The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West


Tod didn’t go directly to dinner. He went first to Hodge’s saddlery store thinking he might be able to find out something about Earle and through him about Faye. Calvin was standing there with a wrinkled Indian who had long hair held by a bead strap around his forehead. Hanging over the Indian’s chest was a sandwich board that read —

TUTTLE’S TRADING POST for GENUINE RELICS OF THE OLD WEST Beads, Silver, Jewelry, Moccasins, Dolls, Toys, Rare Books, Postcards. TAKE BACK A SOUVENIR from TUTTLE’S TRADING POST

Calvin was always friendly.

“‘Lo, Char,” he called out, when Tod came up.

“Meet the chief,” he added, grinning. “Chief Kiss–My-Towkus.”

The Indian laughed heartily at the joke.

“You gotta live,” he said.

“Earle been around today?” Tod asked.

“Yop. Went by an hour ago.”

“We were at a party last night and I . . . ”

Calvin broke in by hitting his thigh a wallop with the flat of his palm.

“That must’ve been some shindig to hear Earle tell it. Eh, Skookum?”

“Vas you dere, Sharley?” the Indian agreed, showing the black inside of his mouth, purple tongue and broken orange teeth.

“I heard there was a fight after I left.”

Calvin smacked his thigh again.

“Sure musta been. Earle get himself two black eyes,

“That’s what comes of palling up with a dirty greaser,” said the Indian excitedly.

He and Calvin got into a long argument about Mexicans. The Indian said that they were all bad. Calvin claimed he had known quite a few good ones in his time. When the Indian cited the case of the Hermanos brothers who had killed a lonely prospector for half a dollar, Calvin countered with a long tale about a man called Tomas Lopez who shared his last pint of water with a stranger when they both were lost in the desert.

Tod tried to get the conversation back to what interested him.

“Mexicans are very good with women,” he said.

“Better with horses,” said the Indian. “I remember one time along the Brazos, I . . . ”

Tod tried again.

“They fought over Earle’s girl, didn’t they?”

“Not to hear him tell it,” Calvin said. “He claims it was dough — claims the Mex robbed him while he was sleeping.”

“The dirty, thievin’ rat,” said the Indian, spitting.

“He claims he’s all washed up with that bitch,” Calvin went on.

“Yes, siree, that’s his story, to hear him tell it” Tod had enough.

“So long,” he said.

“Glad to meet you,” said the Indian.

“Don’t take any wooden nickels,” Calvin shouted after him.

Tod wondered if she had gone with Miguel. He thought it more likely that she would go back to work for Mrs. Jenning. But either way she would come out all right. Nothing could hurt her. She was like a cork. No matter how rough the sea got, she would go dancing over the same waves that sank iron ships and tore away piers of reinforced concrete. He pictured her riding a tremendous sea. Wave after wave reared its ton on ton of solid water and crashed down only to have her spin gaily away.

When he arrived at Musso Frank’s restaurant, he ordered a steak and a double Scotch. The drink came first and he sipped it with his inner eye still on the spinning cork.

It was a very pretty cork, gilt with a glittering fragment of mirror set in its top. The sea in which it danced was beautiful, green in the trough of the waves and silver at their tips. But for all their moon-driven power, they could do no more than net the bright cork for a moment in a spume of intricate lace. Finally it was set down on a strange shore where a savage with pork-sausage fingers and a pimpled butt picked it up and hugged it to his sagging belly. Tod recognized the fortunate man; he was one of Mrs. Kenning’s customers.

The waiter brought his order and paused with bent back for him to comment. In vain. Tod was far too busy to inspect the steak.

“Satisfactory, sir?” asked the waiter.

Tod waved him away with a gesture more often used on flies. The waiter disappeared. Tod tried the same gesture on what he felt, but the driving itch refused to go. If only he had the courage to wait for her some night and hit her with a bottle and rape her.

He knew what it would be like lurking in the dark in a vacant lot, waiting for her. Whatever that bird was that sang at night in California would be bursting its heart in theatrical runs and quavers and the chill night air would smell of spice pink. She would drive up, turn the motor off, look up at the stars, so that her breasts reared, then toss her head and sigh. She would throw the ignition keys into her purse and snap it shut, then get out of the car. The long step she took would make her tight dress pull up so that an inch of glowing flesh would show above her black stocking. As he approached carefully, she would be pulling her dress down, smoothing it nicely over her hips.

“Faye, Faye, just a minute,” he would call.

“Why, Tod, hello.”

She would hold her hand out to him at the end of her long arm that swooped so gracefully to join her curving shoulder.

“You scared me!”

She would look like a deer on the edge of the road when a truck comes unexpectedly around a bend.

He could feel the cold bottle he held behind his back and the forward step he would take to bring . . . “Is there anything wrong with it, sir?”

The fly-like waiter had come back. Tod waved at him, but this time the man continued to hover.

“Perhaps you would like me to take it back, sir?”

“No, no.”

“Thank you, sir.”

But he didn’t leave. He waited to make sure that the customer was really going to eat. Tod picked up his knife and cut a piece. Not until he had also put some boiled potato in his mouth did the man leave.

Tod tried to start the rape going again, but he couldn’t feel the bottle as he raised it to strike. He had to give it up. The waiter came back. Tod looked at the steak. It was a very good one, but he wasn’t hungry any more.

“A check, please.”

“No dessert, sir?”

“No, thank you, just a check.”

“Check it is, sir,” the man said brightly as he fumbled for his pad and pencil.

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