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Hodder Paperbacks Ltd., London
Hodder Paperbacks Ltd., London
Copyright 1970 by Erich Segal
First printed in Great Britain 1970
Hodder Paperback edition 1971
Seventeenth impression 1971
Eighteenth impression 1971
Nineteenth impression 1971
Twentieth impression 1972
Twenty First impression 1972
Reproduced from the U.S. edition by arrangement
With Harper Row, New York, Portions of this
Book first appeared in The Ladies Home Journal.
All rights reserved.
The characters and situations in this book are
Entirely imaginary and bear no relation to any real
person or actual happening
This book is sol subject to the condition that
it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be
lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated
without the publisher's prior consent in any
form of binding or cover other than that in
which this is published and without a similar
condition including this condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Printed and bound in Great Britain for
Hodder Paperbacks Ltd,
St Paul's House, Warwick Lane,
London EC4P 4AH
By Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd,
ISBN 0 340 12508 X
For Sylvia Herscher and John Flaxman
. . . namque . . . solebatis
meas esse aliquid putare nuqas
What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?
That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me. Once, when she specifically lumped me with those musical types, I asked her what the order was, and she replied, smiling, 'Alphabetical.' At the time I smiled too. But now I sit and wonder whether she was listing me by my first name — in which case I would trail Mozart — or by my last name, in which case I would edge in there between Bach and the Beatles. Either way I don't come first, which for some stupid reason bothers hell out of me, having grown up with the notion that I always had to be number one. Family heritage, don't you know?
In the fall of my senior year, I got into the habit of studying at the Radcliffe library. Not just to eye the cheese, although I admit that I liked to look. The place was quiet, nobody knew me, and the reserve books were less in demand. The day before one of my history hour exams, I still hadn't gotten around to reading the first book on the list, an endemic Harvard disease. I ambled over to the reserve desk to get one of the tomes that would bail me out on the morrow. There were two girls working there. One a tall tennis-anyone type, the other a bespectacled mouse type. I opted for Minnie Four-Eyes.
'Do you have The Waning of the Middle Ages?'
She shot a glance up at me.
'Do you have your own library?' she asked.
'Listen, Harvard is allowed to use the Radcliffe library.'
'I'm not talking legality, Preppie, I'm taking ethics. You guys have five million books. We have a few lousy thousand.'
Christ, a superior-being type! The kind who think since the ratio of Radcliffe to Harvard is five to one, the girls must be five times as smart. I normally cut these types to ribbons, but just then I badly] needed that goddamn book. '
'Listen, I need that goddamn book.'
'Wouldja please watch your profanity, Preppie?'
'What makes you so sure I went to prep school?'
'You look stupid and rich,' she said, removing her glasses.
'You're wrong,'' I protested. 'I'm actually smart and poor.'
'Oh, no, Preppie. I'm smart and poor.'
She was staring straight at me. Her eyes were brown. Okay, maybe I look rich, but I wouldn't let some 'Cliffie — even one with pretty eyes — call me dumb.
'What the hell makes you so smart?' I asked.
'I wouldn't go for coffee with you,' she answered.
'Listen — I wouldn't ask you.'
'That,' she replied, 'is what makes you stupid.'
Let me explain why I took her for coffee. By shrewdly capitulating at the crucial moment — i.e., by pretending that I suddenly wanted to — I got my book. And since she couldn't leave until the library closed, I had plenty of time to absorb some pithy phrases about the shift of royal dependence from cleric to lawyer in the late eleventh century. I got an A minus on the exam, coincidentally the same grade I assigned to Jenny's legs when she first walked from behind that desk. I can't say I gave her costume an honor grade, however; it was a bit too Boho for my taste. I especially loathed that Indian thing she carried for a handbag. Fortunately I didn't mention this, as I later discovered it was of her own design.
We went to the Midget Restaurant, a nearby sandwich joint which, despite its name, is not restricted to people of small stature. I ordered two coffees and a brownie with ice cream (for her).
'I'm Jennifer Cavilleri,' she said, 'an American of Italian descent.'
As if I wouldn't have known. 'And a music major,' she added.
'My name is Oliver,' I said.
'First or last?' she asked.
'First,' I answered, and then confessed that my entire name was Oliver Barrett. (I mean, that's most of it.)
'Oh,' she said. 'Barrett, like the poet?'
'Yes,' I said. 'No relation.'
In the pause that ensued, I gave inward thanks that she hadn't come up with the usual distressing question: 'Barrett, like the hall?' For it is my special albatross to be related to the guy that built Barrett Hall, the largest and ugliest structure in Harvard Yard, a colossal monument to my family's money, vanity — and flagrant Harvardism.
After that, she was pretty quiet. Could we have run out of conversation so quickly? Had I turned her off by not being related to the poet? What? She simply sat there, semi-smiling at me. For something to do, I checked out her notebooks. Her handwriting was curious — small sharp little letters with no capitals (who did she think she was, e. e. cummings?). And she was taking some pretty snowy courses: Comp. Lit. 105, Music 150, Music 201 —
'Music 201? Isn't that a graduate course?'
She nodded yes, and was not very good at masking her pride.
'Nothing sexual, Preppie.'
Why was I putting up with this? Doesn't she read the Crimson? Doesn't she know who I am?
'Hey, don't you know who I am?'
'Yeah,' she answered with kind of disdain. 'You're the guy that owns Barrett Hall.'
She didn't know who I was.
'I don't own Barrett Hall,' I quibbled. 'My great-grandfather happened to give it to Harvard.'
'So his not-so-great grandson would be sure to get in!'
That was the limit.
'Jenny, if you're so convinced I'm a loser, why did you bulldoze me into buying you coffee?'
She looked me straight in the eye and smiled.
'I like your body,' she said.
Part of being a big winner is the ability to be a good loser. There's no paradox involved. It's a distinctly Harvard thing to be able to turn any defeat into victory.
'Tough luck, Barrett. You played a helluva game.'
'Really, I'm so glad you fellows took it, I mean, you people need to win so badly'
Of course, an out-and-out triumph is better. I mean, if you have the option, the last-minute score is preferable. And as I walked Jenny back to her dorm, I had not despaired of ultimate victory over this snotty Radcliffe bitch.
'Listen, you snotty Radcliffe bitch, Friday night is the Dartmouth hockey game.'
'So I'd like you to come.'
She replied with the usual Radcliffe reverence for sport:
'Why the hell should I come to a lousy hockey game?'
I answered casually:
'Because I'm playing.'
There was a brief silence. I think I heard snow falling.
'For which side?' she asked.
