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Saturday, July 15, 2017

(6) I KNEW THIS WAS GOD'S WAY OF PUNISHING ME.

     Eric thought "Mutiny on the Skyknight" was amusing.  As for my reading his work, he never lets the manuscript out of his apartment, but he'd be happy to have me come over and read it.  I can rest assured that he isn't dangerous, he hasn't raped anyone in at least five minutes. 
      "Make it Thursday at about six‑thirty.  We'll have a drink, and you can tell me as an experienced writer what you think of my book."
     I started out in the rain for the hour's drive to Sharon.  As I pictured 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.
     "You write well," I murmur.  (After all, he lied about my dinner.)
     The author has 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 fruit and raw vegetables.  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'd met Mr. Swann, I slept the blissful sleep of the unsmitten.
     Ed, aware of my heavy date, tried to reach me from Florida 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 said.  I told him he looked pretty good already.  Dear familiar, comfortable, practically normal Ed.  
February 14, 1986
      Ed and Aliceann were married this morning in Ed’s Pompano Beach house. Pets allowed. The ceremony was witnessed by a few local friends plus Miette, Strumpfe, Sybil, Jasmine, and a new Siamese kitten, Ling-Ling.
      I phoned them both with my blessings but told Aliceann I’d miss Ed after all these years.
      “Nonsense,” she told me. “You’re family. If you don’t promise to visit us, were gonna divorce you.”
February 28, 1986
      Ed has been married for two weeks now, and we seem to be surviving our final severance without too much loss of blood. Aliceann is still the same good friend she was before. She assures me that “this is your house, too,” and again urges me to come for a visit. I will not do so until the marriage is older and unquestionably on solid ground.
      The honeymooners call me every three or four days to exchange news. A couple of nights ago Aliceann was on the line when I heard a burst of Ed’s laughter in the background. “Oh Barbara, you should see what’s happening,” Aliceann said. “Strumpfe was trying to hump Miette, and she got mad and chased him off the bed.”
      What do I feel beside amusement? A pang. Worse than a hangnail, not as bad as a toothache, but a definite pang. Ed’s laughter was now Aliceann’s instead of mine, I thought. Yet I knew this was foolish—you can’t own laughter any more than you can own people. And haven’t I been insisting that all I want for Ed is his happiness? In the right-thinking part of my mind, my feeling was one of gratitude that Aliceann was there for him to laugh with.
      The pang is subsiding. Transferring it to paper is helpful, as always.

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