Harry Resnick slipped in behind the steering wheel, drew the seat belt across his lap, tilted the wheel forward, and flicked on the radio. He hadn’t slept well the night before, but now, getting into his car to make the trip down to the shop, he felt slightly reinvigorated. This car could do that to him. He always felt a little lift in spirit driving it. It was a Chrysler, a New Yorker, top of the line. It was deep brown, a color the company called Dark Suede, and fully loaded: cushy leather seats lacquered paneling on the dash and doors, a stereo radio and cassette deck that resounded wonderfully in the enclosed space of the car, a voice that reminded you not to neglect to fasten your seat belt. The windows were tinted, back and front and on the sides. A computer registered voltage, RPMs, how much mileage had elapsed on a trip, when the car would next need fuel, and more. The salesman at Walton Chrysler, in Skokie, a nervous character named Art Feldman, when explaining how the computer worked, told Harry, “No kiddin’, it’ll practically even tell you when you gotta take a leak.”
“My God, honey,” said Sharon Resnick the first time she sat in the Chrysler, “it’s like sitting in the lobby of the old Saxony Hotel in Miami Beach in 1954.” Sharon drove a small BMW, a 535i—a “Beemer,” their daughter Deborah called it. Sharon wanted Harry to buy a Mercedes, but didn’t push it. The extra twenty grand or so a Mercedes would have cost wasn’t the issue. He didn’t even mind that it was a German car. Harry liked Chryslers; his father always drove Chryslers, long deluxe ones, Imperials, with tail fins a man could impale himself upon. Besides, it seemed to Harry as if every lawyer, every commodities market guy, every schmuck whose ship had come in nowadays drove a Mercedes, and the rest had Jaguars. There must have been fifteen or twenty Mercedes on his block in Highland Park. Chryslers were good enough for his old man, they were good enough for Harry.
From within, the Chrysler gave a sealed-off, protected feeling that Harry liked. Not long after he bought it, in the moments before drifting off to sleep, he began to think about taking a long trip alone in the car. Lulling himself to sleep, he thought maybe he would head west from Chicago with no particular destination in mind. Maybe he would run up to Vancouver, then shoot down the Pacific coast to Mexico, afterward spend a little time in the Southwest. Traveling light—a few pairs of slacks, five or six golf shirts, a pair of loafers, a windbreaker, pajamas, socks, and underwear would be all he’d need—he would stop at night at Holiday Inns or Ramadas. Evenings he would find a restaurant and eat a steak or roast beef or spaghetti, something a little life-threatening, read the local papers, walk around whatever town he happened to be in, return to his room, watch some television, maybe some night baseball, then take off early the next morning, driving the dark brown Chrysler over mountains and through piney forests and deserts. The trip, as Harry thought about it, had no time limit; it might last a month, but then again it might last four months. He would return when he felt like it—no sooner.
Of course he would never take such a trip. Over the twenty-one years of their marriage, Sharon and he had gone to Acapulco, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, once on a cruise in the Caribbean, and last year they spent a week each in London and Paris, staying at the Connaught and at the George V; in Paris Sharon bought him five one-hundred-dollar shirts at Charvet. Harry had learned that roughly a week was the extent of his tolerance for a vacation. Each time he went away he was anxious to get back, to open his mail, fall into the old routine, slip back into harness. He probably got this from his father. The old man didn’t know anything but work; he died at “the shop,” as he always called it, at seventy-four, of a heart attack, alone, just before locking up. The night he died Harry’s mother telephoned him at home. It was already eight o’clock and Pa hadn’t come home yet and she was worried. Harry drove downtown, opened the place, noticing that the burglar alarms had not been turned on, and found his father face down on the floor of the receiving room, where earlier that day they had taken delivery on a shipment of metal desks. Harry sometimes wondered if he would die in the shop, too. Next to a hospital bed, tubes stuck in every hole in your body, among strangers and in strange surroundings, the prospect of dying in the shop didn’t really seem so bad.
