Jesse was ploughed. Hannah was cold sober and uneasy. He certainly did look a sight to be uneasy about. Before the party, Hannah had made up his face for his Alice Cooper costume and done a hideously good job, copying the black and white mask from an old album cover. By midnight, the sparkles from his hair dusted his shoulders like dandruff, and most of the make-up had come off, making him look even more ghastly; it seemed he was no longer wearing make-up, especially in the mandatory half-light of the party. The white on his face had become a deathly pallor, and the black around his eyes and on his cheekbones heightened the sullen look on his face to apparent violence. His pet baby boa constrictors, one in each pocket, didn't help any.
Until Halloween, Hannah had found the snakes more original than sinister. Jesse went about getting meals for his baby boas in a very unconventional manner: he looked up classifieds for pet mice, gerbils and other small rodents. There were always enough people who were moving and couldn't take their little darlings with them to keep Genghis and Khan fat and happy. Jesse looked at the concerned owners with his beautiful blue eyes and assured them he would take care of the cute creatures for the rest of their lives, and the owners happily handed them over to him. The next day, the cute creatures were nothing more than undigested lumps in two snakes. Hannah was along on one such trip, and despite the gruesome aspect couldn't help being amused. On Halloween, she was not amused anymore. She wished Genghis and Khan hadn't given Jesse the idea for his threatening costume; the threat seemed to be getting more real with each passing hour. Hannah knew the baby boas were harmless, but she was becoming increasingly anxious that maybe Jesse wasn't.
Hannah was dressed as a belly dancer and flirting outrageously. One of the things she was most grateful to Jesse for besides his red pick-up was his circle of attractive friends, and generally he liked showing her off. But Halloween he wasn't complying. He was alternately ignoring her and accusing her of acting her age. The evening had started off bad even before the party, leaving Hannah with a feeling of sick apprehension. While she was putting on Jesse's make-up in her little apartment, Calvin had dropped by to invite Hannah over to a party too. She explained that she couldn't come and went back to Jesse.
"Who was that?" Jesse asked.
"A guy I know who lives in the building." She picked up the black make-up for his eyes and scooped out a dab with her fingers.
"What did a black guy want here anyway?"
"You heard. He wanted me to go to a party."
"Why did you talk to him so long?"
"I didn't talk to him 'so long.' I told him I was already going to another party and came back in." Carefully she smeared make-up under his eyes and out towards his temples.
"Why did he invite you?"
"How should I know? We've talked a little, but I don't really know him."
"Have you been leading him on?"
Hannah laughed incredulously. "Of course not!"
Jesse didn't seem to hear her. "Hannah, you don't know what kind of trouble blacks are. You should never lead them on."
"I haven't been leading him on," she insisted.
"You were talking to him."
"Well, what was I supposed to do? He came over here. I told him I couldn't go to the party with him."
"I don't think you should talk to blacks, Hannah."
"How am I supposed to do that, even if I wanted to, can you tell me that?" Hannah asked. If she'd had hackles, they would have risen. She'd been under the mistaken impression that such attitudes were as dead as the dinosaurs.
"Just don't," Jesse replied shortly. "Blacks are no good."
"You've never had to deal with the real world, girl," Jesse informed her with authority which could not be overridden. "This city isn't real." That was one of Jesse's favorites. In the few weeks Hannah had been going out with him, she had been lectured repeatedly on the dangers of the "real world," which consisted solely of Chicago, and the unreality of Oregon, apparently because it wasn't dangerous enough. "Hannah," Jesse continued, "you don't realize how blacks can screw you over."
"I mean it. I want you to promise me you'll never go out with a black."
"Promise me, girl," Jesse pleaded, changing tactics. "Girl" was said in a tone of endearment.
"I can't promise that. How do I know what I'll be doing ten years from now?"
"I knew it," Jesse said, disgusted and no longer endearing. "All women are alike. They all want a chance to screw a black."
Hannah shook her head in disbelief. "Why should I want to do that?"
"Women always want a taste of black meat. You'd probably jump into bed with a black the first chance you got."
