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Exploring The Catcher in the Rye   :   Fan Fiction

I suspected that an antidote to a fascination about The Catcher in the Rye may be to consider other characters' points of view as carefully as Salinger considered Holden's. That thought, Mr. Punt's Essay, and, of course, the book itself, inspired this work. This is a story exploring Stradlater's point of view. (My fascination with CITR hasn't exacly abated, though.)

Disclaimers:

  • Like the book, there is some profanity in this story.
  • The point of view and opinions expressed aren't mine. It's a story.
  • I don't recommend taking a test with information from this work. I believe I never contradict anything in The Catcher in the Rye, but I also added several details (two examples: number of cafeterias at Pencey Prep, Stradlater's home location).
  • If you haven't read The Catcher in the Rye, I recommend it very highly. I have read a couple other books three times but have read CITR six times to date. It is a fast, interesting read, has no lags, and is in an easy to read, colloquial voice, and is very funny. I'm not kidding!
20 February 1999

What Stradlater Did that Sunday
A Catcher in the Rye Fan Fiction
by Suzanne Morine

 
"Hey. Excuse me, we're outta forks," Ward told the women behind the steam tables in the dining room cafeteria. A line of guys was backing up behind him. Everyone at Pencey ate at its one cafeteria but this group were the older guys, mostly. The younger ones didn't have dates Saturday night and went to breakfast earlier than this even on Sundays. Ward didn't like being crowded so early that Sunday morning. He was mildly annoyed but also glad for the routine.
"Hey, Stradlater," someone called.
Ward turned around, saw it was Fred. Fred Woodruff. Ward gave him a curt nod and a question mark for a look but a clatter of silverware rang behind him and he turned and got a fork and moved along the line. His well groomed hair faintly bounced every time he turned his head. It was sort of like a lake's watery surface. It looked cool, it could mesmerize you. Ward knew this and used it. He had practiced in the mirror for hours the previous summer. "Two sausages, two eggs, please."
Fred lived on Ward's floor, in the new dorms. Ward wondered what Fred wanted.
While taking his tray, with it's cheap plate of food and silverware, over to the bread and beverage counter, Ward was thinking. Ackley, the guy next door, on the other side of a common shower, had come in all weird earlier that morning, asking about Holden. Holden was Ward's roommate, only he'd disappeared in the night. Ackley knew that Ward had pounded Holden up pretty good last night. Ackley had told Ward that Holden had stayed in Ely's (Ackley's roommate) bed for a while. Ackley had showed Ward Ely's pillow. There was blood on one side of it. There was also some blood on the sheets. They'd found drops of blood here and there along the way in both rooms, and one in the shower. Ackley wouldn't stop talking. Unusual for Ackley.


"He was talking about becoming a monk, fer Chrissakes. He said he fought you for my honor," Ackley distractedly said. But Ward didn't pay much attention. Seeing the blood got him all nervous again. His hands were shaking. He kept it under control, by acting cool and leaving for a washcloth, and going to the can to wet it up at a sink, and then returning to Ackley's and Ely's room with it. Ackley was following him all the way.

