Issue 20, Autumn-Winter 1958-1959
The first time I saw Brenda she asked me to hold her glasses. Then she stepped out to the edge of the diving board and looked foggily into the pool; it could have been drained, myopic Brenda would never have known it. She dove beautifully, and a moment later she was swimming back to the side of the pool, her head of short-clipped auburn hair held up, straight ahead of her, as though it were a rose on a long stem. The rose glided dry to the edge and then it was beside me. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes watery though not from the water. She extended a hand for her glasses but did not put them on until she turned and headed away. I watched her move off. Her hands suddenly appeared behind her. She caught the bottom of her suit between thumb and index finger and flicked what flesh had been showing back where it belonged. My blood jumped.
That night, before dinner, I called her.
“Who are you calling?” my Aunt Gladys asked.
“Some girl I met today.”
“Doris introduced you?”
“Doris wouldn’t introduce me to the guy who drains the pool. Aunt Gladys.”
“Don’t criticize all the time. A cousin’s a cousin. How did you meet her?”
“I didn’t really meet her. I saw her.”
“Who is she?”
“Her last name is Patimkin.”
“Patimkin I don’t know,” Aunt Gladys said, as if she knew anybody who belonged to the Green Lane Country Club.
“You’re going to call her you don’t know her?”
“Yes,” I explained. “I’ll introduce myself.”
“Casanova,” she said, and went back to preparing my uncle’s dinner. None of us ate together: my Aunt Gladys ate at five o’ clock, my cousin Susan at five thirty, me at six, and my uncle at six thirty. There is nothing to explain this beyond the fact that my aunt is crazy.
“Where’s the suburban phone book?” I asked after pulling out all the books tucked under the telephone table.
“The suburban phone book. I want to call Short Hills.”
“That skinny book? What, I gotta clutter my house with that, I never use it?”
“Where is it?”
“Under the dresser where the leg came off.”
“For God’s sake,” I said.
“Call information better. You’ll go yanking around there, you’ll mess up my drawers. Don’t bother me, you see your uncle’ll be home soon. I haven’t even fed you yet.”
“Aunt Gladys, suppose tonight we all eat together. It’s hot, it’ll be easier for you.”
“Sure, I should serve four different meals at once. You eat pot roast, Susan with the cottage cheese, Max has steak. Friday night is his steak night, I wouldn’t deny him. And I’m having a little cold chicken. I should jump up and down twenty different times? What am I, a workhorse?”
“Why don’t we all have steak, or cold chicken—”
Twenty years I’m running a house. Go call your girl friend.”
But when I called, Brenda Patimkin wasn’t home. She’s having dinner at the club, a woman’s voice told me. Will she be home after (my voice was two octaves higher than a choir boy’s)? I don’t know, the voice said, she may go driving golf balls. Who is this? I mumbled some words—nobody she wouldn’t know I’ll call back no message thank you sorry to bother... I hung up somewhere along in there. Then my aunt called me and I steeled myself for dinner.
She pushed the black whirring fan up to High and that way it managed to stir the cord that hung from the kitchen light.
“What kind of soda you want? I got ginger ale, plain seltzer, black raspberry, and a bottle of cream soda I could open up.”
“None, thank you.”
“You want water?”
“I don’t drink with my meals. Aunt Gladys, I’ve told you that every day for a year already—”
Max could drink a whole case with his chopped liver only. He works hard all day. If you worked bard you’d drink more.”
At the stove she heaped up a plate with pot roast, gravy, boiled potatoes, and peas and carrots. She put it in front of me and I could feel the heat of the food in my face. Then she cut two pieces of rye bread and put that next to me, on the table.
I forked a potato in half and ate it, while Aunt Gladys, who had seated herself across from me, watched. “You don’t want bread,” she said, “I wouldn’t cut it it should go stale.”
“I want bread,” I said.
“You don’t like with seeds, do you?”
I tore a piece of bread in half and ate it.
“How’s the meat?” she said.
“You’ll fill yourself with potatoes and bread, the meat you’ll leave over I’ll have to throw it out.”
Suddenly she leaped up from the chair. “Salt!” When she returned to the table she plunked a salt shaker down in front of me—pepper wasn’t served in her home: she’d heard on Galen Drake that it was not absorbed by the body, and it was disturbing to Aunt Gladys to think that anything she served might pass through a gullet, stomach, and bowel just for the pleasure of the trip.