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Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall

a novel by

James Magruder

Published by Chelsea Station Editions at Smashwords



Contents

Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall

Part One: Rugburns

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Intersession

Part Two: The Show and Gaze of the Time

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Ave Atque Vale

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Praise for Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall

Copyright

Dedication

Also from Chelsea Station Editions



for David Nolta,

the boy in 332,

then,

now,

and always



Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall



Part One: Rugburns

“O, nothing is more alluring than a levee from a couch in some confusion: it shows the foot to advantage, and furnishes with blushes, and recomposing airs beyond comparison.”

—Lady Wishfort



Chapter One

Yale University, that robust institution of the Nutmeg State, maintains two residence halls for its graduate students, a caste within the greater academic community that ranks above food service staff and below faculty nephews. The first, completed in 1932, is the Hall of Graduate Studies, a Gothic Revival edifice replete with interior courts, vaulted ceilings, loggias, a clock tower, witty gargoyles, and its own dining hall; HGS for short, the building closely resembles some of the fabled colleges that shelter the apex of the Yale pyramid, the undergraduates.

Several blocks east of HGS, at 420 Temple Street, stands Helen Hadley Hall, a somewhat different entertainment. Yale College did not admit undergraduate women until 1970; Hadley opened in 1958 as a residence for female graduate students resisting the reproductive imperatives of the Eisenhower Era. A five-story, pink-bricked, tar-topped rectangle bordered by a cement wall, Helen Hadley Hall expresses in its architecture the then-prevalent conviction that women of scholarship are a source of contagion.

Who the real Helen Hadley had been was of little concern to those I gathered within my skirts, but my full portrait in oils in the first-floor lounge did incite occasional acts of speculation. Socialite? Bluestocking? Gertrude Stein’s first wife? My material legacy, a dozen Sèvres plates depicting shepherdesses with crooks and lambs, was locked in a vitrine standing next to my portrait. The key to this cabinet was as lost as the riddle of my identity. The “Hadley China” was all that remained of a broken engagement in my youth. Though not a multimillion-dollar endowment such as many of the undergraduate colleges enjoy, the plates are nonetheless a graceful touch in this otherwise cheerless vault that bears my name. I admit to a flutter of vanity when every once in a while, a great while, a resident pauses to ponder their porcelain luster through the dusty glass.

The layout of Helen Hadley Hall was none of my doing. Each floor contains thirty-six cubicles. Each cubicle is equipped with a wooden desk and chair, a twin bed, a freestanding metal bookcase, a built-in dresser with a mirrored medicine cabinet, a leatherette easy chair, and a closet. The variable in the room is the student, who might be anyone from anywhere studying anything at all. Each floor has a kitchen with two refrigerators and a dining pen, a phone booth, and two gender-specific bathrooms. On the first floor, in addition to the common lounge and the TV room, there is a coin-operated laundry, a piano, a foosball table, and three vending machines. In the late seventies, a computer room with two mainframes and a printer replaced a row of overhead hair dryers original to the building. Facing the front desk, which is generally manned by foreign students practicing their diphthongs, is a dovecote of mailboxes.

Cultural tensions, if they surface, center around the kitchens and their uses. It is no one’s business, really, that the Chinese leave viands to ripen on the counters. Or that Australians aren’t vigilant about cleaning up after themselves. Or that Southerners borrow staples. By the end of every month, the Hadley refrigerators are a goulash of odd tubers, strange cuts of meat, weepy fruits, and dairy cartons heavy with curds. The cooking oil spills pooling on the cabinet shelves are as attractive to roaches as the unsecured bags of rice are to rodents. Little wonder then that the campus exterminators, on scheduled visits with their traps and mists, refer to 420 Temple Street as “Smellin’ Badly Hall.” I take no personal offense. Strong smells mean strong living.

I was born in 1895, and I passed from solid to vapor in 1951. You might imagine that a human organism whose spirit began before the flight at Kitty Hawk to have seen and heard it all. To that I counter that Love and its many permutations still quicken my blood. The emotion keeps me, if not young certainly, then passably evergreen. The earliest Hadley years, what I call the bebop and petting-party years, were placid, yes, but a tremendous shift occurred after the launch of Professor Djerassi’s contraceptive pill in 1960. Thirteen years later, Roe v. Wade provided a way out for a traditional breeding crisis; Yale and Hadley Hall had gone coed; President Nixon had breached the Great Wall of China; foreigners began matriculating in increasing numbers; and gays and lesbians—what my Suffragette circle at Oberlin termed “nethersexers” in 1912—began conducting their attractions more openly.

