Song of the Mockingbird

By (c) Thomas J. Hubschman

CHAPTER ONE

He sang (she had read somewhere that only male birds sang) all day and night. For a full week he had been regaling the neighborhood with a repertoire that put the local birds to shame. He trilled, warbled and whistled. And he did it all non-stop. He was going strong when she went to bed after the eleven o’clock news and was still at it when she awoke a few hours later for a cup of Postum. He was singing in the morning when she got up for good, and continued singing throughout the long hot afternoon. He was a marathon virtuoso, a Caruso of the treetops.

“Mother, I’m sure it’s wonderful having such an exotic creature in the neighborhood. But did you call Dr. Reinhardt?”

Doris had only spotted the bird that morning. Until then it had been impossible to tell where that endless chain of melody was coming from. She had not even been sure it was just one bird she was hearing. Given the fact that he seemed to pay no attention to the time of day (she heard some of the old biddies in her building discussing a petition to put a stop to the incessant song; to whom would they present such a document?) she had come to assume there were at least two birds, singing in shifts. But there he suddenly was this morning: a small gray object on top the television aerial three stories above her apartment. He was about the size of a blue jay but so unremarkable to the eye that she was shocked such a torrent of exquisite music could flow from so drab a creature.

“Promise me you’ll call the doctor this morning.”

Her daughter would not be badgering her if Harry were still alive. The girl and her father were two of a kind, strong-willed types who thought they knew better than she what was best for her. Well, it was one thing putting up with nagging from the man you loved, but if Evelyn thought she could up where Harry left off she was mistaken.

Three years after his death she could still not fully accept a world devoid of his presence. Nothing looked the same, not the spring crocus he used to report on after his early-morning walks as enthusiastically as if he had spotted some UFOs; not the fall leaves that he drove her a hundred miles to see; not even the taste of morning coffee, though she brewed it exactly as she did before his death. He seemed to have taken all of that with him—not the things themselves—the crocus still bloomed as purple as ever and the autumn leaves still turned blood-red. What was missing was the quality that had made them seem special when he was alive and which she had since come to realize had never been inherently their own.

“I’ll call back in an hour to find out when your appointment is for.”

“Not once throughout the livelong night. Not once did the damn thing let up,” Gerty Miller was complaining as she took her place on line in the dining hall. The building’s self-appointed fire marshal, a few weeks back she smelled gas in the laundry room and the fire department ended up evacuating all twelve floors for the better part of a morning. It was still cold weather then, but Gerty had stood on the frigid sidewalk with a couple dozen other shivering old ladies confident she was performing a life-saving service. The firemen never found any gas.

“Doris, you sleep as light as I do. Wasn’t it awful?”

“What’s awful, Gerty?”

“That damn bird!  It’s a public nuisance is what it is.”

Gerty turned to repeat her complaint to the next available face, which happened to be Marge Sadowski’s. If Marge had been in the building the day Gerty smelled gas, no fire department would have been called and nobody would have been forced to stand out in the cold for two hours. Gerty passed on to the next person in the line.

“Got another bee in her bonnet,” Marge said as she and Doris headed toward the steam trays. Doris usually made lunch in her apartment, but after her daughter’s call she felt a need for company. “Old busybody. Doesn’t know what to do with herself.” Marge pointed to a slab of meatloaf which a young Hispanic dislodged and dropped on her plate. Doris knew one bite of it would give her indigestion for a week. “If she had her way she’d exterminate all the birds and squirrels in creation.”

“Why squirrels?” Doris said, settling for the overcooked fish.

“Says they’re just rats with bushy tails. Claims one got into her son’s carriage. I don’t believe a word of it. I left my kids out in the yard for hours at a stretch. And that was in the Middle West where you get squirrels by the bushel. Leave it to Gerty Miller to go and find trouble. Is this table alright or would you rather sit closer to the window?”

Doris said this spot was fine. The windows were too high up to see through, anyway. The dining hall was located in the building’s basement and doubled as a recreation room—arts and crafts, pinochle and canasta, exercise classes three times a week—a regular day camp for the superannuated. She never bothered with anything but the aerobics class, and attended that only irregularly, since she had an exercycle in her apartment.

“Well, Saturday’s the big day,” Marge said, salting her slab of meatloaf and heavily-gravied mashed potatoes. “Our big chance to meet Mr. Wonderful.”

“Wonderful for what? Stepping all over our toes with his big feet?”

Marge laughed. Jake Epstein stood—though not quite straight up because of his rheumatoid spine—as the building’s self-appointed meeter and greeter at his post in the lobby where he and the few other male residents watched the female tenants pass in and out like teenage boys on a street corner.

There would be a cold buffet and the same little man or his clone who always sang at these affairs, accompanying himself on electric organ—“Shine on, Harvest Moon”—that sort of stuff. The crooner was so in love with his voice you couldn’t hear yourself think for the din. And it was depressing to watch all those old women vying for the attention of the few males present. It would be different if Harry were alive. He would make it seem comical, and she wouldn’t mind the noise or the bad potato salad or the gaps in the crowd caused by those who had died since the last affair.

“God knows there ain’t much else to do around this place, Doris. We’ll sit together and protect each other from Jake and his cronies.”

Doris knew it wasn’t good for her to mope in her apartment for weeks on end with no social activity but her weekly visit to her daughter’s. The worst that could happen if she attended this affair was that she would waste yet another evening, but at least she would have some company doing it.

“Alright. Why not.”

“That’s the spirit, Doris. I’ll bring a flask of vodka. We’ll pour it into that lame punch they serve and make a spectacle of ourselves.”

Doris laughed.

“That’s it, Doris. Laugh and the world laughs with you.”

It was only after Marge left that Doris remembered Marge was chairwoman of the dance committee. The woman had talked her into attending what amounted to her own affair, pretending the event was just as distasteful to her as it was to Doris. But Marge was no fool. She could also see her friend was suffering from widow’s syndrome, the building’s most common malady, when all was said and done. Besides, Marge was as good as her word: she would not abandon her to the loud music or the confusing sea of faces. And if the situation became unbearable she could always slip back to her apartment and read a book. In the meantime, she had better see if she had anything suitable to wear.

Doctors were not in short supply in the sprawling complex of town houses and modest highrises where Doris lived. She was able to get an appointment the very next day.

“Two years,” she replied to the internist’s question about when she last had a physical. “Almost three, actually.”

