Bill Todd -- Adrienne: A Novel of the Markets
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 Chapter 12


Jackie's wedding, on the 2nd of July, was at Madison, Wisconsin. Her parents disapproved because the groom had been an air force sergeant until recently. He was also Jewish, a fact that did little to ease their minds. He now had a rather lucrative job supervising mechanics who repaired jet engines, but that didn't help either.

Sheldon's parents disapproved because Jackie wasn't Jewish, and because they didn't like the idea of having a Vassar graduate in the family. Since both sets of parents refused to come, the wedding was got up by the friends of the bride and groom, and was great fun. Brad came with me, but we were billeted on couches in different graduate student apartments, and were always with lots of other people.

Since Brad had lived in Madison for years, he spent a good deal of the time with his many friends. Meanwhile, our old college group was re-assembled, and I was mostly occupied with them. Everyone met everyone else, but, in the general confusion, some people may not have realized that Brad and I, in various senses of the term, had come together.

It was not until we got on the plane to come home that he and I had a chance to compare notes. He asked me what I thought of Sheldon. I replied,

"Very nice. He seemed a little overawed by some of the people there, but he's intelligent and he has a good sense of humor."

"I overheard one woman refer to him as a manual laborer."

"Good grief! You might as well call a neurosurgeon a manual laborer. It's funny, I didn't come across anyone who'd be likely to say things like that."

"I think it was Jackie's cousin. She came, but apparently with some reservations."

"I don't think I met her at all. Well, there's always some doubting Tomassina at a wedding."

There was then an uncomfortable pause. I broke it.

"My friends all said they liked you, and I think they were mostly sincere. Are you going to tell me whether your friends liked me?"

"They all did, except for Becky Jansen. But she's the one I used to go with. I wouldn't worry about that much."

"I was wondering what you saw in her. Maybe she picked up my feelings toward her. But Jackie likes her. Maybe it's just me."

"She used to be a lot better looking before she gained weight."

I laughed a little maliciously.

"Did she start eating because you left her?"

"I'm not sure I did leave her."

"Jackie thinks it was her fault if that's any consolation to you."

"I thought there was a great danger that we'd just become dull together."

"Isn't that always a danger?"

"Sure, but some people almost welcome it. In fact, that's exactly what they mean by settling down."

"How do you recommend avoiding it?"

At that point, the aircraft lurched in a way that might have suggested to some people that a wing was about to come off. When things settled back to normal, Brad replied,

"My idea is not, incidentally, that married people should have affairs with others. That's what they do when their marriage is breaking up. They may tell themselves that they're enriching their marriage or expanding their inter- consciousness, but it won't do any good."

"I don't think having separate careers helps much either. In theory, the couple should have lots to talk about. In practice, they're usually both too tired to care by the time they get home."

"I can't give an example of what I mean right off, but people have to periodically do unusual and unexpected things which will have a mostly favorable effect on the other person. Things that the other person can't do alone, but which will cause him or her to look at the same things in a new way."

I also had trouble imagining such a thing. But I had never known another man to whom such a thought would even have occurred.

After that, we gossiped about the people at the wedding. But it was still a long trip. There was a change of planes at O'Hare, a ride into Manhattan on one of the Carey Transportation Company's inimitable busses (featuring a fight between the driver and a lady passenger who made the mistake of asking a question), a train to Stockport, and then a drive home. I dropped Brad off, collected my mail, and staggered up the stairs. Flopping on to my bed, I opened the only envelope which hadn't been addressed by a computer. It contained a proposal of marriage from David Larsen.

My first instinct was to simply put it out of my mind until the next day. However, the next day was a Monday, and David would be there, a big smile on his face, expecting my answer. Arriving at a decision was no problem, but the matter of how to orchestrate my refusal was a large problem indeed.

Despite all our travelling, it still wasn't very late. I decided to rest for a half hour, and then call Janey. The phone rang twice during that time, but I had no temptation whatever to answer it.

Janey's reaction wasn't as surprised as I had expected. She said,

"No reflection on you, but he's pretty desperate these days."

"Has he proposed to you yet?"

"No. He was trying to say something to me last week, but I don't think that was it."

