Needle on a Scratchy Phonograph Record

by J. D. Salinger

(Cosmopolitan, September, 1948)


(The saga of Lida Louise who sang the blues as
they have never been sung before or since)

In mid-winter of 1944 I was given a lift in the back of an overcrowded
GI truck going from Luxembourg City to the front at Halzhoffen,
Germany--a distance of four flat tires, three (reported) cases of
frozen feet, and at least one case of incipient pneumonia.

The forty-odd men jammed in the truck were nearly all infantry
replacements. Many of them had just got out of hospitals in England
where they had been treated for wounds received in action somewhat
earlier in the war. Ostensibly rehabilitated, they were on their way to
join rifle companies of a certain infantry division which, I happened
to know, was commanded by a brigadier general who seldom stepped into
his command car without wearing a Luger and a photographer, one on each
side; a fighting man with a special gift for writing crisp, quotable
little go-to-hell notes to the enemy, invariably when outnumbered or
surrounded by the latter. I rode for hours and hours without looking
anybody in the truck very straight in the eye.

During day-light hours the men made an all-out effort to suppress or
divert their eagerness to get another crack at the enemy. Charade
groups were formed at either end of the truck. Favourite statesmen were
elaborately discussed. Songs were started up--spirited war songs,
chiefly, composed by patriotic Broadway songwriters who, through some
melancholy, perhaps permanently embittering turn of the wheel of
fortune, had been disqualified from taking their places at the front.
In short, the truck fairly rocked with persiflage and melody, until
night abruptly fell and the black-out curtains were attached. Then all
the men seemed to go to sleep or freeze to death, except the original
narrator of the following story and myself. He had the cigarettes and I
had the ears.

This is all I know about the man who told me the story: His first name
was Rudford. He had a very slight Southern accent and a chronic,
foxhole cough. The bars and red cross of a captain in the medics were
painted, as fashion had it, on his helmet.

And that's all I know about him except for what comes naturally out of
his story. So please don't anybody write in for additional
information--I don't even know if the man is alive today. This request
applies particularly to readers who may sooner or later think that this
story is a slam against one section of this country. It isn't a slam
against anybody or anything. It's just a simple little story of mom's
apple pie, ice cold beer, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Lux Theater of
the Air--the things we fought for, in short. You can't miss it, really.

Rudford came from a place called Agersburg, Tennessee. He said it was
about an hour's drive from Memphis. It sounded to me like a pretty
little town. For one thing, it had a street called Miss Packer's
Street. Miss Packers had been an Agersberg school teacher who, during
the Civil War, had taken a few pot shots at some passing Union troops,
from the window of the principal's office. None of the flag-waving,
Barbara Fritchie stuff for Miss Packer. She had just taken aim and let
go, knocking off five of the boys in blue before anybody could get to
her with an ax. She was then nineteen.

Rudford's father originally had been a Bostonian, a salesman for a
Boston typewriter company. On a business trip to Agserberg, just before
the first World War, he had met--and within two weeks married--a well
heeled local girl. He never returned either to the home office or to
Boston, apparently X-ing both out of his life without a jot of regret.
He was quite a number altogether. Less than an hour after his wife died
giving birth to Rudford, he got on a trolley going to the outskirts of
Agsberg and bought out a rocky, but reputable, publishing house. Six
months later he published a book he had written himself, entitled,
"Civics for Americans." It was followed, over a period of few years, by
a highly successful series of highly unreadable textbooks known-- only
too widely, even today--as the Intelligence Series for Progressive High
School Students of America. I certainly know for a fact that his
"Science for Americans" paid the public high schools of Philadelphia a
visit around 1932. The book was rich with baffling little diagrams of
simple little fulcrums.

The boy Rudford's early home life was unique. His father evidently
detested people who just read his books. He grilled and quizzed the boy
even at the height of marble season. He held him up on the staircase
for a definition of a chromosome. He passed him the lima beans on
condition that the planets were named--in order of size. He gave the
boy his ten-cent weekly allowance in return for the date of some
historical personage's birth or death or defeat. To be brief, at the
age of eleven Rudford knew just about as much, academically, as the
average high-school freshman. And in an extracurricular sense, more.
The average high-school freshman doesn't know how to sleep on a cellar
floor without using a pillow or blanket.

There were, however, two footnotes in Rudford's boyhood. They weren't
in his father's books, but they were close enough to make a little
quick sense in an emergency. One of them was a man named Black Charles,
and the other was a little girl named Peggy Moore.

