This is what my father was doing in Baden in the fall of 1938:
Made long lists of his assets in conformity with the new Nazi edict requiring Jews to report all valuables (stocks, bonds, jewelry, life insurance, real estate, etc.) to the Nazi authorities.
Sorted through his tax papers.
Wrote a profound apology to the authorities for having made a small error in his tax calculation for the previous year.
Polished the medals he had won as an officer during World War I.
Went to the doctor to seek relief for an ulcer that was burning up his insides.
This is what my mother was doing during the same time:
Went to the large public library in Vienna to check the New York telephone book for names identical or close to our last name. The pages of the telephone book were much worn and there were others standing on line, waiting to do the same. Once home, my mother wrote letters to those people who had our name, suggesting that we might be related and begging for affidavits. The language she used had to be oblique. The dangers our family was facing as Jews could only be hinted at.
Wrote similar letters to people in other countries.
Smuggled a few (unreported) pieces of jewelry for safekeeping to trusted Gentile friends.
Wrote poems grieving for her beloved Austria, which had sold its soul to the devil.
Hid those poems.
Took a course in Swedish massage.
Sorted out the children's clothes in the event of a sudden departure.
This is what my brothers were doing:
Steve, age fifteen, commuted to Vienna to learn the trade of a mechanic. He continued to live at home in Baden but didn't see anyone his own age. The boys he had gone to school with had joined the Hitler Youth, and even if they hadn't, it was too dangerous now to visit a Jew.
Peter, age eleven, was boarded out to a Jewish family in Vienna where he liked the liver-dumpling soup and went to a little makeshift school in the house of a former professor.
This is what I did in the fall of 1938:
I entered the Bondiheim, a boarding school for Jewish girls in Vienna, in the third district. The Bondiheim had thirty beds. It was for girls ten to eighteen years old. I was thirteen.
The Bondiheim was a three-story yellow building surrounded by a dark, scrubby garden. Yellow was a pervasive color in Vienna. They called it Kaiser yellow but it came in three shades: lemon yellow, egg-yolk yellow, piss yellow. The Bondiheim was a faded lemon yellow, comforting to the eyes, that spoke of age and fatigue, and just wanting not to be noticed.
The halls are highly polished. A little girl comes to the door, greets us, and takes my hand. “We always slide,” she says. She takes my hand and we slide down the long corridor with the cubbyholes on each side.
Another door opens, a gray-haired woman wearing an apron, who I later learn is Hanna, the housekeeper, comes out and says, “Stop that, Gerti,” but she doesn't sound as if she really cares. “Give Eva locker number 23.”
I tell Gerti my nickname is “Fev.”
Our Czech washerwoman had called me that when I was little, making the sounds of a goat as she bleated the name, “Everl, Häferl, Feverl.” It was a name that my new best friend, Renée, had revived, when she spent the summer months in our house in Baden and woke me up in the morning, stroking my arms and comparing her muscles with mine. Renée was to come to the Bondiheim too, as soon as her mother had decided what step to take next in their emigration plans.
“Fev,” Gerti corrects the housekeeper. I have never heard a child speak back to authority before.
Another woman, this time younger, with reddish hair, enters the vestibule and introduces herself to my mother. Then she looks deeply into my eyes and smiles. Her name is Frau Doktor. She and someone called “Mutuli” are in charge.
I have been assigned to one of the four large bedrooms. The other girls from that room, who have heard that the new girl has arrived, come rushing in to look me over. I feel shy. Will they be mean to me, as some of the children were in my old school because I was a Jew? But they are Jewish too. No, they crowd around me and ask me questions. Where do you live? Do you still have your house? Has your father been arrested?
They investigate the contents of my suitcase. “No menstrual pads? Miriam hasn't started yet either, though she's also thirteen.”
“I do so bleed,” Miriam says. “I just don't show you.”
In Baden we lived in the country. “Country children start later,” I say with great authority.
