Unlike Others, page 1
By Valerie Taylor
First published in 1963.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce and redistribute this ebook or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. No part of this ebook may be copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the expressed written permission of the publisher.
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Visit us on the World Wide Web: www.vintage-pulp-ebooks.com ISBN: 978-1-936456-35-2
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
There’s no point in owning a double bed if you have to sleep alone. Thinking about the fifty dollars she'd paid out for this good-looking piece of junk, useless since Karen had gone off to get married and lead the square suburban life, only made Jo Bates feel worse about waking up alone in it. The fifty was irrevocably gone. And so was Karen.
Jo's reflection looked back at her from the dressing-table mirror, a neatly built girl a little above average height, in striped pajamas; short brown hair tousled around an alert, intelligent face. A useful body too, seldom sick or tired, capable of giving and receiving a great deal of pleasure. It was too bad nobody seemed to want the kind of pleasure she could give.
She rolled out and started making the bed, frowning as she leaned across to smooth the covers. New double-size sheets and blankets too, naturally; add that to the initial cost. Karen had paid for the bedspread, her only contribution to the household economy during the four months of her stay. The only trace of Karen left in the apartment, unless you counted the heavy early-morning feeling of loss that lurked somewhere between Jo's windpipe and diaphragm.
She showered, decided there wasn't time to make coffee, and got into her bra and panty-girdle, nylons, low-heeled pumps and favorite pleated blouse. Sunday's bermudas lay on the bathroom floor. She hung them in the closet and took her gray suit off the hanger. The girl in the gray flannel suit, she thought, applying bright lipstick and running a comb through her short hair. She picked up her handbag and gloves, got to the door, then went back for silver earrings and a lapel pin. Now she looked like a thousand other girls heading for buses and subway trains, putting their personal lives aside until next weekend, starting another five-day block of office work. Nobody would look beyond the career girl's uniform and see the real Jo.
We all look alike, she thought, climbing on the bus. If there's a difference, it's not the one straight people make such a fuss about. (Her stomach tightened at the thought of discovery; her chief dread since she was sixteen.) The only real difference is that I want more out of life. Yes, and the way things are going I'm likely to end up with a damn sight less.
She stood holding a strap, pressed against the broad beam of a man who smelled of perspiration. A car of my own, she thought. She and Karen had talked about buying a car. By staying home nights and doing their own cooking, they could have managed it. She remembered lying in bed beside Karen and arguing about the advantages of American and foreign-made compacts, putting off in mixed dread and hope the moment when she would touch Karen and wait for a response that might or might not be forthcoming.
And all the time Karen had been seeing David Breen. All her little hints about moving out and starting her therapy again hadn't been anything but a smoke-screen. The little cheat.
It would be easier if I could hate her, Jo thought, shutting her eyes as the bus swayed past Grant Park where the beds of cannas stood red and yellow, past the Conrad Hilton with sunlight glancing off the east facade, down Van Buren past the big Sears-Roebuck store. This was the daytime world—State Street slipping past, separating her from the apartment and everything unconnected with her job. She was glad now that Karen had worked in their own neighborhood. There were no invisible footprints of Karen's on these sidewalks to remind her of what she had lost.
The bus turned east again, got back on Michigan Avenue. She liked working on North Michigan. The buildings were new and streamlined, the sidewalks wide, the shops exclusive and uncluttered. From her office window she could look down sixteen stories over the gray-green river and northward past the Tribune Building and the Wrigley Building.
She rode up to sixteen with nothing on her mind except the November issue of the magazine. Even the sight of the publication's name, Produx Topix, in gold letters on the door no longer made her squirm. I'll get it changed yet, she thought.
She hadn't known anything about magazine editing when she answered the ad in the Tribune. A certain dexterity with words and a tremendous willingness to work were all she had; Stan had hired her on the strength of these. Or so he told her. After two years she suspected there had been other things in her favor, like being a girl. Stan looked at a female's figure first and her references second. He should only know, she thought wryly.
It hadn't done him any good or her any harm. They worked together like parts of a machine, Jo doing most of the work and Stan getting most of the credit, to put out the throw-away that was read by more than two thousand Plastix Produx workers. Maybe it was small time, as Stan pointed out when he had more than one martini at lunch, but it was fun, and a fairly honest way to make a living.
Some day, when she knew more about magazine production, she would go to New York and get a job with one of the big publications. Listening to Stan's troubles was a small enough return for all he had taught her.