"He's nuts, huh, I don't know. Do you think he did something stupid?" Ackley was saying.
"Aw, come on, Ackley. His suitcases and everything are gone. He musta gone home," Ward was just talking to fill up his end of the conversation. He was just glad that his words made some kind of sense.
"You really did damage, uh. I don't want Ely coming home to find blood all over --"
"That's what I'm doing, cleaning up." Ward was squatting down at the floor and wiped at a drop of blood. Damn it, it was dry, it was going to take a while to clean all of this up. Why'd he do it, why'd Holden act so childish? Why'd he, Ward Stradlater, lose control? What if Holden's parents wanted disciplinary action? What if the police? What if? Ward scrubbed harder.
"Stradlater, the bed, though, what're you worried about those little drops. No one cares about that. God, did you see the bed?!"
"Take the sheets off and wa-sh 'em for Chrissake, Ackley!" Ward tried to control his voice. A crack had come through, though. Ackley must have heard it: there was a sudden, stupid blankness in the room. Ward put on a furrowed brow business look and went over to another drop. He'd been just about ready to go to breakfast when Ackley had come over.
"Oh." Ackley's voice came from the bed, sounding disappointed and struck. Ward stood up and looked at the pillow in Ackley's hand. The blood had seeped into the pillow, not only through the pillow case, but through the thin pillow sham as well, onto the pillow. They needed a new pillow. They looked at each other. Ward could see that Ackley was worried about Ely's reaction. What a child, Ward thought and shook his head at Ackley, grabbing the pillow.
"What?!" Ackley called after Ward, then shut up, perhaps remembering that strange sound that had come out in Ward's voice -- and having seen the look on his face just then. Ward banged through the shower with the pillow.
But he came back and tossed the pillow on the bed. He suddenly felt calmer, even relieved. "Just take off all the sheets, and anything else with blood on it. We'll wash the blood off before Ely gets back. We'll wash it all out, take it ourselves to the Laundry, get new sheets, and Ely won't know." Ward's mind was clicking. He was glad of it, too. Criminals must go through this. I'm thinking like a criminal, he thought. Because I'm worried about the police, he also thought.
Ward headed back to his room with the washcloth to work on the blood on the floor in there, even though there was still some in Ackley's and Ely's room. On the way out, he noticed a second time what could be smeared blood on the wall. Maybe Holden had had trouble finding the light switch. On the other hand, Ackley was a slob. Maybe those marks were from something else.
"The Laundry's closed on Sunday." Ackley called back.
"We'll use Holden's sheets, then." Ward just said that for something to say to Ackley. It was amazing that it made any sense at all. But it made a great deal of sense. Even if they washed Ely's sheets themselves, they'd probably not be dry in time for Ely to sleep in them. They'd probably also be wrinkly and stiff even if they were dry in time. (In addition, even the Laundries and shops in town weren't open on Sunday. Nobody was open on Sunday.)
As he hunched over the blood-stained floor, this gripping reminder of his lost temper and irresponsibility, Ward remembered the blood on Holden's face and front, and his righteous, helpless rage. Ward realized he couldn't let Ackley in on his worries, ever. Too Catholic, old Ackley. Then he smelled Ackley. Sure enough, Ackley was standing on the shower ledge.
"You want me to just take the sheets off myself?"
"Go ahead, Ackley."
"Are you sure he's not coming back?"
"No, but probably not. Yeah, take 'em." Ward jumped up to the bed, though. He wanted something more to do than to scrub away at the floor. He noticed a drop of blood on Holden's blanket. That certainly was strange. Did he punch him so hard that blood flew out? Probably. Damn, I'm strong. Nah, it could be Holden touched it. Nah. It could be when Holden hit the floor, it shot out, one drop. That had to be it. He acted gruff for Ackley, tossing aside both blankets and the pillow. What a bunch of children he went to school with. He yanked the sheets off, and Ackley took them, looking at him a little weird.
Ackley hung back at the shower ledge a second or two, staring. After Ward gave him a quick, furious look and sat by the bloodied spots on the floor again, Ackley dumbly said, "Thanks," and he left.
Ward scrubbed away at the several blood smears and dried drops there. It was where Holden had landed. It was near where Ward had, earlier, sat on him, pinning him down. Yelling over and over. Both of them. And for.. It all looked stupid now in the daylight. He'd felt like a hero while it went on, though. Teaching a boy to grow up, he'd felt, a boy who needed real guidance, from him, Ward, his buddyroo. Oh well. Now the sunshine came out of some clouds briefly. It glistened on the wet wood, Ward worked on the dried smears and drops. The sun went back behind the clouds. As he worked, the worst spot went from solid, dark, dark red, to broken, dark, dark red showing wood through, to wood with dark lines in the grooves of the wood grain, to just glistening wood, to just dry wood. He looked at it. He looked around for more stains and realized it'd help if he would re-wet the washcloth.
He got up, thinking, "Nah, Holden'll forget all about it in a few days. That's what I would do." He was feeling relieved, and feeling stupid for his fears.
Ward called to Ackley, sounding friendly, "I'm heading for breakfast before they close. Gotta make a move." He tossed the washcloth in the shower. Then he thought he should rinse it, the blood might set a stain in it. He didn't want to go to the can with a bloody washcloth, though. He held it up to the shower head and turned the water on at a trickle. He let it fill with water and then squeezed it out. That didn't do a very good job. Maybe the Laundry wouldn't notice. Or maybe he could trash it..
And what about Ely's sheets? Deeply stained and dried all night.. How were they going to clean up those? And it wasn't just the Laundry workers he was anxious about. People get bloody noses, the workers may reason. They may not worry about it, not raise questions. But it wasn't just being undetected that Ward wanted. In some small way, he wanted it all clean. It's okay to make mistakes if you make up for it, make it clean. Clean slate. Clean like the snow outside. Responsibility. He thought of his summer basketball coach. An old, but cool, decent guy. But then he thought of his father. What a tiresome treadmill: responsibility. Sometimes you don't know what you want until you cross the bridge. The saying went something like that.
I need some food, Ward thought for the tenth time. He let the washcloth drop in the shower.
"Ackley, how's the sheets?" Ward walked into Ackley's and Ely's room.
"The pillow's still a problem. Gimme Holden's." Ackley was back to his regular, bored self. He looked at Ward as if this were all his fault.
Ward grinned the Grin to Keep 'em Away. "Take it, I'm going to breakfast. Give me Ely's, huh? I mean -- throw it in my room, okay?" Ward left out of Ackley's and Ely's door. Out in the empty hall, he suddenly felt like a criminal again, a suffocating weight. He looked around at the dusty, empty hall to concentrate on the now, instead.


