Sunday, July 16, 2017


My gift was delivered at seven
Just as I woke where I lay.
Postmarked explicitly "Heaven,"
My gift was this beautiful day.

One matchless, miraculous mornimg.
Surrendered in trust to my care,
It came bearing only this warning,
                        "Fragile.  Handle with prayer."                       
                           Ernestine Cobern Beyer

January 25, 1988
Weymouth, Massachusetts
To Ed Brecher                  
     Remember me?  We've been out of touch for so long, I wouldn't be surprised if I had permanently departed from your thoughts.  You have been in mine frequently enough to prompt this letter.
     I spent yesterday afternoon reading Strunk's Elements of Style and wishing I'd heeded you years ago when you recommended  "the little book."  With new sensitivity to my overuse of adjectives and adverbs, I have crossed them out by the dozens in old manuscripts, and in current writing, relentlessly eliminate them as fast as they hit the page. Elements of Style will be my bible while I attempt to expand "Ernestine and Jeeves," an article about my mother, into a book.
     I'm also enclosing a copy of Poetry with a Purpose.  My co‑editor and friend, Fran Allen, is a teacher who fell in love with Mother's poetry.  The workbook format was her inspiration.  We spent one day a week during the summer of '83, sitting by my ex-husband's  pool in Scituate and working on the Comprehension Checks.  He thoughtfully brought cold drinks out to us.  That winter I finished the project.  On the third of July, 1986, sixteen publishers and "encouraging letters" later, a contract from Good Apple arrived in my mailbox.  Our book's acceptance was duly celebrated with nationwide fireworks.  Since PWP's publication in June, it has sold almost two thousand copies out of three thousand printed.  Good Apple is pleased, and Fran and I are ecstatic.
     Ed, I saw you on TV, looking as fit and energetic as ever.   My son‑in‑law called me to tell me you were on a program about sex and aging.  Was that eighteen months ago?  A year ago?  Time behaves in mysterious ways these days, allowing decades to slide by like weeks.  I hope you are feeling as well as you look.
Janurary 28, 1988
West Cornwall, Connecticut
From Ed Brecher
     As I opened your envelope, I remembered the first letter you wrote to Ruth and Edward Brecher, which arrived soon after Ruth died‑‑and what a frank and warm self‑revelation it was.
     As I read this letter, phrases here and there evoked other self‑revelations: your mention of Ed, for example (give him my warm regards if you are still in touch), and of your son‑in‑law, and so on.
     That's what you should be writing about.
     Through a curious set of happenstances, I recently met a novelist, Lois Gould, and was sufficiently fascinated to take two of her novels out of the library.  I recommend that you do the same.  They are Such Dear Friends and Final Analysis.  Both are autobiographical, and Final Analysis is the story of a woman writing her first novel.  I can't promise that they will prove as  useful as the little book; but they just might.  They teach how to share yourself with your readers‑‑and you have so much to share.  I think about a proper Bostonian woman, straight out of a novel by Henry James, whose visit to Turkey takes a nightmarish turn.  Or about a couple who are rescued at the last minute from their sinking boat.  Or about a mother, a daughter, and a disastrous accident the week before Christmas.  If on such brief acquaintance as mine I can think of three subjects without even trying, you must have dozens and dozens.  Gould's novels might, I hope, show you how to exploit such material without feeling that you are exploiting those dear to you.  If you ever do try writing in that vein, don't hesitate to draw on me for advice, encouragement, or anything else you may need.    
     There's little I can say about your book except I'm glad it finally found a publisher and glad people have been buying it.   Both the poems and the teaching apparatus are so far off my beat that I can't comment.  Workbooks hadn't been invented when I went to school, and I'm sot enough in my ways to believe that was a good thing.  Which shows how bad my judgment is and how out of touch with the times I am these days.
      As for the story about your mother, it shows that you have certainly mastered the mechanics of writing an article.  The sentences hang together, and the paragraphs, and the last thing in the world you need is a writing course. 
     But I'm distressed that you are really going at things the hard way when you write about a woman who had a difficult life and minor successes and is unrelated to any contemporary concerns that I can think of.  A very great writer can use any grist for his mill after he is well‑established; but writers like you and me need the richest grist we can find:  materials of current interest.  I honor your impulse to save what is left of Ernestine; and I have no doubt she is worth saving‑‑but it’s a tough, tough undertaking.  In sum, I'm being discouraging‑‑not about your writing but about your topic and theme.  I'm a selfish bastard who wants you to write about things that interest me instead of about things that interest you.  I think your first published book was drawn from your mother's literary remains and perhaps unfinished business between you and her.  You want to try it a second time because you don't have the self‑confidence to write what's in you to write.
     There, how nasty can a man get?  No doubt you're sorry you restarted this correspondence, and this will mark the close of our epistolary affair.  I've flubbed it again.
