Authors: Philip Roth
“Oh, it's not all ridiculous. It seems that way to you only because you're so intensity-afflicted.”
“And whose epithet is that? Mary's too?”
“No, mine. I've got the same disease.”
“In that dress?”
“In this dress. Don't be fooled by the dress.”
The phone began its ringing again.
“Seems like he's slipped past the guard,” said Zuckerman and opened the book to pass the time while she decided whether or not to answer.
So now for the metamorphosis,
This actress was constituted by feminine youthfulness, though not in the usual sense of the term. What is normally called youthfulness falls prey to the years; for the grip of time may be most loving and careful, but it seizes everything finite just the same. But in this actress there has been an essential genius which corresponds to the very idea: feminine youthfulness. This is an idea, and an idea is something quite differentâ
“Is the point you're making, reading in my little book, that you are nothing like the notorious character in your own? Or,” she asked, once the phone had stopped ringing, “is it that I'm not desirable?”
“To the contrary,” said Zuckerman. “Your allure is staggering and you can't imagine how depraved I am.”
“Then borrow the book and read it at home.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
He came down into the deserted lobby at close to four, carrying the Kierkegaard. The moment he stepped out of the revolving door, Caesara's limousine pulled up in front of the hotel, and there was Caesara's driver, the dude who'd been reading
saluting him through the open window. “Drop you somewhere, Mr. Zuckerman?”
This too? Had he been instructed to wait until four? Or all night if need be? Caesara had awakened Zuckerman and said, “I'd rather face the dawn alone, I think.” “Painters coming early?” “No. But all the brushing of teeth and flushing of toilets is more than I'm ready for.” Sweet surprise. First faint touch of the girl in the Peter Pan collar. He had to admit he was feeling swamped himself.
“Sure,” he told her driver. “You can take me home.”
“Hop in.” But he didn't hop out to open the door as he did when Miss O'Shea was along. Well, thought Zuckerman, maybe he's finished the book.
They drove slowly up Madison, Zuckerman reading her Kierkegaard under the lamp in the soft back seatÂ â¦
She knows that her name is on everyone's lips, even when they wipe their mouths with their handkerchiefs!
He didn't know if it was just the excitement of a new woman, the thrill of all that unknownnessâand of all that glamourâor if it could possibly be that in just eight hours he had fallen in love, but he devoured the paragraph as though she
inspired it. He couldn't believe his luck. And it didn't seem such a misfortune, either. “No, not entirely ridiculous. Much to be said for stirring the masses, if that's what stirred you too. I'm not going to sneer at how I got here.” To her, and silently, he said this, then wiped his mouth, a little stupefied. All from literature. Imagine that. He would not like to have to tell Dr. Leavis, but he didn't feel the least sacrilegious.
When they got to his house, the driver refused his ten dollars. “No, no, Mr. Z. My privilege.” Then he took a business card from his billfold and handed it out the window. “If we can ever put your mind at ease, sir,” and sped away while Zuckerman stepped under the streetlight to read the card:
He read for the rest of the nightâher bookâand then at nine he phoned the hotel and was reminded that Miss O'Shea wasn't taking calls until noon. He left his name, wondering what he would do with himself and his exultation until they met at two for their walk through the parkâshe'd said it would be happiness enough just doing that. He couldn't look at
The Crisis in the Life of an Actress
again, or the two essays on drama that filled out the little volume. He'd been through them all twice alreadyâthe second time at six a.m., making notes in the journal he kept for his reading. He couldn't stop thinking about her, but that was an improvement over trying to take in what people were thinking, saying, and writing about himâthere is such a thing as self-satiation. “You would imagine,” he said to the empty bookshelves when he came in, “that after wine at dinner, champagne at Elaine's, and intercourse with Caesara, I could put the homework off until morning and get some rest.” But at least sitting at his desk with a pen and a pad and a book, he had felt a little less goofy than lying in bed with her name on his lips like the rest of the fans. It didn't, of course, feel anything like a good night's work; he hadn't felt the excitement of working straight through the night since his last weeks finishing
Nor could he lay claim to some lively new idea about what book to write next. All lively new ideas were packed away like the volumes in the eighty-one cartons. But at least he'd been able to focus on something other than himself being stuffed to bursting at the trough of inanities. He was bursting now with her.
He called the Pierre, couldn't get through, and then didn't know what to do with himself. Begin to unpack the half ton of books, that's what! Bank Street is over! Laura is over! Uncarton all the boxed-in brains! Then uncarton your own!
But he had an even better idea. AndrÃ©'s tailor! Hold the books and buy a suit! For when we fly to Veniceâfor checking in at the Cipriani! (Caesara had allowed, as he was leaving, that the only hotel in the world where she truly enjoyed awakening in the morning was the Cipriani.)
In his wallet he found AndrÃ©'s tailor's card, his shirt-maker's card, his wine merchant's card, and his Jaguar dealer's card; these had been ceremoniously presented to Zuckerman over lunch at the Oak Room the day AndrÃ© had completed the sale to Paramount of the film rights to
bringing Zuckerman's income for 1969 to just over a million, or approximately nine hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars more than he had previously earned in any year of his life. Placing AndrÃ©'s cards in his wallet, Zuckerman had withdrawn a card he had prepared the night before for AndrÃ© and handed it across to himâa large index card on which he had typed a line from the letters of Henry James.
All this is far from being life as I feel it, as I see it, as I know it, as I wish to know it.
