Ride a Cockhorse

Excerpted from the novel by Raymond Kennedy
By RAYMOND KENNEDY  |  August 14, 2012

Raymond Kennedy grew up in Western Massachusetts, wrote eight novels renowned for their dark absurdity, and taught writing at Columbia University. He died in 2008. Ride a Cockhorse, published in 1991 and reissued by New York Review of Books Classics this summer, centers on the sexually insatiable loan officer of a New England bank.

Looking back, Mrs. Fitzgibbons could not recall which of the major changes in her life had come about first, the discovery that she possessed a gift for persuasive speech, or the sudden quickening of her libido. While the latter development was the more memorable of the two, involving as it did the seduction of young Terry Sugrue, the high school drum major, it was Mrs. Fitzgibbons's newfound ability to work her will upon others through her skills with language which produced the most exciting effects. By early fall, some of her fellow workers at the Parish Bank, where Mrs. Fitzgibbons was employed as a home loan officer, could not have helped noticing her growing assertiveness on the job. She was ordinarily very reasonable and sweet-tempered, the soul of polite discretion. Almost overnight, she had become more strident, even to the point of badgering customers on the telephone and lifting her voice to a level that was considered inconsistent with the usual soft-spoken manner of a courteous banker. She could also be quite tart and provocative with those working around her, as on the afternoon when she lectured Connie McElligot, the woman at the next desk, for fifteen minutes on the subject of how the escalating interest rates of the 1980s portended an economic crisis of global proportions. Moreover, while speaking, Mrs. Fitzgibbons let fall certain locutions that revealed her true feelings toward the other woman, which were deprecative and of long standing, as she likened Connie McElligot's ignorance of such perils to that of any layman walking in from the street. "What would you know about the connection between interest rates at the Fed and the collapse of commodity prices in South America?" she said. "Nothing. Not word one."

It was during these same days precisely, however, in the early fall, that Mrs. Fitzgibbons developed an unexpectedly lustful interest in the resplendent young drum major who led the high school band past her house. Every Saturday morning, at fifteen minutes to twelve, the big noisy ensemble came round the corner of Essex Street, not a hundred feet from her door, with flags and pennants blowing and the tall, sandy-haired Sugrue boy out front, high-stepping his way into view. It was a sight to behold. He flourished an enormous gold-tasseled baton. With his high purple hat, his fringed epaulets, and great chestful of gleaming brass buttons, he offered a vision of martial beauty. Behind the young drum major, like an amplification of his own youthful grandeur, came the band in perfect step, a colorful machine. First were the three flag bearers, followed by a gorgeous rank of prancing, bare-thighed, arrogant-looking majorettes, their batons twirling in unison in the sun. A half dozen cheerleaders followed, in purple-and-white sweaters, shaking pom-poms in both hands, and, last of all, the big, solid eighty-piece marching band itself, with trumpets and snare drums going. The sound was deafening. The spectacle overall, with its American flags and high school colors flying, its brilliant purple ranks and gleaming brass, exceeded description — as in the way, for example, that it turned the corner at Essex and Locust, with the inside marchers marking time very smartly, their knees snapping up and down in place, while the entire rank pivoted round them like a swinging dial, and then stepping forth proudly again, raising their horns to their lips. To Mrs. Fitzgibbons, the music and grand moving panoply of it all was nothing short of celestial, as though the Maker were showing off His minions.

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