Oliver Barrett IV Senior
Ipswich, Mass. Phillips Exeter
Age 20 5'11" 185 lbs.
Major: Social Studies
Dean's List: '61, '62, '63
All-Ivy First Team: '62, '63
Career Aim: Law
By now Jenny had read my bio in the program. I made triple sure that Vic Claman, the manager, saw that she got one.
'For Christ's sake, Barrett, is this your first date?'
'Shut up, Vic, or you'll be chewing your teeth.'
As we warmed up on the ice, I didn't wave to her
(how uncool!) or even look her way. And yet I think she thought I was glancing at her. I mean, did she remove her glasses during the National Anthem out of respect for the flag?
By the middle of the second period, we were beating Dartmouth 0-0. That is, Davey Johnston and I were about to perforate their nets. The Green bastards sensed this, and began to play rougher. Maybe they could break a bone or two before we broke them open. The fans were already screaming for blood. And in hockey this literally means blood or, failing that, a goal. As a kind of noblesse oblige, I have never denied them either.
Al Redding, Dartmouth center, charged across our blue line and I slammed into him, stole the puck and started down-ice. The fans were roaring. I could see Davey Johnston on my left, but I thought I would take it all the way, their goalie being a slightly chicken type I had terrorized since he played for Deerfield. Before I could get off a shot, both their defensemen were on me, and I had to skate around their nets to keep hold of the puck. There were three of us, flailing away against the boards and each other. It had always been my policy, in pile-ups like this, to lash mightily at anything wearing enemy colors. Somewhere beneath our skates was the puck, but for the moment we were concentrating on beating the shit out of each other.
A ref blew his whistle.
'You — two minutes in the box!'
I looked up. He was pointing at me. Me? What had I done to deserve a penalty?
'Come on, ref, what'd I do?'
Somehow he wasn't interested in further dialogue. He was calling to the officials' desk — 'Number seven, two minutes' — and signaling with his arms.
I remonstrated a bit, but that's de rigueur. The crowd expects a protest, no matter how flagrant the offense. The ref waved me off. Seething with frustration, I skated toward the penalty box. As I climbed in, listening to the click of my skate blades on the wood of the floor, I heard the bark of the PA system:
'Penalty. Barrett of Harvard. Two minutes. Holding.'
The crowd booed; several Harvards impugned the vision and integrity of the referees. I sat, trying to catch my breath, not looking up or even out onto the ice, where Dartmouth outmanned us.
'Why are you sitting here when all your friends are outplaying?'
The voice was Jenny's. I ignored her, and exhorted my teammates instead.
'C'mon, Harvard, get that puck!'
'What did you do wrong?'
I turned and answered her. She was my date, after all.
'I tried too hard.'
And I went back to watching my teammates try to hold off Al Redding's determined efforts to score.
'Is this a big disgrace?'
'Jenny, please, I'm trying to concentrate!'
'On how I'm gonna total that bastard Al Redding!'
I looked out onto the ice to give moral support to my colleagues.
'Are you a dirty player?'
My eyes were riveted on our goal, now swarming with Green bastards. I couldn't wait to get out there again. Jenny persisted.
'Would you ever 'total' me?'
I answered her without turning.
'I will right now if you don't shut up.'
'I'm leaving. Good-bye.'
By the time I turned, she had disappeared. As I stood up to look further, I was informed that my two-minute sentence was up. I leaped the barrier, back onto the ice.
The crowd welcomed my return. Barrett's on wing, all's right with the team. Wherever she was hiding, Jenny would hear the big enthusiasm for my presence. So who cares where she is.
Where is she?
Al Redding slapped a murderous shot, which our goalie deflected off toward Gene Kennaway, who then passed it down-ice in my vicinity. As I skated after the puck, I thought I had a split second to glance up at the stands to search for Jenny. I did. I saw her. She was there.
The next thing I knew I was on my ass.
Two Green bastards had slammed into me, my ass was on the ice, and I was — Christ! — embarrassed beyond belief. Barrett dumped! I could hear the loyal Harvard fans groaning for me as I skidded. I could hear the bloodthirsty Dartmouth fans chanting.
'Hit 'em again! Hit 'em again!'
What would Jenny think?
Dartmouth had the puck around our goal again, and again our goalie deflected their shot. Kennaway pushed it at Johnston, who rifled it down to me (I had stood up by this time). Now the crowd was wild. This had to be a score. I took the puck and sped all out across Dartmouth's blue line. Two Dartmouth defensemen were coming straight at me.
'Go, Oliver, go! Knock their heads off!'
I heard Jenny's shrill scream above the crowd. It was exquisitely violent. I faked out one defenseman, slammed the other so hard he lost his breath and then — instead of shooting off balance — I passed off to Davey Johnston, who had come up the right side. Davey slapped it into the nets. Harvard score!
In an instant, we were hugging and kissing. Me and Davey Johnston and the other guys. Hugging and kissing and back slapping and jumping up and down (on skates). The crowd was screaming. And the Dartmouth guy I hit was still on his ass. The fans threw programs onto the ice. This really broke Dartmouth's back. (That's a metaphor; the defenseman got up when he caught his breath.) We creamed them 7-0.
If I were a sentimentalist, and cared enough about Harvard to hang a photograph on the wall, it would not be of Winthrop House, or Mem Church, but of Dillon. Dillon Field House. If I had a spiritual home at Harvard, this was it. Nate Pusey may revoke my diploma for saying this, but Widener Library means far less to me than Dillon. Every afternoon of my college life I walked into that place, greeted my buddies with friendly obscenities, shed the trappings of civilization and turned into a jock. How great to put on the pads and the good old number 7 shirt (I had dreams of them retiring that number; they didn't), to take the skates and walk out toward the Watson Rink.
The return to Dillon would be even better. Peeling off the sweaty gear, strutting naked to the supply desk to get a towel.
'How'd it go today, Ollie?'
'Good, Richie. Good, Jimmy'
Then into the showers to listen to who did what to whom how many times last Saturday night. 'We got these pigs from Mount Ida, see . . . .?' And I was privileged to enjoy a private place of meditation. Being blessed with a bad knee (yes, blessed; have you seen my draft card?), I had to give it some whirlpool after playing. As I sat and watched the rings run round my knee, I could catalog my cuts and bruises (I enjoy them, in a way), and kind of think about anything or nothing. Tonight I could think of a goal, an assist and virtually locking up my third consecutive All-Ivy.
'Takin' some whirly-pooly, Ollie?'
It was Jackie Felt, our trainer and self-appointed spiritual guide.
'What does it look like I'm doing, Felt, beating off?'
Jackie chortled and lit up with an idiot grin.
