Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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 Chapter 27

A Central Square Dinner

The newspaper, the most widely read one in Boston, wasn't a tabloid or, strictly speaking, a scandal sheet. But it certainly did love scandals. This one was on the front page, just under a headline about a Soviet threat to Berlin. The gist was that the director of the Allwyn Institute had resigned pursuant to a complaint lodged by the head nurse to the board of directors. The nurse, a Miss Brenda Skyrms, alleged that Dr. Campbell had, over the course of the last two years, been undermining her health. Whatever that meant.

Newspapers didn't often find their way into K-Entry, but Tom and Eric, having eaten at Frank's, were returning when they saw the paper on the rack. Had they not had change for the paper, they would have returned to Frank's to get it.

There was a story on an inside page, which they managed to read while bumping off telephone poles, but it really didn't add much. Nowhere was Ann mentioned.

When they arrived at the house, they discovered Ann herself outside the fence, calling back and forth to Peter. Having embraced both of them, she saw the paper and said,

"There are reporters all over the place, so I escaped."

The story came out quickly.

"Brenda was the head nurse when I got to Allwyn two years ago. She's intelligent, efficient, and not very forthcoming. I've never had any difficulty with her, but we aren't at all close. I didn't know she was having an affair with the director."

"What's this undermining the health business?"

"I have it from the secretary, Debbie, that he dropped her. Perhaps to pursue Mary Ellen."

"That might cause distress, but it's not usually a health threat."

"I think that's rather clever. Allwyn is a big deal because so many eminent Bostonians have had relatives there. With people like that, the i's don't have to be dotted. Since she doesn't allege any administrative malfeasance or fraud, and doesn't question his competence, it could only be one thing."

Eric replied,

"But the charge is so vague that she doesn't have to produce any evidence."

"Exactly. It turns out that it was enough to blow him out of the water."

"Are you affected?"

"Not at all, except for having to cope with some chaos. I suppose we'll get an interim director, hopefully one who won't make moves on the nurses."

Tom told of his recent meeting with the director, concluding,

"He did say that he didn't expect to stay there much longer."

"I imagine that he had in mind a little different exit. But it's too bad, really. I rather like him. He's just full of lust."

Eric remarked,

"There's also some lust to be found in K-Entry. Peter up there, for example..."

Ann replied,

"Nor is he the only one. But, after all, there's no point in pretending that we aren't animals. And that's the way animals are supposed to be."

Tom, a little bemused, said,

"I've been trying to figure out what Mary Ellen will make of this."

Ann replied,

"I have no idea. But it'll be interesting."

Eric and Ann went off together, and Tom had hardly gotten inside when there was the expected phone call. Mary Ellen sounded calm,

"Tom, dear, I just wondered if you'd happened to see the paper today."

"Yes. Quite a mess. Ann was just here, and she says the woman actually complained because she was being dropped."

"Well, that's possible. Of course, Jim does have that side. Psychiatrists get so used to intimacy and all sorts of sexual issues. In fact, they're virtually surrounded by them."

"I suppose they must be."

"I noticed that even you were more open with him than you usually are."

That was news to Tom, but he made no objection. Mary Ellen continued,

"It makes them quite vulnerable, really. Then, when a designing woman comes along, the situation may deteriorate."

"Have you talked with him since this event?"

"Yes. We talked on the phone for a long time last night."

There was a pause during which Tom realized that his mother would have kept it all to herself as long as possible if the resignation hadn't made the papers. He said nothing until she continued,

"I suppose I was mostly sympathetic. One can hardly jump on a man when he's down. But, of course, the facts are out there for all to read, and Jim is disqualified in many ways. But, still, we're going to remain friends."

"Good. I liked him."

"I'm so glad to hear that, Tom. You may never see him again, but you wouldn't be embarrassed if you and he turned up at the same time somewhere?"

"Not at all."

Tom hung up with a degree of amusement. There were in the world designing women who caused certain sorts of situations to deteriorate. The man, himself deteriorated, was then no longer qulified to marry Mary Ellen. He could hardly wait to tell Sharon and Eric.

Tom and Charles Hobbs had found an alternative to university dining halls in a little Italian restaurant in Central Square, one subway stop away. Tom had some news:

"Eric's had a check-up with the traditional medical people, and they can't find anything wrong."

Charles lit up in a way that was unusual for him, and Tom continued,

"Eric isn't celebrating, and he's urging the rest of us not to. He thinks this diagnosis is no more reliable than the previous one. Besides, they still don't know why he vomited so often for so long."

"I can understand how he feels. So little is really known in medicine that almost anything is posssible."