She passed the tiny reception room where Gayle sat, breathing on her diamond and polishing it on her skirt whenever the phone wasn't ringing; the smaller office where the assistant worked—they were always losing assistants; as soon as a girl learned to read proof she either got married or got a better job and left without notice. Stan wasn't in yet. She passed his door and entered her own room at the end of the hall. Here she spent seven and a half hours a day writing about other people's engagements and weddings, funerals and new babies, surprise birthday parties and vacation trips. Her daytime world.
Gayle peeked in. "Jo, Betsy Considine is here. She's applying for Nancy's job."
Jo nodded. "Send her in."
The Considine girl was small, blonde, and calm. Good, Jo thought—Nancy had been given to tantrums.
She said, "Mister Haxton will be in any minute. Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"Run down and get three coffees, Gayle. I’ll take the phone."
Big deal, having somebody you can boss around. Do this, do that. She said, "The turnover on assistants is pretty high here. They keep getting married."
"I won't be."
"Are you married?"
Betsy Considine considered this. "I'm divorced. Any objections?"
That takes care of that, Jo thought. Not that she had hoped—still, you never knew. She said neutrally, "This is a business office, more or less. Your personal life doesn't enter into it."
She liked the girl's looks. Perhaps because she looked a little like Karen. Not a real resemblance, but they were the same general type: fair, with a wide forehead, heart-shaped face and gentle blue eyes. Betsy Considine returned her look steadily. Jo grinned, wondering if she threw things when she was angry, like Karen. You couldn't tell with these little hausfrau types.
"How old are you?"
Karen was twenty-four.
Gayle pushed the door open with her knee and walked in, balancing a sta
They left. She sat looking around her office.
This small room with its one window overlooking Michigan Avenue was the center of her working life. The desk and chair, typewriter and file cabinet belonged to Plastix, but she'd bought the thin gold-colored curtain and half a dozen of her own books lay on the file, handy for lunch-time reading. The Roget, dictionary, Literary Market Place and Writers Market were her own, and she had never returned the New York Times Style Book, which belonged to Stan. The metal pica stick and long-bladed scissors were hers too. Stan needled her about it. He said it was evident she'd turned into an editor and this was the most dismal thing that could happen to a nice girl. "You’ll end up marrying a printing press."
"That's all right with me."
"It's a waste of womanpower."
Goaded, she might answer, "How about you? I don't hear any wedding bells ringing for you."
"I've got my mother to think about."
And I have problems of my own, Jo wanted to say. But she knew better. You couldn't tell the truth to straight people, ever; the best you could hope for was tolerance without understanding. They saw the different ones as emotionally retarded or, worse, guilty of some nameless sin against society'.
You can't escape it, Jo mused, taking her first sip of the cooling coffee. Still vivid in her own mind were the twelve years of her misery: guilt, worry, daydreaming, trying to find out from books what no one would tell her. It was no wonder Karen's crazy middle-of-the-night attempts to respond to her lovemaking had been followed by the broad-daylight blues. She herself hadn't settled all the moral and religious angles; it was more that she'd quit struggling.
To hell with it. Jo opened a folder of news items and began to leaf through them, selecting a few from each factory department for the next issue. She continued to sip her coffee, not because it was good but because it was paid for.
The door of the outer office slammed. That would be Stan, underlining his masculinity. He came back to her door, already pulling off his suit-coat. Bypassing his own office to talk to her, not because she counted as a person but because she could be relied on to sympathize with him. A mother surrogate. With that bitch he had at home to sour him on all motherhood? Sure, she thought, he needed the old harridan, fake heart attacks and all; otherwise he'd get out. Can't tell him that, though.
"Hi, Jo. Did you see the new babe?"
Jo said neutrally, "I talked to her."
"What did you think?"
But of course. Stan was the boss. He expected her to make the decision and then convince him it was his own. She said, "I haven't found out if she knows anything, but she seems to have good sense."
"Think we can do better?"
"For what we're paying?"
"Yeah, I know."
She put down the manila folder, gave him her whole attention. A tall lanky man with a crest of red hair and an outsize adam's apple, he was in no way handsome, and nobody knew better than she did (unless it was God, or his bitch of a mother) how insecure he was. But she was sorry for him.
He waited, leaning against the door-jamb. She said, "Have a good weekend? How was the stag?"
"I didn't go." She waited. After a moment's uncomfortable silence he said, "She had an attack after supper, Saturday night. It wasn't a bad one, but I didn't want to leave her."
Between them hung the shared knowledge of what he could and couldn't do. He could go to church, unless the weather was bad; the old lady was at her worst on rainy days. He could get to his Great Books group on alternate Thursdays, and his disappointment when he missed a session was pitiable. But a bachelor party suggested drinking, off-color stories and, worst of all, sex. That took care of that.
The pause was lasting too long. She said, "Maybe she’ll feel better when the weather settles. I'm going to make up the weddings while you talk to Missus Considine."
