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New Left Review I/7, January-February 1961


Alex Hamilton

Just a Little Bit Different





. . . (said Millie Dubbs) and he din’t see why I shouldn’t really when you think of some of the women who do. “And some of the men,” says I, “and why don’t you go into them yourself, if it’s so easy?” “Oh,” he says, “I’ve got three years to do yet for Uncle Sam before I can think of playing about in movies, but you might as well drop up and see a perducer as sit about here on your fanny all day.” “Sit about on my excuse me Foss Harvey and who do you think you are spending all your time here and leaving it until now before you say you’ve three years to do yet? “Three years is nothing,” says Foss, “some the boys got twenty.” “Much I care” says I, ooo I was mad at him, “how many they got, they can have twenty hundred for all it means to me, but at least they don’t come in here Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and get drunk making everybody think they’re coming out soon, and if they did I’d soon tell them they ought not to look at a girl until they were in a position to let a girl know where they stand.” “Some them don’t,” says Foss, “some them go around boss-eyed trying to size up what the youngsters is gonna look like twenty years from now, I’ve seen Eddie Fiddleberg stop little girl in the street, girl with wavy hair, and a pigtail, and tell her honey, jes’ you give me a ring eighteen years from now and ask for Private first-class Fiddleberg and he’ll show you the town, that’s what. Cutest little trick. She lapped it up too, bet she told all her friends.” Oooo that sort of thing makes me mad at Foss. I says to him: “There ought to be a law made against men like Eddie being sent abroad. He ought to be ashamed of hisself—why doesn’t he find hisself a decent steady girl instead of frightening the kids with his jokes?” “Whereja wannim to try,” says Foss, “he knows every girl who comes out the base on Saturday on the passion-wagon, and they tell him nothing, jes’ nothing, and boy, do I understand him when he says that. Before I met you honey, I wasn’t sure of anything in this country, not even sure who I was sometimes. Never got a chance to boast about anything. Nobody unnerstands here boasting is jes’ a way of saying who you are, and if you caint boast, well, in a way, you aren’t there. Dja remember the first time we met? I stoppedcha in the street and askedcha “Where’s the centre of town, honey?” and you says to me “This is the centre of town” and I looked around and boy, a mole would’ve wondered what he was going to do for a bit of fun. Sure wouldn’t have thought a meeting like that could’ve led to this.” Going about with Foss was alright. He worked three days and had four days off, and when we got mad at one another we insulted the other’s country which makes it a little less personal, like. But some of his friends were just disgusting and it was as much as I could do to make the beds in the morning with them all lying around on the carpet, and empty bottles, and some of them had been sick, and those women they brought left false eyelashes, and fingernails, and hairbuns wherever you looked. But it takes all kinds, is what I always says, and there’s good and bad. And I knew Miss Carter could do with the money since she got arthritis bad and couldn’t never leave the kitchen, but just guess who was coming to the house from their shoes and the kind of legs they had up to the knee, so I never said nothing. But I think she knew all the same; I think she knew everything that happened in that house, and knew it just as well when she was sitting all day in the basement chair as when she could get about. But she never said nothing. She needed the money. She knew what Americans are like, but she needed the money and a lot of them were nice boys and left her a lot of things. And why shouldn’t they carry on a bit, is what I always says, how would you feel in Africa, or Russia, or Spain or somewhere if you couldn’t leave it for a few years? Anyway, Foss was alright, only a bit impulsive but I thought I could be a good influence. I used to dress in secretarial black to give a bit of tone to the house when he came, with only a Naples red necklace in the way of fancy. And I used to have to sit upstairs for hours with him talking while Eddie took these pictures of women for an art magazine. Eddie was no good in some ways, but he was crafty, and he’d do ten times as much as Foss and get away with it, while Foss always seemed to get caught for everything and he was always losing his stripes and spending a fortnight in gaol. All the boys was the same, but it didn’t seem to matter to them. If their mothers could’ve saw them sometimes! I always say it was Eddie began all the trouble, though Foss says it would’ve happened anyway. We find Eddie a girl and he says he likes her, and she seems to make quite an impression because Eddie keeps his suitcase full of photographs under the bed and doesn’t bring them out to show her all day. So from there we all take to going out together as a foursome, and we all get on very well together except me. I don’t like Barbara. For one thing she’s a snob, and won’t never dance until she’s had a drink and looked around to see who’s there. But I don’t say nothing, because Foss will only bite my head off and say it’s none of my business. I must say it was Eddie’s own fault what happened, the way he was always pushing money on to her—doing it all the time, never less than five pounds and I’ve seen him one night when he was you know drunk so Foss had to help him along, give her so many notes she couldn’t hardly get her bag closed round them, and put some in the top of her stocking and what she had there was a garter as wide as your hand and it didn’t seem to embarrass her any to show it neither. Disgusting I thought