Ward found an empty table and Fred soon joined him, along with several other guys, including Ackley. Ackley was wearily saying, "I'll go to the ten thirty Mass.. Yeah, I know I can't receive."

"So, Stradlater, where's Holden? What happened to him last night?" Fred sounded just a bit peeved.
"I don't know."
Ackley wearily said, "He beat him up last night and now he's gone, suitcases and everything."
"You did that to him?! His face was all gory!"
"Yeah.. When'd you see him?" Ward asked, he tried to sound casual. The food was helping him to keep calm. It was solid. Ward knew that Holden had been gone by morning. Maybe Fred had seen him at Ackley's.
"At fucking one o'clock in the morning. He pounded on my door and begged me to buy his goddamn typewriter off him! He wouldn't Shut Up."
"I heard loud knocking last night in the hall last night," another guy said.
"Yeah, me too," someone noted.
Ward dimly remembered hearing knocking in the hall. "Did he yell 'morons'? Did you hear someone shout out last night?"
"Fucking moron said -- real loud -- 'Sleep tight, ya morons!'" Fred said, remembering. Like a lot of rich guys, Fred swore a lot, Ward noticed.
"Did you sell him your typewriter?" someone asked.
"I bought his typewriter. Listen," Fred replied, annoyed.
"Sorry!" the asker snapped back.
"What'd ya beat him up for, Stradlater."
"Something stupid," Ward wanted the topic to switch to things other than Holden.
"Stradlater, come on, what was it all about?"
"I said it was nothing. Can we eat?"
"Aw, come on. Was it a girl? What'd you beat him up for?"
"It musta been somethin' big."
Maybe this conversation could be interesting, after all, Ward thought. "Well, it was about a girl, actually. I took out this old friend of his and I guess he got upset when he heard about it." Ward ever so subtly tossed his head.
The entire table was interested! "Really?" "Did you give her the time of her life??" someone suggestively spoke for them all.
Ward knew how to play this and it was important to not stretch things out. He calmly looked around, to remember their looks for his later enjoyment. He grinned and inwardly toyed with them, looking up at the ceiling, "Well, we had that huge fight over it.." As they all asked again, he only said, "Let's eat, huh?" He looked down at his plate with real satisfaction. Then he looked around at them acting as if they were all pals, all equals. What a laugh. They variously stared opaquely at him, or returned to their breakfasts with embarrassment, or affected knowing looks and chuckles, or changed subjects to sports and the coming holidays.
"Hey, Stradlater. Is it true Holden got kicked out?"
"Oh, well if he got kicked out, that's where he went."
"Not in the middle of the fucking night." (Guess who that was.)
"Yeah, he got kicked out," Ward said. He wondered aloud, "Can we talk about something other than Holden?"
"Hey, you don't look bruised or cut up at all. Did he even hit you?" Fred asked.
"Yeah, he sort of hit my jaw once," Ward said. That was the pure truth. But there was a strange pause at the table. The guys were not unpleasant but they incongruently returned to eating and some had quiet conversations about the holidays and other everyday things.
"Why does Ely go home the weekend before school ends." a guy asked Ackley, "Half a week, he can't stay away?" The guys near Ackley chuckled and scoffed.
"If he likes it, I don't care," Ackley was saying, "the room's all mine, every weekend."
Something had changed, or was it just a fleeting feeling? Ward felt too grown up now: an outsider. Almost a suspect. Not a regular guy. Guys don't trust grown ups. You don't talk about what's really on your mind around them.
Holden apparently never went to bed that night, except for an hour or so in Ely's bed. Ward mentally calculated by himself, Holden must have packed quietly, because Ward never woke, yet all of Holden's things were gone.
His composition was probably still in the wastebasket.
Holden had written that composition for him. It wasn't that bad, Ward remembered, wondering why Holden would type it up and then tear it up like that. It wasn't about a house or a room, so he couldn't use it, but maybe Holden could someday -- for another class, for example. A composition about a baseball mitt.
Did Holden do something stupid: kill himself? Nah, you don't pack for a suicide, after all.
At some point, Holden had knocked on Fred's door and sold him his typewriter. Ward realized that Holden must have packed before then because the knocking sort of woke him up and if he was sort of woken up then and then someone was moving around and packing, right there in the room, it likely would have kept him from getting back into a good snooze. But he'd clearly slept right through the packing. Plus he'd had a hard time falling asleep after the excitement and had been waiting for Holden to get back into their room and go to bed. Ward had been nervous for one thing, excited, too, and a little anxious that Holden might punch him after he fell asleep. That's what Ward would want to do, if he were in Holden's place. Imagining Holden doing it, though, it looked childish, somehow.
Ward slowly concluded that Holden had rested on Ely's bed, packed, sold his typewriter, yelled, "Sleep tight, ya morons!" and left. All from maybe eleven to one o'clock at night. And since he packed and could leave, he must have been all right.
Shortly, guys were getting up and leaving. Ward was eating slowly. His brain wasn't clicking so fast anymore. He could feel the blood collected in his stomach for digestion. Across the cafeteria, out the windows, the sun came out from behind some clouds again. It made the snow blaze white, with wet points glistening in random bunches.