They are disappointed that I haven't brought anything to share. Helga had smuggled in a small salami wrapped in her underwear. Toni had brought a book with dirty pictures. I rack my brains about what I can bring the next time I go home. “Walnuts?” I ask, “From our walnut tree?” “Yeah,” they say. They are not particular. It's the gesture that counts.
I am eating bean soup and bread at the long refectory tables in the basement dining room. It is raining outside. Dark green plants shake their leaves against the windows. For dessert there is rice pudding. A pitcher with cocoa is handed around. I let it pass. I don't like the skin on top. “Take some cocoa,” Frau Doktor says. “It's good for you.”
“I don't like cocoa.” I have already learned that you can say no to a teacher here. Frau Doktor waves her hand into the air. It doesn't seem a matter of great importance to her.
Mutuli founded this school. She is the director; Frau Doktor is second in command. Mutuli is a large woman with thick brown hair pulled back behind her head in a bun. She has large breasts and a warm smile. Frau Doktor is slight, with a pince-nez that she wears on a velvet ribbon and green eyes that you could drown in. The girls say she’s in love with an artist who has lost his job teaching at the academy. Some say they have seen her eyes red from crying; all of them say that she smokes secretly in her room. Those who have gotten close enough to hug or kiss her swear that they have smelled cigarette smoke on her breath and loved it.
You have to choose whom you are going to adore: Frau Doktor or Mutuli. Frau Doktor is a cat and Mutuli is a dog, the girls say. Cats are fickle and dogs are faithful. I have already felt the fascination of the cat when she looked deeply into my eyes but choose the dog. I am comforted by Mutuli's large breasts and her warm brown eyes, which remind me of our shepherd, Barri.
Renée has arrived, though her mother says they will leave for England soon. Renée will share our bedroom of four for the middle children. With her sweetness and fun-loving nature, she is immediately accepted by the other girls. They respect our special friendship, though some of the girls want to become “special friends” with one or the other of us too.
We live in the Bondiheim and go to a Jewish school nearby. The school is chaotic, with teachers changing all the time and girls who were there just a day or two ago suddenly gone. None of us from the Bondiheim likes the school. A few of us bolder ones have cut classes a few times and spent the time walking around Vienna or going to the Prater. But it is just a way of passing the time. We can't wait for it to be three o’clock so that we can go home to our beloved Bondiheim.
The school authorities haven't seemed to notice when we don't show up for the day or leave early. But once Frau Doktor got a call that Olga and Fanny and Renée and I hadn't been to class that day.
She calls us into the living room of the apartment she shares with Mutuli. “Why are you doing this?” she says in a sad voice. “Don't we have enough trouble without having to worry about you?”
We feel ashamed. Mutuli comes into the room. “You are not to do this ever again,” she says in a firm voice. I welcome this firmness. There has been too much looking the other way when we break rules.
“I expect you to act responsibly,” she goes on. “Just think of the danger walking around Vienna.... What could Frau Doktor and I do if you were caught?”
(Oh please be firm and strong, I say to myself. I don't want her to be helpless.)
“Though you're still children, you have to act like adults now. I know it's hard." She leaves the room and comes back a few minutes later with a box of chocolates under her arm.
“Let's have a treat.” She opens the lid of the box—good Viennese chocolates like I haven’t seen for months—with nuts and creams inside. She passes the box of chocolates around.
Will we promise to look after ourselves and the younger children? We are the middle children, thirteen and fourteen. She says she trusts us to do right.
I adore this woman. If ever you can’t protect me, I say to myself, I’ll protect you.… We promise.
Shortly after that episode, Renée and her mother leave for England. When it’s my turn to leave, I am heartbroken to say goodbye to the teachers and children. But there will be Renée, in England. And my parents, I don’t allow myself to question, will make it to America. Goodbye, Vienna, city I hate and love.
A year or two later, after I was already in America, I found out that Mutuli emigrated to England shortly after I did and became head of a boarding school there for German and Austrian refugee children. (How grieved I was that I didn’t know about this when I was in England. I would have put up a fight to be transferred to her school instead of living, hungry and homesick, with my stingy host family in Southport!)