Every September a fresh batch of residents arrives at 420 Temple Street. Every year I select my favorites, follow their adventures, cheer on their shifts and stratagems, and pick up their lingo. When it comes to love, there is nothing new under the sun, yet I find it equally true that—and here I borrow the title of a song popular during my salad days—“Every Little Movement Has a Meaning All Its Own.” Based upon my decades of observation, I find that getting some is one thing. Getting there is even better.

Today, some fifteen years into the third millennium, Yale threatens to bulldoze my home, and this is why I write. Before I see my Sèvres shepherdesses stacked on the sale table at the New Haven Historical Society and my portrait consigned to a climate-controlled basement in the British Art Center, I have decided to chronicle my favorite year. This would be the nine months in 1983–84 during which Silas Huth, Becky Engelking, Nixie Bolger, Carolann Chudek, and Randall Flinn took up the manacles of erotic attachment and parsed meaning from every little movement of their rapacious, beating hearts. Theirs is a communal tale of love surprised, love confessed, betrayed, renounced, repelled, of suspect leanings and trembling declarations, of hymens under siege and innumerable searching looks in the mirror.

I trained as a chemist, not as an author of creative nonfiction, but I can promise you carnal congress, a near-homicide, and a wedding finale. If things at first seem thick on the ground, or overly populated in my laboratory, I pray that a higher power grant you patience, or that your upbringing prepared you to listen to a maiden aunt holding forth in the side parlor before a holiday feast. If neither applies to you, then my advice is to hold fast to Silas Huth, who as our tale begins, on a muggy Friday night in the middle of September 1983, is in Room 303 tucking a white button-down Oxford shirt into a pair of his scantiest cutoff shorts, a mixed fashion message quite in keeping with his character.

The first facts about Silas Huth lent him instant appeal for me. He had been left as a foundling in the baptistery of the Mission San Xaiver del Bac, south of Tucson. The state of Arizona named him for reasons lost to time. His powerful bond with Nancy “Nana” Eagle Eye, his final foster parent, convinced Silas that his birth mother had also been a Yaqui, when she might just as easily have been Pueblo, Navajo, Cajun, Mexican, Maltese, Sicilian, Polynesian, or a mongrel mix. No one could prove that Silas wasn’t Native American. He checked that box when it suited him, or when it paid. In 1983 the Yale French Department was paying him very well indeed, fellowship plus stipend.

Silas was a slender man of twenty-two, with green eyes, sharp planes in his face, a cleft chin, skin the color of ground ginger, and glossy black hair cropped short. An underdog by any American standard, he had nonetheless grown up as spoiled as a dauphin or pasha. Every trailer in Fruitland Acres had been open to the smart aleck who checked volumes of The World Book Encyclopedia out of the bookmobile and read them end to end. Women especially could refuse him nothing—trinkets, quarters, jujubes, nips of whiskey. A neighbor, Cécile Tanner, who had married an American liberator in 1944, began teaching him French when he was nine. Five years later, when presented with his astronomical test scores, the Jesuits at Brophy College Prep in Phoenix airlifted him out of the trailer park and his real education began. After Brophy, he received a four-year scholarship to Arizona State University, where he finished fifth in a class of six thousand and twelve.

“Whoever gets Silas gets the prize,” ran the close of one of his Yale recommendation letters. He had slept with this professor, and other junior faculty, and the Dean of Student Life, but it was his ability to tweeze apart Symbolist poems and absorb vast quantities of literary theory that astounded mentors of both genders and sent him to Connecticut.

He traced an arrow of Dior’s Eau Sauvage behind each earlobe, then lengthened his face in the mirror, one of his dependable come-hither looks. Silas was arrogant about his appearance and his intelligence, but insecure about the rest. This was Yale after all. In some lights (as well as in his own worst moments) he might be classified as half-breed trailer trash. He was whip-smart, strategically sincere, a brilliant reader of text, and most to the point this September night, he hadn’t had sex, a fail-safe remedy for his seesawing ego, in fourteen days, practically a record.

Just before ten, Silas paused on the first floor of the dorm to check his hair in the window and scoff at the hoopla in the lounge. His enemy, Peter Facciafinta, a lithe charmer who supervised the dorm desk staff, was hosting a “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” sing-off. Dressed in a habit and wimple, Peter was presently spinning an enormous wooden rosary around his waist for a clutch of dazzled Koreans.

