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About RichEisbrouch

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  1. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 21

    You’re welcome. As I’ve said before, this story’s been a long time coming, starting with that series of photos I found in an antique store in 1988-or-so, and I didn’t think the story was going to go the way it has. But it was always going to be set in 1932, and even though I didn’t live then, I heard a lot about those times from my parents and grandparents. So a lot of that has drifted into the story, and it’s fun to remember, imagine, and research how all the pieces go together. Glad you’re enjoying it.
  2. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 21

    Throughout the summer, while Mary, Spence, and I were getting used to having Ann in our lives, and Claire was watching and helping out as much as she could, and the guys and their new and old girlfriends were occasionally tagging along when Larry, Al, and Mike weren’t dancing or sandy or wet, my dad was negotiating for a brownstone. It was just in our area – 84th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus, closer to the Columbus end – and it was owned by a woman in her late eighties who’d lived there for almost sixty years. “It’s in terrible shape,” my father admitted. “Not from abuse so much as neglect. It’s never really been converted to electricity, the wires just run in conduits, attached to the walls, and the plumbing isn’t close to modern, either. She has children and grandchildren, and all kinds of other relatives, but no one wants to live with her, though they all seem to visit often.” “Is she living alone?” I asked. “No, with one of her great-nieces – a very friendly woman in her forties. But the older woman only use the street level floor, and the younger one rarely goes upstairs.” “How many floors?” The usual. Five.” “Do the women need to leave?” “Not really. There’s a family business that supports them all – several generations. I think they manufacture medical equipment. But everyone knows the old woman should move to somewhere more comfortable. And no one wants the house.” “Why aren’t other people grabbing it? It doesn’t sound expensive.” “It’s not. But everyone wants to divide it into apartments. Small ones. Two to a floor. What people can afford these days. And the old woman is sentimental. She’s said she had wonderful years there, and many memories, and she wants the place to go to another family.” “Is that being realistic?” My father grinned when I asked him that, and I had to ask why. “She really is wonderful,” he told me. “Still sharp. Very intelligent. And fairly sophisticated. She came here when she was young, with her new husband, soon after the Civil War – you can still hear the German in her accent. And she still speaks the language. She slips into it whenever she wants to talk privately with her niece. They think I can’t understand.” “You don’t speak German.” “No, but I was raised around it from my own grandparents. So I understand. And it overlaps Yiddish, which I know a bit more of.” “Is the house worth fixing up?” “I think so. It may take a couple of years. And we may have to do it little by little – floor-by-floor – and do a lot of the work ourselves.” “I don’t...” “I know – you don’t have time. Your mother and I have already talked about that.” “I was about to say I don’t know anything about plumbing or electricity.” “Or carpentry.” “I know what little you taught me.” “And I’m only passable. And this is finish work, not the fix-it stuff I know.” “Maybe Lily’s husband...” “He doesn’t have time. It’s amazing he’s so busy. We’re lucky we all have jobs.” He hesitated, as if to consider that. “And that’s because we all have businesses. Small, but necessary. Besides, Lily and Mac are still thinking of moving to Long Island.” Lilly’s husband owned a restaurant, more of a diner than anything. And he felt it might do even better along the expanded train line. “But what I’ve been thinking about,” my dad went on, “and I know you’re not going to like this immediately. But there are families who owe you money. Quite a number of them. And you don’t have to lie about how many because I do your books – remember?.” “I’m not about to...” “I knew you’d say that – you’re not about to ask them to pay. And they couldn’t anyway, and we know it. But I also know that some of them are tradesmen. Carpenters. Electricians. Plumbers. Painters. And they have some work but could always use more. And if they don’t want to do it as a kind of barter, at least, we might be able to get a reasonable rate.” “And where are we getting money?” Dad had to smile at that. “Well... your mother and I aren’t exactly poor. We’ve always saved her salary, small though it is, especially compared to all she does. And you, and Lily, and Ben are no longer living with us, so we don’t have a lot of expenses. You even give us money toward dinner. And it’s not exactly like we go to the opera every night.” “Once a year would kill you.” “Once a lifetime.” “You know she’d like to go once a week.” “Fortunately, she also knows we can’t afford it.” “No, you’ve always been very careful.” He smiled, acknowledging that. “Still, I’ve invested a little money – more cautiously perhaps than most people. And my stocks are down, like everyone else’s. But they’re not worthless, and they’ll come back up.” “When I’m about ready to retire,” I cracked. He simply said, “Let’s see what Mr. Roosevelt does.” I had to grin. He and my mother were often complete optimists. “Are you asking me to make a decision now?” I asked. “No. Not really. I know you’ll go along with this anyhow – because it’s in your best interests. And Mary’s, and Ann’s. I’m mostly telling you that I’m about to close on the building. And not soon – but sooner than later – and I certainly hope within a year – we’ll all be moving.” “I’ll have to adjust to that,” I allowed. But it had been a year of changes, and another one would just fit in. “How Mom feel about this?” I continued, as kind of a last attempt to stall him. “She thinks it’s a great. A real adventure. Like exploring the west.” “More like the moon.” “It’s just around the corner.” “But we’ve never been property owners. No one at our end of the family. In the city. You’ve always told us, ‘There’s safety in renting.’ ” “And I’m changing my mind.” I laughed. “Then I’m in. As you knew I would be.” “Of course.” He grinned back at me. “Want to see the place? Inside? You’ve been walking by it for years.” “Do I need a gas mask?” I didn’t, but I should have worn an older suit. Nothing above the street level had been cleaned or dusted in at least a generation. Downstairs, the old woman lived in the front room, which was her bedroom and sitting room, and the great niece had a twin bed on one side of their dining room/kitchen. Between the rooms was a serviceable bathroom which had been built for their former cook and the daytime staff. But it didn’t have a bathtub, and the women instead bathed with hot water from an old fashioned basin. “Is the house really sound?” my mother asked, as she, my father, and I explored. Mom had met the women on several occasions, but this was the first time she’d been upstairs. “I wouldn’t go until your father assured me he was serious.” “We wouldn’t be buying it if it weren’t solid,” Dad promised. “I’ve had it well inspected, several times. You know that. Besides, the building’s barely sixty years old.” “The woman moved into it new?” “With her husband and the first three of their children. Three?” he asked my mother, who nodded. “They came here from Hamburg,” Dad went on. “Just after they were married. Well funded by their joined families when no one knew what German unification would mean for anyone, especially for the Jews. They transplanted the family business, were immediately successful, and started sending for the others.” “And having children,” Mom put in. “Ten who lived.” “That would keep you working,” Dad joked. I needed to think. “I wouldn’t have known the building was that old,” I admitted. “I guess I don’t know enough about this area.” By then, we’d slowly inspected all the way to the top floor and were delicately holding back a dusty drape to look out a dirty window. We could barely see across the street. And this curtain was thin. In the rooms below, almost every window had heavy outer curtains, lighter inner ones, and often shutters. And Victorian wallpaper which matched the furniture, upholstered and not. Nothing was falling apart. Nothing was embarrassing. It was more like a museum of dust. “Quite a job,” Mom said, clearly not needing to remind us. “Yes. Another challenge.” “And you know how much I like them.” Fortunately, we had unexpected help. Once Mary, Ann, the gang, and I were back in the city after Barnegat closed up in September – and since none of the guys had much to do besides look for work – which, predictably, they didn’t find, at least, not the full-time jobs they wanted – they began to see us more often. Spence would drop by for a couple of hours, three or four times a week. He’d often stop in on his walk up from midtown, on his way to 131st Street where he lived. “I only save a nickel each way,” he admitted. “But it just takes an hour.” “What is it? Five miles?” I asked. “Just about. Eighty-nine blocks from Times Square. Twenty blocks to a mile.” “I don’t walk close to that – no more than a couple of miles a day. But I keep crisscrossing the Upper West Side.” “As long as the weather’s okay, it’s not bad. I’ll go back to the subway in the winter.” He made it sound like he’d still be looking for work. “Why don’t you move closer?” Mary suggested. “There’s no reason anymore for you to be near school.” Spence shrugged. “‘Maybe ‘cause I’ve been living in the same boarding house for four years. And I know a lot of the people. And the woman who runs it feeds me well.” “That makes sense.” Spence mainly played with Ann when he was with us. At nearly six months, that largely involved holding her on his lap and occasionally helping to feed or change her. “Surprised?” he asked us, when we noticed his skill. “I know how to do this from my brothers’ and sisters’ kids.” “So do I,” Mike admitted, on a day he’d followed Spence in. But Mike was holding his nose. One of the guys would often come with Spence – though not after walking. Mike, Al, and Larry still took the subway everywhere, since they were living at home and didn’t have to pay for their expenses. “My dad jokes about my chipping in,” Al said. “Now that I’m finished with school. But there’s nothing to chip in with. I’m living on errands and dimes I get for favors.” “And bottles that little kids miss on the street.” “It’s strange how people just leave them around, considering the deposits. But it’s no stranger that some people’s lives have barely changed.” I had to admit that my family was part of those people – both my parents and our relatives on Barnegat. They still had their bakeries. “That’s one of the reasons we went to Barnegat to start with,” Mike reminded us. “We figured people who had summer houses might still have decent businesses.” “But no luck, either year.” “You met us,” Mary pointed out. “Yeah. But are you ready to start hiring?” Actually, it turned out my father was. Though that happened indirectly. “What’s Larry been doing?” Claire asked Mike, one Sunday in early October. “We haven’t seen him for a while.” Claire was usually with us by Saturday afternoon. Nothing had really happened between her and the guys over the summer. She’d kept them friendly but comfortably distant. Still, she was always happy to see them. Saturdays, she and Mary – and Ann – would do things like go shopping or walk in the park. I still made house calls – this wasn’t the summer. Though Sundays, I mostly managed to stay free. “Larry’s been painting,” Mike told us. We were playing cards. “He’s helping his father and two of his uncles. The third one fell off a ladder and broke his wrist. So he can’t do much.” “That can’t be good,” Mary said. “No, his uncle’s as unhappy as Larry. Larry hates paint. Even the smell.” “I’ll do it for him,” Spence volunteered. “And I’ve told him that already.” “His uncles wouldn’t feel comfortable. They’re a pretty tight family.” “And Larry may hate the work, but he likes the money coming in.” “And all those rich people need their houses painted.” “Or their apartments.” “And their offices.” “Well, anytime they have too much work...” Spence finished. Which is how I mentioned it to my dad. “Do they know how to paint?” he asked. “Well, at least Larry does. And Spence seemed willing. So he must know something.” “Would they do other things?” Dad went on. He was clearly thinking something out. “Like what? I’ve never heard them talk about carpentry or wiring.” “But would they move things? Cart it away? We have this house to clean out.” “At least, rearrange,” my mother corrected. “You know, we can’t afford to refurnish – not all five floors. And among us, we don’t have enough furniture for two.” “But we need to get rid of things, like all those heavy drapes. And take the wallpaper down to plaster. And toss out the worn rugs and all the junk that’s piled in the basement.” “Steamer trunks, and suitcases, and outdated clothes.” “Sounds like a great place for Ann to play,” Mary said. “If she were older.” “It’s full of mold,” Dad warned. “And smells like horses.” “I’ll ask the guys,” I offered. “But it doesn’t sound inviting.” “How much?” was the first thing Mike wanted to know. “I’m sure anything that laborers make. ” “I’ll do it for half,” Spence bid. “Hey! I didn’t say ‘no,’” Mike jumped in. “There’s plenty of work for everyone,” I assured them. “Can we see the place?” The old woman and her great-niece had recently moved out, and my dad hadn’t done more than continuously survey. “Thinking of possibilities,” he said. So on a mid-October Saturday afternoon, he led Mom, Mary, Claire, the gang, and me on his familiar tour. We wisely left Ann with one of our neighbors. “Whew!” Larry admitted at the end. “What a job! The painting alone.” “Would you be interested?” Dad asked. Carefully. “If he’s not, I am,” Spence said. “And anything Spence can do,” Al followed. “And me,” Mike nearly groaned. “And someone’s gotta teach them to paint,” Larry put in. “I already know,” Spence insisted. “The right way,” Larry joked. “Better than what’s good on a farm.” We all laughed at that. Then we went outside and tried to brush off the dust. Though it seemed the guys would have to get used to that. Because it looked like Dad had found his crew.
  3. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 20