He wrote down the information mechanically. She had the feeling that if she were to add, “Or was it four years…on Mars? Or was it Venus?” he would take down the words verbatim. She even suspected that what he was writing in her folder—a brand new one, with sheets of white, unruled paper inside—was totally unrelated to what she was saying. He had yet to make eye contact with her since he had begun asking the usual questions about her family medical history and childhood illnesses. When their eyes, as if by accident, did meet he immediately looked away. He was a far cry from old Doctor Peterson who chatted you up and even flirted in a harmless way to put you at your ease. It was hard to imagine this fellow flirting with his own wife.

Finally he sat back and joined his hands precisely on his small paunch. He was not a bad-looking man, but he seemed so ill-at-ease she wondered why he would choose a profession that involved so much personal contact—or should have. Surely he would have been happier in a laboratory or the back of a pharmacy.

“What can I do for you?”

She summoned up her sweetest old-lady smile. “I’m afraid I have trouble moving my bowels.”

He blinked slowly and smiled as if he, and no one else, would be the judge of her intestinal motility. He asked some more questions, but this time didn’t bother writing down the answers. She suspected he didn’t record her responses because he had not brought up the subject himself and therefore had only a passing interest. Then he invited her into his examining room and told her to undress.

Once inside that narrow white cell he seemed to forget about her, concerned with some business in another patient’s folder. Meanwhile, she stood just a couple feet away, still fully clothed, not so much as loosening the top button of her blouse. It wasn’t until he had finished with the other patient’s record and began tearing off the old paper from the examining table that he noticed she was still dressed. She smiled sweetly at him, and he turned quite red, hurriedly got rid of his medical trash and exited.

She had planned her day so as to make the most of her doctor’s visit, having to depend on shuttle buses to ferry her from her apartment to the mall “downtown”—a sprawling complex of department stores and a few nearby highrises where the offices of some local industries and a few medical practitioners were located. Few of the residents in her building owned cars, depending on their children for transportation anyplace other than the mall. Some never left the building, not because they were disabled but because they had no desire to do so, spending their entire days in front of their TVs.

The mall was just a short walk from the medical arts building across the parking lot of a popular singles restaurant and an approach road connected to the Interstate. She could walk to the mall in ten minutes, although no one else was doing so, as if there were trolls lying in wait for those who defied the wisdom of city planners who did not see fit to provide even a sidewalk.

She liked having lunch in a restaurant on the mall’s upper level. It didn’t look like much from outside, just another doorless storefront among rows of shoe stores, ice cream outlets and homemade-pottery shops. But, inside, it reminded her of the eateries she used to find in the better department stores of her younger days—a menu of wholesome hot lunches, clean silverware and mature waitresses instead of impatient teenagers. The clientele in those places had all been women shoppers. No one forbid entry to the opposite sex, but it was as if the nature of the place, like the door of a woman’s lavatory, might set off an alarm bell in any male who ventured near. Even her genial husband had only accompanied her there once, not because he felt ill-at-ease—the more women around the better, as far as Harry was concerned—but because he said he felt like he was violating a temple of the Vestals.

She hadn’t thought to wear a hat. The thin blue kerchief tied around her head seemed to give no protection against the fierce midday sun which, following her long fast since breakfast, was making her feel a bit lightheaded. She tried to think what Harry would say if he were with her. “Steady as she goes, old girl. I spy an oasis yonder, if it’s not just another mirage.” But his words, even though imagined in the precise intonation of B-grade movie he would bring to them, was not the same as feeling his strong grip on her arm. She struggled up the first embankment bordering the mall’s approach road, shading her eyes against the glare and regretting she had left her sunglasses home along with her sun hat. The sun’s powerful rays seemed to turn grass, buildings and sky, into a single colorless miasma. It wouldn’t do to collapse in this brilliant no-man’s-land. She could lie baking for hours before anyone found her. Why hadn’t she stuck to the sidewalk like other women her age instead of trying to take this shortcut like some intrepid teenager?

Suddenly the air was laced with a barrage of notes she assumed must be coming from a radio. But there was no one nearby, and even as she squinted through the oppressive brilliance she realized who the author of those trills and warbles must be. Had he followed her here? His melody rose and fell as if riding the same heat waves blurring the outlines of the distant mall. He sang oblivious to the heat, just as he had all week, no more mindful of temperature than if he were not made of flesh and blood but were something from an other order of existence entirely. She was neither religious nor, with few exceptions, superstitious, but what she was hearing seemed so utterly otherworldly that the back of her scalp contracted with apprehension and delight.

“Do you think it’s possible, Marge? Do you think it could have been the same bird?”

“Anything’s possible, honey. Maybe he’s got a crush on you.”

They were sitting in the large yard behind their building. An early-evening breeze fluttered the young leaves in the trees above them. In a nearby bocci court, rows of lettuce, squash and tomatoes were being doused by an automatic sprinkler system. The building’s architect had been told the project’s population would be elderly Italians. When the Italians failed to materialize in any number, someone got the idea to turn the bocci courts into big window boxes and grow vegetables and flowers. When the building manager was informed the soil might contain heavy metals, new soil had to be imported, several truckloads of it. Fertilizer had to be added, which meant hiring a professional gardener who had to be kept on to do the planting because none of the residents were up to turning over the soil, even with a gas-powered tiller. Besides, what insurance carrier would pay for a strained back or worse under those circumstances? In the end, the gardener handled the entire operation from planting to harvest, and the residents for whom the garden was supposed to provide light exercise and meaningful activity (Birth, Death, Regeneration) ignored it.

“You didn’t happen to notice if the bird absented himself from the premises for a couple hours at midday?”

“No, honey, I didn’t. I been running my tail off getting ready for this fool event on Saturday. Old people are worse than children. You have to mind you don’t show any favoritism or you have the rest all squawking at you. How did you make out at the doctor’s?”

“Oh, I’m fit as a fiddle…and ready for love.”

“Your daughter must be glad to hear that.”

“My daughter,” Doris said, “thinks she’s become my mother. But I had a perfectly adequate mother—and father—thank you.”

“Still, she must be happy to hear the good news.”

“She’s hedging her bets until all the test results are in.”

“A real optimist you’ve raised there, Doris. Still, at least she takes an interest. There are plenty here don’t hear from their children from one end of the year to the next.”

Doris looked up toward the building’s water tower, but there was no sign of her bird, although she thought she had heard him briefly when she was fixing a chicken breast earlier in the evening. Still, he couldn’t be expected to remain on top of that tower all the time. He had to eat and, presumably, sleep.

“These old bones can use a hot bath,” Marge said, getting to her feet with difficulty.