Frau Doktor, I learned after the war, never got out. She was deported together with the artist we thought she was in love with, and murdered in a camp; we never found out which one.
Mother and Child
BREAKING FREE OF THEIR MOTHER'S HANDS THE MOMENT they're in the playground, two identically-dressed sisters race to the slide. The smaller one goes up the ladder while the older one starts crawling up from the slippery bottom. They crash two thirds of the way down, laughing.
Ellyn never ceases to be amazed by happy children.
The past year or two, she's made it a point to get to the park every weekend it doesn't rain, if only for a half hour. A little down time, a chance to sit back and enjoy the sun or snow, sucking in enough stillness to carry her through the week ahead. Days when she's had enough of making small talk with some asinine guy whose dog or ferret attracted her, she'll often excuse herself and head for the nearest playground (of which Central Park seems to have hundreds). No homeless guys stretched out on benches there. No one upending the trash cans. Only parents and babysitters seem to hang out by the sandbox.
Kids are fun, so long as they keep their distance.
"Heads up!" Phil shouts.
His daughter’s long, scraped legs swing toward her.
Ellyn smiles. Draws back in mock alarm. Leans forward again, elbow resting on knee, chin propped on her hand. She watches the shadow Phil's thinning blonde hair makes along the side of his face. His whole body gets into the act of pushing his daughter on the swings.
Here Tiffany comes again: innocence personified. Full cheeks, growing fuller with each swing until it looks as if her freckles are going to burst. She leans her head all the way back and closes her eyes as the swing sails out and up. She'll probably be gawky in a few years, but right now she looks slightly younger than 11, with enough baby fat left to compensate for her height
It's herself, The Child, Ellyn's seeing there.
No. No one ever pushes TC.
Fragments of red nail polish that clashes with Tiffany's hair can be detected on her cuticles, the rest of it picked or bitten off. Now she's swinging without holding on. Tiffany stands on the swing, using the weight of her body to propel herself.
The next swing opens up and Tiffany grabs it. "Quick, Dad, get on!"
Phil defers to Ellyn.
There are only three swings, and a lot of kids here. She really shouldn't.
Tiffany says don't worry about the little kids, they don't belong here anyway. They're supposed to use the baby swings over near the gate. Or they can go swing on the tires and get as rough as they want to.
Sure, sure, don’t bother with the little kids. Ellyn knows that script only too well. When she was younger than Tiffany her sister would take her to the park, then get involved with a group of girls her own age. She could have gotten hit over the head with a metal bucket and Joan probably wouldn’t have noticed.
"Come on," Tiffany calls. She's going to lose her balance if she has to hold this rope any longer.
Ellyn sits down, walks back and forth a few times. All of the sudden Phil gives her a push. She loses her footing.
"Hold on," he screams, pushing again, and again.
She gets carried away.
Phil can't get the two swings to work in unison, so his strong, confident hands push one sweaty back, then the other. Tiffany and Ellyn reach out their arms to touch as they pass. They call to each other, the calls getting sillier and sillier: Peek-a-boo! Boo! Knock knock! Scaredy cat! Nice kitty! High Ho Silver! Whamo! Presto! Abracadabra! Cock a doodle do! Fiddlesticks! Tick tock!
OUT OF BREATH, PHIL STEPS ASIDE for a moment. Beads of sweat make his eyes tear, still he can’t bring himself to look away: the two women of his life together on the swings. Five years, three months, twelve days, then all of the sudden it picks up where it left off.
He always knew it would be this way.
ELLYN HASN’T BEEN ON A SWING in over twenty years. Suddenly she's invigorated, the way she feels after a few drinks and good sex, only freer. Happier.
She runs her fingers up through her hair, then lets it drop from way up there. "I used to lean my head back even further than you do. My chin pointed straight up to the sky," she tells Tiffany. Phil's gone to get them all sodas.