Peggy was in Rudford's class at school. For more than a year, though,
he had taken little note of her beyond the fact that she was usually
the first one eliminated in a spelling bee. He didn't begin to assess
Peggy's true value until one day he saw her, across the aisle from him,
insert her chewing gum into the hollow of her neck. It struck Rudford
as a very attractive thing for anybody to do--even a girl. Doubling up
under his desk, pretending to pick up something from the floor, he
whispered to Peggy, "Hey! That where you put your gum?"

Turning her lips ajar, the young lady with the gum in her neck nodded.
She was flattered. It was the first time Rudford had spoken to her out
of the line of duty.

Rudford felt around the floor for a nonexistent ink eraser. "Listen.
You wanna meet a friend of mine after school?"

Peggy put a hand over her mouth and pretended to cough. "Who?" she

"Black Charles."

"Who's he?"

"He's a fella. Plays the piano on Willard Street. He's a friend of

"I'm not allowed on Willard Street."


"When are you going?"

"Right after she lets us out. She's not gonna keep us in today. She's
too bored...Okay?"


That afternoon the two children went down to Willard Street, and Peggy
met Black Charles and Black Charles met Peggy.

Black Charles's cafe was a hole-in-the-wall hamburger joint, a major
eyesore on a street that was regularly torn down, on paper, whenever
Civic Council convened.

It was, perhaps, the paragon of all restaurants classified by
parents--usually through he side window of the family car--as
unsanitary-looking. It was a swell place to go, in short. Moreover, it
is very doubtful if any of Black Charles's young patrons had ever got
sick from any of the delicious, greasy hamburgers he served. Anyway,
almost nobody went to Black Charles's to eat. You ate after you got
there, naturally, but that wasn't why you went.

You went there because Black Charles played the piano, like somebody
from Memphis--maybe even better. He played hot or straight, and he was
always at the piano when you came in, and he was always there when you
had to go home. But not only that. (After all, it stood to reason that
Black Charles, being a wonderful piano player, would be wonderfully
indefatigable.) He was something else--something few white players are.
He was kind and interested when young people came up to the piano to
ask him to play something or just to talk to him. He looked at you. He

Until Rudford started bringing Peggy with him he was probably the
youngest habitué of Black Charles's cafe. For over two years he had
been going there alone two or three afternoons a week; never at night,
for the very good reason that he wasn't allowed out at night. He missed
out on the noise and smoke and jump indigenous to Black Charles's place
after dark, but he got something, afternoons, equally or more
desirable. He had the privilege of hearing Charles play all the best
numbers without interruption. All he had to do to get in on this deal
was to wake the artist up. That was the catch. Black Charles slept in
the afternoon, and he slept like a dead man.

Going down to Willard Street to hear Black Charles play was even better
with Peggy along, Rudford found out. She was not only somebody good to
sit on the floor with; she was some body good to listen with. Rudford
liked the way she drew up her racy, usually bruised legs and locked her
fingers around her ankles. He liked the way she set her mouth hard
against her knees, leaving teeth marks, while Charles was playing. And
the way walked home afterwards: not talking, just now and then kicking
at a stone or a tin can, or reflectively cutting a cigar butt in two
with her heel. She was just right, though of course, Rudford didn't
tell her so. She had an alarming tendency to get lovey-dovey with or
without provocation.

You had to hand it to her, though. She even learned how to wake Black
Charles up.

One three-thirtyish afternoon, just after the two children had let
themselves in, Peggy said, "Can I wake him up this time? Huh, Rudford?"

"Sure. Go ahead. If you can." Black Charles slept, fully dressed except
for his shoes, on a bumpy, ratty-looking settee, a few stacked tables
away from his beloved piano.

Peggy circled the problem academically.

"Well, go ahead and do it," Ruthford said.

"I'm fixin' to; I am fixin' to. Go away."

Rudford watched her a trifle smugly. "Naa. You can't just shove him
around and get anywhere. You've seen me," he said. "You gotta really
haul off. Get him right under the kidneys. You've seen me."

"Here?" said Peggy. She had her finger on the little island of nerves
set off by the dorsal fork of Charles's lavender suspenders.

"Go ahead."

Peggy wound up and delivered.

Black Charles stirred slightly, but slept on without even seriously
changing his position.

"You missed. You gotta hit him harder than that anyway."

The aspirant tried to make a more formidable weapon of her right hand.
She sandwiched her thumb between her first and second fingers, held it
away from her and looked at it admiringly.

