V.I.L.E: Readers of Violent Indefensible Lust and Evil, page 1
A Short Story by Carole Lanham
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without the permission of the publisher. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.
Copyright © 2014 by Carole Lanham
All rights reserved.
Two minutes after Dr Mangrove made the announcement that Hadley Crump was going to die, Lucinda walked in the bedroom, stirring a cup of chamomile with her finger and smiling like it was Christmas. Hadley’s momma lie across his legs, soaking the blanket with her tears, but Lucinda wasn’t one to pay Hadley’s momma much mind. She poked that tea-stirring finger in his mouth as though she meant to feed him the whole cup one lick at a time.
“I brought you something,” she said, and she wasn’t talking about tea. Hadley followed her gaze to the strip of violet paper on the rim of the saucer. He waited until she left to refill the cup before he let himself look at it.
I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck . . .
About the time he got to the hot breath part, Hadley’s fingers let loose, and the words loopty-looped away with all the devilish momentum of a broken promise.
On any other day, Hadley’s momma would have been curious to know what Lucinda Browning had passed to her seventeen year old son.
On any other day, Hadley would have squashed the note in his palm and hid it away like he hid all of Lucinda’s secrets.
Lucinda, however, was always on her toes. Because Hadley was the cook’s son and Lucinda Browning was a Browning, she was careful to return later and search for the note under his bed.
“Did you read it?” she asked.
Hadley gave a nod.
Lucinda balled the note up and pitched it in the fire. With a sigh that seemed to say, Well that’s that then, she leaned down and ran her teeth around the hairpin-curve of his ear. “Tell me this, Hadley; if you had it to do all over again . . . would you do it all over again?”
Hadley, who suffered a sudden and desperate desire to do it all over again, could only answer with a gasping, near-dead, “Yes.”
To remember it was to re-live it:
“Hadley Crump. Hadley Crump,” Lucinda called out through the twisty tunnel of his memories. Easy as that, Hadley was sucked back. “I’d like to write a poem about you, boy, but the only words I can think of to rhyme with Hadley are “badly” and “madly” and those are awfully sordid words to use for a child.”
“How about ‘gladly’?” he brightly suggested. The day Hadley was remembering happened when he was nine years old.
Lucinda Browning had been nine as well, but her mouth was at least twenty.
“Have these washed,” she said, throwing her bloomers in his face. “And I better get them back.”
Hadley stood there with her underwear on his head as she composed the Hadley poem.
There once was a boy named Hadley
Who wanted a girl very badly
She was out of his reach
But he hung on like a leach
Loving her gladly and madly.
Seeing how he was only nine, Hadley thought it just plain nuts that he would ever love any girl other than his momma. Even so, the bloomers made his brain swirl to such a degree, he grew convinced the poem was some sort of witchy incantation. Lucinda’s underwear smelled of Sweetheart soap and sunshine. Hadley got to like them so well, he thought he might never take those sunshiny knickers off his head.
“Worm!” she snorted, yanking them away, but there was something familiar about the bright, fired-up eyes that glared into his own. They were the same eyes Uncle Orv wore right before he gobbled up that plate of fat pullets and choked himself dead at the table.
And, seeing how he was only nine, Hadley promptly forgot about those sweet-smelling bloomers until some weeks later when Lucinda whirled around the toy room while he was building up a fire. Hadley got so transfixed watching her twirl, he singed off half an eyebrow.
One day, while Hadley was eying Lucinda on her swing, the hoe boy, Loomis, nudged him from his daze.
“It’s hopeless, you know,” Loomis informed him.
“Why?” Hadley asked, for he could smell big whiffs of Sweetheart soap with every pump she made, and he was too young, as yet, to believe that anything was hopeless.
“Look at your hands,” Loomis said. “You’d muss her up good if ever you put those grimy things on her.”
“Could be I might wash ‘em,” Hadley said, spitting on his palm to demonstrate his plan.
“Shoot,” Loomis said. “You can’t never get ‘em clean enough for a girl like that. Unless she likes things dirty, you ain’t never gonna do anything bigger than peep at her from behind this hedge.”
What Hadley and Loomis didn’t know back then was that Lucinda liked things dirty.
One day, while dancing the shim-sham, Lucinda broke her leg. After three days in bed, she became so bored she made the announcement that she was going to teach the servant children how to read. “I shall begin with Hadley Crump.”
That afternoon, Hadley was pulled from egg-pickling and stood up half-dressed on a stool in the necessary. His momma scrubbed his face until it was sore, squeezed him into tight shoes, and sent him off to Lucinda’s room, wetting his hair with a licked thumb as he went.
“You be nice to Miss Lucinda,” she whispered.
It was funny that she said that.
“I already learnt how to read,” he told Lucinda, marvelling at the way her hair resembled melted butter dripping down the pillow. A lesser boy would have faked illiteracy but Hadley always bumbled lies and, anyway, it didn’t occur to him to be anything but honest.
