My Mother Takes a Tumble
Chapter 15: A Rendezvous Arranged by Benevolent Intervention
YOU CAN READ THE FIRST HALF
BEAKER INSISTED on walking home alone through the rain that had begun to
fall. At the door, he fumbled with the latch for a moment and then
stepped into the night.
That was a Friday night. I didn’t see him again until the following Sunday, and only years later did I persuade him and Eliza to give me an account of what had happened in the meantime.
We sat in their living room. Mr. Beaker was wearing a cardigan sweater with suede patches on the elbows. Eliza was wearing a gray silk suit. While we talked, Mr. Beaker smoked his pipe, and Eliza smoked several cigarettes. Mr. Beaker drank half a tumbler of Scotch. Eliza drank two martinis.
“It was raining when I left the bar—Whitey’s,” said Mr. Beaker. “I welcomed the rain; it was cold, but it refreshed me. I didn’t walk directly home, but wandered, and while I walked, I thought about Jack Simpson, about how Simpson had nearly felled me in our epistolary jousting, and I plotted, plotted ways to parry and thrust. As I walked, I grew fonder of Jack Simpson, as combatants can grow fond of worthy adversaries. I let myself project our correspondence into the future, imagining the pleasure of turning from answering the letters of Mary’s other correspondents, who were, already, beginning to sound much alike, to dueling with Jack Simpson, as I might turn to a game of chess to clear and stimulate my mind. I was so pleased with the prospect of this long and intriguing combat that I found myself chuckling as I walked, and smiling. So agitated was I that I walked for hours, stopping from time to time, for shelter from the rain, at several of the bars along the winding route that I took from Whitey’s to No Bridge Road.
“In some of these, while I sipped a warming Scotch, I felt the urge to talk, and found myself muttering, ‘If only Jack were here now!’
“At the last bar I visited, this muttering attracted the attention of another patron, who thought me an unfortunate figure, a lonely drinker with no one but himself to talk to. This fellow tried to strike up a conversation, and his attempt made me think that he was a lonely fellow with a need to talk. I found myself going on for hours with a perfect stranger about things I really knew nothing about: the ancient struggle to wrest the clam from the bottom of the bay, brother pitted against brother in the competition for choice beds, the best ways of hiding tough old chowder clams in sacks of tender cherrystones.
“When the bar closed, I slapped this new friend on the back, shook hands heartily, and walked home. I was a little drunk, I think. All the way home, I berated myself for not having had the nerve to ask the fellow the one question I had about clams: do they bite? I intended to slip inside the house quietly, but each of my limbs seemed to have a mind of its own, and I stumbled on the steps and then threw the screen door open with such force that it slammed against the side of the house.”
“I remember that,” I said. “It woke me, and I stood up in my crib, rubbing my eyes. I watched lights turn on and off, and then your house was quiet again, and I went back to sleep. Early in the morning, I heard whistling, and when I looked out I saw you closing your garage door, your Studebaker idling in the driveway. You got into the car and drove off.”
“Meanwhile,” said Eliza, “I was at my wit’s end. The night before, I had let myself be lured to the apartment of the fellow who had been the inspiration for Jack Simpson. I had, naively, thought him a dashing and clever guy, and he had, I admit, set my heart aflutter when he asked me to have dinner alone with him in his apartment instead of in a restaurant, because his apartment was so much cozier and we would be able to talk together quietly (and of course it would also be much cheaper for him, and he had to consider that since he was on a tight budget). Well, there we were in his apartment, and we hadn’t been alone for five minutes when all of a sudden his hands developed a mind of their own! One minute he was a nice guy with a boyish smile and a nice conversation, even if he really didn’t have much to say except about how he was sure to be district manager pretty soon and how much money he would make, and a few nice things about how pretty my hair looked when it was down and how long my legs were, and then a few minutes later he was all over me and tearing at my things with the hands of a forceful brute. I kept saying ‘no, no,’ in a strong voice even if I couldn’t really yell because it might have disturbed the neighbors who didn’t know what was going on and might have caused a lot of trouble, and I said ‘no,’ but the more I said it the more he thought I was turning on a green light, and I said ‘no, no’ but he kept right on going and even kept right on going faster, and ‘no’ I said, ‘no,’ and when to my surprise a little sound like a squeal jumped out of my mouth he said, ‘Jesus, Honey, the neighbors,’ which is not a very romantic thing to say, and ‘no’ I said, ‘no,’ and then before I knew it, it was all over and it was a big disappointment, let me tell you.”
She stopped and lit a cigarette. She threw her head back and blew a long column of smoke toward the ceiling. She threw her arm along the back of the couch and crossed her legs, making the silk suit whisper. She turned toward me again and pursed her lips. “I got a little carried away. Let me see. He fell asleep. I let myself out and walked home. The next day, I felt pretty good, and I looked at myself in the mirror and my cheeks were bright and I had a little spring in my step, so I didn’t put my hair up. When I got to the bus stop, there he was, and did he ever look different. He was wearing a jacket that looked as if he had borrowed it from a gorilla or made it himself in his spare time, and I realized that he’d been wearing that jacket for months. He gave me a little wave and said ‘Good morning,’ and that was all, and I had been expecting some little secret smile because even though I didn’t have such a great time, he seemed to enjoy himself plenty, so something came over me and I walked right up to him and stood on my toes and whispered in his ear as if I were whispering some sweet nothings, and he was looking around to see who noticed, and of course everybody did, and very sweetly I said, ‘You need practice,’ and right then I could have knocked him over with a feather. I could see the blood drain from his face, and I could tell that his knees got weak and rubbery because he shrank about an inch, and I sashayed over to the bench and took off my coat and crossed my legs and grinned.
