In the Heat of the Night
(based on true stories)
Walking downstairs from her dorm room, Kali Madrone paused to
sketch the lobby from the raised perspective of the stairwell. She had a
few hours of sunlight left before her next class. In the months since the
fiasco at Hilda's Christmas party down in Georgia, Hilda and Kali had been
expertly avoiding each other, dreading the inevitable confrontation. Being
roommates didn't make this easy, but so far they'd been fairly successful.
Kali's focus suddenly shifted from the visible to the audible as
she became aware of a man yelling downstairs. She struggled to make out
the words, but they were cut off by a high scream and the sound of glass
breaking. Kali rushed down the stairs. The man's voice came again, with a
distinctly Southern drawl. "You've cursed your own name with these
disgustin' acts!" A door slammed. Kali leapt down the last three stairs
and skidded into the lobby.
Her roommate sat half-through a glass table, surrounded by jagged
edges and piles of shards. Kali stared at the gashes all over Hilda's arms
and flung the door open to catch her attacker, but the courtyard was
Turning back, she saw that Hilda was still sitting there, making
no effort to staunch the cuts on her wrists. Kali knelt down and shook
Hilda gently. "Are you all right, hon? Come on, you've got to get out of
that table! You're hurt!" She sat back on her heels and scanned the
woman's face. Hilda's pupils were almost completely dilated. Kali waved
her hand in front of Hilda's eyes. "Hello? Hilda?"
At the sound of her name, Hilda shuddered violently, and burst
"Oh, Goddess," Kali muttered, putting her arm around her
roommate's shoulders. "Let's see... keep the victim warm, do not move the
victim, call for help...." She grabbed a phone and began dialing 9-1-1,
trying to think how many Southern men she knew. The only ones who came to
mind were part of the LaVyrle clan she had met at Hilda's party, but which
one? She thought back to the party....
Hilda's uncle saw her coming and lifted the champagne bottle in a
salute. "Wayull, here's our li'l twenny-one year old!" he boomed. "Bet
all'n yore boyfriends've been pressin' mint juleps into those pretty hands
of yours while you been away at college."
Hilda laughed. "Ain't touched a drop, Uncle Mike, ah swear!"
He acted shocked. "Never tasted the nectar of the gods?! Never
charged yore soul with fire-water?" Winking, he raised a long, svelte
flute glass high and deftly poured a waterfall of champagne into its open
crystal mouth. He handed Kali the glass and poured another one for Hilda.
They smiled at him and moved away as he greeted another family
member just as raucously.
Kali laughed, mimicking his accent. "'Charge yore soul with
Hilda grinned. "Yeah. Uncle Mike's just an ole romantic at heart.
Prob'ly mah sweetest relative."
"And the only one who wasn't staring at me as if I were a zoo
Hilda looked at her, surprised, and then nodded slowly. "Yeah,
that's probably true. This ain't the big city.... 'round here, even
Protestants are a curiosity." She sighed, rubbing the back of her neck.
"Ah'm sorry they're doin' that. If it makes you uncomfortable, we kin go
somewhere else... the woods're real nice at this time of night. You can
see all the stars."
Kali shook her head. "No, that's okay. It's nice right here."
Hilda smiled at her. "Anythin' you say." She nodded towards Kali's
champagne glass. "Y'all want refills on that?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Okay, then, ah'll be right back." Hilda headed back to Uncle
Mike, reappearing in a moment with a newly filled glass, the contents of
which disappeared at an alarming rate.
"Hilda, good grief!" Kali remarked. "That's not exactly 'Southern
champagne', you know!"
Hilda giggled, draining the glass. "This tastes much better than
Diet Coke!" she announced.
Kali smiled slightly, but the smile turned into a strained frown
when she spotted another of Hilda's relatives heading straight for them.
"There's that woman who's been staring at me all night," she said,
touching Hilda's elbow.
Hilda looked around and identified the woman immediately,
groaning, "Aunt Beulah. You don't want to meet her, believe me."
"I think I'd better disappear before she tries to see if my skin
color rubs off, or asks how many toes 'my people' have!"
"Ah'll see y'all later," Hilda called over her shoulder before
being accosted by a shriek of "Ohhhhhhhh, Hildegarde Marieeeeeeee! How
Kali wandered back towards the house, and ran into Hilda's Uncle
Mike. "Enjoyin' the party?" he smiled broadly.
Kali found herself smiling back. "Well enough," she replied,
glancing involuntarily across the garden at Aunt Beulah.
