Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Good Daughter

They stopped grappling the moment they heard their son at the front door.

“This is weird,” Matt was telling his friend, “She never locks anything.”

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

For weeks, Beth and Zach had shamefully pandered to a furious, bestial lust. Matt and his fellow Eagle Scout had finished their finals before noon. Ready to graduate from high school in a month, they pounded on the door—their stuff was in there!

Eventually, they gave up and Zach sneaked away until Beth yelled after him, “Never again!”

“Damn it, Beth—obviously!”

On Sunday, he and Matt sat just above third base while the Yankees lost miserably to the Red Sox. Yet Matt hardly noticed, being too busy complimenting his mother as often as he dared. She had lost weight. She made the best cupcakes. “And, Dad, don’t you think Mom’s understanding? She hardly ever gets mad.”

“Yes,” he said. “Your mother’s very understanding.”

The next morning the dean’s secretary phoned: “Dorothy wants to meet with you as soon as possible.”

“How about…now?”

“I’ll check.” Two seconds later, the secretary said, “Give her five minutes.”

Zach buttoned his blazer and swigged mouthwash from a liter-size bottle. He spat blue fluid into the bushes and hurried over to the towering SIPA building.  A few months ago, he would have considered every strategy before this meeting. Now he just wanted it over. The Institute had cast him into the darkness and Columbia University was about to send him packing.

Dorothy said she was sorry to report that the department had voted his misconduct egregious and had ruled he should find a tenured position elsewhere. “You may petition,” she said, “but—”

“No,” Zach said. “Just tell me how long I’ve got before I absolutely have to be out.”

Instead of answering that, she said, “As it turns out, you’re in luck, Zach. I can recommend you to the University of Nebraska. Their PoliSci School wants a proven leader with influence.”

Knowing better than to balk, he said, “Thank you, Dorothy. It might be very exciting.”

“I’m sure you’ll inspire your students there as you have here,” she said.

“I’m grateful you see it that way, Dorothy. My cousin lives in Nebraska.”

They shook hands, he thanked her again, and she said, “You’ll find it  rewarding, Zach.” Then she closed the door to her stately, high-ceilinged office with bay windows and gleaming dark wood.

 Inside his own squat, dusty office, Zach phoned Luke Graham from Dartmouth and Clay Cummins from Georgetown, who both were unavailable.  His list of colleagues, including long shots, numbered eighteen. He phoned each of them, leaving his once-respected name, numbers, and email addresses with assistants or voicemail. On Wednesday, he called again and repeated his message. By Friday, nobody had returned his calls. But they all knew Zach wouldn’t quit until they told him, “No.”

Saturday evening he waited at Track 37 inside Grand Central and soon spotted his daughter Rosalind among the throng. The girl who dressed like a punk last year had come to prefer sleek little dresses.

She waved to him. They had reservations at The Four Seasons because she had been asking for weeks and, in Zach’s opinion, Rosalind deserved a treat. After flunking eighth grade, she had aced an extra-heavy course load by special arrangement two years running. When she made the top honor roll again this semester, he offered to take her to any restaurant she wanted.

 So what if her mother bitched that she had never been to The Four Seasons.

“Confidentially, Rosalind, your mother never asked.” 

With no makeup, long shiny blond hair, and her newfound prettiness, Rosalind dazzled her father, and knew it. They swung through the MetLife building and along Park Avenue where they linked arms and traded glances like conspirators.

The maître d’ showed them to a table by the ethereal white marble pool. A waiter asked if they wanted to start with drinks.  Rosalind glanced at her father. They might serve her a daiquiri here: she couldn’t imagine being carded in such a gorgeous place.  Zach frowned at her unspoken request, but winked, “For me a dram of Glenfiddich and for the young lady…”

“A daiquiri, please.”

When the waiter spoke, she almost panicked. But the man, who knew how and when to break the rules, asked what kind of daiquiri? 

“Do you serve them frozen?”

They did.

Rosalind had never tasted one before and said it was delicious. Zach warned her, “It’s not a Slushie.” She pouted and pushed it aside. “Whatever a ‘Slushie’ is,” he grinned and she sat up straighter.

“So Daddy, do you still see the lady in Washington?”

“I haven’t for a while. But your mother and I will both be glad when the divorce is final.”

“Do you love the lady in Washington?”

“You’re interested in love and how it works, aren’t you?”

 “What do you expect?” his daughter said. “You’re so mysterious about her.”

“Romantic love works completely differently than the love between parents and children,” Zach said. “Decent parents, and even some indecent ones, love their children forever.”

Her glass almost empty now, she twirled the stem. “But you haven’t said whether you’re in love.”

“Her name is Vida Korbett.”

Menus arrived. Rosalind peered over hers. “If you’re in love with her, why are spending every weekend with Matt and I?”

 “‘Matt and me.’ Aren’t you taking Advanced Placement English?”

Rosalind blushed.

Zach said, “My graduate students make the same mistake.”

“I won’t again, Daddy. Especially if you tell me all about Vida.” Rosalind leaned toward him, her expression full of mischief.

And without malice or forethought, Zach said, “She’s pregnant.”

“Oh my God! Really? A half-sibling!”

“Vida’s so thrilled she’s unofficially quit her job to be a full-time mother to the twins.”

 “Twins?” Rosalind shrieked. 

 “Girls,” Zach said, “But they’re not identical.”

“This is so cool.” Rosalind stopped talking while the waiter served their first course. She chewed a bite of salad, closing her eyes.

Zach had shoveled too much into his mouth and Rosalind said, “Does Mommy know? Oh my God, she doesn’t!”

“I haven’t found the time to tell her yet.”

“Want me to?”

“No, honey. You can’t.” 

They ate chocolate cake for dessert and Rosalind divulged that Matt had decided to postpone college. Zach said nothing and she smirked.

Walking to the train, he realized he must phone Beth, pronto.

But unprompted, Rosalind said, “Let me be the one to tell her, Daddy. I really don’t mind.”

“You will later.”

“So you expect me to say nothing?”

“Of course not. I’ll call her while you’re on the train.”

“You’re telling her over the phone that your lover is having twin baby girls? Lotsa luck!”

Zach needed several stiff drinks. Better to inform Beth via voicemail than foist this upon his daughter.  But entering the station, he saw the damage was done. Rosalind knew his secret and Beth didn’t.

(click here for the next episode)

3 comments:

Dan Leo said...

So glad he corrected her on the "with Matt and I"; even when our lives are tumbling down around our heads we must maintain some standards...

kathleenmaher said...

It's one of my pet peeves, having known people who did it because to them it sounded kinda stoosh. 'Course if she were Rastafarian, he would be on shaky ground.

Jason Gusmann said...

great work!