“I left work early that afternoon. My mind was racing, and all my typing was a mess. I went home and began sorting out my things. I didn’t have any plan; I was just cleaning my slate. I didn’t realize that I was talking so loudly to myself until Mrs. Mitchell, who lived next door, came over to see what was the matter. I told her. I began heaping old things of mine on her, and it was only when I came to the little white sunsuit that I had bought after a long period of hesitation, a sunsuit that I had imagined wearing to someone’s summer house for the weekend, but had never worn at all, that I knew I wasn’t just doing my spring cleaning. I was leaving. I got out my suitcases, and I threw in the sunsuit and the other things that I wanted to keep. I spent a fitful night, and when I got up in the morning I got out of there as quickly as I could.”
Mr. Beaker let a moment pass to be certain that it was his turn to speak. “I found Louise’s Coffee Shop easily,” he said. “It was a popular spot in Hargrove at that time. God knows why. I parked on the street, across from the place, waiting for Eliza not to appear. I grew more and more delighted at her failure to appear, until I realized that no one at all had come to the corner to wait for the bus, that in fact no bus had stopped at the corner, and only then did I realize that this was a Saturday morning. I was disappointed, but not terribly disturbed; I was sure that I was right, that there was no Eliza Foote.
“I decided to make a few discreet inquiries at Louise’s. I was just about to step out of the car when a woman carrying two suitcases and a blue cloth coat walked around the corner and sat on the bench, setting a suitcase on either side of her. You could have knocked me over with a feather.”
“I sat there on the bench,” said Eliza, “enjoying the sun and the anticipation of something new. I glanced across the road and saw a fellow sitting in a Studebaker, staring at me with his mouth hanging open. ‘Take a good look,’ I said to myself, and I stretched out in the sun. Providentially, a warm breeze blew my skirt up a little. I glanced at him sidelong, and I could see that he was staring at me like mad, so I casually looked in his direction and acted as if I had noticed him for the first time. I said good morning and smiled.”
“I got out of the car in a trance,” said Mr. Beaker. “I had no doubt who she was, but I had no idea what to do.”
“He walked up to me slowly, his eyes fixed on mine, and he didn’t say anything. He just stood there. Without thinking about it really, I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to give this guy my right name.’ So I smiled at him and said, ‘My name is Mary Strong,’ which was the first name that came to mind, since it had been on my mind for so long.”
Mr. Beaker leaned forward and spoke rapidly. “I understood it all in an instant. You must imagine as I relate my thoughts that only a second is passing, that if you had been at the corner you would have seen no hesitation between Eliza’s introducing herself and my introducing myself. I thought, My God, could that be? Could this merely be a coincidence? Oh, no. Never. You’re not Mary Strong, my dear. I am Mary Strong, and you can’t be anyone but Eliza Foote. But how do you know Mary Strong? Has Jack been showing Mary’s letters to you, sharing a laugh over her confusion? Or is there no one to share that laugh with you? No one but me? I held out my hand. ‘I’m Jack Simpson,’ I said.”
Eliza put out her cigarette slowly, tapping at the ashes until nothing was left burning. “The whole thing came to me in a flash,” she said. “All these ideas raced through my mind in the time it takes to blink your eyes. I thought, Wow, could that be? Is this just a coincidence? Oh, no. Uh-uh. You’re not Jack Simpson. I made Jack Simpson up, so if anybody’s Jack Simpson, I am. So who are you? Who knows about Jack Simpson? Just me and Mary Strong. I smiled and batted my lashes. ‘I think we’ve got those backwards,’ I said.”
“We shook hands,” said Mr. Beaker.
“We walked over to the car,” said Eliza.
“We drove off.”
“We went to the beach.”
“We walked on the sand.”
“It was nearly dark when we pulled into Dudley’s driveway. Dudley didn’t even put the car into the garage. He hustled me into the house. We made love, and it was, well, not bad. Let’s say that I’ve suggested a few improvements since then, matters of style mostly.”
Mr. Beaker coughed and tamped his pipe.
“Quite a few,” he admitted, and he grinned. “I have suggested a few improvements in style myself, style of dress, of speech, of mannerism.”
Eliza patted Mr. Beaker on the back of his hand. “He fell asleep,” she said. “I unpacked and then poked around. I found the letters, of course, and spent a long time reading through them. I could see that he had real talent, but that there was room for improvement there, too.”
“When I woke up,” said Mr. Beaker, “she was pulling on my ear and saying, ‘Dudley, wake up.’ She hadn’t a stitch on, and the sight of her as soon as I opened my eyes, well it took my breath away. She was holding fistfuls of letters, and she insisted that we go through them immediately, so that I could see the changes she had in mind.”
“I said to him, ‘Admit it, Dudley, you’ve been botching up the sex parts.’”
“And as she went on, I had to admit that she was right. She had several improvements to suggest, and they were all quite interesting. I suggested that she work with me, as my assistant.”
“‘Nothing doing,’ I said. ‘Partner or nothing. I could always write to these guys and tell them they’ve been duped.’”
“I thought of the way that I had come to anticipate with such relish the competition with Jack Simpson, the jousting, the thrust and parry, and I said to myself, ‘Why, here you have the creator of Jack Simpson, you fool,’ and I agreed.”
“And he has never regretted it since,” said Eliza.
“I’ve never been a religious man,” said Mr. Beaker, slowly and carefully, “but I’ve always had the conviction that a benevolent hand nudged each of us toward that corner that morning.”
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Little Follies 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.
“My Mother Takes a Tumble,” “Do Clams Bite?,” “Life on the Bolotomy,” “The Static of the Spheres,” “The Fox and the Clam,” “The Girl with the White Fur Muff,” “Take the Long Way Home,” and “Call Me Larry” were originally published in paperback by Apple-Wood Books.
Little Follies was first published in hardcover by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail the author’s imaginary agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.