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Chapter 1: THE GREAT DECISION
No matter what Kay might have done about marriage it would not have been looked upon with any great favor by Mr. Stanley Banks, merely because he happened to be fonder of his first-born than he realized.
During her teens he had dismissed all aspirants with a contemptuous snort. From the time that Kay had first revealed herself to the social world, minus a mouthful of braces and plus a permanent, leggy adolescents with porcupine hair had begun to beat a path to 24 Maple Drive. Mr. Banks had regarded these inarticulate sufferers with a jaundiced eye.
If they caused him any uneasiness it had been wasted. Not that Kay spurned male attention, but, during those exciting days, she preferred it to be universal rather than specific. Nature had endowed her with what amounted to a season pass to every dance, sporting event and week-end party that her strength permitted -- and she had the stamina of a six-day bicycle rider.
She was also restrained by an early infatuation for her English teacher, a brilliant young man with large front teeth and a tendency to stomach ulcers, who had once told her that she had an intellect. This otherwise unconfirmed diagnosis gave her secret ambitions. The result was that the youths who fluttered around her with such uncoordinated eagerness seemed callow to her beautiful blue eyes. Lord Byron and Leonardo da Vinci being dead, the field had struck her as limited.
And so the tender years had slipped by. With their passing Mr. Banks' emotional pendulum had swung the other way. He found himself wondering what was wrong with the child. What was it that caused men to bob into her life for a few brief weeks or month increasing frequency, though always casually. It had never been very clear to Mr. Banks just where Kay spent her time, but wherever it was Buckley evidently spent his there also. Furthermore, he was apparently a young man with decided views on everything from football to God -- views which, for Kay's money, had not been equaled since the Delphic oracles went out of business.
Mr. Banks felt a resurgence of his old attitude. This new moth, which was beginning to fly so close to the flame, became definitely distasteful to him.
"I don't think much of that fellow," he said to Mrs. Banks after Buckley had spent a painful ten minutes in the living room waiting for Kay.
"I don't know, dear," said Mrs. Banks. "Why don't you just leave Kay alone and let her work things out for herself?"
"I'm not interfering with her," said Mr. Banks crossly. "You're the one that's always worrying."
A hush of anticipation had fallen over the Banks family as in a theater just before the curtain rises -- but nothing happened. Kay continued to look dreamy. Buckley, during his brief appearances, maintained his air of uneasy aloofness. After a few stiff moments they would both rush, unleashed, into the night.
Then, unexpectedly, the storm broke.
They were gathered round the dinner table on one of the increasingly rare occasions when Kay ate at home.
"Where are the boys?" asked Mr. Banks.
"They've gone to a night game with Joe Stanley," said Mrs. Banks. "They couldn't wait for dinner. Ben said they'd pick up something to eat in town."
"Don't those two boys ever stay at home for a meal?" grumbled Mr. Banks.
Kay sighed. "Ben's not a boy, Pops. He's a man. He's old enough to have a family."
"Well, T ommy isn't," said Mr. Banks. "He's in high school and he's supposed to stay home nights and do some work."
"Oh, by the way, Mom, that reminds me. I won't be home this weekend," said Kay.
"Where are you going, dear?" asked Mrs. Banks.
"I'm going to spend it with Buckley's family."
Mr. Banks dropped an unbroken cracker into his soup. "Look here," he asked, "are you going to marry this character?"
"I guess so," replied Kay. She continued to work on her soup. Her tone had been so even and casual that the import of her words did not immediately register, and the conversation threatened to end on this simple note. As a matter of fact it did for quite a while. Nothing could be heard but the thoughtful intake of cream of tomato.
Mrs. Banks broke the silence. "And when," she asked with timid sarcasm, "are you thinking of getting married?"
"I really don't know, Mother. It all depends on Buckley's plans." Kay's voice was that of a tired kindergarten teacher. "It might be months or it might be in a few weeks -- or it might be just any time at all. We can't tell yet. And there's one thing -- we won't be pinned down. Buckley's very decided about that sort of thing. He just won't be pinned down."
Mr. Banks felt his neck begin to push against his collar. He took a long drink of water. "I hope," he said in a strained voice, "that Buckley won't think I'm nosy or trying to pin him down if I ask a few simple questions."
Kay looked bored. "O.K., Pops. I suppose we have to go through this. It does seem to me, though -- "
"Well, to begin with, who the hell is this Buckley anyway?"
"Now, Pops, please. If we're going -- "
" -- and what's his last name? I hope it's better than his first one."
"Pops, I'm not going to sit here -- "
" -- and where the hell does he come from -- and who does he think is going to support him? If it's me he's got another guess coming. And who in God's name -- "
Mrs. Banks interrupted. "Stanley, nobody's deaf and you don't have to swear every other word. It's just plain mortifying with Delilah in the kitchen listening. You don't give Kay a chance. Let her -- "
At that moment Kay, the darling of his heart, turned on him for the first time in her life. "Listen, Pops, I'm twenty-four years old and Buckley's twenty-six and we're grown people -- and as far as your supporting Buckley, I'll tell you right now he's the kind that wouldn't let anybody support him. He'd rather die first.
