakes. Actually, there was more to it. I was scared of the Whites. Real religious nuts are nothing to fool with. Sure, Ralph White was dead, but what if Margaret still had that .38 around?
'But there I was on Saturday afternoon, spread out ' on a blanket in the back yard, covered with suntan lotion and listening to Top Forty on the radio. Mom hated that stuff and usually she'd yell out at least twice for me to turn it down before she went nuts. But that day she turned it up twice herself. I started to feel like the Whore of Babylon myself
'But nobody came out of the Whites' place. Not even the old lady to hang her wash. That's something else - she never hung any undies on the back line. Not even Carrie's, and she was only three back then. Always in the house.
'I started to relax. I guess I was thinking Margaret must have taken Carrie to the park to worship God in the raw or something. Anyway, after a little while I rolled on my back, put one arm over my eyes, and dozed off.
'When I woke up, Carrie was standing next to me and looking down at my body.'
She breaks off, frowning into space. Outside, the cars are whizzzing by endlessly. I can hear the steady little whine my tape recorder makes. But it all seems a little too brittle, too glossy, just a cheap patina over a darker world - a real world where nightmares happen.
'She was such a pretty girl,' Stella Horan resumes, fighting another cigarette. 'I've seen some high school pictures of her, and that horrible fuzzy black-and-white photo on the cover of Newsweek. I look at them and all I can think is, Dear God, where did she go? What did that woman do to her? Then I feel sick and sorry. She was so pretty, with pink cheeks and bright brown eyes, and her hair the shade of blonde you know will darken and get mousy. Sweet is the only word that fits. Sweet and bright and innocent. Her mother's sickness hadn't touched her very deeply, not then.
'I kind of started up awake and tried to smile. It was hard to think what to do. I was logy from the sun and my mind felt sticky and slow. I said "Hi." She was wearing a little yellow dress, sort of cute but awfully long for a little girl in the summer. It came down to her shins.
'She didn't smile back. She just pointed and said, "What are those?"
'I looked down and saw that my top had slipped while I was asleep. So I fixed it and said, "Those are my breasts, Carrie,"
'Then she said-very solemnly: "I wish I had some."
'I said: "You have to wait, Carrie. You won't start to get them for another ... oh. eight or nine years."