Uncle Mike saw the look. "Pay no attention to them. Mannerless
blaggarts, every one," he declared with relish.
Kali laughed. "Mannerless whats?"
"What are they teachin' y'all at school that they haven't
mentioned the mannerless blaggarts of the world?" he remarked in
Kali considered this for a moment. "You mean mannerless
blackguards, maybe?" she suggested warily.
Uncle Mike looked thoughtful. "Could be, could wayull be," he
agreed, knocking back the rest of his drink and changing the subject. "So,
y'all're mah niece's roommate, are ya? Declared a major yet?"
"Poly Sci. I'm aiming for a career in law. Hilda and I have most
of our classes together."
Uncle Mike frowned. "How kin that be? Ah thought Hilda was
majorin' in Home Ec. or somethin'."
Kali wondered if she could continue this discussion without
getting her roommate into trouble. "Women's Studies," she said hesitantly.
"She's doing an interdisciplinary major with Political Science and Women's
"Women's Studies, right! Ah knew it was somethin' lak that."
Kali shook her head doubtfully. "Right."
They drifted apart into the warm Georgia night. Kali walked
towards the trees at the edge of the vast property, listening to the
crickets and skeeters singing. She saw her roommate's back through the
trees, walking rather unsteadily through the forest. Hilda had obviously
had one too many glasses of champagne. Well, one drunken night wouldn't
hurt her, and the party was so large that a few spiffled guests would
probably go unnoticed.
Rose LaVyrle flitted from guest to guest with determined charm
glowing out of every thighmastered, jazzercised, silk-encased pore. Her
$150 suede heels tick-tacked away the distance between groups of chatty
in-laws as she liberated an over-eager champagne glass from one guest,
asked after another's son, and generally prided herself on being the motor
oil that kept the pistons of her party running smoothly.
The Chinese lanterns glowed like fireflies above her, illuminating
the party dramatically. Rose paused on the verandah, taking it all in,
fully aware of how well the scene framed her.
Hilda came towards Kali, giggling at some private joke. She
tripped over a rock and nearly went flying, grabbing her friend's shoulder
for support at the last moment. Kali shook her head, laughing. "Hil, how
many glasses did you have?!"
Hilda appeared to think deeply. "Thurshday," she declared.
Kali frowned, trying to decipher this. "Thirsty?"
"No, Thursssss-day. Orrr eight or so," Hilda enunciated.
"Goddess, you really are pickled, aren't you?"
"Ah only haid three glashes of champagne," Hilda slurred. "An' a
handful of rum 'cause ah was freezin'!"
Kali winced as Hilda, draped around her shoulder, managed to trip
again, nearly knocking them both over.
This set Hilda off into another fit of giggles. "Everything has
haloes around them!" She peered at Kali with drunken myopia and seemed
about to say something, but instead burst into raucous song. "When roses
are red they're ready for pickin', An' girls of sixteen are ready for high
school...." Hilda let go of Kali's shoulder and waltzed drunkenly away,
still humming bawdy tunes. She ran into a tree, getting entangled in its
branches, and laughed up at it, "Why, sir, ah haid no idea y'all felt this
Kali smiled in spite of herself, coming to free Hilda from the
tree's embrace. "It's just a tree, Hil. It doesn't feel that way about
"Trees are people too!" Hilda shouted. She turned to the oak
pleadingly. "Y'all love me, don'cha? Tell me ah mean something to ya!"
Kali guided her gently to a wide stump at the edge of the garden.
Hilda sat down heavily, covered in Spanish moss, and stared at her hands.
"So young an' so many regrets," she muttered, suddenly growing sober.
"'Gather ye rosebuds whal' ye may, ole Time is still a-flyin', and the
rose that blooms today, tomorra will be dyin'.'" She turned to Kali.
Rose glanced at her Seiko. It was nearly three a.m. The party had
boiled down to a group of the most hardened party-goers, determined to
dance and talk the night away. She debated the merits of taking down a few
lanterns as a gentle hint to her untiring guests. Maybe it was the quality
of the liquor, but they seemed more... merry this year than usual. She
hoped Aunt Lollie hadn't spiked the punch again.
She stopped suddenly, almost bowling over a herd of teenage
cousins. A terrible, low, protracted giggle made her turn her head slowly.
She discovered, to her horror, that her daughter was not sitting
around wearing white gloves.
"HILDEGARDE MARIE LAVYRLE!"