"Well, not tonight, at least," Hannah said, laughing uneasily.
It was the wrong thing to say. Jesse grabbed her wrist, causing her to make a long gash with black make-up down his cheek. "Promise me!" he ordered.
"Jesse, you're hurting me!"
"I want you to promise me you'll never screw a black!"
Even with her wrist in a vise, Hannah remained stubbornly rational. "It's probably not likely, since I don't know that many to start with, but I don't see why I should promise you."
"Take my word for it, it would be a mistake. Promise me you never will."
"What's it to you anyway?"
"I'm trying to help you, girl," Jesse said, returning to the strategy of endearments rather than threats. He released her wrist and she rubbed it with the hand free of make-up. "A black will fuck you over the first chance he gets."
"How can you generalize like that?"
"I'm not generalizing, I'm speaking from experience. I know blacks, Hannah, you don't."
Hannah didn't know what to say. She felt like she was talking to a stone wall programmed with stone-aged prejudices. A paralyzing sense of unreality prompted her to say something appeasing. She felt like she was betraying someone, but she was too confused to be brave. Which is why she didn't do the smart thing and just kiss him and his party goodbye.
Jesse and his Chicago friends lived in a run-down older house within walking distance of the university and pretended to be students. There was lots of beer and lots of pot at the party, but the look on Jesse's face after a couple of hours made Hannah wish she hadn't come. She was flirting with George Washington when Jesse entered the room, went over to the stereo, and put Alice Cooper's "No More Mister Nice Guy" on the turntable. Hannah left George and went over to where Jesse was playing with one of his baby boas. "Jesse, I think we should talk," she said, sitting down on the couch next to him.
"There's nothing to talk about."
"Then why are you being so anti-social?"
"Why don't you leave me alone?"
"Jesse..." Hannah began but didn't continue. A hand was reaching over Jesse's shoulder, offering him a joint. Black. Hannah wished desperately that she could keep him from noticing. Whatever was going to happen would not be pleasant. Hannah fled; she didn't wait around to see it.
Even in the kitchen, right over the Alice Cooper, they could hear Jesse yelling. Hannah's fists clenched and unclenched at her sides and a shudder ran through her. "Jesse's drunk, Hannah," Father Time reminded her, his wrinkled face directed at her cleavage.
"Yeah," a gangster agreed, passing her a joint. "Relax and enjoy the party."
A very audible "motherfucker" made its way to them and Hannah winced. What little partying mood she had possessed vanished completely. She excused herself from the gangster and Father Time and headed up the stairs for Jesse's room to get her jacket.
On the stairs, her wrist was grabbed from behind and she was yanked around like a dog on a leash.
"Where do you think you're going?" Jesse snarled, his face squinty and thin and aggressive.
"Home. I just have to get my jacket first." His grip on her wrist tightened and she winced again. "Jesse, let go of me."
"Do you know what happened just now?" Jesse asked.
"I don't want to," Hannah replied and tried to wrench her hand away. Jesse clamped down even harder.
"I kicked that black out. Do you know why?"
Hannah looked at him uncomprehendingly. This was totally out of her realm of experience. The violent way he spoke, the vise of his hand on her wrist, the thin line of his lips, all were directed at her. She clenched her fists and the muscles in her stomach tightened. "No. Why?"
"I can't stand having a black near me. I hate blacks. Do you know why I hate blacks?"
"Because you're from Chicago," was all Hannah could think of to say.
"Because all my life I've been fucked over by blacks. I almost couldn't come out to Oregon because of a stinking black."
Hannah tried again to pull out of his grasp. "I don't want to hear about it."
"Well, you're going to, girl." It definitely wasn't an endearment this time. He yanked her arm and she flinched away. He pulled her near. "I was talking with a black at this bar. I was being friendly. But then I hit him and he deserved it. He charged me with assault and battery. If I'd had to go through with a trial, I would have missed my chance."
"Why didn't you?"
"The judge dismissed the charges."
"I had friends. Witnesses. If not for them, I never would have been able to come out here. There's not a single Oregonian who loves this place like I do. You don't appreciate it." Jesse spoke of his love with a violence that made Hannah recoil. "Do you know why I hit him?"