'Know what's wrong with yer knee, Ollie? Diya know?'
I'd been to every orthopedist in the East, but Felt knew better.
'Yer not eatin' right.'
I really wasn't very interested.
'Yer not eatin' enough salt.'
Maybe if I humor him he'll go away.
'Okay, Jack, I'll start eating more salt.'
Jesus, was he pleased! He walked off with this amazing look of accomplishment on his idiot face. Anyway, I was alone again. I let my whole pleasantly aching body slide into the whirlpool, closed my eyes and just sat there, up to my neck in. warmth. Ahhhhhhh.
Jesus! Jenny would be waiting outside. I hope! Still! Jesus! How long had I lingered in that comfort while she was out there in the Cambridge cold? I set a new record for getting dressed. I wasn't even quite dry as I pushed open the center door of Dillon.
The cold air hit me. God, was it freezing. And dark. There was still a small cluster of fans. Mostly old hockey faithfuls, the grads who've never mentally shed the pads. Guys like old Jordan Jencks, who come to every single game, home or away. How do they do it? I mean, Jencks is a big banker. And why do they do it?
'Quite a spill you took, Oliver.'
'Yeah, Mr. Jencks. You know what kind of game they play.'
I was looking everywhere for Jenny. Had she left and walked all the way back to Radcliffe alone?
I took three or four steps away from the fans, searching desperately Suddenly she popped out from behind a bush, her face swathed in a scarf, only her eyes
'Hey, Preppie, it's cold as hell out here.'
Was I glad to see her!
Like instinctively, I kissed her lightly on the forehead.
'Did I say you could?' she said.
'Did I say you could kiss me?'
'Sorry. I was carried away.'
We were pretty much all alone out there, and it was dark and cold and late. I kissed her again. But not on the forehead, and not lightly. It lasted a long nice time. When we stopped kissing, she was still holding on to my sleeves.
'I don't like it,' she said.
'The fact that I like it.'
As we walked all the way back (I have a car, but she wanted to walk), Jenny held on to my sleeve. Not my. arm, my sleeve. Don't ask me to explain that. At the doorstep of Briggs Hall, I did not kiss her good night.
'Listen, Jen, I may not call you for a few months.'
She was silent for a moment. A few moments.
Finally she asked, 'Why?'
'Then again, I may call you as soon as I get to my room.'
I turned and began to walk off.
'Bastard!' I heard her whisper.
I pivoted again and scored from a distance of twenty feet.
'See, Jenny, you can dish it out, but you can't take it!'
I would like to have seen the expression on her face, but strategy forbade my looking back.
My roommate, Ray Stratton, was playing poker with two football buddies as I entered the room.
They responded with appropriate grunts.
'Whatja get tonight, Ollie?' Ray asked.
'An assist and a goal,' I replied.
'None of your business,' I replied.
'Who's this?' asked one of the behemoths.
'Jenny Cavilleri,' answered Ray. 'Wonky music type.'
'I know that one,' said another. 'A real tight-ass.'
I ignored these crude and horny bastards as I untangled the phone and started to take it into my bedroom.
'She plays piano with the Bach Society,' said Stratton.
'What does she play with Barrett?'
'Probably hard to get!'
Oinks, grunts and guffaws. The animals were laughing.
'Gentlemen,' I announced as I took leave, 'up yours.'
I closed my door on another wave of subhuman noises, took off my shoes, lay back on the bed and dialed Jenny's number.
We spoke in whispers.
'Hey, Jen . . . '
'Jen . . . what would you say if I told you . . . '
I hesitated. She waited.
'I think . . . I'm in love with you.'
There was a pause. Then she answered very softly.
'I would say . . . you were full of shit.'
She hung up.
I wasn't unhappy. Or surprised.
I got hurt in the Cornell game.
It was my own fault, really. At a heated juncture, I made the unfortunate error of referring to their center as a 'fucking Canuck.' My oversight was in not remembering that four members of their team were Canadians — all, it turned out, extremely patriotic, well-built and within earshot. To add insult to injury, the penalty was called on me. And not a common one, either: five minutes for fighting. You should have heard the Cornell fans ride me when it was announced! Not many Harvard rooters had come way the hell up to Ithaca, New York, even though the Ivy ride was at stake. Five minutes! I could see our coach tearing his hair out as I climber into the box.
Jackie Felt came scampering over. It was only then I realized that the whole right side of my face was a bloody mess. 'Jesus Christ,' he kept repeating as he worked me over with a styptic pencil. 'Jesus, Ollie.'
I sat quietly, staring blankly ahead. I was ashamed to look onto the ice, where my worst fears were quickly realized; Cornell scored. The Red fans screamed and bellowed and hooted. It was a tie now. Cornell could very possibly win the game — and with it, the Ivy title. Shit — and I had barely gone through half my penalty.
Across the rink, the minuscule Harvard contingent was grim and silent. By now the fans for both sides had forgotten me. Only one spectator still had his eyes on the penalty box. Yes, he was there. 'If the conference breaks in time, I'll try to get to Cornell.' Sitting among the Harvard rooters — but not rooting, of course — was Oliver Barrett III.
Across the gulf of ice, Old Stonyface observed in expressionless silence as the last bit of blood on the face of his only son was stopped by adhesive papers. What was he thinking, do you think? Teh tch tch — or words to that effect?
'Oliver, if you like fighting so much, why don't you go out for the boxing team?'
'Exeter doesn't have a boxing team, Father.'
'Well, perhaps I shouldn't come up to your hockey games.'
'Do you think I fight for your benefit, Father?'
'Well, I wouldn't say 'benefit.''
But of course, who could tell what he was thinking? Oliver Barrett III was a walking, sometimes talking Mount Rushmore. Stonyface.
Perhaps Old Stony was indulging in his usual self-celebration: Look at me, there are extremely few Harvard spectators here this evening, and yet I am one of them. I, Oliver Barrett III, an extremely busy man with banks to run and so forth, I have taken the time to come up to Cornell for a lousy hockey game. How wonderful. (For whom?)
The crowd roared again, but really wild this time. Another Cornell goal. They were ahead. And I had two minutes of penalty to go! Davey Johnston skated up-ice, red-faced, angry. He passed right by me without so much as a glance. And did I notice tears in his eyes? I mean, okay, the title was at stake, but Jesus — tears! But then Davey, our captain, had this incredible streak going for him: seven years and he'd never played on a losing side, high school or college. It was like a minor legend. And he was a senior. And this was our last tough game.
Which we lost, 6-3.