That scream would be burnt into Hilda's memory for the rest of her
She sprang away from Kali, gasping. Leaping up, she reached for a
branch to steady herself, missed by five feet and fell to the grass out
Mrs. LaVyrle looked grimly over her shoulder at her approaching
husband. "I think Hilda had too much to drink. Bring her up to her room,
could you?" In an undertone, she added, "We need to talk about this
Turning to Kali, she raised a thinly plucked eyebrow. "Perhaps
you'd better leave," she said, and stalked across the lawn to the house.
* * *
....Kali shook her head, snapping out of the acrid memory. They
were in the emergency room, with Hilda having the slashes on her hands,
arms, and wrists sewn up. She had stopped crying in the ambulance, instead
staring silently down at her gory hands. Kali persuaded the doctor to
discharge Hilda after treating her for shock, and took her back to their
She guided Hilda to the bed and turned to get Hilda a glass of
water. Hilda grabbed Kali's arm with a panicked sound, then dropped it as
pain shot through her. Kali sat down next to her friend and stayed,
stroking her hair quietly, until Hilda fell asleep. She got up and closed
the doors firmly, glaring at a clump of giggling freshwomen across the
Hilda lay unconscious on the bed. The shock to her system and the
hospital's drugs would probably keep her out the rest of the night. Kali
paused, looking at the sleeping woman, then kissed her lightly,
experimentally, on the cheek. Hilda didn't move. Kali stepped back,
plucking at her arm hair with a worried look. She slid her defenseless
roommate's Birkenstocks off and covered her with a blanket, then headed
down to the cafeteria for a late dinner.
On the bed, Hilda's eyes twitched behind closed eyelids as she
slipped into REM sleep and began dreaming about what happened after the
* * *
The next afternoon, hung over, under, and out to dry, Hilda had
decided to tell her parents everything - from her newfound religious
ideals through her feelings for her roommate. Acid met base, and when the
dust from the resulting explosions had settled, Hilda's father was
threatening to knock some sense into her, her mother was in hysterics, and
they were both pulling her out of Marymount Manhattan at once to be
Hilda escaped upstairs, locking the door behind her and shoving an
armchair up against it. Downstairs, she could hear her parents driving off
to pray for her soul. She curled up in the armchair, clamping her hands
over her ears, and rocked back and forth. She couldn't get trapped here
again -- she had been trapped here for nineteen years -- they would wreck
everything that she'd built, her self-confidence, her education, her life
-- and re-program her and turn her into her mother....
Her thoughts finally stopped scrambling around, and Hilda just let
her mind drift, slowly rubbing her temples with a tranced-out expression.
She passed about fifteen minutes in this position, then rose and
began picking her shelves apart. The Southern belle pulled an old suitcase
out of her closet and began stuffing it with random belongings. Zipping it
shut, she pulled a notebook over and wrote a letter to her brother.
I'm writing to tell you why I'm never coming back home again. I
remember how betrayed I felt when Kevin ran away. He had been my best
friend for eleven years, and I couldn't understand why he was leaving me.
You and I haven't been as close as Kevin and I were. I think
that's partly due to our parents: when Kevin left, they transferred a lot
of their anger to me as the next kid in line, and the only girl, and you
became their "golden boy". It's hard to get along with someone who can do
no wrong in our parents' eyes.
The point is that you know our parents and our community as well
as I do. You know that if you don't fit in, it's impossible to live with
the whispering behind your back, and the rudeness to your face, and the
constant, constant pressure to conform. I'm never coming back, not for
another family reunion, not for Christmas, not for anything. This
shouldn't be too much of a blow to you, because I've been at college most
of the time for the past year and a half already, and I don't think
anyone's going to blame you for this. I just wanted to explain why I'm
disappearing, and remind you that I love you and I'll always be your big
Hilda chewed on her pen, spinning it between her teeth as she
wondered how to leave unnoticed. Suddenly, she saw the outside of the
house, the pipelines and windowsills climbing it, and remembered a much
younger version of herself escaping.
She'd been sent to her room in disgrace, and decided to climb down
and run off to play with her brothers until her parents forgot she'd been
exiled. It had looked so easy in her imagination! The nimble ten-year-old
had almost made it to the ground before her foot caught on the rose
trellis and her hand slipped from the windowsill -- but the bruises had
been worth it, until her parents found out what she'd done.
Hilda stood up and crept into her younger brother's bedroom,
slipping the letter under his pillow. Returning to her room, she swung the
window open and looked down, wincing at a rush of vertigo. There was
nobody in sight.