“Are you alright?”

“A touch of arthritis. Runs in the family.”

“You have something for it?”

“The quack I go to wanted to prescribe one of those fancy new drugs, but I wouldn’t hear of it. Friend of mine was on one of them and it ate up her kidneys. I’ll stick with good old aspirin.”

Doris wasn’t sure if Marge Sadowski was older or younger than her, but whatever her age, that vigorous woman was the last person she expected to see stricken with an infirmity of the elderly. She looked down at her hands, bent them into a fist and relaxed them again. There was no stiffness. Even so, sometimes when she was washing dishes a plate or cup would slip from her grasp.

“Wasn’t that Marge I saw hobbling away?” asked Gerty Miller, massive in a purple-and red-muu-muu.

“She has a little stiffness in her knee.”

“Is that right? She’d better have it looked after. Penny up in 8B had her knee go on the blink like that. Had arthroscopic surgery. In and out the same day. She felt brand new for a couple years. But it came back.”

Gerty sat down with a sigh that was like the exhalation of a huge seat cushion.

“Did she have another operation?”

“Hell, no. By then her heart gave out. She died a year ago.” Gerty  turned her thick neck toward the building’s top floors. “Sounds like it’s moved on. Maybe we’ll get a little peace and quiet.” She picked up the hem of her tentlike dress and fluttered it against her thighs. “Damn nuisance, is what I say.”

“You’re not a bird fancier?”

Gerty hunched her shoulders and considered the narrow rows of lettuce and squash as if they were acres of ripe corn. “Can’t say I am. Not of the kind that don’t know light from dark, at least. That little twerp had me awake half the night. Good riddance is what I say.”

Ever since Doris moved into the building, Gerty had periodically solicited her support for one cause or another. She tried to get up a petition to keep blacks out when there was a rumor an interracial couple would be moving in (the rumor was unfounded; the building was still lily-white). She also opposed the formation of a Gray Panthers chapter on the grounds it was a front organization for the Communist Party. And then there had been that bone-chilling evacuation in early spring.

“Do you remember Pat Bauer, used to live in 6D on your floor?”

“She must have been before my time.”

“How long you been here, Doris? Three years?”

“Two, come this autumn.”

“Only two? Well, then, of course you wouldn’t remember Pat. She moved out, oh, three-four years ago. Went to one of those retirement villages in the Southwest. I got a letter from her today.”

“Is that so?”

Gerty nodded emphatically, as if the woman’s relocation had been her idea.

“Said she couldn’t be happier. They have everything you could possibly want—movies, live entertainment, dances. Plus, no children allowed. They have their own security force doesn’t allow them past the gate.”

“Even for a visit?”

“Right. Plus, every unit is equipped with a medical emergency system. You push one button for the fire department, another for the coronary-care unit.”

“It sounds wonderful,” Doris teased. “Do they have a button to summon a male escort?”

Gerty regarded Doris with a strangely wounded look, her great jowels aquiver. A rash of perspiration beaded her brow. Doris tried to read the meaning of the hurt in those tiny eyes and tight rosebud mouth but couldn’t decide if she was looking at anger, grief or just a case of high blood pressure.

“Doris, she’s no better off than she was right here in Jersey ++. The few men they got there want to be treated like princes. And they don’t just expect you to put out,” she said, laying a clammy but remarkably small hand on her neighbor’s arm. “They want a full-course meal and a floor show. And then they fall asleep over dessert!”

Doris tried not to laugh, but the image of a geriatric Don Juan dozing off into his Jello Surprise was irresistible.

“It’s true, Doris!”

Later, during the evening news, she wondered what it took for a woman to descend to the level of the residents in the retirement village Gerty had described. Doris had seen a number of her building’s residents make fools of themselves just to attract a little male attention—a silly tiff that broke out between two women who had danced with the same man during one of those semi-annual socials; a hair-pulling match in the dining room over a photograph—but until she glimpsed the pool of loneliness just below the surface of Gerty Miller’s gruff obesity she had found such antics merely comical. She couldn’t imagine any man inciting that kind of reaction in her, at least none but her dead husband. Yet those women had husbands once. And those spouses, now dead like her own, had not been proof against the pathetic behavior their wives eventually succumbed to.

Her TV showed victims of a capsized ferry in the Far East bobbing up and down in the water like poisoned fish. But the image in her mind was of Gerty Miller “putting out” for the sake of some male companionship. Until now the woman’s massive flesh had seemed beyond sexual appetite. Food apparently satisfied her physical needs and politics her psychological ones. But as the scene on the TV switched to a toilet bowl cleaner and three dancing housewives, she realized that Gerty was a woman like any other. To see her any other way was to view the world as a child views it, no more suspecting the hidden frailties in the adults around her than she might imagine Christmas in June.

She turned off the television and opened the glass door leading out to the terrace. The tall television antenna—who need nine hundred cable channels?—that had brought her those bloated corpses in Bangladesh was charcoaled against a fading sky. There was no bird atop its metal arms, nor was any visible on the water tower. She told herself it was only a bird, no matter how exotic its song or uncanny its appearances. And yet, that song had come to mean something precious that she could neither deny nor put a name to. The bird had probably only alighted on her roof by chance or because the height gave him a vantage from which to broadcast his mating call or whatever that endless stream of melody was for. But as darkness descended on the broad cornfields to the west, she found herself praying to the God in which she did not believe that the creature’s delicious rhapsody would not so soon abandon her.

CHAPTER TWO

Despite what Doris told Marge about her daughter not being happy until all the test results were in, Evelyn was relieved by the preliminary results of her mother’s physical. She even decided to take Doris out to a restaurant to celebrate her birthday instead of just baking a cake.

“My God, Evvie,” her husband said, “all she had was a little constipation.”

“You’re not an only child,” she replied. “You don’t know what it’s like having sole responsibility for a parent. If something went wrong with your mother, your brother Phil could look after her.”

“Phil lives three thousand miles away. How could he look after her?”

“That’s not the point,” Evelyn insisted, folding the morning’s wash into precise piles on the ironing board in the basement. “No matter how far away Phil is, he’s still your brother. You wouldn’t be alone if anything did happen.”

She put her husband’s freshly washed dress shirts into a plastic basket to iron later, then stacked the baby’s things and her own clothes into another and headed up the cellar stairs. Robert’s job as engineer for the local power company gave him alternate Thursdays and Saturdays off. Evelyn didn’t mind his irregular work schedule. It gave her a chance to plan midweek shopping excursions that might otherwise have to wait until the weekend when the malls were overcrowded. Having every other Saturday to herself also gave her a chance to spend time with her mother. She usually took her for a ride in the country. By the time they got back Robert was usually home from work and starting a barbecue in the yard.