After the game, an X ray determined that no bones were broken, and then twelve stitches were sewn into my cheek by Richard Selzer, M.D. Jackie Felt hovered around the med room, telling the Cornell physician how I wasn't eating right and that all this might have been averted had I been taking sufficient salt pills. Selzer ignored Jack, and gave me a stern warning about my nearly damaging 'the floor of my orbit' (those are the medical terms) and that not to play for a week would be the wisest thing. I thanked him. He left, with Felt dogging him to talk more of nutrition. I was glad to be alone.
I showered slowly, being careful not to wet my sore face. The Novocain was wearing off a little, but I was somehow happy to feel pain. 'I mean, hadn't I really fucked up? We'd blown the title, broken our own streak (all the seniors had been undefeated) and Davey Johnston's too. Maybe the blame wasn't totally mine, but right then I felt like it was.
There was nobody in the locker room. They must all have been at the motel already. I supposed no one wanted to see me or speak to me. With this terrible bitter taste in my mouth — I felt so bad I could taste it — I packed my gear and walked outside. There were not many Harvard fans out there in the wintry wilds of upstate New York.
'How's the cheek, Barrett?'
'Okay, thanks, Mr. Jencks.'
'You'll probably want a steak,' said another familiar voice. Thus spake Oliver Barrett III. How typical of him to suggest the old-fashioned cure for a black eye.
'Thank you, Father,' I said. 'The doctor took care of it.' I indicated the gauze pad covering Selzer's twelve stitches.
'I mean for your stomach, son.'
At dinner, we had yet another in our continuing series of nonconversations, all of which commence with 'How've you been?' and conclude with 'Anything I can do?'
'How've you been, son?'
'Does your face hurt?'
It was beginning to hurt like hell.
'I'd like Jack Wells to look at it on Monday.'
'Not necessary, Father.'
'He's a specialist — '
'The Cornell doctor wasn't exactly a veterinarian,' I said, hoping to dampen my father's usual snobbish enthusiasm for specialists, experts, and all other 'top people.'
'Too bad,' remarked Oliver Barrett III, in what I first took to be a stab at humor, 'you did get a beastly cut.'
'Yes, sir,' I said. (Was I supposed to chuckle?)
And then I wondered if my father's quasi-witticism had not been intended as some sort of implicit reprimand for my actions on the ice.
'Or were you implying that I behaved like an animal this evening?'
His expression suggested some pleasure at the fact that I had asked him. But he simply replied, 'You were the one who mentioned veterinarians.' At this point, I decided to study the menu.
As the main course was served, Old Stony launched into another of his simplistic sermonettes, this one, if I recall — and I try not to — concerning victories and defeats. He noted that we had lost the title (very sharp of you, Father), but after all, in sport what really counts is not the winning but the playing. His remarks sounded suspiciously close to a paraphrase of the put-down of such athletic trivia as Ivy tides. But I was not about to feed him any Olympic straight lines, so I gave him his quota of 'Yes sir's' and shut up.
We ran the usual conversational gamut, which centers around Old Stony's favorite nontopic, my plans.
'Tell me, Oliver, have you heard from the Law School?'
'Actually, Father, I haven't definitely decided on law school.'
'I was merely asking if law school had definitely decided on you.'
Was this another witticism? Was I supposed to smile at my father's rosy rhetoric?
'No, sir. I haven't heard.'
'I could give Price Zimmermann a ring — '
'No!' I interrupted as an instant reflex, 'Please don't, sir.'
'Not to influence,' O.B. III said very uprightly, 'just to inquire.'
'Father, I want to get the letter with everyone else. Please.'
'Yes. Of course. Fine.'
'Thank you, sir.'
'Besides there really isn't much doubt about your getting in,' he added.
I don't know why, but O.B. III has a way of disparaging me even while uttering laudatory phrases.
'It's no cinch,' I replied. 'They don't have a hockey team, after all.'
I have no idea why I was putting myself down. Maybe it was because he was taking the opposite view.
'You have other qualities,' said Oliver Barrett III, but declined to elaborate. (I doubt if he could have.)
The meal was as lousy as the conversation, except that I could have predicted the staleness of the rolls even before they arrived, whereas I can never predict what subject my father will set blandly before me.
'And there's always the Peace Corps,' he remarked, completely out of the blue.
'Sir?' I asked, not quite sure whether he was making a statement or asking a question.
'I think the Peace Corps is a fine thing, don't you?' he said.
'Well,' I replied, 'it's certainly better than the War Corps.'
We were even. I didn't know what he meant and vice versa. Was that it for the topic? Would we now discuss other current affairs or government programs? No. I had momentarily forgotten that our quintessential theme is always my plans.
'I would certainly have no objection to your joining the Peace Corps, Oliver.'
'It's mutual, sir,' I replied, matching his own generosity of spirit. I'm sure Old Stony never listens to me anyway, so I'm not surprised that he didn't react to my quiet little sarcasm.
'But among your classmates,' he continued, 'what is the attitude there?'
'Do they feel the Peace Corps is relevant to their lives?'
I guess my father needs to hear the phrase as much as a fish needs water: 'Yes, sir.'
Even the apple pie was stale.
At about eleven-thirty, I walked him to his car.
'Anything I can do, son?'
'No, sir. Good night, sir.'
And he drove off.
Yes, there are planes between Boston and Ithaca, New York, but Oliver Barrett III chose to drive. Not that those many hours at the wheel could be taken as some kind of parental gesture. My father simply likes to drive. Fast. And at that hour of the night in an Aston Martin DBS you can go fast as hell. I have no doubt that Oliver Barrett III was out to break his Ithaca-Boston speed record, set the year previous after we had beaten Cornell and taken the title. I know, because I saw him glance at his watch.
I went back to the motel to phone Jenny.
It was the only good part of the evening. I told her all about the fight (omitting the precise nature of the casus belli) and I could tell she enjoyed it. Not many of her wonky musician friends either threw or received punches.
'Did you at least total the guy that hit you?' she asked.
'Yeah. Totally. I creamed him.'
'I wish I coulda seen it. Maybe you'll beat up somebody in the Yale game, huh?'
I smiled. How she loved the simple things in life.
'Jenny's on the downstairs phone.'
This information was announced to me by the girl on bells, although I had not identified myself or my purpose in coming to Briggs Hall that Monday evening. I quickly concluded that this meant points for me. Obviously the 'Cliffie who greeted me read the Crimson and knew who I was. Okay, that had happened many times. More significant was the fact that Jenny had been mentioning that she was dating me.
'Thanks,' I said. 'I'll wait here.'
'Too bad about Cornell. The Crime says four guys jumped you.'
'Yeah. And I got the penalty. Five minutes.'
