I wanted to see Jeannette before my appointment with Dr. Orenstein
so I called her at work the next morning and she agreed to meet me again at
the Bird Cage. She got there before I did, and even before I sat down I said, “I’ve got to get out of
“I’ve got to give up my apartment and the farm.”
“You’ve been drafted?”
“Something’s happened.” Her voice rose. “Something serious.”
“Nothing serious has happened. Believe
me. And Candy and Marlo
are all right. I just have to leave
She wasn’t wearing makeup and she looked younger, almost girlish. She said in a flat, firm voice, “If it isn’t serious, then you don’t have to leave.”
“I’ve got a girl pregnant.”
“You’ve got a girl what?”
I stared at the tabletop.
She said, encouragingly, “Well, is it anybody we know?”
“Well then, who in the hell is it!” The whites of her eyes were barely visible. The blackness of the irises expanded to meet them. I felt like running.
I said, “It was a mistake.” My throat was tight with emotion and I waited
until I could talk again. “I can’t
“You can’t stay in
“That’s right. I’ve got to get away from here.”
“And you’re just going to leave them here. High and dry?”
“I’m not leaving anyone. They can come with me.”
The bartender brought two more Manhattans and waited for me to pay. We had barely started on the first two. I gave him three dollars and told him to keep the change. He stuffed the bills into his shirt pocket and walked back to the bar.
She fixed me with her eyes, fiercely this time, like a mother who has caught her child lying and is waiting for a confession.
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
She didn’t answer. There were four glasses, in two neat rows and I picked up one and tasted the dark, caramel-sweet liquid. I put it down on the table, self-consciously, and said, “She’s only thirteen.”
“The girl I got pregnant.”
She turned around to see where the bartender was. It was about three in the afternoon and the bar was nearly empty. His back was turned and he was certainly too far away to have heard what I said. He was drying glasses furiously and putting them into the cupboard. She turned back to me and her face was white.
After we talked for nearly an hour, she agreed,
“You’re right Brad, you’ve got to leave
“It’s even worse than you think.”
“Brad.” Her voice was soft and tired. “I don’t think I can stand any more. I’ve been through a lot. Maybe you’d better keep the rest to yourself.” She closed her eyes. Her arms were extended and both hands gripped her glass, tightly. It seemed to me that she might be holding back tears.
I said, reassuringly, “It’s not what you think. I mean, I don’t know what you’re thinking but ... it’s ... it’s just the draft. I’m worried about ... that they’re going to reactivate my draft notice.” I looked at her closed eyelids. There were traces of mascara on them. “You know that I’ve already been drafted once.”
She opened her eyes and looked at me blankly.
I said, “It isn’t that I’m afraid to go. You know how I feel about the war. I’m...”
She interrupted me. “You don’t have to explain yourself. It’s not like World War II. Your father was in World War II. Everyone was. The Vietnam War is different. We’re all against the Vietnam War.”
“It’s too late to get into graduate school next fall.”
She stared into my eyes, uncomprehending.
I took a deep breath. “I’ve got to get married.”
She drew a breath. “Who do you plan on marrying?”
“I’ve got to act fast. I’ve got to rent another farm for Candy and the horses too, and I’ve got to tell Marlo to...”
She interrupted me again. “Brad! Who do you plan on marrying?”
“I don’t know.”
I looked over her shoulder at the bartender who was talking to a blonde woman in a red dress. Her butt was enormous on the tiny bar stool.
I said, “Why don’t we go to your apartment.” Her breasts moved up and down with the slow, steady rhythm of her breathing, and she looked over my head into the distance, as if she were looking for a way out of the moment. I put my hands on hers, which were still clasped firmly around the half empty glass. Her eyes moved down to my hands, which seemed enormous next to hers.
After what felt like a very long time, she looked up and said, “Let’s go.”
I followed her out of the bar. The fat woman said something to the bartender that I couldn’t understand, and they laughed as we walked through the swinging doors into the bright sunlight.
Bathed in the smells of a thousand flowers, we walked up the stairs of her apartment without saying a word. She left the curtains drawn and we sat on the couch in the darkness. From the first, I felt that something was different. I nuzzled against her and kissed her cheek as I had done innocently in the past, but when my lips reached hers she leaned her head forward and kissed me on the mouth. I was overcome by passion and was swept away.
Afterwards, we lay spoon-fashion on the couch and my face was buried in her thick hair. The telephone had rung while we were making love and she said, “You’d better telephone the girls and tell them you’re here.”
I didn’t want to leave the warmth of her body. I moved my fingers to her nipples and kissed her neck. She turned, languidly, to face me and slipped off the couch onto the floor, moaning as her back scraped against the edge of the coffee table. I followed her onto the shag rug and kissed her on the back. She turned around and we embraced again on the rug.
“What do you mean?”
“No I’m not.”
