Sunday, September 8, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 138: Jane Rice, The Refugee (#64)

Jane Rice, "The Refugee" (1943) from American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now:

Here's a great way to tell us about a character: tell us what that character values:
The trouble with the war, Milli Cushman thought as she stared sulkily through streaming French windows into her rain drenched garden, was that it was so frightfully boring. There weren’t any men, any more. Interesting ones, that is. Or parties. Or little pink cocktails. Or cafĂ© royale. Or long-stemmed roses wrapped in crackly green wax paper. There wasn’t even a decent hairdresser left.
So when men are going off to die, Milli's main objection is that it negatively affects her social life--and her alimentary life.
Milli used “fare” in its strictest interpretation. Often, of late, she found herself dwelling, with an aching nostalgia, on her father’s butcher shop in Pittsburgh. That had been before he’d invented a new deboner, or meat cleaver, or something, and had amassed an unbelievable amount of money before he strangled to death on a loose gold filling at Tim O’Toole’s clambake.
Poor Milli can't eat as well as she used to--never mind that men die around her in terrible ways (or that she barely knows what it was that her father invented and where her money comes from).

You might object that Jane Rice is laying it on a bit think here about Milli Cushman--gosh, that last name is a lot like "crush men," innit? Well, sure, but it gets the point across pretty well, as well as setting up the connection between men and food--and even choking on a piece of metal. Because this story starts with a lonely spoiled woman finding a werewolf in her garden, a man who seems even less well off than she is:
Milli gave an infinitesimal gasp. A man was in her garden! A man who, judging from the visible portion of his excellent anatomy, had—literally—lost his shirt.
Henry James would've put it differently, but how many of his books revolve around the discovery of a man in someone's rain-drenched but ruined garden? Yes, millionaire Milli is fighting a war against time and hunger and losing at both. And this man in her garden quickly takes possession of the whole place: sleeping where he wants and saying menacing--or stimulating--things about how he'll have her. I have to say, the first time I read this, I was suckered, thinking the shallow woman would be food for the werewolf. After all, she's got mixes feelings like this:
Confusedly, Milli thought that it was lucky the windows were locked and, in the same mental breath, what a pity that they were.
Hardly the type to really survive a werewolf attack/rape. But when it comes down to it, though the story has set up Milli as this shallow, self-centered person, she's the one who does the killing and eating. The story has already set up the idea that "food" is a broad concept in war-time France: "Cooked, a cat bore a striking resemblance to a rabbit."

And the story has set up how Milli will kill Lupus, dropping one of her often-mentioned silver charms into his mouth for him to strangle on, like her father, the deboner inventor. So Milli gets to have Lupus in the most important way of all:
And with [her maid] Maria gone she could have Lupus all to herself.
Down to the last, delicious morsel.
Because sex and companionship may be fine, but food is the quickest way to someone's heart. There's something almost Tiptree-esque in the combination of sex, death, and survival.

No comments:

Post a Comment