But his agent was neither edified nor amused. “The world is yours, Nathan, don't hide from it behind Henry James. It's bad enough that that's what he hid behind. Go see Mr. White, tell him who sent you, and get him to fit you out the way he does Governor Rockefeller. It's time to stop looking like some kid at Harvard and assume your role in history.”
Well, at Mr. White's that morningâwaiting for Caesara to get upâhe ordered six suits. If you're in a sweat over one, why
six? But why in a sweat? He had the dough. All he needed now was the calling.
On which side did he dress? asked Mr. White. It took a moment to fathom the meaning, and then to realize that he didn't know. If
was any indication, he had for thirty-six years given more thought than most to the fate of his genitals, but whither they inclined while he went about the day's uncarnal business, he had no idea.
“Neither, really,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” said Mr. White, and made a note.
On the new fly he was to have buttons. As he remembered, it was a big day in a little boy's life when he was old enough to be trusted not to get himself caught in a zipper and so bid farewell to the buttoned-up fly. But when Mr. White, an Englishman of impeccable grooming and manners, wondered aloud if Mr. Zuckerman might not prefer to change over to buttons, Zuckerman caught the tone and, mopping his face, replied, “Oh, absolutely.” Whatever the Governor has, he thought. And Dean Acheson. His picture also hung among the notables on Mr. White's paneled walls.
When the taking of the measurements was over, Mr. White and an elderly assistant helped Zuckerman back into his jacket without giving any sign that they were handling rags. Even the assistant was dressed for a board meeting of A.T.&T.
Here, as though retiring to the rare-book room at the Bodleian, the three turned to where the bolts of cloth were stored. Fabrics that would serve Mr. Zuckerman for the city and his club; for the country and his weekends; for the theater, for the opera, for dining out. Each was removed from its shelf by the assistant so that Mr. Zuckerman might appreciate the cloth between his fingers. In North America, he was told, with its extremes of climate, a dozen suits would be best to cover every contingency, but Mr. Zuckerman stuck at six. He was drenched already.
Then the linings. Lavender for the gray suit. Gold for the tan suit. A daring floral pattern for the country twillÂ â¦ Then the styling. Two-piece or three-piece? Double-breasted or single-breasted? Two-button front or three-button front? Lapels this wide or this wide? Center vents or side vents? The inside coat pocketâone or two, and how deep? Back trouser pocketsâbutton on the left or the right? And will you be wearing suspenders, sir?
Would he, at the Cipriani, for checking in?
They were attending to the styling of his trousersâMr. White, most respectfully, making his case for a modest flare at the cuff of the twillâwhen Zuckerman saw that finally it was noon. Urgent phone call, he announced. “Of course, sir,” and he was left to himself, amid the bolts of cloth, to dial the Pierre.
But she was gone. Checked out. Any message for Mr. Zuckerman? None. Had she received
message? She had. But where had she gone? The desk had no ideaâthough suddenly Zuckerman did. To move in with AndrÃ© and Mary! She'd left the hotel to shake the unwanted suitor. She had made her choice and it was him!
He was wrong. It was the other guy.
said Mary Schevitz. “I've been trying all morning to reach
“I'm at the tailor's, Mary, suiting up for every contingency. Where is she if she's not with you two?”
“Nathan, you must understandâshe left in tears. I've never seen her so distraught. It killed
She said, âNathan Zuckerman is the best thing that's happened to me in a year.'”
“So where is she then? Why did she go?”
“She flew to Mexico City. She's flying from there to Havana. Nathan dear, I didn't know anything. Nobody's known anything. It's the best-kept secret in the world. She only told me to try to explain to me how badly she felt about you.”
“Told you what?”
“She's been having an affair. Since March. With Fidel Castro. Nathan, you mustn't tell anyone. She wants to end it with him, she knows there's no future there. She's sorry it ever began. But he's a man who won't take no for an answer.”
“As the world knows.”
“He had his UN Ambassador phoning her every five minutes since she arrived. And this morning the Ambassador came to the hotel and insisted on taking her to breakfast. And then she called me to say she was going, that she had to. Oh, Nathan, I do feel responsible.”
“Don't, Mary. Kennedy couldn't stop him, Johnson couldn't stop him, Nixon won't stop him. So how can you? Or I?”
“And you looked so charming together. Have you seen the
“I haven't been out of the fitting room.”
“Well, it's in Leonard Lyons, about the two of you at Elaine's.”
Later that day his mother phoned to tell him that it had been on the air as well; in fact, she was phoning to find out if it could possibly be true that he had flown to Ireland, without even calling her to say goodbye.
“Of course I would have called,” he assured her.
“Then you're not going.”
“Bea Wirth phoned me just a minute ago to say that she heard it on the television. Nathan Zuckerman is off to Ireland to stay at the palatial country estate of Caesara O'Shea. It was on Virginia Graham. I didn't even know she was a friend of yours.”
“She's not, really.”
“I didn't think so. She's so much older than you.”
“She's not, but that isn't the point.”
“She is, darling. Daddy and I saw Caesara O'Shea years ago already, playing a nun.”
“Playing a novice. She was practically a child then.”
“It never sounded from the papers as though she was a child.”
“Well, maybe not.”
“But everything is all right? You feel well?”
“I'm fine. How's Dad?”
“He's a little better. I'm not saying that just to make myself feel good, either. Mr. Metz has been going every afternoon now to read him the
He says Daddy seems to follow perfectly. He can tell by how angry he gets whenever he hears Nixon's name.”