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Simon Sobo Writing

A collection of opinion pieces and chapters from his novels

Post Mortem: Chapter 6 from 1968 Changed Everything

 

Chapter 6

Post Mortem

And so Jeremy and CC are no more.  CC is home for spring break.  The plan is a weekend in Great Neck and then off to California to spend time with Mark.  CC has had a thousand thoughts and reflections about her affair with Jeremy, but, in truth, she hasn’t missed him anywhere near as much as she thought she might. She’s gone over their time together a lot.  Some of the moments they had were glorious. They still light her up when she thinks of them. But mostly there wasn’t enough of that..  All that yakking, yet Jeremy still seems like a stranger. There was something that made their time together unreal. She isn’t sure what. Furthermore, they didn’t exchange photos, and now, to her surprise, she has difficulty clearly picturing his face.  Before she leaves for Berkeley, she schedules a single session with Mr. Sanders, her therapist over the last three years.

“Maybe I didn’t love him,” she tells Mr. Sanders as she sits in his office.

“Those months in the lecture hall when you were craving him–– what was that?”

“True, that was powerful, but now I think it was how he was in his classroom, not him.  Funny thing is, that was the worst side of him. We landed up fighting most of the time about his ideas.”

“What’s that expression? ‘Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.’”

“I certainly got it.”

The way she says that arouses Mr. Sanders’s curiosity.

“What do you mean you got it?

She doesn’t answer.

Are you late?”

“This month, but that’s not unusual.”

CC’s determined  to move on.  So Mr. Sanders lets it go. He waits for CC to continue.

“The thing about his ideas was that I loved this philosopher, Wittgenstein, and so did he.   Mark had told me about him.  Maybe that’s why I was attracted to Jeremy. He compared Wittgenstein to Socrates.  Both of them were able to be comfortable with how much they didn’t know.  Honesty was sacred.  It is to me.”

“You’re sure about that?  I remember––”

“Okay, sometimes I let it slip.  I’m not always religiously honest. But I don’t feel right unless the truth is known. Most of the time I strive for it. I guess it’s when I hear dishonesty in someone else.  I hate it.  Well I guess, me too.  Turned out Jeremy was a lot worse than me at my worst.  He was nothing like Wittgenstein. If anything, he was the opposite.  His counterculture bullshit– he’s so sure he has figured out what’s wrong with America.”  She smiles.  “Especially Great Neck.”

“Sounds like Mark.”

“Oh, he was Mark times ten.  Jeremy hated Great Neck. Hated it.  And he has never been here. I mean there is a lot wrong with this town, but there is a lot right. Some very nice people. Near the end I had fights with him every time we got together.”

“Just about Great Neck?”

“About everything. About America, about what my family believes in.  About–don’t get me started.”

“He really does sound like Mark. The way you and Mark go at it. Even now.”

“We do. But, I gave up on Jeremy.  I still think somehow Mark and I are going to have a meeting of the minds. I mean we have these stupid conversations where we hope we can convince each other that we have it right. That never works, but…”

“What you once had was wonderful. I remember. I can understand why you keep trying.”

“I know. I loved all of that.  I’ve never felt closer to anyone. For a while I thought Jeremy was going to take me back there.”

“It sounds like there was something.”

“Oh, there was something alright,” she says sarcastically.  It was hopeless. At least Mark and I haven’t really given up.”

“You think you can get close again?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know.  I hope so.”

Suddenly there is silence. Both know her hope is more wishful thinking than anything else. Neither of them can picture anything like where it once was. She was younger then.  She had very few ideas of her own.  In fact, despite what she is telling Mr. Sanders, CC has developed an ongoing dread ever since she first thought of visiting Mark. Her stomach has been quivering all week. Neither she nor Mr. Sanders can come up with an explanation for her fear.

“Maybe because it ended so badly with Jeremy.  I don’t know. There’s something. It’s in the pit of my stomach.”

Mr. Sanders doesn’t say anything.

“We’ll be okay.  We just have to avoid getting going.”

“CC. Are you capable of that?”

She smiles. “I’m going to try.”

“What about Mark? Is he going to try?

They have arrived here so many times before. Sometimes the unknown has to be accepted as a given. What will happen will happen– one time, one way, another time, the other. You never can tell where things will go with Mark.

The breakup with Jeremy hasn’t only led her to think about her relationship with Mark.  It has increased her desire to understand what is going on with her parents. It has become even more of a focus without Jeremy to contend with. The burning question is the same. Do they love each other? Could they get divorced? Will she be without a family?

***

It is a Saturday afternoon.  Evelyn asked CC if she wanted to go shopping with her and Dottie.  She declined. It is an opportunity to talk to her father.

Ira is outside, doing the spring raking.  The forsythia is just starting to bloom.  She watches him from the house. The daffodils are amazing. Over the years Ira planted hundreds of them, many different varieties and colors. He sent for whatever caught his eye in the catalogues mailed to him each fall. Yellows, whites, yellow and orange, browns and yellow, white and orange––they have multiplied into a huge mass of flowers. She’s half in awe of the sight.  But when it comes to her father’s gardens that is not unusual. When he does something, anything, he takes it all the way. When Jay had his wedding in the back of the house, one of Mark’s friends, now a columnist for Home and Garden asked Mark about returning to the house for a photo shoot. He gave Mark his phone number and Mark gave it to his father, but Ira never called.