Despite his sarcasms, he seemed to get on well with his mother-in-law. He chauffeured her wherever Evelyn asked and made sure she had her favorite food and drink when she visited. He even sensed the occasional impatience with her grandchild and took the boy to play at a nearby park, showing more sensitivity to her moods than did Evelyn, who resented her mother’s fickle attitude toward her only grandchild.

“She’s an old lady, Ev. You can’t expect her to have the kind of patience we do with Bobby.”

“He’s her grandchild. Her only grandchild.”

“And she loves him, in her way. But you can’t expect her to go ga-ga every time she sees him. Especially when he’s acting bratty.”

“Any child gets cranky when he’s tired.”

“Of course he does. All I’m saying is, your mother isn’t child-oriented like you are. She likes to have him around for a while, but then she wants her personal space back.”

“That’s not all there is to it,” she said, stuffing a stack of clean shorts into a dresser drawer. The boy was napping two rooms away. “She thinks Bobby’s spoiled and doesn’t know how to behave.”

She pushed the dresser drawer closed but stood with her hands on the knobs, staring miserably at an old photograph of her father. Robert put his arms around her.

“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

“No, I’m not,” she said, her eyes filled with hot tears. “But you’d better get going to the golf course if you plan to be back in time to take us shopping.”

She was done with the wash, and the ironing could wait till tomorrow. Bobby—it was she who had named him after his father, because she believed a first-born son should be—was just waking from his nap. She sat down on the edge of his bed and watched him with as much interest as if his coming awake were something unusual like a solar eclipse. His walls were papered with scenes from a space adventure popular a year earlier. Wormlike aliens with grotesquely cute smiles stared down at her. Every morning and afternoon the boy woke to their beneficent gazes, but had yet to take them for granted. He could lie for as much as half an hour staring back at those saucer-eyed creatures, as reassured by their maniacal grins as if they were his own mother’s and father’s—perhaps more so, since the aliens never became short-tempered or otherwise unpredictable. Evelyn herself no longer noticed the wallpaper unless it became smudged with crayon or something worse, just as she paid no mind to the shelves of old toys that had accumulated over the past three years—with one exception: a ragdoll clown her mother had bought for her grandson when he was a newborn. Evelyn quickly became devoted to that mop-haired toy and assumed Bobby would as well. Whenever he lay down to sleep she tucked it under his arm. She saw to it that he never took a trip, not even to the mall, without it. He had several other dolls that he preferred to Clownie but, sensing the allegiance his mother felt toward it, he obliged her by pretending a similar affection for the doll—or contempt when he wanted to punish her.

“Hello, sleepyhead,” she said, distracting him from his placid contemplation. She greeted him with the same words every morning and afternoon, so that he had come to assume they meant someone whose head was literally filled with sleep, as if the purpose of napping were to store up unconsciousness.

“Did you and Clownie have a good nap?”

He nodded, although it was his mother, not he, who reached out to give the doll a hug.

“Daddy went to play golf. So you and me and Clownie have to go down to the Wic Wac to buy supper. Would you like to have a cookout again?” she said, poking his pot belly. He grinned and nodded. “Hotdogs?” He nodded again. “Potato salad?” Then, walking her fingers up his thigh, “Water…melon?” When her fingers reached his ribs he giggled and kicked his plump legs.

She dressed him in a short-pants sailor suit she had ordered from a mail-order company. He was the best-dressed child in the neighborhood, although she never fussed when he got dirty. His business was to play hard like a real boy. If she chose to indulge herself by dressing him in attractive outfits, that was her own affair.

The Wic Wac, a twenty-four-hour convenience store, was only half a mile away, but few of the local residents ever walked there. Evelyn was one who did. She used to walk a lot before she and her husband had saved enough money to buy their house, and still considered it effete of her neighbors to drive a few blocks for a quart of milk when the exercise would do them good.

She strapped Bobby into the stroller and set off down the sidewalk: a nattily dressed three-year-old, his silky hair carefully combed, nails meticulously pared—and his hastily-coiffed, skew-skirted mother badly in need of a fresh manicure and a new pair of sneakers. She might have been his nanny except that they resembled one another so closely. Their coloring was identical, a dull olive which deepened rapidly to tan in summertime. Each was dark-eyed and small-faced, though with strong mouths and firm noses. Bobby’s hair was still lighter than his mother’s but was steadily darkening. She had prayed for a blue-eyed girl, assuming that everything she had missed out on in life could have been hers except for the accident of genes. She still wanted to try for that blond doll—in a couple of years, maybe. She figured, given her husband’s light features, she stood a better-than-even chance of succeeding the second time.

The Wic Wac parking lot was empty. Inside, a lone teenager stood behind the cash register, reading a fashion magazine. Bobby had scarcely moved since they had left the house, content to view the passing scenery. But once inside the store he became animated, reaching out toward the shelves and demanding that his mother buy one or another item. She made no attempt to restrain or quiet him unless he was in danger of pulling down a stack of boxes or refused to take no for an answer. He much preferred the Giant supermarket, where he could sit in the shopping cart like a rajah on his elephant. But just as he could sense his mother’s attachment to Clownie and tried, for her sake, to pay the doll more attention than he was inclined to, he also understood the significance of these ritual walks to the Wic Wac and played the part expected of him—right down to demanding an extra box of Animal Crackers for the doll who, he knew better than his mother, neither ate nor drank.

“Clownie wants cookie.”

“Clownie has enough cookies. Clownie didn’t eat the cookies we bought him yesterday.”

When they reached the frozen food case he yelled, “Clownie wants ice cream!”

The checkout girl looked up from a swimsuit ad, smiled and returned to her reading.

“Clownie does not want ice cream. Clownie will get ice cream when grandma comes over for her birthday party on Saturday,” she told him while selecting two pairs of pantyhose from a revolving display. But before they left the store she bought him a tricolor Popsicle for the trip home.

“Everything’s ready,” she said, bearing bowls of potato salad, macaroni-and-cheese and fresh corn to the picnic table. They ate in the yard at every opportunity since they had moved into the house two years ago. After her father died Evelyn tried to persuade her mother to move in with them. Doris was willing enough to sell the old house—it meant nothing to her without Harry—but she refused to live with her daughter, saying at first she wouldn’t dream of violating their privacy, but finally admitting it was her independence she was afraid of losing. Meanwhile, she lived on investments her son-in-law set up with Harry’s insurance money. When a buyer for the house turned up she accepted a subsidized apartment in the senior citizens housing not far from where her daughter lived.

