"The House of Dust:  A Symphony" by Conrad Aiken

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VI. Adele and Davis

She turned her head on the pillow, and cried once more.
And drawing a shaken breath, and closing her eyes,
To shut out, if she could, this dingy room,
The wigs and costumes scattered around the floor,--
Yellows and greens in the dark,--she walked again
Those nightmare streets which she had walked so often . . .
Here, at a certain corner, under an arc-lamp,
Blown by a bitter wind, she stopped and looked
In through the brilliant windows of a drug-store,
And wondered if she dared to ask for poison:
But it was late, few customers were there,
The eyes of all the clerks would freeze upon her,
And she would wilt, and cry . . . Here, by the river,
She listened to the water slapping the wall,
And felt queer fascination in its blackness:
But it was cold, the little waves looked cruel,
The stars were keen, and a windy dash of spray
Struck her cheek, and withered her veins . . . And so
She dragged herself once more to home, and bed.

Paul hadn't guessed it yet--though twice, already,
She'd fainted--once, the first time, on the stage.
So she must tell him soon--or else--get out . . .
How could she say it?  That was the hideous thing.
She'd rather die than say it! . . . and all the trouble,
Months when she couldn't earn a cent, and then,
If he refused to marry her . . . well, what?
She saw him laughing, making a foolish joke,
His grey eyes turning quickly; and the words
Fled from her tongue . . . She saw him sitting silent,
Brooding over his morning coffee, maybe,
And tried again . . . she bit her lips, and trembled,
And looked away, and said . . . 'Say Paul, boy,--listen--
There's something I must tell you . . . ' There she stopped,
Wondering what he'd say . . . What would he say?
'Spring it, kid!  Don't look so serious!'
'But what I've got to say--IS--serious!'
Then she could see how, suddenly, he would sober,
His eyes would darken, he'd look so terrifying--
He always did--and what could she do but cry?
Perhaps, then, he would guess--perhaps he wouldn't.
And if he didn't, but asked her 'What's the matter?'--
She knew she'd never tell--just say she was sick . . .
And after that, when would she dare again?
And what would he do--even suppose she told him?

If it were Felix!  If it were only Felix!--
She wouldn't mind so much. But as it was,
Bitterness choked her, she had half a mind
To pay out Felix for never having liked her,
By making people think that it was he . . .
She'd write a letter to someone, before she died,--
Just saying 'Felix did it--and wouldn't marry.'
And then she'd die . . . But that was hard on Paul . . .
Paul would never forgive her--he'd never forgive her!
Sometimes she almost thought Paul really loved her . . .
She saw him look reproachfully at her coffin.

And then she closed her eyes and walked again
Those nightmare streets that she had walked so often:
Under an arc-lamp swinging in the wind
She stood, and stared in through a drug-store window,
Watching a clerk wrap up a little pill-box.
But it was late.  No customers were there,--
Pitiless eyes would freeze her secret in her!
And then--what poison would she dare to ask for?
And if they asked her why, what would she say?

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