"What fresh dainties from the slaughterhouse?," Babe asks brightly. Her fine-boned face is flushed: Constance can tell she has hurried; Constance, suddenly self-revealing, doesn't approve. "And how are you tonight, Dorothy?," Babe asks their hulking companion, who scowls in reply. Babe always calls all the girls by their proper names: this is one of the things they find irritating about Babe. "Any word yet from the Philippines? I pray that your demented economy with language will not prevent you from satisfying my curiosity upon this point." Constance registers that Babe is seeking her approval with smiling sidelong glances but she misses Babe's studied indifference to her own effects and cannot warm her own smile in return--she is staring, bemused, as if Babe were a harmless apparition. When the junkie headmistress (she recalls) was hospitalized for overdose at the time of the last accreditation visit, Babe was inarticulate with worried grief; now Constance feels the searing spasm of resentment she didn't allow herself at the time. Tonight, she wills, there must be more.

Babe chatters on, ignoring Dottie's attempts to ignore her. "The chair of the English department where I'm working now reminds me of you, Dorothy--such a big old dyke. She thinks I'm in graduate school. I tell her I keep changing my major. Once I told her I was majoring in film. She said, 'Film?' I said, 'Yes, of sweat.' So today of course she finally asked me out, she was terribly nervous about it. I just said, 'Excuse me dear, you seem to have misplaced your mind somewhere and I'm sorry, but this is not the Lost and Found.' She was devastated, of course."

"Bitch," Dottie blurts out.

Babe snaps back cheerfully. "Your insightful criticism is always so intolerably painful to me, Dorothy, that I sometimes wonder what keeps me hanging on your every word. I suspect I'm slightly in love with you."

"Babe," Constance says, intervening, "you shouldn't let those Brazilian girls bother you so much." Babe casts a startled look in her direction and she continues. "You obviously hurried up the stairs just now, trying to avoid them. Don't you realize they're only playing with you? Everybody knows it--it's all over the school that you think you've become the focus of some kind of cult--this provokes them, Babe. They're performance artists, they love noise and mockery. The fourth floor of Damnation has always had a carnival atmosphere, you know that. Really, you must try to get over yourself a little and stop behaving like the idiot queen those girls take you for." This speech has drained the color from Babe's face and left her eyes blue-black with bewilderment; she looks--bereft. Constance is not the least bit sorry. "Now go get ready for dinner," she urges in a sweeter, even more remorseless tone. "Put on your dress." Babe, her gaze fixed on the floor, leaves the kitchen in two quick strides.

back / next