Silas strong-armed the outer glass door and went into the night. The air was thick with the smell of blown tiger lilies and the echoing calls of tipsy undergraduates. As he threaded his way through the Georgian quadrangles, the fringe of his cutoffs tickling his thighs, Silas fumed anew at the thought of how Scott Jencks, the blue-eyed Princeton paragon, should belong to him and not to Peter Facciafinta. He and Scott were in the same department. They both claimed to understand the writings of Jacques Derrida. They were nearly the same height.

Before flying to Connecticut, Silas had paid a visit to Nana Eagle Eye. Over a bottle of Old Times, he promised to go straight in graduate school—well, not straight, more like clean; he would study hard but he would also stop being a heedless slut and use his head to find, have, hold, and love one very smart, very WASPy, man. The father he had never had, or would ever know, but age-appropriate. A butch, moneyed Pilgrim named Archibald or Pearce or Schuyler.

Once he had settled into Room 303, Silas chose not to cruise the campus; undergrads were off-mission. Given the late-summer humidity, the uncloseted Hadley men eyed one another listlessly, but none came close to matching Silas’s criteria until Registration Day, when he was browsing the French section of the Yale Co-Op.

Shelves of books had stimulated him since childhood days inside the Fruitland Acres bookmobile. Wishing to share his delight in a superbly annotated Chanson de Roland, Silas turned and suddenly faced a man with blond, wavy hair and cornflower eyes. A patrician beak. A protagonist’s jaw. A tufted throat. Pectorals pushing against the combed cotton of a lime-colored polo. A finely muscled forearm leading to a thick wrist leading to a Princeton ring and two fingers pinching a copy of Stendhal’s treatise On Love.

Yale has been the queerest of the Ivies since the Louisiana Purchase, so there was no need for subterfuge. The young men understood one another perfectly, and then—kismet! Not only was this Scott Jencks with the bitable fingers starting his first year in the French Department, he too lived at Hadley, on the second floor, in room 204. Silas was way past smitten when out of the blue Scott apologized for acting spacey.

“Spacey?” said Silas.

“It’s just that I met a guy last night, at Partners. We had sex for eight hours straight. It was like jumping off a cliff, and I still haven’t hit bottom.”

Silas’s lips formed a reply, but were they syllables?

“What’s most incredible is that he works at the front desk of the dorm. You must have seen him, a hot little Italian thing.”

“Peter?”

“Peter. Peter Facciafinta,” said Scott, moaning out the vowels.

Bested by Dago town trash! Within a week, Peter was living in Scott’s room and had begun tending the desk in pajama bottoms and a Princeton T-shirt, leaving Silas to believe, with tears before the mirror, that he had lost Scott Jencks to Peter Facciafinta by one day. And so it came to be that, after another week of unthinkable celibacy, Silas skipped the Hadley sing-off to try his own luck at Partners.

In the early eighties, Yale was Out and Proud, but New Haven’s homegrown nethersexers were, I regret to say, Still a Little Ashamed. Partners Café, at the corner of Park and High Streets, drooped accordingly. Outside, the club was surrounded by scabby triple-deckers with trash nests under the stoops and spent bottles in the tree boxes. Inside it was a template of the times, starting with the Betty Boop hand stamp and the two-dollar cover, continuing with the faux-Tiffany lamps over the bar, the glass brick windows, the Broadway partisans yodeling Jerry Herman around a piano below, Donna Summers and Blondie caterwauling above, and everywhere a tangy miasma of smoke, desire, sweat, poppers, and urinal pucks.

Upstairs, men in gold jewelry and Cuban heels were lined up around the dance floor. In this sea of acetate and terry cloth, Silas’s all-cotton shirt gleamed like the flag of a yacht, but he could find no kissing cousins of Scott Jencks. He slipped into the back row and watched the dancers gyrate under the mirrored disco ball. Before he knew it, a man had approached him and was holding out a glass.

“Rum and Cokes are two-for-one.”

Silas accepted the drink.

“Bombs away. I’m Luca Lucchese.”

A townie. Silas bent stiffly from the waist. “A pleasure to meet you, Luca.”

