Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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 Chapter 8


Dr. Stowe left for the golf course about noon every day, but he didn't always get there. It depended on Sink, whose usual pattern was to go rowing, or otherwise exercising, around eleven in the morning. Sink would then take his shower at the boathouse or gym, and return late in the afternoon to accompany his father to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants.

But, every two or three weeks, there would be a day, usually a Tuesday, when Sink didn't leave at all. Dr. Stowe would hear the shower running, and would vary his own routine. On this particular Tuesday, instead of his usual sandwich at the diner, he drove to a more elaborate restaurant near the railway station. It was noted, not only for the price of its food, but for the slowness and ineptitude of its service. Dr. Stowe didn't mind. He liked watching all kinds of people and things, and was never bored.

Seated at a little table by a window overlooking the track, he honed his ears for eavesdropping. A conversation at a nearby table, full of seething marital discord and suppressed hatred, was audible despite the attempts of the conversants to keep their voices down. Then, there was a tall blonde waitress who dipsy-dooed in an interesting way when she put plates down in front of diners. When she came to take his order, he inquired about the soup. She confided quietly,

"Our soups are interesting. Each one has something wrong with it."

Delighted, he chose one at random.

The soup, whose main ingredients were hard to identify, had less wrong with it than Dr. Stowe had been led to expect. He had hardly been served when a locomotive whistled. It was about to come right past his window, and he could already see the headlight, bright even in the sunshine. The engine was just starting up from the station, and there were clouds of intensely black smoke surrounding pure white jets of steam. The whole mass was flung alarmingly upward by the explosive exhaust of the cylinders.

The Boston & Maine 4-6-2 Pacific locomotives, lovely examples of their kind, pulled most of the passenger trains. This one was accelerating markedly as it passed the window. The noise, the shaking, and the general commotion disturbed most diners near the windows, but Dr. Stowe, in his excitement, happily spilled soup on the table cloth.

While two ladies at another table complimented each other on their clothing and spoke critically of the dress of one who was not present, Dr. Stowe was lucky enough to see another Pacific, and then a heavy Mikado with a freight train. The big Mike set the water glasses shaking and rattling even more than the Pacifics had, and the freight cars, many with rusty bearings, produced a marked caterwauling. The pretty blonde waitress put her hands to her ears, raising her uniform skirt slightly, and mouthed something which he didn't catch. He also mouthed something which he was sure she wouldn't be able to hear or otherwise interpret.

Leaving his car parked at the station, Dr. Stowe walked the half mile home, but then passed by his street to the next one. He had discovered that, a block away, it was possible for a man wearing his driving glasses to see between houses to his own garage. Sink's Ford coupe was still there, but, knowing which way it would go, Dr. Stowe made his way to the trolley stop on the Main Street. He could there sit, as if waiting for the trolley, and watch the intersection.

When Sink's car passed, Dr. Stowe walked briskly to his own house and let himself in the front door. Then, in a more leisurely fashion, he ascended the stairs to Sink's quarters. Sink had a coat closet full of ski equipment and winter clothing, including mountain-climbing boots. None of it had been touched in months, and wouldn't be for another few months. It faced out into his main room, and Sink had long since removed the door, which, with sawhorses, was now serving as a sculpture table. Dr. Stowe waited until he heard Sink's car before concealing himself in the closet and peeking out between two coats.

The steps coming up the back stairs were easily discernible. Those of Lady Lee, as Dr. Stowe thought of her, were sharp, neat, and precise, comparable to the action of a passenger locomotive whipping along with little effort. Sink's steps, loud with a hazy penunbra, were strictly those of a heavy freight. Lady Lee, coming into full view, half twirled gaily, and said back over her shoulder,

"Hey Sink, can we close a few curtains?"

"Sure, I guess so. It's just the Eliots next door."

"Are the Eliots people who wouldn't look in other people's windows?"

"Mr. Eliot certainly wouldn't."

"Even if the lady in view were being reduced to her knickers?"

"Well, I don't think so. And, of course, the younger Eliots probably would look."

"Thanks, that's better. Anyway, we've got to talk before we get on with it. I need advice, and you're the smartest person I know."

"I bet you want to know how I manage to do so little work."

"Not exactly. I'm making lots of money in my little businesses, and, anyway, I'll never have to worry about money. However, unlike my father, I don't identify money with satisfaction."

"Neither do I. I don't do anything to make money."

"That's fairly obvious. But you do have direction. Most people, to some extent, pattern themselves after their parents. I don't, but you might."

"I hardly knew my mother, and I've never wanted to be a dentist or any sort of professional."

"Who do you admire most?

"I guess that would have to be Einstein."

"I really don't know enough about him and his work to know what to admire in him."

"You've probably come across some people you've admired."

"Several good teachers, including the man who seduced me when I was seventeen."

"Are you angry about that?"

"No. People tell me I should be. But I just don't seem to be. Anyhow, I don't worry too much about the past. The question is just what I'm going to do or be in the long run."

"Women are supposed to have kids, aren't they?"

"I hate children, and I hate the idea of being pregnant or giving birth. I also have no desire to adopt some snot-nosed little bastard."

"Forcefully spoken, Lee. I believe you."

"Some people say, 'You'll change your mind when you meet the right man, dear.' That's horseshit."

"Well, all I think I have to do is play sports and prove the occasional theorem."

"I do play tennis and other things. But I can't prove the occasional theorem."

"There's all of art and literature. You could probably produce sculptures that are better than mine."

"Not as humorous, certainly, and probably not as good."

"You once told me that you write poetry."

"I hide it carefully away because it's fourth-rate. The kind of thing half the girls at Wellesley produce by the ream. At times like this, I begin to think that I'm not good at anything but prostitution."

"But you're a brilliantly charming and beautiful woman."

"That just means that I might be able to get other people, probably men, to do good things."

"That could include influencing which things they do. That's important. Generals don't usually do much themselves. They get other people to do them."

"They give orders."

"That's one way of getting people to do things. Perhaps not the most effective. They can only give orders to certain people about certain things. The lady who influences people may be able to get better people to do more important things."

"I'm not sure I've ever influenced anyone to do much of anything."

"That's probably because you haven't tried. And, of course, you have to decide what goals to promote."

"There are the obvious things, like combatting Nazi sympathizers."

"Sure, but you could also use your imagination."

"That I do have. I probably could think up some projects that would be useful and interesting."

"Certainly. You then draw in your admirers to your salon, and set them going in the right direction."

Lee laughed and gestured around the room, saying,

"This could be my first salon."

She then pointed toward Dr. Stowe's closet and said,

"We could clear out that little room and put in shelves with bottles of exotic drinks. The maid could serve them while I make up for my salon inexperience with a partial strip- tease."

Sink pretended to hold a little glass in his hand as he signalled for her to begin.

Dr. Stowe, briefly worried that Lady Lee might discover him, watched the show with interest. He had no real desire to participate, or even to touch her. It was much as it was with locomotives. He didn't particularly want to be the engineer, nor did he want to touch the hot boiler.

When Sink and his partner moved to the bedroom as usual, Dr. Stowe listened for certain sounds before he exited the closet and moved down the carpeted stairs. At the bottom, it occurred to him to wonder what Dr. Sam Woodger might think.

Recalling a couple of things that Lady Lee had once said, Dr. Stowe had the idea that she was Jewish. Would Woodger actually be bigoted enough to fail to recognize Lee's beauty and desirablity? Or would hypocrisy quickly take over? Dr. Stowe strongly suspected the latter. In any case, whatever Woodger might think of Sink, Dr. Stowe thought that his son was doing very well indeed.

Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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