“What did you shoot?” Evelyn asked her husband. She used to play golf herself but gave it up when Bobby was born.

“The usual. You can’t get your score down unless you play at least twice a week.”

She knew he wasn’t complaining, but she smiled at the idea of his golfing more often. She had no comparable recreation in her own life.

“Did Kip show up?”

“He got tied up at the job.”

Bobby finished the first half-ear of corn he had been given and demanded another.

“Who’d you play with?”

“Some people I met on the first tee.”

“Anyone we know?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Guys, or a couple?”

“A couple,” he said, biting into his corn, “women.”

“Girls? Just you and two girls?”

“Mmm.”

“How old?”

“Don’t know. Not old.”

“Twenty? Thirty?”

“Thirty, I guess.”

She sat back from the picnic table and regarded her husband with amazement.

“You played a round of golf with two strange women?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Well,” she said, coloring, “I never heard of such nerve.”

“Relax, Evvie. They’re both married.”

“You asked?”

“They were wearing wedding bands.”

“I suppose that was the first thing you checked.”

“More corn!” Bobby shouted.

“No more,” his mother said without taking her eyes off his father. “Where were their husbands?”

“Working, I guess. Does anybody mind if I finish the potato salad?”

“Worked up an appetite, did you?”

“You bet.”

“I don’t think it’s funny.”

“That I worked up an appetite or that their husbands were working?”

She stared at him icily as he cleaned out the potato salad bowl.

“That’s why you were late getting home. You probably stopped for drinks.”

“Probably.”

“More ‘tato!”

“No more, champ. Have some of Daddy’s.”

“We’ll talk this over later.”

“What’s to talk over?”

“I send you out to play an innocent round of golf with the boys, and you end up getting picked up by two floozies.”

“Who said they picked me up?”

“You asked them to play?”

“Isn’t that what a gentleman’s supposed to do?”

“Well, I’ll tell you what, Mr. Wiseguy,” she said, getting to her feet so abruptly that she almost upset the table. “Suppose you just sleep on the couch until you can learn to remember you’re a married man.”

“More corn!”

“No more corn!” she shouted at her son, reaching for empty bowls to carry into the house.

In her single days she had broken up with more than one confused young man for no greater reason than her husband had just given her. But Robert had developed an instinct early on for her weakness (one of the few people in her life who saw it as such) and made allowances. Once they were married he relaxed his guard a bit, even teased her now and then, but never forgot the sort of woman he was living with.

Evelyn made some adjustments herself after she became pregnant. The father of her child was no pimply boyfriend to be dismissed with an angry phone call or self-righteous letter. For the first time in her dealings with the opposite sex she had to consider whether her anger—bitter, even violent though it may be—was proportionate to the offense. Doing so was at first like trying to stop a freight train with a pillow. But gradually she developed restraint, hesitated if only for a few seconds before launching into a general anathema of the man and his sex. Tonight’s reaction, by comparison with the old days, was an example of perfect self-composure.

“We’ll have the usual cookout for Mom on Saturday?” Robert  asked after the lights were out. If he had been speaking of his own parent he would have said “my mother.”

“Why wouldn’t we?”

“I just thought, since she would be with us on Sunday . . .”

“What does one thing have to do with the other? Would you rather she doesn’t come Saturday?”

“Not at all. I’ll be at work anyway.”

“Then, what are you worried about? You’ll only have to put up with her for a couple of hours in the evening.”

He hoped this would be the end of his indiscretion, but a couple  minutes later she added, “You don’t have to see her at all if it’s such a burden. You could stay away until she leaves. Maybe you could arrange something with one of those women you picked up.”

“They’re both busy Saturday.”

He couldn’t see her face in the dark, but he knew her lips were pressed lightly together, her cheeks bright with indignation. He placed his hand tentatively on her stomach. She did not object, so he moved closer.

“Do you think I could get the hots for any other woman but you?”

She did not reply, a response he recognized as willingness to make peace. But he also sensed something else was wrong.

“You’re not still worried about her health? Don’t you think she would have told you if something was wrong?”

He felt her shoulders move, but she said nothing.

“You’re determined to find something amiss no matter what the doctors say.”

“Of course I don’t want anything to be wrong with her.”

“Then, why the worry?”

She lay silent for a few moments, her arms crossed on her chest. “I told you this morning: you’re not an only child. You wouldn’t understand.”

“I understand well enough that Reinhardt gave her a clean bill of health.”

“The blood results aren’t back yet.”

“So what? Her problem was constipation. If there was anything wrong with her bowels he would have sent her for a colonoscopy.”

She fell silent again, but he knew it was not because she had seen the wisdom of his argument.

“You think she didn’t tell you the whole story, that she’s holding out on you. You don’t trust her, just like you don’t trust me to play a round of golf with someone without climbing into bed with them.”

She still said nothing. Exasperated, he turned on his back.

“You think you understand,” she replied finally. “But you don’t.”

“Right.”

“You have your brother. I have nobody.”

“Sure.”

She sighed, pulled the sheet up closer to her neck and turned her back toward him.

CHAPTER THREE

Doris decided on a blue dress with a deep scoop neck. She laughed at herself for selecting such a daring outfit—she had large and, in their day, well-formed, breasts—“daring,” at least among a crowd of halt, half-blind old people. But she didn’t choose it to draw attention or, certainly, to attract any of the men who would be present. She chose it for herself, as a gesture of gaiety and remembrance for the good times she once had with Harry.

“You’re the only date I want,” she said to the bird, who had returned to his accustomed perch and was singing away despite the blazing heat.

After breakfast she sat down with a novel. Since her husband’s death reading had become her greatest pleasure, more a reliable friend than just a pastime. When Harry was alive she hardly read at all. Even when he was away at work she kept busy with the house and garden. And of course there had been Evelyn to look after. Even when the girl went away to college her reading remained confined to The Reader’s Digest, women’s magazines and the occasional novel. It was only since her widowhood that she discovered in the printed word something more than a time-filler or soporific.