     Or maybe not.  Maybe it's true that what an apprentice writer needs is not praise but to be taken seriously.  I do take your writing seriously, and if that doesn't come across, I'm a lousy writer.
     The way to elicit confidences is to share confidences, and the way to encourage personal frankness is to write frankly about yourself.  So let me begin with what happened to me the night we last met after you left the restaurant (was it the Ramada Inn?).
     I was just about to continue when‑‑horrors!  I've filled three pages with this crap already.  How ghastly!  I simply can't continue.  That is what is wrong with a word processor; writing is so effortless that you just go on and on.  If you want to know what's been happening to me since the Ramada (?) Inn, you'll have to tell me at least a little of what has been happening to you since then.
February 5, 1988
To Ed Brecher,                                       
     I thought of sending this manuscript with a huge YOU ASKED FOR IT attached.  It is part of a book I've been thinking about for a couple of years.  It would be called Managing Your Husband Before and After Your Divorce.  These sample pages would be called "After."  If I had a Part Two, it would be "During" and fairly short.  Part One, "Before," would be composed of marriage anecdotes, of which I have many, underscoring my managerial talents. 
     I shouldn't have said that I wanted to expand "Ernestine and  Jeeves" into a book.  My project would devote a chapter to Mother but would be a family portrait dealing with all of us  . .  Kathie, Ed, Teenagers ("Relative Strangers"), etc.  The title I'm considering, Emissaries from a Former Self, might allow me to get away with using the letter format.  I realize this is a problem.  Quoting your own letters smacks of immodesty.  When I die, it's okay. My son Tim says he'll have them published and make a mint. 
     Tim has been particularly intrigued by a collection of six snap‑bound books that I call The Generation in the Middle.  It's about problems converging from all directions:  coping with two difficult younger children, visits to psychiatrists, my views on same, Ed's garrulous, prying mother, my live‑in second mother and her bout with cancer, and the necessity, finally, to surrender her to a nursing home, and other family traumas such as fights with Ed.  It's heavy going--Tim's welcome to it, if he can stand it. (He has grown up to be one of my greatest joys.)
     I have a plethora of material that would be more fun to work with than the above.  I can't write fiction, though.  I can't retrieve enough details from my memory to flesh out a story.  I can only record what has happened recently.  If unrecorded, it's lost forever.
     My only "unfinished business" with Ernestine has been to stop sitting on my legacy and introduce a gifted children's poet to the current generation.  By the way, Ernestine so impressed a Congressman who sought her out at an awards dinner in Washington, he gave a speech about her that ended up in the Congressional Record.  She died six months later.  We were thankful she lived long enough to receive this recognition.
     I'm heading for the library to get Lois Gould's books.  What a good friend you are to write me such a long, helpful letter.   Thank you, thank you, thank you (repetitions allowed by Strunk), and know that I won't expect a prompt response.                                              
February 9, 1988
West Cornwall
From Ed Brecher                               
     Thank you for one of the pleasantest evenings I've ever spent at home alone. 
     When I saw your over-sized brown envelope in the mailbox, I felt relieved; for your letter last week had almost persuaded me that the woman I thought I remembered had turned into a suburban prude who would take my letter as an obscene insult.  With that concern eased, I read your letter, marveled at the aberrations of bridge players, then put the MSS aside until 10:30 this evening.
     What sheer delight it was to learn that I had not only not imagined the you I thought I remembered, but had in fact grossly under‑remembered you.  The letters about your pimping for Ed, I must confess, touched me most. But there wasn't a page before or after that didn't renew my smile. 
     Now it's midnight, and I've only got as far as the christening.  Anybody could make a good yarn, I now see, out of your interviewing those who answered that ad you wrote for Ed;  but to keep me gripped at a scene in a church with a two‑year‑old  making a commotion‑‑that's the true comic touch.
     Enough for now.  I'm about to doze off, but I don't want the evening to end without saying at least this much. I'll write again when I regretfully come to the end.
February 18, 1988
To Ed Brecher,                                    
     I'm glad my sample made you smile. To make someone smile is a major goal when I write to friends, relatives, or for publication.  The big question: is anyone going to be interested in how I managed my husband before and after the divorce?  Even if the answer is no, I'm sufficiently motivated to plunge ahead anyway.
     I've been studying the relevant material and find that almost all of it could be changed without detriment to diary form.  I think this would make it more acceptable.  I will divide the book into three parts:  Before (the divorce), During, and After.  By the time you get back from your trip I should have During under control and will send you a copy.
      Kathie smiled over your letter.  By the way, the article you helped me with years ago, "Letters from Kathie," was published in 1985 as "Letters from the Moon" in a disabled women’s anthology, With the Power of  Each Breath.  Kathie's curriculum vitae is yards long, she's a full professor at Boston University, and is chairing the psychology department this semester. 
March 14, 1988
West Cornwall
From Ed Brecher                               
     I had expected to read the balance of what you sent me immediately after my return from California; but when I got back, I found three requests for short articles on heterosexual AIDS‑‑  so there will be a two‑ or three‑week delay.  I'm sorry.