In the lavatory, two guys were smoking by a urinal. Three other guys came in just after Ward. They had a dead goldfish and were preparing to give a farewell to it. You weren't supposed to have pets anyway, one guy was saying. Ward was irritated that there were this many people in the can. He needed some place to wash Ely's sheets. His shower would be too inconvenient, like a little mouse in a human's sink trying to wash it's face. And it's drain didn't even have a plug. It'd be ridiculous. Then Ward thought of the janitor's room. It had a big ol' tub and faucet in it. But then guys would hear the splashing going on in the janitor's room until he was done. He didn't need an audience. Soon Ward figured out that he could get a bucket from the janitor's room. Do the washing in his shower with the bucket.

Ward had been washing and drying his hands to cover his visit to the can. He headed out.
"Farewell, sweet prince!" Flush.
Ward and several other guys (at least) knew how to get into the janitor's room without being detected. He snuck in through the window, got a medium sized bucket, and left. He went back inside with it, and was gruff with Leahy, the only person he ran into on the way. (He didn't want to act friendly because then a guy wants to join you.)
In the shower, he worked alone. Ackley didn't want to talk to you unless he needed you for something. Except, he did talk to Holden. All the time. That was strange. Ward felt that Ackley should help him. But that didn't make any sense. Had the criminal intelligence left him?
Ward had the bucket filled with warm water and had stuck the bloody parts of the sheets in and all of the pillow case and sham. One coach from camp several years ago, back when he was a kid, had showed them how to wash out stains. He couldn't remember the coach's name. That was the summer when Ward really got interested in basketball. This guy had taught them some boxing.
At first he forgot part of the washing lesson. He remembered the main part, the part about about taking two stained spots, wetting them, and rubbing them together, dunking them, rubbing again. The thing is, it wasn't working. Well, it was sort of working, but it was only working poorly. The stains were getting thinner but were thinly spreading wider, too. And the crusty edges of the original stains were especially difficult.
Then he remembered. Duh. Use soap. He got up, got the bar of soap off the ledge and sat down. He rubbed the bar into the stained spots, then rubbed and rubbed them together, back and forth, back and forth, dunking, more rubbing. It was slowly working. The mind of a criminal really can solve problems, thought Ward. He was pleased and worked at it, even whistling. He remembered the looks on the guys at the breakfast table, and himself toying with them. Life is good.
Someone knocked on the door. Everyone in that dorm locked their doors all of the time. Ward and Holden weren't so strict, but, today, Ward had made sure he'd locked the door. He didn't need any damn audience. Whoever it was went away.
"Hey, you seen Stradlater?" It was Postolowski. He and Ward were both gym rats. They were teammates on the basketball team and were friendly.
"No." That resentful, angry voice was that sonuvabitch, Ernest Morrow. Now, Morrow's a guy that Holden should have told off. Why did Holden mouth off to me when I'm an okay guy -- we had pretty good times being roommates. And I'm such a big guy who knows how to use my fists. If you're going to get bloodied up, why not mouth off at Morrow, a very rich guy who did nothing all summer long but think up mean things to do to people?
Ward had spent the last three summers playing on a teen team in the New York City Summer Basketball League. Ward lived on Staten Island. Morrow "summered" in Massachusetts somewhere. Gloucester. Yeah, that's it.
Ward and a couple of pals had roughed Morrow up a little, for a while there. To scare him, mostly. They did it because he was such a bastard. Then, Morrow had got them a full bottle of brandy. Morrow had an uncle with a liquor store. They'd left him alone -- usually -- after that.
Holden was brave, though, wasn't he? Going up against me, big Ward, rather than a skunk like Morrow who's smaller than me and doesn't really know how to use his fists. Or maybe Holden's stupid.
What about that Jane Gallagher who Holden had fought for? Kind of plain and nervous. She'd wasted their date last night. Ward could see that she and Holden could go together. She was strange. Not a wear a hunting cap backwards kind of strange, but, still, yes, that strange! Jane had got real stiff and didn't say a thing when Ward had tried to make a gentle move on her in the car. Even later, when he'd switched to telling jokes, she'd stayed stiff and quiet. Just a nervous laugh was all that he could get out of her. Ward could see her refusing to use her kings when playing checkers, like Holden had described last night.. A real spooky girl. What a crackpot, Ward acted flip to himself. After all, even I, Ward Stradlater, couldn't reach her: that girl is truly crazy..
Ward usually thought of Holden as cute and eccentric. Kind of annoyingly childish, but still likable. They'd gotten along rather well. But last night, Ward was angry and disgusted by both of these children. Imagine Holden, with that hunting cap on backwards, someday married to a nervous girl who played checkers without using her kings. Now Ward tried to laugh because, after all, it was funny, wasn't it? All he could manage was a joyless laugh, though. A scripted laugh.