The difference between a friend and a fan is that with the latter you quickly run out of conversation.
'Jenny off the phone yet? '
She checked her switchboard, replied, 'No.'
Who could Jenny be talking to that was worth appropriating moments set aside for a date with me? Some musical wonk? It was not unknown to me that Martin Davidson, Adams House senior and conductor of the Bach Society orchestra, considered himself to have a franchise on Jenny's attention. Not body; I don't think the guy could wave more than his baton. Anyway, I would put a stop to this usurpation of my time.
'Where's the phone booth?'
'Around the corner.' She pointed in the precise direction.
I ambled into the lounge area. From afar I could see Jenny on the phone. She had left the booth door open. I walked slowly, casually, hoping she would catch sight of me, my bandages, my injuries in toto, and be moved to slam down the receiver and rush to my arms. As I approached, I could hear fragments of conversation.
'Yeah. Of course! Absolutely. Oh, me too, Phil. I love you too, Phil.'
I stopped ambling. Who was she talking to? It wasn't Davidson — there was no Phil in any part of his name. I had long ago checked him out in our Class Register: Martin Eugene Davidson, 70 Riverside Drive, New York, High School of Music and Art. His photo suggested sensitivity, intelligence and about fifty pounds
less than me. But why was I bothering about Davidson? Clearly both he and I were being shot down by Jennifer Cavilleri, for someone to whom she was at this moment (how gross!) blowing kisses into the phone!
I had been away only forty-eight hours, and some bastard named Phil had crawled into bed with Jenny (it had to be that!).
'Yeah, Phil, I love you too. 'Bye.'
As she was hanging up, she saw me, and without so much as blushing, she smiled and waved me a kiss. How could she be so two-faced?
She kissed me lightly on my unhurt cheek.
'Hey — you look awful.'
'I'm injured, Jen.'
'Does the other guy look worse?'
'Yeah. Much. I always make the other guy look worse.'
I said that as ominously as I could, sort of implying that I would punch-out any rivals who would creep into bed with Jenny while I was out of sight and evidently out of mind. She grabbed my sleeve and we started toward the door.
'Night, Jenny,' called the girl on bells.
'Night, Sara Jane,' Jenny called back.
When we were outside, about to step into my MG, I oxygenated my lungs with a breath of evening, and put the question as casually as I could.
'Say, Jen . . . '
'Uh — who's Phil?'
She answered matter-of-factly as she got into the car: 'My father.'
I wasn't about to believe a story like that.
'You call your father Phil?'
'That's his name. What do you call yours?'
Jenny had once told me she had been raised by her father, some sort of a baker type, in Cranston, Rhode Island. When she was very young, her mother was killed in a car crash. All this by way of explaining why she had no driver's license. Her father, in every other way 'a truly good guy' (her words), was incredibly superstitious about letting his only daughter drive. This was a real drag during her last years of high school, when she was taking piano with a guy in Providence. But then she got to read all of Proust on those long bus rides.
'What do you call yours?' she asked again.
I had been so out of it, I hadn't heard her question.
'What term do you employ when you speak of your progenitor?'
I answered with the term I'd always wanted to employ.
'To his face?' she asked.
'I never see his face.'
'He wears a mask?'
'In a way, yes. Of stone. Of absolute stone.'
'Go on — he must be proud as hell. You're a big Harvard jock.'
I looked at her. I guess she didn't know everything, after all.
'So was he, Jenny.'
'Bigger than All-Ivy wing?'
I liked the way she enjoyed my athletic credentials. Too bad I had to shoot myself down by giving her my father's.
'He rowed single sculls in the 1928 Olympics.'
'God,' she said. 'Did he win?'
'No,' I answered, and I guess she could tell that the fact that he was sixth in the finals actually afforded me some comfort.
There was a little silence. Now maybe Jenny would understand that to be Oliver Barrett IV doesn't just mean living with that gray stone edifice in Harvard Yard. It involves a kind of muscular intimidation as well. I mean, the image of athletic achievement looming down on you. I mean, on me.
'But what does he do to qualify as a sonovabitch?' Jenny asked.
'Make me,' I replied.
'Make me,' I repeated.
Her eyes widened like saucers. 'You mean like incest?' she asked.
'Don't give me your family problems, Jen. I've got enough of my own.'
'Like what, Oliver?' she asked, 'like just what is it he makes you do?'
'The 'right things,'' I said.
'What's wrong with the 'right things'?' she asked, delighting in the apparent paradox.
I told her how I loathed being programmed for the Barrett Tradition — which she should have realized, having seen me cringe at having to mention the numeral at the end of my name. And I did not like having to deliver x amount of achievement every single term.
'Oh yeah,' said Jenny with broad sarcasm, 'I notice how you hate getting A's, being All-Ivy — '
'What I hate is that he expects no less!' Just saying what I had always felt (but never before spoken) made me feel uncomfortable as hell, but now I had to make Jenny understand it all. 'And he's so incredibly blasé when I do come through. I mean he just takes me absolutely for granted.'
'But he's a busy man. Doesn't he run lots of banks and things?'
'Jesus, Jenny, whose side are you on?'
'Is this a war?' she asked.
'Most definitely,' I replied.
'That's ridiculous, Oliver.'
She seemed genuinely unconvinced. And there I got my first inkling of a cultural gap between us. I mean, three and a half years of Harvard-Radcliffe had pretty much made us into the cocky intellectuals that institution traditionally produces, but when it came to accepting the fact that my rather was made of stone, she adhered to some atavistic Italian-Mediterranean notion of papa-loves-bambinos, and there was no arguing otherwise.
I tried to cite a case in point. That ridiculous nonconversation after the Cornell game. This definitely made an impression on her. But the goddamn wrong one.
'He went all the way up to Ithaca to watch a lousy hockey game?'
I tried to explain that my father was all form and no content. She was still obsessed with the fact that he had traveled so far for such a (relatively) trivial sports event.
'Look, Jenny, can we just forget it?'
'Thank God you're hung up about your father,' she replied. 'That means you're not perfect.'
'Oh — you mean you are?'
'Hell no, Preppie. If I was, would I be going out with you?'
Back to business as usual.
I would like to say a word about our physical relationship.
For a strangely long while there wasn't any. I mean, there wasn't anything more significant than those kisses already mentioned (all of which I still remember in greatest detail). This was not standard procedure as far as I was concerned, being rather impulsive, impatient and quick to action. If you were to tell any of a dozen girls at Tower Court, Wellesley, that Oliver Barrett IV had been dating a young lady daily for three weeks and had not slept with her, they would surely have laughed and severely questioned the femininity of the girl involved. But of course the actual facts were quite different.