She took a deep breath, looking around the room one last time. A
large, ratty, pink teddy bear caught her eye. With a flash of
determination, she grabbed it, flung the suitcase open, wedged Peeky Bear
in, and willed the zipper to shut again. Out the window it went, and out
* * *
Kali woke up and rolled over to see how her roommate was doing.
Hilda was still asleep on her own bed, curled up in last night's fetal
position with one arm trapped underneath her. Kali swung her legs over the
edge of the bed and stood, looking down at the sleeping woman. She looks
so vulnerable, Kali thought, reaching out to brush a handful of blonde
hair out of Hilda's eyes. She pulled her hand back halfway there,
frowning, and quickly walked out of the room.
The sun was barely visible through the trees. Kali zipped her coat
up and pushed her hands deep into the pockets. She ambled across the quad,
oblivious to the few students sprinting by, late to their first classes.
Her footsteps gradually sped up to match the pace of the questions
brawling inside her head. She soon reached the coffeehouse. Her ears
burned from the sudden gust of heat assaulting her as she entered the
lively, noisy building. Scanning the menu quickly for something healthy,
she bought a bag of muffins and two mochas. As she left the cashier yelled
after her, "Ma'am -- ma'am! You forgot your change!"
"Oh, keep it," she called over her shoulder.
"But this is a fifty-dollar bill you gave me!"
Kali doubled back, balancing the mochas in one hand and clenching
the bag between her teeth, and stuffed the wad of change into her pocket.
As she headed back outside, pulling the bag out of her mouth to balance
its weight better, a smooth voice caught her ear. She recognized it, but
just barely, as the voice she'd heard screaming downstairs the day before.
Kali froze in her tracks, listening closely.
The man was walking along with the Dean, nearly jogging to keep up
with her. "Look, Ms. Newman, if you found out that your children were
livin' with, say, members of an established cult, or people with dangerous
criminal records, wouldn't you be worried about what they might be
learnin' from those people? They might turn out to the be the nicest
people in the world, ah'm not sayin' that, but wouldn't you say there'd be
a possibility of your children bein' drawn into an undesirable life
Kali craned her neck to see who it was and nearly dropped the
muffins. It was Hilda's father!
The Dean looked irritated. She stopped and turned to face him.
"Mr. LaVyrle, I don't know what charges you are trying to bring against
Ms. Madrone, but I assure you that they cannot be great enough for me to
remove your daughter from Marymount Manhattan just on your say-so. It does
not work that way here, Mr. LaVyrle! Now, if you will excuse me, I have a
meeting to attend." She swept past him.
Kali broke into a sprint, pounding across the quad towards the
dorms. The mochas slopped around inside their paper cups as she hurtled up
the stairs and into their dorm room.
Hilda was still asleep. Kali dumped the breakfast on her desk and
shook her roommate's shoulders. "Wake up!" Hilda's forehead wrinkled and
she blinked her eyes open slowly.
Kali moved next to her, helping her sit up. "How do you feel?"
Hilda leaned forward, rubbing her forehead. "Mah haid hurts," she
said slowly. "What happened?" Flexing her palm against her forehead, she
pulled it away with a sharp gasp and stared at the cuts. "Ow!... ohhhhhh,"
she said. "Oh God, ah remember now...."
Kali picked up one of the mochas, feeling it warm her hands, and
passed it to her groggy friend. "Careful, it's hot."
Hilda took a long drink, feeling it almost scald her taste buds.
Lowering the drink, she shook the hair back from her eyes, sighing. "Kali,
what'm ah gonna do?"
Kali swallowed. "I saw your father out there. Did he -- was he the
one who --"
"Pushed me through the coffee table? Well, he didn't mean to...."
Kali stared at her. "The man pushed his only daughter through a
glass table and then didn't even stick around to see if you were okay!
This is not a healthy relationship!" Hilda didn't answer. "This is insane!
Is this the first time he's done anything like this, or what?"
Hilda glared at the mocha. Kali waved her hand in front of the
sullen woman's eyes. "Hello? Hilda?"
"Don't call me that!" Hilda screamed.
They stared at each other, frozen. Hilda looked away first. Kali
exhaled slowly, reminding herself that Hilda had been through a lot in the
past twenty-four hours. "Why not?"
Hilda looked down at her hands, running her fingers lightly over
the cuts. "You heard him. He cursed mah name."
Kali rolled her eyes. "Well, what do you propose to do about
"Change mah name, ah guess," Hilda shrugged.
