Authors: Susan Isaacs
“But they don’t care what you wear.”
“How do you know?”
“Why should they care? You’re smart, pretty, good company. Do you think they’d overlook all your good qualities to criticize your clothes?”
“I just feel that everybody’s waiting for me to gag on the fish course. Look, do I demand you feel comfortable in a TV studio? It’s not your world. So why should I relax in somebody’s house on Sutton Place?”
“I thought your mother gave you fish lessons.”
lessons. Fish lessons were graduate work.” I propped myself on my elbow. “Do you want to see something I learned on my own?”
“Would it be acceptable on Sutton Place?”
“Definitely not.” I climbed off the bed and took off my dress, watching David grow under his well-tailored navy slacks. His hand reached out and felt for the lamp. “Would you mind keeping the light on?”
“You don’t mind?” he asked.
“I want to see you.” I dropped my clothes to the floor and stood watching as David eased off his slacks and under-shorts. I climbed on top of him, straddling him. I leaned forward and put my mouth to his ear. “Give me a riding lesson,” I whispered.
There were three Davids. There was urbane David, delighting his hostesses with bright conversation, impressing his partners with his breathtaking grasp of the United Kingdom Tax Treaty.
There was my friend David who told me about his life. His marriage had been so bleak that mine seemed idyllic in comparison. He and Lynn, who had everything in common, had nothing in common. Their evenings alone had been bleak silences dotted with “Have you finished the
or “Cousin Joan had a baby girl.” Their sex life was joyless.
“She would only do it in the dark,” he explained.
“Did you ever tell her that you might like a light on?” He shook his head. “Did you ever ask why she liked the dark? Was it modesty? Fear of seeing you? Maybe she just got worked up by the anonymity of the darkness.”
“She didn’t get worked up.”
“But you never spoke to her about it, David?”
Their honeymoon had been difficult, and Lynn appeared to dread his advances. Even a passing stroke of the hand could cause her to stiffen. For his part, he thought sex overrated.
“You? You thought sex overrated? I can’t believe it!” I announced. We were lying together on the chaise on his terrace, naked.
“I was … I don’t know. I thought something was wrong with me, that my needs were uncivilized. But fairly soon my desires seemed to fade away. Not just for Lynn, but in general. This may sound odd—”
“I became numb.”
“You never thought it might be different with someone else?”
David rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “How could I let myself think of someone else?”
“My mother was dead. My father was—well, my father. Lynn was the only one who cared about me.”
“How did she care about you? In what way?”
Lynn Hoffman had three affairs. She confessed all three times and apologized twice. The third time she told David to speak to her lawyer.
“What did you do when she told you?”
“Do? The first time?” I nodded. He looked away from me as he spoke. “I told her I was terribly hurt and disappointed.”
“How? I can’t remember. But it had been with her yoga instructor, and he—”
“David, did you yell? Scream? Carry on?”
“You keep wanting me to behave with great excesses of emotion. I’m not that way. I wasn’t raised to carry on.”
“But she was your wife. She had an affair and then had the vindictiveness to tell you about it. I don’t know. I told you what happened to me, how I caught Barry with someone. I didn’t say, ‘Oh, Barry. I expected more from a man of your caliber.’ I can’t understand your acceptance of her. Your passivity. Don’t look like I’ve said something hideous and boorish. Talk about it.”
“You make it sound as though her adultery was my fault. What should I have done? Gone after her guru with a shotgun? Slapped her around?”
“I’ll bet that’s what she wanted. Some indication you were passionate about her.”
“Oh, come on. Marcia. She knew I cared about her.”
Another night, we sat across from each other at a booth in a restaurant in Chinatown. “Do you know what the worst of it is?” David asked. “That I didn’t put up a custody fight. I had a decent chance of winning. She was quite public about it, carrying on with Arthur at some writers’ conference while we were still married. And there were the two other times. But everyone—my father, my aunts and uncles, my friends, even my own lawyer—advised against it, that it would be traumatic for the children. So I caved in.”
“Is she a good mother, though?”
“Yes, in a way. She’s very sincere and serious. She buys every child-care book that’s published, and if she reads “Children thrive on affection” she’ll walk over and pat their heads.”
Later I asked, “Did you have any affairs when you were married?”
