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By Susan Ross, Susan Rau Stocker, Malvina T. Rau, Betsy Lammerding
Holy Macro! BooksCopyright © 2013 Susan Stocker
All rights reserved.
Her right arm holding aloft the letter, Ruth Tyack re — tucked her unpolished toes and her left shoulder under the froth of Herbal Garden Bubbling Bath Oil. Chris had given her the bath oil for Christmas, and now in early April she was using it for the first time. Unaccustomed to the luxury of a bubble bath, she kept finding herself sitting up straight in the tub, elbows on knees, only her bottom and feet getting oiled. She reminded herself to sink back under the water and relax. That was the whole purpose, after all; a bath like this was supposed to relieve the tensions of the day. There was just one problem: she loved today's tension, had never felt better in her life. She could barely comprehend it or contain the excitement. They had actually offered her the job!
She decided to read the letter one more time. This would only be the sixteenth reading. That didn't seem excessive.
The American School of Rome
76 Via Americana
APO, New York 09852
Miss Ruth Tyack
46 Rhodes Avenue
Akron, Ohio 44302
Dear Miss Tyack,
We are pleased to inform you that of the seventy — three applications for the one English position we have to fill, our committee has selected you as the best applicant, and we are, therefore, writing to offer you the job beginning in September, 1971, at the salary of $7,000 per year.
While your grades were not the highest of any applicant, and you have less classroom experience than some of the other applicants, we were very impressed with the wide range of courses you have completed and were also swayed to select you by the warmth and respect shown to you and the confidence shown in you in the references we received.
We will be in touch concerning your exact teaching assignment and the calendar for the school year. In the meantime, we would appreciate if you would advise us by return mail whether or not you will be accepting the position. If so, please sign the enclosed contract.
Hope to be working with you in the near future.
Angelina Fabrosi, Head
Every sentence caught her up in a tumult of thoughts: the corny address; the fact that she was chosen out of seventy — three applicants; the good recommendations from the faculty and from her high school English teacher; and the total disbelief that the job was being offered to her! She was headed for Rome — motherless little Ruth Tyack from Pittsburgh, PA. Imagine that! Not Rome, New York, or Rome, Georgia, but Rome, Italy. The real Rome: the Coliseum, the Pantheon, St. Peter's.
She reached over and put the letter on the toilet cover, pushed back down in the tub, and drew in a big breath. She couldn't believe it.
She had walked into the building today unsuspecting. She felt good but had no premonition of great happenings. Then she spotted the letter in her mailbox and had felt almost instant depression. She was not usually a defeatist, but she had mailed fifteen letters of application and so far had received six rejections. The American School of Rome, she supposed, was the longest shot of all. In fact, so sure was she of a rejection that she had carried the unopened letter upstairs and stretched out on the green plaid sofa to call Harry's pizza and drown her sorrows in tomato sauce and mushrooms. The line was busy! So she opened the letter. She knew that they wanted her as soon as she saw that it was two pages long. It doesn't take that long to say no.
She straightened up on the sofa. Glistening, her blue eyes were the color of the water around the Isle of Capri. She had the job! She actually had gotten the job! Rome! Sexy Italian men! Forget tomato sauce and mushrooms. She needed something fancier than a lonely pizza tonight. She would call Chris.
As she dialed the phone, she noticed the dust on the coffee table, made obvious by the April sunshine streaming through her yellow curtains. She wiped it off with her sweater sleeve.
He answered after only one ring. "Chris Wilson." His bass voice always sounded assured.
"Ruth Tyack." Her contralto sounded uneven.
"Hi, kiddo, what's up?"
She heard the chair squeak as he leaned back.
"Well, how about coming over for steak?"
"Tonight? We never do anything on Thursday nights." She could see the puzzled frown; Chris never veered from his patterns. "You have that discussion class Friday mornings."
"I know. But this is special," she said, gloating.
"Okay. I'll bite. What's so special?"
"A job." She tried to sound calm.
"Hey, that's great! I told you someone would want you — besides me, that is," he added quietly.
"Yeah, but you won't believe who it is." She was bursting with pride.
"Let me guess. Fallsview State Mental Hospital?"
"Very funny!" She was hurt. He was making a joke of the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. "Just for that, your curiosity can kill you until you get here."
"That'll serve me right." He didn't sound very tortured.
"Sure will," she said, disappointed by his lack of interest.
"Shall I bring some champagne?" he asked, reinstating himself in Ruth's good graces.
"Oh, Chris, that would be really nice."
"Okay. See you later, kiddo."
Smiling, she replaced the receiver and crossed the living room to her tiny brown kitchen. What had prompted her to buy that steak yesterday? She put it out on the counter to thaw. Steak and champagne — that was almost a complete meal. She would make a salad and that good garlic dressing and bread! She got down the box of natural cereal she had bought and hated. There was a bread recipe on the side of the box. Maybe it could be palatable yet.