"You'll break your thumb that way. Get your thumb out of--"

"Oh, be quiet," said Peggy, and let go with a haymaker.

It worked. Black Charles let out an awful yell and went all of two feet
in the stale cafe air. As he came down, Peggy put in a request:
"Charles, will you play 'Lady, Lady' for me, please?"

Charles scratched his head, swung his immense, stockinged feet to the
cigarette-butt specked floor, and squinted. "That you, Marga-reet?"

"Yes. We just got here. The whole class was kept in," she explained.
Would you please play, 'Lady, Lady,' Charles?"

"Summer vacation starts Monday," Rudford enthusiastically put in. "We
can come around every afternoon."

"My, my! Ain't that fine!" Charles said--and meant it. He got to his
feet, a gentle giant of a man, towing a hook-and-ladder gin hang-over.
He began to move in the general direction of his piano.

"We'll come earlier too," Peggy promised.

"Ain't that fine!" Charles responded.

"This way, Charles," Rudford said. You're going right into the ladies'

"He's still sort of asleep. Hit him just once, Rudford..."

I guess it was a good summer--the days full of Charles's piano--but I
can't say for sure. Rudford told me a story; he didn't give me his
autobiography. He told me next about a day in November. It was still a
Coolidge year, but which one I don't know exactly. I don't think those
Coolidge years come apart anyways. It was afternoon. A half hour after
the pupils of the Agersburg Elementary School had pushed and shoved and
punched their way out of the exit doors, Rudford and Peggy were sitting
high in the rafters of the new house that was being built on
Miss Packer's Street. There wasn't a carpenter in sight. The highest,
narrowest, weakest beam in the house was theirs to straddle without
annoying interference.

Sitting on a beauty, a story above the ground, they talked about the
things that counted: the smell of gasoline, Robert Hermanson's ears,
Alice Caldwell's teeth, rocks that were all right to throw at somebody,
Milton Sills, how to make cigarette smoke come out your nose, men and
ladies who had bad breath, the best size knife to kill somebody with.

They exchanged ambitions. Peggy decided that when she grew up she would
be a war nurse. Also a movie actress. Also a piano player. Also a
crook--one that swiped a lot of diamonds and stuff but gave some of it
to poor people; very poor people.

Rudford said he only wanted to be a piano player. In his spare time,
maybe, he'd be an auto racer--he already had a pretty good pair of

A spitting contest followed, at a heated moment of which the losing
side dropped a valuable, mirrorless powder compact out of her cardigan
pocket. She started to climb down to retrieve it, but lost her balance
and fell about a quarter story.

She landed with a horrible thud on the new, white pine floor.

"You okay?" her companion inquired, not budging from the rafters.

"My head, Rudford, I am dyin'!"

"Naa, you're not."

"I am, too. Feel."

"I am not comin' all the way down just to feel."

"Please," the lady entreated.

Muttering cynical little observations about people who don't watch
where they're even going, Ruthford climbed down.

He pushed back a hank or two of the patient's lovely black-Irish hair.

"Where's it hurt?" he demanded.

"All over..."

"Well, I don't see anything. There isn't any abrasion at all."

"Isn't any what?"

"Abrasion. Blood or anything. There isn't even any swelling." The
examiner drew back suspiciously. "I don't even think you fell on your

"Well, I did. Keep looking...There. Right where your hand---"

"I don't see a thing. I am going back up."

"Wait!" said Peggy. "Kiss it first. Here. Right here."

"I'm not gonna kiss your old head. Wuddaya think I am?"

"Please! Just right here." Peggy pointed to her cheek.

Bored and enormously philanthropic, Rudford got it over with.

A rather sneaky announcement followed: "Now we're engaged."

"Like fun we are!...I'm leaving. I'm going down to old Charles's."

"You can't. He said not to come today. He said he was gonna have a
guest today."

"He won't care. Anyway, I'm not gonna stay here with you. You can't
spit. You can't even sit still. And when I feel sorry for you or
something, you try to get lovey-dovey."

"I don't get lovey-dovey much."

"So long," Rudford said.

"I'll go with you!"

They left the sweet-smelling empty house and moped along the
four-o'clock autumn streets toward Black Charles's. On Spruce Street
they stopped for fifteen minutes to watch two irate firemen trying to
get a young cat out of a tree. A woman wearing a Japanese kimono
directed the operations, in an unpleasant, importunate voice. The two
children listened to her, watched the firemen, and silently pulled for
the cat. She didn't let them down...Suddenly she leaped from a high
branch, landing on the hat of one of the firemen, and springboarded
instantly into an adjacent tree. Rudford and Peggy moved on, reflective
and permanently changed.