Clicking the automatic door-closer, Harry pulled out of the garage into early gray March morning. Chicago snow was still on the ground, now turned to black and icy sludge encasing old candy wrappers, cigarette packets, and dog crap, making even the costliest homes in Highland Park seem bleak. The news on the radio wasn’t very new. Harry felt that everyone could save a lot of time if the station, News Radio 78, would simply insert a tape announcing that the Arabs were still crazy, the situation in Central America horrible, the blacks complaining, and the economy, lousy to begin with, getting worse. This was Monday. Sunday night’s television news—and Harry and Sharon usually went to bed after the ten o’clock news—was the usual prescription for depression. Harry had noticed that, Sunday being a day off for politicians, and hence for stories about foolish promises and scandal, the local television stations filled in with accounts of family homicides, tavern shoot-ups, arson, and infants found abandoned in garbage cans on the West Side. Highland Park was roughly twenty-five miles from downtown Chicago, yet nearly every Sunday night, after the news, before they went to bed, Sharon asked the same question: “Harry, did you double-lock both doors?”
The traffic was light on the freeway at this hour, and Harry pulled into the Lake Street parking lot at 7:20. The old man used to come down at this time, and while his father was alive Harry would come in half an hour later. Harry liked the quiet of the place in the early morning, before Charley, the porter, or Arlene Bernstein, the secretary and bookkeeper, arrived. He used the time to assemble his thoughts, make a list of things he needed to do or people to see, prepare for his various appointments, go over invoices. Resnick & Son, Office Furniture, was a golden business—how golden Harry knew only after his father died. Sam Resnick had played his cards close to the chest. He and Harry’s mother lived with no effort at display and very little waste. He gave a lot to Jewish charities, though he never belonged to a synagogue. At the reading of his father’s will, in Abe Kaiserman’s office on LaSalle Street, Harry learned that, as his father’s only child, he had been left more than three-quarters of a million in real estate and other assets and that his mother had been left roughly the same sum. Add his own savings and investments to that figure and Harry was essentially out of the financial wars. That was eight years ago, when Harry was forty-two. His mother was now eighty-three, and eventually he would come into her money. Harry could retire tomorrow without any worry. But to do what? He didn’t golf. He wasn’t a card player. He certainly wasn’t about to move to California or Arizona or Florida, where he could be bored stiff in a warm climate. Besides, he liked his life. He liked Chicago, where he had grown up. He liked the office-furniture business. He liked cutting a serious deal. He liked coming down to the same shop that his father had spent the better part of his life in.
Harry kept the place pretty much as his father had in his time. A scramble of desks, cabinets, chairs, lamps up front in the not very showy showroom. Then, behind a glass partition, which allowed him to see the showroom and the front door, his own office; next to it, the cubicle of Mrs. Bernstein, who had worked for his father and who was in her late sixties; out back the receiving and storeroom. Not long after Harry went to work for his father, dropping out of college at the end of his second year at the University of Illinois—his father thought he was foolish to be studying business in Champaign when he could be doing business in Chicago—one of his first ideas was to redesign the showroom. He presented the plan to the old man, who glanced at it for maybe ten seconds, then said, “I think we’ll just leave things the way they are, Harold. The point isn’t to look prosperous; it’s to be prosperous.” His father explained that their customers weren’t looking for elegant surroundings; they were buying price. If the showroom looked too sleek, the customers were likely to think you were doing too well—that you were soaking them. In those days, his father dealt with owners of businesses—not, like now, with decorators hired by them—and would argue and squabble, with aggressive joking and swearing, hammering out a deal, selling things off the books, then getting hit for an additional 2 percent off for cash.
In those early days, Harry didn’t get much in the way of advice. Sam Resnick had a floor lady, a woman named Sylvia Spivak, dark, thin, heavily made-up, a divorcée in her early forties, a hard number. She was supposed to break Harry in, to teach him the ropes. She wasn’t someone who sucked up to the boss’s son; in fact, she seemed to resent Harry’s even being on the premises. Perhaps she sensed that he would one day replace her. In the meantime she did what she could to discourage and humiliate him. She kept him working out in the receiving room with the porter; she’d send him for sandwiches and coffee for customers; she looked for mistakes in everything he did, and generally managed to find them. Although Harry was still living with his parents and every night drove his father home in the white Imperial, it was, somehow, understood that he was not to complain about Sylvia Spivak. His father, who missed very little, could hardly have missed Sylvia’s treatment of him. The unspoken assumption was that Harry would have to work it out on his own.