"And, then, whatever Dr. Sun is doing seems to help whatever is, or might have been, the problem."

"In that way, too, anything is possible. I'll probably end up in medical research, in which case I won't ever have to decide which methods to use with patients."

"But you're still going to be an orderly again at Christmas?"

"Yes. Hospitals are fascinating institutions even if I don't want to be in one as a doctor or patient, just as an orderly."

"If all doctors practised the way the Suns do, there wouldn't be nearly as much need for hospitals."

"I suppose the patients would either get well or die on their own."

They then went on to talk about the forthcoming break-up of K-Entry. Tom said at one point,

"Sharon seems to think that it's inevitable."

Charles had never met Sharon, but had heard a lot about her. He now asked,

"Does she think it's a good thing?"

"Probably. We've been wondering whether any sort of tight community is viable, even a family one based on marriage."

"There aren't a great many successful families in the culture that's emerging in America."

"The Sun family apqears to be extremely tight with no visible strains. But they're Chinese immigrants with a very different culture."

"There are groupings like that among the black serfs of Alabama, but they're forged out of necessity. Most would break up if they suddenly got enough money to live a life of comparative ease."

"So the question is whether I should eventually marry Sharon, and possibly have a family."

"How do you want to die?"

Tom, surprised, answered,

"I suppose everyone wants to die suddenly with no pain. I read in the paper the other day that a retired doctor dropped dead suddenly on a golf course. His last words were, 'I'm on the green.'"

Charles laughed and replied,

"That's ideal, perhaps, but the odds are rather long. Realistically, what would you choose?"

"My mother's parents both died in a hospital under distinctly unpleasant conditions. I certainly wouldn't want that."

"I sometimes ask people this question, and the answers fall into several patterns. One idea of a good death has the person in question surrounded by family and close friends. He or she slips away peacefully in an atmosphere of love without any issues or misunderstandings left open. This could happen in a hospital room or not, but the location doesn't matter greatly."

"I guess I can't argue with the absence of pain, but the rest sounds rather too sweet and sentimental."

"What would an alternative be?"

"When I know I'm running out of time, I could just do increasingly dangerous things until I go over the line. A good death might come at sea in a small boat."

"Drowning would be unpleasant, wouldn't it?"

"I could shoot myself at the last moment."

"Would you want someone else to be with you?"

"Definitely not! They'd be almost sure to interfere in one way or another."

"I thought your idea would be something like that. It's quite at variance with our culture's ideal of death, you know."

"Is the other picture you gave the approved one?"

That struck them both as funny, and Charles replied,

"Well, it is. If Eric dies, it may be like that."

"Kent did it all on his own. It seems odd, but I suppose I'm really more like Kent. Except that I won't to it until I'm old and sick."

"Then I wonder if you really do want to marry and have a family. I don't because I want to deal with crises on my own without having to first escape from a group of other people. That's the main reason that I didn't accept your kind offer to join K-Entry."

"It is hard to be alone there. It would be almost impossible to escape from a wife and children."

"It isn't just death, of course. But I think the style of dying tends to illuminate one's style in everything else."

"At times like this, I hardly think that I should marry."

"Do you think Sharon wants to?"

"Girls seem to be under terrific pressure to marry, but her activities, from stabbing the boy with the pen to behavior that kept her in Allwyn, may have been her way of saying that she doesn't want to."

"She may be enough like you so that the same reasoning applies."

"There's a little more to it than that. It's not only her mother who doesn't want her to marry. Her best friend, who's a nurse, intimated gently to me that she wonders if Sharon will ever be stable enough to cope with children."

"Do you trust this woman's judgment?"

"Oh yes. More than anyone's. It also happens that the recently resigned director at Allwyn, a psychiatrist, thinks much the same thing. He said that Sharon's immensely talented, and that it's silly to risk everything for the sake of something that any ordinary woman can do."

"What does Sharon herself think."

"She agrees. In fact, she wants to have an operation that will make it impossible to get pregnant."

"That's tying the tubes. She might have trouble finding someone willing to do it. Anyhow, it sounds as if she intends to have sex."

"Not exactly. She wants it as a backup in case she should get carried away, or even raped, or anything."

"Well, there's an advantage for you there. These attitudes on her part are likely to keep other men away."

"Yes. Married or not, we might manage quite well. But I occasionally imagine her making love with some other man and scare myself to death."

"It's so easy to scare ourselves! If you feel the need to do that, you might better imagine being eaten by a rather large shark."

Just then, the antipasto arrived, a mound of goodies on a large oval plate.

Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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