    Again, thanks. I've just made a handful of corrections in the last few pages -- maybe the last quarter. Tiny changes, but I think they help. This was almost immediately after I put it online. Only four people had read it.
  4. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 20

    Before we could talk with Spence, we had to wait. But that was all right because we had a lot to wait through. First, there was Mary and me. It was one thing to accidentally fall asleep on her bed, another for her to see me unintentionally naked, and a third for me to start to see and touch her in any way other than as her doctor. And that somehow seemed easier for her. “We’ve already touched each other,” she said, and that was true: we’d held hands and casually kissed for my parents. Still, we needed to move from being friends to becoming wife and husband. We weren’t really nervous. “I’ve been wanting to do this for months,” she told me, the first time she touched my bare chest in bed. “I’m ticklish,” I warned. “Or so I’ve been told.” “I knew you weren’t so innocent.” “Did Claire tell you that?” “No. There’s simply a confidence in your touch. I noticed it during my first exam.” “We take classes,” I joked, though there was no reason. But soon after that, we decided there was personal history we didn’t to share. “I’m fine with that,” she confessed. Second, Claire had to shift to sleeping on the couch – and all that went with that. And it was a lot more than her simply moving out of Mary’s bedroom on weekends so I could stay. We all had to find new ways of looking at things. Of talking. Keeping secrets. Handling confidences. “Should I get you a real wedding ring?” I asked Mary, sometime in May. She’d been wearing a cheap piece of costume jewelry she’d bought in a drug store in Niagara Falls. “Did Claire suggest that?” I was surprised. “What makes you think so?” “Because she and I have talked about it. Of how to approach you, if you didn’t think of it yourself.” “Did you ever consider asking me?” Mary looked dumbfounded. “No,” she admitted. “Guess I should’ve, huh?” “I would have asked you. In fact, I just have.” She kissed me for that. One of our new, long kisses. “I should tell Claire,” she immediately followed. “Not about the ring. Just that I should have spoken with you.” I laughed. “It’s not your fault. It shouldn’t’ve taken me a month to realize.” “You’ve been busy.” “And I always am – or so I’ve also been told. That doesn’t mean that some of that shouldn’t stop.” When we told Claire – together – she also laughed. “I guess I do belong on the couch.” Third, the guys had to come back to Barnegat. They did, as expected, on a middle weekend in May. That meant they were all ready the following weekend, just before Memorial Day. They didn’t need the kind of training the new lifeguards did. After both weekends, they went back to the city for their last weeks of classes, their finals, and graduation. That came mid-June, and then the guys moved to Barnegat full-time. Mary and I didn’t see them till Memorial Day. Mary’s aunt decided they only needed two weeks to get the store ready, and Mary managed to just be there on Monday through Thursday. “I really need to help Doc in the office,” she explained. “That’s fine,” her aunt allowed. “I don’t want to overstock the store.” “Business has been slow all year in Toms River,” Mary told me. “So she’s not sure what’s going to happen on Barnegat and in Atlantic City.” “But she’s still going to open the stores?” “There’s no reason not to. She owns both buildings, and they’d just sit empty. Besides, labor is cheap.” “Maybe you should unionize the girls,” I joked. “Why?” Mary said, honestly. “We all realize how little there is to do. The jobs have always been a vacation.” Mary’s family didn’t have a summer home on Barnegat. Her father was only a plumber. And though Mary and I didn’t see the gang immediately, Claire saw them the first Saturday night. They’d arranged to meet at Jenkinson’s. “Pretty thin welcoming committee,” Mike announced, looking around for a surprise. Claire had told us this later. “We were hoping for better representation. “He doesn’t mean Mary and Doc,” Larry amended. “He wants to see the baby.” “Goo, goo, ga, ga, gan,” Mike drooled “We all do,” Al admitted. “We’re hoping she got all of Mary’s features and none of Doc’s.” “We’re betting on it, actually.” “Doc’s pretty good looking,” Claire nicely defended. Though that was followed by silence. “The awkwardness of old girlfriends?” I’d asked her. “New wives?” “I wasn’t quite sure. But it was definitely uncomfortable.” “He is good-looking,” Spence had simply cut through, laughing at his friends. “The guys don’t know how to say that while still seeming like... well... guys.” “And what does that make you?” Mike poked. Spence laughed again. “More sure of myself?” Since no one could deny that, nobody tried. Then Spence asked Claire if she wanted to dance, and they moved off “After that, it was back to last summer,” she finished. “The guys all asked me to dance, and Al seemed to realize that – with both of you taken – I was free. And this time he wasn’t going to lose.” “How do you feel about that?” Mary asked. Claire shrugged. “I don’t know yet. But it sure was fun dancing.” In mid-June, we all went to graduation, and it was great to meet everyone’s families. We’d expected Larry’s, Mike’s, and Al’s to be there, since they lived in the city. But Spence’s parents had come from Vermont. “He’s almost the first in our family to finish high school,” his mother told us. “So we had to be here.” She hesitated just a bit. “It would be even better if he had a job.” “If we all had jobs,” Mike grouched. “Everyone in the world.” “Spence knows he can always come back to the farm,” his father assured us. He turned to his son. “You do know that?” “Oh, yeah.” Spence had smiled and nodded. But you could see in his eyes that he’d rather sell apples first on Broadway. Mike, Larry, and Al’s families were followed by huge contingents of relatives. But since no one could afford a party that big, they’d all pooled what they had, and we ended up at Larry’s parents’ place – the largest apartment. After that late-lasting celebration, Spence’s parents went home with mine and slept in their spare room. “They’re good people,” my mother told me afterward. “I don’t agree with their politics. But somebody had to vote for Hoover.” “Why?” my father asked. Mom laughed. “Because it’s only polite.” That weekend, we were all back on Barnegat – except for the relatives – and before we realized, it was almost July. “There’s no reason not to talk with Spence now,” Mary pointed out. “No, there isn’t.” “How do you think he’ll take it?” We were unpacking, over the store. The days seemed passed when I could rush to the train and get on empty-handed. Ann had requirements. “You know him best,” Claire told Mary. And I agreed. “I may have – a year ago,” she acknowledged. “But we’ve hardly seen each other.” Even this summer, there hadn’t been opportunity. The guys were at Jenkinson’s as usual on weekends, and sometimes other nights. But Mary wouldn’t go. Partly because of Ann, but as much not without Claire or me. And I was in the city till late afternoon on Fridays, and Claire was in Toms River. Most weekends, she didn’t even get to Barnegat till dinner on Saturday. I couldn’t wait to get out of New York on Fridays, but I still had to work. And this year, Mary and Ann – in her carriage – would meet me at the station. Sometimes, one of the guys would be with them, but never Spence. “He’s happy to see me,” Mary said, “even when you and I only stop at Jenkinson’s for an hour. But I haven’t seen him otherwise.” “He’s friendly enough.” “Yes. But in some ways, he acts like you’re my father. He’s always looking to you for permission to speak.” “Why don’t you go to him? Or tell the guys to let him know you’d like to dance. Remind him it’s not my strength.” “He can see that.” “Oh, thanks.” And Mary laughed with me. “I wouldn’t want to dance with him the way I did last summer anyhow,” she went on. “If I even could.” “It’s been two-and-a-half months. You’re fine.” “That’s good to know.” “Why don’t we just invite Spence to breakfast?” Claire suggested. “Sunday. Before he has to go to work.” “The four of us? Wouldn’t he be suspicious?” “We could invite the gang, too. But then we’d have to get rid of them. So we could talk.” “I could take them out on my boat.” “Then you’d be gone.” “I could offer them my boat – saying how little it’s been used. No one’s even sleeping on it.” “You’re sure?” “They know they’re welcome. I reminded them first thing. You know how little privacy they get in the cottage.” Mary and I fortunately had more – her aunt had barely been around. And we’d gotten a double bed for the apartment. “But if you asked the guys out on the boat, why wouldn’t Spence want to go along?” He would, of course. And there went our opportunity to talk. “We can’t just put this off,” Mary insisted. “How about we go to Jenkinson’s?” Claire suggested. “Next Saturday. And tell your family you’ll