After roughly eighteen months, the break came. Late one afternoon, Sylvia had closed a cash deal with an old customer, Sid Kravitz, and as she was walking him to the door, she left an envelope with Kravitz’s $3,300 in it on top of one of the showroom credenzas. Harry noted it. His father was waiting on other customers. Harry slipped the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket. For the hour or so before closing, while going about his own tasks, he watched Sylvia searching in desk drawers and under chairs, attempting to conceal her panic over the loss of the money. She said nothing about it to Sam Resnick before she left for the night.
On the drive home, Harry took the envelope out of his coat pocket and handed it over to his father. He explained what it was and how he came by it.
“You let her go home thinking she had lost more than three thousand dollars of the firm’s money?” his father asked. “She’s going to have quite a night, I’m sure.”
“I hope so,” said Harry
“That’s pretty hard, Harold,” said his father.
“Not near hard enough, as far as I’m concerned,” said Harry.
Harry arranged for his father to be out of the shop for half an hour the next morning, at which time he called Sylvia Spivak into the office. He was sitting in his father’s chair when she came in. She looked surprised, amused, faintly contemptuous of his presumption.
“Missing anything, Sylvia?” Harry began.
“What do you mean?” she said.
Harry slipped the Kravitz envelope out of his pocket and dropped it almost languorously on his father’s desk.
“Where did you find that?” she snapped.
“Just where you left it.” He was tempted to add the word “dummy,” but he didn’t.
He sensed her combined relief and resentment. “What do you want?” she asked.
“You off my back,” he said, “and for good.”
She left without saying another word. Three weeks later she gave notice. Harry became his father’s floor man, a flunkey no longer. He found he had a natural aptitude for making deals and took pleasure in doing so. He oversaw the change in the nature of the business, from dealing with owners to dealing with interior decorators, from customers looking for price to customers looking for tax write-offs. By his late twenties he was making more than a hundred grand a year.
After a decade or so of the usual bachelor hijinks—an apartment on State Parkway on the near North Side, part ownership of a bar on Rush Street, a series of brassy convertibles and brassy young women to go in them—Harry, at thirty, married. Sharon Goldstein, who was four years younger than he, grew up in the same neighborhood, West Rogers Park, went to the same high school, though she finished college, the University of Illinois, with a certificate to teach grade school. Fourteen months after their marriage, their daughter was born. Over the next five years, Sharon had three miscarriages, and her gynecologist warned her that any further pregnancies could be dangerous. Harry would have liked a son, but he was mad about Deborah, the only child of an only child, who was good at school (she was a sophomore at Northwestern, where she lived in her sorority, AEØ), and who had her mother’s good looks and good heart and, he hoped, some of his own common sense and savvy.
Harry was to meet his daughter, alone, for an early dinner that evening in Evanston. It wasn’t a meeting he looked forward to. Last night, before they went to bed, Sharon had told him that, four weeks earlier, his daughter had had an abortion. It stunned him. Deborah had wanted to tell him about it herself. He had a thousand questions. He went to bed churning with confused and violent feelings. He tossed for better than three hours. To calm his nerves, he imagined himself driving, in the Chrysler, a tape of Ella Fitzgerald playing on the cassette deck, along rain-soaked roads in Oregon, large lush trees forming a green canopy overhead; or along the Pacific Highway out of San Francisco headed toward Monterey, the ocean and rocky beaches on his right.
“Dinner with Deb” was the last item on his list of things to do that day. Others were: “Bank deposit,” “Richie Melnick—11:00,” “Lunch at Mother’s,” “Shipment from High Point,” “Run D&B on Brodsky.”
The initials D&B, standing for Dun and Bradstreet, called to mind the initials D&C, which stood for Harry wasn’t sure what, except that he recalled them in connection with Sharon’s miscarriages and much talk of cervixes and uteruses, and he wondered if his nineteen-year-old daughter didn’t have to go through similar horrors for her abortion. He too easily imagined the doctor’s office, the stainless-steel instruments, the table and stirrups, the doctor in green operating-room uniform, clear plastic covering his shoes to prevent bloodstains. The picture of his daughter in this setting sickened him, and through the morning he fought to put it out of his mind.