     But I can't postpone answering your 18 February letter.  Yes, I think recasting the letters into diary form seems promising-‑though you can't be sure until you've tried.  Yes, I'll read and comment on whatever you send me, with no more delay than is necessary.  Yes, I think a semi‑serious book on how to manage a husband before, during and after a divorce should be marketable‑‑ though no book is a sure thing these days.     
     But mostly I want at the moment to say Hi! to Kathie.  When you and I stopped writing, you were reporting Kathie's initial progress, and I was feeling sad and wondering when reality would  catch up to your optimism.  What a delight to learn I was magnificently wrong!  If I could see a copy of "Letters from the Moon," I'd be pleased. 
March 15, 1988
To Ed Brecher:                                         
      I enjoyed having Kathie's computer here while she visited her dad and Aliceann for a week.  I worked eight or ten hours a day on Managing Your Ex-Husband, at times typing with a happy smile  on my face, at other times growling, who cares about all this?  I felt particularly negative about everything that comes after The Christening.  Too much superficiality, too many little anecdotes with little punch lines.  When I find myself yawning at my own material, I know I'm in trouble.
     Tim is looking over the earlier stuff which is divided into sections about boating, flying, Kathie, and the divorce.  I had named the flying section "The Wild Blue Yonder," only to see in yesterday's Sunday Globe a review of a book with the same name.  We had so many hairy adventures during our flying days, the title had seemed made to order.  (Enclosed are two "wild blue yonder” experiences I recorded in 1963 and 1965.)  After I hear what Tim has to say, I may seek further advice from you.  
March 24, 1988
To Ed Brecher                       
     I relayed your Hi to Kathie and your delight at being magnificently wrong.  She was pleased.  That marvelous gal even got tenure in 1978, I want you to know‑‑not without working her butt off and being pushed, urged, and cheered onward by colleagues.  I asked her if she'd heard of the books you reviewed re sexuality and the disabled.  She said she hadn't, and that was that.  I know you'll understand this isn't a subject I would pursue without a big green light.  I can tell you, though, that I've spent enough hours in her study to be aware of warm marital vibrations.  After twenty‑four years, it's clear that she still adores Dick.  He responds with affectionate pet names and rumplings of her hair whenever he passes her worktable.
     Ed, I wouldn't waste your eyesight on the rest of those letters I sent you.  I thank you for your willingness to plow through them, but I'm convinced there isn't enough good material there to interest you or anyone else.  I got carried away when you asked what I'd been doing since we last saw each other.  Poor man, it's like saying "How are you?" to someone and hearing the answer in 20,000 words or more.  Just send all those words back.
     Enclosed is a copy of "Letters from the Moon" and an article about Kathie relearning how to ride horseback, coached by a woman who works with disabled horse‑lovers.  "Courage Gets Her Back in the Saddle" appeared in our local paper last fall.  Be prepared to be magnificently surprised.

     And take your time about answering.  I know you're busy.
March 28, 1988
West Cornwall
From Ed Brecher                      
     Your letter arrived this morning and  reminded me of how much I regretted breaking off my reading when I reached (at midnight on 9 February) of The Christening.  So I put aside what I was doing and read through to Ed's next marriage.
     I made no attempt at what is nowadays called "line editing" for two reasons.  Ordinarily I love to change passive into active verbs and "whiches" to "thats" a la Strunk; but page after page slipped past without a single urge to reach for the blue pencil 
     In retrospect, what kept me reading (for delight, not as a duty) was, first of all, the joy of meeting two very unusual individuals.  I don't recall anyone like them; I wish I'd been close to them when this was all happening.
     Second, and of equal importance, was the pleasure of reading about a unique relationship. 
     Both the characters and the relationship, incidentally, ring true.  I think anyone reading this through would say, "Those are real people, and it really was like that."
     Further, you have established a milieu of comfortable  people, comfortably off, concerned with family and friends and  the real world but also dedicated to behaving with grace and enjoying themselves.  It's rare that outsiders have an opportunity to enter such a charmed and charming world. 
     I'm particularly pleased and impressed by the way in which you treat aging.  These are young people by any ordinary standard except the calendar; readers are subtly reminded at intervals  that we are reading of people in their sixties and beyond.  I love it, and I think others will.  This gives the book an ethical significance, it seems to me; without even hinting at the issue, you are destroying geriatric stereotypes.  I travel around  lecturing on Love, Sex, and Aging (Roanoke in April, Toronto in May); you make the same points I do but make them in passing and therefore far more powerfully.
     Finally, to conclude this list of goodies, I think you've  solved a problem that stumps most women who write novels in which a divorce occurs:  How can you make your readers believe that you ever loved that nincompoop in the first place?  This question  just doesn't arise with the Ed you portray.  He was clearly lovable enough to be worth marrying in the first place, and to go right on loving, sort of, after the divorce.