be staying longer than usual.” “That’s easy enough. My aunts and cousins love watching Ann.” “We can all dance, and at some point, I’ll take Spence away to talk business. He’s used to my doing that. Then you can join us on one of the porches.” “That seems possible,” Mary agreed. “It’s normal enough.” “And if our talking get serious, we can go to my house. Right now, no one’s using it but me.” “You don’t think he’ll feel cornered?” I asked. “I have no idea,” Claire admitted. “But we all want to talk with him – together. Otherwise, it puts too much strain on any one of us.” And since we didn’t know what else to do, we decided on Saturday. “We can always stop,” Mary reminded us. “If anything bad happens.” “I don’t think Spence is that kind of guy,” I said. And he wasn’t. But he wasn’t stupid, either. After he and Claire had been talking, and Mary and I showed up, he simply said, “I’ve been waiting for this.” Then he looked around. “Is there someplace more private we can talk?” There were other people on the deck. “It’s not what you think,” Claire assured him. “It’s exactly what I think,” he lobbed back “I mean, it’s not a problem... Not for the three of us.... Not...” And then she stopped. “I’m making this worse, aren’t I?” Everybody laughed. “Can we just go somewhere?” Spence asked again. He turned to me. “How about your boat?” “That’d be fine.” It was even closer than the short walk to Claire’s house. Though we all started talking even before we left the pier. “I know the baby’s mine,” Spence began. “And I promise I’ll take any responsibility. I’ll do everything I can. Even without a job.” “At least, you’re working now.” “And you know how long that lasts – and how little we make. For me, that’s fine. Summer here’s cheaper than renting my tiny room in the city. And I have spending money.” “How long have you known?” Mary asked. Spence didn’t even hesitate. “Since New Year’s – as soon as you told us you were married. I mean that just didn’t make sense. You gave us a logical story – that it all happened after we left here. But still...” “Did the other guys feel the same?” “That night, they were having a party. And we talked a bit after – when we were back at school. But none of us like to gossip. Besides, we didn’t know you were having a baby. You didn’t look like it.” “But once I had?” “Again, it was the first thing I thought. And I wanted to call you... Or see you... Or at least write... But there was...” He paused, then pointed at me. Mary just smiled. “I love Doc, Spence. We all know Ann’s half yours... and nothing changes that. But nothing changes the other.” We walked for a moment, without speaking. “Should we have told you sooner?” I finally asked. “Mary didn’t want to put any pressure...” “It didn’t matter. I knew in...” He turned to Mary. “When did you have the baby?” “We told people May. But it was actually mid-April.” “The sixteenth.” And we all watched Spence counting backward on his fingers. He laughed as soon as he saw us. “That happened fast,” he went on. “Not exactly the first night,” Mary admitted. “But not even a month. And we were so careful.” “Lots of people are,” I said – trying not to sound like a doctor. “It sometimes doesn’t matter.” “Then when did you...” He stopped. “When did you even have time to see each other? I mean, I know your story, but...” He considered. “Mary and I were together till the end of August... Even later... Right till I left.” And then the truth came out – in pieces. By then, we were on the dock by my boat, and the three of us told the story – each filling in details the others forgot. Spence simply listened. “I’m trying to absorb it all,” he said at one point. “And this is the simple version,” I joked. “You see why we didn’t tell you sooner?” “You might’ve made it easier if you had – on yourselves. Mary and I could’ve gotten married. I think she still loved me then.” “I don’t feel any less for you now.” “Except you married Doc.” “Because I feel more for him – and you’ve heard how that happened. But as I said... it doesn’t change anything else.” Spence reached to take her hand, and Mary let him. Then she let go. “Anyway, we could’ve gotten married,” he went on. “And I would’ve quit school... and found a job... and if I couldn’t, we could’ve gone back to Vermont.” “Would your parents...” “You heard them at graduation – I’m always welcome. They don’t like to get up and milk cows.” He grinned. “And my parents are a lot less small town than you’d think. We see a lot there. I’m not the first guy in my family to get someone pregnant. Sometimes, she’s not even unmarried.” We all said nothing to that. But we were smiling. “So you could’ve told me,” he said. “And things would’ve been different. But we would’ve been all right.” “It’s not what I wanted,” Mary finally told him. Quietly. “Not for you. Or us.” “Sometimes you....” She cut him off. “Are you disappointed?” “Well, I have my degree,” he said, grinning. “If that’s what you mean.” He hesitated then smiled again. “Though concentrating for the last month or so hasn’t been easy.” “I’m sorry,” Mary told him. “It’s not you...” “Then it’s no one’s... And we all know that.” “We do,” Claire reassured him. And I echoed. Spence looked at Mary. Then at me. He couldn’t seem to stop smiling. “You really are in love... I can see that. And I see it even more when you’re with Ann.” “You’ll always be able to see her,” Mary assured him. “We can say you’re her godfather... or uncle... or anything you want. And we can tell her the truth when she’s old enough. I never want to come between you.” “And how does her other father feel?” Spence asked me. “You know that already.” “But maybe I need to hear it.” “What Mary said is absolutely how I feel. I only hope Ann is as much my daughter as she is yours.” “Even if we add all that together, she’ll still be more Mary’s.” “As much. Never more,” Mary insisted. “And I’ll give some up... to share equally.” Spence chuckled at that. “What?” Mary had to ask. “I’ve seen some of that... a bit... happen at home.” “And?” He shrugged. “It kind of becomes natural... Expected.” “Well, you’ve already missed her baptism,” Claire filled in. She seemed as relaxed as the three of us. “So we’ll have to tell you about that.” “I’m sure you were the godmother.” “One of them.” “But which religion?” he asked, mostly seeming curious. “Don’t we have three?” “Catholic,” Mary said. “Though maybe – when Ann learns about everything – she’ll change.” “If she doesn’t decide...” And he pointed at me. “If you knew how little religion I have...” “Couldn’t be less than me... So if Mary really believes... Then Catholic is best.” “It won’t be the hardest thing we have to unsnarl.” “As long as we keep talking.” We completely agreed on that – the four of us. And while we were still smiling, Spence glanced toward my boat. “I don’t suppose you still have any of that Scotch in there. I could sure use a drink. It’s not every night I’m confirmed as a father.” “There might be some,” I admitted. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t been thinking a lot about the boat. I barely remembered to pull it out of the water last fall, and the only reason it went back in was my uncle claimed it was ruining his lawn.” “Lawn?” Spence observed. “It’s sand and weeds.” “He has delusions.” After we laughed, I went to check the Scotch. I soon came back with half of a decent bottle. “Will it kill us?” Mary questioned. “Consider it aged,” I suggested. “And you don’t have to drink.” Though I held up four juice glasses. “To Ann,” Spence quickly toasted. “To the three of you,” Claire tacked on. “Four,” Mary corrected. “You’ve been with us from the start.” Claire just grinned. “And now I’m supposed to say something,” I admitted. “But I can only say I hope you’re all as happy as I am.” “Here. Here,” Spence proclaimed. “Now what does that mean?” “I’ve never had any idea.”
  5. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 19

    Thanks. Yeah: there's a lot of laying in information at the beginning. And a lot of characters. And so much is in dialogue. And I know it still seems an odd story for this site. But I've very glad you like it.
  6. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 12

    Thanks. Thanks very, very much. Though I write the other kind of book, too, and several are here on this site. So please don't be disappointed if you stumble on one of those, looking for a good story. There's still a good story. It's just that the guys have their clothes off. A lot.
  7. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 7

    Interesting. My dad started as a Navy pilot in WWII but couldn't see a particular shade of pink so eventually became an Army air traffic controller. Good thing, too: as a Navy pilot, he would have been sent to the Pacific, flying antique planes, and he probably wouldn't have survived.
  8. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 19

    Thanks. Sometimes, I worry about both it and about readers on this site continuing to follow it.
  9. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 19