"He grabbed me by the back of the neck, like this." To Hannah's indignant surprise, Jesse grabbed the nape of her neck. "And pulled," he continued. And with a fist full of hair and skin, Jesse pulled.
Hannah began to tremble with anger and pain. "Let go of me, Jesse," she said as calmly as she could. He didn't react. Hannah didn't know what to do. The feeling of her own growing anger scared her almost as much as Jesse did. "Let go of me," she repeated, but the grip on her hair and skin only tightened. Then Jesse shook her head like a dog, and Hannah exploded. "Take your hands off me!" she screamed. With a violence she didn't know she possessed and a shriek of pure rage, she slapped him full across the face as hard as she could.
Jesse started back in shock. "No one has ever slapped me before," he said coldly, the look on his face even uglier than before. "If you weren't a girl, I'd pound your face in for that."
Hannah whirled around and tore up the stairs, but Jesse forced himself past her and grabbed her shoulders so hard it felt like the fingers would meet in the middle of her flesh. "Jesse, that hurts!" Hannah was nearly in tears and she felt sick. She had never slapped anyone before. She shouldn't have slapped him. She should have screamed for help. "Please, Jesse," she wheedled. He ignored her pleas and gave her a quick, hard shake instead.
"You see," he said. "That's exactly how I reacted when that black did the same thing to me. He deserved it."
"So did you," Hannah hissed. The wave of fear was receding to be replaced by a fresh wave of anger.
"You're sticking up for that black?"
"I'm saying you had no right to demonstrate on me. And take your hands off me."
"You are. You're sticking up for that black. Well, why don't you just go running after the black guy I just kicked out of the house?"
"I'm going home."
"No you're not. You're listening to me. Blacks will get you in trouble. I know. I was going out with this girl, and she left me for a black. But she regretted it. He knocked her up and left. She came back to me then, but I wouldn't have anything to do with her."
Some part of Hannah's brain still capable of functioning rationally signalled--so that's it. "Tainted, huh?" she said.
"Well, I'm not her."
"Yeah, but you're just like her."
"I am not."
"You are too."
"You're drunk. Let go of me."
"I'm not drunk. I know what I'm talking about. All women are the same. You'd fuck the first black guy who asked."
"No I wouldn't." It no longer mattered to Hannah that she hadn't wanted to say anything of the kind--logic had deserted her.
"You're lying." His eyes narrowed and he had a vicious look on his face. He looked so ugly that she no longer recognized him. This was no one she knew.
She was no one she knew either. She was madder than she had ever been in her life, and at that moment it seemed to revolve around the fact that he'd accused her of lying. "No I'm not," Hannah said.
"You think you can fool me. You can't."
"Why should I lie? And how would you know if I did?"
"I see right through you, girl."
"You hardly know me!"
"You're like all the rest. Just playing games."
"Lying to get your way."
"I don't lie."
"Yes you do," Jesse said. He shook her hard and her head snapped forward painfully. "All you do is lie and play games."
"I do not!"
"You're a woman aren't you?"
The way he said "woman," it sounded like a dirty word, and something in Hannah broke. Everything she'd been holding back welled up and came out in a long drawn-out scream as she let out at him with the full force of her athletic eighteen years in the palm of her hand. She slapped him so hard it left his cheek blazing red. Struggling wildly, she wrenched herself away and ran up to the room for her jacket. She grabbed it and turned towards the door, but Jesse stood in front of her, blocking her way. With one foot, he deliberately closed the door behind him.
"Get away from the door. I'm leaving."
"No you're not. You wanted to talk, we're talking."
"Enough to be horny." He stretched out on the bed, his hands behind his head. "Lie down beside me, girl."
Hannah stood looking from the doorknob to Jesse's reclining form. She lunged for the door, but his hand shot out and grabbed her by the wrist again. "No you don't."
Hannah didn't have a chance. To everyone in the house, Jesse was just having a fight with his girlfriend. Nothing more. And nothing less.