When Harry was not at work they were always doing something together, whether a simple drive to the supermarket or one of the come-as-you-are excursions to Lake George or the Jersey Shore that were his specialty. “What say we give the old girl her head?—the “old girl” being their aging Plymouth, the only other woman in his life, as best she could tell. Off they would go, without a change of clothes, without bathing suits (she gathered quite a collection over the years) and yet always managed to have a good time. Even Evelyn’s complaints of earache and motion sickness couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm. Evelyn and her father fought an undeclared but endless war of love/hate for the object of their affection. Neither would give an inch, though Harry always remained outwardly good-natured, perhaps because he sensed, if it ever came down to it, there was no way any child could dislodge him from his privileged place in his wife’s heart.

The phone rang. It was Marge, making sure Doris hadn’t changed her mind about the dance.

“What else would I do but sit in my daughter’s backyard?”

“Some people wouldn’t mind that,” Marge replied.

“I have to go there Sunday for my birthday party. Once a week is enough.”

After she hung up she realized she hadn’t thought to ask about Marge’s arthritis. But just as she was about to pick up the phone again it rang a second time. This time it was Dr. Reinhardt’s office.

“The Doctor would like you to go for a follow-up exam,” said his nurse, a young woman whose dresses fit her very tightly about the hips.

“Is there something wrong with my blood?”

“Your blood work is fine. It has to do with your chest X ray. There’s a small shadow, probably just an old pneumonia scar, but the doctor wants to make sure.”

“I’ve never had pneumonia in my life,” Doris said, sounding even to her own ears like a contrary old woman. “He told me my X ray looked fine.”

“It did at the time. But Doctor Reinhardt always goes over the X rays a second time. That was when he spotted this shadow. It’s just a tiny thing, but it pays to be careful.” She didn’t add, “at your age,” but she might as well have.

Doris had a mind to speak to the doctor directly, but she didn’t want to seem difficult. Harry always said she made too much of things. She compromised by taking the referral but did not say she would actually follow up on it. It wasn’t much of a protest, but it was the best she could manage. She had never had a serious day of illness in her life. She drank little alcohol, exercised moderately and hadn’t smoked a cigarette since an adolescent experiment that left her retching. The idea that there could be something wrong with her lungs was absurd. The more she thought about it—and she thought about little else for the remainder of the morning—the more irritated she felt.

“Whoever heard of such a thing?” she said to her feathered friend on the water tower above. “What they won’t do for an extra buck. We’re just hunks of meat to them. ‘You take this piece, I’ll take that.’”

The bird sang with passion and now, it seemed, with urgency as well. Yet, his melody did not become any less inventive. If anything, it seemed to become more intricate the more compelled he felt to sing it. Could his efforts all be just a complex mating call? If so, why hadn’t it succeeded by now? Was he such a maverick that no female ever came within earshot? The poor thing might end up singing his heart out and die of heat prostration, she thought, watching him turn in one direction and then in another, like a Moslem caller summoning the faithful to prayer.

“I hear you, my dear,” she said. “Though a lot of good that does you.” And at the thought of his beautiful but perhaps futile song her eyes filled with tears and she turned away lest she give way to a bout of real crying which, she decided, would be ridiculous.

She decided not to tell Evelyn that she had made an appointment to see a radiologist the following week. In the meantime she determined to put the matter out of her mind. She didn’t entirely succeed, but once the appointment was made it was as if she had consigned herself to the fates and could relax for a few days. Harry used to say she could commit mass murder and sleep peacefully as long as there was nothing she could do to reverse her actions. “The cast is dead,” he liked to say, twisting around the words of one of his favorite sayings, “The die is cast.” He was right, up to a point. She did feel a sense of profound relief whenever a serious decision was taken out of her hands or, better yet, when it became too late to take action. Sometimes he called her the Fourth Monkey: Too Late to Do Anything Anyhow. He was the opposite kind of person himself. He thrived on responsibility, even looked for more than his share. If he saw a stranded motorist or even an injured animal, he stopped to help. He was the first person in town to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation, although, poor man, he died without anyone’s making an effort to save his life until the ambulance arrived, too late. He served twice on the town council and was troop leader of the Boy Scouts. He collected for every charity under the sun and, after Evelyn went away to college, became a Big Brother to a black teenager in a neighboring town.

“Mother, what do you mean you can’t come tomorrow? Bobby is expecting you. He has his heart set on it.”

“He’ll see me Sunday, dear. My birthday isn’t until Sunday.”

“But it’s your Saturday to come.”

“I’ve already promised I’d go to this affair. I couldn’t back out now without ruffling a lot of feathers. Maybe I could come over next Saturday.”

“No, next Saturday’s no good. We’re going on a camping trip. Oh, Mother, what do you want to go to a dance for anyway at your age?”

Doris knew she ought to feel insult at the implication that she was too old to enjoy herself. But all she did feel was a desire to end the conversation.

“What about Bobby?” Evelyn asked.

“What about him?”

“Don’t you care that you’ll be disappointing him—never mind me and Robert?”

“I’m very sorry, Evelyn. This other thing entirely slipped my mind.”

“You deliberately made plans to go somewhere else, when you knew we would be expecting you.”

“You said you wanted to take me out for my birthday. My birthday isn’t until Sunday.”

But she realized as she stood holding the telephone half an inch from her ear that when she told Marge Sadowski she would attend the dance she never really gave a thought to Evelyn’s plans for that day. The truth—though she didn’t like admitting it—was that she had no desire to see either her daughter or her grandson on two consecutive days.

“You’d be here if Daddy was alive.”

“What does you father have to do with it?”

There was a pause while, Doris could tell, Evelyn restrained herself from saying what she really thought. This was one of the few times her daughter had invoked Harry’s ghost. Usually she spoke of him only to point out some common feature which he and his grandson shared or to verify a biographical detail.

“Why bring your father into it?”

“Never mind.”

“My goodness, he’s been dead almost three years.”

“I know that, Mother.”

The only thing Evelyn could have meant was that Harry would make his wife go to the cookout instead of to the dance. If that’s what the girl thought she was wrong on two counts: Harry never made his wife do anything she didn’t want to do, and wouldn’t try. And, he would never pass up a chance to show off his foxtrot, short of a death in the family. But it would do no good pointing out either of these facts to his self-righteous offspring.

She got up early Saturday morning—her usual time was eight or eight-thirty now that Harry was not there to roust her out of bed at the crack of dawn. She fixed her usual bowl of Wheateena, then sat down with her book and a cup of strong tea. But almost immediately she started to think about the dress she had chosen and got up to have another look at it. The neckline seemed even more daring than she had remembered it. Harry used to threaten to drop ice cubes down the front. He never did, but he took plenty of other liberties when she wore the dress, which was the main reason why she put it on. How could she have thought to wear such an outfit alone among strangers?