     And to add one more despite that "finally," Barbara comes  across as a thinking, feeling, responsive woman who values her  independence highly but doesn't let that interfere with her enjoyment of men (and women).  Yours is a positive feminist stance with the feminist negativism stripped away.
     "Aha," I can hear you thinking, "he must have ulterior motives for saying all those nice things!"
     Well, I do have two motives; you can decide for yourself  whether they are ulterior.  I think you should rework this material at least once more.  One motive is to encourage you to do that.  And if you do rework it, I want you to be sure not to let any of the qualities I've described get lost in the rewrite.
     Next, some weaknesses.
     I don't think the epistolary form works.  It sets unnecessary limits for the writer.  Moreover, it is inherently unbelievable.  I don't believe for one moment that you invested  all that time and effort in those letters to an elderly friend.   And the epistolary form makes him a central character‑‑but he  isn't a character at all; he is a mere device.
     I don't know what to suggest as an alternative to letters.   I have a gut feeling that the diary form won't work either, though I don't know why I feel that way.  Perhaps, again, the  incredibility factor.
     Philip Roth developed a marvelous solution to a similar  problem when he was writing Portnoy's Complaint; transcripts of a  series of monologues addressed by a patient to his psychoanalyst.  
     I'm not suggesting that, of course; but some kind of frame which  enables you to recast the material into a series of monologues  might be worth trying.  It's at moments like this that I wish I  knew more about fiction, or rather about what you have been writing, which is neither autobiography nor fiction but something bright and informal and fast‑moving and sui generis.  Suppose, to cite a ridiculous example, that at the beginning of the book you are remarried (not to Ed) and telling your new husband about your  life with Ed both before and after the divorce.  I'm not suggesting that seriously; it's just an example of what I mean by  a frame for a series of monologues.
     Another idea I don't like is to start with Ed's funeral (!),  which puts you in a reminiscent mood, and you start thinking about Ed and your relationship‑‑and your stream of  consciousness is the novel.  These outre suggestions are not  meant seriously; they are an effort to brainstorm you into  thinking of the right form for yourself.  If you get a flash and want to try it out, I welcome calls at all hours, but especially after 7 a.m. and before midnight.   
      Another disadvantage of the epistolary form (and the diary)  is that they allow almost no scope for flashbacks; yet the reader needs flashbacks to your years as Ed's wife, and even earlier.  A  series of monologues could free you from the chronological  strait jacket; when you need to flash back to your first awareness of Ed's roving eye (and genitals), or to anything else, you can flash back.
     I should have commented earlier on the pace of your style.  It seldom slows down, even when the subject matter is less than overwhelming.  I think the epistolary form was in part responsible for that.  In a conventional novel format, you would have had to slow down to describe Ed's jungle, for example; the letters enable me to experience it without having it formally described.  I hope, if you rework, that you'll find a format enabling you to maintain that pace.
Enclosure for Ed Brecher:
Nov. 15, 1979
     Watering Ed's plants is no simple chore.  He has about 200, not counting the thousands produced by a variety called, appropriately enough, Mother of Thousands.  He has at least a  dozen of these mothers, to put it bluntly.  They rear their progeny on the edges of their leaves until the youngsters get too heavy to carry, whereupon they are dumped into the earth below.   If they are lucky, that is.  When their leafy perch extends  beyond their family homestead, they fall onto the floor.  In a  normal household the seedlings would be swept up along with other debris and thrown out.
     Ed's household is more abnormal today than it was when we  were married.  Without a wife to keep him in check, his  eccentricities have run amuck much like his plants.  He doesn't  dispose of those little suckers the way a rational human being  would.  He tenderly picks up each baby, tucks it in its own  little bed, and a few months later all those babies have grown into monsters, their leaves teeming with future monsters.
     Ed's Swedish Ivy is likewise out of control.  Once I tried to convince him that ivy plants need to be pinched back occasionally.  "Like this," I demonstrated, pinching a trailing stem between my fingernails.  His howl of pain made me jump -- you'd have thought I'd amputated one of his fingers.
     The man simply won't accept the fact that pruning plants is good for them and keeps them from running wild.  His Swedish Ivy is wall‑to‑wall.  Visitors must be careful where they step unless they enjoy hearing a grown man scream.  Would they like to view a jungle through a picture window?  Just stand outside and try to look in!  Nothing is cut back, every plant is allowed to grow until it bumps the ceiling, then is forced to make a right or left turn along the curtain rod.  There are vines making their way down the draperies and heading for the back of the sofa.   Someday they'll find poor old Ed . .  .and then again, maybe they won't.

     Next, your 14 March letter and discussion of The Worst Time.   I thought the idea brilliant at first blush; but the more I thought about it, the less I liked it.  "Worst times" are basically traumatic experiences.  The trauma shows through despite efforts to be toujours gai about it.  This is certainly true of your account of your Turkish adventure.  Most people asked to write about their "worst time" might just refuse, or  write with vitriol instead of ink, or try to be flippant and fail.