"Wasn't that weird for the person pushing you?"
"Well, usually no one was pushing me."
"That's how it is on the swings at school."
"The closest playground was in this lot where the swings had sand beneath them," Ellyn says. "If I leaned my head back, I came home with sand in my hair. My stepmother had a fit." Then again, RuthAnn always had fits.
"Didn't you have to wash your hair all the time?"
"Yep. But that's okay, I love washing my hair."
"I hate washing my hair."
Ellyn runs her fingers through the little girl’s hair. "It's a bit thicker than mine, Tiffany. I'll bet it's hard to get the soap out."
"It's torture!" She reaches up, runs her fingers through Ellyn's hair. It feels like the fur of this collie her friend used to have."You can call me Tips," she says. "That’s what my father calls me."
Ellyn smiles. Promises to show Tips a few tricks that might make hair-washing easier.
Tips pulls a few strands of Ellyn's hair loose and holds them next to her pony tail. "If we had a scissors, we could, like, cut a few hairs and mix them all together. I'll bet we wouldn't be able to tell which was which."
"And the next beautician who cut my hair would be my enemy for life," Ellyn laughs. She takes a sip of the Diet Sprite Phil hands her. Catches her distorted reflection in the top of the can. She's glad now she gave in and agreed to meet Phil's daughter. Usually, she makes it a habit to be busy those weekends guys have their kids, especially at the start.
Then again, Phil was different from the start. So into the bar scene no consenting adult would ever suspect he had a kid. She'll never forget that night she found out.
It was a Thursday, four Thursdays after they'd met. Phil was cooking dinner to celebrate their one-month anniversary. It couldn't have been a more perfect night. It was warm, and they set up a Hibachi on his terrace. She didn't even know apartments on Riverside Drive had terraces, let alone imagine herself eating on one. She took a deep breath: the only fumes were from the inviting charcoal. Trucks aren't allowed on the highway, and the occasional Number 5 bus on the Drive didn't seem to matter. They looked across the river and watched the lights come on in New Jersey.
"That's where I'm from, out there," he said, placing an arm around her. They clinked glasses again -- to New York, here and now.
Two hundred feet below them, the last of the homeless were probably retrieving their belongings from the alleys where they'd hidden them a few hours earlier and wandering into Riverside Park to bed down for the night.
Phil checked the coals, went in to get the London Broil, returned carrying it one-handed high above his head: the perfect waiter. Pouring herself another glass of Brouilly, she watched as he turned the beef, then turned it again, and again, and again, and again, giving each side equal care.
Rare meat, rare wine, will you be my valentine? Ellyn muttered under her breath. How silly could she get? There was something about Phil. All month he'd been bringing out these delightful, corny thoughts in her.
He set the meat aside to let it stand, went in for candles. He put them on the table, she lit a match. It went out before she was anywhere near the wick. Laughing, he tried; didn't come any closer. Determined, they stood together against the railing, trying to block the wind. They each struck a match, came at it from both sides at once. Still no luck. She threw up her hands; he embraced her.
"At least my match lit," Ellyn laughed. She told him about pledging for Delta Phi in college, and one of the things they had to do was light the members' cigarettes. "I practiced for two solid weeks before I was able to light a match with one strike. I always managed to bend them or wear the sulfur off rubbing it so frantically."
"So that's the real reason you don't smoke."
"Don't worry. My sister Joan smokes enough for both of us."
He took the candles inside, lit them, brought them back out. By the time he had the salad on the table the wind was in control. He gave the candles one more shot, lighting them inside again. This time she watched closely, made a wish the moment the flame went out. Not a wish, a hope: may this balcony never fall into the river, may there always be nights like this.
He placed the candles on a table right inside the door, lit them one more time, put on a CD of Haydn's string quartets, turned off the living room lights, whipped up one of the best bearnaise sauces this side of Café Des Artistes.
"You've got skills I never would have expected," she teased.
