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Dudley Beaker, a Hypothetical Father
FATHER WOULD DO, any one but the one I supposedly had. I chose Dudley
Beaker; by that I mean that, one afternoon late in June when I returned
home from school full of thoughts of Patti Fiorenza and found my mother
sitting at the dining room table alone, weeping, I chose to believe that
my mother had chosen Dudley Beaker.
“Why is she crying?” I asked myself.
I crept up to my room and tried putting two and
two together. Deaths make people cry. How about the death of
Dudley Beaker? He had been interred in the Babbington municipal cemetery
without benefit of clergy just two weeks earlier. Dudley’s death
and my mother’s weeping were sequentially appropriate—his death having
preceded her weeping—and sufficiently proximate to suggest a relationship
of cause and effect. (A little logic is a dangerous thing.)
Not many other people would have been weeping for
Dudley. He had in his final years become embittered and snappish.
He told anyone who would listen that he had wasted his life and had produced
“not one single thing of value in the time allotted to me,” and insisted
that his grave be marked with only the simplest and cheapest of headstones,
bearing the epitaph de nihilo nihil. Even Eliza Foote, who
had married him, hadn’t wept at his funeral, but, my mother had, and now
she was downstairs sitting alone with her thoughts or her memories, and
she was weeping again, which surely proved something.
In the interest of objectivity, I should say that
there might have been another explanation for my mother’s weeping: she
had a few days earlier failed at an attempt to make ribbon candy on a commercial
scale, working in the kitchen of our suburban house. That failure
didn’t seem to me to be a sufficient cause for weeping, but, while I was
recalling her attempt to make the ribbon candy and assessing it as a possible
cause of her weeping, I remembered that I had observed something that lent
support for the theory that Dudley Beaker was my actual father, because
for a brief time while she was involved in the effort to make ribbon candy
she had seemed to become someone different from the woman I knew, knew
as “my mother.” I think I had seen some remnant of the girl she had
been, someone easier in her attitudes toward life and toward herself,
someone who nursed expectations of a better future, who allowed herself
to hope. Most of the time, there was a deadness in my mother’s eyes,
the blankness that comes with the expectation that nothing will make today
different from yesterday or tomorrow different from today, but while she
was working on the ribbon candy she had a twinkle in her eye, like the
twinkle in the eye of a girl in love.
I began looking for that girl in old family photographs.
I was immediately struck by how often Dudley appeared in those photographs.
The fact that he had lived next door didn’t seem a sufficient explanation
for his presence at so many of the Piper family occasions. I began
examining the images of Dudley with as much interest as I examined those
of the girl who was to become my mother.
To be able to imagine Dudley as my father, I had
first to imagine that my mother found him sexually attractive. This
wasn’t easy. I tried to see Dudley as my mother might have seen him,
but it proved impossible. I stared at the Dudley Beaker I found in
those creased photographs slipping their moorings in an old album, barely
held in place by black corner anchors coming loose as the glue aged and
dried, decaying into gripless dust, and I found a youngish man, not a bad
looking man, who was usually wearing a tweed jacket or a cardigan sweater
and nearly always puffing a pipe, but I couldn’t see him as my mother might
have seen him, couldn’t feel for him what she might have felt for him.
Instead, I began to be able to feel what he might
have felt for her. I began to discover a private Dudley Beaker, a
man who wore a mask of aloof sophistication to hide the ardor he felt for
the dark-haired bobbysoxer who lived next door, a man who sat at home alone
most evenings, wishing, wishing, wishing that the girl next door would
come tripping gaily over to his house to ask for help with her homework.
He must have wondered why she didn’t find him more attractive than high
school boys, or at least more interesting, since they hadn’t his advantages
of tweed suits and a college education.
I also discovered in those photographs an attractive
young woman whom I had never met. (Imagine here the embarrassment
of a boy of thirteen who has never thought of his mother in any but maternal
terms, discovering that she was once an attractive young woman, and discovering
that finding her attractive meant that she had joined the group of girls
he found attractive, the group that included Patti Fiorenza.)
Had the twinkle that twinkles in the eye of a girl
in love been in my mother’s eyes when Dudley Beaker was around? I
couldn’t be sure. Had there been a twinkle in Dudley’s eyes when
my mother was around? Yes. I saw it in those old photographs,
and I seemed to remember it from personal observation, and that twinkle
made Dudley a likely father.
I should like to see the custom introduced of readers who are pleased
with a book sending the author some small cash token: anything between
half-a-crown and a hundred pounds. Authors would then receive what
their publishers give them as a flat rate and their “tips” from grateful
readers in addition, in the same way that waiters receive a wage from their
employers and also get what the customer leaves on the plate. Not
more than a few hundred pounds—that would be bad for my character—not less
than half-a-crown—that would do no good to yours.
Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise
Copyright © 2001 by Eric
Inflating a Dog is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents,
dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products
of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the author.
Picador USA will publish Inflating a Dog in the summer of 2002.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio
rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail
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