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Love and Friendship
By Alison Lurie
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1962 Alison Lurie
All rights reserved.
The day on which Emily Stockwell Turner fell out of love with her husband began much like other days. As usual, Emmy lay in bed twenty minutes later than she should have done, with her son Freddy playing cars over her legs, and when she finally got up it seemed as if things would never be sorted out. But somehow breakfast was made; Freddy was fed and dressed and sent off to nursery school in the car pool, and at length Emmy stood outside the house watching her husband leave for work on time.
"Looks like snow," said Holman Turner, an instructor in the Languages and Literature Division at Convers College, as he stood beside her on the frozen lawn in his overcoat. It was a chilly, dark morning early in November, and Emmy wore only an old cashmere sweater and slacks, but she was the kind that never feels the cold.
"Oh, good; do you think so? But it's only the first week in November. I'm afraid it's much too soon."
"It probably snows early here," Holman said, and climbed into his car and shut the door. Through the glass he could see Emmy look round at the clouds, smiling. What a magnificent creature she is, he thought, as he frequently did. She was a big girl, tall, tanned like a gypsy, and with a high color. Her heavy, bright brown hair had not yet been done up for the day; it hung down over one shoulder in a thick braid. She was twenty-seven, and still had, as on the day he married her, the look of a carefully bred and beautifully groomed animal, kept permanently at the peak of its condition for some high use which has not yet arrived and possibly never will arrive. Holman had seen it often on boys and girls of Emmy's class, though seldom to such a degree or accompanied by so much beauty.
Emmy continued to stand beside the car, waiting for her husband to roll the window down, so he rolled it down.
"Goodbye darling," she said, stooping to kiss him.
"So long, baby," Holman replied. He rolled the window up again and drove away down the drive.
Emmy stood on the lawn, smiling, and watched his car, a little gray Volkswagen, turn into the road and grow smaller as it went away from her along the highway, between low hills covered with scrub pines and birches. It disappeared around the corner, and Holman would not be back until five-thirty—for though he was a teacher he kept businessmen's hours—but Emmy did not go in. She liked this particular spot in the yard because from here she could see, to the north beyond the road and the trees, the top spires and towers of Convers College. In all directions the view was closed in a few miles away, for Convers, and Convers College, lay in a narrow valley. The cross-state highway passed fourteen miles to the south, behind a range of mountains; the nearest passenger railroad station was ten miles to the west, beyond hills and a river. No one came to Convers except to go to school. The local farmers took their onions and tobacco and corn over to Hampton, and bought their clothes and furniture there. They could not afford and did not want the button-down shirts and imported ski sweaters which were sold in the two local men's shops, or the hand-rubbed chairs displayed by the Convers antique dealers.
After the noise of the car had died away everything was silent under a heavy, oyster-colored sky. Emmy held out her arms. "Snow!" she said aloud, in the tone of voice she might have used to a waiter. She laughed to and at herself, and repeated: "Snow, please! I want to see what it looks like."
Although all her living male relatives (and many of her dead ones) had spent four winters of their youth here, Emmy had never seen Convers under the white icing with which it was usually photographed and painted. She had visited the town often, but her visits had been made either before the real life of the college started or after it was over. She had been there early in the fall when her brothers were driven up to school—standing waiting under high canopies of elm while sets of leather luggage were unloaded from the Cadillac in front of the Stockwell fraternity house. And she had been there at graduations in June when the grounds were strung with flags and lights and awnings, beneath which her father's face, in a red-and-white cardboard hat marked with his class year, always formed the center of a group of cardboard hats.
Emmy thought it unfair, really, that she had seen so little of Convers. For Convers belonged to the Stockwells, the Stockwells felt, though they would have said (and did say at alumni dinners) that if anything the Stockwells belonged to Convers. Though they had never lived there, they thought of it as their spiritual home, which the expensive New Jersey suburb where they had resided for forty years was not. Not physically New Englanders, they had the tradition of being spiritually so. They believed that in their four years at Convers the sons of the family breathed in the air of a higher spiritual state, so deeply that it left a deposit in their lungs for the rest of lives which would, inevitably, be spent among more practical men in a warmer and more material world.
The Stockwells felt closer to Convers (and far more responsible for it) than their friends who were graduates of great catch-all colleges like Harvard and Yale could ever be to their alma maters. For most of the past fifty years there had been a Stockwell on the Board of Trustees and on the Alumni Fund-Raising Committee. Emmy's family was also represented at Convers in a more substantial way by a dining hall, four squash courts, and a large library fund for the purchase of books on geology and geography (the Stockwell money was primarily derived from the manufacture of mining machinery). Emmy had often regretted that girls could not attend Convers College. She saw both of her brothers go off, noisy children interested only in cars and boats and tennis; she saw them come back important men, still cheerful on the surface, but quieter, heavier, more serious. They or their friends said in graduation speeches that they had found themselves at Convers, but it seemed to her that they had found someone better than that.