    The baby was born on April 16th. “You’re right,” my father said. “Not the Fourth of July.” “And not a bruiser,” my mother added. “Nope,” Mary told them. “Just a normal, healthy, seven-pound baby girl.” “So not early, either,” Dad pointed out. “I wouldn’t know about that,” I said. “I’m just a doctor.” “And a father. Congratulations.” And he shook my hand. And my mother hugged and kissed me and then practically climbed into the hospital bed with Mary – she was trying to be that helpful. And fortunately, after that, both my parents stopped counting and just loved the latest addition to our family. And when Mary came home, four days later, and we were soon both taking care of the baby – because, technically, I knew a bit more about infants than she did, motherly instincts be damned – my mother was there. And my father. And Claire. Actually, Claire had never left the city. She came in as soon as Mary started toward the hospital. Or as soon as my father made the call. “Why?” he’d asked. “Because she’s Mary’s best friend.” I didn’t need to tell him that. “Your mother’s best friend was never there.” I couldn’t tell if he was approving or not, but it didn’t matter. I had more important things to do. I was still thinking about not delivering the baby and asking someone with more experience – I didn’t want anything to go wrong. But if anything did, I wanted to be there to help. Mary never questioned that. “You’re my doctor. I want you there.” “Thanks.” We were strolling toward the hospital. Not rushing because it was only six blocks. We lived on 84th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus, and the hospital was just down Amsterdam, on 76th. “It’s nice to know there’s a funeral parlor next door,” Mary joked when we reached it. “Don’t even think that way.” “You know I’m not serious.” “We don’t have the money for that one, anyhow. And it’s largely Jewish.” “Isn’t that what I am? On our license?” “As much as I’m Catholic.” I grinned. “And no, you’d never be considered Jewish till you converted. And if you went through all that, you’d probably know more about my supposed religion than anyone in our family.” It was nothing we’d honestly thought about. My parents didn’t care, and by the time Mary had finished the long process, we’d probably be divorced. Her converting might even complicate that. We were just talking to make talk – mostly out of nervousness. While something much bigger, once again, went out of our control. Still, it all went smoothly. Her labor wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t short. But by the time it was over, Claire had been waiting for a half-dozen hours, and my parents had been at the hospital even longer. “I would have gotten here sooner,” Claire told me when she had the chance. “But I had to persuade my father.” “To do what?” “Understand. He stupidly asked, ‘Is it always going to be like this?’” “Mary having babies?” “My running off to friends. When Dad felt he needed me.” I was surprised. And Claire was, too. “Especially since I’ve been telling him for a month. And reminding him I didn’t know when, and it would come suddenly, but I’d be gone for at least a week.” She suddenly laughed. “And it’s not like he and my mother never had children. But he seemed to think this was my excuse to get out of the office.” “Well, that’s good – isn’t it? That he didn’t want you to leave?” “In most ways. But it would’ve been nice if my mother had offered some support.” “What did she say?” “Nothing. She’s the one who taught me restraint.” As we laughed at that, we were heading to see the baby. Mary was still asleep, since the drugs she’d been given had been fairly strong. She hadn’t even held the baby yet. “She’s tiny,” Claire said, first thing. “They always look that way. And Mary’s small.” “But Spence isn’t.” “He should be here,” I said, instinctively. Claire grinned. “That would be complicated.” “I’m here.” “Are we going to pretend he’s your best friend?” “No. I’m not sure anyone knows Spence that well.” “Mary,” she offered. “You think so?” Claire reconsidered, then shook her head. “Though Mary and I have talked about that. About what she likes about him... and knows. And what she’d like to know. It turns out the thing she liked best about him is how he throws himself into things – like dancing. And how good he was with the children on the beach. And how calm he always seemed compared to Mike and Larry.” “And Al?” “Some. Al’s fairly low key.” “I like the guys.” “So do I. But they sometimes need to be quiet.” “And sometimes Spence needs to talk.” “Obviously, he and Mary found ways to communicate.” And we both laughed. When Mary woke up, Claire and I were with her, and a nurse soon brought the baby. “What are we going to name her?” Mary asked. “I thought you had that all worked out.” “We have several possibilities, at least, for first names. The others have to be traditional.” Those were a middle name, one for baptism, and – eventually – one for communion. “We were going to try out several first names,” Claire reminded us. “And see how she responds.” I had to laugh at that. As I had when they first told me. “You might want to see what you want to call her every day. And my suggestion is – keep it short.” “That’s so much a man’s idea,” Mary poked. “You’d never have the patience to call me Maria Theresa.” “It sounds like a saint. ‘Maria Theresa, come in here and eat your dinner.’” “What would you shorten it to?” Claire asked. “Mary. But that’s already taken.” “You know we were never considering anything that long.” “Probably. You don’t think I listened to everything you said.” I got another poke for that, this time from Claire. Still, by the end of the week, we’d all grown comfortable with Ann. Though the birth certificate said “Girl Baby,” followed by my last name. “Are you going to keep that, after we’re divorced?” I hadn’t asked Mary that before. “If I don’t, people will think terrible things.” “About you?” “About Ann.” “But why would you keep my name? It makes no sense.” “I will till after I actually marry. To keep things respectable.” “You know I don’t need that.” “And other people?” Claire agreed. Though the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t something my mother would do. Of course, it would be hard to ask her. “No,” she told me, when I finally found a hypothetical way. “I’d take the baby and me back to my family name as soon as possible.” Then she just looked at me. “But why are you asking? It’s never going to happen.” In that moment, I realized how hard it was going to be for my mother to part from her supposed first grandchild. And if I’d had any sense, I might have wondered the same about me. But, as usual, I was too busy with other patients and had slipped right back to my job. Claire stayed at the apartment while Mary was in the hospital, sleeping in our bedroom. Then she moved to the extra bed at my parent’s place when Mary came home. It wasn’t hard to explain to my folks why I was sleeping on the couch – we’d kept that hidden before. “Mary’s a light sleeper,” I said. “And she needs all the rest we can give her.” Maybe for the same reason, we didn’t tell Mary’s family till the end of the month. That gave us two more weeks we didn’t have to cover. If the pregnancy had happened on our honeymoon, that was seven-and-a-half months – just a little premature and not at all unusual. We weren’t planning to go to Toms River till the weather was warmer, anyway, and we’d appeased Mary’s family by saying the baby would be on Barnegat all summer, when they’d have plenty of time to visit. That was fine with them. Mary’s mother didn’t like coming into the city, and her father was always busy with his business. Her sisters did come in for a Saturday and then stayed overnight with my parents. “I’m so jealous,” Mary’s youngest sister told us. “I want a baby of my own.” “You’d better get a decent boyfriend first,” her slightly older sister warned. “The ones you’ve shown us have all been dopes.” “But they’re lots of fun,” the youngest sister defended. “And I’m not serious about a baby.” Still, she wouldn’t stop holding Ann. And singing to her, and making faces. “Poor Ann,” I told Mary later. “She just wants to sleep.” “She does that enough. And she likes the attention.” By that point – a month – Mary was back managing my office. We used an answering service at night and had put a telephone in our apartment, so we could be easily reached. That hadn’t been necessary when I was still sleeping in my back room. “Every little expense,” my dad reminded me. “I know. I know.” Then I countered: “How’s the brownstone business coming?” He admitted he’d put it off in all the excitement. But as our lives moved back to normal – me on house calls, Mary in the office, usually with the baby, the three of us having nightly meals with my parents, and Claire visiting almost every weekend – it all became expected. I liked having the baby wake me up in the morning before my alarm. Liked playing with her in her bassinet while Mary readied her food. Liked sneaking back to the apartment or the office to say hello to Mary and smile at the baby. And I liked holding her at night as she fell asleep, then gently passing her to Mary to put in her bassinet. I even sometimes fell asleep on Mary’s bed, listening to the quiet noises Ann made. “Time to get up, Doc,” Mary would finally say. “It’s still dark out. It can’t be time for work.” I’d said that drowsily one evening. Then suddenly sat upright. “Or did we get an emergency call?” “No. It’s a couch call. It misses you.” “How will it feel when we’re on Barnegat?” I joked right back. Then, more accurately asked: “What were we going to do there, in the tiny upstairs apartment? Especially with your aunt around?” Obviously, Mary’s aunt would be there less often than before, and maybe only during the week, when I was in the city. But the rest of the time, we’d be sleeping in a pair of twin beds. “We could get a double one,” Mary suggested. “And where would I sleep? On the floor? There’s no room to even hide a mattress.” “We could put Ann between us.” “That’s not a good idea. One of us could roll over her. And even though it’s summer, and there wouldn’t be heavy blankets, she could still smother in a light one. And...” And then I stopped. Because Mary was staring at me. “What was that about?” I later asked Claire. Since she’d been listening. Claire stared for a moment, too, as if maybe thinking what to say. Or maybe deciding whether to say anything at all. By then, we were outside, in Central Park, and Mary was a short distance away. “Haven’t you realized she’s in love with you?” Claire finally asked. At first, I thought she was fooling. “Mary?” Claire nodded – seriously. And I had to do some very fast thinking. “And how do you feel about that?” I asked. Half knowing it was to distract Claire. “That’s not the question,” she told me. Then she smiled. “And I asked you first.” “That’s childish,” I said, grinning. And delaying further. She agreed but didn’t go on. Maybe because she didn’t know how. And either did I. This was all very different from what I expected. And what I wanted. “I’ve been watching it happen,” she continued, quietly. “First, you fell in love with the baby. Then with the idea of family. Then – whether you knew it or not – with Mary.” “That’s not right,” I insisted. “I love you.” “And I love you for saying that, Doc. But this is different. Last summer was for the beach. This is permanent.” “No. You’re the person I’m most comfortable with. You’re the one I can always talk to. If not, I’d be having this conversation with someone else.” “Like Mary?” “Yes!” “You don’t have a lot of private conversations, Doc. Not with me or anyone. And if you think Spence is hard to figure out...” Actually, Spence was easy for me. But I knew what Claire meant. And Mary. Still, I needed to think about myself. “Am I really that bad?” I asked. A little surprised. “You’re always working,” she said. “Even when you’re lying on the beach, supposedly relaxing. You’re never really with us.” “Well, I’m a little older...” “Your mother said you’ve always been like that.” “Now, you’re ganging up...” “We learn any way we can,” she almost joked. “And your mother’s always ready to teach.” “How much does she know?” I had to ask. Claire shrugged. “Nothing more than we’ve told her. But she – and your father – know how much you love Mary.” I studied Claire. “And how do you feel about that? And this time, you’ve got to tell me.” “Well, Mary and I...” “Jesus!” I interrupted, suddenly almost angry. “Am I the last to know?” Claire just laughed. “And how do you feel?” I went on. “Will you tell me? Honestly? I’m not having you hurt in any way.” She just started to laughed. “You’re such a nice man, Doc. How could anyone not be in love you?” Then she hesitated. “And I am. I do. I’ll probably always be in love with you. But I’m not selflessly giving you up for Mary.” “Then what?” “Well... and this is hard to say. But I’ve realized a couple things about myself this year... watching the two of you. And I really think you’d be happier...” “Damn it. People are making choices for me I never meant.” Though I realized I was making those choices, too. And I told Claire as much. And later Mary – when she and the baby got closer. And then I needed to be alone for a while. I knew Claire and Mary would talk about me as soon as I left. So I gave them the chance. If only so I could walk. And the thing was Claire had it exactly right – and I knew that almost immediately. I knew I’d always love her and would want to share her life. And I didn’t know how to do solve that yet. But it’s not like we’d never see each other. And I loved Mary. And Ann. And our family. Even if I didn’t know if Mary really shared my feelings. “Of course, I do,” she quickly told me. “I’ve loved you for months and didn’t know what to say.” “Because of Claire?” “Because of all of us. I knew she might understand. I might be able to explain. She isn’t stupid. But it was you I worried about.” “And she helped you?” “I’m not sure. We both knew she could love you, and spend her life with you, and be happy. As long as she also worked.” “That isn’t a problem. I was raised expecting that. In so many ways, I’ve been looking for it.” “But who did you expect to marry? What kind of woman?” I’d thought through that before, and the answer was easy. “Someone intelligent. Independent. And educated.” “Everything I’m not.” “You can’t think that.” “Claire and I have always been surprised we’re best friends.” “Because you’re just as bright as she is. You have the same business sense. And if you’ve missed going to college... well, half of it’s nonsense, anyway – so much repetition of everything you know.” “That can’t be true.” “It is. If I’d met you first... And if there hadn’t been Claire...” I didn’t need to say the rest. And I didn’t have the chance. Mary simply kissed me. “But what about Spence?” I finally had to ask. “You know I’ve always thought... After we got through this summer... And after we were divorced and had given him reasons... And after he graduated, and found a job, and had worked for a while... That the two of you would simply get married. As intended.” “I don’t want to marry Spence, Doc. I don’t love him. Not as I do you.” There was nothing I could say. And I knew not to try. But we all knew we had to tell Spence. We needed to give him a chance. We just did.
  10. Thanks for your continuing support.  It's appreciated.

