Plans for Joan
Joan Howard was frankly glad that Cynthia Massey was taking her out to lunch. The money didn't matter, but they were meeting at the restaurant. That meant that Joan didn't have to worry about the condition of her house. She did have a staff, including a cleaning woman. However, the cleaning woman didn't do much cleaning, the maid didn't do much maiding, and so on. The result was embarrassment, as when Luda had recently brought her friends around, delightful girls who obviously thought that the house was a mess.
Of course, it had all begun with Joan's mother, a woman she still found it impossible to please. Even Joan's strongest suite, her ability to attract boys and men, hadn't been enough. Her mother had thought it coarse and vulgar to be too attractive. As if Joan had ever worn the wrong things or done anything with the boys! She now saw that it was just jealousy on the part of her mother, a plain woman who had been married for her money. But, of course, Cynthia knew none of this.
Joan, arriving first at the Petit Manse, chose a table that she hoped Cynthia would like. It was away from the windows, toward the back, and seemed more suited to the conversation she supposed Cynthia to have in mind. It was said that Wild Bill Hickok always wanted his back to the wall, and Joan took the seat away from the wall, allowing Cynthia that position. She felt that, in the circumstances, she could safely expose her own back.
There was something about Cynthia that made Joan relax. Once settled at the table, she said, "Thanks for having Rachel Howe and her roommate over to tea. They enjoyed it, and would like to come again."
"Really? Rachel's fascinating, but she must have been bored out of her mind. So brilliant, and we talked about so little."
"People like that need to have other outlets. You can't do mathematics all day and all night."
"No. Of course, I'm used to Luda. She’s also accomplished, but she loves to eat pastries.”
"She's a little older than the others, nineteen I think. And she's had an amazing amount of experience."
"A lot of it bad, I gather."
"As a child she was in towns that were conquered and re-conquered by the Germans and Russians. Besides, the Stalin years were no picnic."
"There's something about her that's a little different. Not a gap exactly, but a delayed reaction."
"That's common with defectors and refugees. Before you laugh at a joke, you have to figure out whether it would be dangerous to laugh."
"Jokes about Stalin, for example?"
"I gather that Russians joked about him all the time, but it depended on who made the joke, when, and where."
"I see. That must make life very complicated."
"Those people have the same problems as anyone else, plus a few more."
“And I think I have problems!"
"Well, Joan, I have some ideas for women like ourselves. I'm tired of the men who make decisions in Washington. Hardly any combine imagination and intelligence, and most are cowards most of the time."
"I know you do all kinds of things. But I'm stuck here in a house on Brattle Street. We entertain Bert's friends and associates, but none of them want to hear my opinion on anything."
"Mine either. That's men. They'll only take ideas from each other. We have to work in our own way."
"Say that I want to urge policy P on Senator X. I find an attractive youngish and persuasive man who already is in favor of P and bring him together with Senator X. And then repeat the operation as many times as needed."
"I can see your doing that. But I don't even know Senator X myself."
"Our greatest asset as attractive women is just that. Men we don't know will want to know us. We attract all sorts of men from all directions, and then bring the right ones together. You're a very attractive woman, and you have a respected husband."
"Well, I do get some attention, but I usually discourage it."
"I can understand that. And the chances are good that Senator X will be old goatish. But you don't have to sleep with him. Just chat him up and say admiring things. Then, when the man with the right view shows up, make a little threesome in the corner of a cocktail party. Senator X wants to make a good impression on you, and he'll be nice to anyone you bring around."
"My God, Cynthia, you make it sound so easy.”
"It'll be much easier than you ever imagined."
“Bert sometimes does want me to go to Washington with him."
"He knows what an asset you can be."
"I'm taking the girls to Washington at Christmas time for our annual meeting, and I also have some ideas for them. All in the name of helping women take over the world."
This was clearly a joke, and Joan laughed. She asked, "Will you have them doing the same thing?"
"Girls can't do the things that women of position can do. The men may ogle them, but they're uncomfortable in conversation with them. However, the girls can be brought in to liven up an existing conversational group. All they have to do is stand there and smile at Senator X."
"That's good. I don't want to have a hand in corrupting anyone."
"The good stuff is done right out in public at the cocktail party. Suppose that you and I, together with Luda and her friends, stood in the middle of the floor in open order, nothing closed or forbidding. What do you think would happen?"
"I guess the men would approach, out of curiosity if nothing else."
"Certainly. Women can be much more effective than men. We have more subtlety, and we listen to people instead of drowning them out with our various bigotries. We can also deflate a pompous windbag without humiliating him. A deflated windbag, secretly relieved, will often be very accomodating."
"Cynthia, I've never been with anyone who thought these things out."
"Lots of women do. We have to if we're going to accomplish anything."
"Okay. There's nothing to lose, is there?"
"Certainly not. Come to Washington with Bert, and I'll take care of the rest."
On leaving Cynthia, Joan walked part of the way home from the Back Bay. By the time she got to the river, she was still in a state of euphoria. What was wrong with her might well be a matter of not having much to do. Of course, there were always things to be done around the house. But that didn't count. She was doing nothing that anyone could imagine to be important, or even worthwhile.
On the other hand, she did have some reservations about Cynthia. The whole thing seemed to be based on manipulating people. Even if they were shady, and perhaps corrupt, politicians, it was rather unsavory. Well, she wouldn't hand over bribes, although other people might do so.
Joan's other doubt consisted in the fact that Cynthia hadn't said anything about the policies these politicians were to be urged to accept. Luda, having sworn her to secrecy, had told her that Cynthia was actually English. Everything would then be done to benefit England, not America. But, then again, they were close allies. Nothing done in favor of one could harm the other very much. At most, there might be conflicting business interests. That might matter to Bert, but not to her!
When Joan got home, there was a surprise: Bert. Standing in the hallway, slim and wiry with his little wire-rimmed glasses, smiled and said, "I've come home early to make love to you."
Joan, utterly surprised, but managing not to fall down, mumbled, "But, Lotte ..."
"I gave her the afternoon off."
To Joan's amazement, Bert undid his trousers and dropped them in a puddle around his ankles. He then shuffled forward and asked her to dance. He looked so funny that she burst out laughing and bent to remove his shoes and pants. That, having been done, he asked, "Do I look ridiculous?"
"Well, yes, with your coat and tie, and all."
"Would you look equally ridiculous if you took off your dress?"
"I don't think so. Women look quite nice in pretty slips."
It took a minute for Joan to get out of her dress, during which time, Bert turned on some music. When he held her to dance, she could feel his hand at the back and side of her waist. She had always been sensitive to touches at the waist, more so than touches to the supposedly more exciting places.
Now, with his fingers moving gently over the smooth nylon, a little more firmly than a tickle, she felt warm and good. They were still in the entrance hall where they might be seen by the postman, but Joan decided not to worry about it.