Read Close Relations Online

Authors: Susan Isaacs

Close Relations (6 page)

Three months later, they spent their honeymoon touring Great Britain, visiting Old Bailey and the Inns of Court, buying cashmere sweaters and melton bathrobes and mohair stoles to cover Barbara Lindenbaum Drexler’s soft, generous, and finally compliant body.

“Why don’t you take the afternoon off?” Barbara suggested from her chaise. “Come on. We’ll visit a gallery or two. Have tea at the Palm Court. It would do you good.”

“I can’t. Paterno’s giving a big Veterans of Foreign Wars speech tonight, and I have to write something bellicose. And then I have a pile of sympathy letters—”

“Sympathy letters?”

“You know. We check the obituary page every day to see if anyone Paterno knows has died. Then we get out our file card on the person, find the name of the wife or child or whatever, and write a touchingly sympathetic personal letter. ‘Dear Mary-Louise: I was deeply saddened to hear of your loss. Big Jim was a fine man, a credit to the trade union movement. Blah, blah, blah. Please extend my condolences to Little Jim and Peg.’ They’re on our file card too. ‘With warmest personal regards, Bill Paterno.’”

“Really? You really do that?”

“Sure. If, God forbid, anything happened to you, Philip would get a letter—”


“It’s true. He contributed five hundred to the last campaign. If he’d contributed a thousand, he’d get a handwritten letter. Come on, Barbara. Don’t look so shocked. I was kidding.”

“About the whole thing?”

“No. About the handwritten letter. Anyway, I have a pile of work. But lunch was fabulous. The chicken salad! Are you sure it’s dietetic?”

“Yes. What I want to know is, why won’t you allow yourself any fun?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You won’t go to an art gallery. You won’t go—”

“Barbara, I told you. I have a lot of responsibilities. There’s going to be a primary campaign soon, and I have to start revving up for it.”

Barbara rose from the chaise longue and paced across her beige and blue and rose Persian rug. She rubbed her upper arms with her hands, as though she was chilled. “I’m not talking just about today. You know that. But the only thing in your life seems to be politics. And that man. No. Wait. Let me talk. And the only thing I hear about him is that he’s an Irish Apollo and ninety percent of the women in New York are panting for him and—just wait—and that you have not only hooked him but hold onto him by not letting him out of bed except to go to work.”

“You have no right to do this, Barbara.”

“I have every right. You’re one of the most intelligent women I know. Or were. I remember, no matter what we talked about—literature, art, music—you always had an original comment. All through college, all during the time you were married to Barry, you were so alive. I’d call you up and first thing, you’d say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to read so-and-so’s book. It’s brilliant. It’s witty.’ I mean, you’d get excited, passionate. And now—”

“Now I’m not a twenty-year-old kid with a goddamn library card. I’m thirty-five and have a demanding job, and as for Jerry …”

Barbara stopped in front of the small chair I was sitting in. Her shoes, added to her height, made her loom over me like a giant threatening shadow in a horror movie. “You are a thirty-five-year-old woman who is cheating herself. I know you’re going to say I sound foolish, but sex and politics aren’t enough. Even for you, Marcia. Look at you. You dress in the drabbest colors!”

“What would you like me to do, Barbara? Go on a shopping spree to Dior with you? Spend a month’s salary on a scarf? I didn’t marry a—”

“Marcia, you’re making a decent living. There’s no reason in this world why you can’t afford nice-looking clothes, clothes that will emphasize what you are—a wonderful-looking woman. You dress like a beatnik, with those black tights. You never do anything anymore. When was the last time you went to the theater? When?”

“I’ll answer when you stop badgering me, damn it.”

“I’ll tell you when. It’s when I threatened never to speak to you again unless you saw
The Iceman Cometh
with me. When Philip had the flu. And before that? Probably something in Washington with Barry. Listen, if you were some philistine, I wouldn’t be saying anything. But I was with you. I saw how excited you got, how involved you were in the performance. But you’ve cut yourself off from that pleasure. Anything beautiful, anything fine, is no good to you.”

“What do you want me to do? Tell me.”

“Allow yourself to enjoy things, feel things.”