  11. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 18

    By March, in my examining room, Mary clearly looked seven months pregnant, and she was already in her eighth month. Still, dressed, she could pass for six. “Gonna be a athlete,” my father joked. “That’ll be a first in our family.” “Oh, come on,” I objected. “Ben knows his way with a bat and ball. And I know my way around a boat.” “Not the same as being a weight lifter,” Dad cracked on. “And this little one’s gonna to be a bruiser.” “What if she’s a girl?” He only needed to think for a moment. “Twins.” That was one thing I knew the baby wasn’t – I could only hear one heart, and it was strong. Fortunately, the baby was healthy. “You’re sure?” Mary asked. “As much as I am of anything.” “And you’re pretty sure of yourself,” she poked. “In some ways.” “Sure enough to tell the gang?” I took a deep breath. “Do we have a choice?” Actually, we did. If we’d stayed out of sight till New Year’s, we could do it again till Memorial Day, when Mary was planning to manage her aunt’s store again. She’d just take the baby with her. “It might be a big attraction,” she suggested. “Bring in all the women. And by then, I should be able to work.” “Unless the baby’s late.” “The later it is, the less we have to explain.” “Except why you’re going back to work.” “I’ll blame your mother,” she said, smiling. “Or credit her.” “She’d love that.” “It’s just not hard work, Doc. I’m only selling clothes.” I couldn’t deny that. “Still, we really don’t have to tell the guys. It’s not like they’ve been around all the time.” “They’re busy looking for work,” Claire put in. By that point, she’d joined out conversation. “They’d find out,” I said. “How? They don’t want to be on Barnegat. They said they’d take almost any other kind of jobs.” “And how lucky’ve they been in finding those?” Mary asked. “Not at all, unfortunately. But Roosevelt just took office. He’ll need some time.” “That could put the guys back on Barnegat,” I allowed. “You know what Mike said in their last note.” “Gloomy Mike. It’s not like him at all.” “He said the hotel asked if they wanted to be lifeguards again. They were obviously well liked.” “Did only girls vote?” “And they had a couple of weeks to decide. So if nothing turns up, they’ll be back on the beach, at least weekends, by mid-May.” “That’s still before I’ll get there,” Mary pointed out. “And if I only work during the week, helping my aunt clean and restock, we’ll be safe till the end of the month.” “I still think we should tell them,” Claire said. “If only that you’re having a baby.” Mary needed to think about that. “I could simply not work this summer,” she finally decided. “I’d miss it, but if I told my aunt now, she’d have time to find someone else.” “And train her as well?” Claire asked. “She has part-time high school girls who’d be thrilled at the chance.” “And be as dependable?” “Why not? I was only in tenth grade when she started trusting me alone.” “But you’d worked with her in Toms River since – what? – sixth grade?” “Maybe earlier.” “Four extra summers.” “At least, three . Though I was only alone for a couple days a week. She was always coming down.” “Until she trusted you. And the same thing might not happen with another girl.” “Maybe,” Mary admitted. “Plus, you’re family,” Claire finished. “If something went wrong, she could always go to your parents.” Mary didn’t want to argue that, and I had to stay out of the discussion, since the two of them knew so much history I didn’t. Still, we decided not to say anything to the guys until we were certain of their plans. It didn’t sound like a good bet. There were four of them, and even if three suddenly found work, that would leave one at the beach. And he’d see the baby and quickly tell the others. “What if it’s Spence?” Mary asked. “And if we told him the truth? Would he be less likely to tell the guys?” That had been one of our questions since Mary told me she was pregnant. “What about Spence?” It was something the three of us talked about back and forth. “Are we making the right choice?” “Are we getting things too complicated?” “Are we making this too hard on ourselves?” Mary’s answer always came back to, “I want him to graduate first. Without pressure.” And school didn’t finish till mid-June, even if he was working on Barnegat sooner. “After that, we can tell him anything,” she continued. “And maybe he’ll help us decide what to tell the others.” “It’s a good idea,” Claire admitted, and I agreed. “So we find out if any of them will be on Barnegat. Then we see who. Then we decide.” They nodded their heads. “It’s only two more weeks,” Mary counted. “We can wait.” But when the news came, it wasn’t good. For the guys. “Looks like we’re gonna be itchy and wet again,” Al wrote. “And half-dressed,” Mike grumbled in the margin. “Nothing else has come up,” Larry went on. “And we’d be idiots to turn down money.” “Even if it’s pennies,” Al added. “At least, we have no expenses.” “Except girls,” Mike cracked – at least, we thought it was him. It sounded like something he’d write. Claire almost sighed. “We have to tell them. But all at once?” “That would be easier,” Mary told us. “And since they’re used to hearing from us almost every week, we can slip in the news.” “Ignore the fact we’ve been holding out for months?” “We don’t have to tell them how soon.” “They’ll find out quick enough. As soon as they come by to celebrate.” “And they’re not very far,” I said. “An easy subway ride.” “Or bus,” Mary admitted, “I can always tell them you’re already on Barnegat.” “It’s too soon.” “Then I can say you’re in Toms River – visiting. We can actually tell them anything we like. As long as they don’t see you.” “You make me sound like I’m diseased.” So Claire wrote first – saying she had good news to balance their possibly miserable summer. She mailed the letter from Toms River when she got back from the weekend with us, and we figured we were safe till Wednesday or Thursday. Then Mary picked up the office phone on Thursday afternoon, and Mike and Larry were singing. “Congratulations to you! Congratulations to you! Congratulations Mary and Doc-oc! Congratulations to you!” “Who is this please?” Mary asked calmly, as if she didn’t know. “It’s the stork!” Mike screamed, and in the background, Al and Larry were laughing. Then came a host of questions. “When did you find out?” “How long’ve you been hiding this?” “When’s the baby due?” “Have you picked a name?” “Two names, you idiot.” “Have you picked two names?”. “Have you…” “Did you…” “Can you…” “Will you...” Mary said the questions came too fast for her to hear, let along remember them, to repeat them to Claire and me. The guys didn’t seem to expect answers anyway – they mostly wanted to make celebrate. Finally, Spence cut through. “Guys... Guys,” he said, in his usual way. “If you want answers, you’ve got to let her speak.” “Who wants answers?” Larry shot. “We know how to make a baby!” “And we know how much fun it is!” “We want to be part of that!” “Hats off!” “Yippie!” “Jesus H. Christ!” “You’re going to Hell for that,” Larry warned. “That’ll be fine. This is terrific!” “It really is,” Spence admitted – quietly. “When can we see you?” At that point, Mary had to be careful. “Pretty soon,” she told them. “I know you’re all busy, studying and looking for work. And Al wrote that you’ve just finished mid-terms and have your finals and final projects ahead. And then you have graduation, and before that, you’ll going back and forth to Barnegat...” “So ‘Not soon,’” Mike cut through. “It’s not like I’m having the baby tomorrow,” Mary lied. “There’s nothing to see yet. You’d be disappointed.” “We’re never disappointed seeing you. And Doc, and Claire,” Mike quickly added. “”That’s very sweet.” “And it’s our foolishness, not seeing you steadily.” “Definitely more often.” “We know you’ve been busy,” Mary assured them. “And so’ve Doc and Claire.” “And you?” “I just sit here and read movie magazines.” “We’ll bet.” “Anyway, finish your tests. And keep looking for jobs. And we’ll see you all on Barnegat.” “You’re coming?” “Where else would I go?” “But...” And for a moment, Mary said the guys seemed to ponder the sanctity of motherhood. Then she just laughed, and told them, “It’s not like babies can’t cross water. Even newborns.” “That was clever,” Claire poked. “It gave us two extra months. That makes eight, if you start from October.” “Better than six-and-a-half,” I admitted, while acknowledging it was Mary’s biggest lie. “And I told them you’d be on Barnegat, weekends,” she went on. “And Claire would be around. And they said they were committed to the jobs and had stopped looking for work till September. “We’ll be at the beach,” Larry repeated. “Meanwhile, we’ll be good little pupils.” “Students,” Mike corrected. “Pupils just sit there.” “I’ll graduate any way I can.” “Says the guy with the best grades.” “This is costing money, guys,” Spence reminded them. “My parents can always spare another nickel,” Larry assured him. “And how often does Mary have a baby?” “Not that often,” she promised. “Well, this one’s gonna be great,” Larry assured her. “And named after me – Michael Devin Christopher Luke... Michelle, if she’s a girl.” “Michelle Denise Christina Louise,” Larry improvised. “I’ve really got to go,” Mary insisted. “This is Doc’s office.” “The operator will come on.” “I do more than answer calls.” “Okay! Okay!” Mike fake grumbled. “You try to congratulate a friend. ” “And we really appreciate it. Doc and I both.” “We’ll see you Memorial Day.” “It’ll be just like the Fourth.” “Except someone already shot off the fireworks.” “Mike!” Larry howled. “Do you have any manners!” But Mary and Mike were already laughing. And they soon took the other guys with them. Finally, Al shouted, “Goodbye!” and started to hang up. But Mary still heard Mike yelling, ”You’re Going To Have A Baby!” “That takes care of that,” I told her that evening. “We’re cornered.” She smiled and said she’d already spoken with Claire. “It’s a toll call, I know – an extravagance. But I had to.” “I would’ve done the same.” “And I really think we’re all right till they see the baby. And start counting.” “Maybe we’ll tell Spence before that. .” “To be honest, I’m not even thinking about that. We going to have a baby!”
  12. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 17

