A Family Dinner
Sharon got the news from Tim late Thursday afternoon when he called her cell phone.
“I found out, by an indirect route, that our revered father got
arrested last week.”
”Yikes! What for?”
It turned out that Mr. Hastings, in his new sports car, had pulled up next to a friend at a stop light. There was an apparently good-humored conversation as to whose car was faster. When the light turned green, both pedals hit the metal. Mr. Hastings was winning when the other driver braked and conceded. However, Hastings had accelerated to at least fifty, and had entered a school zone. None of the children present were injured, but the crossing guard got the license number. Mr. Hastings was tracked down to his office, and was there arrested and hand-cuffed. Tim remarked, “It must have been quite a scene in front of the other lawyers, the secretaries, and the clients. I doubt that Father went quietly.”
“No. He wouldn’t be physical enough to put up a lot of resistance, but he may have shouted a lot of bad words.”
“Anyhow, he was booked at the station, and then let go on bond. He’ll have to appear in court at some point.”
Sharon asked, “Will he go to jail?”
“Apparently not. I got a call from that nice secretary, Hannah, who thought that I should know. She knows Father well enough to know that he wouldn’t tell the family, but it’s all a matter of public record, and will come out eventually. The unspoken assumption is that Father will have some sort of breakdown at that time, and that we should be prepared. But we’re not to let on that she tattled.”
“Yeah, I see what she means. There’ll be some considerable humiliation. Some people can fess up, and then carry on as normal.”
“But not our Daddy.”
Sharon, after a brief pause, said, “On the one hand, I’d love to have been there to see. On the other, this could have consequences we won’t like.”
“Do you think he got that car to impress people, or because he wants to zoom around?”
“Probably both, but more impressing than zooming.”
“Is he trying to impress with wealth or virility?”
“Well Sharon, the people he knows would already have a good idea of his wealth, and would know that he isn’t really rich.”
“Okay. But powerful cars do speak to virility. Men confuse what their car can do with what they themselves can do.”
“The men who think that way often get trophy wives. But Mother isn’t young and pretty enough to be a trophy wife. He may dump her if he can find an attractive younger woman.”
Sharon, feeling a little overwhelmed, lay down on her bed as she replied, “I don’t think I want a Playboy Bunny stepmother.”
“I don’t think it’ll come to that. He isn’t rich enough to simply buy a beautiful young woman, and he doesn’t have that much charisma.”
Sharon, moving the telephone to her other ear, said, “Besides, Mother may have more staying power than you’d think.”
“Is she really as mousy as she seems?”
“I bet her friends see sparks that we don’t.”
At that point, Sharon heard her mother coming in the front door, and said, “To be continued.”
On the Friday night, Tim was expected for dinner with the family in their large house near the top of Belmont Hill. It wasn’t quite the right kind of house. The neighboring houses were glamorous, in the sense of being big beautifully restored antiques. Mr. Hastings had gotten one that hadn’t been restored and had many problems. He couldn’t afford to really restore it, and tried to deal with the problems, one-by-one, on the cheap. He was then upset when the workmen who came to fix the house posed almost as many problems as the house itself.
There were some violent outbursts, and same name calling. When a fired workman called him a ‘one-balled fuck-face’, Mr. Hastings called the police. Unfortunately, the responding officer, seemingly somewhat amused, could find no crime to fit the case. And, of course, Mr. Hastings wasn’t the kind of lawyer who knew about such things.
There hadn’t recently been any incidents of that sort, but Sharon had, the day before, publicly announced that she was a lesbian. She was aware of fitting the pattern of a lesbian in some ways. She was a very good athlete, which was correlated positively with lesbianism. Moreover, she had always been a tomboy, and had never had a real boy friend. However, she had many friends of both sexes, and was widely considered to be attractive and simpatico. To people like her parents, such assets, so useful in making a favorable marriage, would seem wasted on a lesbian.
There had been more shocked silence than shouting or screaming in reaction to the announcement, but, in retrospect, she realized that her father might still have been in shock from his go-round with the police. In any case, he usually took out his frustrations on Tim, and she was afraid that her brother might be walking into a minefield. She therefore called him earlier in the day with the news. He responded pleasantly, as with all her announcements, but she warned him to expect a frosty evening.
Their father arrived just in time for dinner and threw his coat on a chair with an air of contempt. Sharon wasn’t sure whether the contempt was for the coat, the chair, or the family members, but it hardly mattered. Greeting Tim with a grunt, he sat first at the table and looked at his wife, as if to demand food.