"Okay. How are we going to handle this?"

"If you try to tell him he can't be serious, he'll just argue that he is."

"That was my first impulse. The note is just one sentence, very formal, with no explanation. Can't I pretend I think it's a joke?"

"We all know it's not. You could tell him you're going to marry Brad. You can say it's a secret and it's not formal, but just an understanding."

I thought for a minute.

"Of course, that's not true. I don't mind that so much, but I've no idea what David might do. No matter what I say, he might call Brad up and congratulate him."

"I guess it would be better to clear it with Brad first."

"That's dangerous for me. Any other ideas?"

"Well, you could say you don't think it's a good idea to marry a man who's so newly divorced."

"Yes. I guess that's better. I'm sorry, I'm so tired I can't think straight. And then to have to deal with this!"

Janey commiserated, and we wound down slowly with my telling her about the wedding, not excluding the bride's dress.

It's an oddity that the only formal proposals of marriage I've received have been ones that I haven't even considered accepting. The result has always been a difficult and embarrassing situation, not made easier by the fact that David was, at least in theory, my boss.

We went out to lunch, and I took the general line Janey had suggested. The trouble was, the more I told David that I didn't think he was yet in a position to marry, the more it sounded as if I thought he might be later on, perhaps in a year's time. He wasn't taking hints at all well, and was beginning to negotiate how long it would be before he could propose again.

I discovered gradually that it was my toleration of his talk of divorce which had convinced him that I was the most sympathetic woman he was likely to meet. Janey, it seemed, tended to fidget uneasily when he talked about his wife. He did say, however, that Janey would be an ideal mistress. He seemed to have no inkling that he might not be the sort of man any woman would jump to have as a lover or husband.

I lost no time that afternoon in getting to work on Hanks' customers. He hadn't been very helpful, so I told them, falsely, that he had asked me to call. I also decided that, since David thought I was totally sympathetic, the same general approach might work on Hanks' old ladies. They weren't so worried about divorce, but I soon found that there were other things they worried about.

After a good two hours of that sort of thing, Janey came in with some orders to execute. Our national office was participating in a flotation of a utility stock, and, so far, she had unloaded more of it than anyone else. That was partly because Bret ignored the desires of the national office and sold whatever he liked. But, still, it was a signal accomplishment on Janey's part. I congratulated her, and we then talked about David. I told her that I thought I had kept him at bay for another six months or so. I said,

"I found out that he wants to marry me because I let him talk about his divorce. If you keep him off that subject, you're probably fairly safe."

We then went back to work and didn't talk about David again that day. It was a couple of days later when Janey burst in, laughing strangely, and said,

"David called me into his office and said he'd like for me to be his mistress."

"Was he joking?"

"He didn't seem to be. He said it like he was giving me a new assignment in the office. I said I thought he was interested in marrying you."

It hardly seemed to matter any more whether David had intended his proposal to me to be kept secret. I was all agog for more. Janey said,

"That didn't bother him. He just nodded and said yes, he did expect to marry you within the year. Then he said he thought I was more the mistress type than the wife type. By this time I was laughing so hard I had to leave. I don't think I even gave him an answer."

I didn't think it nearly so funny as Janey, and said,

"He did tell me that he thought you'd make a perfect mistress, but I didn't repeat it to you, I guess because I thought it might hurt your feelings. I had no idea he'd come out with it right to you."

"I think it was his idea that I'd go on being mistress even after he'd married you. He made it sound like he thought it was the only thing to do, have a wife of the wife type and a mistress of the mistress type, all at once."

"Do you think he's gone really crazy?"

"He looks the same as always. It's not like he was foaming at the mouth. His hair is carefully combed and he's well dressed. His eyes don't even look crazy. I've known a few people who were crazy, but they weren't like this."

"In little ways he's okay, even on a date. But not perceiving social reality is a bad sign."

Since it was almost quitting time, Janey and I, resolving on a trip to the gyro parlor, headed out the door to the parking lot. Like Stockport's other parking lots, ours is landscaped with rows of small ornamental trees separating the rows of cars. The Chamber of Commerce claims, with a perfectly straight face, that Stockport has the world's most beautiful parking lots.