The high point of the garden each year is always his dahlias.  Ira has already started the tubers inside to get a jump on their flowering. Ordinarily dahlias don’t flower until August.  But he starts the plants indoors mid March so that they flower in June, some even at the end of May. At the end of the season he sorts out the most beautiful ones for the following year’s harvest.  When they start to flower her anticipation of what’s coming leaps ahead.  Then, as the summer unfolds, despite being wowed by the previous year‘s blooms, she can hardly believe how spectacular they are. She’s asked him why he hasn’t placed his garden on the North Shore Garden Tour.  He told her it isn’t nice enough, a judgement she accepted until she went on the tour and saw the other gardens.  His would be the finest.

She watches her father from the back window. He is raking twigs that had settled in the grass. He bends over, picking up some dried autumn leaves by hand that had been missed in the autumn cleanup. She gets on her coat intending to ask if she can join him.

Being with him was once as familiar to CC as her own skin, a given, like brushing her teeth,or sharing breakfast, her father reading the Cheerios box as he carefully spooned the cereal soaked in milk. It was only later that they began the scrambled egg ritual she still loves.When she was growing up, if she saw him outside, she would have simply walked over and joined him.  Permission was not needed. Now she finds it necessary. They no longer have many long moments together.  Unlike Evelyn he isn’t a believer in lunch. He told CC it seems silly to pay for lunch when you can have it at home. But at home their lunches never materialize.  There are too many other distractions.  His business phone calls for one.  They invariably interrupt anything else that is happening. He’s always available for his clients. Sometimes, while his food gets cold, hour after hour he patiently explains legal details to them.  During Christmas and spring breaks her homework keeps them apart.  Summers she has usually planned something away.

Still, there actually isn’t a good reason why they haven’t had talks as often as they’d like. Particularly, because they both enjoy them. Before her deep talks with Mark her father would explain things to her as they occurred to him.  About life. About the family, his cousins and uncles and aunts, memories from his childhood, TV programs he watched the night before.  He had no agenda. Whatever came up.  She particularly liked the serious talks.  Like he was now accepting her as an adult. The last year or two they have practically disappeared.  She’s asked her girlfriends whether the same thing has happened with their fathers. Generally, it has, for no reason they could figure out.

Though it has been quite a while since their last good talk, she feels as close to him as ever.  Although they haven’t had much to say to each other that is consequential, when she thinks of him it is with tenderness, and as she learned with Jeremy, when they talked about A Star is Born, she can get very emotional about him. Her fears about him are vague. He’s told her many times there is no reason to worry about his health.  Yes, he had a heart attack but he insists he’s fine.  There is nothing specific that might give her reason not to believe him.  A vague fear, nevertheless, remains. What if his doctor is wrong?

Needing permission to join him is strange.  It isn’t as if they have become strangers. But she needs to know he would welcome her company.  She puts on her mother’s gardening gloves.

As he bends to pick up a dried leaf he sees her approaching from a squatting position. The sight makes him happy.  As a little girl they used to garden together a lot– meaning for 10 minutes until she got bored. But there was always a high point.  He’d let her pick what she considered to be his most beautiful flower, and she would proudly bring that inside to Evelyn. He stands up and kisses her gently on her forehead when she arrives.

He looks back down at the ground for more leaves as he speaks “Em-em, great meal last night. Your mother makes a wicked corned beef and cabbage.” “She was going to make the corned beef for St. Patty’s Day, but then, when you told us you were coming home early for spring break, she decided to keep it for last night. You’d better learn how she cooks it while you can.”

“Why is she going away?”

“I just meant–”

“The corned beef was good.  I love that deli mustard.  Did you get it at Squires?”

“How come you came home early?” She doesn’t answer. He isn’t sure how to continue.  CC so often clams up when she’s got something on her mind. He knows he’s too direct and usually is not able to correct that. Invariably, something he says gets them going in the wrong direction.  At least that’s Evelyn’s take when he reviews his unsuccessful conversations with her.  Still, sometimes they say what needs to be said.

Although CC may not want to talk about Jeremy his desire to know muscles out his caution signals which, as usual, flare too briefly before he speaks.

“Was it that teacher?”

“I just wanted to get home for a while.”

“I’m more than ready to listen.”

“Dad. It’s nothing.  I just felt like sleeping in my bed.”

“Oh.”

Noticing his frustration, she adds “I wanted to garden with you.” She says this to be funny since years before she made her disinterest in being his gardening assistant plain. He’s nevertheless pleased by her comment. It reminds both of them when she once was his helper.  Again, he bends down to gather more leaves. When he glances up he notices CC’s sad eyes. He stands up and kisses her forehead a second time while moving his hand slowly through her hair, as he has always done when she is upset.

“Is it that guy?”

