“You look tired,” Elizabeth said as the studio’s overhead fluorescents tittered into light and Hawks sat down on the couch.
He shook his head. “I haven’t been working very hard. It’s the same old story — when I was a boy on the farm, I’d wear myself out with physical labor, and I’d have no trouble getting to sleep. I’d wake up in the morning, and I’d feel wonderful; I’d be rested, and full of energy, and I’d know exactly what I had ahead of me that day, and I’d do it. Even when I was tired, I felt right; I felt as if what I’d done was proper. Even when I couldn’t keep my eyes open after supper, my body was relaxed, and happy. I don’t know if that’s understandable if you haven’t felt it, but that’s how it was.
“But now I just sit around and think. I can’t sleep at night, and I wake up in the morning feeling worse than I did the day before. It takes me hours before I don’t feel as if my body was cranky with me. I sometimes think it gets better during the day only because I go numb, not because the crankiness stops. I never feel right. I’m always full of aches and pains that come from nowhere. I look at myself in the mirror, and a sick man looks back at me — the kind of a man I wouldn’t trust to do his share, if we were on a job together.”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “I think you could use some coffee.”
He grimaced. “I’d rather have tea, if you have some.”
“I think so. I’ll see.” She crossed the studio to the curtained-off corner where the hotplate and the cupboard were.
“Or — Look,” he called after her, “I’m being silly. Coffee would be fine. If you don’t have any tea.”
They sat on the couch together, drinking tea. Elizabeth put her cup down on the table. “What happened tonight?” she asked.
Hawks shook his head. “I’m not entirely sure. Woman trouble, for one thing.”
Elizabeth grunted. “Oh.”
“Not the usual kind,” Hawks said.
“I didn’t think it would be.”
“You’re not the usual kind of man.”
Hawks frowned. “I suppose not. At least, I don’t seem to get the usual reactions from people. I don’t know why.”
“Do you want to know what it is with you and women?”
Hawks blinked at her. “Yes. Very much.”
“You treat them like people.”
“I do?” He shook his head again. “I don’t think so. I’ve never been able to understand them very well. I don’t know why they do most of the things they do. I’ve — As a matter of fact, I’ve had a lot of trouble with women.”
Elizabeth touched his hand. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. But that’s beside the point. Now, you think about something: I’m a good deal younger than you are.”
Hawks nodded, his expression troubled. “I’ve thought about that.”
“Now you think about this, too: you’re not charming, dashing, or debonair. You’re funny-looking, as a matter of fact. You’re too busy to spare much time for me, and even if you did take me out night-clubbing somewhere, you’d be so out of place that I couldn’t enjoy it. But you do one thing: you let me feel that my rules are as worthwhile to me as yours are to you. When you ask me to do something, I know you won’t be hurt if I refuse. And if I do it, you don’t feel that you’ve scored a point in some kind of complex game. You don’t try to use me, cozen me, or change me. I take up as much room in the world, the way you see it, as you do. Do you have any idea of how rare a thing that is?”
Hawks was puzzled. “I’m glad you feel that way,” he said slowly, “but I don’t think that’s true. Look—” He got up and began pacing back and forth while Elizabeth sat watching, a faint smile on her face.
“Women—” he said earnestly, “women have always fascinated me. As a kid I did the usual amount of experimenting. It didn’t take me long to find out life wasn’t like what happened in those mimeographed stories we had circulating around the high school. No, there was something else — what, I don’t know, but there was something about women. I don’t mean the physical thing. I mean some special thing about women: some purpose that I couldn’t grasp. What bothered me was that here were these other intelligent organisms, in the same world with men, and there had to be a purpose for that intelligence. If all women were for was the continuance of the race, what did they need intelligence for? A simple set of instincts would have done just as well. And as a matter of fact, the instincts are there, so what was the intelligence for? There were plenty of men to take care of making the physical environment comfortable. That wasn’t what women were for. At least, it wasn’t what they had to have intelligence for But I never found out. I’ve always wondered.”
Elizabeth smiled. “You still don’t see that we’re saying the same things about you.”
Hawks sighed and said, “Maybe we are. But that doesn’t tell me what I want to know.”
Elizabeth said softly, “Maybe you’ll find out some day soon. Meanwhile, why haven’t you tried to make love to me?”
Hawks stared at her. “For Heaven’s sake, Elizabeth, I don’t know you well enough!”
“That’s exactly what I mean about you,” Elizabeth said, the blush fading from her face. “Now, Doctor, would you like another cup of tea?”
Elizabeth had gone back to work at her drawing table, sitting with her heels hooked over the top rung of her stool, a curl of smoke rising from the ash tray held in place by two map pins on the edge of the board. Now and then a wisp would drift into her face and make her squint. She would curse softly and smile at Hawks, who was sitting on a low hassock beside the table, his hand cupping his jackknifed knees.
“I was in love with a girl at college,” he said. “A very attractive girl, from Chicago. She was intelligent; she was, most of all, tactful. And she had seen and done so many things I hadn’t — plays, opera, concerts: all the things you can have, in a city. I envied her tremendously because of it, and I admired her very much. The thing is, I never tried to share any of these things with her. I had the idea, I think, that if I asked her to tell me about these things, I would be taldng them away from her — getting something from her that she had earned and I had no business filching. But I thought to myself that as fine a person as that could judge whether I was anything worthwhile or not. At least, I imagine that’s how I looked at it. At any rate, I tried to share everything with her. I talked her ear off, as a matter of fact.”