It began to snow. "It's starting," Emmy said to herself, and smiling with pleasure she turned back toward the house. The flakes fell very finely; it would take a long while for them to whiten the ground.
In the kitchen the dishes still stood in the sink and various objects lay about on the floor: paper napkins, plastic parts of toys, a broken comb, and a crust of toast with jam on it. They were all relatively clean and had only been on the floor for an hour or so, but the sight of them filled Emmy with irritation. Brought up in a house where someone always came around to pick up anything that fell, she could not get used to domestic disorder. She did not grow especially tired either of or from housework, but she could not do it casually and she saw by now that she would therefore never do it very well. She could wash out a whole room as thoroughly as if she were giving herself a bath, but she lacked the ability to tidy up without thinking about it as she went along.
Thinking about it, therefore, she picked up the comb, the napkins, the toast, and the toys. Most of them belonged to, and had been thrown down by, her four-year-old child, Frederick Stockwell Turner, who was now at nursery school. He had only been going for a month, and Emmy still found the house strangely vacant without him; impersonal, like a hotel suite. She was so used to Freddy's company that after the housework was finished she hardly knew what to do with herself. The pleasure of going on errands alone had quickly worn off; and besides, Freddy was always furious when he discovered—and somehow he usually did discover—that his mother had been to the store without him. At home, this would have been the useful kind of morning on which one has one's hair washed and set, visits a museum, helps with publicity for a charity party, or investigates the cost of having some prints framed so as to match some other prints. The Stockwell children were never encouraged to lie slack around the house, whatever their friends did. But Convers was too far out in the country for any of these activities; it was, for example, two hours' drive to the nearest place where Emmy would have thought it possible to have her hair done.
She went into the downstairs bathroom. Standing before the mirror, but not really looking into it, she did up her braid again and coiled it into a figure eight with hairpins. Then she turned on the water in the kitchen sink and began to do the dishes. But she stopped almost at once, for she had remembered that this was the day on which the new cleaning woman was coming.
Turning to the stove, Emmy poured herself a cup of cold coffee (she preferred it so, partly out of laziness). She broke open a new box of coconut cookies which she had bought the day before when Freddy was not looking and hidden behind the cans of soup on the top shelf. She took yesterday's New York Times and went to sit by the window in the front room where she could see the cleaning woman coming.
Emmy sighed with pleasure as she sipped her coffee, and even more as she ate the cookies. She loved to eat, and now that she was relatively thin she could do it with a clear conscience. She knew she would never be fat again; Holman, unfortunately, was not convinced of it. Whenever he saw her bring in a dish of mashed potatoes with butter on top, or help herself to a second piece of pie, a nervous warning look came onto his face. It was as if he saw the ghost of the fat girl he had first met.
She shook out the paper. When it came she usually turned first to the society page, where she always found something to amuse, instruct, or shock; and then to the advertisements of the large stores and theaters, although it made her cross now to read descriptions of plays and concerts she was not going to and dresses she could not try on. But she had done all this the day before. Now she folded the paper back to page 1, for Holman liked her to be well informed, and he was right. RUSSIAN ENVOY PROTESTS NOTE; FARM PRICES INFLATED, SAYS EXPERT.
Ten minutes passed. Then Emmy, looking up, saw the mail truck come over the hill through the fine haze of falling snow and begin its slow progress down from box to box. At last it stopped at the Turners', and a woman of indeterminate age and size got out. She started up Emmy's drive in a pair of men's black galoshes with flapping tops which left wet prints in the snow. She was also wearing a pink plaid coat and a flowered scarf tied under her chin, showing that she was a member of the nonacademic classes of Convers, and probably the Turners' new cleaning woman. Emmy met her at the door.
"How do you do?" she said. "Mrs. Rabbage?"
"Mrs. Rabbage," replied the visitor, scraping her galoshes on the scraper. "I come to do for you."
"Good morning! Come right in, please."