“No, that’s finished…It’s the way Mom talked to you last night at dinner.”

Ira is surprised she’s noticed.  He has grown used to the tension between him and Evelyn, to the point that neither of them usually pays attention to their voices when they have become irritable. It’s become how they regularly speak to one another, blunt, without sugar coating.  When they started talking like that in recent years it was upsetting to both of them. But they seem to have moved beyond that. Their exasperation with each other happens so often that it seems like ordinary chatter to them.

“You should hear the two of you.”

“CC.  You’re too sensitive.  You always have been.”

“What do you mean always?”

“This Jeremy…”

“I was hoping to talk about you and Mom.”

“What about me and Mom?”

“You seem so pissed last night.”

“Me?

“Both of you.  Well maybe Mom more.”

“You have to understand your Mom. . .. We’re having this thing.  Well, a lot of things. But mainly it’s about Mark.  She doesn’t like how I get with him.  She thinks I’m descending to his level. I should be the adult.”

“You have a right to fight back.”

“She doesn’t think so. There’s a new magazine— Psychology Today. She had me read this article. I should have you read it. It was complete nonsense. She’s had me read other articles–– same thing.

According to the magazine, as a dad I’m supposed to have the wisdom of Solomon.  No, even Solomon would be considered too nasty. God knows who the writer has in mind. Someone very gentle… like I’d be with you when you were three years-old. Except Mark isn’t three. He’s twenty-three.”

“Twenty-four!”

“Sorry” He waits for her disapproval to pass before continuing.

“Where do these writers come up with these fathers?  They are totally imaginary.”

CC doesn’t respond.

“I’ll bet they are the father that the writer of that article fantasized for herself.” He smiles happily, pleased with his cleverness.   “It’s fine to picture how wonderful life would be if a person like that existed. It’s not so fine to expect the husbands of her readers to live up to her make believe father.  He’s a daddy from Disneyland.”

“Meaning?”

“My father would have slapped me across the face if I even once talked like Mark talks to me.  Mom quotes that article, all the articles in that magazine like she’s spoken to the rabbi.   Like it’s God’s advice. The writer kept quoting expert opinions. I checked.  The person who wrote that article wrote about growing asparagus a month before, and about businessman blues two weeks before that.  I hope that isn’t what they’ll be teaching Mark in his residency. Pop psychology.  If psychiatrists think that way, Jesus we are in trouble.”

“I don’t think so.  Magazine writers are mostly ridiculous.”

Pleased that he has a friendly ear, Ira unloads.

“If they described actual fathers it might even be useful, focusing on the way things really are. It can get complicated, but it’s worth writing about.  What was in that article was out of a children’s storybook.”

“You don’t have to convince me.”

Ira smiles.  “Never mind my father. Did I ever tell you how the rabbi slapped me across my face at my bar mitzvah?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I was called up to say the prayer before the reading of the Torah.  You’re supposed to kiss your tallis, then touch the Torah with that. What did I know? I bent down and kissed it with my lips.  The rabbi went ballistic, totally nuts.  He slapped me across the face so hard you could hear it in the back row of the synagogue.”

Ira’s smiles as he continues.  “At my own bar mitzvah! All my relatives were there.  Being with me on my great day, when I would wow them with my Haftorah… I didn’t know where to hide.”

“No way a rabbi would do that today.  He’d be fired on the spot.”

“Back then things were different. Which is exactly my point.  Trust me.  I never did that again. The rabbi did the right thing.  I had sinned against God. To the rabbi, that’s what was important. Not my stupid feelings.  I mean my mother felt bad for me, but she still agreed with my father that I shouldn’t have done it.  Fortunately, my father pointed out that I had not yet completed my Bar Mitzvah so God would probably give me a pass.

What is really weird is these magazines treat kid’s feelings like that’s all that matters.  Not just them.  The way it is now, the board at the synagogue would think the same way.  I mean that’s a mother’s point of view.  Okay, fine, if moms could be dads they would think like that, think only of the kid, but there is zero understanding of how an actual father might see things.”

“Well––”

“It’s like Mark’s feelings mean everything. Mine nada. And that holds true even when he’s misbehaving. I may have kissed the Torah innocently but I deserved a knock on my head for my stupidity.   But Mark–he’s intentionally misbehaving.  And I don’t mean being naughty. I mean nasty…He knows what he’s doing.”

“Come on. When has he really been bad?” CC asks him.

“Pesach.”

“Okay, that wasn’t too cool.  But I mean really bad. He was disrespectful. Still that’s because he had thoughts about the Seder and what it represents.  He had taken it seriously enough to think about it and come up with his own thoughts. Isn’t that the whole point of the stories in the Haggadah–all these rabbi’s theories about the holiday and how it should be observed?”

“He was mocking me and everyone there.”

“Okay.  Maybe.”

“Forget Pesach.” Ira tells CC, as a lawyer knowing his argument was on the money.  “How about Mr. Levine. At the club.”

“Okay,” I see your point.  Mark is bad, bad, bad.  CC gets a smile from her father with her last “bad” comically spoken.