By now, he’d been at Browning House long enough to develop a taste for Lucinda’s snide ways. Loomis called her Miss Fancy Pants and snickered about her devil eyes, but Hadley would rather catch a slug from Miss Fancy Pants than a kiss from any other girl. Now she wanted to watch him stutter through some baby primer like an imbecile. If only he could! “My father teached me before he left.”
“Thank heavens,” Lucinda said. “I hate giving lessons.”
“What are we gonna do then?’ he asked, praying she wouldn’t send him away.
“Well,” said Lucinda. “If you promise to stop looking at me like you’re about to pee your britches, I might just let you join my club.”
“Club?” Hadley said with an unhappy shudder, for he didn't know how to play bridge or quilt or dance cotillions and those were the only clubs he could think of.
“It’s a secret club. That means you can’t tell anyone about it. Understand?”
Hadley nodded. He strongly suspected there wasn’t another girl in all Catoosa who could look so buttery while ailing with a busted bone. “Does it have a name?”
“Of course, you silly boy. Readers of Violent Indefensible Lust and Evil.”
“That’s too long to remember.”
“V.I.L.E. for short, you dummy. Anyway, it’s not like we’re going to have stationary. Now go and prize up that floorboard over by the window that has my boot on it.”
Under the floorboard was a small cranny stuffed with two books.
“Finally,” Lucinda said, s
The Curly-Q title said that it was called Anna Karenina.
Lucinda laughed. “Of course, you haven’t. No decent woman would let her son look at such a thing.”
“Why not?” Hadley asked, scratching at the curls his momma had spit down.
“I’ll tell you why. Read this sentence here.”
This was the part Hadley had been most dreading. Licking his lips, he read in a careful way, trying his best to sound schooled.
And as the murderer, with fury, and, as it were, with passion, falls on the body, and drags it, and hacks at it—so he covered her face and shoulders with kisses.
“Filthy, isn’t it?” Lucinda sniggered.
“Yes, you little nimrod. Anna Karenina is a married woman and she isn’t married to the man murdering her with kisses. This is disgraceful stuff, Hadley.”
“Should I put it back?”
“Not on your life. We’re going to read every unsavoury word of it and there’s going to be a test, too.”
“But I already told you, I read just fine.”
Lucinda, perhaps the world’s most accomplished sigher in all the world, sighed expertly and thumped him on the forehead. “Looks like I’ll have to teach you a thing or two after all, Hadley. We’re gonna read until Daddy fetches you back to work, and then I’m going to let you borrow a book. The Age of Innocence. I want you to search through it tonight and find me the naughtiest passage you can come up with. Now hand me Through the Looking Glass over there.”
Lucinda put Anna Karenina inside Through the Looking Glass, fit the little monocle she fancied into place over her right eye, and began to read to Hadley. Mostly it seemed boring, but he enjoyed the way Lucinda said the words like she was telling him a secret.
When it was time to go, she instructed him to hide The Age of Innocence down the front of his trousers until he could put it somewhere safe. As it turned out, Hadley’s momma had no idea the book was evil. When he took it from under the mattress later, she said, “It was nice of Miss Lucinda to let you borrow a book.”
Momma had been grinning like a possum eating a yellow jacket ever since the lessons had come up. Because she’d been the one to teach him, she knew that Hadley could work his way through even the trickiest of Bible passages without getting tongue-tied, but that didn’t matter. “There’s always room for improvement,” she said. Hadley was stricken with a stomach-ache when he saw the way she beamed over Lucinda’s hell-born book, but really, the thing seemed harmless enough. It was midnight before he stumbled on anything lurid.
The next afternoon, he read his passage to Lucinda.
He sat bowed over, his head between his hands, staring at the hearth-rug, and at the tip of the satin shoe that showed under her dress. Suddenly he knelt down and kissed the shoe.
“Hm,” Lucinda said, wrapping her finger with the chain of the tiger tooth necklace her Daddy had brought from India. “Where are the bosoms and the hot caresses?”
“Archer kissed her shoe!” Hadley said. “I would never kiss a lady’s crummy old shoe. He must really like her to do that.”
Lucinda looked at him like he had two heads. Then she smiled. “Hadley Crump, you dirty boy! For a downstairs domestic, you’re really rather brilliant.”
Encouraged by his brilliance, Hadley began staying up late, searching for just the right thing to bring to Book Hour, which is what they called that sweetest of all hours when nothing else mattered in all the world but the bold, enchanting, colorful words flying beneath his pointer finger, transforming him from humble house boy to pirate, soldier, prince! His mother gave him a stack of recipe cards that had been stained when the kitchen ceiling sprung a leak. Hadley filled the cards with lines he copied for Lucinda.
After her leg healed, Hadley and Lucinda were allowed to continue meeting under the pretext of reading lessons. It was not unusual that Hadley would find a slip of violet paper on a dirty plate with something Lucinda had copied for him.
One morning, he fished a note from the puddle of honey Lucinda had left behind with the crusts of her toast. At the time they were reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer but the sticky words he read did not come from the story.
Quick, Hadley! We need a sharp knife.