    So when did Mary get to see what I looked like without my bathing suit? When did I finally satisfy the curiosity of the woman who was steadily becoming my closest friend? I knew I wasn’t her closest. That was Claire and possibly always would be. But even as I was trying to pretend I was convincingly married, I was slowly becoming use to the idea of it being real. But with Claire. Still, there was a night when Mary accidentally came out of the bedroom just as I was putting on my pajamas. Normally, I went to the bathroom to change. But that night, I was sure she was asleep, and I’d read too late in a medical journal, trying to figure out something I really didn’t understand, and I was tired and pulled off my clothes just as she walked into the living room, heading to the kitchen for a fresh glass of water. We both laughed. Immediately. “So much for that,” I offered. “Don’t make it a habit,” she joked. And politely turned away. What was I supposed to say next? “Disappointed?” Though if she had no effect on my personal life, I had as little on hers. I didn’t even know much about it. As her doctor, I might have asked some questions. But I avoided that, even with patients I knew less well. There were indirect ways to learn the same things. I didn’t even know if Spence was the first man she’d had sex with. There was always flirting, and Mary had that small apartment above her aunt’s store. I’d never been in it but knew the store had a delivery entrance off its back alley, and I suspected there was a – possibly dark – flight of stairs leading upward. Still, Spence might not have been the first guy to use those stairs. He may not have even been the first that summer. Mary seemed so innocent that almost no one connected that kind of interest with her. And while Claire might know otherwise, I wouldn’t pry. Also, I’d barely been alone with Claire since just before Niagara Falls. A few minutes here or there when she was in the city with us or when we were all in Toms River, visiting Mary’s family. Or on Barnegat. But there was so much to plan about Mary that Claire and I simply trusted our relationship. And I always felt in touch with her, even if it was through Mary. I didn’t wonder if Claire had been with other men. That was almost part of going to college. “Those Ivy League boys,” she’d joke. “And Holyoke girls?” I’d kid back. “They’re more cautious than Smith’s.” Then she’d smile. “Not that it would matter,” she’d add . “To a man with his own yacht.” “Luxurious beyond description.” “It only takes a cot.” “Berth.” And we’d laugh again. Of course, the one night we’d been completely together, we were drunk a lot. And giddy past understanding what we were about to start. “You really think we can do this?” she asked. “Yes. I think so – with Mary. We’re all smart.” “We’ll see.” But the point was, we were doing this: Mary wrote Claire almost every day, Claire wrote back, we all saw each other nearly every weekend, and the two of them occasionally talked on the telephone. That was an extravagance, considering the distance, but it sometimes seemed important. Mary let me read her letters. Then Claire’s. We all used each other for ideas, and that worked out fine. So it’s not like anything changed, the night without my pajamas. It was just another point, reached with a nod. It went with our hand-holding in public and touching in front of my parents. And with the occasional kiss and the looks of pretended affection. And if there were any thoughts either of us had beyond that – of the comfort we seemed to manage so easily and almost naturally fell into – they never showed. Meanwhile, Claire was keeping herself busy with her family’s business. She was helped by her brothers, who – like Claire at college – were becoming more interested in the world outside Toms River. “How does your father feel about that?” I asked her one weekend. “Resigned,” she said, smiling. “It may not be the best way to keep my job, but I’m happy. And Dad can’t deny that I can do everything my brothers could – except be ‘one of the guys.’ And I’m working on that. Plus, he really has no choice, unless he wants to sell the lumber yards when he retires. And he’s not close.” “Would he really do that to you?” “It’s too soon to tell – maybe in twenty years. Though unfortunately, he still seems to think I’m only doing this till I get married. And he’s said – far more than once – that he doesn’t want me turning into a spinster.” “Like the woman who helped Mary’s aunt?” “She was married. I thought you knew that.” “I’m not sure it was ever mentioned.” “Her husband was killed in a factory accident. Well, not exactly. He was terribly injured and died a year-or-so later.” “I’m sorry.” “It was a long time ago. And then Mary’s aunt lost her first husband – and they had children. The woman and her husband didn’t.” “People’s lives get complicated.” “But Mary’s aunt had worked in the woman’s family’s dress shop almost from the age Mary began. And when she needed more than pin money, the woman helped out.” “That was generous.” “Not entirely.” Claire smiled. “Mary and I have always joked that Lila Hartman was a little sweet on her aunt. She always seemed happiest when Tess was around.” I let that go unanswered. It was something I didn’t know how to comment on. Not long afterwards, my father came to me with an idea. “You know how cheap real estate is,” he began. That alone was strange. He’d never owned, nor been interested in owning, property, claiming its upkeep was rarely worth the investment. He also didn’t believe in the stock market, which was fine because it had protected my parents’ savings. Along with the fact they lived simply, in a modest apartment. Still, he went on about real estate. “Just now,” he pointed out, “we’re paying three rents. And this is separate from your sister’s and brother’s. Lillian’s plans are tied with her husband’s, and Ben’s not ready to think about more than renting a room. Though we can indirectly include them.” “In what?” I had to ask. “Buying a brownstone.” “What!” A brownstone was a narrow, five-story, single-family house, which used to be where upper middle class New Yorkers lived, when families regularly had ten children. “Let me finish,” Dad went on. I let him. “Well, your mother and I pay a reasonable rent for our small apartment – and even then, there’s a bedroom we hardly use, except when someone’s visiting. And that rarely happens because everyone in our family lives close, and why would your mother’s family visit when we can see them all on Barnegat?” “Go on.” “And you pay even less rent – for a tinier apartment in a building with no elevator.” “It’s an easy climb.” “I’m not disagreeing.” Dad was usually polite. “But you also pay for your pocket-sized office. And while that costs less than the difference between our rent and yours, that’s still the equivalent of two decent payments.” “But not the same as buying a brownstone.” “It could be better – considering all the extra space. Which you and Mary will need for your family.” I laughed at that “Are you gonna tell me next how many children I can have?” “Three,” he said. Without even a grin. Of course, I didn’t tell him I didn’t really have one. And I couldn’t for another six months-or-so. Though even after Mary left, I was thinking about keeping the apartment. I didn’t want to go back to my cot. “Why do you think I’ll have three kids?” I asked instead. I didn’t bother saying “we,” because I was thinking “Claire and me.” “Well, you were raised as part of three. And one isn’t enough. And with two, one can always get sick. So three is safe.” “I’ll have to tell Ben he’s a spare.” “It could be you. You’re around the most disease.” “Gee, thanks.” And we both laughed. “So I’m thinking,” he went on, “that a five-story brownstone would give you room for an office on the ground level. Which is basically what you have now. And the main floor would be the living room, dining room, and kitchen – people are moving that upstairs, now that no one can afford a maid and cook.” “Some people even rent the downstairs to poor young doctors.” He ignored that “And the second floor would be for your mother and me. That’s almost bigger than our apartment.” “And the third would be for Mary and me.” “And your children. There’d be plenty of room, since we’d all be sharing a dining room and parlor.” “Fancy word.” “Land owners.” And we smirked. “And the top floor would be a playroom and a place where Lily and Ben and their families could stay when they’re in the city. Assuming Lily and her husband really do move out to the country.” “The country” was ten miles away – in what mostly was Long Island potato fields. Cars