The afternoon now contained forever, however suspensory, one red and
gold tree, one fireman's hat and one cat that really knew how to jump.

"We'll ring the bell when we get there. We won't just walk right in,"
Rudford said.


When Rudford had rung the bell, Black Charles himself, not only awake
but shaven, answered the door. Peggy immediately reported to him, "You
said for us not to come today, but Rudford wanted to."

"Y'all come on in," Black Charles invited cordially. He wasn't sore at

Rudford and Peggy followed him self-consciously, looking for the guest.

"I got my sister's chile here," Black Charles said. "Her and her mammy
just come up here from 'gator country."

"She play the piano?" Rudford asked.

"She a singer, boy. She a singer."

"Why are the shades down?" Peggy asked. Why don't you have the shades
up, Charles?"

"I was cookin' in the kitchen. You chillen can he'p me pull 'em up,"
Black Charles said, and went out to the kitchen.

The two children each took a side of the room and began to let daylight
in. They both felt more relaxed. The Guest discomfort was over. If
there were somebody strange, some non-member, hovering about Black
Charles's place, it was only his sister's child--practically nobody.
But Rudford, over on the piano side of the cafe, suddenly took in his

Somebody was sitting at the piano, watching him. He let go the blind
string in his hand, and the blind snapped to the top; it slattered
noisily for a moment, then came to a stop.

"'And the Lord said, Let there be light,'" said a grown-up girl as
black as Charles, sitting in Charles's place at the piano. "Yeah, man,"
she added moderately. She was wearing a yellow dress and a yellow
ribbon in her hair. The sunshine that Rudford had let in fell across
her left hand; with it she was tapping out something slow and personal
on the wood of Charles's piano. In her other hand, between long,
elegant fingers, she had a burning stub of a cigarette.

She wasn't a pretty girl.

"I was just pulling up the shades," Rudford said finally.

"I see that," said the girl. "You do it good." She smiled as she said

Peggy had come over. "Hello," she said, and put her hands behind her

"Hello y'self," said the girl. Her foot was tapping, too, Rudford

"We come here a lot," Peggy said. "We're Charles's best friends."

"Well, ain't that glad news!" said the girl, winking at Rudford.

Black Charles came in from the kitchen, drying his huge, slender hands
on a towel.

"Lida Louise," he said, "these here's my friends, Mr. Rudford and Miss
Mar-gar-reet." he turned to the children. "This here's my sister's
chile, Miss Lida Louise Jones."

"We met," said his niece. "We all met at Lord Plushbottom's last
fortnight." She pointed at Rudford. "Him and me was playin' mahjong out
on the piazza."

"How 'bout you singin' somethin' for these here chillern?" Black
Charles suggested.

Lida Louise passed over it. She was looking at Peggy. "You and him
sweeties?" she asked her.

Rudford said quickly, "No."

"Yes," said Peggy.

"Why you like this little ole boy like you do?" Lida Louise asked

"I don't know," Peggy said. "I like the way he stands at the

Rudford considered the remark disgusting, but Lida Louise's threnodic
eyes picked it up and looked away with it. She said to Black Charles,
"Uncle, you hear what this here ole Margar-reet say?"

"No. What she say?" said Black Charles. He had the cover of his piano
raised and was looking for something in the strings--a cigarette butt
perhaps, or the top of a catsup bottle.

"She say she like this ole boy on accounta the way he stands at the

"That right?" said Black Charles, taking his head out of the piano.
"You sing somethin' for these here chillern Lida Louise," he said.

"Okay, what song they like?... Who stole my cigarettes? I had 'em right
here by my side."

"You smoke too much. You a too-much gal. Sing," said her uncle. He sat
down at his piano. "Sing 'Nobody Good Around.'"

"That ain't no song for kiddies."

"These here kiddies like that kinda song real good."

"Okay," said Lida Louise. She stood up, in close to the piano. She was
a very tall girl. Rudford and Peggy already sitting at the floor, had
to look way up at her.

"What key you want it?"

Linda Louise shrugged. "A, B, C, D, E, F, G," she said and winked at
the children. "Who cares? Gimme a green one. Gotta match my shoes."

Black Charles struck a chord, and his niece's voice slipped into it.
She sang "Nobody Good Around." When she was finished, Rudford had
gooseflesh from his neck to his waist. Peggy's fist was in his coat
pocket. He hadn't felt it go in and he didn't make her take it out.