Although he is able to smile, Ira remains unappeased. He can’t help himself. This has been going on with Mark for years. When the subject is Mark, his anger quickly bursts through no matter how nicely he begins, and how reasonable he wants to appear.

“When Mark ‘s acting up your mother can’t see what a jerk he’s being. To her what’s important is why. She wants to understand what led to his misbehavior. Meaning she’s looking for an excuse for him.”

“But–”

“There is no why. If Mark’s being a jerk he’s being a jerk.  He should be smacked across the face.  I’m not surprised he and his Berkeley buddies think they know everything, or that they think everything should be done their way. Their Mamas are convinced their little poops are geniuses. They’ve grown into monsters. Nanny was always warning about that. After my heart attack she had nothing good to say about Mark. She couldn’t believe his nastiness returned a week after I came home. That did it for her.”

“Nanny didn’t like Mark?”

“Are you kidding?  As much as he didn’t like her.”

CC is shocked. She’s assumed Nanny wasn’t happy about the way Mark acts but her father putting it so bluntly upsets her. It never occurred to her  that Nanny had anything but loving feelings toward all of them—it’s almost sacrilegious to consider she’s felt anything but love.

“She didn’t like Mark?”

“What do you think? He drove her up a wall.  Especially the way he was with me, her wonderful son. Nanny was a real person.”  Ira says. “You didn’t know her that way but…”

He can see CC’s disappointment. Once again he has said too much. Repairing the damage is required.

“She never gave up on Mark.. She kept hoping he would come around, although the truth was obvious. She and I spoke about him a lot. Unlike your mother she was on my side.  Always.   When I got into fights with him I talked to her.

I don’t know how many times she told me I was wrong for not taking out the strap when he was young.  I wanted to, but people, especially your mom, thought it was barbaric to hit your kid.  I would have loved to poke him a few times.  Even now I would like to give him a shove or two. They used to think kids need to be scared of their fathers. They were right. Look what we got—students occupying universities, scaring the hell out of their professors. A complete reversal of who is supposed to scare whom.”

Although at first CC wants to argue, she has rarely gotten very far when she has sided with Mark. Besides, she knows, and her father knows, it’s not like Mark has killed someone or been arrested. As angry as Mark makes him, she’s confident her father knows Mark isn’t really a bad person. Not the greatest son but he hasn’t brought shame to the family, dropped out, been in trouble with the law. That’s what’s important.  He’s a. doctor, which reflects well on all of them even if he can be a jerk.

Also, as she has told her father she’s not unhappy hearing her father fight back with Mark.  She can see he is boiling.  Worse he can’t vent outside the family. He doesn’t have friends like that.  He had this one friend Shelly, but after he died that left only Nanny and when she died…So it’s CC. Mom is out and although Jay would listen and not contradict him, it would probably be while they were watching a ball game together, meaning Jay would only half listen and agree with everything he said anyway.  So that leaves CC to hear him out.

Still, listening is complicated. Her father and Mark have been battling so long, that when he talks about Mark it’s colored by her father’s competition to win CC over. Maybe, that’s the main subject they should address but her dad would deny that is going on. She once brought it up, throwing in Freud–telling him that’s what sons and fathers do. But mentioning Freud doomed its legitimacy. Besides he told her, what about Jay? Why isn’t he out to tear him down.

“Experts! Mom throws at me what the experts have to say, and you know what I think of experts?”

She’s heard his shpiel a thousand times, but she quotes him to cut him off. “They appear when we don’t have a clue.”

“And he doesn’t either. Exactly. When we desperately need the answer but there aren’t any you can count on experts to appear.  He goes to his usual reference.  The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was lost without any idea how she was going to get home–there had to be someone who had the answers. Ah.  The wizard.  An expert.”

She smiles politely as she has every time her father has gone there.

He continues as he has before. “ Experts appear with the answer. They come from  over the rainbow.”

“Dad, experts have studies, statistics.”

“Right.  That’s the whole point. Statistics.  Numbers.  Opinions, guesses aren’t good enough for them. Numbers. In the vast unknown of our existence. something exact exists.”

She continues to smile politely. She knows one of his favorite quotes is coming.          “Einstein was a mathematician.  He knew the beauty of numbers.  He was great with them.  But better than everyone he knew their shortcomings.”

She already knows the Einstein quote that is coming.

‘Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.’

“Okay Dad.”

That doesn’t do it. She isn’t able to cut him off.

“Experts have studies in every pocket.   New ones. You can prove anything if you pile on the numbers.”

“Dad! Can we stick to the point.

“No way your mom’s s going to listen to me. Me versus an expert?”

“Dad she’s no different with me. She thinks I’m still seven.”

Seeing that CC is with him apparently stops him. She is getting through to him.

“I’m glad you let Mark have it. Really have it.  You shouldn’t take that shit from him.”

“Young lady I can still put a bar of soap in your mouth.”

She smiles nervously, braces for a scolding, which she assumes will be mild.

“What’s with the dirty words? Mark has done a number on you.”

“It’s not Mark.  Everyone talks that way at school.”