“Barbara, I do. It’s just that my interests aren’t what yours are. I don’t want marriage. I don’t want an estate on Long Island. I don’t want an apartment in Paris.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not you. Understand that, Barbara. We’re cousins, we’re close friends, but we’re very different people. I don’t just work for money, because I have to. I work because I love to. And I don’t live with Jerry Morrissey because no one will marry me.”

“You’re living with him to ensure no one will marry you.”

“Barbara, first you give me this gorgeous lunch with the most perfect chicken salad I’ve ever tasted and then you follow it up with out-of-season raspberries that must cost the same as a pint of rubies and then you give me indigestion with this glib analysis that sounds like you stopped off and picked it up at your mother’s house on your way into the city. Come on, now. You were raised to marry, to be a wife, and you do it better than anyone else I know. But I wasn’t raised the same way. Really.”

“Of course you were. You were raised with the same goals, the same aspirations I was.”

I stood. “But I put them aside when I divorced Barry. I’ve found other things that mean more to me.”

“No you haven’t.”

“Yes I have. I really have. But I’m not going to try to persuade you of that. I don’t have to justify myself. If it comforts all of you to think I’m walking around unhappy, incomplete just because I don’t wear fancy shoes—”

“Marcia, it’s not the shoes. It’s what will make you truly happy. Being married to someone fine, someone caring …”

“Someone rich. Go ahead. Say it.”

“You know, that’s a very cruel thing you just said.”

“Well, how do you think I feel, Barbara? You call me, tell me how much you miss me, how you can’t wait to see me, and then when you see me, you tell me that my life is sterile.”

“All right. I’m sorry. All I’m saying is that you can have sex and politics and everything
marriage. You want what I want, Mar. It’s just that…” Barbara paused and adjusted the strap of her thin, elegant gold watch. “Okay. No more. I promise. Really. I’m sorry if I overstepped the bounds of cousinhood and friendship.”

I sighed, weary from our argument, from wielding her heavy sterling knives and forks and minding my manners while her maid served us. “Okay. Listen, I have to go now. I’ll speak to you next week.”

“Are you sure you don’t have time for just one gallery?”

“I’m sure. Positive.”

An hour and a quarter later, I stood before Paterno’s desk, listening to him read the speech on civil defense I had just written. “Preparedness doesn’t stop at the Pentagon,” he intoned. “We must push—”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Too many p’s. Take out ‘push’ and put in ‘move.’”

“I’m not looking forward to tonight,” Paterno said. He put both elbows on his desk and rubbed his big forehead in his hands. “I’d rather rest up. It’s been a rough week, and these guys are an awful audience. Remember last year? Half of them were soused and kept calling out questions.”

“Yes. Oh, God, now I remember. They were awful. That guy who got up to ask you about where you had stood on Vietnam and then started yelling about getting it in the hip in Normandy. What finally happened? You just stopped, didn’t you?”

“Yes. Sure. Especially after that idiot with the medals started arguing with the guy about Normandy. What was it?”

“Trenches, I think. Whether the trenches were deep enough. Anyway, you’ll sound like a tough militarist tonight. They’ll probably salute instead of applauding.”

“Why do I have to go through this? Speaking to all these jerks about things I don’t know about. Why a city official has to jabber on and on about defense posture, I’ll never know. Even a candidate for governor. What the hell—excuse me—can the governor of New York do about West Africa or East Asia? Why can’t I just shut up and work?”

“Because I need the job, Bill.”

“Well, I guess that’s as good a reason as any. Where was I?”

“Getting rid of ‘push.’”

Paterno marked his copy of the speech. He sighed. “I should have listened to my mother, been a tenor.”

“What stopped you?”

“No talent. Did you ever think of doing something different?”

“No,” I replied. “Never.”


illiam Paterno’s lawyer suggested that he get an electroencephalogram.

“You really think so?” Paterno demanded, his large head bent forward intently, his slender shoulders hunched up around his ears.

“Well,” Eileen Gerrity said, “it could rule out a brain tumor.”

“Dammit, Eileen!” Jerry, from the chair nearest Paterno’s desk, glared across the room at the couch where Eileen and I were sitting. “This is no time—”

“I mean,” Paterno said, ignoring Jerry, “I’m not really worried that it’s a brain tumor. It’s just that I’ve been getting these headaches for the last few weeks. All of a sudden. I’ve never been headache-prone, and now, every morning, I wake up with this tightness around my forehead, and by the time I get dressed and downstairs for breakfast it’s developed into a—”

“Look,” soothed Eileen, smoothing out a crease in her gray flannel skirt, “you’re under a lot of pressure. Why give yourself something else to worry about? I’ll make a few calls, get the number of a good neurologist, and you can go have yourself checked out.”