“Not even after she …”
“Especially not then.” David felt inadequate. It was not until more than a year after his divorce that he slept with his second woman, a secretary to a lawyer he had been working with in Zurich. Since his German was poor and her English worse, they hadn’t much to say, although he knew her name was Gerda. He postponed his departure a week. He discovered he was adequate.
That was the third David, my lover. He intrigued me much more than the other two. He was neither sophisticated nor imaginative, but he was wildly eager. He’d grab and hold me so tight, whispering my name, that I knew for certain that it was me and only me he wanted; a reasonable facsimile would not do. And I lusted for him. My greed for David was nearly boundless. Sometimes I became irritable when urbane David or David my friend intruded. I wanted to shoo them off, so my lover would be free to throw me on the bed. I dreamed of his body, not his mind, not his character. Even when we were finished and I was satisfied to the point of near paralysis, my imagination pulled him inside me again and again.
“David,” I said late one night, “Lynn was the biggest jerk who ever lived.”
He eased the pillow out from under my hips, fluffed it, and placed it under my head. “Do you want to hear something odd?” I nodded. “Lynn made a pass at me about a year ago.” Although the lights were dim, I could tell he was blushing. “I was up in Connecticut, waiting for the children to get their things together. They’re never ready. I was sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of coffee with Lynn, chatting. We’re reasonably amicable. Well, all of a sudden, I felt something. It was her hand on the inside of my thigh, very high up. And she said, in a low, seductive voice that sounded nothing like her, ‘I’m taking a seminar at Hunter.’”
“What did you say?”
“I said ‘oh’ or some such thing. And then she said, ‘I’ll be in town every Thursday, David. We could have lunch.’”
“Of course not. Besides, I was seeing someone else.”
David had had several romances after Zurich, but the most serious was an eight-month-long affair with a woman he had met while riding in Central Park.
“Claudia was marvelous,” he told me one evening. She was ten years older than he, and married. “Beautiful. A great sense of humor.”
“What did she do?”
“Do? Nothing much. Some charity work, some painting. She had a studio, but she really just dabbled, although I think she got a lot of pleasure from it.”
“Were you in love with her?”
“I don’t know. I think I could have been, but all the sneaking around took the edge off for me.” He paused. “Marcia, don’t look away.”
“I don’t like this pussyfooting around we’re doing either, not telling Barbara and Philip we’re seeing each other, not—”
“David, I’m in the middle of a campaign. It’s not easy. Your goddamn uncle is spending quintuple the money we are. I’m doing sixteen hours of work in eight so I can be with you. I’m frazzled. I wake up in the morning so exhausted that I fall asleep in the subway going to work. Please, I have enough on my mind right now.”
But we were caught. David was spotted first.
“David! How marvelous to see you!” We were strolling up Fifth Avenue, hand in hand, on the way back to his apartment after an organ recital at St. Patrick’s. We both wheeled around. “David!” the voice said again.
“Mrs. Drexler!” he responded. “How good to see you.” And there they were, Alfred and Clarisse Drexler, walking down the avenue with a huge fuzzy dog on a leash. “I hadn’t heard that you were in town.”
“Heel, Boris,” she said. “We just flew in for the week. We wanted to … oh, my—well, goodness, it’s Marcia, isn’t it?”
“Hello, Mrs. Drexler. Mr. Drexler.” I recalled my mother’s saying that refined people say “hello,” never “hi.” I smiled. “It’s so nice to see you.”
“It’s good to see you again,” Mr. Drexler said. “You too, David. You’re looking fit as ever. But I didn’t realize you two …”
His wife cut him off expertly. “How is your campaign going, Marcia?”
“Pretty well, thanks.” David’s hand held mine tightly. Mrs. Drexler was eyeing the hand-holding. “We’ve pulled ahead in the polls, and we’re getting a pretty good press.”
“Marcia’s been writing some nasty speeches about my uncle and they’ve been very effective.” The three of them smiled. I gathered Sidney Appel’s displeasure pleased them all enormously.
We chatted for a few more minutes about the campaign. David would not let go of my hand. Then Mr. Drexler launched into a dissertation on economic conditions in the town in France where they owned a villa. I couldn’t grasp the name of the town because Mr. Drexler’s accent was so perfect it sounded like Lmmm. But David knew Lmmm well because he had visited the Drexlers there several times. Mr. Drexler then related his caretaker’s analysis of the inflationary spiral—in French. David nodded. “Not bad for a peasant,” Mr. Drexler remarked.