Holden's blood was coming out of the pillow case. Holden had another girlfriend. Sally. That's the girl Holden kept a picture of on his chiffonier. He'd taken it with him. It was gone. That girl was good-looking. Holden and she would make a nice looking couple. Why did he fight for this Jane girl?
Ward wondered about his own reasons for having got so upset and insistent. He hadn't wanted Holden to care, had wanted Holden to grow up, then had been defensive that Holden took a sock at him, and then furious that he wouldn't stop calling him a "sonuvabitch" and a "moron." He'd called the entire floor "morons" before he'd left. Old Holden. Who was a moron?
Maybe, Ward thought, I should have pushed him farther, really forced him. Maybe the law is dumb. Then Ward remembered, from experience, that forcing pushes people away, basically, and then they hate you as well. That's just the way it is. That's partly why I'd stopped before Holden even took back what he'd said, Ward remembered.
"When you do something you wish you hadn't, better to clean it up with the person right away. It'll just become your life, it'll eat up your thoughts -- I'm telling you -- if you don't, and besides, it's the right thing to do. Just apologize. I know it's tiresome. Find out how you can make it up." That was old Coach Tierney, Ward's coach in the Summer League. He'd said that, or something close to that, back in Ward's first summer in it. That must be where he'd got the idea about making things clean. "Clean it up."
Ward could hear guys outside talking. Not in the hall this time. Outside. He had the window open. He always had the window open. The sun had come out of the clouds again. It was staying out a while. The guys were talking about "forts." Ward was sure that it was going to be a snowball fight.
Ward told himself that Holden was away at home, right now, also horsing around outside in the snow. Or is his mother keeping him in, nursing his nose? Ward was sure he broke his nose. Wonder if Holden'll always have a bent nose, now, like some guys had. Ward was vaguely jealous. It'd be something to talk to girls about. He was even defending a girl's honor! "Yeah, my nose, I busted it defending a girl's honor," he could say. That was funny. But Ward, again, couldn't really laugh. It was a hollow laugh, a scripted laugh.
What stupid blood Holden had. Ward emptied the bucket of the sheets and poured the pinkish, dirty water down the drain and refilled the bucket. He casually stretched himself for a few minutes, looking around out in the room. The room looked more normal now, without Holden's stuff in it. No baseball mitt, no collection of empty cigarette boxes, no books but one library book.
Holden had told Ward that he didn't even want that library book but ended up liking it okay. Sometimes things go like that. But the thing is, with Holden, things always went like that. What a clown. That was it. A clown. Ward figured he would take the book back to the library for him tomorrow: magnanimously help a clown, a small child.
Ward remembered Holden telling about how it happened that he couldn't form much of a fist with his right hand. His brother had died. It wasn't even a damn surprise. The kid had leukemia fer Chrissakes. It wasn't something like a car accident. It didn't come out of the blue. So what Holden did was, he punched out the windows in his house -- no, in his garage. Ward remembered Holden telling him. What a clown thing to do. He'd even slept in the garage..
What kind of a family lets a kid sleep in the garage? Maybe they're all clowns. But Holden was just a kid then. You can't expect a kid to be perfect. Ward didn't expect himself to be perfect at eighteen, was irresponsible last night, and with Holden, who maybe was a mere clown..
In bed last night, Ward had consoled himself that contradictory thoughts like these -- one minute Holden's a brave guy, the next he's a disgusting clown -- are foolishness. Shadows. But some people take these issues seriously. Is it serious? Is it a joke? Is it all just life?
To break from all of the messy issues, Ward went over to the window, gathered snow from the ledge, made a snowball from it, and threw it toward the guys. It landed near them and some of them looked up and said "hi." Brossard called up to him that Postolowski had been looking for him. Someone welcomely said, "Come on down here." Ward noticed that Postolowski wasn't with them.
"I'll be down in a bit," Ward called with his friendly voice and friendly smile.
Again, Ward thought of a guy who can't form a real fist taking a sock at a big guy like him. It was pretty brave, wasn't it? Ward was returning to the bucket. The new water was tepid already. He emptied the bucket again and refilled it again. There was only the pillow sham to go. Then he would rinse everything. Where to let it dry? Not in the narrow shower. Not out the window in the cold and in public. But where?
And wasn't it gritty of Holden to take a shot at him over a girl he cared about, not at Morrow, who was an easier target? Wasn't it tough to not just sleep that night, not take a punch at him in his sleep to get him back, but quietly pack, instead, and leave, trudging through the snow? Why not give yourself a break, Holden? Was he a tough guy or stupid? Maybe both, but you had to be tough to do all of that.
Ward remembered old Coach Tierney again. He was old. Ward remembered recently hoping that he'd get so old he'd think like that, so old he'd say something corny like that to some kid. What a life experience that must be. But Coach had meant it. He really had.