He grinned. "Guess I’ll hire her. Then well have three good-looking girls in the place."
He went out. She looked after him with a mixture of affection and annoyance. If he had any guts he'd throw that complaining old bag into a rest home. Wouldn't cost any more than keeping that big old house where she lived and ailed, surrounded by out-of-date furniture, keeping a stranglehold on her only child. Find himself a warm and willing girl who'd give him some affection and not ask for the moon in return.
It had reached a point where she, Jo, looked hopefully at all the girls Stan met, the girls in the Plastix plant who handed him their news notes every week and the stenos from the building pool who took dictation when they were between assistants. Pimping for the boss, she told herself. But that didn't keep her from wishing he could find somebody.
She turned back to her desk, determined to think only about her work. But the unease that had haunted her all morning was too strong. I need to talk to somebody, she thought. She laid down the folder and reached for the telephone.
Richard Kauffman was waiting at the front entrance of the building when she came out at five-o'clock. She gave him a warm smile and raised her cheek for his kiss, aware that Gayle was directly behind her and couldn't help seeing. "Rich, you've saved my life. I was afraid you'd be out with a client."
"On Monday? Business should be so good." He took her by the elbow, beaming at Gayle as she emerged from the revolving door, enjoying this little comedy as much as Jo did. "I'm meeting Michael at eight," he said, "that gives us three hours. What's on your mind?"
"Oh, you know, I had a miserable weekend and I wanted to see you."
"I'm very happy you wanted to see me," Richard said seriously. He was a big man, tall, barrel-chested, with blunt features. A regular Babbitt, Jo thought, marveling as she often did at the way people hid behind their outward appearance. She said, "Rich, if I were on my death bed you're the one I'd want to hold my hand."
"You're good for another sixty years yet, darling. Except we all die a little at a time."
"Where do you want to go?"
"Oh, I don't know. Some place where we can talk."
"Life among the straight people getting you down?"
She gave him a weak smile. "You know how it is."
"I sure do," Kauffman said with feeling. "I go out to lunch with the guys from my office, and all they talk about is the girls they were out with last weekend, or how their wives behave in the sack. I feel like a foreigner.
"Well, you can't expect them to ask how you're getting along with Michael. How are you getting along with Michael, by the way?"
“Fine. Heaven forbid any of the shnooks I work with should ever ask that question. It's getting harder all the time to get unemployment compensation in this town."
Jo stood still, looking at him. He smiled. "Michael gets nicer every day. Also every night. I hate to think about its ever ending."
"Maybe it won't."
"That's a female idea. You girls really believe in faithfulness, don't you?"
Jo said carefully, "I don't think it's very probable, but I'd like to hope it's possible. Even if I'm leading a dull life right now."
"Look, let's take a taxi and go to the Silver Spike. It's nice and quiet there, and the liquor's good. Also, we can get something to eat if you're hungry."
"I'm always hungry," Jo admitted, "but I thought the Silver Spike was strictly stag. Are you trying to embarrass me?"
"No, we went one night a couple weeks ago, and it's about half and half now. Very nice. If you didn't know, you wouldn't even guess anyone was cruising."
"You know I'm not much for night life. Besides, they change so fast I can't keep up. They ought to advertise."
Rich chuckled. "I'd like to see it. A little notice in the newspaper, in the Classified. Gay bar, dancing, good cuisine. Girls, come and meet the Sweetheart of Sigm
A cab pulled up at the curb and he helped her in. She said, in a whisper that the driver couldn't hear, "It's easier for you. There's always the art museums."
"Also the men's rooms at the Parisienne."
"I'm afraid to go to the Parisienne. I went once with a couple of girls from the office, to see a foreign film. You never saw such weird types.''
"That's in the auditorium. I think all the hopheads on the Near North Side go there to sleep it off after they've had a fix. No, I'm just talking about the men's room. You wouldn't know what goes on down there."
"Well, hardly." She grinned at him.
The Silver Spike was down four steps, in what Chicago called an English basement. More basement than English, Jo decided, unless they were thinking about Charles Dickens and his ragged little boys. She got out of the cab three doors away and waited, clutching her purse, stirred in spite of herself by the familiar anticipation that always rose in her at the threshold of a gay bar or a party. Maybe there'll be something here for me. Maybe this time I’ll meet somebody or learn something, and it will make all the difference.
Rich paid the driver and joined her. We make a nice-looking couple, she thought, seeing their reflection in a store window. I bet everyone thinks we're married. Rich looks exactly like the kind of husband who spends Saturday putting up storm windows.
"Sometimes I understand why foreigners gang together so," he said. "This is like finding somebody who speaks my own language."
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