     Take me, for example.  My worst time was only a few months  ago.  A male friend of mine came visiting one afternoon with a woman friend whom I found attractive and who had one overwhelming virtue:  She was obviously turned on to me. She had a figure like the you I remember from . . . 1967? . . .  1968?  I invited her back a couple of weekends later.  She arrived with her two daughters, aged about three and seven; and it took only 15 minutes for me to realize what I had missed before;  she was psychotic.  She had no transportation home; someone had driven her here and dumped her and the children.  Shortly after the children were put to bed she was stretched out on the 14‑foot‑long settee in my living room, in her most seductive posture, making it clear that she and the children planned to stay indefinitely‑‑and waiting for me to start "making love."
     When I, in turn, made it clear that I had no such plan, she started fantasizing what she would do.  One fantasy was that she would complain to the police that I'd sexually molested her two daughters.  When that didn't seem to frighten me unduly, she found a fantasy that did:  she would go into the kitchen, find a butcher knife, slash herself, and say I had done it.  All this was alternating with seductive cooings and gesturings.
     At that point I became really worried, having no doubt she was capable of precisely what she was planning.  I felt that my  future depended on handling the situation with calmth, coolth, and finesse and I mapped my strategy accordingly. First, I supplied just enough affection and physical closeness‑‑ cuddling‑‑to assure her that she wasn't being rejected.  Second, I was careful to avoid any genital involvement.  My chief strategy, however, was liquor.  She had had a few drinks previously, which she carried very well; I now kept her glass full and well‑iced, with more whisky and less water as time  passed.  What made the situation uproarious was my use of liquor, not to seduce her, but to reduce her to a state of unseducibility.  It took more than two hours, during which she talked with less and less restraint (and less coherence) about where she was going to slash herself and where she was going to smear the blood on me.  She finally passed out.  I covered her with a blanket but didn't dare leave her side, lest she waken and head for the butcher knife in the kitchen.  In the morning, she had no recollection.  I fed her and the girls a Grade A breakfast (bacon crisp) and drove them home (50 miles) in time for them to get to church.  A few days later she phoned and wanted to come visiting again.
     Now, how do you make a story out of that, or out of a  collection of such?
     Let me also dissent from your "particularly negative" feelings about the letters after The Christening ‑‑ "too much superficiality, too many little anecdotes with little punch lines."  I don't want to impugn your literary taste or judgment; but I didn't feel that way at all.  I felt that, with few exceptions, the anecdotes contributed to my understanding of you and Ed and your relationship‑‑and the punch lines, again with few exceptions, were not only funny but arising directly out of the situations.  The Christening, of course, was the absolutely top‑drawer example.  You, Ed, the rest of the  families, the setting, everything conspired to make reading it a  memorable experience‑‑including the numerous punch lines.  I noted also a very skillful portrayal of multiple points of view.  While ostensibly writing about your being irked, you were also effectively and fairly portraying Ed's feelings, and even those  of the grandson whose baby sister was stealing the show.
     Next, let's look ahead.
     At some point (not quite yet) you're going to need much  better advice than I can give you.  Advice, for example, from a literary agent, preferably female.  I'm not ready to bow out yet,  however.  I'm eager to read a) the earlier stuff (about boating, flying, Kathie, the divorce, etc.).  I'm also eager to read whatever it was you were turning out recently ten hours a day on Kathie's word processor.  Please don't think in terms of "burdening" me; think how generous you are being in letting me share some very important and intimate aspects of your life.
     I'd like to start line‑editing-‑with the strict understanding that your ear is better than mine, and that if you think you're right, you unquestionably are.  My line‑editing will probably be mostly queries rather than changes‑‑a pointing out of places where you may want to reconsider a word, phrase, or paragraph.
     The first step is to find the right voice ‑‑ diary, monologue, or whatever.  Next, recast enough of the material in that voice to see if it works.  If it does, then a section‑by‑section outline, and the grim shitwork of recasting each of your present gobs of MS into the voice you've chosen.  That's when the line‑editing, gob by gob, may be relevant and helpful.      
     Spring is coming.  The golf course will soon be beckoning, along with heaven knows what other enticements.  Writing a book takes hours and hours and hours.  I strongly recommend against it‑‑unless you enjoy the writing itself so much that you'd rather write than enjoy any of the available alternatives.  (You must enjoy the writing; otherwise you couldn't possibly write so enjoyably.  I, too, enjoy writing‑‑as the length of this letter  demonstrates.)
     To sum all this up, send me more, more, more.
     When someone catches me reading something I've written, I explain that "I'm reading my favorite author."  When my son Jeremy caught me reading your letters, I told him I was reading the only author I love.  I meant it as a wisecrack; but as a matter of fact, I can't think of any other author I love. 