Back then, in that first summer, Ward had angrily shoved a smaller boy down and across the court a little bit. The boy hadn't taken Ward's advice on passing. It was during practice, on an outdoor, asphalt court. The boy's knees were both bloodied up and Coach had bandaged them.
"When you do something you wish you hadn't, better to clean it up with the person right away. It'll just become your life, it'll eat up your thoughts -- I'm telling you -- if you don't. And, besides, it's the right thing to do. Just apologize. I know it's tiresome. Sometimes, anyway. Find out how you can make it up."
Ward had followed Coach's advice somewhat belligerently. It had felt as scary as if he were stepping up to a cliff's edge and stepping off of it. He did it very alertly. But then it was solid land instead.
He had done it because he trusted Coach. Ward still trusted him. See, the other boy and Ward had talked. First, Ward had said he was sorry, and then he'd quickly realized that he hadn't wanted to go overboard like that, shoving people. Then the other boy had resentfully said that he'd forgotten about Ward's tip about passing because of "the heat of the moment": it's one thing to talk about something, it's another thing to do it.
Then they'd practiced passing, just off court.
Remembering, Ward wondered if that kid also maybe had thought that he was too bossy.
Apologize to Holden? A phone call would be too bizarre. A letter, a note, was good. Ward automatically decided to write to Holden about it all. Even though it felt like walking off of a cliff's edge. For one brief moment, it didn't feel as much like that: when he thought that Holden was not likely going to hold a grudge over it.
But someone was knocking at the door.
"Who is it?" Ward called.
"Steven." That was Postolowski.
Ward felt, if I'm going to be walking off of cliffs, I may as well step off of this one, too.. He got up, dried his hands, and went for the door. "Hey."
"Hi. Wanna shoot some baskets before lunch?"
"Uh, how 'bout after?"
Steven nodded and was leaving but Ward tapped his arm, "Hey, I'm going to write a letter to Holden. Wanna help me with this?" Ward felt like Steven could be a friend, not merely someone to act friendly around. Someone who'd be a good guy and help.
Steven stepped up to the plate on this. At first, for a split second, he seemed taken aback, but then affably said, "Sure." He came in. Ward's desk was by his bed and Steven sat on the bed.
"I gotta change. I'll be ready in a second," Ward appreciatively said, shutting the door and hurrying to his chiffonier for some underwear and clothes. He had put on shorts to do the cleaning and they were soaked through. He quickly got the clothes.
Postolowski looked at his wet shorts, "What were you doing?"
"Some cleaning," Ward focused on hurrying up, acted casual about it.
Dressed, Ward sat at his desk and got out some typing paper.
"Don't cut him any breaks," Steven said in a nice way, amused.
Ward wrote out in freehand, "Dear Holden, You didn't even say good by." They liked it.
Then Ward stopped. "I don't want to say 'I'm sorry.' Should I?" he asked.
"'I apologize.'" Steven offered.
"'I apologize for knocking you senseless.'" Ward joylessly cracked, but with some relief, as he wrote, "I apologize for going overbord and hiting you like that."
"Just be honest, you know," Steven seriously said, looking downward.
In that moment, Ward could see what Steven meant. Ward continued writing. "I wasn't even nuts about Jane. You can have her." Then he crossed out, "You can have her." (It seemed rude.) He added, "I did not give her the time I swair it. You should talk to her if you care so much. I think you should go with Sally thouh."
Ward needed to stop that paragraph. He continued with a new one. "I hope you got home O.K. And I hope that you are O.K. Write back, Holden. Have a good holiday. Have a good time at what ever school they send you to next. Do good in school. I'm not kiding now. Sincerly, Ward."
Ward and Steven re-read it. Steven said, "You have to re-write it."
"What's wrong with it? This is the letter."
"No, I didn't mean 're-write.' Copy. It's sloppy, you have to copy it over." Steven pointed at the cross out.
"Yeah," Ward regretfully agreed.
"Not just for the cross out, you can make your handwriting smoother the second time. That's what people do, you know. My mother does that."
Ward scoffed, "Your mother."
But Steven was interested in something else. "And if you re-write it, then you always have a copy for yourself. You always know what you wrote that way. That way, no one can come back and say you wrote 'X,' if you know exactly what you wrote. Re-write it, don't sweat it."
Ward thought of what Coach said sometimes: "I know it's tiresome."
"Okay.. Hey, do you have Holden's address?"
Steven looked like he didn't.
"Do you know who would?" Maybe the letter writing was going to be a waste. Ward almost hoped it would. They scanned their minds.
After a few minutes, Ward started thinking of the sheets again. He thought that the closet bar would be where he'd hang the sheets to dry. In the morning, he'd send them --
"Oh! Old Spencer! He'd know -- he'd have it, I'm sure. Mr. Spencer."
Ward tiredly got up, "Okay, I'll call him," he said, thinking, "Sometimes it's tiresome." But then he was almost eager. He was eager to physically do something and this would mean going downstairs.
Steven got up to join him, but then said, "I'll call him while you copy, 'kay? Be right back." He left. He sure was in a good mood all of a sudden, old Postolowski.