"That's the kind of person he is. He's a wonderful person. He's the kind of a person that's absolutely -- I mean absolutely -- independent. The kind that will always take care of his own. You don't need to worry about that, Pops -- ever. Buckley wouldn't come to you for help not even if we were starving in the gutter.
"And his name is Dunstan. That's what it is -- Buckley Dunstan. And he's a wonderful businessman -- I mean a really wonderful businessman -- and -- and he has a wonderful job."
"Doing what?" asked Mr. Banks, seizing the first factual straw.
"Oh, I don't know, Pops. He makes something. Does it really make any difference what it is? He's the kind of a person that can do anything -- anything at all.
"As for his parents -- well, I'll tell you this, Pops -- they're just as good as you and Mom." There was a suggestion in her voice that this was an understatement. "They're swell people and they live in East Smithfield and I guess you'll agree that East Smithfield is just as good a place as Fairview Manor -- although I don't see what that's got to do with it anyway."
Mr. Banks agreed silently.
His blood pressure had gone down as quickly as it had risen. He scarcely heard what Kay was saying and he had forgotten all about Buckley. He was looking at his daughter's flushed face and remembering a small girl with brown pigtails and dirty overalls who used to fly at her two younger brothers when they goaded her too far.
It seemed like such an incredibly short time ago. That was all. He had a panicky feeling that tears were coming into his eyes. Rising from his chair, he kissed the top of her head.
"O.K., Kitten," he said. "I love him already. What did you say his last name was?"
At this point Mr. Banks began to come down with some strange kind of psychic rash. From the night of that conversation at the dinner table he could feel it creeping through his system. With a detachment which was anything but calm, he watched himself change from a logical, well-balanced lawyer into an unreasoning, anxiety-ridden psychopathic. It disturbed him so that he did not even mention it to Mrs. Banks.
Each night he lay on his back in the darkness, his hands folded across his chest like a figure on a sarcophagus in Westminster Abbey. A street lamp threw a milky patch of light on a corner of the bedroom ceiling. The intervening foliage of a tree caused it to shimmer like water. He stared at it rigidly, struggling to make his mind a blank.
Who was this bounder who had inv aded the sanctity of his home and snatched his child from under his nose? Child -- that's what she was -- a child. What did she know about the qualities in a man which are so necessary to a successful marriage? She was only a child who, a few months ago, was running around in pigtails -- was it a few months or a few years?
He mustn't let himself go on like this or he would be a gibbering idiot in the office tomorrow.
Snatched. That was the word for it. She was sleeping in her own room, but only in body. Her spirit had moved out. She would always love them of course, but never in the old way -- never again with her whole trusting, needing self. From here in her love would be doled out like a farmer's wife tossing scraps to the family rooster.
What mawkish bunk! He must cut it out. Wasn't this what he'd always been building up to? He flopped over on his side and tried burying his face in the crook of his arm. He had sometimes found self-smothering helpful.
He knew that, under similar circumstances, he wouldn't feel this way about Ben and Tommy. Somehow or other Kay was more identified with those early years of married life than either of the boys. He had been used to the idea of parenthood by the time they arrived. Kay had been born in the uncertain days when his relationship to the firm of Barthlum, Henderson and Peck had been as nebulous as his salary -- years before he had been made a junior partner and they had bought the white shingled house in Fairview Manor. It had been a happy period in spite of the struggle -- a period unmarred by the adolescent features of any questing male.
Well, the beans were spilt now! Casually! Over a cup of tomato soup! Not asking by your leave, but gi ving him the devil for trying to find out what the goon's last name was! Outside of his name, what else did Kay know about him? Oh, yes. He was wonderful. That was going to be a great help when he started to raise a family.
Could he support a family? That was the point. How could he know that this guy had what it took? Up to date he'd sounded vaguer than dishwater every time he'd opened his mouth. An impractical dreamer -- that's what he was. Kay was an idealist and she'd fallen for this fellow because he agreed with all her ideas and didn't make any sense.
He flopped onto his other side and looked over at Mrs. Banks. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Women were inconsistent creatures. If the kids were out at some little dance she couldn't sleep until she heard them come in. But when it was a question of how (or if) her only daughter was going to eat for the rest of her life, she fell asleep like a baby.
Wise men never discuss topics of a potentially upsetting nature until they have finished their breakfast. The wisest refuse to talk at all until they have been spiritually fortified by a couple of fried eggs.
For many years this had been one of Mr. Banks' ground rules. It was a sound, functional rule, for by the time he had gulped his breakfast he was invariably late for the eight-fifteen. One could not get into much of a controversy while trotting from the breakfast table to the garage. Thus the day was automatically started right and morning problems, like morning mists, had a tendency to disperse as the sun rose higher.