Elizabeth put her pencil down and raised her head to watch him.
“There were times when we were very close, and other times when we weren’t. I was always in despair of losing her. And one day, just before we graduated, she said to me, very tactfully, ‘Ed, why don’t you just relax and take me out someplace where we can get a drink or two? We could dance a little, and go for a drive, and we could just park somewhere and not talk at all.’ And something came over me,” Hawks said. “In the blink of an eye, I was out of love with her. And I never went near her again.
“Why, exactly? I don’t know. Just because I thought I was so wonderful that not being listened to was unimaginable? Hardly. I knew I was full of drivel. I knew that very little of what I had to say was either original or interesting. And I never talked to anyone but her. I could barely bring myself to keep up social conversations with other people. But I loved her, Elizabeth, and she had told me she didn’t want to listen any longer, and I stopped loving her. It was as if she’d turned into a cobra. I began to tremble uncontrollably. I got away from her as fast as I could and went to my room — and sat there shaking. It must have been an hour before it stopped.
“She tried to get in touch with me several times. And there were times when I almost went out looking for her again. But it never worked out. I was out of love. And I was frightened — Once, during the war, I was trapped in a lab fire and barely got out in time. For a few moments, I was convinced I was going to die. That’s the only time I’ve ever felt that same fear Oh, yes,” he said, “I have trouble with women.”
“Maybe you just have trouble with dying.”
His expression grew infinitely distant. The set of his face and body changed. “Yes,” he said, “I do.”
He stood up finally, his hands in his pockets, having sat without saying anything for a long time. “It’s late. I’d better go,” he said.
Elizabeth looked up from her work. “You’re still on this project of yours?”
He smiled crookedly. “I suppose so. I’m assuming all the people I need on it will show up for work tomorrow.”
“Do some of them stay home Saturdays?”
“Oh? Is tomorrow Saturday?”
“I thought that was what you meant.”
“No. No, I didn’t think of it. And the day after that will be Sunday.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows and said innocently, “It usually works out that way, yes.”
“Cobey’ll be very upset,” Hawks was saying, lost in thought. “He’ll have to pay the technicians bonus-time rates.”
“A man, Elizabeth. Another man I know.”
She drove him home, to the stuccoed pastel apartment house, built in the mid-1920’s; where he had his one-andone-half-room efficiency flat.
“I’ve never seen where you lived, before,” she said, setting the parking brake.
“No,” he agreed. His face was drawn with fatigue. He sat with his chin on his chest, his knees against the dashboard. “It’s—” He waved his hand vaguely at the looming, tile-roofed bulk, the walls vined by cracks which had been plastered over and repainted with brush-wide stripes of paint fresher than the original overall coat. “It’s a place.”
“Don’t you ever miss the farm country? Open fields? Woods? A clear sky?”
“There weren’t many open fields,” he said. “It was mainly chicken farming, and everything was filled up with one- and two-story lines of coops.” He looked out the window. “Coops.” He looked back at her. “You know, chickens are highly subject to respiratory ailments. They sigh and wheeze and snore, all night, by the thousands — a sound that hangs over entire townships, like the moaning of a distant crowd, weeping and deprived. Chickens. I used to wonder if they knew what we were — why we made them run in pens, and eat at feeding troughs, and drink at spigots. Why we kept the rain off them, and broke our backs carrying wet mash to them. Why we went into their coops, every week, and scraped their droppings out from under their roosts, and tried to keep the coops as clean of diseasebreeding areas as possible. I wondered if they knew, and if that was why they groaned in their sleep. But of course, chickens are abysmally stupid. Of all the living things in this world, only Man thinks like Man.”
He opened the car door, half turned to step out, and then stopped. “You know — You know,” he began again, “I do talk a lot, when we’re together.” He looked at her apologetically. “You must get awfully bored with it.”
“I don’t mind.”
He shook his head. “I can’t understand you.” He smiled gently.
“Would you like to?”
He blinked. “Yes. Very much.”
“Maybe I feel the same way about you?”
He blinked again. “Well,” he said. “Well. I’ve been sort of assuming that all along, haven’t I? I never thought of that. I never did.” He shook his head. He said ruefully, “Only Man thinks like Man.” He got out of the car, and stood beside it looking in at her. “You’ve been very good to me tonight, Elizabeth. Thank you.”
“I want you to call me again as soon as you can.” He frowned suddenly. “Yes. As soon as I can,” he said in a troubled voice. He closed the door and stood tapping his fingers on the sill of the opened window. “Yes,” he said. He grimaced. “Time runs on,” he objected under his breath. “I’ll — I’ll call,” he said to her, and walked away toward the apartment house, his head down, his arms hanging at his sides, the large hands opening and closing out of rhythm with his steps, his path a little erratic, so that he had wandered from one side of the walk to the other before he reached the apartment-house door and began fumbling one-half-room efficiency flat.
Finally, he got the door open. He turned, looked back, and waved stiffly, as if not sure he had really finished their conversation. Then he let the arm fall, and pushed the door open.