Now years later Rudford was making a great point of explaining to me
that Lida Louise's voice cannot be described, until I told him I
happened to have most of her records and knew what he meant. Actually,
though, a fair attempt to describe Lida Louise's voice can be made. She
had a powerful soft voice. Every note she sang was detonated
individually. She blasted you tenderly to pieces. In saying her voice
can't be described, Rudford probably meant that it can't be classified.

And that's true.

Finished with "Nobody Good Around." Lida Louise stooped over and picked
up her cigarettes from under her uncle's bench. "Where you been?" she
asked them and lit one. The two children didn't take their eyes off

Black Charles stood up. "I got spareribs," he announced. "Who want

During Christmas week Lida Louise began singing nights at her Uncle
Charles's. Rudford and Peggy both got permission, on her opening night,
to attend a hygiene lecture at school. So they were there. Black
Charles gave them the table nearest the piano and put two bottles of
sarsaparilla on it, but they were both too excited to drink. Peggy
nervously tapped the mouth of her bottle against her front teeth;
Rudford didn't even pick his bottle up. Some of the high-school and
college crowd thought the children were cute. They were dealt with.
Around nine o'clock, when the place was packed, Black Charles suddenly
stood up from his piano and raised a hand. The gesture, however, had no
effect on the noisy, home-for-Christmas crowd, so Peggy turned around
in her seat and, never a lady, yelled at them, "Y'all be quiet!" and
finally the room quieted down. Charles's announcement was to the point.
"I got my sister's chile, Lida Louise, her t'night and she gonna sing
for you." Then he sat down and Lida Louise came out, in her yellow
dress, and walked up to her uncle's piano. The crowd applauded
politely, but clearly expected nothing special. Lida Louise bent over
Rudford and Peggy's table, snapped her finger against Rudford's ear,
and asked, "Nobody Good Around?"

They both answered, "Yes!"

Lida Loise sang that, and it turned the place upside down. Peggy
started to cry so hard that when Rudford had asked her, "What's the
matter?" and she had sobbed back, "I don't know," he suddenly assured
her, himself transported, "I love you good, Peggy!" which made the
child cry so uncontrollably he had to take her home.

Lida Louise sang nights at Black Charles's for about six months
straight. Then, inevitably, Lewis harold Meadows heard her and took her
back to Memphis with him.

She went without being perceptibly thrilled over the Great Opportunity.
She went without being visibly impressed by the sacred words "Beale
Street." But she went. In Rudford's opinion, she went because she was
looking for somebody, or because she wanted somebody to find her. It
sounds very reasonable to me. But as long as Agersburg could hold her,
she was adored, deified, by the young people there. They knew, most of
them, just how good she was, and those who didn't know pretended to.
They brought their friends home for the week-end to have a look at her.
The ones who wrote for their college papers sanctified her in glorious
prose. Others grew smug or blas‚ when foreigners turned dormitory
conversation to Viloet Henry or Priscilla Jordan, blues singers who
were killing other foreigners in Harlem or New Orleans or Chicago. If
you didn't have Lida Louise, where you lived, you didn't have anybody.
What's more, you were a bore.

In return for all this love and deification, Lida Louise was very, very
good with the Agesburg kids. No matter what they asked her to sing, or
how many times they asked her to sing it, she gave them what there was
of her smile, said, "Nice tune," and gave.

One very interesting Saturday night a college boy in a Tuxedo--somebody
said he was a visiting Yale man--came rather big-time-ily up to the
piano and asked Lida Louise, "Do you know 'Slow Train to Jacksonville,'
by any chance?"

Lida Louise looked at the boy quickly, then carefully, and answered,
"Where you hear that song, boy?"

The boy who was supposed to be a visiting Yale man said, "A fella in
New York played it for me."

Lida Louise asked him, "Colored man?"

The boy nodded impatiently.

Lida Louise asked him, "His name Endicott Wilson? You know?"

The boy answered, "I don't know. Little guy. Had a mustache."

Lida Louise nodded. "He in New York now?" she asked.

The boy answered, "Well, I don't know if he's there now. I guess so...
How 'bout singin' it if you know it?"

Lida Louise nodded and sat down at the piano herself. She played and
sang "Slow Train to Jacksonville."

According to those who heard it, it was a very good number, original
at least in melody, about an unfortunate man with the wrong shade of
lipstick on his collar. She sang it through once and, so far as Rudford
or I know, never again. Nor has the number ever been recorded by
anybody, to my knowledge.