"Hey, I wasn't always a thrillionaire. Besides, when Tiffany was an infant, cooking was our only option."
"Tiffany?" Ellyn gulped her wine. Christ. She picked another married one.
"My daughter. You'll meet her one of these weekends. She lives with my parents in Cherry Hill."
The Balsamic vinaigrette made her mouth feel raw. She knew the Daddy Dearest type. He was always the one who either went back to his wife because he missed the kids so much, or spent weekends moping around the house because he couldn't get to see the little martyrs-in-training.
No, Phil was different. As they slowly worked their way through course after course (including cheese and fruit, along with a light dessert wine), he told her about his wife's death, his daughter's life with his parents in Cherry Hill. They looked toward New Jersey again. It wasn't even 9:30, yet some of the lights were starting to go out. It was a different world over there.
The wind blew her hair across his face and he made a futile stab at catching it. Behind them, the candles were burning down. It was getting chilly. They carried the dishes inside, sat down in the living room.
She told him about her mother.
"MY MOTHER'S DEAD TOO, you know," she tells Tips as they start walking home.
"How old were you when she died?"
"A little over three."
"I was five."
"I know, your father told me."
"You never told me you were so young," Phil comments.
She explains it's not usually something she finds herself discussing on the first few dates.
Tips asks if she thinks about her mother much.
"Sometimes. I used to more than I do now. Sometimes it hurts too much."
"Same here," Tips says, taking Ellyn's warm hand. She chatters on about how, two years ago, when she was in third grade, her grandmother saw her moping around the house, and started her on piano lessons. Grandma promised that sitting around on rainy afternoons being able to play her favorite songs would make her happy. It doesn't, all it does is take time away from things she'd rather be doing, hanging out in the schoolyard and stuff. But she doesn't want to tell her grandparents, or they'd be sad too.
She follows Ellyn's arm up to her shoulder. "It's not nice to stare at people," Grandma always tells her. And Grandma tugs to make sure she keeps moving, even when it's only the homeless woman who sleeps curled up in the doorway to the drugstore. Still she sneaks stares at Ellyn every chance she gets.
"I REALLY LOVE THE BARBIE you gave me," Tips says. It’s one of those Barbies whose arms and legs twist and bend and you’re supposed to be able to put them in all sorts of dance or athletic positions. She didn't think it was so great at first, but she smiled and said thank you, just like Grandma, Grandpa, her father and the whole world seems to have taught her.
That Barbie cost $10, tops. She's learned to judge her father's girlfriends by how much they spend on a present. Some of them spend a whole lot, then expect her to be so excited she'll go off and play by herself and not bother them for hours. Those are the worst.
No, the worst are the ones who don't bring her anything. Or the ones who show up with a stuffed animal, as if she's a four-year-old.
She sure didn’t expect Ellyn to be so great. When they were driving here Friday night, her father told her Ellyn was tall and thin. He described her long strawberry-blonde hair that's heavy on the strawberry side, and how she'll sometimes twirl a few strands around her finger when she's lost in thought. The large blue eyes that seem to gaze at things forever. The freckles she tries to cover with makeup but can't completely hide, and how they deepen when she smiles.
Staring straight ahead, she'd responded even then that it sounded like Mommy.
"She does look as if she could be a gym teacher, or maybe a dance teacher," her father laughed. "Only she's not. Ellyn works for one of the largest advertising agencies in the city."
Her mother was a real gym teacher. Before she got pregnant, that is. It took two years for her body to get in shape enough to teach again, then it turned out the only job she could get was in Great Neck, all the way out on Long Island. She was driving home late one night, it was raining, and the car skidded off the road. That was that.
She reached into her backpack and pulled out her science book. They have to answer the questions at the back of Chapter Sixteen and bring them to school on Tuesday. Plus write an essay on transportation for civics class and a book report for English. Monday's Memorial Day, they've got three days off, that's why her father decided to bring her into the city this weekend. It's a holiday weekend, but they still have homework.
