Chapter 11 Ray sticks his head inside Cal's office. "Nobody knows," he says, "the trouble she's seen." "What's up?"



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Chapter 11
Ray sticks his head inside Cal's office. "Nobody knows,"

he says, "the trouble she's seen."

"What's up?"

"It seems our secretary is minus a boy friend. At least

that's what I get from the stuff going out over the tele-

phone wires. She's got her own personal Ann Landers

on the other end, I guess. Lord, I wish she'd blow her

nose!"

"You're a hard-hearted bastard," Cal says.

"Yeah, she'll find out how hard-hearted if she doesn't

get some of this mail out. Not that I'd presume to com-

pare it with the tragedy of the century that's going on

out there."

"Somebody who's going through a romantic crisis

shouldn't be expected to get the mail out."

"Hey, whose side are you on?" Ray comes in; shuts

the door behind him. "You through with that pension

plan yet?"

"Not yet."
"Hey, buddy, what have you been doing all morn-

ing?''

"Hey, buddy, don't get on my back. I'm not Cherry."

Ray laughs. "See? What she's doing to me? Making

me into a browbeater and a nagger, with my own part-

ner, Jesus?

An endless parade of secretaries. He has seen them

interviewed, instructed, hired, used, and lost, forever

and ever, on into eternity. They have been doing it for

seven years. It has been that long since they have had

a good legal secretary. Since Lynn Searles.

Poor Cherry. people are like icebergs; one-seventh

visible and operative, and the rest just so much proto-

plasmic energy, seething around under there, looking

for a target to funnel toward. Too bad she picked the

wrong target. Yet it's hard to imagine that giddy, empty

girl with any hidden energies; how did she summon up

that much feeling for anybody? Watch it--your im-

munity is showing. That is it, of course. He has become

immune to the sufferings of others. I don't give a damn.

Let them hurt. The things which hurt instruct -- Benja-

min Franklin. That was one of Arnold's favorites, Not

true, though. The things which hurt don't always in-

struct. Sometimes they merely, hurt. Ask me. Ask

Nancy Hanley. Instruct sounds like such a positive

word, but he doubts whether Ray's wife, even now,

would believe in that saying. In any case, he would not

ask her. A long time ago, and water over the dam.

Lynn Searles. What made him think of her? Stern,

straight-thinking Lynn, who always looked right into

your eyes when she spoke to you, as if she could see

behind them and into your head. He wonders, idly,

what she is doing now. He wonders if Ray knows; if he

knows where she is. Another question he would not ask.

What was that? Water over the dam? Con is right, he will have to watch it, he is getting to think more like Howard every day.
He runs into Carole Lazenby downstairs in the Plaza.

Hatless, wearing a tweed pantsuit, her large-boned,

square figure looks farmlike, out of place here, among

the coeds and snazzy secretaries parading the streets of

Evanston at noontime. And because she looks so real

and so alive, he is absurdly glad to see her; asks her to

go to lunch with him on the spot.

"Gee, nobody's asked me to lunch in ages! I wonder

if I'll know how to act!"

She offers to take him to the University Sandwich

Shop, where she commands a discount with her student

I.D.

"What are you taking?" he asks.

She laughs, self-consciously. "It's called Search for

Identity."

Funny, he would never have picked her out as a

woman with identity problems. He tells her so, but she

just laughs.

"Oh, come on. Everybody has them, Cal. Looking

forty in the face is what scared me. Maybe if I was your

wife, I could handle it better."

"Why?"

"Why?" She laughs again. "Oh, I don't know. I guess

because she doesn't look it."

A pleasant lunch. He has forgotten how easy she is to

talk to, how genuine. She asks about Con, and that

makes it easy for him to inquire after Joe, to mention

how he misses seeing him around the house, as he used

to.

"Yes, they don't spend much time together, do they?