When Marge called for her that evening she was leaning heavily on a metal cane. “Got your dancing shoes on?” She remained standing while Doris fetched her handbag and checked to see that she had turned off the stove. “At least the weather is cooperating,” Marge said as they rode down in the elevator. “I like your dress.”

Doris cast a look down at the full-skirted, high-back maroon outfit she eventually decided on. The last time she wore it was to a wedding four years ago. Harry said she looked like an East European colonel in it. If her blue scoop-neck was the most revealing dress she owned, this one was the most conservative.

Marge had chosen a summery shift that seemed oddly festive, given her stoop and the aluminum cane she was forced to use.

“Are you in pain?”

“Stiff, more than anything. Like I did too many windows. Right”—she placed her hand on one side of her back—“here.”

A group of women had gathered in the lobby, supplementing the klatch of old men who camped out there regularly to jaw and watch the females pass by. The women were all dressed, and overdressed, for the dance. Marge greeted them jovially in her capacity as the affair’s organizer. Doris nodded to a few familiar faces.

Outside, the band—this year there was a drummer as well as an organist—was tuning up. A broad slab of concrete bordering the bocci court would serve as dance floor and refreshment area. Wires had been strung into the big trees standing guard where the lawn began. Suspended from the wires were colored lanterns.

“What do you think?” Marge said, surveying her handiwork.

“Very nice. Festive.”

“I’ve seen worse. We also got rid of that Rudy Vallee type who provided the music last year—if you can call it that. I think you’ll like these two. They play in local clubs.”

She excused herself to give instructions to one of her lieutenants. Doris looked around for a place to sit down but found all the gray metal chairs either occupied or not yet set up. She felt foolish standing in the middle of what was to be the dance floor, so she headed for the benches under the trees. They all appeared to be empty until she got away from the lanterns’ glare and noticed a large shadow.

“Hello there,” Gerty Miller said, wearing what looked like a floral green tent. “Damn fool nonsense,” she said. “Fancy lights and music. For what? We already know who the eligible males are in this building. We don’t need no shindig to flush them out. If they had an interest in any of us, they got plenty of opportunity. All that’s going to happen here”—she waved her small, pudgy hand toward the buffet table—“is a few old codgers who already belong to someone else will get their jollies rubbing up against some other ladies’ titties.” She flapped the hem of her muu muu for ventilation. Doris glimpsed thighs as big as a normal woman’s waist. “Well, I can tell you one thing, honey. I don’t intend to let no man rub his bony little self against these titties.”

She indicated the upper regions of her muu muu beneath which two round throw pillows seemed to reside.

“It can’t do any harm, Gerty. Let them have their fun.”

Her neighbor gave her a suspicious look, then said, “Come dressed to kill, I see.”

“What, this?” Doris fingered the lace at the bodice of her high-necked dress. “I only wore this outfit because I’ll probably give it away to the clothing drive next Christmas.”

Gerty pursed her rosebud mouth and looked her neighbor up and down.

“I used to wear dresses like that myself. Naturally, I was a good deal lighter then. I don’t suppose you think it’s possible I was ever slim as you are.”

“Slim? I couldn’t believe what I saw when I got on the doctor’s scale. I’ll have to lay off the Fig Newtons for a while.”

“When I was a young woman I was half your size. Can you believe that? My boyfriend could put his hands around my waist and touch his fingertips together. Now, that’s small. And I’ll tell you something else:  Men couldn’t leave me alone. I attracted all kinds—young, old, normal, even a weirdo or two.

“Do you remember the old subway cars, especially on elevated lines? Well, maybe you recall that little cubby at the end, just big enough for two people to squeeze into. I used to sit there because it was nice and private. I could read in peace without anybody standing over me. One day I was in there on my way home from school—high school—when in walks this fellow and whips it out right in my face.” She paused not, apparently, to let the horror of the moment take effect but to see if Doris would challenge her. “I swear to God as sure as I’m sitting here.”

“You must have been terrified. Did you yell for help?”

“Couldn’t,” Gerty said, her little mouth set in defiance and beads of perspiration trickling down her cheeks. “I couldn’t seem to make a sound.”

“How old were you?”

“Fifteen, maybe. Sixteen.”

“My God, what happened? Did he just go away?”

“He did not. He went on standing there, waving his organ at me like it was a toy flag. Then he decides to take a step closer—to give me a better view, I suppose. Finally he ups and lays it right on top of the page I was reading.”

“Dear God.”

“But I had a little surprise for him. It was instinct.  I never would have had the nerve if I thought about it first.”

“You didn’t!”

“I did. And you never saw a more surprised look on a man’s face. I’ll bet he never tried that trick again,” Gerty concluded, her face as flushed as if she had just climbed a flight of stairs. “Ever have anything like that happen to you, Doris?”

“Never.”

Gerty nodded, satisfied she had made her point, although she seemed to have forgotten what the point was. But Doris hadn’t forgotten. Her eyes went to Gerty’s midsection which once could be encompassed by the hands of a teenage lover. Of course, all fat people were thin once, or could have been. What was difficult to conceive in Gerty’s case was the combination of slimness and normalcy—the sought-after young woman who allowed a member of the opposite sex to get close enough to put his hands around, not to say on, her. Marge once told her Gerty’s husband had been a small, effeminate man. There followed the predictable jokes about their sex life. But Doris only now realized, as she sat watching the woman fan her huge thighs, that she had never actually believed in Mr. Miller. At least, not as more than a comic prop. Such men existed, but she never looked upon them as bona fide members of the male sex, not certainly of the same sex as her own husband.

“What did the doctor say?” Gerty asked.

“Nothing much.”

“What was the complaint? Why’d you go?”

“Old age,” Doris replied with a forced smile. “Not enough prune juice.”

Gerty nodded knowingly. “Try raisins. Put them in your breakfast cereal. Works like a charm.”

“I will.”

“Never believed in doctors myself. Do more harm than good. Did I tell you about Chatty Thompson?”

“You did.”

“Never sick a day in her life until she went to a doctor.”

“Even so,” Doris said, “when we fall ill we’re glad enough to have one around.”

“Not me. I seen them kill too many of my kith and kin.”

Doris wondered if Mr. Miller was included in that number.

“If one had been around when my Harry had his heart attack, he might still be here now.”

“I leave them alone, and that’s the way I expect them to leave me.”

The organist was experimenting with his volume levels. Marge was explaining to one of the building employees how she wanted some folding chairs arranged, using her free hand to indicate how to place them. Seeing her dependent on that shaft of aluminum was like watching a famous athlete be obliged to hobble about on crutches. Doris would no more have thought it possible for Marge to suddenly become disabled than she could have imagined a young man spanning Gerty Miller’s waist with his hands.