“Great.  I’m glad school is making you an educated person.  When your Mom and I went to college, becoming refined was number one on everyone’s list.  Gaining poise so you could fit in with other educated people.”

“College is no longer a finishing school.”

He’s been staring at a huge clump of winter killed ornamental grass, that have become brown and ugly.  Slowly, Ira goes to them and slashes away with his Japanese hedge shears. He’s wanted to do this for months. Staring at them through the window has been driving him crazy all winter. He should have cut them in the fall, but in the beginning they were kind of pretty, blowing in the wind. Looking from the house, the dead grasses along with every other eye-sore bugged him. At last justice can be rendered. Their ugly brown presence can be ended. Slashing the grass, seeing it fall to the ground is the beginning of the satisfaction he expects.  CC watches him, feeling a bit abandoned by his distraction, but then her spirit is revived as she notices the satisfaction he is having attacking the grass.

After cutting the grass down he cuts the remaining two or three inches at the bottom of the plants.  He notices the fresh green new growth beginning to emerge as it always does in the spring.  That lifts his spirits. It’s what he loves about April and May, everything coming back to life. No matter how often he been cheered up by that recognition it still is like a miracle.  In the winter you forget. Then you are reminded.

Apropos of nothing he tells CC. “Passover has it right.  Those slices of hard boiled eggs in the ice cold salted water starting the celebration, celebrating the spring.. Someone understood it.  Eggs are the forerunner of life. Remember when we hatched those eggs and they became chicks.  Even Mark was fascinated.”

“What happened to those chicks?”

“Coco got them.”

“Really?”

“We told you we brought them to the chicken farm so they would have playmates.

CC is half shocked but mostly amused.

“Yeah.  That Coco had some macho in him. He looked like a sissy but he was pure dog.”

CC smiles. She likes being old enough to be let in on her parents’ secrets.

Ira rakes the cut grasses into a pile on the lawn, along with the twigs he has accumulated from the grass.  The next step is to gather them, but he’s a bit done in.   CC notices how much effort it’s been for him.  Ten years ago, when she watched him work, she wasn’t aware he was making any effort at all.  She simply witnessed the beautiful results. Inspired by a vision he or Evelyn dreamt up he got done what needed doing.  The work part of what they had imagined was invisible. The finished product stood out, masterpieces among them. His dahlias! Today, his daffodils are beautiful.

He walks to a teak bench nearby. CC is by his side. The bench had been placed there last fall for exactly that purpose. Evelyn noticed Ira struggling and insisted a bench would look good there.  He would oppose it if she mentioned anything about him being older. Claiming that it is the money, he battled against her for weeks until he relented, as he invariably did.  He exhales noticeably as he sits. So does CC. Sitting there, he acknowledges to himself that Evelyn was right.  The bench is perfect.

They are both silent and peaceful.  His anger with Mark has by now diminished, dispelled by ventilating it and finding enough agreement from CC to let it go. He and CC have always been able to reach that point. Give and take somehow balanced well. She remains still but alert, in expectation of where he will go next. With Mark out of the way, with her father’s anger faded, CC’s connection to her dad can be restitched. She takes another deep breath as does he.

A wisp of CC’s hair had blown across her eyes. With his lips pursed unconsciously Ira takes it and brings it back to the rest of her hair.   He puts his hand below her chin and gently lifts her head towards him. She bathes in his tenderness. In the silence Ira sees a tear not far away.

“What? What?”

“You and Mom…”

“Yeah…”

The tear emerges, then a second one, which slowly runs down her cheek. She wipes her face dry with the top of her arm.

“What? What?” he repeats

“What are you and mom like when I’m back at school?”

He laughs, “Worse.”

“Really?”

“Do me a favor.  Run inside and get me a plastic garbage bag from the garage. There are giant ones for garden refuse.” CC knows exactly the ones.

She walks towards the house happy with herself for wanting to be helpful, as she once was. Back then helping him and hearing his effusive appreciation for anything she did felt great. She knew he was exaggerating her contribution, but his praise nevertheless seemed genuine enough. It was a lot easier helping him in the garden than bringing home the report card he expected.

With her off to get the refuse bags, both have a chance to harvest their conversation.  She wishes that Mark didn’t act like a shmuck with their father.  She doesn’t remember, how it started, what it’s about, why the two of them can’t simply apologize and go on from there. It’s been a while since she and her father went at it about Mark. She had forgotten how much she enjoys hearing what he has to say and negotiating with him about it. Maybe he is right.  She should be a lawyer.  She returns with the refuse bag and enthusiastically pulls it apart so it’s open for him to dump the dried grasses and twigs into the bag.  It’s soon filled.

She grabs the next armful of grasses.  This time her father opens the top of another bag for her. They soon have completed the job. Content he’s getting accomplished what he set out to do this afternoon, he turns his attention to the other dead grasses in the garden. He’s senses that CC is expecting more about Mark and him from the way she is looking at him. But that isn’t what she wants.

“At dinner I couldn’t get over the way you and mom talked to each other.”

He chuckles “And we were on good behavior with you there.”

“It gets worse than that?”