April 6, 1988
Darling man,                                      
     That's what you are, you know.  To think my note of last January has brought me such blessings as these long, warm‑hearted, letters from an admired author . . . well, I'd better stop because I'm on the verge of gushing, and I don't want to spoil your dinner.   
     Your conclusion that the epistolary form is unbelievable didn't surprise me, but were you serious about not believing I spent all that time writing to an elderly friend?  Or were you just dramatizing your point about the drawbacks of the epistolary form?  As you will see in Part One, Darrell wasn't all that elderly when our correspondence began.  And I truly did write him long letters for the next thirty‑five years.  
     My mother, too, received such letters, as did Kathie, when she went away to college.  We were a letter‑writing family ‑‑ quite stubbornly so, when most people were beginning to settle for weekly phone calls.   I know publishers frown on books that are based on letters, so I'll have to try very hard to come up with a more acceptable format.
      I don't know if I'm capable of assembling the material in a way that isn't chronological, but Tim, too, speaks of a need for flashbacks.  Will I be able to hang on to the daily-ness of the  humor if I change my voice?  It seems that unless I've just experienced something, I'm in that strait jacket you mentioned.  I guess I hoped a reader might take it on faith, after being  introduced to the Darrell McClure correspondence, that subsequent chapters stemmed from diary entries and letters with salutations and closings omitted for simplicity's sake.  Your alternatives were certainly intriguing.  And I mustn't be negative.  I was able to recall boating adventures for Darrell, so I shouldn't give up on the idea of your monologues.
     You are right about the lure of warm weather activities supplanting my writing ambitions.  I do love writing, to the point of being obsessive and offending a close friend when I asked her not to call unless it was important.  But that's the winter world of the mind.  Now I'm ready to please my body with golf and sunshine and gentled breezes.  So you see, dearest of critics, you have plenty of time to dig yourself out from behind this paper mountain I've dropped on you.
     Regarding when we met, I wouldn't have thought it was as early as 1967 or '68, but you were quite right.  After a search I found carbons of two letters I wrote you in the spring of 1968,  telling you of the Ladies' Home Journal's interest in "Letters from Kathie."  It was your guidance that made the article professional enough to attract their attention.  I could find no more letters but remember being in a car with you and Ed after we had separated ‑‑ perhaps we were on our way to a Community Sex Information lecture by Edward M. Brecher?  This must have been  1972 because I had met Jack and recall that I thoughtlessly hurt Ed by describing the exquisite quality of a pot abetted orgasm.   I had the impression you flinched empathetically with Ed, and  realized I shouldn't have been so tactless.
     At some point during that time ‑‑ before Jack, I think ‑‑ you treated me to dinner at the Marriott and told me fascinating stories about you and Ruth.  I wish I'd recorded it all, but I was in too much pain to write about pre‑Jack adventures.  I had a number of encounters but can think of only one that had its humorous aspects.  Having no idea in the world that my underpinnings would be anyone's secret but mine, I had worn a grossly unattractive garment that a friend recommended as ideal for keeping pantyhose from sagging.  It was a striped pink‑and‑brown affair, with tight, stretchy, thigh length legs, that looked like something you'd see on Popeye's girlfriend.  The gentleman with me was honest enough to suggest, when our pleasant evening ended in his hotel room, that I look for something more beguiling in lingerie.  I was too embarrassed to do anything but promise I would.
     Your experience with the psychotic guest sounds like a scene from "Fatal Attraction."  Your strategy was inspired, your coolth under duress impressive.  Keep up that spirit of self‑ preservation:  I want more letters.
     I accept your judgment on "The Worst Time."  Maybe "The Funniest Time" (Someone's Rocking My Loveboat) would have more appeal.  (Enclosed are two examples described in a letter to Darrell plus a diary entry about a chap named Mortimer.)   According to my records, it was in December of 1972 that you autographed Licit and Illicit Drugs.  Do you remember how I wanted you to autograph An Analysis of Human Sexual Response but flightily presented you with the wrong book ‑‑ Human Sexual  Response itself?  You explained diplomatically that you really couldn't autograph Master's and Johnson's work.
       As for Managing Your Husband, if at some point you feel moved to start making line‑by‑line suggestions, please do!  I'm honored that you're willing to spend your valuable time as my mentor.  If you want to wait until I find that proper voice next fall, I will understand and be patient.
Enclosure for Ed Brecher
January 8, 1983
Dear Darrell:
     Thank you for sharing your highlights of 1982.  I loved the sketch of your left‑behind pets jealously watching the favored Tinker Bell recede into the distance in the back of your van.  I  could hear Pamela muttering, "I hope she gets carsick."
     You say Tinker Bell went all the way, so I expect the  puppies are due any day now.  There'll be some wet, black noses  out of joint then!