Here we go into jazz history just a little bit. Lida Louise sang at
Lewis Harold Meadows's famous Jazz Emporium, on Beale Street in
Memphis, for not quite four months. (She started there in late May of
1927 and quit early in September of the same year.) But time, or the
lack of it, like everything else, depends entirely upon who's using it.
Lida Louise hadn't been singing on Beale Street for more than two weeks
before the customers started lining up outside Meadows's an hour before
Lida Louise went on. Record companies got after her almost immediately.
A month after she had hit Beale Street she had made eighteen sides,
including "Smile Town," "Brown Gal Blues," "Rainy Day Boy," "Nobody
Good Around" and "Seems Like Home."

Everybody who had anything to do with jazz--anything straight, that
is--somehow got to hear her while she was there. Russell Hopton, John
Raymond Jewel, Izzie Field, Louis Armstrong, Much Mcneill, Freddie
Jenks, Jack Teagarden, Bernie and Mortie Gold, Willie Fuchs, Goodman,
Beiderbecke, Johnson, Earl Slagle--all the boys.

One Saturday night a big Sedan from Chicago, pulled up in front of
Meadows's. Among those who piled out of it were Joe and Sonny Varioni.
They didn't go back with the others, the next morning. They stayed at
the Peabody for two nights, writing a song. Before they went back to
Chicago they gave Lida Louise "Soupy Peggy." It was about a sentimental
little girl who falls in love with a little boy standing at the
blackboard in school. (You can't buy a copy of "Soupy Peggy" today, for
any price. The other side of it had a fault, and the company only
turned out a very few copies.)

Nobody knew for certain why Lida Louise quit Meadows's and left
Memphis. Rudford and a few others reasonably suspected that her
quitting had something--or everything--to do with the
corner-of-Beale-Street incident.

Around noon on the day she quit Meadows's, Lida Louise was seen talking
in the street with a rather short well-dressed colored man. Whoever he
was, she suddenly hit him full in the face with her handbag. Then she
ran into Meadows's, whizzed past a crew of waiters and orchestra boys,
and slammed her dressing room door behind her. An hour later she was
packed and ready to go.

She went back to Agersberg. She didn't go back with a new flossy
wardrobe, and she and her mother didn't move into a bigger and better
apartment. She just went back.

On the afternoon of her return she wrote a note to Rudford and Peggy.
Probably on Black Charles's say-so--like every body else in Agersberg,
he was terrified of Rudford's father--she sent the note around to
Peggy's house. It read:

Dear kittys

I am back and got some real nice new songs for you so you come
around quick and see me.

Yours Sincerely,

(Miss) Lida Louise Jones

The same September that Lida Louise returned to Agersberg, Rudford was
sent away to boarding school. Before he left, Black Charles, Lida
Louise, Louise's mother and Peggy gave him a farewell picnic.

Rudford called for Peggy around eleven on a Saturday morning. They were
picked up in Black Charles's bashed-in old car and driven out to a
place called Tuckett's Creek.

Black Charles, with a fascinating knife, cut the strings on all the
wonderful looking boxes. Peggy was a specialist on cold spareribs.
Rudford was more of a fried-chicken man. Lida Louise was one of those
people who take two bites out of a drumstick, then light a cigarette.

The children ate until the ants got all over everything, then Black
Charles, keeping out a last sparerib for Peggy and a last wing for
Redford, neatly tied all the boxes.

Mrs. Jones stretched out on the grass and went to sleep. Black Charles
and Lida Louise began to play casino. Peggy had with her some
sun-pictures of people like Richard Barthelmess and Richard Dix and
Reginald Denny. She propped them up against a tree in the bright light
and watched possessively over them.

Rudford lay on his back in the grass and watched great cotton clouds
slip through the sky. Peculiarly, he shut his eyes when the sun was
momentarily clouded out; opened them when the sun returned scarlet
against his eyelids. The trouble was the world might end while his eyes
were shut.

It did. His world, in any case.

He suddenly heard a brief, terrible, woman's scream behind him. Jerking
his head around, he saw Lida Louise writhing in the grass. She was
holding her flat, small stomach. Black Charles was trying awkwardly to
turn her toward him, to get her somehow out of the frightening, queer
position her body had assumed in its apparent agony. His face was gray.

Rudford and Peggy both reached the terrible spot at the same time.

"What she et? What she done et?" Mrs. Jones demanded hysterically of
her brother.