“No, I was joking.”

What he should, and should not tell her can be tricky.  What he might have chosen to say two weeks ago, when he was getting along well with Evelyn, is very different from what he wants to say this afternoon.  They had a rough time of it last night, caused by the usual subject–Mark. More than once, when she gets him started, he has said things he later regretted. Last night wasn’t one of them but having controlled himself there is  anger left over.  He doesn’t really regret not sounding off.  Staying in charge of what he says beats being thrown in to the defensive for sounding off. But what he should have said keeps running through his mind, seeming more and more right the more he rethinks it.  He and CC thought they were moving on.  But here they are again. What she had wanted to talk about, Evelyn and him, is so easily overshadowed by his reaction to his nerves, frayed by Mark.”

“Sometimes It can be pretty bad.” Ira tells her, his face showing more  dejection than his words.

CC hesitates, but not long.

“Do you still love Mom?”

“Absolutely I love her. You think I‘d put up with her mishegas if I didn’t love her.”  “And she loves me,” he adds.

“Dad I’m trying to get at the truth. It’s impossible to love each other and talk like you do to each other.”

“Is that a rule? Whoever wrote it understands nothing.  I don’t think you get it.”

“I’m trying.” She laughs. “I’m trying.”

“Doesn’t matter.  You don’t have a clue.”

“You’re going to tell me what I know and don’t know.”

He looks down at the ground preparing to unload on her.

“Okay. We’ll start with your idea of love. That’s three quarter of the problem right there.”

She rolls her eyes.  “You don’t think I know what love is?”

“You only know one kind.  The fairy book princess type. Yeah, when your mom and I first fell in love, we were crazy about each other.  Ninety-nine percent of the time.  I felt so lucky to have found her. Same for her. Even when we had an argument I still felt lucky. I was sure that any doubt I was having would disappear. And it did.”

“Those were great years. We were all happy.” CC pipes in.

“It was even better before Jay was born.  Just the two of us.”

“Yeah!”

It was based on nothing. It was before we knew each other.  I mean really knew.  I’m not saying your mother is so bad.  Or that I am.  But certain qualities . . .”

“Like what?”

“It doesn’t matter. If it hadn’t been one thing, it would have been another.”

He watches her reaction.  “That’s what happens to everyone. You can’t love someone the same way you do in the beginning. That love comes from your imagination. A real person can’t match that. It’s nursery rhyme love.”

“You’re sure of that.”

“Look I understand. You think that’s what the real thing is.  When you are in love like that it’s stupendous That’s what love is supposed to be. Like in the movies. I still enjoy those love stories….”

“Go on.”

“Even if you don’t have someone, just believing it exists– When you are fifteen, twenty, maybe at thirty, thinking one day it’ll be yours forever and ever.  You just have to find the right person

“So?”

His voice becomes very serious. “Believing that was wonderful. I was into it as much as you are. But you are asking about Mom and me now, not then.”

“Go on.”

“That fantasy love is practically gone.  I still love Mom.  At least some of the time. No plenty of time.  But not like that.  Everyone wants it so much. Movies, books, fantasies.  Song after song. Broken hearted, but never giving up.”

His voice becomes deep, oratorical.  “It’s nonsense.”

“Your saying love doesn’t exist.”

“Not that kind. How could it? As much as everyone wants it, and I know that is a lot, it’s a dream, a delusion.”

“So you don’t love Mom.”

“I do but not like that. Your mother has capabilities I never even thought about before.  I hear your girlfriends making fun of homemakers, like it takes a bimbo to run a home.  You know that stuff about how a man’s home is his castle?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s made a castle for me to live in, not just me, for all of us. It doesn’t sound like much. It’s not the jazzy ideas you and your friends talk about. But what she’s been trying to accomplish I’ll take over what’s being hyped. She is not that different from my mother. Nanny’s entire existence, all of her effort, was the home she made for us.”

“Nanny’s told me about that.  How being a balabusta made her proud. Very proud.”

“She meant it. People always make fun of that balabusta stuff. There is a martyr element to it which can make it sound silly. Working on the house hour after hour, putting everyone else in the family before yourself.  You and your friends think that’s ridiculous. Don’t you? Like she was allowing herself to be used by everyone else. Probably so, but not in her mind.  She was proud of her sacrifice.  She cleaned and cleaned, arranging tchotchkes this way and that. Everything had to be perfect. You know when you are having visitors.  You want everything to look just right.  She wanted it to be that way for us all the time. She kept going ‘til she must have been ready to drop.

“You’ve told me that the she never seemed tired.”