“That is a smart young faygele,” his father pronounced upon first meeting Richie Melnick. Richie, who was Harry’s age, was then not yet thirty but clearly an operator, clearly an interior decorator who was going to turn a big buck. He was one of the first of the decorators to go after the business of corporations. The money was greater and the aggravation less than in dealing with insecure suburban women, whom he would have to schlep through the Merchandise Mart in search of the exact right lampshade for the bedroom or the perfect tone of grasspaper for the den. Vice presidents of firms like International Harvester didn’t want to talk lampshades or grass-paper, which was fine—and profitable—with Richie. He drove a tan Rolls, wore Italian suits that must have cost a grand a throw, had more French wrist watches than most men had neckties. A decade or so ago Richie bought a four-story brownstone on Astor Street. Sharon and Harry were once invited to a dinner party there. Among the guests were members of the boards of the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony and the Art Institute—people who had risen and who were on the rise. Richie Melnick, lower-middle-class and Jewish and out-in-the-open-no-bones-about-it queer, was one of them. Harry was impressed.
Yet that evening Harry also realized that he did not himself wish to rise. He had no wish to collect art that did not give him pleasure, or to haul himself off to committee meetings and dinners among people with whom he did not feel comfortable. He supposed he had enough money to play, but the game didn’t interest him. He was stuck with his own lack of pretensions. He and Sharon talked about it that night on the drive back to Highland Park. They were not in disagreement. She, like Harry, was content to live quietly and well, among their friends and for their daughter.
Deborah again. Harry tried to put her out of his mind when, from his office, he saw Richie walk into the shop. Richie, like Harry, was losing his hair. A stylist did his best to cover this up through the art of the comb and the blow dryer, but the final effect was that of a middle-aged man trying to conceal his baldness. Richie’s skin had taken on a pinkness, a too-well-scrubbed look that seemed artificially induced. Harry didn’t know about homosexuality much more than a kid in Chicago picks up on the streets, but one look at Richie in his present condition made it plain that he had long since crossed the line from being desirable to being the désirer. Richie rarely talked about his personal life, but he always asked after Sharon and Deborah. He spoke respectfully about Harry’s father. When Richie’s mother died three or so years ago, Harry went to the funeral chapel. So far as Harry knew, Richie had no permanent lover. Whenever Harry read AIDS stories in the Trib, he thought about Richie and hoped he would be spared that horror. They went back twenty years; the “smart faygele” his father had first spotted was not only a very clever businessman but, within the limits of business, which could be wider than many people thought, a friend. Twenty years they had done business together; they began as young men and were now themselves on the way toward being the older generation.
Richie was in the shop to nail down the details of a small job he had turned over to Harry. A new advertising agency had hired him to do its reception and conference rooms; also the young president’s office. Less than forty grand was involved. Of that sum, Richie and Harry between them figured to profit by roughly eleven grand. There were worse ways to begin the day.
“So how go things at home?” Richie asked, after they had settled their business. “Sharon OK? How’s the kid doing at school?”
Harry thought for a second about telling Richie exactly how Deborah was doing at school, and how his thinking about it was driving him nuts, but decided against it. The Resnicks, his father used to say, don’t discuss family problems with people outside the family.
“Same old crap—going along,” Harry said. “How’s by you?”
“I’m thinking of selling the building on Astor Street,” Richie said. “The real-estate putzes tell me the price will never be higher. Besides, I think the neighborhood may be going down. Last week five heterosexual couples moved in on the block. They say I can get a million five for the building as it stands.”
“So what would you do with a million five? Retire?”
“Right now, with this little AIDS thingy, I’m not thinking so much about retiring as about staying alive. Every morning I emerge from my shower to do what I call a little death check. I look for splotches, discolorations, swellings, lumps, warts, freckles, you name it. No picnic, friend.”
“What a world!” said Harry.
“Brave new world,” said Richie, “and it doesn’t figure to get better soon. I don’t envy kids like Deborah having to grow up in it. In some ways, I’m glad not to have kids but only myself to worry about. You’re lucky your daughter is a square kid.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I suppose so.”
After Melnick left, Harry made a few business calls, signed some letters, and walked over to the lot to get the car. He drove the few blocks down Lake Street, turned north on Michigan Avenue, passing Saks, Nieman-Marcus, Water Tower Place, Magnin’s, and Bonwit’s, while on the radio he learned that a local rapist had been apprehended in Michigan, a policeman had been wounded in a shoot-out in a currency exchange on the South Side, and the Dow Jones had fallen again. He turned onto the Outer Drive just north of the Drake Hotel. The lake was green in the coldness of the March day, the waves seemed not merely relentless but aggressive.
