Burge McCall

Damon Runyon

July 11 1936

Burge McCall hated his wife.

That made it 50-50 between them.

They lived together most unpleasantly for three years and four months.

For a year and two months, Burge McCall didn’t like the way his wife looked at him. It made him nervous.

His wife, Mrs. McCall, was a tall, thin woman with black hair and big black eyes. She always wore her hair parted in the middle, and smoothed down slick on each side. She never had much to say.

She was the kind of woman that other women always called Mrs.

They never used her first name. It was Venita. Her family lived in Peppersauce Bottoms, just south of the Santa Fe yards. Her father was a switchman.

Her sister, Anola, was married to Sled Sather, the druggist.

Burge McCall met Mrs. McCall at an Elks’ picnic. Burge was a big Elk. He had been married twice before, but his other wives ran away from him and got divorces.

What they said about Burge was a caution. It interested everybody in town.

Burge McCall thought he was quite a lady killer.

He didn’t know that most of the women in our town said they wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole.

They said Mrs. McCall married him to get away from the noise of the Santa Fe switch engines. Some said they didn’t blame her, at that, although others thought Burge McCall would be much worse than a switch engine.

He was a short, heavy-set man with a loud voice. He put grease on his hair and perfume on his handkerchief. He had a habit of sucking his teeth with his tongue, and making a peculiar sound.

Burge McCall was chief clerk of the District Court, and made a good salary, but he was very stingy with Mrs. McCall. He liked to spend all his money on himself, and on other women.

He undoubtedly was a bad husband. Some said he was the third worst husband in our town, but this was probably rating him too high.

Burge McCall never could understand his wife, Mrs. McCall.

When he called her names, she never answered. Burge McCall was accustomed to women who called him names right back when he called them names. Burge McCall said his second wife knew more names than he did.

But Mrs. McCall would only look at him.

That started him to hating her within two months after they were married.

Then one day, after they had been married two years and two months, Burge McCall slapped Mrs. McCall in the face. That is why for a year and two months Burge didn’t like the way she looked at him.

She wiped the place where he slapped her with her hand. She said, “McCall, you are a big rat. Someday you are going to regret what you have done.”

Burge McCall was somewhat disappointed in her. His second wife threw a flatiron at him for slapping her. He had a notion to slap Mrs. McCall again for calling him a big rat, but he didn’t like the way she looked at him.

One hot day Burge McCall dropped into Sled Sather’s drugstore to have a drink, and Sled said, “Hello, Burge. Your old woman was in here this morning and bought a pound of rat poison.”

Burge said, “What did she want with a pound of rat poison?”

And Sled said, “Well, she said she wanted to poison a big rat.”

Sled said it must be an awful big rat for her to want that much poison.

Burge McCall thought nothing of this at first.

Then he got to thinking that there never had been any rats around his house. He got to thinking that, as a matter of fact, rats are rather unusual in our town. He got to thinking that Mrs. McCall had spoken of him as a big rat.

Burge McCall put two and two together. He went home very nervous.

He thought some of asking Mrs. McCall about the rat poison, but decided it would do no good. He figured she would only say she got it to poison a rat, and what of it, and Burge McCall would have no answer to that.

But he felt sure there were no rats around his house.

He did manage to bring up the subject of rats in an offhand way once or twice, but Mrs. McCall paid no attention to his remarks. She just looked at him.

Burge McCall sneaked all over the house when he thought Mrs. McCall wasn’t noticing, looking for the rat poison. He never found it. He never found any rats either.

He began worrying terribly.

He went to see Doc Wilcox and asked him how arsenic tasted. Doc Wilcox said he didn’t know. He said he had never tasted it. He said he would bet it tasted awful.

Burge McCall got so he wouldn’t eat a smitch at home. He always had some excuse for taking his meals downtown, and this was a great break for Mrs. McCall, as it relieved her of a lot of work.

She hated cooking, anyway.

Burge McCall wouldn’t even take a drink of water in the house, but would go to a neighbor’s, half a block away, when he was thirsty. He quit liquor, because he figured it would never do for him to go home intoxicated. He wanted to be in full possession of all his faculties at all times.

This was another good break for Mrs. McCall, because when Burge McCall came home intoxicated, he was always very mean. He was even meaner intoxicated than when he was sober.

Finally Burge McCall decided that the safest thing for him to do was to keep Mrs. McCall in sight as much as possible. He got to taking her to the movies, and to Elks’ picnics. He always spoke nicely to her, because he didn’t want to irritate her.

The other women in our town began envying Mrs. McCall the attention she got from her husband, especially when he bought her a sealskin coat in the winter of 1933.

One day Burge McCall looked at Mrs. McCall and noticed she was not looking at him with the look that made him so nervous.

He noticed her eyes were smiling at him. He took her in his arms and called her Hon.

When Burge McCall died of apoplexy in 1935, his wife, Mrs. McCall, openly shed tears.

Sled Sather afterward said he never could understand why Mrs. McCall had once asked him to tell Burge McCall that she had bought a pound of rat poison to poison a big rat, when she never bought any at all.