Joan and Luda
Mrs. Joan Howard sat attentively in front of the large oval mirror on her walnut dressing table. At thirty-eight, there really wasn't much wrong with her face, at least unless she got hyper-critical. In fact, nothing at all was wrong, really. Not with her body, her life, anything. Her husband thought that most of her concerns were ludicrous.
There were, actually, some problems with Bert. He considered her a prude, and, indeed, sexuality was not her favorite part of marriage. In a sort of trade-off, there were clues that Bert had other women, perhaps prostitutes. If so, Joan hoped that they were clean ones of the highest class. Not a great arrangement, certainly, but one that could be lived with.
There were occasional hints that Bert expected her to behave erotically. He would probably be delighted if she promenaded around the house, dropping garments as she went, and ended up in a naked embrace with him. At times, she wondered if performing in such a way would cause him to give up the other women. But, still, she couldn't imagine doing anything that would really satisfy him.
As it was, Joan was always in her nightgown in bed before Bert arrived. Then, on the minority of nights when he needed activity, she attempted to relax, and even go limp, so as to avoid pain. A friend had told her that, with her own older husband's sexual powers fading, it was necessary to do a good deal more than that. Joan hoped that, in such a case, other women would be able to take up the slack.
Apart from the bedroom, Joan had a couple of quirks that irritated Bert. For one, she tended to make maids, cooks, and housekeepers into friends. He objected that they would soon be giving the orders, and that she would end up a glorified menial servant. That wasn't really true. She didn't think that she had the sort of weak personality that would get captured by stronger ones. Of course, it was true that other people seemed to have more beliefs and attitudes than she, and that she sometimes agreed to odd things to shut them up. That probably wasn't so good. Joan decided, nodding her head at the mirror, to have more beliefs and attitudes.
Bert also objected to all the animals that a childless woman tended to adopt. He was now concerned that she might be about to adopt a rootless teen-aged girl. But Joan certainly wasn't adopting Luda. She was just helping a foreign girl, a bit lost in America. There had been some gifts and some money, but really very little. Particularly in proportion to the Howard family income.
Bert had never met Luda, as she always came in the daytime when he was at the office. Joan's only concern was that Luda, now settled as a college student, seemed so needy. It was understood that she had lost her parents, somewhere and somehow, in Europe. But it was almost as if she had never had a mother.
The other odd thing was the apparent lack of boy friends. Anyone would have thought Luda beautiful, and the boys out-numbered the girls by something like eight-to-one at Harvard. She could have had a date every night of the week, but Joan's tactful probing had brought no response.
Joan was downstairs, in a rather severe gray suit, when Luda arrived. Joan's spirits lifted. Luda was always vivacious, fun, and a little revolutionary. They soon sat down to afternoon tea brought by Lotte, the maid. That is, by Lotte, adopting for the moment the role of maid. In any case, it suited Luda. Joan had a feeling that, in her old life, Luda was used to servants, fine china, and elegance. It was hard to see how a girl who had apparently escaped from the Soviet Union could have had such a background, but there were a lot of things about Luda that were hard to explain. Could she be the daughter of a high-ranking commissar who had been purged?
Luda also liked clothes, and, whatever she might wear to class, she was always nicely dressed when she walked down Brattle Street to visit Joan. That outfit consisted in a narrow skirt with a hem well below her knees, a long-sleeved cashmere top, and middle-heeled pumps. Since Luda, at six feet, had trouble getting clothes, there wasn't much variety.
Joan soon knew Luda’s entire wardrobe, and, of course, gave her clothes. That was quite natural. Joan was what the refugee agency called a "host parent", and host parents were supposed to give their "guest children" things that they could part with. Luda, in the words of a famous writer, repaid Joan with good conversation, the only coin that she possessed.
The transfer of clothing had recently been enhanced by the latest fashion, which had skirts above the knee. Joan, used to entertaining her husband's quite conservative business associates, gave new fashions, particularly revealing ones, a year or two to settle in before adopting them. The upshot was that her below-the-knee skirts came just above Luda's knees. That, considering Luda's age and ballet dancer legs, was just the thing.
