All Passion Spent
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by Chandler Brossard
Description: Paul Hackett's life had been bounded by conventional morality until he came to New York and met lovely but corrupt Erika Rains. Paul soon left his wife for Erika, and plunged with her into a weird, surrealistic world of violent pleasures and uninhibited lovers, until Erika's neurotic mother came to town. Then Paul found out what kind of girl Erika really was, and where their desperate affair was taking them.
Here is the intimate, revealing story of life and love in New York's Bohemian Underworld. It is an off-beat tale of tormented people seeking bizarre stimulation in unexpected places. It's a world of hoodlums and strip-teasers on Park Avenue, artists and college girls in Greenwich Village. It's a story of one innocent young man, trapped by his infatuation for a depraved girl in this modern inferno of the lost and the damned. The lure of depravity was fierce. Will it swallow Paul alive or will he break free?
About Vintage Paperback Pulp Fiction
A new revolution was underway at the start of the 1940s in America--a paperback revolution that would change the way publishers would produce and distribute books and the reading public would consume them. In 1939 a new publishing company--Pocket Books--stormed onto the scene with the publication of its first paperbound book. Unlike hardback books, these pulp paperbacks were available in drugstores, newsstands, bus and train stations, and cigar shops. The American public could not get enough of them. The popular pulp genres reflected the tastes of Americans during World War II--mysteries, "sleaze", thrillers, and "hardboiled detective" stories were all the rage.
In the early 1950s new pulp fiction sub-genres emerged--science fiction, lesbian fiction, juvenile delinquent and "sleaze", for instance--that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before. Publishers had come to realize that sex sells. In a competitive frenzy for readers, they tossed away their staid and straightforward cover images for alluring covers that frequently featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised stories of sex and violence within the covers. Before long, vintage pulps with sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers. To this day, the pulp cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.
We are excited to make these wonderful pulp fiction stories available in ebook format to new generations of readers, as a new revolution--the ebook revolution--is in full swing. We hope you will enjoy this nostalgic look back at a period in American history when dames were dangerous, tough-guys were deadly and dolls were downright delicious.
eBook Publisher: SRS Internet Publishing/Digital Vintage Pulps, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: January 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [210 KB]
Reading time: 130-182 min.
Libraries are funny places. On the one hand they have a quiet, studious atmosphere, and on the other they contain an undercurrent of strange tensions and fantasies. Nowhere else can you see a more remarkable cross-section of humanity. Great scholars, bums, perverts, madmen, clean-faced students, queer old ladies, soldiers and poets--they are all there studying, hiding behind, those books. Each one dutifully reading, I suppose, but also, one feels, doing things in the privacy of his mind that would astound the reader next to him. This is the feeling that is subtly given off in libraries. It's eerie.
I mention all of this because it was in a library--to be exact, the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street--that I met Erika Rains.
In a sense (as I was later to discover) it was as though something I had been only speculating about had suddenly materialized right before me. I was writing my doctorate on what I called "the over-cultivated urban type" and specifically its psychological disintegration in my generation. I was sitting at a long reading table at the far end of the South Reading Room one day, putting all my notes in order when I became aware that the girl who had been sitting at the far end of the table was shifting her seat, selecting one directly across from me. I glanced up from my work to look at her. She was a handsome blonde girl--smooth-skinned, with natural eyebrows--who seemed to be, physically at least, of the Bennington or Vassar breed. She smiled nervously at me, I at her. Then I returned to work.
But I couldn't continue. Why did she move up here next to me? I kept wondering. It usually works the other way around and that's what made it seem so odd. I did not have to watch her to know that she was aching to talk to me. Besides fidgeting and hastily turning the pages of her book, she gave off, in an extrasensory way, a nervous, uncontrollable urgency that I could not ignore. I bent my head down, trying to concentrate, but all the while waiting tensely for something to happen between us. Something to begin.
"Could I borrow your pencil?" she suddenly asked me.
"Sure," and I was eagerly thrusting it at her.
She laughed nervously as she wrote something in a small notebook. "I'm always losing things. I guess it must have some psychological significance."
"I wouldn't be surprised," I said smiling.
I asked her what she was reading. This led to one thing and another, and in a few minutes we were leaving the library to have some coffee in the Automat. It was as simple as that; almost as though it had been prearranged somehow. She did most of the talking that first time while I passively listened and tried to make something of it all. As I have said, she was a striking girl, and there was about her this strange combination of sensuality and urgency. She made me feel that she was extraordinarily hungry for something--or many things--and that she wanted to consume it immediately before it was taken away.
"I'm an actress," she confessed in her hurried way over her coffee. "That is, I'm studying to be one. It's almost the same thing, isn't it?" she asked.
"Just about," I said because I knew she had to be agreed with.
"I'm wild about the theatre, aren't you? Taking all those different parts, assuming all those different personalities. How dreary it is to have only one identity! Lord!"
She said this in a slightly disturbing way. It was charged with a meaning, or hidden implication, that went beyond a first casual conversation. And it was this aspect of her that held me in a way almost magical, the hidden-meaning; part of her. Or what in looking back I could call the dark underside of her. Her conversation became pretty much of a soliloquy which jumped nervously from one subject; to another, in the same way a hunted mountain animal desperately leaps from crag to crag, seeking a final hiding place. The interesting thing was, on that first meeting, that she did not ask me any questions about myself. She just took me for granted.
When we were leaving the Automat and I was thinking about the work I had yet to do, and also about seeing my wife later on. I must have subtly given her the feeling I was drawing away from her. This made her grip me suddenly by the arm and say, "You don't have to leave right away, do you?"
"I mean go back to the library." Her face looked a little frightened.
"Well . . ." I began.