     On this side of the continent, Ed went all the way and got himself a little bit engaged.  Of all his various ladies, Claire Swann is high on my list of favorites.  Ed thought he'd lost her forever to Gerald, with whom she has been living for several  years.  They had a sort of open commitment, which meant that  either could go out with someone else, only neither should lie about it.  It was okay to say, "I'm going to be out tomorrow  night."  It was not okay to say, "I'm going to Rhode Island to  see my old buddy Al" unless it was true.
     When Gerald gave Claire the old‑buddy routine, Claire called  Ed (her customary move when Gerald was away), and they met for  cocktails at one of the condo apartments Ed owns in Boston.
     "Where would you like to go for dinner?" he asked.  "There  are forty restaurants within walking distance; we could just  start walking till we get to one you like."
     Claire said she wanted to go to Joseph's.  She'd never been  there, as Gerald rarely took her to expensive restaurants.   She and Ed were looking at the menu, when who walks into  Joseph's‑‑  of all restaurants‑‑ but her roommate, Gerald, the  buddy from Rhode Island, and a tall brunette who was obviously  with Gerald.
     At first Ed wasn't sure whether the trio had seen them or not.  The men spoke briefly to the head waiter, then disappeared, much to Ed's relief.  He had a feeling he wouldn't be at his most  debonair if there were a confrontation.  He was right.  A few  minutes later, Gerald and Al, minus the young lady, reappeared  and walked over to say hello to Ed and Claire.
     Reporting all this to me the next day, Ed said that of the four actors in this playlet, he was by far the most shaken.
     "I felt as if I were out with someone's wife, and her husband had caught me.  I stuttered and turned red and knocked  over my wine glass when I shook hands."
     Claire and the two men exchanged banalities, and then they  departed.  Later Gerald would explain the disappearance of the brunette by saying she had gone to the ladies room.  Yes, Gerald  had a lot of explaining to do; but this was after Claire's spur‑ of‑the‑moment trip to Florida with Ed.  He was leaving two days later, so she got a week's leave from her job and went with him.
     Two things had made her furious, Ed told me.  One was Gerald's lying, in violation of their agreement . . .
     " . . . and the other," I chimed in, "was Gerald's taking the brunette to Joseph's after years of not taking Claire."
     Yep, that was it, all right.  Nobody understands a woman like another woman.
     After Claire returned to Boston, she called Gerald.  Claire is not as good about reporting to me as Ed is, so I'm not privy to all that was said during their meeting.  At any rate, she told Ed she would probably to go back to Gerald "unless you have a better offer."
     "Well . . . we could try living together for six months and see how it goes," said Ed.
     No, Claire said, she was no longer willing to settle for just living with someone; she wanted the security of a marriage.  My hunch is that she wanted ammunition, such as a marriage offer from Ed, to make Gerald shape up.  Ed said he knew he'd be getting her on the rebound if they eventually married, but as long as he knew it, it didn't bother him.  The sort of thing that bothers him is what he'll have to give up:  me, definitely and quite rightly; his antique‑doll hobby, probably; and of course someone will have to come in with a scythe and thin out his indoor jungle.
     As things stand now, Claire has picked July for the wedding,  but suggests that meanwhile they live their lives pretty much as before.  She spent the holidays with Gerald, and her fiance had his usual Christmas Eve get‑together with Ted's family and  Aliceann (long black hair) and me.  Aliceann doesn't know he's engaged.
     Ed was wondering what he ought to give Claire for Christmas.   He showed me an embroidered shawl he and I had found at a flea  market last year.
     "It's pretty," I said, "but it cost only eight dollars, and  Claire's a woman who knows values.  You'll have to give her something more expensive."
     "I could give her a three‑carat diamond ring," my ex said roguishly.
     "Give her three carrots," I muttered.  It's not that I don't like Claire; I just wish Ed could find someone who'd marry him for himself.
     I can't compete with Romeo Malley (as Aliceann's co‑workers  call him), but my own soap opera has undergone a change or two  lately.  I have broken up with Jack, this time really really really for good, and about four weeks ago I met a man who appealed to me enormously.  In fact, I was as excited as a school girl over Mr. Eric Swann.  (Note that coincidentally his last name is the same as Claire's.)  Ed is always referring to her as Mrs. Swann, liking, I think, its elegant sound. 
     Her name is Claire, why don't you call her Claire?" I say  as irritably as if we were still married.  Now that I'd met Mr. Swann, however, Ed was going to hear a lot about Mr. Swann this  and Mr. Swann that.
     On our first date, Mr. Swann dismissed my views on the fairness of separate checks by saying he'd give me a choice:  I  could either pay the entire bill or be quiet like a good girl and  let him treat me.
     I think he was an excellent conversationalist, although I  was so impressed with him that I hardly knew what either one of  us was saying.  Eric looked much younger than his fifty‑six  years, and I kept wondering what Tony Curtis's double was doing with an old lady of sixty‑one.  I remember his telling me that people often approach him in airports, asking for his autograph.  He obligingly writes, "Barney Schultz," which is Tony Curtis's  real name.