I didn't know what to do.
Don't misunderstand or take that too literally. I knew all the moves. I just couldn't cope with my own feelings about making them. Jenny was so smart that I was afraid she might laugh at what I had traditionally considered the suave romantic (and unstoppable) style of Oliver Barrett IV. I was afraid of being rejected, yes. I was also afraid of being accepted for the wrong reasons. What I am fumbling to say is that I felt different about Jennifer, and didn't know what to say or even who to ask about it. ('You should have asked me,' she said later.) I just knew I had these feelings. For her. For all of her.
'You're gonna flunk out, Oliver.'
We were sitting in my room on a Sunday afternoon, reading.
'Oliver, you're gonna flunk out if you just sit there watching me study.'
'I'm not watching you study. I'm studying.'
'Bullshit. You're looking at my legs.'
'Only once in a while. Every chapter.'
'.'That book has extremely short chapters.'
'Listen, you narcissistic bitch, you're not that great-looking! '
'I know. But can I help it if you think so?'
I threw down my book and crossed the room to where she was sitting.
'Jenny, for Christ's sake, how can I read John Stuart Mill when every single second I'm dying to make love to you?'
She screwed up her brow and frowned.
I was crouching by her chair. She looked back into her book.
'Jenny — '
She closed her book softly, put it down, then placed her hands on the sides of my neck.
'Oliver — wouldja please.'
It all happened at once. Everything.
Our first physical encounter was the polar opposite of our first verbal one. It was all so unhurried, so soft, so gentle. I had never realized that this was the real Jenny — the soft one, whose touch was so light and so loving. And yet what truly shocked me was my own response. I was gentle, I was tender. Was this the real Oliver Barrett IV?
As I said, I had never seen Jenny with so much as her sweater opened an extra button. I was somewhat surprised to find that she wore a tiny golden cross. On one of those chains that never unlock. Meaning that when we made love, she still wore the cross. In a resting moment of that lovely afternoon, at one of those junctures when everything and nothing is relevant, I touched the little cross and inquired what her priest might have to say about our being in bed together, and so forth. She answered that she had no priest.
'Aren't you a good Catholic girl?' I asked.
'Well, I'm a girl,' she said. 'And I'm good.'
She looked at me for confirmation and I smiled. She smiled back.
'So that's two out of three.'
I then asked her why the cross, welded, no less. She explained that it had been her mother's; she wore it for sentimental reasons, not religious. The conversation returned to ourselves.
'Hey, Oliver, did I tell you that I love you?' she said.
'Why didn't you ask me?'
'I was afraid to, frankly.'
'Ask me now.'
'Do you love me, Jenny?'
She looked at me and wasn't being evasive when she answered:
'What do you think?'
'Yeah. I guess. Maybe.'
I kissed her neck.
'I don't just love you . . .'
Oh, Christ, what was this?
'I love you very much, Oliver.'
I love Ray Stratton.
He may not be a genius or a great football player (kind of slow at the snap), but he was always a good roommate and loyal friend. And how that poor bastard suffered through most of our senior year. Where did he go to study when he saw the tie placed on the doorknob of our room (the traditional signal for 'action within')? Admittedly, he didn't study that much, but he had to sometimes. Let's say he used the House library, or Lament, or even the Pi Eta Club. But where did he sleep on those Saturday nights when Jenny and I decided to disobey parietal rules and stay together? Ray had to scrounge for places to sack in — neighbors' couches, etc., assuming they had nothing going for them. Well, at least it was after the football season. And I would have done the same thing for him.
But what was Ray's reward? In days of yore I had shared with him the minutest details of my amorous triumphs. Now he was not only denied these inalienable roommate's rights, but I never even came out and admitted that Jenny and I were lovers. I would just indicate when we would be needing the room, and so forth. Stratton could draw what conclusion he wished.
'I mean, Christ, Barrett, are you making it .or not?' he would ask.
'Raymond, as a friend I'm asking you not to ask.'
'But Christ, Barrett, afternoons, Friday nights, Saturday nights. Christ, you must be making it.'
'Then why bother asking me, Ray?'
'Because it's unhealthy.'
'The whole situation, Ol. I mean, it was never like this before. I mean, this total freeze-out on details for big Ray. I mean, this is unwarranted. Unhealthy. Christ, what does she do that's so different?'
'Look, Ray, in a mature love affair — '
'Don't say it like it's a dirty word.'
'At your age? Love? Christ, I greatly fear, old buddy.'
'For what? My sanity?'
'Your bachelorhood. Your freedom. Your life!'
Poor Ray. He really meant it.
'Afraid you're losing a roommate, huh?'
'Still, in a way I've gained one, she spends so much time here.'
I was dressing for a concert, so this dialogue would shortly come to a close.
'Don't sweat, Raymond. We'll have that apartment in New York. Different babies every night. We'll do it all.'
'Don't tell me not to sweat, Barrett. That girl's got you.'
'It's all under control,' I replied. 'Stay loose.' I was adjusting my tie and heading for the door. Stratton was somehow unconvinced.
'You are making it, aren't you?'
'Jesus Christ, Stratton!'
I was not taking Jenny to this concert; I was watching her in it. The Bach Society was doing the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto at Dunster House, and Jenny was harpsichord soloist. I had heard her play many times, of course, but never with a group or in public. Christ, was I proud. She didn't make any mistakes that I could notice.
'I can't believe how great you were,' I said after the concert.
'That shows what you know about music, Preppie.'
'I know enough.'
We were in the Dunster courtyard. It was one of those April afternoons when you'd believe spring might finally reach Cambridge. Her musical colleagues were strolling nearby (including Martin Davidson, throwing invisible hate bombs in my direction), so I couldn't argue keyboard expertise with her,
We crossed Memorial Drive to walk along the river.
'Wise up, Barrett, wouldja please. I play okay. Not great. Not even 'All-Ivy.' Just okay. Okay?'
How could I argue when she wanted to put herself down?
'Okay. You play okay. I just mean you should always keep at it.'
'Who said I wasn't going to keep at it, for God's sake? I'm gonna study with Nadia Boulanger, aren't I?'
What the hell was she talking about?' From the way she immediately shut up, I sensed this was something she had not intended to mention.
'Who?' I asked.
'Nadia Boulanger. A famous music teacher. In Paris.' She said those last two words rather quickly.
'In Paris?' I asked, rather slowly.
'She takes very few American pupils. I was lucky. I got a good scholarship too.'
'Jennifer — you are going to Paris?'
'I've never seen Europe. I can hardly wait.'