it was, but I didn’t say nothing because Foss would only have grinned and said that was women all over and then we’d have had a row. I must say to be fair to Barbara that it made Eddie a lot easier to get on with after he took to taking her about. He was more relaxed, you know. He still got drunk but he didn’t throw the bottle against the wall when he’d finished it. And one day Eddie says to Foss: “Whatever else Foster Harvey, that kid Barbara loves me, I jes depend on that, so I’ll take it kindly if you watch over her days I’m up at the base and see she don’t come into no harm. I’d sure be knocked over if I lost that little girl,” and Foss scratches his head and says “Well now, Eddie, isn’t that just a little bit different?” which is what he always says when something comes he’s not expecting, and I first heard him say it on the day a little man about three stone smaller than Foss starts an argument in a pub and asks him to step outside and settle the matter. Then he says “Natch Eddie, we’re buddies, ain’t we? I’ll look after her see she don’t come to no harm like she was my own girl. Yes, I sure will look after her so good she’ll come to think she is my own girl. Tell you something Eddie—you seem to be so taken with this Barbara I’ve come to think there must be something to her. What say we have an exchange for a couple of weeks? I’ll give you Millie and coupla bottles of whiskey to go with her because Millie won’t be such a novelty to you. How about it Eddie?” I get so mad with Foss when he talks like that, but he says it’s only fun and where’s the harm in talking? And then one evening we’re all sitting in the front room and the boys are playing cards, all except Eddie who’s up at the base doing heavy duty, and Foss who has his cap over his eyes on the sofa, when a policeman comes down and begins asking Miss Carter a lot of questions about Barbara. Miss Carter answers politely because she says she doesn’t believe in annoying the police or perhaps there’ll be one outside in the road with a five-yard beat all the time, and after a bit the policeman goes away and Miss Carter says that Barbara is in the nick for shop-lifting. “Well” I says, “I hope she gets ten years for being so damn silly. She didn’t need to do no shop-lifting, Eddie spends more money on her in a week than he does on hisself in a year.” But Foss jumps up as soon as he hears this and pokes his head out of the window and shouts after the policeman “Hey chief!” and when the policeman turns round he says “C’mon back a minute, let’s talk.” “What are you going to do?” I ask him. “Don’t know honey, guess this is just a little bit different, but we’ll have to think up something. If Eddie gits back and finds Barbara in the hoosegow he’ll be wild, jes wild. He’ll tear that gaol apart to get her out, and we’ll be lucky if he don’t tear us apart when he’s through. Besides, Eddie’s my buddy, and he asked me to look after her, and I gotta blame myself.” When the policeman comes back Foss asks can he go bail for Barbara? But the copper says not that night, because there’s a lot of paper work to be done round Barbara at the station, like taking statements and all that but when the brainwork’s all been done he’s welcome to come on down and chance his arm, the next day perhaps. “Well,” I says, “that’s that Foss, because you’re due back at the base in two hours time. I’ll go round to the station tomorrow morning and see Barbara and find out if she wants anything like stockings or lipstick or anything.” “No honey,” says Foss, “that’s real nice of you but I jes couldn’t buck a responsibility like that. I’ll jes have to go up on a charge and that’s all.” “But Foss,” I says, “you only just got your stripes back!” Oooo, I was mad at him! “Jes cain’t be helped Millie, some things a man gotta do. Eddie’s my buddy. We was at Guadalcanal together.” When Foss gets like that I know there’s nothing I can do, but I din’t sleep that night I can tell you. Next morning Foss went and got Barbara out and brought her back, and first of all Miss Carter told her what she thought of her and how she’d run a respectable house for twenty six years and she wasn’t going to have Number Seventeen getting a bad name for the likes of her, not if she was the Queen of Tibet, which she needn’t think she was, and she could stay this time, but next time she’d be right out. And when Miss Carter’d finished I told her what I thought, only I’d been sitting up all night thinking about it and I couldn’t hardly get the words out straight, and all the boys sat round playing cards so quiet you’d have thought they was all in church and I bet Barbara wished she’d been back in the nick for a bit of peace and quiet. Eddie comes in a bit later and I could see right off that Barbara was going to try to do a bit better. It’s always different if you’ve actually had a copper’s hand on your shoulder. Eddie was happy as a clam. But Foss lost his stripes again like I thought he would, and I sat for two hours on the stone dwarf in the yard and cried about it. And the very next week I was waiting for him on Thursday afternoon and he comes up to me very serious and says “Honey, I done it this time. You’re not gonna be sore now?” “What?” I says, “Course not, only tell me what you done and don’t just stand there.” “Well,” he says, and he begins to laugh, and ooo that made me mad when I heard. “I thought with a bit of good conduct I’d soon get those stripes back and my Sergeant’s pay and all, and maybe if I was one day a top-Sergeant we’d get married, and I wasn’t too sore when I was put on a fatigue party because they gave me the bull-dozer to drive, which ain’t the worst could happen. But then I was flattening out a hill of sand when I hear somebody yelling and I look over my shoulder and see there’s a Sergeant taking over the squad I never could abide. The feeling’s mutual, and I sit there