Most often, Lotte, changing roles, would bring down something from Joan's wardrobe. Lotte was herself often given clothing, and the parlor would turn into an extremely spacious fitting room. The two young women would decide what would best suit one another, and Joan, the sagacious older woman, would deliver final judgment.
Luda, in a slip predictably too short for her, could be visualized as either a fashion model or as a boy in high heels, lingerie, and a wig. Indeed, Joan began to see that she really wasn't what most boys wanted. Too tall for them, she didn't have a bust nearly large enough to satisfy the current fetish for large breasts. However, it was easy to imagine her as a Russian princess of the last century. There was certainly the aura of pride and arrogance, expressed in every movement and gesture. In fact, such a princess, stripped of dress, petticoats, and stays, might have looked exactly as Luda did at the moment. She would have driven the aristocrats of the Imperial Court at St. Petersburg wild with desire, but what would a young hamburger-munching American football player think?
There was no doubt about Lotte. She was definitely what the boys wanted. About Joan's five eight in height with curly black hair and an intriguing face, her slip was stretched tight at the bust and hips. She had, however, a surprisingly small waist which accentuated the curves of her figure. She might gain weight later in life, but, for the moment, Joan hoped only that the young gardener wasn't peeking in one of the windows.
While Joan's clothing looked well on Luda, it was rather amusing on Lotte. Some was too tight, but the looser billowy dresses produced an interesting and not unpleasing effect. There were lots of jokes as Luda helped Lotte into various outfits and had her stand next to Joan. It was certainly girls' play time, and, as they giggled, Joan could hardly imagine what Bert, apart from ogling Lotte, would have thought.
On this occasion, Luda suddenly admired the suit that Joan was wearing, and asked if she could try it on. Joan managed to smile and assent while wondering if she could retire upstairs, change clothes, and bring the suit back down. However, the others were looking at her expectantly, and it would break the atmosphere to try to hide.
Lotte wasn't the sort of maid who helped ladies dress, and Joan slid her jacket off and laid it on a chair. Then, she felt busy fingers at her back, unbuttoning her blouse. It was Luda, with almost a saleswoman's ability to get a customer out of her clothes before she could decide not to try on the proferred dress. The fingers slowed a little when they reached the elaborate skirt fastenings at Joan's side, but she was soon undone everywhere. When Luda slid the skirt down, Joan felt a light sensitive touch on her hips and thighs. Then, with her blouse, there was the same touch on her arms. It was as if Joan were an extremely fragile doll whose arms and legs would come off at the least provocation. Joan savored the feeling as she floated around in her lacy and voluminous white slip.
It took Luda a few minutes to get into the outfit, and the result was interesting. The jacket, tight at the shoulders, had a military look. Joan remarked, "If we had any insignia to pin on you, you'd look like a lady army officer."
"There are lots of female officers in Russia. They have the power
to have a man beaten. Do you picture me with boots and a whip?"
They laughed, but it again occurred to Joan that, if Bert were present, he might wonder who would be giving the orders.
The clothes questions having been settled, Lotte sat down with them to help eat the snacks she had provided. Luda talked about her adventures in Russia.
Lotte was well on her way to being a heroine worshipper, but Joan wondered how one so young as Luda could have done so many things. On the other hand, it was an entirely different world over there. When she asked Luda whether she was going to major in Russian, she replied,
"Of course it would be easy since I already know the language and most of the literature. But I want to learn something new, perhaps philosophy. One of my friends is going into it, and so we could study and work together."
"I took a couple of courses when I was at Radcliffe, but I don't think I understood very much."
"You could come and join us! Auditors always seem to be welcomed in the courses. Particularly since you're an alumna."
Joan didn't know exactly how much Bert gave to the university, but she was sure that she would, indeed, be welcome. On the other hand, there was something ridiculous in a woman her age playing at being an undergraduate. Would she have to wear scuffed white buckskin shoes?