The writings of Richard Kluger
AT NINE-TWENTY, BARBARA MARKEY telephones. Breathless with pleasure. She is delighted by the furniture Martha and Drew picked out. The sideboard arrived that afternoon – at thirty percent under the originally quoted price, Martha thought it a buy and, “It just makes the dining room, I’m telling you.” Martha is pleased Barbara is pleased. “Hey, I’m pushing furniture around this big, empty place – Drew’s due in on the red-eye in the morning – and pretending someone’s just given me a new dollhouse. I only wish I had the knack for this sort of thing.”
“Thank you for having faith in Drew and me. I’m just sorry you couldn’t come with us. Perhaps next Saturday – one more expedition ought to do it.”
“I’m afraid not. Saturday’s my regular shift –”
“Oh. But I thought –”
“And there’s no getting out of it, I’m afraid. All the new people work Saturdays for the first six months; it’s a house rule.”
Oh. But. Oboy. Odear. “Well, why don’t you and I work it out for another day, then?”
“I’m afraid that’s a problem, too. I’m off Sundays and Mondays, and Drew says those are the days you said the antique shops are closed. So I think you two ought to –”
OgoodLord. Heart pounding. Underarms dewing. No wonder something seemed a little funny about his voice when I called to propose the Horner’s Cove expedition. Oboy. The lying stinker. Easy, girl. A little cool, please.
Logic time. Better. Let’s not be so quick with suspicions. After all, it’s not as if his wife didn’t know where he was going and with whom. And it was my idea to go, not his. Then why lie to me about Barbara’s having been called in to work that morning and to her about something I never told him? Markey’s Sunday-Monday Closing Law. What is he up to? Maybe just keeping Barbara and me apart. On the theory we will be clawing each other’s eyes out within twenty minutes. Whereas he is Mr. Dispassion and takes all this decorating nonsense in stride. Woman stuff. Yes, that’s plausible. Likely, even. So why not say that to me straight? Out of loyalty to Barbara? Or has he something else on his mind? And didn’t think I’d go with him alone if he had told me ahead of time she would be working on Saturday? Would I have? No. I don’t know. Perhaps. Probably. Maybe he wanted to check out the action. Or potential action. Or inaction. Maybe. But he behaved like a perfect gentleman. Of course, nerd – this is a bona fide corporation biggie. But he didn’t come on to me at all. No? Then what was lunch all about? And the wine and arugula and Grandpa Azniv? Wouldn’t surprise me if he clipped that picture of the geezer out of an old National Geographic. Be sensible, though – what’s he want with you? My body? Ha. For one thing, Barbara’s is better: longer, leaner, lissome. All that space to romp around in between her shoulders and hips. And if he’s a womanizer, hell, he’s got infinitely riper pickings – the way he wings coast to coast and intercontinentally all the time – than his middle-aged neighborhood decorator. Probably has cuties on the string in five languages. He isn’t at all hard to look at. Or be with. I mean, would you kick him out of your bed? Don’t ask. I’m asking. Shut up and give me a cigarette. Two cigarettes….
It is time for the eleven o’clock news when Martha finally clears her head. She goes down to put the coffee up in the kitchen and snaps on the TV in the den. Inflation, recession, corruption, constipation. Murders, robberies, abductions, kneecappings. Fires, floods, earthquakes, and ten million Model-Ts recalled for faulty axles. McCarren, McCarthy, McBundy, Macbird, McKissinger, McCarter, McJagger…. And now a word about a permanent new headache remedy – death.
It is just before midnight when Herb clumps up the stairs. He must be bushed; his tread is usually lighter. “Congratulate me,” he says, tired-looking but exhilarated.
“Congratulations. For what – surviving the ordeal?”
“For ending it.”