“That was the amazing part. I don’t know if it was fun.  You know that song, whistle while you work? She didn’t whistle but she had this little satisfied smile the entire time. She’d wax a floor and when she finished she was in heaven looking at what she accomplished.  Making our home beautiful.  And believe me she had very little to work with.  I grew up with not exactly the nicest furniture. It didn’t matter.  She could imagine how terrific the dining table would look when she polished it.  The harder she rubbed the wax…

“Our silverware set was a wedding present, silver plated, not very valuable. She and my father polished that set once a month on a Sunday morning.  They didn’t go out that much.  There were no movies and they couldn’t afford restaurants.   But it was like they were on a date. She would stare at a clean fork, show it to my father and he would dry it admiring the shine.  Both of them happily thought about how the whole set would look  when they were  done. And sure enough they felt a kind of glory when they finished. And then there was the English tea set to polish! That was the high point of their date. It made both of them so happy, to quietly work together shining it.  I remember that tea set.  , I can’t remember anyone ever coming over for tea. But they took pride in it anyway. Like they were English.”

“That’s exactly the point.  It seems ridiculous.  For what?” CC asks.

“Did you just say that?”

“Yeah. So what. It’s what everyone makes fun of.”

“I read this article. It was almost poetic …how we start in our mother’s womb. Comfy, secure. And that is what mothers try to maintain, Our home– you think that means nothing. We take it for granted. It’s just there. But that’s wrong.  It’s everything.   During the war I saw dying soldiers cry out for their mothers.  Like their last thought was to have the comfort she tried so hard to give them. Yes, literally they wanted their mothers, but the whole reason we signed up to fight was to protect our homes, our refuge, where we feel right.  And it isn’t just on the battlefield. Whenever things aren’t going right– we crave it then too. It’s the foundation of everything. Let me tell you, if women stop treasuring that role, America is in trouble. People will be at each other’s throats.  It’s already happening. At least mothers bring a little sanity.”

“Who wrote that?”

“Don’t remember his name.”

For a few moments both are silent.  Once again his anger is diminished, dispelled by having the chance to ventilate his shpeil. He and CC have always been able to do that. She agrees with him about most things. That’s why she found Jeremy’s politics and most of her fellow students so objectionable. Nanny had been uniquely able to be elevated in CC’s mind, but all along, at least part of the reason CC had placed her there was due to her father’s adulation.

Feeling satisfied by their conversation so far, Ira unconsciously takes a deep relaxing breath. So does she. It is as if they can start freshly.

Once again, he moves CC’s hair that had blown across her eyes and brings it back to the rest of her hair.   In the silence Ira again sees a tear not far away.

“Fine” She tells him, “but we’re not talking about Nanny. We’re talking about you and Mom?”

“There’s no difference. Sometimes I love going into the living room just to sit there and look around.  It’s beautiful, the ways the colors coordinate, that blue and beige, the rugs, the chairs, the sofa.”

“Agreed. It’s beautiful. I love it, too. But—”

“Your mother once spent over two months trying to pick out the right bedspread for our bed. She’d buy something, try it, return it, or if she couldn’t return it she’d dream up some other use for the fabric in the future!  That sometimes pissed me off because it might land up on a shelf in the attic, never to be used.  Wasted money, sometimes a lot of money.   I didn’t always say something.  Once she gets started on a project she won’t stop until she completes it.  No matter what I might say.  Plus having an argument over a bedspread isn’t worth it.”

He hesitates, as he often does when he wants to make a point.

“The bottom line is that in the end we had a beautiful bedspread.  I notice that bedspread every time I enter the room. Our bedroom. It cheers me up. Not that it is spectacular. It’s nice but its history is a good  part of the reason I like it. Mom’s effort, her determination to do it right.”

He notices the skepticism on CC’s face.

I don’t want to exaggerate. Having that nice feeling about the bedspread lasts maybe a half a second but that is all that is needed. You can make fun of me but things like that mean a lot.  Why do you think I garden– for the exercise?  In the summer when I get all sweaty. The mosquitos drive me crazy.  I hate weeding.  I do it because I love how beautiful I can make the garden.  And I do it mainly to impress your mother. When she admires something that means a lot.

“Come on.”

“No it’s true. I don’t really like gardening.”

“Dad. Please!”

“Fine. Don’t believe me, but it’s true.”

“You work so hard at it.

“That’s because it has to be perfect. Your mother’s the same. I’m sure in college they make a big deal about what a painter is trying to accomplish, how he keeps going until the colors are right.  When they succeed everything in his composition is in exactly the right place. What do you think Mom is doing? What she has created won’t be in a museum, but she is as serious about decorating the house as a painter is with his painting. And the results!  She does beautiful things.  We both do.   And mainly it is for each other. When she’s gotten ready before going out she wants to look beautiful for me. Yes, she likes getting looks at the Copa, but it is mainly for me.”

“I know all about that.  That’s when I think you love each other.”

“Sure I love when your mother looks beautiful. But it isn’t just then.  Last week I bought myself a new riding mower.  It was top of the line. Cost a fortune. I had been waiting for a sale but she encouraged me to buy it without waiting.  It had been pretty obvious I wanted it.  After I bought it and was riding it in the yard, she saw how much I was enjoying it, and she smiled. It made her happy to see me enjoying it like that.    Again maybe her smile lasted a half a second, but she kept watching with her hands on her hips, sharing my enjoyment. It didn’t take long for her to tell me I was cutting the grass the wrong way, which I didn’t appreciate, but the smile she had watching me on my new mower.  That’s what it’s all about.”