“You can’t tell Marlo or Candy about this. Do you understand?”
My pride was hurt. I said sententiously, “I’ve indulged myself in the luxury of not lying most of my life but I guess now that I’ve made my life into such a mess, I’m going to have to learn to lie.”
She said, simply, “No.”
I guess I need at least one person I can tell everything to.”
“Someone who won’t betray your trust.”
I said, “I wish we could get married.”
I expected her to laugh or be angry but she smiled. Her smile was ironic and her eyes were full of something that I didn’t understand. Grateful that she wasn’t angry, I went down to her white stomach and kissed her belly button and moved slowly back up into her arms kissing her all the way.
She said, “Maybe that’s just the way it is.” Her voice was low and husky, and she laughed in a way I hadn’t heard her laugh before.
“That’s the way what is?”
“We love what we can’t have and run from whatever loves us.”
“Is that your definition of love?”
“No,” She said thoughtfully.
I asked, “Do you love me?”
She looked away. “I love my daughters.”
“I love your daughters too. We
could go to
“Brad. You’re insane.”
“I’ve got more than two hundred thousand dollars.” She was silent and her eyes glowed in the soft afternoon light that filtered through the drawn curtains. “I can take care of all three of you. I bought stock. It’s gone up a lot in the last two years.”
She laughed silently, causing her ribs to move against mine. “I’m old enough to be your mother.”
“You could get your Ph.D. in French...”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“No. Not really.”
“Life has treated you pretty badly, hasn’t it?”
“I’ve learned that I don’t know anything about the real world if that’s what you mean.”
“Hasn’t Dr. Orenstein taught you anything?”
“I guess not.” I hung my head. “The only thing I know anything about is the world of mathematics and sports, and religion which I would rather forget. The real world is hopelessly messy. Since my grandfather died, my life his been a series of mistakes and absurdities.”
“You had a fight with them, didn’t you?”
“We got drunk last night and they said a lot of stuff that depressed me, that’s all.”
“Well, are you going to tell me about it?”
“For one thing, neither one of them really believes in love or marriage. They said love is just sex and marriage is an economic arrangement.”
“Isn't that what you want them to believe?”
I was silent.
She waited again.
I said, “With a mother like mine, I don’t suppose any woman will ever love me.” I got up and started to put my clothes on.
“Brad. Marlo wants you. Why don’t you marry her?”
The thought seemed absurd. “I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want to build a dynasty of little Brads and Marlos. What good would that be?”
Her voice was low and husky. “Try living a life like I’ve lived and then ask the same question.”
“I know it’s odd, but I feel like Candy would make a better wife for me.”
“She’s your sister.”
“Do you really believe that biology matters?”
She stared up at me.
“If a man married his stepdaughter that would be incest. Wouldn’t it?”
She assented with a nod.
“But if I married Candy it wouldn’t be incest.”
I said, “Only you and Dr. Orenstein know the truth. No one could possibly prove that she is my father’s daughter.” I fixed her with a fierce stare. “In fact, maybe she isn’t.”
“Brad. There’s no possibility that Candy is Hollyfield’s daughter. When I was certain that I was pregnant with your father’s child, I had intercourse with Hollyfield a few times so he wouldn’t be suspicious.”
I shook my head with a mixture of frustration and resignation. “Then I suppose it’s a lie I’m just going to have to live with.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
I added, “And Marlo will never know that Candy is her sister either.”
“I want Candy to know that I’m her mother. I suppose she can know that without knowing that Bill is her real father. She deserves to know that I'm her mother. But Hollyfield never suspected anything and he doesn’t have to know. I don’t need to punish him with that knowledge. It wasn’t his fault that he was such a stupid prick.” She looked up at me.
“I love you all very much.”
“We love you very much too Brad.”
We moved back into each other’s arms and I was glad that my feelings were the same and that nothing had changed. I closed my eyes and fell asleep in the safety of her arms. I felt her arm tugging me awake.
“Brad. Wake up. You’re having a nightmare.”
I had dreamt that flames surrounded my mother who was wearing her red robe and holding a Bible above her head. She said that no woman would ever love me until I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. The fire roared and through it a caressing voice said that my mother was wrong and there was a woman who loved me and she was Jeannette. My mother’s voice rose above the noise of the roaring flames and said that Jeannette’s love was false and like all profane loves, would die into a myriad of shapes and disguises that were the masks of new, even more perfidious loves. The flames began to pull me into them and Jeannette’s soft arms and caressing voice pulled me back.
I rubbed my eyes. She said, “Call them.”
“Call who?” I stared into her face and was lost for a moment in the sadness of her eyes.
She said, “I love you.” She reached her fingers out and touched my lips, as if to prevent me from answering.
She said again, “Call them.” Her fingertips were still on my lips. “I love you.”
I kissed her cheek and got up slowly and went to the phone.