and frequent passenger trains were making that possible. “And we wouldn’t even have to squeeze storage out of the playroom because there’s a basement under the your office.” “Usually damp, with low ceilings.” “We can build shelves.” “I’ve never seen you with a hammer.” He ignored that, too. “Have you figured out how much this’ll all cost?” I finally asked. “Of course. Why else would I suggest it?” “And you’d risk getting a mortgage? If we even could.” “I’m talking about buying. No expenses but taxes and repairs. And I know you have no savings.” “Almost.” “So you could pay us back every month. It wouldn’t be more than your two rents combined.” I thought about that, then asked, “Can I consider this?” “Absolutely. Brownstones are only getting cheaper. Though it’d be nice to find one nearby. Where we know all the stores.” “The ones that’re still open.” “Shopkeepers are doing surprisingly well. They’ve always been careful. And their customers here – middle-class Jews, like us – have to be that way. No one can tell when we’ll be told to leave again. Still, I know you need to talk about this with Mary.” That was the first thing he got wrong. She had no part in this decision. Claire might, but first I’d have to get her over to what she called “the mainland.” I rightly pointed out that Toms River and New Jersey were directly connected to the continent, while Manhattan floated free. But she was talking about sophistication. Still, getting her to ever live in the city might take longer than the two years I thought I had. The other thing I was thinking about was my parents. Youngest daughters used to take of them, but that wasn’t happening anymore. My parents were in their fifties, and theirs in their seventies, so it might be good for us all to end up in one place. I was already thinking that my office could eventually move upstairs. Or we might be able to afford a small elevator. I must have laughed because my father looked at me. “Planning your future,” I told him. “Not unwise.” I grinned. “And I suppose you’ll take credit for having raised me well.” “I hear your mother had something to do with it.” “Yeah. She taught her view of sense into us.” “Never forget that.”
  13. A friend of mine, Rita, recently mentioned that she has a three-year-old grandson named Ajax, and I realized there was a connection to Greek or Roman mythology, but I didn’t know the specifics. She added that when her son and daughter-in-law‘s friends hear the boy’s name, they joke, “Is he going to marry a girl named Windex?” or “Is he going to marry a woman named Comet?” It turns out that Ajax was a Greek warrior, but I had to admit that when I hear Ajax, the first thing I think of is “Boom, boom, the foaming cleanser. Wipes the dirt, right down the drain.” Actually, when I checked, it’s “floats the dirt.” When I told my friend this, she had no idea what I was talking about, and we realized the commercial could either have been regional – she was raised in Tucson – or after she was a child – she’s a dozen years younger than I am. But Tom and I were out for dinner with Rita and another friend, Martha, and this started the four of us talking about jingles we could remember. I’ve gone through this before, and I always feel like it’s going to end with me blinding horses, like Alan Strang in Equus. Still, here goes: N - E - S - T - L - E - S Nestles makes the very best. Choooooc - laaaaate. Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime and grease in just a minute. Mr. Clean will clean your whole house and everything that’s in it. Mr. Clean. Mr. Clean. Mr. Clean. My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer. Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer. It’s not bitter. It’s sweet. It’s a dry, flavored treat. Won’t you buy extra dry Rheingold beer? I want a girl Just like the girl That’s in the Rheingold ad. As opposed to the original words, which end, “That married dear old dad.” Get Rival dog food. Arf. Arf. Arf. Arf. Get Rival dog food. Arf. Arf. Arf. Arf. Your dogs eyes will shine. Every time So get Rival dog food. Arf. Arf. Or something like that – I couldn’t fact check the exact lyrics. It’s sung to “The Blue Danube Waltz,” of course, and – perhaps as late as college – when I first heard a full recording of that waltz, I said, “I know the lyrics to that, and I started singing. Which only made my friends think I was nuts. The four of us were having this discussion in a restaurant called the Eclectic Cafe, and, unfortunately, I took its name too literally and ordered an odd combination of foods for my dinner – tortilla soup, salmon/artichoke heart quiche, a green tamale, an ordinary side salad though with balsamic vinegar dressing, mango iced tea, and chocolate mousse. After which, I immediately needed: Plop, plop. Fizz, fizz Oh what a relief it is. Sung, or recited, by a little cartoon character named Speedy Alka Seltzer – who looks a lot like Ready Kilowatt, if you know those ads. Though Speedy has a Alka Selzer tablet as part of his hotel bellboy-like cap, instead of lightning bolts for arms and legs. Also, I remembered this as “Pop, pop,” and Martha remembered it as “Drop, drop.” But it’s “Plop.” To continue: Double your pleasure. Double your fun. With Double Mint. Double Mint. Double Mint. Gum. Brylcream, A little dab’ll do you. Brylcream, Use more if you dare. But watch out, The gals’ll all pursue you. They love to run Their fingers through your hair. Brush-a, brush-a, brush-a. Get the new Ipana. It’s dandy for your teeth. You’ll wonder where the yellow went, When you brush you teeth with Pepsodent! Towards the end of our conversation, we got as far as, “Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Charlie. And wipe (?) the grease away.” Then we stalled. Also: We are the men of Texaco. We work from Maine to Mexico... And: See the USA. In your Chevrolet. America is asking you to call. See the USA. In your Chevrolet. America’s the greatest place of all” We weren’t sure of the “call,” the last line, or anything further. As it happens, the fourth and fifth lines are actually, “Drive your Chevrolet, Through the USA,” but we got the “call/all” rhyme right, and the rest of the song continues somewhat unmemorably. Of course, that was sung by Dinah Shore and was almost the theme song of her variety show, so that just led us to other, non jingle, if non-commercial songs from other variety shows. First was the pair from the Garry Moore show, beginning – “That wonderful year, we hope you’ll see...” and “We’ve just said ‘hello,’ and right away, we have to say ‘so long’ for a while...” But once you start there, you wander into further theme songs, notably the westerns: “Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, brave courageous and bold...” and “‘Have gun, will travel,’ reads the card of a man...” and Bonanza, and Rawhide, and “Out of the night, when the full moon is bright, comes the horseman known as Zorro.” Which winds to: Happy trails to you, Until we meet again. Happy trails to you, Keep smiling on til then... And: How do I know? The Bible tells me so. And – inevitably: M - I - C. See you real soon. K - E - Y. Why? Because we like you... And maybe it never stops, drifting through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s... Finally, though, there was one that stumped us. Martha asked, “Did you every hear of a song called ‘Susie Snowflake?’” And when we all admitted we hadn’t, she sang it for us: Here comes Suzy Snowflake Dressed in a snow-white gown. Tap, tap, tappin' at your windowpane To tell you she's in town. Here comes Suzy Snowflake Soon you will hear her say. Come out ev'ryone and play with me. I haven't long to stay. If you want to make a snowman, I'll help you make one, one, two, three. If you want to take a sleigh ride, Whee! The ride's on me! There was more, but we stopped her – bribed her with some chocolate moose. Martha was raised in a small town in north central Ohio, and Tom and Rita were from Tucson, and I was from New York, so we figured the song was regional. But it wasn’t. It was released nationally in 1951 and sung by the very notable Rosemary Clooney. Later, I did a little research on the composer/lyricist team, Bennett and Tepper, and it turned out they wrote over 300 songs, many frequently recorded. Still, the only one I recognized was “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.” So now I have that, Susie Snowflake, Wildroot Cream Oil, Mickey Mouse, the guys from Texaco, and Ajax all mixed up in my head, and I really could use some Alka Seltzer. Or whatever jingle you sing for a headache.
  14. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 16