He sits on the edge of the bed and proudly narrates. The board’s conservative bloc wanted to fire Borden Hunter. He had no business going to the movies with his students or driving them around, and his taking a special interest in Rose Peck’s problems because she was a little underprivileged and slow was typical bleeding-heart liberal baloney. The moderates, on the other hand, wanted to do no more than reprimand the teacher, forbid his further fraternizing with students out of class, and put him on probationary status, to be reviewed at the end of the year. Mary Mitchelson, the liberal, was ready to weep over the awfulness of the whole situation and frankly didn’t know which way to turn: A full-dress open hearing would have preserved everybody’s civil liberties and ruined their reputations, whatever the outcome. So they kicked it around and around till Herb proposed his formula: Hunter gets till the end of the year to find a new job, and the girl’s charge against him will be kept in the board’s confidence so long as he stays away from the kids; the slightest hint of wayward behavior will result in his immediate dismissal unless, of course, he insists on a public airing of the whole sordid business.
“So the hardhats are happy,” Herb winds up, “because Hunter goes in June, and the others are satisfied that he can at least leave with dignity and spare the town an ugly spectacle.” He is looking Solomonically smug. “And yours truly is everyone’s favorite arbitrator – for the moment, anyway.”
“You don’t seem terribly thrilled.”
“It’s late. I’m all in…really –”
“You don’t think it was the right thing?”
“Look, I wasn’t there. I don’t have all the facts –”
“Neither did we – that was the problem. What were we supposed to do under those –”
“But you bought the girl’s story, in effect. And for political reasons, not moral ones. Don’t you think it’s a little fishy that she said her mother got it wrong – or that a girl that age lets herself be driven home by an older single man who’s got a reputation as a bit of a weirdo?”
“I thought you were on the girl’s side.”
“All I said was not to assume the worst of her. You people have gone to the other extreme.”
“Just a minute. I don’t think you’re being fair, Martha.”
“Fair? Is the board being fair if Hunter really is a child-molester and it ships him off somewhere else to play gropey – or worse? He should be shown up for what he is and thrown out of the profession. And if he’s innocent, you’ve succeeded in getting rid of a good, caring teacher on a trumped-up charge by a nasty little twit. You may think you’ve solved the problem, but to me it sounds as if all you’ve done is pass the buck and saved the school system a scandal. Some people would call that a cop-out and a cover-up.”
Herb looks crushed. “Thanks,” he says and slides off the bed.
“I’m sorry – but you asked.”
“Sure.” His hand is on the doorknob. “Maybe in the morning you won’t think we’re such jerks.”
“I didn’t say you’re jerks. It’s a hard situation, I admit it. I just don’t think the solution is very principled – or worth celebrating.”
“I’m going down to read for a while.”
At least I will not be alexcomforted tonight with Technique #32 from the Herb Clement School of Sexual Arousal and Fulfillment. I cannot bear much more of that. Your coming on so…so choreographed. Make it up as you go, dammit. More laughter, less solemnity. Please. And a few fewer scruples, too, thank you. Or are you too oral all day to be at it at night? Shall I show you how? But then you’d be following my instructions – that’s as bad as your damned books. I want to get more, and all I’m getting from you is older and tireder.
Click. Dark. Stretch. Lotsa room to spread. My legs. For whom? Not you. Maybe him. God, there is so much of him. Compared to you. A real fanny to grab. All those shoulders to hug. Rippling musculature. In all the right places. Long legs to entwine. Crooked teeth to run my tongue over. Hooray for crooked teeth! And a chest of curls, I’ll bet, to tangle my fingers in. Furry is fun. Juicy is joy. Wet, flowing. Ohhhh. How much of my territory can those big hands cover at once? Would all that weight oppress me or melt me? How would he move me and delight me? How deep is the ocean, how high – blah, blah, blah….
Cerulean blue. Mediterranean. Sun, sand, waves, spume. I am moist. It’s hot in here. Do Armenians practice circumcision?
Martha sleeps. Alone. Fitfully.
In the morning, alone still. He’s not downstairs, either, Out running? No, a note: “Stuff to do at the office. H.” Must still be pissed. Royally. Shall I call him later?
The phone rings in her office at ten. Herb, betcha.
“Martha Clement, Interiors.”
Olord. Redeyed but synergetic. “Drew?”
“Well . . . hello.” Isn’t this a little early for arugula?
©2017 Richard Kluger