cover of the Picador USA edition

Inflating Serial Cover



Peter Leroy Wearing Headphones

Chapter 10
Testing the Hypothesis, Part 1

SO IT WAS that, a few nights later, I waited for Patti in front of Dudley Beaker’s house on No Bridge Road.  I saw her turn the corner, walking through the circle of streetlamp light.  She had dressed in the style of my mother’s high-school days, with saddle shoes, bobby socks, a flippy skirt, and a sweater over a white blouse.
    “How did you do this?” I asked her when she was beside me, indicating with a sweep of my hand the head-to-toe verisimilitude she had achieved.
    “Research and rummaging,” she said.  “The attics of Babbington are full of relics.”
    She turned and looked at the house.  “So this is the place,” she said.  “Does anybody live here now?”
    “Eliza,” I said.  “Eliza Foote.”
    “Who’s that?”
    “I guess you’d say she was Dudley’s girlfriend,” I said, and in a whisper I added, “I don’t think they ever got married.”
    “This Dudley was quite a guy.”
    “You mean because of Eliza?”
    “Eliza . . . your mother . . . were there others?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “I’ll bet he was filling the idle hours of women all over town.”
    “Do you think so?”
    “I just said it, didn’t I?”
    “Yes,” I said, “you did.”
    “Where’s Eliza now?  The house looks dark.”
    “She’s abroad—”
    “I’ll bet she is.”
    “No. Overseas.  In Europe.  ‘Abroad.’   That’s the way she put it.  She said, ‘I’m going abroad for a few weeks so that I don’t have to endure all this sympathy.’” 
    I took the key from my pocket and started toward the door.
    Patti put her hand on my arm and said, “Uh-uh.  Let’s do this right.  You go in.  Get into the mood.  See if you can find any of Dudley’s clothes to put on.  Get into the part.  I’m going to walk around the block, and then when I come back and knock at the door it’s going to be a winter night about thirteen years ago, and you’re going to be Dudley and I’m going to be—what’s your mother’s name?”
    “I’m going to be Ella.”

I LET MYSELF IN and went directly to Dudley’s bedroom.  I rummaged through his closet and chose a jacket.  I put it on and went downstairs and sat in his chair in front of the fireplace and waited.  Time passed, more time than I had expected to have to wait, and I began to wonder what had happened to Patti.  I went to the front door and looked out through the window beside it.  Patti was at the curb, playing the coquette, flirting with a couple of guys in a car.  I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but from the way Patti leaned against the car and wiggled her bottom as she spoke, I could guess.  I drew a deep breath.  I felt jealous.  I wished that she would send the boys on their way and come into the house to see me.  She looked so adorable in her flippy skirt, with her smooth calves showing above her bobby socks and saddle shoes.  I wished that there might be some reason for her to come to see me rather than going off in that car.  “Come here,” I whispered.  “Please come here.  Make some excuse and come here.”  She hugged herself and made the gesture of an exaggerated shiver, and then she flung her arm backward in my direction, and I had the thought that she might be indicating that she was coming to see me.  I felt pleased and a little surprised.  I had really come to expect her to go off in that car.
    When the car went off without her and she turned and opened the gate and started up the walk, I felt the loneliness begin to lift from me.  I felt thrilled, nervous, eager.  If I had been Dudley Beaker, I would have felt rejuvenated.