    The best thing that happened in November was Franklin Roosevelt won the presidential election. Despite the fact that Mom and Mary had been walking all over the Upper West Side, they weren’t really worried about Roosevelt’s popularity, at least in New York. After all, he was the well-liked governor. Still, the fact that he won in almost every state and that his victory was considered a landslide -- though it was really well less than a two-thirds majority -- made them feel they were part of something much bigger. “The whole country wants to see the ‘do nothing’ policies of Herbert Hoover end,” Mom told us as we read the day’s papers the following evening. “And they want this depression to be over, now.” I agreed with my mother, of course. Though it would have been pointless to mention that Hoover hadn’t absolutely been doing ‘nothing.’ He’d just been making bad choices. In any case, once we were sure the country might be headed in a good direction, Mary and I were able to consider something far smaller but more immediate in our lives – the New Year’s Eve reunion. It’s not that Mary and Claire hadn’t been in contact with the gang after the summer. It was just careful contact. They’d check with each other about what they were going to write, and to who, and whether it would be on a postcard or in a longer letter. Claire would occasionally mention me in her notes, as if the two of us were in loose but steady contact, and I was simply too busy with work to write. “You know how Doc is when he gets focused on something,” she’d excuse. “And it’s the time of year when a lot of kids are catching colds.” In her writing, Mary would purposely never mention me, or New York, and she’d mostly talk about her part-time work in her aunt’s store in Toms River, now that they’d closed the seasonal one on Barnegat. There was occasional news from the guys, mostly talking about school, and looking for jobs, and the work they were doing part-time. “When we’re lucky, “ Al wrote. “Even then, it’s often only a couple hours a week -- each.” Sometimes, one -- or more -- of them had gotten together with one or more of their late summer girlfriends, when they, “Just happened to be visiting the city – if you can believe that.” “You’ll never guess who turned up in New York last weekend,” Mike had written. “Claiming she ‘just had a hankering to see the Museum of Art.’ I’m not even sure she can spell ‘museum.’ Still, it was good to see her – and Al was drooling all over himself.” “And she brought a friend,” Larry took over, because it seems Mike had to run to a class. “We hadn’t met her before, so that kept me happily busy. Spence was working that Saturday, and Mike just tagged along. Though he told us later that it was better that way -- cheaper -- because I had to pay for the girl.” It turned out Larry didn’t mind, because in a later note, he mentioned, “I sure hope I get to see her again.” In the same way, there were indirect reminders of the New Year’s Eve reunion: “See you right after Christmas,” Al would write. Or “Catch up with you really soon,” from Mike. Or “Wow, less than six weeks!” from Larry Mary, Claire, and I talked about what we should do about the party. As much as we wanted to see everyone, we weren’t sure we wanted them to see us. “Maybe you and Doc should go,” Mary suggested to Claire. “Just explain to everyone that I have a cold and don’t want to get anyone sick. I’ll write Spence a few weeks before then -- like in the middle of December -- that I think I’m coming down with something. Then it won’t be such a surprise.” “Or maybe just Claire should go,” I put in. “And let you have a cold and me be busy with emergencies.” “Maybe you should go alone,” Claire told me. “And tell the gang that Mary and I stupidly gave each other colds by going to too many Christmas parties. They’d believe that. You need to be on Barnegat anyway – to see your family.” “Why?” “For Christmas.” “Why?” She looked at me for a moment like I was a fool. Then she smiled. “Oh, that’s right. They don’t celebrate.” Actually they did, but indirectly. Christmas was a big holiday for our bakeries. “Still, you’re the one it’s most convenient for,” Claire had gone on. “Once you ignore the two hour train ride.” “But the guys know you’re used to that. You can do it in your sleep.” “And often have.” And we all laughed. We finally decided it was easier for us all to go, and just explain that -- slowly, over the fall -- Mary and I had fallen in love and gotten married. Especially after Claire and I realized that she wasn’t ready to leave her family business, and that she couldn’t, for at least another few years. And that she’d always be somewhat uncomfortable living in the city, and I had no interest in becoming a country doctor. “Kind of geographically star-crossed,” we joked, as if trying out the explanation. We also thought we could avoid mentioning Mary being pregnant because – as she’d expected – she didn’t look it. “Well, I do – a little – but I can hide it under my clothes. Especially if I’m careful how I dress.” “You don’t look pregnant at all,” Claire admitted. “And I’m probably more observant than any of the guys.” “They’ll just want to have fun,” I said, laughing. “And dance.” “What can we do about that?” Mary suddenly wondered. “Can I?’ “Maybe. If you avoid your quick, complicated moves.” “I can’t do that. Especially if I dance with Spence.” “Well, you can’t do slow dances with him,” Claire pointed out, immediately. “He’d notice the change as soon as he pulled against you.” “Then I’d better not dance at all. But how?” We thought about that. “Say you’re getting over the flu,” Claire suggested, going back to Mary’s idea about a cold. “And you really don’t have the energy.” “Or you’re under doctor’s orders,” I joked. They both grinned at that. “The problem there,” Mary objected, “is when’ve I ever listened to my doctor?” “When have you seen one so regularly?” Claire questioned. “You could say you twisted your ankle,” I offered instead. “You can even say ‘sprained,’ if that sounds more painful.” “Ouch.” “And you shouldn’t wear your heels,” Claire added. “But then I’m shorter than even Doc.” “Thanks a lot,” I mock grumbled. “You’re not short,” Claire assured me. “But you are the smallest of the guys.” “In any case, I’ll limp a bit,” Mary decided. “And I won’t dance. And that should take care of it.” And it did. No one suspected until we made our announcement. “You did what!” Larry erupted. “No, no, no -- this is all wrong,” Mike quickly picked up. “Doc and Claire. Not Doc and Mary.” Fortunately, he didn’t add the logical, “Mary and Spence.” But he’d been around Spence all fall, and maybe Spence hadn’t mentioned Mary at all. Her almost weekly postcards had been to the four of them, sent by way of Al, who she felt was the most neutral. “You really could’ve told us,” he calmly said next. “We wanted it to be a surprise,” I offered. “For Christmas.” “When did it happen?” “How did you keep it secret?” “And why?” At that moment, they all turned to Claire. “It’s fine,” she insisted, smiling. “I wasn’t ready to get married, and Mary was.” “But Doc? Wow!” “Who’d‘ve thought it?” “Quiet Doc.” I hadn’t thought of myself as quiet. But I wasn’t their age, either. All that came from Larry, Mike, and Al. So far, there’d been nothing from Spence. He just stood there, studying Mary. “I wanted to tell you,” she soon told him, simply. Though too publicly for either of them to be comfortable. Still, Claire and I knew that Mary intended to talk with Spence privately. As soon as she could. And that’s how we told the gang about our marriage. We did it early in the evening, so we could all go on with our party, and – as usual -- we had a lot of fun. At some point, Mary and Spence slipped out of the noisy ballroom – we weren’t the only people celebrating at Jenkinson’s – but I don’t know where they went to talk. The outside decks were cold, closed, and windy. “He didn’t really have any questions,” she later told Claire and me. The three of us were staying at Claire’s family’s house. “He apologized for not writing more often.” She smiled at that “What did I get? Three postcards for as many months?” “You didn’t write him, either,” Claire pointed out. “We decided on that.” “And -- from what you said -- neither of you made promises.” “No. There was nothing formal. We had kind of an understanding, but that was before I got pregnant. Once I definitely knew, I sort of let things drift off. I just never wanted to tell him -- or any man – that I’d stopped our baby. And I didn’t know how Spence would react.” “Now, it’s not a concern,” I pointed out. “The baby’s safe.” She slightly disagreed. “As safe as any baby can be.” “Or anyone,” Claire added. And we left it at that and went up to our separate bedrooms. We’d thought about asking the guys to stay at the house, but there wasn’t enough room for them and their girlfriends, So the guys were sharing a room at the only open hotel, and their girlfriends were sharing another. But we all gathered at the house for breakfast the next day. Then we spent the afternoon together, again, inside. It was too cold to be anywhere else. We talked, and sang, and cracked jokes, and generally caught up on the past four months. We also belatedly celebrated my auspicious thirtieth birthday. “How does it feel, Doc?” Larry asked. “Thirty, married, and a doctor.” ‘Makes me feel really old just hearing about it,” Mike joked. “We should’ve gotten you a cane.” “And moustache wax.” “And a toupee.” “And a hernia belt.” I needed none of those things and told them I’d already had a month to practice. My actual birthday was just after Thanksgiving, and I’d celebrated it quietly with Mary, Claire, my parents, and my family After an early dinner, the guys took the train back to the city, their girlfriends went in the opposite direction, and Claire drove Mary and me to Toms River. Mary and I had spent Christmas there, too, along with the next couple of days, surrounded by her parents, sisters, brothers, and other relatives. Of course, we had to sleep together, but we’d managed that for almost aweek in Niagara Falls, and it’s not like Mary and I weren’t intimate. After all, I was her doctor. “It’s almost unfair,” she said at one point. “That you’ve seen so much of me, and I don’t have the same privilege.” “You’ve seen me in bathing trunks.” “And the only thing less attractive than those are the things women have to wear.” No one could deny that. “You know what a man looks like undressed,” I shrugged off. “I’ve seen you paging through my medical books.” “That’s not why I study them.” “So it’s ‘study,’ now,” I said, grinning. “If it is, they’re almost as interesting as seeing men in bathing suits – most men.” “Well, the illustrations aren’t there to entice you.” “And that’s just it – they’re illustrations. For all their lack of clothes, they don’t even show as much as some movie magazines.” “Those can suggest so much. But if I need to know details about a woman’s private parts…” “I’m sure you could figure it out without pictures…” “Every bit helps…” “Even after all the women you’ve seen?” I wasn’t sure where she was headed, or if this was serious. “To tell you the truth,” I said carefully, “I’m usually looking at their babies. And you know that.” “After they’re born. But before that…” “Do you really think that’s why I became a doctor?” I joked. “No,” she said, laughing. “You’re the noble knight your parents think you are. But if you really want the truth, well… we may be married on paper, but I actually know so little about you. And about your personal life.” “You are my personal life,” I told her, honestly. “I’ve become it -- I know. But that’s only for a while. But do you miss all the parties you used to go to? And all the women you used to see? Your parents always talk about them. And whenever we meet some of your friends and relatives, they joke about you no longer being available -- as the ‘eligible bachelor’.” “I don’t miss them at all,” I assured her. “But what’s filled it in? I have a new job, managing your office, and a baby coming, which I think of all the time. And I write my family and friends and tell them as much as makes sense about our pretend marriage. But what about you?” “The truth is -- if you really want to hear more of this boring stuff… The truth is that the things I had to do socially were sometimes more work than my actual job. The times I was most relaxed were during my summer weekends at Barnegat. I always looked forward to them.” “But there were girls there, too -- women. Do you ever think about them – and Claire?” I laughed again. “I think about Claire whenever I have time to think about anyone. But she knows that this year I’ve given over to you. I promised.” Mary considered that as we chastely snuggled into bed “She doesn’t seem to mind,” she went on. “You know she and I talk and write all the time.” “I know that,” I said, smiling. “I see the mail.” “And she always mentions you.” I laughed at that. “Now, you’ve got me trapped. If I say, ‘Good,’ I’ll sound like a jerk. And if I don’t say, ‘Good,’ I’ll sound even worse.” “I just don’t want you to forget her.” “And does that come above or below you’re wondering what I look like without my bathing trunks?” We both laughed at that. In fact, we had a pretty good laugh, and in other circumstances, it might have led to something. But she was almost six months pregnant. And I was – above everything -- her doctor.
  15. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 1

    Sure thing, but be careful: reading a few of these can go a long way, and you soon feel like an English teacher, correcting papers.
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