“Does this kind of thing, I mean, around the forehead, have any—urn, significance?” Paterno asked, talking to a pile of papers on his desk.

“Yes,” Jerry hissed. “It means you’re a marked man, Bill. You’ll be dead before sunrise tomorrow.”

“Jerry,” Eileen said softly, glancing up at the ceiling.

“Eileen,” Jerry crooned, matching her voice in softness, “if you cater to that kind of crap, he’ll be in a wheelchair by the time Marcia drafts his declaration. Just ignore him.”

Her voice grew a little sharper. “You don’t just ignore something like that. If he’s on edge, doesn’t it make more sense to reassure him?”

“No,” said Jerry, “no, no, no.” He slammed his fist on the edge of the desk. “Once you start playing his hypochondriac games…”

Paterno still leaned forward, listening intently, his dark eyes darting from chair to couch to chair. It was not clear whose side he was on, although he seemed to nod more when Jerry spoke. I shifted around, trying to find a perfect niche for myself, somewhere between the back and the armrest of the sofa, debating whether or not to direct the meeting back to its purpose: deciding the best time for Paterno to declare his candidacy for governor.

Eileen stretched a long thin finger at Jerry and suggested he was insensitive. Jerry countercharged with an accusation of mollycoddling. Paterno remained aloof, although an expression of contentment that seemed nearly a smile played about his mouth. He glanced aross the room, finally focusing on a gleaming brass log basket that sat by the mahogany mantel of his massive nonworking fireplace.

The three top officials of New York City, Paterno, the mayor, and the comptroller, all worked in surroundings that would have been appropriate only for an Anglican bishop. In Paterno’s office, the chairs and couch were all of a worn oxblood leather, except for the chair Jerry sat on. That was a pull-up of glossy mahogany, upholstered in a faded blue brocade. It looked as if it had been dragged in from some dining room, an extra seat for a visiting vicar.

“Listen, you two,” Paterno began slowly, “we really ought to get down to the business of planning a campaign.” He rubbed his hands together, not in glee but in a kind of awed respect, as if conscious of touching the hand of the future governor of New York. But none of us spoke. We peered out the window, down to our shoes, over at the painting of Giovanni da Verrazano Discovering the Narrows. We looked everywhere except at William Paterno.

“Let’s get started,” he finally ordered. “You three are the core of any campaign organization I’m going to have, and you’re just sitting here like you’ve got sunstroke. Wake up! That’s better. Now, Eileen and Morrissey, no more bickering, okay?” They nodded. “Good. Marcia, you have to speak up more. There won’t be time to write memos. All right?” I nodded. “Good. Now, the first thing we have to come to grips with is timing. Now, today is …”

“March tenth,” I offered eagerly.

“Good. Thanks. Okay, it’s March tenth. We have a few weeks of enforced grace, at least till the end of the month, when the official state mourning period is over. It would not look good if I declared my candidacy and the TV cameras picked up a flag still flying half mast for Gresham. Right? By the way, does anyone have to go to the bathroom or anything before we really get started? No? Okay, now, when are petitions due?”

“Not till June fifteenth,” Eileen said.

“Hmmm.” Many men, when thinking, rub their foreheads. Paterno massaged his nose between his thumb and index finger. “So if we figure six weeks for a decent petition drive, we can wait to declare till the beginning of May, which should—”

“That’s too late,” Jerry said.

“No it’s not,” Paterno argued. “Not if we have everything ready to go. Not if—”

“By that time, do you know how many deadheads will have declared? Six thousand radicals, five thousand one-issue jerks who told their mommies to watch for them on television, and three or four viable candidates. And you’ll be viewed as just another one of them.” Jerry caressed the cleft in his chin with the knuckle of his index finger.

Paterno looked at Jerry and stopped rubbing his nose. “But if we declare too soon—” Paterno began.

“Bill, listen to me,” Jerry continued. “If you come out soon, right in the beginning of April, you’ll get all the coverage you want. They’ll treat you like a statesman, a gentleman. Every other candidate who declares after that will automatically be compared to you.”

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