Hadley was thrilled and went to Book Hour that afternoon with a boning knife slid up his sleeve. The fun came to a stand still when Lucinda took hold of the knife and told him to stick out his finger. “We’re going to make a blood pact, just like Tom and Huck.”
In Hadley’s opinion, it was enough that Huck said cusses like by jingoes and damn. “We don’t need to spill no blood over this, Lucinda.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You trust me. I, on the other hand, have no faith in you at all. Unless you’re willing to make a pact that we’ll keep V.I.L.E. a secret forever, I’m going to have to ask you to quit the club.”
“Them boys used a needle, as I recall.”
Lucinda shook the knife. “Needle-dweedle! We’re not such cowards, are we?”
Hadley looked at his finger. “That knife’s real sharp, Lucinda. I cut up a chicken with it yesterday.”
“We wouldn’t want a dull blade, would we?”
Hadley weighed the benefits of a sharp knife over a dull one. “Okay, but I’ll cut my own self, if you don’t mind.”
She pressed the knife against his skin. “Oh, but I do mind, Hadley. Now quit your squawking and hold still.”
“Why must you be such a Bossy Bessie?” he said. In retrospect, this wasn’t the smartest time for him to be calling her names but Hadley didn’t recognize that until after she cut him.
“Whoops,” Lucinda said. “You’re quite a bleeder, aren’t you, Hadley?”
It was a nasty game, and one that Lucinda was not above taking too far. When they read The Poison Ring, she convinced Hadley to drink wool dye in order to prove his dedication to V.I.L.E. After that, he puked indigo for a day and a half. After that, he quit the club.
“Oh, that’s a pity,” Lucinda said, knotting her index finger with the chain of her tiger tooth. “And, we were just about to start Romeo and Juliet, too.”
“I know how that story ends,” Hadley said. “You can find yourself another fool.”
“It was the kissing part I had in mind to try.” She sighed woefully. “Oh well. I guess Loomis Sackett might be interested, if you’re not.”
“You wouldn’t kiss Loomis Sackett,” Hadley snorted.
“I’d rather kiss you.”
About then, Hadley forgot all about that indigo puke. “You would?”
Lucinda shrugged. “It might be fun.”
“All right, “ Hadley said. “But, no more dye-drinking.”
Lucinda didn’t kiss him, though. She let him lay next to her on the toy room sofa but they both had to pretend like they were dead. Even so, Hadley reckoned that holding his breath and lying on the sofa-turned burial vault beside Lucinda was better than nothing at all.
It occurred to him after a year or two that people must think he was very dumb. Not once did anyone question what a slow-learner Hadley appeared to be. Sometimes, he had the urge to scream out their secret, especially to his momma, who thought it pure impossibility that anyone like Lucinda would ever give a Crump an honest amount of attention. But Hadley knew he could never tell a soul about Lucinda’s club, most of all his momma.
The older they got, the trickier the books for V.I.L.E. became. Lucinda told Hadley his ears turned red whenever he gave her a particularly good recipe card.
“You like that one, don’t you, Hadley?” she would laugh. “I bet you wish I’d say such things to you.”
To Hadley’s way of thinking, she was saying such things to him, and he was pretty sure she knew it, too. She plunked him on the head and poked fun at his bad haircuts and red ears, but she never ask
Not even Dickie Worther-Holms, whose father owned Worther-Holms Homes, the biggest builder of fine homes this side of the Chattahoochee. Dickie Worther-Holms was sixteen and already had a mustache and his own motorcar, and Lucinda had confided that sometimes she let Dickie kiss her. Hadley was very jealous, but he was sure she would let him kiss her, too, if only he could find the right naughty passage.
One day, Spitbone, the pigman, told Hadley about a book so scandalous, his young wife burned it in the dutch when she caught him reading it. Dracula, it was called, and Spitbone said there was only one store in town daring enough to sell it—Pringles Second-Hands. Hadley made up his mind right then to save his pennies.
He was sixteen before he could afford the book and pay Spitbone to buy it for him. “Watch yourself with that, kid,” Spitbone warned when he handed over Dracula wrapped in brown paper. “That book’ll get you into trouble.”
Hadley didn’t tell Spitbone, but trouble was exactly what he hoped to get into when he read the book to Lucinda.
At first, she only glared at it like it was a shoe with dog poop stuck to the heel. They were sitting on the floor in the toy room and Lucinda had been thinking they should read Ulysses for their next selection. Ulysses was not even allowed in the country, she said. Lucinda had stolen it from her daddy’s desk drawer.
“A monster story?” she grumbled. “Does anyone actually fornicate in this book?”
“Worse,” Hadley promised. “People bite each other.”
“What fun is that?” she groaned.
“I’ve got an idea,” Hadley said. “Why don’t you read from Ulysses, and I’ll read from my monster book, then we’ll decide which one is more wicked.”
“All right,” she consented. “But I’m skeptical.”
Lucinda read first, the period-less sentences running into each other in a way that would have been annoying had Lucinda not pantomimed the action for him:
I’d let him see my garters the new ones and make him turn red looking at him seduce him I know what boys feel...