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Shockproof's mother was talking in code again. This time the code was not for his benefit. Home from work with flu, M. E. Shepley Skate was in her room, across the hall from Shockproof's, talking on the phone.
The code was for the benefit of the Francher Publishing switchboard, and any of Judy Ewen's colleagues at Francher who might be within earshot.
M. E. Shepley Skate said, "Elliot's moving out tonight and Ann's a mess."
It was a very simple code which Shockproof had broken some nine years ago when he was eight.
Elliot was Ellie of Ellie and Ann. Ellie was leaving Ann.
Much of the code went roughly this way:
Carl was Corita of Judy and Corita, if the discussion was about Judy and Corita. But if the discussion was about Judy and Judy's drinking, Judy could become Judd, as in the sentence "I had a hell of a time getting Judd out of the Running Footman last night."
George was Gloria of Gloria and Liz, but Liz could easily become Lew if they weren't talking about Gloria and were discussing Liz's old affair with the wife of a famous politician.
Edie was Eddie of Eddie and Leonard.
Mary was Martin of Martin and Ralph.
Vicki was Victor of Victor and Paul.
But if it were Eddie, Martin or Victor talking, Leonard, Ralph and Paul could quickly become Laura, Ruth and Pauline.
On and on.
Shockproof's nickname for himself -- and he was the only one to know he called himself Shockproof -- had been inspired by the fact he had known about his mother for as long as he could remember, unbeknownst to M. E. Shepley Skate herself.
Even asearly as his third year he had shown an uncanny appreciation of the fact something was radically wrong with his home life: he locked in any male delivery man who happened by with groceries, drugs or cleaning.
Shortly after this phase, he met his father, Harold Skate, for the first time. Subsequently, he spent three or four weeks out of every year with him.
A few months ago he had written to tell his father he was considering skipping Cornell, where in the fall he was to begin the study of zoology and veterinary medicine, and starting then and there in the swimming pool business -- Skate & Son of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He would forgo his college education for an equal partnership with his father commencing 1 July. He had figured out an advertising campaign built around the slogan "Swim with Skates," and saw no reason why they couldn't double the company revenue minimum in six months' time.
On and on.
All people write letters very late at night they wish they'd never written, but Shockproof regularly wrote such letters during the daytime, and the one detailing the future of Skate & Son was one of them. It was due to another Estelle Kelly rejection at Easter vacation.
He could make the most careful, sensitive and gentle love to Estelle Kelly, and no matter how he played it the next morning, even if he managed to remember to put on his shorts so she did not wake up and see it first thing, he was treated as though at some point in the night he had defecated on her.
That Easter Sunday of the letter-writing to his father, he had been beaten down by her again. Walking away from East End Avenue, sex smells all over his mouth and hands, since an Estelle Kelly Morning After Frost shattered any notion of taking the time to use the toilet for anything but the toilet, Shockproof had passed churches and heard hallelujahs and decided the only place he would ever be the recipient of any normal love was off in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where no one spoke in code and life was simple.
"What's this about writing your father you're not going on to college?" his mother had said while they were having a fast one at Kennedy, the morning she met his plane. That was three weeks ago. He had just graduated from a prep school in Staunton, Virginia. His mother had not attended the ceremonies, because his stepmother refused to be present where she was, and Harold Skate had insisted on seeing his son receive his diploma, since he had contributed to its cost. Pointed out by H. Skate in an angry mid-May exchange between H. Skate and M.E.
"What's all what about that letter?" Shockproof shrugged.
"No thought goes unwritten, does it, ducks?"
"Oh, some do."
"You ought to know better than to get him all revved up. He thought he'd finally convinced you to chuck the whole zoo scene, to sell swimming pools with him! Skate & Son." She smiled and sighed and took a jolt of her double Old Forester on the rocks.
Shockproof gave a guffaw and said, "No way," and played the game with himself that the others in the airport lounge suspected she was his older woman.
M. E. Shepley Skate was the casting director of a large ad agency. She had long light-brown hair and bright green eyes, and that morning she was all in white, with a green, yellow and blue scarf stamped YSL, smelling of some great scent that usually poured out of the ventilators in the stores near Fifty-seventh and Fifth.
That was when she told him, "I bought you a graduation gift, a '57 T-bird."
Shockproof was Colette's Cheri, the boy lover, spoiled by the woman whose pearls he played with on her silk chaise. He proceeded with his fantasy at such a pace he was incapable of appreciating the fact that at last he had his own car. He imagined all eyes were slyly watching, ears straining to hear him say, "You bought me a Thunderbird?"
"You know the model with the porthole windows?"
He nodded, affected an effete expression ...Shockproof Sydney Skate. Copyright © by Marijane Meaker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.