“Shall we sit closer to the music? Someone’s brought out more chairs.”

“Not me, honey. You go ahead.”

Doris glanced up at the square water tower on top of the building. The sky was still blue behind it, casting the television antenna into silhouette. She couldn’t see any bird there, and the organ now made it impossible to hear anything else.

“Are you sure you won’t join me?”

“Too hot,” Gerty said, fanning with a piece of newspaper.

“There’s a cold punch. It might taste good on a night like this.”

Still Gerty demurred. Her vigorous fanning was causing a fresh rash of perspiration to break out on her brow.

“Come on, Gert. Keep me company.”

“Oh, alright,” she said, beginning the laborious task of getting to her feet. “You talked me into it.”

There seemed to be a good turnout in the making. Few tenants went away during the summer months unless it was for a weekend with their children. They were not too poor to afford vacations, they just couldn’t overcome the inertia in their lives. Doris was not against taking a little trip herself. But she had become so used to traveling with her husband that the idea of going anywhere on her own seemed daunting. Her friends from her married days had either moved away or were living with married children. Marge was the closest she had come to becoming intimate with anyone in Windsor Towers, but Marge was always so wrapped up with one committee or another that she never seemed to have a moment to herself. Evelyn had talked about a trip to Maine at the end of the summer. But sitting in the backseat of a car with a restless two-year-old for ten hours was not Doris’s idea of a good time.

“Ready to sample the earthly delights we’ve assembled?”

Marge didn’t acknowledge Gerty until the woman was physically impossible to ignore. Gerty returned her greeting, but from that point on the two women avoided each other.

“The potato salad’s homemade,” Marge told Doris, lifting a thin slice of ham onto a paper plate. Gerty had just been spooning potato salad onto her own plate. She pointedly did not reach for any more. “Coleslaw, bean salad, fresh fruit cup—all made right here on the premises.”

There wasn’t much left that Gerty could refuse without going hungry, so she piled up deep-fried drumsticks and added some soft rolls. The punch was presumably homemade as well, but since Marge hadn’t included it in her catalogue Gerty dipped into it freely.

“Gerty been bending your ear?” Marge asked when she had Doris to herself.

“Just the usual. Marge, do you remember Mr. Miller?”

“Sure. Died about a year, maybe two, before you moved in. What do you want to know about him?”

“What was he like? As a man, I mean. Gerty hardly ever mentions him.”

Marge chewed on her coleslaw and stared into the shadows beneath the colored lanterns. “Wimpy guy. About half a head shorter than her.”

“That I know. But what was he like? Did you ever talk to him?

“Sure, I talked to him. I talk to everybody. Although I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what we said. He wasn’t the sort of fellow who made an indelible impression on you.”

“Still, he must have had something going for him. After all, Gerty married him, didn’t she?

“All I know is, they made the damndest-looking pair—him skinny as a pole and knee-high to a tadpole, and her looking like she belongs in a sideshow.”

“She wasn’t always so fat.”

“She wasn’t?” Marge made a face as if she had just bitten into something sour.

“You don’t like her very much, do you.”

“She’s obnoxious, self-centered, a bigot and an eyesore. Otherwise, I have nothing against her.”

Doris was about to reply when she realized someone—a slim, tall man—was standing directly over her. At first she assumed he was waiting to get to the buffet table, but then she saw that he was smiling down at her.

“Would you care to dance?

“I don’t think so, thanks.”

But somehow his hands were already on her own and she was getting to her feet.

He led her to the middle of the concrete slab and ceremoniously put his arm around her. She hadn’t felt a strange man’s embrace since that Polish wedding. Harry loved to dance so much he would have worn her out if she had tried to keep up with him. She was usually glad to let one of the other women take a polka or a lindy now and then. Inevitably, this meant that other men would ask her to dance while Harry was hopping around the floor with some buxom Brunhilde, and she couldn’t refuse every time.

As her partner guided her, a bit stiffly but not without grace, around the periphery of the concrete she remembered who he was. She didn’t know his name, but she had seen him and his wife at building meetings. His wife had to be a very liberal woman to allow him to go around asking strangers to dance when the fancy took him.

Neither of them said a word until the song ended. Then he escorted her back to her seat, bowed and thanked her. As suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone again. She looked around for Marge, but her friend was fussing with the building worker about the lights. Doris’s heart was pounding from the exercise she had just had as well as from the heat and from another, less definable excitement. Finally Marge finished with the lights.

“Had a good spin?”

“Who is he, Marge? I recognize his face, but isn’t he married?”

“Not any more. His wife died this past winter.”

“And here I was thinking evil of her for letting him dance with other women.”

“He’s a free man,” Marge said, trying to get into a comfortable position on her chair. “Just like you’re a free woman.”

Doris had never thought of herself as a “free woman,” perhaps because she had never thought of herself as being un-free as a consequence of being married. If she had not gone out since Harry’s death, it was not because her marriage vows or her husband’s ghost prevented her. At least, that was what she had been telling herself for the last three years.

“He’s probably just lonely,” she said, intending only to absolve her dance partner of any infidelity to his dead wife.

“Lonely, my rump. You don’t know these old geezers like I do. Their wives aren’t cold in their graves before they’re out looking for fresh action.”

“But all he did was ask for a dance.”

“For now. But give him an inch and he’ll take a yard, I guarantee you. Pretty soon you’ll be fighting him off in the laundry room and every other place he has the opportunity to cop a little feel—or thinks he does.”

Marge’s own husband had been dead longer than Doris’s, so she presumably spoke with authority. But it was still difficult to imagine anyone trying to “cop a feel” off Marge Sadowski if she wasn’t in a willing mood to start with.

“He behaved like a perfect gentleman all the time we were dancing.”

But Marge only smiled cynically and sipped her punch. Doris had kept her word about attending this affair, but she did not intend to stick around long enough to be asked to dance a second time and then have to face the hard stares and inevitable backbiting that would greet her tomorrow in the dining hall. She told Marge the heat had given her a headache, made a point of saying goodnight to Gerty Miller, and headed back to her apartment.

Read the rest of Song of the Mockingbird on your Kindle or computer (other platforms and a paperback edition due out in the near future.)

  1. The first chapter of your story sure kept my interest. Looking forward to buying a copy when it’s out in paperback!

  2. Thanks, KG. It’s available right now for Kindle.

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