I grabbed her by the shoulders. Maybe I was too rough, I don't know.
'Hey — how long have you known this?'
For once in her life, Jenny couldn't look me square in the eye.
'Ollie, don't be stupid,' she said. 'It's inevitable.'
'We graduate and we go our separate ways. You'll go to Law school — '
'Wait a minute — what are you talking about?'
Now she looked me in the eye. And her face was sad.
'Ollie, you're a preppie millionaire, and I'm a social zero.'
I was still holding onto her shoulders.
'What the hell does that have to do with separate ways? We're together now, we're happy.'
'Ollie, don't be stupid,' she repeated. 'Harvard is like Santa's Christmas bag. You can stuff any crazy kind of toy into it. But when the holiday's over, they shake you out . . . ' She hesitated.
' . . . and you gotta go back where you belong.'
'You mean you're going to bake cookies in Cranston, Rhode Island?'
I was saying desperate things.
'Pastries,' she said. 'And don't make fun of my fatter.'
'Then don't leave me, Jenny. Please.'
'What about my scholarship? What about Paris, which I've never seen in my whole goddamn life?'
'What about our marriage?'
It was I who spoke those words, although for a split second I wasn't sure I really had.
'Who said anything about marriage?'
'Me. I'm saying it now.'
'You want to marry me?'
She tilted her head, did not smile, but merely inquired:
I looked her straight in the eye.
'Because,' I said.
'Oh,' she said. 'That's a very good reason.'
She took my arm (not my sleeve this time), and we walked along the river. There was nothing more to say, really.
Ipswich, Mass., is some forty minutes from the Mystic River Bridge, depending on the weather and how you drive. I have actually made it on occasion in twenty-nine minutes. A certain distinguished Boston banker claims an even faster time, but when one is discussing sub thirty minutes from Bridge to Barrens', it is difficult to separate fact from fancy. I happen to consider twenty-nine minutes as the absolute limit. I mean, you can't ignore the traffic signals on Route I, can you?
'You're driving like a maniac,' Jenny said.
'This is Boston,' I replied. 'Everyone drives like a maniac.' We were halted for a red light on Route I at the time.
'You'll kill us before your parents can murder us.'
'Listen, Jen, my parents are lovely people.'
The light changed. The MG was at sixty in under ten seconds.
'Even the Sonovabitch?' she asked.
'Oliver Barrett III.'
'Ah, he's a nice guy. You'll really like him.'
'How do you know?'
'Everybody likes him,' I replied.
'Then why don't you?'
'Because everybody likes him,' I said.
Why was I taking her to meet them, anyway? I mean, did I really need Old Stonyface's blessing or anything? Part of it was that she wanted to ('That's the way it's done, Oliver') and part of it was the simple fact that Oliver III was my banker in the very grossest sense: he paid the goddamn tuition.
It had to be Sunday dinner, didn't it? I mean, that's comme il faut, right? Sunday, when all the lousy drivers were clogging Route I and getting in my way. I pulled off the main drag onto Groton Street, a road whose turns I had been taking at high speeds since I was thirteen.
'There are no houses here,' said Jenny, 'just trees.'
'The houses are behind the trees.'
When traveling down Groton Street, you've got to be very careful or else you'll miss the turnoff into our place. Actually, I missed the turnoff myself that afternoon. I was three hundred yards down the road when I screeched to a halt.
'Where are we?' she asked.
'Past it,' I mumbled, between obscenities.
Is there something symbolic in the fact that I backed up three hundred yards to the entrance of our place? Anyway, I drove slowly once we were on Barrett soil. It's at least a half mile in from Groton Street to Dover House proper. En route you pass other . . . well, buildings. I guess it's fairly impressive when you see it for the first time.
'Holy shit!' Jenny said.
'What's the matter, Jen?'
'Pull over, Oliver. No kidding. Stop the car.'
I stopped the car. She was clutching.
'Hey, I didn't think it would be like this.'
'Like this rich. I mean, I bet you have serfs living here.'
I wanted to reach over and touch her, but my palms were not dry (an uncommon state), and so I gave her verbal reassurance.
'Please, Jen. It'll be a breeze.'
'Yeah, but why is it I suddenly wish my name was Abigail Adams, or Wendy WASP?'
We drove the rest of the way in silence, parked and walked up to the front door. As we waited for the ring to be answered, Jenny succumbed to a last-minute panic.
'Let's run,' she said.
'Let's stay and fight,' I said.
Was either of us joking?
The door was opened by Florence, a devoted and antique servant of the Barrett family.
'Ah, Master Oliver,' she greeted me.
God, how I hate to be called that! I detest that implicitly derogatory distinction between me and Old Stonyface.
My parents, Florence informed us, were waiting in the library. Jenny was taken aback by some of the portraits we passed. Not just that some were by John Singer Sargent (notably Oliver Barrett II, sometimes displayed in the Boston Museum), but the new realization that not all of my forebears were named Barrett. There had been solid Barrett women who had mated well and bred such creatures as Barrett Winthrop, Richard Barrett Sewall and even Abbott Lawrence Lyman, who had the temerity to go through life (and Harvard, its implicit analogue), becoming a prize-winning chemist, without so much as a Barrett in his middle name!
'Jesus Christ,' said Jenny. 'I see half the buildings at Harvard hanging here.'
'It's all crap,' I told her.
'I didn't know you were related to Sewall Boat House too,' she said.
'Yeah. I come from a long line of wood and stone.'
At the end of the long row of portraits, and just before one turns into the library, stands a glass case. In the case are trophies. Athletic trophies.
'They're gorgeous,' Jenny said. 'I've never seen ones that look like real gold and silver.'
Barrett III did not place in the Amsterdam Olympics. It is, however, also quite true that he enjoyed significant rowing triumphs on various other occasions. Several. Many. The well-polished proof of this was now before Jennifer's dazzled eyes.
'They don't give stuff like that in the Cranston bowling leagues.'
Then I think she tossed me a bone.
'Do you have trophies, Oliver?'
'In a case?'
'Up in my room. Under the bed.'
She gave me one of her good Jenny-looks and whispered:
'We'll go look at them later, huh?'
Before I could answer, or even gauge Jenny's true motivations for suggesting a trip to my bedroom, we were interrupted.
'Ah, hello there.'
Sonovabitch! It was the Sonovabitch.
'Oh, hello, sir. This is Jennifer — '
'Ah, hello there.'
He was shaking her hand before I could finish the introduction. I noted that he was not wearing any of his Banker Costumes. No indeed; Oliver III had on a fancy cashmere sport jacket. And there was an insidious smile on his usually rocklike countenance.