Shortly, the smell of dates, raisins and nuts baking in flour teased Ruth's senses, and she wondered what Rome would smell like. She started planning: she'd have to spend every minute all week on her school work so that as soon as the kids were excused on Fridays she could become a tourist. Seven thousand dollars was not all that much to live on. But there must be a lot of things to do that were free. Rome on five dollars a day? It had to be possible. The hell with clothes and food! One of the advantages of being a teacher was that at noon every day she could eat a starchy, filling, meal. Now if she could just find a cheap, convenient room. Good — bye, Akron; hello, Rome!
Oh ... she had to get the themes graded to hand back to the discussion class tomorrow! No wonder Chris was shocked to get a call on a Thursday. Always before it was, "Not Thursday night — I have that discussion class on Friday." A teaching assistant at Eastern Ohio University in the spring of 1971 metamorphosed into a high school English teacher at the American School of Rome in the fall 1971. "Not an insignificant improvement," as Howard Cosell would say.
Ruth forced herself to concentrate on another batch of inane, half — baked analyses of George Orwell's 1984. Why couldn't they assign something different? Although she had only taught the class for five terms, already she had heard every idea one hundred times. Wasn't there an original thinker in all of Akron? Maybe they put tranquilizers in the water.
Somehow the themes got graded, and the bread formed more peaks than valleys, and the salad got tossed and the table set. But she didn't know how. Ruth Tyack dreamed away that late Thursday afternoon in April, envisioning lions devouring Christians and coins splashing in Trevi Fountain.
She was just emerging from the bathtub when she heard Chris' special drumroll on the door. "Coming," she called as she wrapped herself in a nubby pink towel and, dripping, dashed across the living room. Carefully positioned behind the door, she opened it only enough for Chris to enter. All he could see was the trail of wet footprints. "Close your eyes," Ruth commanded from behind the imitation oak panel.
He obliged, closing the door with his foot as he did so. She tried to hurry past, but, with his eyes still shut, he reached out with the hand not holding the champagne and pulled her toward him for a chaste but affectionate kiss.
"Welcome to the working force of America, Miss Tyack." His right hand squeezed her bare shoulder; his left pushed the champagne bottle into her back. She was oblivious.
"Oh, Chris, I got the most wonderful job!"
He opened his eyes, smiled, and pushed her away a bit to get a better look at the white skin outside the pink towel. He had never seen so much of her body before; nor had he ever seen her radiating so much energy and excitement. Her shoulder — length blonde hair was damp around the ends and curling instead of waving — Little Orphan Annie hair. The exposed body and the wide, trusting blue eyes stirred a protection in Chris that brought a lump to his throat.
"Much as I like the view, I'm afraid you're going to freeze if I hear about it before you get dried off."
"Okay. I'll be right back." She left the bedroom door ajar and hollered back to him, "I'm sorry. I don't know how I got so late. I finished the themes for tomorrow and took a bath. That's about all I did all afternoon."
Chris walked across to the kitchen. "You also did whatever this is on the counter." He leaned over to sniff. "It smells good."
"Oh, that's the natural bread."
"I knew you had enough class not to serve artificial bread with champagne." He put the champagne on its side in the refrigerator, then took off his coat and his tie and sprawled on the sofa, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt. Chris was tall and lean and constantly tanned. He spent two evenings a week working out at a health club and jogged for a half — hour every morning before work. He wasn't handsome. His face was too angular, his hair too receding, and his lips had the thin stretch of a perfectionist. Yet his good physical condition gave him an aura of vitality that was almost better than good looks. His trained singing voice added a resonant, melodic quality to his speech that made listening to him pleasant.
"Would you like to hear the song that's been running through my head since you opened the door?"
Undaunted, he sang in his low voice, "You'd be so — o — o nice to come home to ..."
Her head appeared around the door. "I thought we had an understanding, Chris."
"Yeah, well, guess what, baby." He grinned at her, hands behind his head, "I'm looking for a gainfully employed wife who is willing to support me in the style to which I intend to become accustomed." She disappeared into the bedroom, and he had to raise his voice. "You are going to have some gain from your employment, aren't you?"
"Okay for a start, for sure. Together we'd be making a nice little sum of money — enough for a house."
"Chris ..." Ruth emerged in a powder — blue skirt and a blue and white striped sweater. She was carrying a hairbrush in her hand. "The champagne is for my new job, not for a proposition. I don't hear any wedding bells; I have too much to do, too many places to see. When the two cities you have lived in are steely Pittsburgh and rubbery Akron, you really do not have a fair representation of life."