"Don't go back. It's so nice just talking--like this--it would be awful to suddenly stop it. I'll tell you what," and she smiled pleasingly, hopefully at me, "let's go over to my place for a while. It's just a couple of minutes from here. I'll make us fresh coffee and then show you some pictures of me taken at the school. O.K.?"
She must have thought I was going to abandon her, that we would never see each other again, and for reasons of her own found this thought unbearable. I didn't want to leave her either, but I wasn't panicky. I liked her, I liked her, I already felt peculiarly involved with her.
"Great," I said. "Let's go. To hell with the work for a while."
She squeezed my arm in what seemed to be as much gratitude as anticipation, and we hailed a cab for her place.
I never did get back to the library that afternoon. In fact, from that point on until three months later, I left my world for hers and went about as far away from myself as I had ever been. Erika leading, I following in fascination, and later in horror.
I got tight and--I know this sounds crazy, naive--Erika seduced me. In what seemed an amazingly short time, I was listening to some disconcerting, dissonant music by Stravinsky, drinking strong brandy highballs, and watching Erika. I should say watching her perform, because she seemed at this point, now that I was secured, to have projected herself into a part which she was acting out. Or, she was just showing me one of her several identities.
"You won't leave, will you?" she asked, or told, me at one point.
"No," I replied. "I won't leave now."
The identity she assumed was that of a lost child. She had quickly changed her clothes in front of me without any shyness for a sort of schoolgirl costume, and then, dressed for the part, began to get drunk with me following and poured out a fantasy of being a little girl who had been purposely lost by her parents in the primeval part of the world. I felt like a psychoanalyst and also like a father, and after a while, when we had both entered this crazy fantasy world of hers, I assumed the role of her protector.
"Daddy, Daddy," she was murmuring crazily, drunkenly in my arms. "You'll take care of me, I know you'll take care of me."
She made me undress her finally like a little girl, and put her to bed, and when I was there with her we enacted a love fantasy in which she was the child and I was the guardian. The pattern of her actions was that she was naughty and had to be admonished severely, then purified in an act of love.
"Tell me! Tell me!" she whimpered in command, as she tore at me and at the mute bedclothes. "Say it! Hurry!"
And I did, now that I was a new and helpless convert to her astounding destiny. Her screams and pleas and the sick obscene things she yelled were to be a constantly recurring background music to our relationship.
* * * *
Naturally, I got hell from my wife, Nancy, when I came home more or less looped. And of course I lied to her by saying that I had run into an old, half-forgotten college friend and we'd had a few in celebration of the meeting.
"Let's hope you don't run into him too often," Nancy cracked wryly. "There's no telling what this friendship could lead to."
Nancy and I had been married when I was teaching at Chicago University. It was a union more of mutual interests than of passion or love. She was not ugly, but not beautiful either. She was pleasant-looking, sort of "sisterly," and reminded me of those typical women who appear in soft drink ads. Nancy was employed as a professional researcher at the school, and our marriage had all the drawbacks of such a "professional" or "rational" mating. Pretty boring at times. In the last year it had become more and more frustrating and tense for both of us.
"An occasional bat never hurt anybody," I said in apology for myself. I was feeling guilty too. I was afraid Nancy might intuit that I had spent the afternoon a girl's bed.
"I think that attitude can become a bit vulgar, dear," she let me know. "Besides, it doesn't, somehow, quite suit you." When she talked like this, her small face always shrank with held-back anger and a nerve near her pursed mouth twitched slightly. It made her look much older than she was.
I did not see Erika again for another week. She was supposed to meet me for lunch two days after we "met," but I stood on the corner for over an hour and she didn't show up. This, too, was a fragmentary tip-off to me, but I forgot about it. I had a lot of work to do at the library and this kept me from thinking too intensely about her, though I did speculate about her, wondering what she really was, where she was headed, what life she led, and so on. In the same way I was thinking about the theoretical types I was dealing with in my socio-anthropological paper.
Erika suddenly reappeared one afternoon at the library. She seemed to know that I always worked at the same table in the South Reading Room because she approached directly without glancing around for me.
"I was sick," she said charmingly, "and I was afraid to call you at home to let you know. Forgive me."
This sounded all right, if somewhat cliche, but I was to find out later that it was a lie.
"Feel better now?"
"Much!" and she took my arm to lead me out of the library, without bothering to ask if I wanted to go or not.
"You'll lose your sense of humor if you keep working so much," she warned me gaily. Then we went to a little bar on West Forty-fifth Street for a cocktail.
Erika had come to New York three years ago from Paris, where, she told me, she had been visiting some American friends and studying painting and the arts in general. (She skipped over a sojourn in Switzerland which I found out about later on.) Her parents had separated when she was very young, and she had lived with her mother, an aimless woman who drank enormously and lived off a modest inheritance which she shared with Erika. Erika's father had been a sort of part-time stock broker. He finally decided to blow his brains out rather than go on trying to adjust himself to a world he didn't especially care for. He did this shortly after waking up one morning in the hotel room of a Parisian streetwalker and discovering he was married to her.
"I liked him an awful lot, though," she told me over her double Martini. "He was sweet and charming and never got angry at me. Mother was his exact, detestable opposite."
Erika's mother seemed to have as little interest in her as Erika had in her mother, and the only contact they maintained was a short note each month when the allowance check came through. Her mother lived in Boston. As we talked over our cocktails, she filling me in on her life (at least some of it), she often looked around the bar at the other drinkers, as if she were expecting someone or were trying to find someone there. Finally I could not help asking her what she was doing.
"Oh, nothing!" she explained quickly, almost as though she had been surprised in a bad act, giving me one of those sweet, nervous smiles. "It's just a habit, I guess. You know, a friend of mine once said it gives me the air of a criminal." She laughed. "Do you think so?"
"As a matter of fact, I do."