The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West


When Tod went back into the house, he found Earle, Abe Kusich and Claude standing together in a tight group, watching Faye dance with Miguel. She and the Mexican were doing a slow tango to music from the phonograph. He held her very tight, one of his legs thrust between hers, and they swayed together in long spirals that broke rhythmically at the top of each curve into a dip. All the buttons on her lounging pajamas were open and the arm he had around her waist was inside her clothes.

Tod stood watching the dancers from the doorway for a moment, then went to a little table on which the whiskey bottle was. He poured himself a quarter of a tumblerful, tossed it off, then poured another drink. Carrying the glass, he went over to Claude and the others. They paid no attention to him; their heads moved only to follow the dancers, like the gallery at a tennis match.

“Did you see Homer?” Tod asked, touching Claude’s arm. Claude didn’t turn, but the dwarf did. He spoke as though hypnotized.

“What a quiff! What a quiff!”

Tod left them and went to look for Homer. He wasn’t in the kitchen, so he tried the bedrooms. One of them was locked. He knocked lightly, waited, then repeated the knock. There was no answer, but he thought he heard someone move. He looked through the keyhole. The room was pitch dark.

“Homer,” he called softly.

He heard the bed creak, then Homer replied.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me — Toddie.”

He used the diminutive with perfect seriousness. “Go away, please,” Homer said.

“Let me in for a minute. I want to explain something.”

“No,” Homer said, “go away, please.”

Tod went back to the living room. The phonograph record had been changed to a fox-trot and Earle was now dancing with Faye. He had both his arms around her in a bear hug and they were stumbling all over the room, bumping into the walls and furniture. Faye, her head thrown back, was laughing wildly. Earle had both eyes shut tight.

Miguel and Claude were also laughing, but not the dwarf. He stood with his fists clenched and his chin stuck out. When he couldn’t stand any more of it, he ran after the dancers to cut in. He caught Earle by the seat of his trousers.

“Le’me dance,” he barked.

Earle turned his head, looking down at the dwarf from over his shoulder.

“Git! G’wan, git!”

Faye and Earle had come to a halt with their arms around each other. When the dwarf lowered his head like a goat and tried to push between them, she reached down and tweaked his nose.

“Le’me dance,” he bellowed.

They tried to start again, but Abe wouldn’t let them. He had his hands between them and was trying frantically to pull them apart. When that wouldn’t work, he kicked Earle sharply in the shins. Earle kicked back and his boot landed in the little man’s stomach, knocking him flat on his back. Everyone laughed.

The dwarf struggled to his feet and stood with his head lowered like a tiny ram. Just as Faye and Earle started to dance again, he charged between Earle’s legs and dug upward with both hands. Earle screamed with pain, and tried to get at him. He screamed again, then groaned and started to sink to the floor, tearing Faye’s silk pajamas on his way down.

Miguel grabbed Abe by the throat. The dwarf let go his hold and Earle sank to the floor. Lifting the little man free, Miguel shifted his grip to his ankles and dashed him against the wall, like a man killing a rabbit against a tree. He swung the dwarf back to slam him again, but Tod caught his arm. Then Claude grabbed the dwarf and together they pulled him away from the Mexican.

He was unconscious. They carried him into the kitchen and held him under the cold water. He came to quickly and began to curse. When they saw he was all right, they went back to the living room.

Miguel was helping Earle over to the couch. All the tan had drained from his face and it was covered with sweat. Miguel loosened his trousers while Claude took off his necktie and opened his collar.

Faye and Tod watched from the side.

“Look,” she said, “my new pajamas are ruined.”

One of the sleeves had been pulled almost off and her shoulder stuck through it. The trousers were also torn. While he stared at her, she undid the top of the trousers and stepped out of them. She was wearing tight black lace drawers. Tod took a step toward her and hesitated. She threw the pajama bottoms over her arm, turned slowly and walked toward the door.

“Faye,” Tod gasped.

She stopped and smiled at him.

“I’m going to bed,” she said. “Get that little guy out of here.”

Claude came over and took Tod by the arm.

“Let’s blow,” he said.

Tod nodded.

“We’d better take the homunculus with us or he’s liable to murder the whole household.”

Tod nodded again and followed him into the kitchen. They found the dwarf holding a big piece of ice to the side of his head.

“There’s some lump where that greaser slammed me.” He made them finger and admire it.

“Let’s go home,” Claude said.

“No,” said the dwarf, “let’s go see some girls. I’m just getting started.”

“To hell with that,” snapped Tod. “Come on.”

He pushed the dwarf toward the door.

“Take your hands off, punk!” roared the little man. Claude stepped between them.

“Easy there, citizen,” he said.

“All right, but no shoving.”

He strutted out and they followed.

Earle still lay stretched on the couch. He had his eyes closed and was holding himself below the stomach with both hands. Miguel wasn’t there.

Abe chuckled, wagging his big head gleefully.

“I fixed that buckeroo.”

Out on the sidewalk he tried again to get them to go with him.

“Come on, you guys — we’ll have some fun.”

“I’m going home,” Claude said.

They went with the dwarf to his car and watched him climb in behind the wheel. He had special extensions on the clutch and brake so that he could reach them with his tiny feet.

“Come to town?”

“No, thanks,” Claude said politely.

“Then to hell with you!”

That was his farewell. He let out the brake and the car rolled away.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02