Ward copied the letter. He could have typed it, but his typewriter had sticky keys. Plus he felt like writing. And it was very flattering to Holden, who, Ward told himself, would be glad to get any letter from him, period.
Ward added "seriously" before "apologize" and put back in "You can have her." (It seemed honest.) He copied the the rest as written. Then he added a few commas. He noticed a couple of ink smudges, but, after all, they're unavoidable. He fixed the first draft to include the new stuff, too, to remember exactly what he wrote, like old Postolowski had explained. His buddyroo.
Since Postolowski still wasn't back (there were only a few phones in the building, someone else maybe was using them all, and, besides, Postolowski had to get Spencer's number first, and he may have run into someone -- Ward really didn't know what was taking him so long), Ward copied the letter again onto a third piece of typing paper. He even centered this copy vertically on the page. He listened to his fountain pen's tip scratching on the paper as he watched the words unfold again on the white paper. He liked the sweep of his letters, especially his 'f's. Once during this, he heard the shower curtain moving and looked up, knowing it likely would be Ackley and realizing that Ackley had probably nosily listened in. As well as he could listen, anyway. Sure enough, it was Ackley. Then Ackley opaquely turned away, heading back to his room with only a grunt.
After he finished copying, Ward realized that he'd asked Holden to write but he probably didn't have his home address. Ward wrote his address right under his name. So much for centering the letter on the page. Oh well. Ward stared at the letter while waiting for Postolowski. Belligerently, he stopped staring and folded it in three and then in half and sealed it in an envelope that happened to be in his desk with the typing paper. There weren't any stamps there. He remembered he had stamps in a box with some elegant stationary that he rarely used. His grandmother had sent it all to him. He looked around and found the box in the closet.
He wondered about the weight of momentousness and danger he was feeling. A fleeting feeling? Something serious? Just life? He was tearing a stamp off the group when Steven got back. He had the address, sure enough. Ward wrote it out on the envelope and stuck the stamp on the envelope's upper right corner.
With Steven back, Ward noticed he soon felt lighter. They headed out of the room. "What took you so long?" Ward wanted to know.
"Oh. Well. Old Mrs. Spencer is practically deaf you know," Steven rolled his eyes and they started swinging down the stairs, using the railings. No one else was on the stairs with them.
Ward was amused. "Hard time talking to her, huh?"
"Yeah," Steven said. "Finally she called Old Spencer. He's sick, he has the grippe. Then he went and looked for the address. Oh, and before, I had to find change for the phone.. And I had to find Old Spencer's number. Then, all o' the phones were being used. All three. I waited a while. Finally someone got off.. Peters was down here."
"Oh," Ward replied but they were at the front desk and the mail slot. Ward pushed it and dropped the letter in. There was that weighty feeling again..
"It should get there Tuesday or Wednesday."
They agreed to grab lunch even though it was a little early for them. (Ward figured he'd let the sheets go until after that.) Lunch was a stew Ward liked. They joked around a little and talked about their coming games, but they were both vaguely distracted with thought. After lunch, they agreed to meet at the gym in an hour.
Back in his room, Ward cleaned up the pillow sham, the only thing left to clean. He rinsed everything, wrung it all out a bit, and hung it all sloppily in the closet.
He went to the gym. It was slightly dank smelling: the roof was starting to leak again. They had to avoid a bucket that was catching a drip on one end of the court. Bud Thaw and Howie Coyle were there, too, as well as Postolowski and Ward. Actually, Coyle was always at the gym. It seemed like it, anyway. They all shot baskets and played around for a couple of hours. Ward had energy to get out, but the others were mostly just horsing around. It was all right.
They all headed back toward the dorms together. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds for one last while.
Back in his room, Ward showered and and went to dinner. The dinner was minimal, as usual on a Sunday. Just lunch meat sandwiches. After dinner, he read some history and wrote his composition: a description of his room. The composition was dry and very detailed and he knew from experience that it must be just full of grammar and spelling errors. But he had to do more history reading. The composition stayed as it was.
He took the bucket back to the janitor's room. It made a break from studying. It was already dark out. He climbed through the window again, dropped the bucket down somewhat carefully, yet hurrying to get it done quickly. He wanted to remember to buy a new pillow for Holden's bed before the room inspections. They always had inspections before the holidays. But maybe they'd not notice blood on the pillow, under the pillow sham. He could maybe hide it..
He wasn't anywhere near as anxious about the police as he'd been before, and he wasn't thinking about Holden so much. Back in his room, Ward sort of had a feeling of a rough, clean slate. Or maybe more like finding his rails again. He thought, that's the way it goes. He had a nice night's sleep, but it was still weird with no Holden in the room.