'Do come in and meet Mrs. Barrett.'
Another once-in-a-lifetime thrill was in store for Jennifer: meeting Alison Forbes 'Tipsy' Barrett. (In perverse moments I wondered how her boarding-school nickname might have affected her, had she not grown up to be the earnest do-gooder museum trustee she was.) Let the record show that Tipsy Forbes never completed college. She left Smith in her sophomore year, with the full blessing of her parents, to wed Oliver Barrett III.
'My wife Alison, this is Jennifer — '
He had already usurped the function of introducing her.
'Calliveri,' I added, since Old Stony didn't know her last name.
'Cavilleri,' Jenny added politely, since I had mispronounced it — for the first and only time in my goddamn life.
'As in Cavalleria Rusticana?' asked my mother, probably to prove that despite her drop-out status, she was sail pretty cultured.
'Right.' Jenny smiled at her. 'No relation.'
'Ah,' said my mother.
'Ah,' said my father.
To which, all the time wondering if they had caught Jenny's humor, I could but add: 'Ah?'
Mother and Jenny shook hands, and after the usual exchange of banalities from which one never progressed in my house, we sat down. Everybody was quiet. I tried to sense what was happening. Doubtless, Mother was sizing up Jennifer, checking out her costume (not Boho this afternoon), her posture, her demeanor, her accent. Face it, the Sound of Cranston was there even in the politest of moments. Perhaps Jenny was sizing up Mother. Girls do that, I'm told. It's supposed to reveal things about the guys they're going to marry. Maybe she was also sizing up Oliver III. Did she notice he was taller than I? Did she like his cashmere jacket?
Oliver III, of course, would be concentrating his fire on me, as usual.
'How've you been, son?'
For a goddamn Rhodes scholar, he is one lousy conversationalist.
'Fine, sir. Fine.'
As a kind of equal — rime gesture, Mother greeted Jennifer.
'Did you have a nice trip down?'
'Yes,' Jenny replied, 'nice and swift.'
'Oliver is a swift driver,' interposed Old Stony.
'No swifter than you, Father,' I retorted.
What would he say to that?
'Uh — yes. I suppose not.'
You bet your ass not, Father.
Mother, who is always on his side, whatever the circumstances, turned the subject to one of more universal interest — music or art, I believe. I wasn't exactly listening carefully. Subsequently, a teacup found its way into my hand.
'Thank you,' I said, then added, 'We'll have to be going soon.'
'Huh?' said Jenny. It seems they had been discussing Puccini — or something, and my remark was considered somewhat tangential. Mother looked at me (a rare event).
'But you did come for dinner, didn't you?'
'Uh — we can't,' I said.
'Of course,' Jenny said, almost at the same rime.
'I've gotta get back,' I said earnestly to Jen.
Jenny gave me a look of 'What are you talking about?' Then Old Stonyface pronounced:
'You're staying for dinner. That's an order.'
The fake smile on his face didn't make it any less of a command. And I don't take that kind of crap even from an Olympic finalist.
'We can't, sir,' I replied.
'We have to, Oliver,' said Jenny.
'Why?' I asked.
'Because I'm hungry,' she said.
We sat at the table obedient to the wishes of Oliver III. He bowed his head. Mother and Jenny followed suit. I tilted mine slightly.
'Bless this food to our use and us to Thy service, and help us to be ever mindful of the needs and wants of others. This we ask in the name of Thy Son Jesus Christ, Amen.'
Jesus Christ, I was mortified. Couldn't he have omitted the piety just this once? What would Jenny think? God, it was a throwback to the Dark Ages.
'Amen,' said Mother (and Jenny too, very softly).
'Play ball!' said I, as kind of a pleasantry.
Nobody seemed amused. Least of all Jenny. She looked away from me. Oliver III glanced across at me.
'I certainly wish you would play ball now and then, Oliver.'
We did not eat in total silence, thanks to my mother's remarkable capacity for small talk.
'Mostly. My mother was from Fall River.'
'The Barrens have mills in Fall River,' noted Oliver III.
'Where they exploited the poor for generations,' added Oliver IV.
'In the nineteenth century,' added Oliver III.
My mother smiled at this, apparently satisfied that her Oliver had taken that set. But not so.
'What about those plans to automate the mills?' I volleyed back.
There was a brief pause. I awaited some slamming retort.
'What about coffee?' said Alison Forbes Tipsy Barrett.
We withdrew into the library for what would definitely be the last round. Jenny and I had classes the next day, Stony had the bank and so forth, and surely Tipsy would have something worthwhile planned for bright and early.
'Sugar, Oliver?' asked my mother.
'Oliver always takes sugar, dear,' said my father.
'Not tonight, thank you,' said I. 'Just black, Mother.'
Well, we all had our cups, and we were all sitting there cozily with absolutely nothing to say to one another. So I brought up a topic.
'Tell me, Jennifer,' I inquired. 'What do you think of the Peace Corps?'
She frowned at me, and refused to cooperate.
'Oh, have you told them, Ollie.?' said my mother to my father.
'It isn't the time, dear,' said Oliver III, with a land of fake humility that broadcasted, 'Ask me, ask me.' So I had to.
'What's this, Father?'
'Nothing important, son.'
'I don't see how you can say that,' said my mother, and turned toward me to deliver the message with full force (I said she was on his side):
'Your father's going to be director of the Peace Corps.'
Jenny also said, 'Oh,' but in a different, kind of happier tone of voice.
My father pretended to look embarrassed, and my mother seemed to be waiting for me to bow down or something. I mean, it's not Secretary of State, after all!
'Congratulations, Mr. Barrett.' Jenny took the initiative.
'Yes. Congratulations, sir.'
Mother was so anxious to talk about it.
'I do think it will be a wonderful educational experience,' she said.
'Oh, it will,' agreed Jenny.
'Yes,' I said without much conviction. 'Uh — would you pass the sugar, please.'
'Jenny, it's not Secretary of State, after all!'
We were finally driving back to Cambridge, thank God.
'Still, Oliver, you could have been more enthusiastic.'
'I said congratulations.'
'It was mighty generous of you.'
'What did you expect, for chrissake?'
'Oh, God,' she replied, 'the whole thing makes me sick.'
'That's two of us,' I added.
We drove on for a long time without saying a word. But something was wrong.
'What whole thing makes you sick, Jen?' I asked as a long afterthought.
'The disgusting way you treat your father.'
'How about the disgusting way he treats me?'
I had opened a can of beans. Or, more appropriately, spaghetti sauce. For Jenny launched into a full — scale offense on paternal love. That whole Italian-Mediterranean syndrome. And how I
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