"Okay, okay, I surrender. Now tell me about your job and how being a high school teacher is going to give you a fairer representation of life."
"Guess where I'm going to teach."
"Copley? Here in Akron? Ravenna? Cleveland? Pittsburgh? Mingo Junction?"
Each guess was greeted by a negative shake of Ruth's head. She had perched on the sofa arm near his feet, smiling with her secret knowledge, brushing her hair.
"I give up."
"I never heard of it. Where is it?"
"Come on, smart mouth. Where is it?" He sounded tense, and she sensed trouble.
"Honestly, Chris, the job's in Italy, at the American School of Rome."
"Ruth, you are kidding, aren't you?" Chris was no longer slouched on the couch but sitting up straight, hands on knees, head tilted in disbelief.
"I'm sorry, Chris, but I'm not kidding," she said quietly.
"Ruth, I've been trying to tell you for months that I want you to marry me."
"I thought that was just sort of a joke."
"Well, the joke's on me, isn't it?" He sounded like a petulant child.
He stood up, rolling down and re — buttoning his sleeves. "Listen, I think I'll go; I've suddenly lost my appetite."
"Chris, wait, please." She stood beside him, trying to get him to look at her. "I'm really sorry. I see now that I at least should have warned you that this was possible. I really didn't expect to get the job. I thought it was such a lark that if it did come through, it would be fun to surprise you."
"Some surprise — the woman I love is leaving the country."
"Nothing is final. I only got the job offer this afternoon. Even if I do sign it, the contract is only for a year," She had tears in her eyes as she reached a hand out to him in entreaty. "Please don't spoil it. I'm so happy."
"Well, your happiness and mine seem for the moment to be in conflict, since your happiness means you leave and my happiness means you stay."
"Why don't you come along?"
"Sure, maybe I could sell some of Goodyear's trade secrets to Pirelli or somebody."
His angry sarcasm left her speechless. She merely watched, wide — eyed, as he tightened his tie and replaced his jacket. Once again immaculate, he crossed to the door, calling over his shoulder, "Enjoy your steak. Since you've chosen the solitary life, you may as well begin getting used to it. Call me when you wake up."
Apparently that last barb was supposed to bring her crawling back. Instead, she felt as if someone had pulled the plug. All the joy was gone.
She sat quietly for long minutes after the door had slammed, thinking, not thinking. And then she rose decisively, slipped on her loafers and a jacket, and walked out of the apartment.
She spent the evening eating popcorn at the Highland Theater, watching a Walt Disney movie. She'd had worse evenings.
The next day, though, Ruth felt leaden. After her eight o'clock class, she met Jill for coffee as usual. But Jill was bubbling over about Dave, her new lover. Ruth couldn't handle it. She mumbled an excuse and made her escape.
Ruth left the student union and started walking aimlessly, her spirits sagging. As she always did when she was truly sad, she started thinking about her mother. Annie had been nineteen when she died in childbirth. It didn't sound like something that could happen in 1948; 1848, maybe, but not 1948. But it had happened. Ruth could never believe it as a little girl. She had imagined her mother to be a famous Broadway actress who would one day drive up Parkview Avenue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania, proclaiming to the world, like the Duke of Windsor, that she could no longer live or act without the support of the child she loved. A vicious agent had forced her to leave her family, but now she realized how wrong she had been, and she came home to beg her husband and little girl to forgive her. She would settle down and bake chocolate chip cookies and be a mother and bandage Ruth's knees and rock her back to sleep when she had bad dreams.
Finally, Ruth's father had started taking Ruth to the cemetery to try to make Annie's death real. Ruth loved having her father's complete attention, for usually he was engrossed in his reading and studying. He taught Biology, and he collected European stamps. Quiet, shy, and reserved, he was a good, moral man; but Ruth thought of him as ineffectual. He had a weak heart, had always had, and never took the risk of becoming involved in anything. The only daring thing he had done in his life was to elope to Elkton, Maryland, with 18 — year old Anne Maria Himmel. The Biology Department at the University of Pittsburgh lost its new secretary, and Benjamin Harrison Tyack gained fifteen months of happiness.
"Hey, blondie, ya wanna ride?"
Ruth looked up, surprised, and tried to smile at the truck driver stopped for the light. "No. Thanks."
"Okay, blondie, if you're sure. Take care of those pretty legs now, ya hear?"
"Okay. Thanks." Ruth laughed in relief and pleasure as he pulled away. He liked my legs, she thought. It's funny how a chance comment from a stranger can cheer you up. How we need to be noticed!
Excerpted from Heart by Susan Ross, Susan Rau Stocker, Malvina T. Rau, Betsy Lammerding. Copyright © 2013 Susan Stocker. Excerpted by permission of Holy Macro! Books.
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