     "Next time I'll treat you," I said, as we were saying  goodbye outside the restaurant.
     "Just ask me over for dinner," he said.
     There was a time when the idea of whipping up a little dinner for two wouldn't have given me conniption fits and insomnia.  Dinner for eight or for eighteen, I'd done it hundreds of  times in the old days.  Now I lay awake rehearsing every damn step of that damn swordfish dinner, wishing I could go to sleep  so I wouldn't look like a hag for Tony Curtis.
     The big night arrived.  I had done as much as possible ahead of time so that I could be relaxed and gracious when my guest arrived.  I had thrown half of my poor dolls in closets and under the bed.  Doll‑collecting had seemed like a terrific hobby until I began picturing Eric's reaction to all those simpering little faces.
     I showed Eric around, told him about my grandfather the archaeologist and my mother the poet, and tried not to babble  too much.  Apparently I failed because he finally said, "When are  you going to feed me?"
     My dinner was unquestionably the worst I have ever served.  I overcooked both the swordfish and the green beans from Kathie's garden (Eric remarked that it really wasn't important to him where they came from, so I knew I'd been babbling again); the baked stuffed potatoes were barely warm and tasted funny‑‑I  think the grated cheese was stale‑‑ and my guest chose not to sample my homemade salad dressing, perhaps because he'd tasted the baked stuffed potato.  He had his Bibb lettuce and mandarin-orange salad very, very dry and straight up, like one of Ed's  martinis.
     "I enjoyed the dinner very much," Eric said as he was leaving.
     "Eric, that was the worst ‑‑ "
     He held up his hand and said,  "Just say thank you." 
     I knew he was going away for the holidays, so I tried not to take it personally when I didn't hear from him for a week.  But it wouldn't hurt, I decided, to drop him a note and one of my flying articles.  Since he'd done a little flying years ago, this would remind him of how much we had in common.  In my note I asked him if he'd permit me to read a book he'd written six years ago (unpublished) about his research at a rehabilitation center  for teenage alcoholics.
     Another couple of days went by while I chewed my knuckles, wore a path in my broadloom, and re‑lived every dumb thing I'd said and done in the great man's presence.  Every time the phone rang I turned up the classical music (Eric likes classical music) and trilled a hello.  It was always anybody but Eric‑‑ one of my  sons, Kathie, Ed calling from Florida, and a couple of times,  poor Jack, who must have noticed the trill leaving my voice.
     Then I got a call from Eric.  He thought "Mutiny on the Skyknight" was amusing.  As for my reading his work, he never let  the manuscript out of his apartment, but he'd be happy to have me come over and read it.  I could rest assured that he wasn't dangerous, he hadn't raped anyone in at least five minutes. 
     "Come over at about six‑thirty, we'll have a drink, and you can  tell me as an experienced writer what you think of my book."
     Thursday, night before last, I started out in the rain for the hour's drive to Sharon.  As I was picturing it, we'd have a  cocktail, I'd read the manuscript for an hour or so, and then Eric would suggest that we go out for dinner.  No other scenario presented itself to me.
     The first thirty pages of Eric Swann's book dealt with Eric Swann‑‑ how he happened to be one of the select group chosen out of three hundred applicants to work on whatever social project he chose, with all expenses paid for a year.  There were letters of  recommendation from colleagues at the university where he was a sociology professor, there were newspaper interviews with  pictures of Eric, and there were descriptions by Eric about how Eric felt about all this.
     "This is fascinating," I murmured.  (He'd lied about my dinner, remember.)
     The author had been reading over my shoulder and talking continuously, which explains why I got nowhere near my goal of a hundred pages out of seven hundred.
     At eight‑thirty, Eric asked me if I was hungry.  Hungry?   With all these crackers and all this Wispride cheese?
     "I have some food in my refrigerator," he said.  To prove it, he offered me some carrot sticks.  I knew this was God's way of punishing me for advising Ed to give Claire three carrots.  I  also had a pear and some almonds.
     "This is the kind of food I've eaten ever since I was a  kid," Eric said.  "I always liked raw vegetables and fruit.  I didn't know they were good for me."
     I reached page fifty at eleven (Eric inserted a bookmark), said a weak goodbye, and headed for home.  I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or stop at McDonald's.
     I dined on a peanut‑butter sandwich in my kitchenette and went to bed.  For the first time since I had met Mr. Swann, I slept the blissful sleep of the un-smitten.
     Ed, aware of my heavy date, tried to reach me the next day, and finally found me at Kathie's.  How he laughed when he heard of my disastrous evening.  "When I couldn't reach you all day, I was afraid you'd run off with him and I'd never see you again."
     "I promise you I'll never run off with a man who eats carrot sticks."
     "I'm going to look pretty good to you when you get down here next week," Ed chortled.
     I told him he looked pretty good already.  Dear familiar, comfortable, practically normal Ed.  If he doesn't marry Claire, I think we'll be spending a lot of time together.

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