Well, you tell Connie that I miss him. Tell him to stop

over some time soon. Beth, too. How is she? I only see

her at bridge once a month, and we never seem to get

a chance to talk."

"She's busy, too," Cal says. "She's chairing the tennis

tournament at Onwentsia next spring. She spends a lot

of time over there."

"I admire her organization," Carole says. "She's such

a perfectionist. And yet she never lets herself get

trapped into things she doesn't want to do. Now, there's

an art. I'm just beginning to learn the trick myself. I

hope it's not too late!"

He walks Carole to the corner; sends his greetings to

John, and to Kaytee, their daughter.

"We'll get together," he promises.

On the way back to work he thinks, She never lets

herself get trapped. Not strictly true. He can remember

a period of their lives when she felt distinctly trapped.

When Jordan was two years old, with Connie toddling

around after him at ten months, both of them spreading

havoc in that tiny northside apartment. Those first five

years just passed in a blurt he has heard her say gaily

at parties. But he remembers them, and remembers

the scenes: her figure, tense with fury as she scrubbed

the fingermarks from the walls; she bursting suddenly

into tears because of a toy left out of place, or a spoonful

of food thrown onto the floor from the high chair. And

it did not pay him to become exasperated with her.

Once he had done so, had shouted at her to forget the

damned cleaning schedule for once. She had flown into

a rage, railed at him, and flung herself across the bed,

in hysterics. Everything had to be perfect, never mind

the impossible hardship it worked on her, on them all;

never mind the utter lack of meaning in such perfec-

tion, weighed as it was against the endless repetition of

days, weeks, months. They learned, all of them, that certain things drove her to the point of madness: dirt tracked in on a freshly scrubbed floor; water-spotted shower stalls; articles of clothing left out of place, And, he had to admit, he liked a clean house; he liked the order she brought into his life, perfectionist that she

was.

And so had he been, after a fashion. No more. Not

since the summer before last and an unexpected July

storm on Lake Michigan. He had left off being a perfec-

tionist then, when he discovered that not promptly

kept appointments, not a house circumspectly clean,

not membership in Onwentsia, or the Lake Forest Golf

and Country Club, or the Lawyers' Club, not power, or

knowledge, or goodness -- not anything cleared you

through the terrifying office of chance; that it is chance

and not perfection that rules the world.
"I saw Nancy Hanley today. Having lunch at the

Deerpath."

"Oh?" He keeps one eye on the newspaper before his

face: Welfare Fraud Investigated.

"She said Ray's been putting on weight."

"He has?"

"He has?" she teases. "Darling, Ray Hanley. Your

partner."

"Oh, yeah, him." Grinning, he puts down the paper.

"I hadn't noticed. Yeah, I guess he has been."

"Twenty pounds. That's a lot not to notice."

"That much? How did she happen to tell you that?"

Beth shrugs. "Just conversation. She said she's been

trying to get him to see a doctor. It's just since he quit

smoking. She looks terrific, by the way. Have you seen

her lately?"
"No. That's what Ray said about you."

"Well, she's thin. As thin as I've ever seen her, and

she's done something to her hair. A rinse, I think"

ยท.. officials in the downtown office say as much as

$300,000 may have been misdirected by the

fraudulent claims ....

"I asked her how she stays so thin. She said,. "Worry,

and a bad marriage."

"What?"

She smiles. "Just checking. To see if you were listen-

ing. Would you like a drink before dinner?"

"No, thanks." He glances at his watch. "Is Con home

yet?"

"Not yet."

"It's six-thirty."

"He's been later the past couple of weeks."

"I've got an idea," he says. "Why don't you come

down tomorrow, and take a look at that car with me?

We can have lunch."

"I can't tomorrow."

"I ought to put the order in soon, to get delivery

before Christmas."

"Then, do it," she says. "Do what you like. I'm not

good at picking out cars anyway."

"You don't sound terrifically sold on the idea."

"I'm sold. I think it's a nice idea."