When he got Ward's letter, Holden was sick in bed after a rough few days. He was even sort of missing the gang at the dorm. He didn't feel much at all like writing back, but he did. He wrote his in freehand, too:

"Dear Stradlater,

"I got your letter. Thank you. But you shouldn't beat people up. You really shouldn't. If you didn't give her the time, why didn't you just say so? I'm not too sore about it anymore, I guess. It still hurts sometimes. I mean my nose and my lip.

"I hope someone returned my library book, Out of Africa, but it's too late anyway if they didn't. If you did, thanks.
"I should call old Jane, maybe. But Sally is a royal pain. I found that out. It has to wait anyway because I'm quite sick. In bed and all. With a fever, too. My family's doctor thinks I may have t.b. Anyway, I am going south for the warm climate. I'll be okay, though, assuming I get better. My brother, D.B., lives out there, in Hollywood. That's where I'm going, to my brother D.B.'s.
"You have a good holiday, too. Have a good basketball season and graduation and classes and all. Thank you for the letter. Sorry that this is sloppy, I don't have much energy. I really don't.

"Sincerely,
"Holden"


Ward got the letter at home, after Christmas. When he opened it, he felt a momentous, dangerous weight again. After reading it the second time, the weight lifted and he even smiled a little. He thought that he could go for that Sally. He was annoyed by Holden's expecting the truth about a dud date. But he was also relieved to think that Holden surely understood that he had meant it: he did wish that he hadn't gone overboard like that. That's the pure truth.

He thought that Holden wasn't simply a fool. You do have to step beyond mere cleverness. Sometimes, anyway. He imagined the world's criminals doing that, apologizing, to solve problems. But they could be lying about it, too. Ward was feeling alive in a complicated, real world.