Mrs. Rabbage came in. She was now seen to be a strong-looking bony woman between thirty and forty with a long face and reddish hair done up in metal curlers under her scarf. "Bad morning if you're asking me," said Mrs. Rabbage. "I couldn't hardly bring myself to put my feet out of my bed this morning, the house was that cold," she continued as she followed Emmy down the hall to the kitchen. "Here's your mail." She pulled it out of her coat pocket, bent and damp. "My cousin that's staying with me while her husband is in the hospital over to Hamp left the window open in her room all night, is why. But I told myself Mrs. R. you've got to get out of bed you don't want to let Mrs. Lumkin down that told the party you would be there on time. Dishes first, huh? Where do you keep your scouring powder? ... Oke. I don't know what got into her to leave the window open all night to the bad air I mean my cousin, not that she ever had much sense but if I told her once I told her a million times the effect a draft always has on me I always feel it here in my back terrible and where I had my last operation it kinda aches all around here with a kinda dull ache." Mrs. Rabbage pointed to the spot with the dishrag; Emmy made a sympathetic noise. "Well I said to myself Mrs. Lumkin told the party, I mean you, that she could count on you, I mean me. And I don't like to let anyone down if my health doesn't prevent. I always try to keep my word as you'll find and particularly with a lady like Mrs. Lumkin I don't like to let her down. You want me to dry these or just let them drain?"
Emmy answered and left the kitchen rapidly. She put the bills from stores in New York and New Jersey which had come in the mail on the mantel to dry out, and sat down again with her coffee and the Times. Section 2. LIBRARY SHOWS RARE MAPS, DUCK FREED FROM MANHOLE.
"Where do you keep your cleaning rags?" asked Mrs. Rabbage from the door. Emmy followed her back into the kitchen to look. "Well I guess I can make out with that for today if I have to. Move to a new place you throw away a lot of things and afterwards you wish you hadn't. My sister moved up to North Greensbury last year threw away all the medicines the doctor gave her husband for his piles and the next thing you know the next year her oldest boy caught them the one that just got out of the Service. Well he was dead, that's why she threw them out. Her husband I mean." Mrs. Rabbage stooped down to wipe under the sink, which gave Emmy an opportunity to leave.
She returned to the front room, but this time instead of sitting down she stood looking out of the window. Mrs. Rabbage was the third cleaning woman she had tried since they had moved to Convers; she had been recommended to Emmy by the wife of a Dean. In the Stockwell family it was considered a black mark against you if you could not keep servants. Probably you were terribly mean about money or there was something weird about your private family life. But Emmy knew that she was not at fault. It was just that her first woman had turned out to be absolutely dirty and incompetent, and the second one had gone and had a baby after two weeks, although she had promised not to have it for three months. Emmy knew that it was not her fault, but all the same she was afraid that somehow it might be. Her mother's last letter had said: "I trust you've found a good woman to clean for you by now; do let me hear about this." And if she did not let her mother hear, Emmy knew that these same words would appear in the next letter, and the next.
She wanted another cup of coffee, and so she had to go back into the kitchen, where Mrs. Rabbage had finished the dishes in a surprisingly short time and was scrubbing the floor vigorously around the stove that heated the Turners' hot water. "You oughta get a board or some kind of thing put up here in front of this stove door," she began at once. "These kinda old iron stoves aren't safe when you got children around you can wallop them a million times and they still got no sense my youngest that's working up to Shem's now when he was three he got a burn on his arm off one of these kinda stoves we had then that he had to stay in the hospital over to Hamp five days all burnt it was, kinda charred looking." She had worked round now and was scrubbing in front of the kitchen door so that Emmy could not leave without stepping over her back, which she could not quite bring herself to do.
"Excuse me," she said.
"You can still see the place on his arm," Mrs. Rabbage went on, not moving, "if you look for it if you happen to stop into Shem's of course I had walloped him a million times already for it but he didn't pay me no mind. And the crying and carrying on. You only got the one child?"
Emmy said yes.
"You gotta watch out for these things. Even if he didn't get hurt he coulda started a fire playing around with that door there." Mrs. Rabbage poked at the latch of the stove door with her scrubbing brush. "Well Mrs. Bliss got it on good and tight for you anyhow," she admitted. (Mrs. Bliss was the landlady.) "Not like the one they got down to that college house where the three kids are living I said to their mother last week when I went in to do for her she better get ahold of Mr. Lumkin up at the college and get it fixed or she's going to be sorry one of these days one of her kids is going to put his hand in just for fun and get it grilled like a skewer of barbecue but she never paid me no mind they're all of them batty anyhow."
"Really! Dean Lumkin is a friend of my father's," Emmy said rapidly, with an unfriendly little laugh.
"I didn't say anything about Lumkin," Mrs. Rabbage retorted. "I'm talking about the tenants he's got in that house off the Greensbury Road, I got nothing against Lumkin." She fell silent, or rather speechless, and noisily one, two, three, moved her brush, her bucket, and herself out of Emmy's way.
"You needn't bother to wash the pantry floor, Mrs. Rabbage," Emmy offered in a conciliatory tone as she left. "Just sweep it."
Excerpted from Love and Friendship by Alison Lurie. Copyright © 1962 Alison Lurie. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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