David answered him by quoting Montaigne—in French. It must have been a witty remark for the Drexlers laughed. And we left each other with genteel good-byes—in English—and warm hope-to-see-you-soons.
“All right, what’s wrong?” David asked, as I pulled my hand from his.
“’Not bad for a peasant.’ My God, what condescension.”
“He wasn’t being—”
“What does he think I am, for God’s sake? I’m a peasant. And so is his daughter-in-law, and so are fifty percent of his grandsons. And four generations ago, no one was inviting the Drexlers to tea. A peasant! I’m every goddamn bit as intelligent as he is.”
“Who’s saying you’re not?”
“You. Making all kinds of references in French, just to put me in my place. And all that upper-class crap. ‘Ooh, David, so too too marvelous to see you.’ ‘Oh, my dear Mrs. Drexler.’ Let me tell you something, David. You and I are not a match made in heaven. I cannot begin to tell you how wrong we are for each other, and if it weren’t for the sex business you’d realize it too.”
“Do you realize you’ve been blowing up at me on the average of every four days?”
“I have not.”
“You have. You relax with me, have a wonderful time, but the minute you sense how close we’re getting, you pull away and start behaving like a lunatic.”
“I don’t behave like a lunatic.”
“You most certainly do. What do you think, I plotted with Alfred Drexler to speak French to point out the deficiencies of your education? It happens that the conversation had nothing whatsoever to do with you, and if you’ll forgive me, I wasn’t thinking about you at all when I was talking to the Drexlers.”
“You’re always the gentleman, aren’t you? So polite.”
“It’s a hereditary trait of the upper classes, my dear. Like the Hapsburg jaw. Now listen to me. You’re just upset that your secret’s out.”
“Well, you wouldn’t let go of my hand. Of course it’s out. Mrs. Drexler is going to run right back to her apartment and call Barbara and demand to know all the details and Barbara will say
and by tomorrow I’ll be receiving an entire delegation of my family. They won’t leave me alone. I’ll never be able to be natural with you again. You don’t know them.”
“I do know them and I’m glad it’s happening. I don’t like carrying on this back-street romance. There’s no need for it. We’re both free and clear.”
“David, we’ve had so much fun.”
“But it can’t stay that way. They become hysterical at the thought of me being single, working, and enjoying my life—managing by myself. They’re going to put horrendous pressure on me to entice you or seduce you or whatever, and I can’t take that.”
“Well, you’ve already enticed me and seduced me beyond my wildest imaginings. You know how I feel about you.”
We turned the corner to Sixty-seventh Street. “Come on, you can’t pretend this is some lighthearted flirtation. We’re two adults who mesh beautifully together, and I want it to continue and to grow. I don’t want to have to go slinking about, avoiding Barbara and Philip. They’re good friends of mine. And of yours, for goodness’ sake.”
“Why can’t it wait until after the campaign is over, when I can think clearly?”
“You really feel so pressured?”
We stepped into the elevator. The operator, a tiny Irishman with long tufts of white hair sticking out of his ears, greeted us. I didn’t speak until we were in David’s living room.
“I do feel pressured.”
“Because you’re so perfect. You’re exactly what they want for me.”
“What’s wrong with that? I admire their taste.”
“What’s wrong is that you are always wonderful, always polite. I open up to you, I feel so much for you, then all of a sudden I pull back and ask myself: Is he really here, with me, listening to me, or is this some man who’s enduring my blabbing on and on because he can’t be discourteous, because—”
“Marcia, stop that.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt you—”
“You know how I feel about you. Don’t you think it hurts me when you imply that I’m some externally correct robot, some automaton? You called me passive, about the way I behaved with Lynn—”
“David, let me explain.”
“No. You’re right. I was passive. I was covering up a great deal of fury with a few polite objections. I was afraid to make waves. But don’t you understand? That’s why I need you so much. You’re such an iconoclast. At first, at the TV studio, I thought you were pleasant, clever, but no more than a sassy street kid. Then, at the Drexlers’ Fourth of July party, I realized you were a great deal more.