"Nothin'! She done et hardly nothin'," Black Charles answered,
miserable. He was still trying to do something constructive with Lida
Louise's twisting body. Something came to Rudford's head, something out
of his father's "First Aid for Americans." Nervously he dropped to his
knees and pressed Lida Louise's abdomen with two fingers. Lida Louise
responded with a curdling scream.

"It's her appendix. She's busted her appendix. Or it's gonna bust,"
Rudford wildly informed Black Charles. "We gotta get her to a

Understanding, at least in part, Black Charles nodded. "You take her
foots," he directed his sister. Mrs. Jones, however, dropped her end of
the burden on the way to the car. Rudford and Peggy each grabbed a leg,
and with their help Black Charles hoisted the moaning girl into the
front seat. Rudford and Peggy also climbed in the front.

Peggy held Lida Louise's head. Mrs. Jones was obliged to sit alone in
the back. She was making far more anguished sounds than those coming
from her daughter.

"Take her to Samaritan. ON Benton Street," Rudford told Black Charles.

Black Charles's hands were shaking so violently he couldn't get the car

Rudford pushed his hand through the spokes of the driver's wheel and
turned on the ignition. The car started up.

"That there Samaritan's a private hospital," Black Charles said
grinding his gears.

"What's the difference? Hurry up. Hurry up, Charles," Rudford said, and
told the older man when to shift into second and when into third.
Charles knew enough, though, to make good, unlawful time.

Peggy stroked Lida Louise's forehead. Rudford watched the road.
Mrs. Jones, in the back, whimpered unceasingly. Lida Louise lay across
the children's laps with her eyes shut, moaning intermittently. The car
finally reached Samaritan Hospital, about a mile and a half away.

"Go in the front way," Rudford prompted.

Black Charles looked at him. "The front way, boy?" he said.

"The front way, the front way," Rudford said, and excitedly punched the
older man on the knee.

Black Charles obediently semicircled the gravel driveway and pulled up
in front of the great white entrance. Rudford jumped out of the car
without opening the door, and rushed into the hospital.

At the reception desk a nurse sat with earphones on her head.

"Lida Louise is outside, and she's dying," Rudford said to her. "She's
gotta have her appendix out right away."

"Shhh," said the nurse, listening to her earphones.

"Please. She's dying, I tellya."

"Shhh," said the nurse, listening to her earphones.

Rudford pulled them off her head. "Please," he said. "You've gotta get
a guy to help us get her in and everything. She's dying."

"The singer?" said the nurse.

"Yes! Lida Louise!" said the boy, almost happy and making it strong.

"I'm sorry but the rules of the hospital do not permit Negro patients.
I'm very sorry."

Rudford stood for a moment with his mouth open.

"Will you please let go of my phones?" the nurse said quietly. A woman
who controlled herself under all circumstances.

Rudford let go of the phones, turned, and ran out of the building.

He climbed back into the car, ordering, "Go to Jefferson. Spruce and

Black Charles said nothing. He started up the motor--he had turned it
off--and jerked the car to a fast start.

"What's the matter with Samaritan? That's a good hospital," Peggy said
stroking Lida Louise's forehead.

"No, it isn't," Rudford said, looking straight ahead, warding off any
possible side glance from Black Charles.

The car turned into Fenton Street and pulled up in front of Jefferson
Memorial Hospital. Rudford jumped out again, followed this time by

There was the same kind of reception desk inside, but there was a man
instead of a nurse sitting at it--an attendant in a white duck suit. He
was reading a newspaper.

"Please. Hurry. We got a lady outside in the car that's dying. Her
appendix is busted or something. Hurry, willya?"

The attendant jumped to his feet, his newspaper falling to the floor.
He followed right on Rudford'd heels.

Rudford opened the front door of the car, and stood away. The attendant
looked in at Lida Louise, pale and in agony, lying across the front
seat with her head on Black Charles's head.

"Oh. Well, I'm not a doctor myself. Wait just a second."

"Help us carry her in," Rudford yelled.

"Just be a minute," the attendant said. "I'll call the resident
surgeon." He walked off, entering the hospital with one hand in his
jacket pocket--for poise. Rudford and Peggy let go of the awkward
carry-hold they already had on Lida Louise. Redford leading, they both
ran after the attendant. They reached him just as he got to his
switchboard. Two nurses were standing around, and a woman with a boy
who was wearing a mastoid dressing.

"Listen. I know you. You don't wanna take her. Isn't that right?"

