by Gregory Frost
Many of the women were standing in line, and his guide indicated that he should get into the line, too. Then she went over to another cluster and spoke to them, clearly about him,as she kept pointing in his direction.
At the end of the line was a large bowl and a woman was ladling from the bowl into cups. "Punch?" she asked, and he nodded, beaming. She filled his cup, but at the same time wrinkled her nose and gave him a queer look.
He sipped the cup. It was very sweet, quite pleasant, and he downed it all in one gulp. The woman with the ladle continued to eye him strangely, but she refilled his cup when he held it out.He would have downed that one, too, but someone came up and tapped his shoulder. He turned to find the cluster of women gathered before him. "Pauline tells us you have a four average and you’re majoring in history."
He nodded, sipping the punch. It was very like honey, for which he had a particular weakness.
"We’d need to see some proof, of course."
"Of course," he agreed. He would have agreed to anything at that point. He hoped they didn’t notice the same smell, and that they didn’t expect to see the proof tonight.
"And, you know, we need to talk with you, to find out why you want to pledge here. What sort of life you’re looking for on campus. We’re fairly, well, conservative compared to some of the others. It’s not a party house here,which isn’t to say we don’t have fun."
For a blissful moment his mind filled with images of fun in this house.
"Are there any other houses looking at you?" asked one of the group.
He couldn’t imagine how a house could look at him, but just to be safe, he said, "Maybe."
"Hmm," the woman replied. "We sure don’t want to lose someone with a four–oh average. Would you like a tour?"
He downed the rest of the punch in his cup and nodded vigorously.
"Pauline?" she said, and the black–haired woman came up again.
Coyote turned back to the punch bowl and held out his cup another time. The ladler blinked at him with some concern but finally refilled the cup.
He turned back to Pauline. She said, "You want to be careful with that. It’s pretty potent."
"Oh, I’ve had much stronger," he replied. "Bear’s brew — now, that was powerful."
She tilted her head and looked at him over her glasses. "Really?" she asked.
"Strongest I ever had. I was just telling someone last night about a contest I had with Bear."
"Well, you’ll have to tell me about it, too. Come on." She took him back to the foyer and up the staircase there. More women ran up and down the stairs. His heart fluttered at the sight of themand he couldn’t help twisting around to watch them bounce all the way to the bottom.
As Pauline spoke, he wandered along the hall, hearing only some of what she said, too engrossed in what he saw: room after room of women, chatting, studying, some of them in pajamas, one in a towel.This was a vast improvement upon the place the night before.
Abruptly, he found Pauline considering him thoughtfully. He wondered if he had said something aloud to give away his disguise. Women could make him lose track of things.
"Yes," she said, as if they’d been discussing it, "I’ve heard about Bear’s brew and about that drinking contest. It’s kind of famous."
Coyote liked the sound of that — so he was known to these women after all. He was careful to remain demure. "Is that so? How famous?" he asked, and sipped at his punch.
"Well," the girl began, "it’s an old, old story, been told for centuries, how Bear challenged Rabbit to a drinking contest."
Coyote choked on punch. "What?" he said. "That’s not the story at all!"
Pauline replied, "I don’t know what you mean. That’s the only one I heard."
"It wasn’t Rabbit at all! Rabbit wasn’t even there."
"Oh, and I suppose you were?"
"Of course I was, of course I was," he said, "how else would I know?"
"As I heard it, there were just two people on hand. Bear and Ra–"
"Not Rabbit! Never Rabbit!"
Pauline took the cup from his fingers. "You know, I said that I began as a history major, but that was a long time ago." She drank the rest of the punch. "Ná jiní ma’ii," she muttered.
"What?" Surely, he hadn’t heard that correctly. It had sounded like the language of the People. Coyote thought that perhaps it was time for him to go.
"Well, let’s forget about Rabbit. My favorite stories are all about Coyote, anyway, and I’ve often wondered what he would be like if he were still around. He played a lot of tricks on people. Particularly on women.I wonder if he still does the trick where he dresses up as a woman to invade the women’s tent."
"It’s very late, isn’t it?" He tried to edge around her, but Pauline kept moving steadily, forcing him backward along the hall.