Luca smiled, and Silas felt a flutter in his stomach. Then Luca turned to set his drink on the rail. A first glimpse of his meaty hindquarters made Silas gulp half his cocktail. Here was the most callipygous stud Silas had ever met. “Callipygous” and its variant “callipygian” are Classical Greek for “bootylicious.” (As I hinted earlier, I cover the waterfront, lexically speaking.)

“What do you do?” asked Silas, absolutely not caring what Luca did.

“Odd and ends.”

“Where did you go to school?”

Luca’s shrug was so surly that Silas felt weak at the knees. “I started a business degree, but lost interest,” he said. “Things sort of…sprang up, if you know what I mean.”

“I do know,” said Silas, shifting a leg to give breathing room to his penis. He held out his hand. “I’m Silas Huth. I go to Yale.”

“You sure had me fooled,” said Luca, with another grin.



For the time being, we shall leave this town-gown encounter and return to the dorm. In cinema, this is known as a crosscut. I promise not to overuse the technique.

In Room 315, Becky Engelking, a trained soprano and former pitch pipe for the Iowa State Swingletuners, couldn’t decide how casual to dress for the sing-off. The posters said “Come As You Are”—scant help, really, since Becky had left Ottumwa to become someone else. She asked her mirror, “With barrettes, or without?”

No one at Yale had heard Becky’s way with a song, but there was evidence that her vocalese had already brightened dorm life. “You make life better with your trills. I hear you through the wall and am happy, yes.” That nice Indian girl next door—Indian Indian, not American Indian, like that Silas person down the hall—had said that to Becky only the day before. She had been filling a row of plastic cups with a steaming pea mash while Becky cut up frankfurters into her mac and cheese, and they had gotten to talking. Of course a foreigner needed to put her better foot forward, but Becky, who was all for international exchange, wouldn’t dream of being standoffish with this lively nut-brown maiden.

“And what is it that you are studying, Lakmé?” she had carefully enunciated.

“Lakshmi. Lakshmi Dawat.”

“What a unique name.”

“I am reading Blake.”

“That’s so interesting, Lakshmi. Blake was a poet, right?”

“He was, yes.”

“‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is my favorite poem. Have you ever seen snow, Lakshmi?”

“I was a fellow at Oxford University for two years.”

“Well, isn’t that wonderful! India and England. I love to travel myself,” said Becky, who had first crossed the Mississippi only three weeks ago. “Trains, planes, boats, doesn’t matter. California, here I come!”

After another flattering pout in the mirror, Becky decided against the barrettes. Better to go caszh. She tucked a lace handkerchief into the heart-shaped cleft of her sateen bodice and went over her text. Truth to tell, she would have preferred to compete with a more operatic selection than “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” The Yale School of Music was her big chance, and Becky, bent on wiping every trace of the family farm from her patent leathers, was saving herself for Donizetti. But now what about her pumps? Surely her appearance could support the glitter of rhinestone clips. They brought her luck, but no, she mustn’t appear too grand at her New England début. Let la voce speak for her, and tell all that it knew. She ran a brush through her corn-silk curls, humming, “a dream that will need all the love you can give—

The key change touched something inside. Becky swiftly pulled her lingerie bag from the back of a dresser drawer and drew out two sparkling crescents. She would jewel her feet for luck, and for Brent Fladmo.

It was Brent Fladmo who had talked her into entering the sing-off. He was an organist—from Iowa too!—and already he was saying nice things. On a recent stroll on the town green, the talk flowed, and when the white spire of the First Congregational Church drew them to a bench for contemplation, Brent said that he had always yearned to play Bach in just such a house of God. The steeple bell chose to toll the hour at that moment, giving Becky, who was full-gospel Baptist, a thrill not completely divine. Later, a wino passed a remark, and Brent drew his arm through hers to shield her from scandal. He was a gentleman and, she had to admit, a cutie.

It was time to go. Before turning out the light, Becky arranged a gauze capelet around her firm, pink shoulders and checked the mirror for any traces of dinner in her smile.

Downstairs, piano chords and laughter eclipsed the pleasing sound of her swishing taffeta skirts. She paused at the portal to the lounge and, with an endearing sense of occasion, nodded to my portrait, as if to thank me for inviting her to the ball. Then she stepped forward into the light.