Not long after her husband’s death, Harry’s mother had moved into a small two-bedroom apartment on the fourteenth floor of a newer building at Belmont and the Drive. Her friends Pearl Feinstein and Faye Schwartz—like her, widows—lived in the building, though Pearl had since died and Faye’s diabetes had so weakened her that she had to hire a Russian woman, a Soviet Jew, to come in to help her bathe, clean the apartment, and prepare her meals. His mother looked in on Mrs. Schwartz two or three times a day, and on four different occasions had had to call an ambulance to get her to a hospital late at night.
The wind coming off the lake as Harry turned into the revolving door lashed his face like an insult. The doorman announced him over the house phone—“Mrs. Resnick, your son is here”—before buzzing him into the inner lobby. When the elevators stopped, three Jewish-looking kids of high-school age—two girls and a boy in punk clothes and haircuts—got off. Not much of a day for purple hair, thought Harry, as he removed his gloves while the elevator climbed to the fourteenth floor.
“On time as always, Harold,” his mother said at the door of her apartment. They embraced lightly; he kissed her forehead; looking down upon her head he could see scalp through her thinning hair. She had grown smaller with age. In the lottery of old-age illnesses, she had drawn arthritis, which left her with twisted hands and soreness in the hip joints. She gave off an old-fashioned female smell, reminiscent of the sachet she used to keep in her dresser drawers in the bungalow in West Rogers Park.
Not that she had ever seemed young to Harry. When he was born she was already in her thirties. Although she was the wife of a rich man, she had practiced Old World economies: washed and ironed her own sheets, spent entire days baking and preparing heavy meals, worked alongside the cleaning woman who came in twice a week. She was born in Bialystok, was brought to the United States by her parents at the age of six. Was it in Poland as a child that she had acquired the worried look that never left her eyes? Harry’s father, who was born in Russia, remembered witnessing, as a small boy, a pogrom in his village. Harry’s mother looked, for as long as Harry could remember, as if she were expecting one.
Many of the things from the old West Rogers Park house—the large breakfront, the grand dining-room set with sideboard and buffet, the grandfather clock—seemed too bulky for the small low-ceilinged rooms of this new apartment. The thickness of the drapes darkened what might otherwise have been a light room. His mother was eighty-three and she knew one way of decorating. She also knew one way of cooking, which was heavy food in large portions. Harry came here once a week for lunch, which they ate together in the kitchen, and it was almost always the same lunch: chopped liver over lettuce with a radish, a bowl of soup (either chicken or cabbage), brisket, and potatoes with green beans out of a can, coffee and pastry. Eating these lunches, Harry felt he could practically hear the arteries near his heart creaking to a close. “It’s convenient,” Sharon said, “that at your mother’s you get your calories, your carbohydrates, and your heavy cholesterol all in one sitting.”
They talked about what they always talked about at these lunches—the past. Harry’s mother recalled the summers they would spend in South Haven, in Michigan, where they rented a cottage and his father drove up on Friday nights to spend the weekend. He recalled his father had no wardrobe for leisure, and would walk down to the beach in his swimming trunks, an undershirt, black business shoes, and silk socks with little clocks or arrows on them. His mother mentioned the wonderful suntans he would get as a child; too much sun nowadays, Harry thought, and you risked skin cancer.
“Kaiserman called yesterday,” his mother said. “He says he’s putting the tax forms in the mail.”
“If you have any questions, Ma, you’ll call me. If not, just sign them and send them back.”
“How are things at home, Harold?”
“Sharon’s well. She sends her love. She says she’ll see you at least once before Pesach.”
“Deborah’s fine, Ma.”
“She’s doing well in college?”
“Just fine, Ma. Deborah’s always been a good student. School’s not her problem.”
“Oh,” his mother said, slightly suspicious. “What is?”
“Nothing, Ma. It’s just an expression.” Harry imagined himself telling his mother, with her permanently worried look, that her granddaughter’s problem was that she got herself knocked-up and had, consequently, to have her womb scraped or punctured or whatever the hell it is they do in an abortion. But it was all over and done with now. Hey, Ma, no problem!