"Wait just a min-ute, now. I'm callin' up the resident surgeon...Let go
my coat, please. This is a hospital, sonny."

"Don't call him up," Rudford said through his teeth. "Don't call up

We're gonna take her to a good hospital. In Memphis." Half-blinded,
Rudford swung crazily around. "C'mon, Peggy."

But Peggy stood some ground, for a moment. Shaking violently, she
addressed everybody in the reception lobby: "Damn you! Damn you all!"

Then she ran after Rudford.

The car started up again. But it never reached Memphis. Not even
halfway to Memphis.

It was like this: Lida Louise's head was on Rudford's lap. So long as
the car kept moving, her eyes were shut.

Then abruptly, for the first time, Black Charles stopped for a red
light. While the car was motionless, Lida Louise opened her eyes and
looked up at Rudford.

"Endicott?" she said.

The boy looked down at her and answered, almost at the top of his
voice, "I'm right here, Honey!"

Lida Louise smiled, closed her eyes, and died.

A story never ends. The narrator is usually provided with a nice,
artistic spot for his voice to stop, but that's about all.

Rudford and Peggy attended Lida Louise's funeral. The following morning
Rudford went away to boarding school. He didn't see Peggy again for
fifteen years. During his first year at boarding school, his father
moved to San Francisco, re-married and stayed there. Rudford never
returned to Agersburg. He saw Peggy again in early summer of 1942. He
had just finished a year of internship in New York. He was waiting to
be called into the Army. One afternoon he was sitting in the Palm Room
of the Biltmore Hotel, waiting for his date to show up. Somewhere
behind him a girl was very audibly giving away the plot to a Taylor
Caldwell novel. The girl's voice was Southern, but not swampy and not
blue-grass and not even particularly drawly. It sounded to Rudford very
much like a Tennessee voice. He turned to look. The girl was Peggy. He
didn't even have to take a second look.

He sat for a minute wondering what he would say to her; that is if he
were to get up and go over to her table--a distance of fifteen years.
While he was thinking, Peggy spotted him. No planner, she jumped up and
went over to his table.


"Yes..." He stood up.

Without embarrassment, Peggy gave him a warm, if glancing kiss.

They sat down for a minute at Rudford's table and told each other how
incredible it was that they had recognized each other, and how fine
they both looked. Then Rudford followed her back to her table. Her
husband was sitting there.

The husband's name was Richard something, and he was a Navy flier. He
was eight feet tall, and he had some theater tickets or flying goggles
or a lance in one of his hands. Had Rudford brought a gun along, he
would have shot Richard dead on the spot.

They all sat down at an undersized table and Peggy asked ecstatically,
"Rudford, do you remember that house on Miss Packer's Street?"

"I certainly do."

"Well, who do you think's living in it now? Iva Hubbel and her

"Who?" said Rudford.

"Iva Hubbel! You remember her. She was in our class. No chin? Always
snitched on everybody?"

"I think I do," Rudford said. "Fifteen years though," he added

Peggy turned to her husband and lengthily brought him up to date on the
house on Miss Packer's Street. He listened with an iron smile.

"Rudford," Peggy said suddenly. "What about Lida Louise?"

"How do you mean, Peggy?"

"I don't know. I think about her all the time." She didn't turn to her
husband with an explanation. "Do you too?" she asked Rudford.

He nodded. "Sometimes, anyway."

"I played her records all the time when I was in college. Then some
crazy drunk stepped on my 'Soupy Peggy.' I cried all night. I met a
boy, later, that was in Jack Teagarden's band, and he had one, but he
wouldn't sell it to me or anything. I didn't even get to hear it

"I have one."

"Honey," Peggy's husband interrupted softly, "I don't wanna interrupt,
but you know how Eddie gets. I told him we'd be there and all."

Peggy nodded. "Do you have it with you?" she asked. "In New York?"

"Well, yes, it's at my aunt's apartment. Would you like to hear it?"

"When?" Peggy demanded.

"Well, whenever you---"

"Sweetie. Excuse me. Look. It's three thirty now. I mean---"

"Rudford," Peggy said, "we have to run. Look. Could you call me
tomorrow? We're staying here at the hotel. Could you? Please," Peggy
implored, slipping into the jacket her husband was crowding around her

Rudford left Peggy with a promise to phone her in the morning. He never
phoned her, though, or saw her again.

In the first place, he almost never played the record for anybody in
1942. It was terribly scratchy now. It didn't even sound like Lida
Louise any more.

Copyright (C) J. D. Salinger