That's Ellyn, with a "Y," her father told her.
At least these weekends with her father she doesn't have to practice piano. Most of the time he lets her do whatever she wants. She can log onto AOL and spend all the time she wants in the chat rooms without anyone complaining that it's tying up the phone. She can send ten E-mails to Melissa even though they only saw each other yesterday. And her father takes her goofy places, like out for pizza when they’ve just had lunch or it’s almost dinnertime. Except sometimes one of the women he's with decides they have to plan things, and she ends up being dragged to all these dopey places like puppet shows or street fairs.
She grabs hold of Ellyn's wrist. "I'm glad we went to the Wild West playground. It's my favorite."
"Worth going all the way to 94th Street for! Though sometimes we end up taking a cab home, because this heavy swinger here is overtired." Phil ruffles his daughter's hair.
"I was sort of, like, scared at first," Tips confesses. "I thought we might head for the Jungle gym, and maybe you'd, like, try to get me to stand up straight on the very top."
"Do I look like the a person who'd do that?" Ellyn laughs.
Tips lets go. Stands so still you'd think they were playing Statues. Their eyes meet.
"My mother said she'd teach me how to stand on top when I was older," Tips says at last, taking Ellyn's hand again. It feels really smooth and soft. "But Grandma gets nervous when I climb too high, so I haven't had a lot of practice. This one girl at my school, she's not my friend I just see her around all the time, she can, like, walk along the top bar and keep her balance."
"I'm scared of heights, too," Ellyn commiserates. "I have this vivid memory of standing up on a chair and my mother screaming at my father or sister to grab me, terrified I'd fall off."
"A chair's not very high," Phil laughs.
"It depends upon your perspective," Ellyn and Tips say together.
"Race you to the building," Tips shouts, taking off without waiting for an answer. Rounding the corner, they literally run into a mother and her two kids Phil and Tips know from the neighborhood. "This is our friend Ellyn," Phil says, making introductions.
Our friend. Ellyn's ears curve upward at the phrase.
And here comes a woman carrying a rabbit! Phil sees it first, and points it out to the kids, who run over to the woman holding him.
Tips asks if they can pet him.
The woman nods. Tips immediately cradles the rabbit's head in her palms. The other two kids hang back a bit. Finally the girl takes a step forward, reaches a tentative finger to the rabbit's ear. Jumps back as if expecting it to bite. Tips is stroking the rabbit between his ears, whispering in the tip of an ear, telling him how soft and beautiful he is.
"She's so gentle," Ellyn whispers. "How can she be that rough on the swings, run down the block without looking where she's going, then all of the sudden be so calm and soothing?"
"She's been gentle with animals ever since she was a toddler," Phil says.
Ellyn stands there beaming, delighted to know such a child.
"She has her mother's touch," Phil continues.
"ORDER ANYTHING YOU WANT, except Chow Mein," Phil tells his daughter as they weave in and out of the crowd along Mott St. No matter what time you come down here, there's a mob.
"How about if Ellyn orders Chow Mein? I can have some of hers, can't I?"
"If Ellyn orders Chow Mein it's the end of our friendship."
"Don't order Chow Mein," Tips tells her. "Please."
Ellyn promises she won't.
They stop to look at these plastic water-guns a guy's selling on the corner, get squirted once, then continue walking. Every time they get down to Chinatown Phil silently vows to bring his daughter here more often. It’s the kind of neighborhood you don't find in Cherry Hill.
"And no putting sweet and sour sauce on everything, the way Grandma does," he continues as they head into Kuan Sing. "As a matter of fact, no sweet and sour."
"Suppose I want sweet and sour fried rice?"
"Sweet and sour Chow Mein?"
They're laughing nonstop till the food comes.
Trying to pick up a dumpling with chopsticks pushes Tips over the edge. Ellyn shows her how to brace it on her middle finger and steady her wrist, but she still can't manage.
"Mommy was so good she could pick up a single grain of rice," Phil announces.