Harry was able to steer the conversation onto the subject of the business. They talked about the people in this building; about her friend Faye; about the police and fire and ambulance sirens in the night, so many of them; about her doctor, who had a yacht, he must be making a fortune; about people from the old neighborhood. She walked Harry to the door.
“Anything you need before I go, Ma? You got enough milk in the house?”
“Everything’s fine, dear. Tell Sharon I’ll call her over the telephone tomorrow. Kiss my darling Deborah for me and tell her that grandma loves her.”
“I will. Take care of yourself, Ma. You need anything, anything at all, call me, and at any hour.”
They embraced again at the door. Harry felt her brittleness, his nostrils filled with the smell of her agedness. Whenever he left her nowadays, he wondered if he’d ever see her again. Eighty-three was eighty-three.
Back at the shop Harry found that a shipment of reception-room items ordered for Florence Shapiro had come in badly fouled up. The chairs were vinyl when they were supposed to have been naugahyde, and one of the couches had a rip, probably made en route. Harry had to call the plant in High Point, North Carolina, make arrangements to ship the goods back, and finally telephone Florence—a decorator who was in her late sixties and whom Richie Melnick always called the wicked witch of the old West Side—who was not easy to deal with in the best of circumstances, to tell her that she would have to inform her client of a delay of another four to six weeks. Harry felt almost glad about the trouble; it filled out the afternoon, relieving him of having to think about his dinner with his daughter.
At a quarter to six, after everyone else had gone, Harry began locking up, as he did every night. He slid the bar over the delivery entrance at the back, setting in place and clamping down the heavy lock. He walked past the spot where he had found his father dead, and wondered, were the old man alive, if he would have discussed Deborah’s abortion with him. Probably not. On personal matters they tended, Harry and his father, to keep things to themselves, especially troubles. He turned on the burglar-alarm system, turned off the lights, locked the front door, pulled the iron screen across it, locked that. As he walked along Lake Street to get the car, an El train, headed the other way, rattled overhead.
In the sanctum of the dark brown Chrysler, whose motor was nearly soundless, Harry headed north toward Evanston and the restaurant, a place called Leslee’s, where his daughter had made a reservation. The evening news was the standard stuff: terrorist attacks in the Middle East, scandal at city hall, charges of racism against the board of education, a further drop in the Dow Jones. Harry turned it off to think about his dinner with Deborah. On his right the lake seemed black, the waves gray and intimidating.
Harry was making a good living when Deborah was born, and she was brought up in the suburbs. Sharon saw to it that, as a child, she had piano and ballet and tennis lessons. At thirteen, she went to summer camp in Eagle River, Wisconsin, where she was given riding lessons and fell in love with horses; at one point there was talk about buying Deborah her own horse, but Harry put his foot down; it sounded too extravagant (even though he could have easily afforded it). He remembered her crying when he said no, and how it pained him to disappoint her. She was wearing her braces—she wore them from her eleventh through her fifteenth year—and Harry never loved her so much as then: her mouth filled with metal and rubber bands, so damned vulnerable looking.
When Deborah was sixteen, Sharon and he had that painful discussion about whether to put her on birth-control pills. These were fast kids, these suburban kids she ran with; lots of them were given their own cars, and not jalopies either, but serious cars, Corvettes and BMW convertibles and antique MG’s. For a while, at parties in Highland Park and Glencoe, Harry kept meeting women who, when he asked them what they did, informed him they were social workers at New Trier or Highland Park High. Sharon explained that this meant they worked with upper-middle-class kids who had drug problems or had attempted suicide. You were considered lucky if your kid confined himself to pot; cocaine stories were plentiful. Sex was talked about less than drugs. It came up once in a conversation with his old friend Irwin Stein, who had two sons at New Trier. “You know, Harry, when we were in high school, you had to be a genius to lay a nice girl.” (Irwin was a genius, all right, but in real estate.) “Now they’re all doin’ it—going at it like little minks.” It was a topic more comfortable for someone with sons than with daughters. Sharon and Harry went back and forth on the question of Deborah and birth-control pills, and finally decided that to put her on them was to tell her, by implication, that it was all right to sleep with boys, when in fact they didn’t feel that it was. If it happened, it happened, but they hoped it wouldn’t. As far as Harry knew, in high school it didn’t. Deborah and her mother were close; Sharon always said that if her daughter had slept with a boy she, Sharon, would know.