But Mr. Banks was no longer a wise man. During these last few days (and nights) he had become aware that his sense of balance was being dragged from under him li ke sand under the impact of surf.
To his surprise Mrs. Banks did not seem to share his apprehensions although she was usually the timid one when faced with change. On the contrary, she seemed to float through her days in a state of ecstasy. This was an added annoyance to Mr. Banks.
From her casual remarks it became gradually clear to him that her mind was not on Buckley at all, but rather on the ceremony which he promised to bring into being and on the material things connected with it -- on dresses and hats and shoes -- on underwear and sheets and towels -- on all the thousand things which, to a woman, truly legalize a marriage.
He had always known that, at heart, Mrs. Banks was a natural-born purchasing agent, although her talents had been somewhat restricted by circumstances. Now at last she was presented with a buyers' field day, fully authorized and aboveboard, and she was merely letting her imagination take a trial run around the track to get the stiffness out of its joints.
Mr. Banks was standing before the medicine cabinet mirror, thoughtfully lathering his face. It rather pleased him to think that he could detect lines in it that had not been there a week before.
"Kay's going to make a beautiful bride," murmured Mrs. Banks dreamily, half to herself, half to Mr. Banks' pajamaed back. "She's got just the figure and the coloring. I know exactly the kind of a dress she should have -- the sleeves long and tight-fitting -- and the skirt -- "
Mr. Banks' hand trembled and a drop of blood discolored the soap on his chin. The stout, dependable dam which had heretofore restrained his morning thoughts gave way without warning. Over Mrs. Banks' unprepared head poured the swollen torrent of h is accumulated apprehensions.
He was possessed of a doomsday eloquence. As he warmed up to his theme it began to sound like a description of Hiroshima. She listened in dismay to the recital of possibilities that she had not even considered. By the time her husband's emotional reservoir was emptied he had missed three trains to the city. Shaken to the roots, she did not attempt to follow him downstairs.
When she heard him slam up the patent garage door she watched anxiously from the bedroom window as he backed the sedan into the drive and disappeared around the corner in a spray of gravel.
Mr. Banks found himself a seat on the eight-forty-two and opened his morning paper. Theoretically his day was ruined. Actually, and to his surprise, he was conscious of a pleasant feeling of lightness. The sun shone impartially on the alternating garbage dumps and suburban developments that flashed past the window. The air was dry and bracing. The world was suddenly beginning to snap back into place.
His pleasure at this discovery was dimmed at the edges, however, by a small gnawing sense of guilt lest he might have upset Ellie unduly. Women were so emotional about these matters and inclined to take them overseriously. He toyed with the idea of calling her up when he got to town. Then he became interested in the paper and forgot about it.
But not so Mrs. Banks. All day long the Seidlitz powder of anxiety which her husband had dumped into her tranquil soul seethed and boiled within her. As she made her rounds from the A. & P. Supermarket to Kohoe's Fish Store to Sammy Lee's Hand Laundry, the uneasiness within her mounted to a bubbling panic.
She was not a complex person. Although she had strong insti nctive convictions, years of battering by the massed forces of male reasoning caused moments when her self-confidence wavered.
Of course she never let Mr. Banks know about these weaknesses. Under attack she would defend her position as if it were the Alamo. But in this particular case she had had no chance to fight. The onslaught had been so unexpected and violent that it had left her stunned. Until this moment her world had seemed so beautiful. Now it lay in pieces about her.
When Mr. Banks re-entered the house that evening he still retained the pleasant sensation of being at once relaxed and gathered and he hummed a little tune as he threw his hat on the shelf of the coat closet. Mrs. Banks came out of the living room and put her hands on his shoulders. As he kissed her he was surprised by the worried look in her eyes. One might have thought she had been crying.
"Stan, I'm so upset about Kay."
"Kay? What's the matter with Kay? What's she done now?" he asked absent-mindedly, removing his overcoat.
"Oh, Stan, suppose Buckley shouldn't be the man for her. How can we tell? We know so little about him. And she's so young. Suppose he didn't have business judgment and couldn't earn a decent living. Suppose he made Kay unhappy. Suppose -- "
Mr. Banks stopped fumbling for the coathook. He stared at her in amazement. "For heaven's sake, Ellie, what in the world's getting into you? For years you've been worried about Kay's not getting married. Now she finds herself a perfectly nice guy and you get the jitters. I'll bet he'll do a better job than that poopadoop you were so crazy about that hung around here all last winter."
He took her chin in his cu pped hand and gazed down at her thoughtfully. "You know what, darling? I think you're tired. You've been going it too hard lately. You've got to take care of yourself. Tell you what I'll do. I'll knock together a couple of old-fashioneds. It'll do you good. And we'll drink a little toast to the bride and groom."
Copyright © 1948, 1949 by Edward Streeter and Gluyas Williams. Copyright renewed © 1977