"You can't be serious!" Kali turned away, frustrated, and caught
sight of Hilda's father striding across the quad towards their building.
She stepped back quickly, hoping he couldn't see her, and watched him
Behind her, Hilda pulled one of the muffins out of its bag and
began picking at it. "They were gonna pull me out of school and re-program
me, turn me into Daddy's li'l zombie -- Ah haid to hitch-hike to the
airport and stay there overnight, hung over, and if y'all think it was
easy to climb outta that bedroom window hung over.... And then ah got back
here, an' ah was so depressed.... Mama said they were gonna disown me if
ah didn't come back to mah senses, and ah didn't know what to do, so ah
jest went from class to class, goin' through the motions till ah could
think of some kinda solution... and then ah realized that someone was
Kali turned away from the window and saw that Hilda was crying
quietly, the blueberry muffin reduced to a heap of crumbs in her hand. She
sat down next to Hilda and put her arms around her friend. Hilda hugged
her, crying hard, high-pitched sobs.
"Why didn't you ask someone for help?" Kali finally asked.
Hilda shook her head, drying her eyes with the back of her hand.
"Who would have helped me?"
Hilda scowled, a small knot of hope growing inside her. "Wayull,
ah wish ah'd've known that." She abruptly leapt to her feet. "Did you just
say you saw mah father out there?"
Kali glanced out the window and saw with relief that he was
walking away from their building. "He was talking to the Dean, trying to
get one of us expelled so you'd be out of my evil influence. I didn't want
to worry you, but I don't think he's going to give up."
Hilda dropped her handful of crumbs in the wastebasket and dusted
her hands off. "What am ah gonna do?" she repeated to herself.
Kali lost her patience. "You are such a mess, Hilda! Why don't you
grow a backbone and face your father? You're going to have to face him at
some point. If you don't, they'll follow you forever!"
Hilda rubbed the back of her neck obstinately. "Nothin' doin'. Ah
am never seein' that man again. Like you said, this is not a healthy
"But you can't go through the next two years like this! Even if
you could, there's gotta be some sense of closure or it'll haunt you for
the rest of your life!"
"Kali. Up until now, ah've done exactly what other people wanted.
Ever since middle school ah worked to try and be mahself when everyone
around me told me to think and act and say and do the exact opposite. Now
ah gotta find out who ah am and live mah own life. And facin' off with mah
family just because you think it's the only way out is not the way to do
"So what do you think is the right way? Homicide? Suicide? Either
one would solve your problems!" Kali taunted.
Hilda wrapped her arms around herself. "Very funny -- That's it!
That's brilliant, Kali!"
"Ah'm gonna change mah name, right? So ah'll fake mah own death!
Make it sound like 'Hildegarde LaVyrle' has died, and go on living as....
'whoever'!" Kali still looked confused. Hilda rushed on. "You know those
places that'll print up a fake newspaper with an article you've written in
'em? Get one of those with a fake obituary page, clip it out, and send it
to mah father -- we could even get some ashes somewhere, and an urn...."
She saw Kali's face. "Look, yeah, ah know it's a li'l extreme...."
"A little bit extreme?"
"But desperate times call for desperate measures! When mah older
brother ran away, it was for the same reasons. They consider him daid, and
they'll declare me daid too -- we're just savin' them the trouble!" She
sighed. "Maybe in a couple years ah kin go back and settle things, build
up a good adult relationship with them. But for now...."
Kali squeezed Hilda's hand. Rifling through an old newspaper on
the desk, she pulled out the obituaries page and spread them on the floor
to use as a model. "C'mon. We'll do this together."
* * *
A few days later, the following announcement appeared in the
LAVYRLE, Hildegarde Marie: Aged 20, died in car accident March 21, 1987.
Devoted daughter of Rose and Carson LaVyrle, and sister of Kevin and
Joshua LaVyrle. A memorial service was held at Washington Avenue Baptist
Church on March 24. Donations may be made in her memory to the Lambda
Legal Defense and Education Fund, or sent to the scholarship fund set up
in her name in care of Drami Jonson at Marymount Manhattan College.
Around the same time, devoted readers of the society pages of
local papers noticed an unusual announcement for the "coming-out party" of
one Drami Jonson. Those who dropped by the location given, curious to see
what a coming-out party would be like, reported that nobody was there. But
a small group of close friends could have told them that the party had
been re-located to Kali's and the newly-named Drami's dorm room, and the
festivities didn't break up until well past dawn, as they celebrated the
beginning of a new life....