thinking this is all gonna be just a little bit different when I call to mind what the next few weeks is gonna be like with him laying for me, and he yells at me and I can’t hear with the noise of the bulldozer so I just sit there and cup my hand to my ear and don’t pay no mind to where I’m going and the next thing is I’ve gone right through the heap of sand and a bit further on I’ve bulldozed the Colonel’s new car, which had been hidden from me before by the sand. You could skate on that car now, honey, so I guess this is it and I’m for it.” So we went to the pictures and held hands, but don’t ask me what it was all about because I couldn’t hardly see the screen with crying. So when we come out of the pictures it was raining and we didn’t feel like going anywhere and I says to Foss, “Let’s get married Foss. We’re going go be married some time, and I’d like it now.” And he takes off his cap and says “Well, that sure is mighty different. We’ll do that, Millie.” So we went to a Registry and got married and I was ever so happy, even though I’d always wanted white, but Foss said we’d do it properly another time. And Foss said he had to have something of a honeymoon before spending time in the glasshouse and we’d have the other part of it when they let him out. So we went back to Number Seventeen and I only told Miss Carter and she cried and cried into the cabbage and said she always knew I had it in me to catch him in the end, and how I was the best of her girls, and never to forget how she’d been good to me. Then I went upstairs and told Eddie just what Foss had done for him and asked him for his bed. Eddie comes from Texas and is six foot seven so he has to have a double bed he can sleep in diagonal, but he gave it up straightway and said he’d sleep one bit of him at a time that night, first his legs, then his head and then his arms and so on. And then I had to wait for Foss to come out for two months, and sometimes I felt all sort of funny and it had all been so sudden I wasn’t really sure if I was married or not, so I fixed up with a parson Miss Carter knew who sold her eggs to marry us in Church and Foss said alright and we got married again, only Foss said if I didn’t feel properly married without the Church he didn’t feel properly married without a full honeymoon. And that meant Eddie had to give up his room again and sleep in the morning room and for eight days he almost drove Miss Carter out of her mind by showing her photographs and asking her if he could take some of her to go with them. I felt more married at the end of that, and Foss said so did he, but he didn’t tell me he was AWOL again for seven of those days and so when he went back to camp he had to go back into the glasshouse. This time he comes out he says to me one afternoon “Millie, there’s one thing I’ve been mulling over in my mind while I’ve been in the hoky that’s got me a little worried. I guess it’ll be just a little bit different for you when you hear. You see, honey, I’m a Roman, and according to their teaching we’re not married right. If it’s all the same to you I’d take it kindly if you’d get into that white of yours again and come down to a padre I know, jes to set my conscience easy. Shall we do that?” I said alright, so Foss and I was married again, and Eddie had another eight days in the morning room, and said it almost drove him out of his mind to have to listen to Housewives Choice every morning when he’d only just got comfortable. And again he was AWOL without telling me so this time when he came and told me he was going up before a disciplinary court I thought it was a bit much and asked him if a soldier in the American Forces didn’t get any compassionate leave when he got married? He says, “Oh yes, but you see honey, we’re married in secret. We’re not officially married. The U.S. Army is very particular about who its boys marry and I’m not saying this to make you sore honey, but what I do mean is it wouldn’t have been any good me going to the Colonel for permission to marry with all the time I’ve been doing just recently. That Colonel’s practically got the whole NATO alliance on his shoulders and he doesn’t like things to be too different all at once, so I thought we’d just skip permits till all this mush blows over, and then we can put it all through in order and get married by the Army, who like to have their say in a matter so important as an international alliance.” But this time the disciplinary court decided to have Foss transferred back to U.S.A., and the first I knew of it was a letter from Alabama. He said he was fixing to get a permit for us to get married from the army, and if it was alright with me we’d be married by both his Church and mine, to please his folks as well as me. As soon as he’d saved the money for the passage he’d send it, but I’d have to travel over as Miss Dubbs because he couldn’t tell the Army he’d already been married to me or he’d be up on a charge and perhaps a Court-Martial this time. Well, I know Foss and I know that every time he’s nearly got the money saved he’ll find a deserving friend and I’ll have to begin waiting all over again. So one day I sat talking to Miss Carter and telling her how hard it was for me to be three times married and still have two more marriages and perhaps three to go through before I stopped being Miss Dubbs, and I didn’t know when the money was coming or what Foss might be up to, so Miss Carter says “Why don’t you try the films Millie? Give you something to do with yourself to pass the time because you can’t go out with Americans any more now that you’re married, even secretly married, because it wouldn’t be fair to Foss. You’d make a bit of money, and you might get to Alabama easier that way. You might get to Hollywood first; after all, look at some of the girls that do.”

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