Ellyn pays no attention to his challenge.
After dinner they start walking uptown, but Ellyn steers them off onto Bayard St.: The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. As they're waiting in line they stare at the list of flavors: Green Tea, Lychee, Ginger, Red Bean... "If you ask, they might even have sweet and sour," she whispers to Tips.
"Where'd you find this place?" Phil asks.
"Believe it or not, I've known about it since high school. Some of us used to come into the city on weekends. They make all their own."
"I'll bet they do." He orders a cone of green tea, gets a ginger cone for Ellyn and a chocolate chip double dip cone for Tips. He also buys his daughter one of those bright yellow T-shirts with a green dragon eating ice cream on it that says Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Ellyn asks for a few extra napkins.
Cones in hand, they walk up as far as Canal Street. Phil tries to steer them west. "The fish market might still be open," he says. "I thought the two of you might enjoy seeing all the fish with their heads still on."
Ellyn backs away. Tells him about one meal down here where she ordered fish and one of the people she was with made its mouth move. "The sight of whole fish has made me sick to my stomach ever since."
Tips insists the sight of whole fish makes her sick, too. Even in the museum.
That's the first Phil's heard of this.
Well, she might not have told him but it makes her sick to her stomach.
Phil rushes into the street and intercepts a cab headed for a couple on the corner. On the way uptown they listen to what sounds like a Haitian talk show. They stop in the video store and rent the one Pedro Almodovar movie neither Phil nor Ellyn has seen. Tips is in bed by ten. They’ll turn in a little after midnight.
"TO KNOW ME IS TO LOVE ME," Phil says, climbing on top of her and pretending to handcuff her wrists.
"I knew there was something I didn't like about that movie," she laughs.
"Watch and learn." He rattles off some of the farcical positions they saw the leading man keep his captive in, asking what her pleasure is. As if he doesn't know she likes it straight. No kinky sex, no fancy female drinks like whiskey sours or daiquiris. And she doesn't play head games.
"I want to just sleep, actually. I'm exhausted." Ellyn fluffs up her pillow, turns over.
Phil reaches across her, cups a breast in his palm, folds her body into his. She pulls away the moment she feels her nipple harden.
"May I remind you your daughter is in the next room?"
"The door's closed, and she's asleep." He draws her back to him, clasps hard enough so she can't escape.
"It's a matter of principle," she says, letting herself relax in his warm arms. "Whenever the guy I'm dating has his children, we take it slow." She promises they'll reopen the discussion after a few weeks, when Tips is more used to her presence. Thinking as she says this that maybe, maybe, she and Phil will somehow survive the city’s pace and pressures. Hand in hand and all that. It's been a hell of a long time since she's felt so comfortable.
TC wakes in the middle of the night to the sound of furniture being moved. Jumps so hard the cushions almost fall through the sofa. Then she sits there in the dark chewing on the flesh around her fingers, terrified they're being robbed. Once things quiet down it takes her forever to get back to sleep. The next morning she discovers the twin beds in her bedroom pushed together.
"Hey, doing it in a single bed might be okay for Dad and RuthAnn, but I'll be damned if I'm going to stand for it," her sister says the next morning. Joan's apartment is being painted, so she and her currently significant other come home for a few nights. With her relegated to the tiny guest room.
It never dawned on TC that her father and RuthAnn were "doing it" at all. They had twin beds because her mother had been so sick, she assumed they slept separately all night. And Ellyn was twelve at the time, a year older than Tips.
"In other words, you identify with kids," Phil says smugly.
"I wouldn't say identify. More like sympathize."
"We all appreciate your good intentions. But Tiffany was practically weaned on furniture being moved. Many nights we'd wheel her in here, crib and all; it was the only hope we had of getting back to sleep."
"Was I telling you about the furniture?"
"God! I must have had more to drink than I realized. I knew what I was thinking, but I didn't suspect I was saying all that out loud."
"Carried away by the memory."
"And then some."
