Barbara and Luda
As the others left the dinner table, Barbara, still drinking coffee, was left with Luda. She had been alone with her quite seldom, but, feeling curious, she moved opposite her at the long table and began a conversation.
They started with some talk of courses and professors, but, finally, Luda remarked on the penchant of Harvard boys for calling girls they didn't even know and asking for dates. Barbara replied, "I've had some of that, but, today, there was something worse."
"A graduate student at M. I. T. just sent me a letter proposing marriage."
"After one date?"
"Three. Nothing beyond goodnight kisses at a low medium level of passion."
"On your part?"
"Yes. Perhaps high medium on his part. We know very little about each other."
"Well, I can see what moves him. You're attractive, intelligent, honest, and willing to do a good deal to help other people. Here's a man just about to start out in a profession, and in life generally. He doesn't want to do it alone, and he figures that you're a very good bet."
"I'd thank you for the compliments, but I think you're pretty objective in these areas. However, one could say the same things about most of the girls around us."
"No. About twenty per cent, I should think."
"That doesn't make me special enough to elicit any sort of romance. I think he might settle amiably for anyone in the twenty per cent bracket."
"Is he foreign?"
"A lot of foreigners don't have terribly high expectations in marriage, and just want to make a good bargain. If I wanted to marry at all, I'd probably have that attitude."
"Well, I don't think I'm sloppily sentimental, but I do want some emotion, perhaps even a little passion."
Luda laughed and replied,
"Theodor Reich defines falling in love as a sudden reduction in barriers to intimacy. Your admirer might show a little passion if you suddenly dropped your barriers."
"I dare say. But that sort of passion might only last ten minutes or so. I want something more durable, if not deeper."
"Of course you do! You're not taking this proposal seriously, are you, Barbara?"
"No. I'm going to refuse firmly, but politely. And probably not see him again."
"You must have liked him somewhat to go out with him three times."
"Sure. There are lots of good things about him. But this has opened up a pretty wide gulf."
"Are you afraid that he'll go on trying to persuade you? Or that he'll think that you're just playing hard to get?"
"If I thought that he thought that, I'd certainly have nothing to do with him!"
"Well, even if you don't think he thinks that, it does sound as if you should look elsewhere."
"How's Rachel doing?"
"Fine. It would help if you stopped teasing her about her mother."
"She likes it and replies with spirit. You may not realize it, but she's almost as much a Russian refugee as I. I left a Russian family there, and she wants to leave a Russian family here."
"It's easier to leave a family in America, even a Russian one, than to escape from the Soviet Union."
"True. However, Rachel's mother isn't easily escaped. She belongs to a type I know well."
"I thought she was one of a kind."
"She's one of many million."
"Despite the cold war and all that, I think of Russians as being basically open and honest."
"It's true that most Russians are rather child-like in a good way. It's often said that Russia destroys its children, which is also true in a way. In particular, it twists them, replacing wide-eyed innocence with depravity."
"There you go again with Russian mysticism! It seems to me that Rachel and her mother are at opposite ends of the same spectrum. You're part of a totally different spectrum."
"You'll eventually find out how much in common we have. For one thing. I'm just as depraved as Rachel's mother."
"Oh Luda, you're not depraved!"
"Rachel's mother will cheat and steal with impunity, and I take advantage of people's good nature with impunity."
"I'm sure you don't."
"Not in this dormitory, but in larger ways. I may tell you sometime, but, if I do, you really will be shocked."
"You're not a Soviet spy, are you?"
"No. Refugees are always suspect, but I was only sixteen when I made it to America. I was questioned by some authorities, but the consensus seemed to be that I was too young to be dangerous."
"So you were the same age as Rachel when thrown into an adult world."
"Yes. Another point of similarity. She has her mother, and probably her father, to hide. I also have my secrets."
"You know that I'm going to keep probing. I'll gradually wear you down."
"God, Barbara, I've been interrogated by professionals. You can't possibly succeed where they failed."
"So they failed. That's interesting."
"Damn! It's your innocence that's disarming. They weren't innocent."
"So you're not a spy. Apart from that, the usual big secrets have to do with sex and men."
“Not with me. I wasn't raped in Russia, but was virtually forced into sex with a number of piggish men."
"Too bad. I'm not proud of being a virgin. It's mostly a lack of initiative on my part. But at least I haven't had a bad time."
"I did once have an Englishman. A gentleman, in fact. But he was worse than the others."
"Most of the stories girls and women tell me about sex have bad endings. I have curiosity about something I've never done, but I have curiosity about lots of things. I'm going to be patient."
"Yes. I wonder if Rachel will be patient."
"If not, she'll be sensible. Someone nice. Even then, things often don't work out. People are upset, but they recover. And they usually learn something."
"It's odd that, knowing all that, you haven't given it a try."
"Probably because of my sisters. They've both been burned badly."
"They're older, aren't they?"
"So they come to the baby of the family for advice and consolation?"
"They always start out by giving me advice, telling me to avoid certain sorts of men, and so on. But, if I don't say much, they end up giving themselves advice. Sometimes, they take it."
"I see. I'll eventually come to you with advice that I'll take myself."
As they parted, Barbara realized that she had confided more than
she really intended to Luda. However, she didn't regret it. Luda had
streaks of good sense mixed in with the craziness.
That evening, Rachel and Luda met in the laundry room. Luda had just had a blouse ripped to pieces by a defective washing machine, and was cursing in Russian. Consoled by the fact that Joan Howard would give her a new one, she put everything in the dryer. Rachel nervously put her clothes into the washing machine, the only one in the facility, and sat down with Luda.
Rachel already knew about the proposal Barbara had received, and, when Luda mentioned it, she said,
"I think Barbara will eventually marry someone, and not try to have a career at the same time."
Luda looked surprised, "Why do you think that?"
"Her sisters have messed up with men, and haven't produced any children. Even if they get sorted out, they still may not. So it's up to Barbara."
"And she might think that she couldn't have a serious career and be a good mother at the same time?"
"I'm pretty sure she does think that. So, it's a matter of choosing the best man, or the right man."
"An awful responsibility, really. One has so little to go on, and mistakes can be disastrous."
"I know. And most of us think that it's impossible to know how a young man in his early twenties will develop."
"Just so. Ivan the Terrible was an intelligent well-spoken young man with a serious interest in theology."
"Barbara's present suitor probably isn't much on theology. Is that a good sign?"
"Probably. However, the Marquis de Sade also seems to have had no interest in theology."
"It's nice to be able to joke about these things without being under pressure to find a mate."
"Barbara's family shouldn't put her under that pressure."
"I'm sure no one says anything. It's just that these prominent families assume that they have to propagate."
"Assumptions like that are probably responsible for a good thirty per cent of the evil in the world."