Well, apparently Deborah had waited till college, and then had got herself in this fix. Yet was it a fix? The fix, after all, had been fixed—taken care of by the abortion. Why did Harry still feel such anger about it? Certainly he didn’t want his daughter, at nineteen, to raise an illegitimate child. Nor did he fancy her married to some college kid, a union destined for divorce. He couldn’t claim, either, that he had any principled objection to abortion as the taking of a human life. He knew the arguments but, try as he might, he could not imagine an embryo or a zygote or whatever the hell it was as a full-blown human being. Was it his daughter’s incompetence that enraged him? If you’re going to sleep around, for God’s sake at least be smart enough to protect yourself. And was Deborah sleeping around? Was there more than one boy? In a time already spoiled by too much phony frankness, Harry felt that a serious man shouldn’t be asked to think about the details of his own daughter’s sex life, and resented it that he was doing so now.
The traffic was light on the Drive. Harry didn’t want to arrive at the restaurant too early, so he turned off at Wilson Avenue and headed north toward Evanston down Sheridan Road. Appalachians, shivering in the Chicago winter, trudged along Wilson Avenue. On Sheridan, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans predominated. A few buildings were boarded up; many others had been knocked down. Public housing had been erected a few blocks from the old Somerset Hotel; the Somerset itself, once a haven for bachelor lawyers, horse-players, sporty types generally, was now a welfare hotel. Zimring’s drugstore, a meeting place for some of Harry’s friends in high school, had changed hands; at any rate the name was no longer to be seen. Banners on the windows announced that food stamps were accepted. Everywhere he looked Harry felt things had slipped badly, and there was no good reason to think they would ever be returned to what they once were—certainly not in his lifetime.
Leslee’s, the restaurant Deborah had chosen for dinner, was on the rim of downtown Evanston. Despite his slower route, Harry arrived ten minutes early. The restaurant was in the basement floor of a new office building; you took a steep escalator to get down to it. Just off the escalator Harry was met by a young man with pomaded hair and an oversized suit—all the restaurants he seemed to go to nowadays appeared to be run by children—who asked him if he had a reservation. He said he had, in the name of Resnick, and the young man said that his dinner partner was already here and had been seated. He led Harry to his daughter. The place had enormously high ceilings; lots of beige vinyl, glass, and steel. The waiters and waitresses were young men and women in black trousers, white shirts, black bow ties. More children.
Deborah was seated in a narrow booth for two. Across from them, well within hearing range, seated at a banquette-like booth, were two elderly women with blue-rinse hairdos and an old gent, very well dressed, who appeared to be well out of it: either deaf or gaga or both. Deborah was wearing a dark gray skirt, a red crew neck sweater over a white blouse with a small round collar. Like her mother, whose looks Harry never tired of, she was small and dark and slightly chubby. She put out her hand; Harry squeezed it gently, bent down to kiss her cheek, which he managed to do only grazingly.
Deborah had a diet Coke in front of her; Harry ordered a Chivas from their waitress, who left a card with the evening’s specials on it at the table. He wasn’t sure who seemed more nervous, he or his daughter. Harry was grateful to her for skipping the small talk.
“Mother tells me that I’ve upset you terribly, Daddy,” she said. “If I did, I’m sorry. It’s not what I had in mind.”
“The truth is, honey, I was upset, and I’m still upset.” His voice sounded tough, more aggressive than he intended, as if he were talking to a manufacturer in North Carolina who had screwed up an order. He had to remember he was talking to his daughter, whom he loved.
“What’s got you most upset, Daddy? That it happened, or that you weren’t told about it till it was over?”
“Both things, Deborah. But not those alone.”
She seemed calmer, Harry thought, a little too calm for his liking. A subtle shift had taken place; suddenly he was the one who had to explain himself. Would he have preferred it if she had shown strong signs of feeling guilty? Yes, he had to admit, such signs would have been welcome. At least it would have given him the power of forgiveness; he could have acted fatherly in soothing her, in reassuring her of his love.
Harry was never less interested in food, but he forced himself to listen to the waitress’s rather lengthy recitation of the specials. The regular menu seemed quite as elaborate. What the hell ever happened to things like shrimp cocktail, prime rib, broiled chicken? He finally ordered something that turned out to be pieces of chicken mingled among corkscrew noodles. Deborah ordered scallops.