"BET YOU CAN'T EAT just one," Ellyn calls on her way through the living room. Tips is sprawled on the floor in front of the tv, munching potato chips. How the hell do kids do it? They got back from brunch less than an hour ago, Tips barely touched her omelet, "borrowed" everyone's French fries, and here she is with potato chips.
"Bet you can't eat just one," Tips says with her mouth full.
Ellyn takes the largest one she can find; clamps her lips shut.
"You're going to turn blue!" Tips shouts. "Like when you hold your breath too long."
"No I won't. I've waited half my life to prove this was a lousy commercial." Never thought she'd let a lover catch her looking so ridiculous.
Before she can get the last traces of salt off her tongue, the three of them are trading quips from various commercials. Tips' favorite is when Ellyn taunts "Hamster Brain" at her. They've all seen that one, but no one can remember what product it plugged.
"You deserve a break today," Tips sings as they head out for dinner. Off key.
"No way," Phil says. "No McDonald’s, no Burger King, no Kentucky Fried. You won’t be back in suburbia until tomorrow night." They go to the local Greek coffee shop.
That "tomorrow night" rings in Ellyn’s ears, sounding more and more like a death knell.
PHIL LEAVES TO DRIVE his daughter back to Cherry Hill.
Not quite ready to go home to an empty apartment, Ellyn checks out the schedule at Loews, ends up taking in the latest Robin Williams film. Not nearly as impressive as his early work.
She walks uptown along Amsterdam Ave., glancing in bar after bar as she passes. It’s a warm night, and the crowds have spilled out along the street. The usual sort of rowdy group she expects in these places that have pool tables in the back. Which is why she usually sticks to Columbus Ave., the Upper East Side, or the Village. She smiles, thinking how this latest "Mr. Goodbar" phase has been temporarily suspended. For a mildly attractive woman, with memorable red hair, even stopping in a bar to use the phone can lead God knows where. Take that night two months ago:
She shoved the quarter back in the slot, dialed the number yet again. Damn Sharon! Why the hell couldn't she live in a decent building, one with a nice buzzer system. That's the problem with befriending artists she's worked with -- they tend to live in buildings locked at six on the dot. No problem, just call from Broome St. Bar on the corner and she'll toss keys down.
Nothing but a busy signal.
To top things off, this lanky blonde guy was nursing his drink at a nearby table, picking up the phone every time she put it down. "Pardon me, but I think we've been calling the same number," he said finally. A come-on so juvenile she had to laugh.
She couldn't help watching closely the next time he dialed. Two two eight, nine one nine seven. "You're calling Sharon?" She might as well be accusing him of calling Jupiter.
"Mark. Number 340, fourth floor?"
"Yes, but..." Suddenly she remembered Sharon's roommates. "Mark know you're coming?"
"I thought he did." Pushing his wire-rimmed glasses back up on the bridge of his nose.
"Phil Plattison." He cut the awkward silence with a clean, well-manicured hand. A firm, self-assured grip. She likes that in a man. "Can I buy you a drink while we're waiting? It looks as if we're in for a long night."
While not about to wait forever, she let herself relax over a glass of Chardonnay.
Ten or fifteen minutes, after she'd flipped her hair over one shoulder and was looking directly into his eyes every time she spoke, Mark and Sharon rushed in together. They just discovered their phone was on the fritz. They'd been upstairs getting angrier and angrier at these friends who didn't materialize.
As long as they'd met already...
Phil and Mark had been planning to head down to the Seaport, grab dinner at Gianni's, and check the rest of the scene. Nothing that couldn't be postponed. Sharon had made an Alfredo dish; easy enough to throw in a few more handfuls of pasta and take it a little easy on the sauce. "We're all connected, New York Telephone," Ellyn got them all singing as they climbed four flights of rickety stairs.
By the following weekend she and Phil were lovers.
H A M I L T O N S T O N E E
D I T I O N S
p.o. box 43, Maplewood, New Jersey 07040