On this occasion, the beauty of our parking lot was diminished by the presence of a man, probably drunk, who was urinating against a parked car.

The car, Bret Halvorson's, was only two away from Janey's. Although she had been going to drive, I suggested taking mine instead. She replied,

"Mine's unlocked and I want to get it away before he craps in the driver's seat."

The man was fairly old and decidedly unsteady, and presented no credible threat. We studiously ignored him as we passed. There are some people who can be successfully ignored, but there are others who cannot. This one began raving at our approach, and spun and re-directed his stream of urine at the car next to Janey's. He also shouted at us in an extraordinarily offensive way, the words 'fuck,' 'cunt,' and 'whore' being prominent in his remarks. I would have ignored even that, but Janey was moved to reply to him.

The man answered back and ended up in our way, so that it was necessary to go around him. Since it was desirable to give him a very wide berth indeed, he had to move only a little to block us off. Just then, he moved a hand to his eye and performed an action which looked remarkably as if he were removing his eye. It was, of course, a glass eye. But, still, we had a rather nasty shock. Janey was beginning to call him names, but I, noticing a policeman coming up behind our new acquaintance, urged her to calm down.

The Stockport police are not fond of vagrants, nor of any drunks other than a few prominent ones whom they care for carefully. There are no shelters for the homeless, or for unfortunates of any description. The prevailing view in the community is that services of that sort would actually attract undesirables to the town. Acting on the same logic, the police treat the occasional tramp in such a way that he isn't likely to soon return to Stockport.

In this instance, the hand of the law arrived quickly. It was a large heavy hand which descended on the angle between the neck and right shoulder. The man crumpled under the blow, and would have fallen flat if the officer had not, in the same motion, started to drag the offender away.

At the moment of his apprehension, this tourist to Stockport had been brandishing his glass eye threateningly, as if he intended to throw it at Janey. She, nothing daunted, had been preparing to hit him with her purse, an action made redundant by the arrival of the officer. The latter's blow had caused the man to drop his glass eye, which landed without breaking and rolled slowly along the blacktop until it fetched up against the tire of Bret's car.

There was no sign that the policeman wished to interview us. The usual procedure, I am told, is to deal with vagrants by roughing them up and then putting them on a bus. That being the case, Janey and I got in her car and drove off.

As we reached the street, we noticed that the vagrant was handcuffed to a utility pole. The officer, in his car, was probably calling in to see if he was wanted for anything. The man, backed up to the pole, was weeping while a couple of passers-by had stopped to stare. It was quite an affecting sight, and Janey stopped the car. I said,

"This reminds me a little of the Puritans. They used to punish people by putting them in stocks and letting everyone stare at them."

"I guess he must be one of those homeless persons they're always talking about."

"No wonder! I can't imagine anyone who'd want him in their home. Even an institution wouldn't be thrilled to have him."

Without a word, Janey put the car in reverse and returned to Bret Halvorson's car. Bret had come out, and was just about to get into it. Janey took some kleenex from her purse, got out, and approached Bret's car. She quickly found the glass eye, where it still rested against the tire, and picked it up with the kleenex. Bret asked,

"What's that?"

I replied,

"It's a long story. I'll tell you tomorrow."

As we drove off, I could see Bret looking at the door of his car, the one that had served the convenience of the drunk. I was wondering whether he would figure out why his door was wet when Janey stopped near the utility pole. Our man was still there in the same position. Janey approached him from the back, slipped the eye into his jacket pocket and said something to him which I couldn't hear. We were then off again quickly. I said,

"That was a nice thing to do. I felt sorry for him, but I wouldn't have done anything."

"Well, I came pretty close to hitting him over the head with my purse. But, then, you figure there's nothing at all for someone like that. No one wants to have anything to do with him."

"I guess it's the vision of ending up like that that makes me so determined to build a defensive fortress."

"You'd never end up like that, Adrienne. I mean, not even if you lost your job or got sick or anything."

"That's an extreme case, of course, but any of us could very easily be knocked off our perches. The best defense is simply money. Lots of it, invested as carefully as possible."

Bill Todd -- Adrienne: A Novel of the Markets
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