“I felt very bad about it when it first happened, Daddy. I also felt stupid for letting myself get into such a situation. But I don’t feel quite so bad anymore. I don’t know why, but I don’t. I wish it never happened, but it did. Now I mainly feel bad about hurting you.”
“What about the boy who got you into this? How does he feel about it?”
“His name is Ted Kastner. He doesn’t know about it. I didn’t tell him, and I don’t plan to. I didn’t think he could handle it. Because I decided he couldn’t, I’ve decided to stop seeing him. Besides, there was nothing he could have done to help anyway.”
“I’m glad you aren’t seeing him anymore, Deborah. It will be a real pleasure never to have to meet him.” Ted Kastner, Harry thought, a Jewish name. A nice Jewish boy, no doubt. At least it wasn’t a mixed abortion. Why did the mind find jokes at moments like this?
“Daddy, did you really expect me not to sleep with anyone while I was in college?”
“No,” he said, “I guess I didn’t really expect that, but I wouldn’t have minded if you hadn’t. I would have minded a hell of a lot less than I do about what has happened.”
The waitress set down their food. “Enjoy,” she said.
“You still haven’t told me why this bugs you so much, Daddy. Do you think your daughter is now, somehow, damaged goods?”
“I don’t know as I would put it that way, baby, but maybe I do. But not in the way you might think.”
“I think it’s a goddamned damaging thing for a girl to have had an abortion at nineteen,” he said, more emphatically than he had intended. He looked across the aisle at the two old broads and the expressionless face of the senile old gent, and hoped they hadn’t heard him.
“Look, Deb,” he said, talking more softly now, “if you’ve had an abortion at nineteen, what’ve you got planned for twenty-four, or thirty-one, or forty-two?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that, for the first time, as a result of what’s happened, I can imagine a terrible life for you. A life of confusion and sadness and heartbreak. And it terrifies me.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Maybe an abortion is a solution to the problem of a pregnancy, but I suspect that it brings its own problems. It isn’t as tidy as it sounds; I suspect that it takes its toll. Once you undergo something like this, your opinion of yourself changes, maybe in small little ways, but it changes. Maybe, because of something like this, you no longer think so well of yourself. Maybe it becomes easier to do more foolish things.”
“I don’t think that’s true, Daddy.”
“I hope it isn’t, sweetheart, I really do hope it isn’t.”
“But what could I have done?”
“You probably did all that you could do, but I think you may be making a big mistake if you think you got away with it. An abortion, anyhow one of this kind, is a dreary and common and pretty crummy thing.”
“What do you want, Daddy?” She had only been picking at her food, but now she gave up even doing that. Tears were in her eyes. Harry remembered her in braces.
“What I want you can’t give me, Deborah. What I want isn’t even reasonable. I want you back the way you were before this happened.”
“What I am supposed to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. The world is slipping away, my sweet girl, and there’s evidently not much any of us can do about it. But I don’t have to like it. And I especially don’t have to like my kid becoming a part of it.”
Harry called for the check. Outside the street was deserted. The wind whipped away at them. The icy pavement caused them to walk cautiously, Deborah holding on to her father’s arm. Harry drove her the three or four blocks to her sorority house. In front of the sorority, she leaned over to kiss him; he wanted to put his arms around her and hug her, but the gesture was awkward and unsatisfactory in their bulky coats in the front seat of the car. Harry told his daughter to call her grandmother when she had a free moment. As she walked toward the door of the sorority, he pushed the button to lower the window on the passenger side to call out to her. But she turned to wave at the door and went inside.
The heater in the Chrysler worked well, and the leather seats, so cold when they first got into the car, no longer gave off a chill. Heading over to Dempster, from where he could pick up the freeway, Harry turned on the radio, then turned it off. The car gave a fine feeling of snugness. Maybe I should have been easier on her, Harry thought. But then his mind drifted to a picture of himself, alone, driving in the deep brown Chrysler through New England, where he had never been. He was driving through a leafy sunset; in the back seat were the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, some local papers, a small suitcase. He ought to keep an eye out for a motel with a restaurant, get a good dinner, watch a little television, rise early the next day. Maybe he would cross over into Canada, tour Nova Scotia, the Maritime Provinces, have a look at Prince Edward Island.