Sharon knew that her mother had made a salad, but, in apparent confusion, she brought out the main dish, a roast beef hash. Her husband looked at it with apparent disgust, took a forkful, and threw down the fork. Mrs. Hastings tittered nervously and wondered out loud what she had done wrong. Sharon, who had once complained that the food tasted of rat poison, assured her mother that everything was just fine. Her father seemed to remain unconvinced.
After a period of awkward silence, Tim announced, “I may be playing a minor role in the Yale game tomorrow.”
Their father snarled, “I suppose you’ll be checking tickets at one of the gates.”
Tim replied, “Yes, at Gate Three.”
Their mother said, “We aren’t going to the game this year, but we’re going to a party afterwards. Maybe you can call and tell us how the game is going so we can know what face to put on.”
Even as Tim agreed readily, it sounded weird to Sharon. Their mother could have found out by listening to the radio, but she might have felt the need to say something.
As they moved through dinner, Sharon and Tim talked of school and sports with occasional comments from their mother. Sharon had the feeling that Tim had come out to borrow a car, but he seemed to think better of it.
The senior Mr. Hastings took one look at the apple pie dessert, and left the room without a word. Mrs. Hastings said, “It’s a good thing that I bought the pie instead of making it. I doubt that it’s actually poisonous.”
Sharon and Tim ate the pie and found it good.
As Sharon was driving Tim back to the college, he asked, “Have you really become a lesbian?”
“Not exactly. It’s partly because I don’t like dates. Boys keep grabbing at me with their octopus hands, and I’ve had to inflict some pain to keep them off. Girls and women don’t do that, and I’m fooling around fairly innocently with an interesting Japanese woman. But I don’t want any part of the intense jealousies that can spring up between lesbians.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty easy to go along in neutral gear. Audrey and Meredith keep wanting me to get a girl friend, but I’ve been resisting.”
“They may find it a little awkward to have three boys and two girls in your little social group.”
“Well, the next time we go out, I’ll take you along to even up the numbers.”
“Okay. The few times I’ve met them, they’ve been lovely to me. I guess they don’t mind being with a high-schooler. But, it might be better not to tell them about the lesbian thing.”
“They’d be amused, but I won’t say anything.”
“Speaking of what we tell our parents, are you really going to just take tickets for the game?”
“No. I’m going to do the punting, and maybe throw a pass or two.”
“Cool! I’ll be sure to listen on the radio.”
After dropping Tim off, Sharon called home, knowing it would be her mother who answered. She said, “I’m going to the library for a bit. I’ll be home in a couple of hours when they close.”
“Is this just to keep away from your father?”
There was a touch of ironic humor in her mother’s voice, but she answered, “No, really, there are some things I want to look up.”
There were, indeed, some things she wanted to check on in the library. In particular, she wanted to find out how smart she was, or wasn’t.
On arriving at the large public library of a neighboring town, Sharon went straight to the mathematics section in search of a book Meredith’s boy friend, Jimmy, had recommended. Jimmy believed that one should begin with the foundations of mathematics, something that most mathematicians passed over rather lightly. Moreover, while she did well in the math taught in her school, she was aware that it wasn’t ‘real math.’ It was time to find out if she had any ability in that direction.
With luck, she found the book by Raymond Wilder, old, but still a classic in the field. It seemed to be intended for mathematics majors and graduate students, which would be a good test.
Right off, it was rather fun. It turned out that geometry needn’t be about figures and space at all. A line was a collection of points, but a point could be taken to be a book, in which case a line, a collection of books, was a library. Two lines were parallel if they had no points in common, so two libraries were parallel if they had no books in common. Proofs could be conducted without ever asking whether points were points in space, books, or any number of other things.
The book gradually got more difficult. Sharon intended to check it out and go through as much as possible, but, for the time being, she scanned and poked. There was a lot about infinite sets, and some of it was intelligible. She hadn’t known that there are exactly as many even integers as there are integers, but got a glimmering of the reasoning behind that claim.
When it was time to leave, Sharon had arrived at some initial hypotheses. She had known from the beginning that she wasn’t nearly as smart as Jimmy. On the other hand, she hadn’t done badly on her first foray, perhaps better than anyone in her class could have done. She would probably be able to get through Wilder in time, and that would be an accomplishment. She might end up, not as a mathematician, but as someone who could learn as much in that direction as she might need.
Driving home, Sharon wondered if she’d be able to get to her bedroom without an interview with her father. He liked to have ‘serious talks.’ He wasn’t hostile, as he would have been with his wife or Tim, but he complained at length about the world and almost everything in it. It wasn’t quite a monologue, and he sometimes asked her opinion. But, since Sharon didn’t have a lot of opinions about the tax code or the chairman of the Fed, he’d be off again. In the end, he’d want to complain to her about his wife and son. At that point, she might have to whisper something about cramps while pointing to her stomach.