"Well, it would give him some independence. He

wouldn't have to rely on us for rides."

"Fine. We can make it a combination Christmas and

birthday present. You decide. I'll leave it up to you."

If it was up to him, he would give him everything --

sun and moon, eternal happiness, serene and uncom-

plicated, Here, will this fix it? But nothing needs fixing, does it? Things do seem better, more relaxed, just since

Thanksgiving. No, even before that. Is that illusion or

reality?

Illusion or reality. Seven years ago, he had had a

conversation on that very subject with Nancy Hanley.

At the Law Club Christmas Dance, sitting on the upper

deck of the Chicago Yacht Club. Nancy had leaned over

and said to him, "Tell Beth for me how lucky she is, will

you?"

"Why?"

"To have you. And never to have been disillusioned."

He had laughed, embarrassed, knowing where it was

leading. He had emphatically not wanted to go into it,

had never wanted to take sides in the thing, but Nancy

was not about to let him off the hook.

"People make mistakes, Nance."

A mirthless laugh. "Yes, they do."

Carefully, because he had no desire to disturb the

truce that had been so recently effected between them,

he had said, "Don't you think people are entitled to a

few mistakes in a lifetime?"

"No," she said. "What people are entitled to are their

illusions, and frankly, I preferred my illusions about

him. I would have preferred it if he had screwed her

until he was sick of it and gotten rid of her without my

ever having found out about it at all."

"I can't believe that," he told her. "Illusions are for

fairy tales. Your marriage is stronger now--"

"Don't bet on it. And if you ever do a survey, you'll

find that people prefer illusion to reality, ten to one.

Twenty, even. Any odds you want to give, I'll cover."

Worry and a bad marriage. Beth was joking. She said

she had been joking. It had been seven years since Ray's

affair with Lynn. Seven years since Nancy had packed

up the girls and gone to her parents in Oklahoma, and

Ray, wild with grief, had come charging into the office

to tell him.

"How could I have been so stupid, Cal? How could I

have been so selfish, thinking I had it so tough, having

to come home to a squalling baby every night? She's

gone, Cal! She left me! What the hell am I going to do

without her?"

Well, things change; people change. Lynn had left,

and Nancy had come back, and they had moved out of

their apartment and bought the big house in Glencoe.

And surely Nancy is not the type of woman to live with

somebody she doesn't love "for the sake of the chil-

dren.'' No illusion there. They are still married; there-

fore, they are happy. But he sees the point she had been

making. Depending upon the reality one must face,

one may prefer to opt for illusion.

He wants so much to believe that all is well. But,

then, if it is, why does he keep taking pulses, and look-

ing for signs?

The front door opens. He hears the familiar sounds,

of his feet scuffing the doormat, of the hangers clanging

against each other in the closet as he hangs up his

jacket.

"Hi. You're late tonight."

"Am I?" He looks at his watch. "Yeah, a little. Hey,

it's snowing."

"Is it? Must have just started."

"Yeah, it looks nice." He sits down, and Cal hands

him the sports section. "You finished? Thanks."

"How's it going?"

"Fine. Great. He gave back the trig quiz today. I got

an A on it."

"Great. Terrific."

"Well," he says and shrugs, "it was just a quiz."

But a gift. To have offered it is to show that it must

have value for the giver, also.

"That your first A this semester?"

He looks up from the paper. "Yeah. I'm getting back

in the swing of things, huh?" He grins.

So truth is in a certain feeling of permanence that

presses around the moment. They are ordinary people,

after all. For a time they had entered the world of the

newspaper statistic; a world where any measure you

took to feel better was temporary, at best, but that is

over. This is permanent. It must be.

Beth comes in from the kitchen. "Dinner's ready."

Conrad puts the paper down. "I'm coming. Just have

to wash my hands."

"Didn't you just take a shower?"

He grins again. "Forgot to wash my hands."

Cal laughs. "Tricky.


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