I RETURNED TO MY CHAIR, and when Patti rang the bell I got up as if I hadn’t been expecting her, went to the door and opened it.  She was standing there, smiling and hugging a notebook to her breast.
    “Ella!” I said.
    “Hi, Dud.  I wondered if you could help me with my homework.”
    “Well,” I said, packing tobacco into my pipe and trying to hide a tremor of desire, “it has been quite a long time since I did any homework, but of course I’ll help you.  Come in.”
    “Thanks,” she said.
    “What homework do you have to do?” I asked when I had closed the door behind her.
    “I—”  She shrugged and pouted, and there formed in my mind the thrilling thought that it wasn’t homework that had brought her to see me, that she now had to make up some sort of homework to hide the truth.
    “Do you—um—have to—ah—write an essay?” I asked, patting the pockets of my jacket in search of matches.
    “Yep,” she said, rocking on the balls of her feet.  “That’s it.  Gotta write an essay.”
    “Well!” I said.  “An essay.  I think I can help you with that.”
    Impulsively, she reached out and grasped my hands, which held pipe and matches.
 “I knew you could,” she said, and I thought that I could see in her eyes the sort of starry-eyed admiration that young girls so often feel for men of accomplishment.
    “I’m flattered that you came to me,” I said.  “I do know quite a bit about writing essays, what with my having gone to college and all, and also my work in advertising, of course, where I do quite a bit of writing, as you might expect.”
    “Do you have anything to drink?” she asked.
    “To drink?” I asked, taken aback by such a question so abruptly posed by such a slip of a girl.
    “I’m a little nervous,” she said.  I could understand that; I was, of a sudden, feeling a little nervous myself.
    “I have—I have a liquor cabinet.”  I led her to the dining room.  “It’s right there.”  I pointed toward it.
    “Solid, Jackson!” she said when she opened the cabinet and saw the booze.  “Make us a couple of sidecars, okay, Dud?”
    She got girlish and playful.  “I’ve never had one,” she said, “but I know they’re really popular now.  I read that they were the most popular drink of 1944.”
    “Do you know how to make one?” I asked.
    “Of course not!” she said, giggling as if she ought to be shocked by the suggestion.  “They don’t teach us that at Babbington High!”
    “Heh-heh-heh,” I chuckled urbanely.  “Of course they don’t, you sweet young thing.  I was just wondering how much experience you’ve had with—sidecars—and that sort of thing.”
    “Oh, not much.  There’s always a boy with a flask at parties or dances—you know.”  She winked in a way that I thought suggested more experience with these boys and their flasks than I might have wished her to have had.
    “Ah!  I see.  Yes, I suppose so.  A sidecar.  Hm.  You know, I make my own version of a sidecar.  Will that be all right?”
    “Oh, sure.”
    I made some sort of drink, and she helped, after a fashion, a delightful fashion, stretching to reach glasses on a high shelf, squatting to look into a low cabinet for a shot glass and such, and in the stretching and squatting she found many occasions to display her charms, or at least some of them, including her calves, and even her thighs, when her skirt somehow got caught on a cabinet knob as I was helping her down from a precarious perch.
    Her search for the cocktail equipment and supplies required a great deal of pleasant assistance on my part.  At times she leaned upon me as an aid to balance, and at other times I was required to grasp her around the waist and lift her to a height where she could see into an upper cabinet.  All of this would have been unalloyed pleasure had my conscience not insisted on reminding me that I should not be finding it quite so great a pleasure as I did to have the girl next door here in my house, almost, at times, in my arms.
    We took the drinks to the living room.  I thought that we would sit in the chairs in front of the fireplace, the obvious and customary place to sit when entertaining a single visitor, but she settled onto the sofa and patted the cushion beside her.
    “Come and sit here, Dud,” she said.  “It’s more relaxing.”
    Relaxing I suppose it may have been for her, but it was awkward for me.  Her proximity, the drink that I ought not to have given her, the essay that I would have to help her write—these things made me increasingly uneasy.  Relaxing I did not find it.  Exciting, yes, agitating, stimulating, arousing; certainly not relaxing.
    She actually drank the concoction that I had made.  I didn’t care for it much, but I sipped at it in my worldly way, humoring this sweet girl who was pretending to a sophistication that she hadn’t earned—surely hadn’t earned.
    “Drink up, Dud,” she said.  She put her hand on mine and guided the glass to my lips, and I did as she advised, draining the drink.
    Swallowing the last of hers, she leaned against me and said, “Don’t tell my mom,” breathing the request into my face.
    “I won’t,” I said, and as soon as I had said it I was aware that I had crossed a line into a conspiracy that, in my position as friend of the family, trusted adviser, and grown man, I ought never even to have approached.  In a moral sense, I was already lost, but to be truthful I must admit to you that I was more concerned about my physical situation: I was in an extreme state of desire.  I will try to avoid descending into vulgarity in this account of that night, but in order for you to appreciate fully how I felt with her leaning against me like that, I must tell you that I was as upright and rigid as an oak, or perhaps an ash—one of those sturdy trees that produces the fine hardwoods so prized in cabinetry—and I didn’t want the obvious evidence of my desire to frighten or disgust the girl, certainly not to send her running into the night, screaming accusations.
    Swallowing hard and buttoning my jacket over my manhood,  I said, “Why don’t we go up to my study and see what we can do about that essay?”
    “Okay,” she said.  “Let’s go.”

IN DUDLEY’S STUDY, I seemed to return to myself.  I think it was the memory of the hours I had spent there being tutored by him.  The subordination I had always felt during those sessions, the inadequacy I’d felt, returned when I entered the room.
    “So this is your study!” she said.
    “Yeah,” I said.  “I mean, yes.”
    She walked around the room, swinging her little hips, poking at things here and there, then stopped at the window and looked out into the darkness.
    “That house next door—” she began.
    “Your house,” I said.
    She giggled.  “Oh, of course.  Of course it’s my house.  That sidecar went right to my head.”
    She leaned forward, toward the window, her skirt riding up so that I could see a bit of the backs of her legs above her knees, and peered into the darkness, and she said, “That window right across the way, what room is that?”
    I went to her side and in a friendly, possibly protective way, put my arm around her waist as I leaned in a manner similar to hers to peer into the dark.
    “That,” I said, my breath catching, “is your bedroom.”
    She turned away from the window, toward me, and as she turned I relished (and committed to lifelong memory) the brushing caress of her hair, her breasts.  Her eyes were teasing.
    “Why, Dud,” she said.  “What exactly do you study up here in your study?”
    “Beauty,” I said, surprising myself.
    “Meaning me?”
    “There are nights when I sit here with the lights out just hoping that you will come up to your room.”
    “Wouldn’t you rather I came here to yours?”
    “That is more than I have ever allowed myself to hope.  You see, hope is sustainable only when its object seems attainable.”
    “Is that an aphorism?”
    “I think it is, and I just made it up, just now.”
    “And just now, here I am, attainable.”
    She was looking into my eyes.  I was looking into hers.  We were breathing deeply, excitedly, our mouths nearly touching, inhaling each other’s breath, and then she kissed me, and it was thrilling, but after a single kiss, she drew away from me and looked out the window again, and, as Patti, not Ella, said, “Before we go any further with this, I’d like to meet your mother.”

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Copyright © 2001 by Eric Kraft

Inflating a Dog is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. 

Picador USA will publish Inflating a Dog in the summer of 2002.

For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Kraft’s indefatigable agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.

The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.