There was no mistaking one of her competitors. Becky found Peter Facciafinta’s habit and wimple an instant affront to Julie Andrews and the remaining von Trapps, who were said to be in Vermont. Come as you are indeed! No one would appreciate her purity of tone with this kind of showboating going on. Looking around, Becky didn’t recognize anyone besides Brent Fladmo, and goodness, was he intending to accompany her in shorts? His legs were whiter than she had permitted herself to imagine in her nighttime reveries, but this she pushed from her mind. Come to think of it, who were the judges and were they even musical? She turned to flee, but it was too late.

“Becky!” squealed Peter. “You look like Beverly Sills at dress rehearsal. All you need is a pocketbook.”

All right, thought Becky, love the sinner, hate the sin, you couldn’t be a Swingletuner without knowing some picklebiters. She drew a finger to her dimple and smiled like an Iowa sunrise. “And you, Peter,” she replied. “You look like—like—like—a hotdogging cornholer! All you need is some mustard.”

No one who heard could make sense of her retort, including Becky.



Nearby, behind a card table fronting the fireplace, a tall woman with chestnut hair was pouring wine and spreading crackers with pimento cheese. This was love slave number three, Ms. Nixie Bolger, in her own words a Kentucky-born straight shooter who took her bourbon neat.

Twenty-five, with a master’s degree from the University of Toulouse, where she had studied Voltaire’s correspondence, Nixie was already queen of the third floor, because, clearly, she had Lived. Her room was strewn with articles of experience: unguents in glass jars, a set of silver julep cups, a bottle of crème de cassis, Spanish toothpaste, and a taupe carousel of birth control pills. No one held such glamour against her. Since Nixie served spirits and potted meats along with rib-sticking portions of her life story every afternoon at four-thirty, it didn’t matter that she had a full-length coyote coat in her closet and a Greek lover across the Atlantic.

Even the teetotalers knew that Nixie had left Stavrolakis Heliotis sobbing in a train station on August 6th, the Feast of St. Clare. Everyone had passed around the snapshots of their vie de bohème: the inverted triangle of Stavi’s torso tapering into a mesh bikini, his mane of raven ringlets, the buckets of mussels they’d shucked and savored in the sun, their motorcycle rides to Marseilles. For those who had never been to Europe, an afternoon in Nixie’s orbit was The Grand Tour in one woozy package deal.

Once she was asked about the bad times. Nixie’s outsized hazel eyes narrowed as she pulled hard on a Gauloise. “Well,” she replied in that thrillingly forceful way she had, “Stavi’s feet stunk so bad I had to lower his socks out the window in a pail every night.” For some in Nixie’s new circle, Stavi’s socks were the most intimate romantic detail they had ever heard. Others thought they provided too much local color and would rather she didn’t mention them again. (Nixie had a tendency to repeat.)

Tonight Louisville’s bourbon-neat straight shooter was keeping her own counsel. The previous weekend she’d gone to the Price Chopper with some floormates. Nixie was aware that a man named Walt Stehlik was in the back of the station wagon. But she wasn’t aware of him until, turning around in aisle three, she caught him dropping a box of Pampers into her shopping cart. It was all in fun, but when their laughter trailed away, he had held her gaze with a pleading expression.

For six days she thought of little else. She lured new neighbors to her booze hours, but no one knew the first thing about Walt Stehlik. Wednesday morning she had caught the back of him, six-feet-four of sleepy maleness with richly knotted calves, heading into the men’s bathroom. Suppressing an impulse to tail him into the shower, Nixie had one of her determinations right then and there: one day she would call him Burly. That would be her pet name for him, to whisper in the night, and then in the morning, over pancakes.

Nixie would have come to the sing-off in any case, with a sleeve of Saltines and a jug of four-dollar red, that was her way, but while Brent Fladmo warmed up the crowd with a Rodgers and Hammerstein medley, she was praying, with the fervor of the situational Catholic, for Burly Stehlik to show up and strafe her again with that bone-melting look in his eyes.

She felt a tap on her shoulder.

“That’s a cute dress, Nixie,” said Becky Engelking.

“Thanks. I love your cape. Some wine?”

“Gracious no,” said Becky, patting her throat. “La voce.

The lights flickered, and Brent Fladmo segued into a rollicking “Lonely Goatherd.” At three minutes to curtain, Walt Stehlik strode up to Nixie’s refreshment stand and downed a cup of wine for courage. Resisting the impulse to pluck the pencil from his mop of auburn hair, Nixie offered more wine. “To celebrate your victory,” she said, forgetting the touchy soprano standing beside her.


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