Before CC can respond Ira continues.

“And the house is comfortable! We all take for granted how comfortable it is.  It is not that way magically. Mom made it that way. Every decision was made by her”

“No she didn’t. You’ve done a lot of the decorating.”

“Oh, some of the tchotchkes. But Mom, she repainted the dining room three times before she was satisfied with the color. And when we started and had no money, she did the painting herself.  She wouldn’t let me touch a paintbrush.”

“Sounds like she thought you were a king.”

He laughs. “She didn’t like the quality of my work.” He gives that a moment to sink in.

“And later, when she hired a painter, she made sure he was doing a good job.  A perfect job, or close to it.  She’d fire people who weren’t performing to her standards.”

“I know.  She has tough standards,” CC says sarcastically thinking of all thee times she has been criticized.

With a touch of irony, he smiles. “She can be very tough. But, she knows what she wants. More important– she knows how to get there. A lot of bosses don’t have a clue. She does. And it isn’t only by being tough. She doesn’t like being that way any more than anyone else. She’d rather charm others into doing what she wants.  But if necessary–”

“I know,” CC repeats.

“She’s good at that.  I’d see her flirting with some of the men who’ve worked on the house.  It’s happened often enough to get me jealous, particularly if a workman was good looking. I remember this guy Carlos. You could tell she was attracted to him.”

“The fact that she was looking. Didn’t that mean she no longer loved you?”

“Well maybe for that second. And yes, when we were both wildly in love, neither of us looked around. That fantasy– that maybe someone else is out there.  I guess that romantic desire never dies, but–”

“Did Mom ever do anything?”

“Your mother?” He laughs. Sure, she enjoys attention from men. She enjoys flirting. Why shouldn’t she? Not just Carlos. I have this one client that we have gone to the Copa with a number of times.  It’s crossed my mind with him. More than once. I mean you could see they were attracted to each other.  But not in a million years would anything happen. That’s for people in the movies.  Your mother always has her feet on the ground.”

“So, you trust her?

“Are you kidding?  Could you imagine?  Mom having an affair?

What her father thinks of her affair with Jeremy flashes through CC’s mind.

“Besides, it isn’t just flirting.” He continues.  “She can do a quick read of people.  With some of the men she is motherly.  She can get them eating right out of her hand. Those guys do great work for us.”

“Yeah right,” CC says with a touch of sarcasm.

“I can’t wait ‘til you get out of college.  You see your professors as such heroes, like they really have a good take on life.  I’ll bet professors at your school don’t have a clue about how to get good work done on their homes. They don’t have the smarts.  They think book smarts are real smarts.”

She wonders if he is talking about Jeremy.

“You’re probably right.”

He waits for her to say more about her boyfriend, but he doesn’t. Nor does he intend to.

“So, let’s get back to what I was saying about your mother.  This house is her creation.”

“Enough!”

“No not enough.”

“Fine. It’s nice.”

“It’s very nice.”

“What I said about the house being comfortable. You know it isn’t for when we have people over. There is some of that, particularly in the living room, but, for the most part it is for us.  For all of us. You and me, Mark and Jay and Dora.  She wants us to be comfortable. In our home!” He stops and then continues, caught up in his momentum.  “It makes me happy to be here, I can feel her here.”

“Okay Dad” She says in teasing parental way. “You’re going over the top now…  Just a bit.”

“It’s not true?” Ira asks her.

“I got different feelings about this place.”

“This place? That’s what you call your home?

“That white rug in the hall. Mom wouldn’t let me come in the front door.  I could see my room straight ahead, but I had to use the back door.”

“She lets you walk there now, doesn’t she?  When you were young, you didn’t wipe your feet.”

They both smile.

“So yeah, there is crazy, perfect love in the beginning, and that’s terrific.  You are very happy.  For good reason.  Your dream has come true.”

He hesitates for effect.  As great as that is, it’s nonsense. Eventually a real person comes out and spoils your dream. After maybe ten, fifteen years, we had that kind of love maybe twenty, thirty percent of the time, if that.”

“No way.  It was higher than that. I was there.  I saw it”

“Maybe, that’s how you remember it.  He shrugs “I suppose it looked that way.  But by the time you began to notice things, we also began to fake it. For you kids. To keep you happy. Well, not just for you. I guess we tried to get it back. Like everyone else I wondered if I loved your mother.    We both knew it wasn’t the way it was in the beginning, when we didn’t have to fake it. It was just there.”

“That change is scary isn’t it, when it’s not there all the time?”

He smiles again. “It comes a little at a time, but yes, it’s big when you begin to realize it. Some people give up at that point.  Break up.”

“Have you ever thought about doing that?”

“A thousand times. Once I even talked to someone at the office, a divorce lawyer.”

He notices the sudden disturbed look on CC’s face.”

Just once. What the lawyer told me ended it. What a mess it would be. I screeched on the brakes.  It scared me. I haven’t thought about it since.”

CC’s voice has a touch of sarcasm. “Because you love her so much or how much it would cost?”

“Look I do love your mother, but you’re not wrong.  Sometimes I can’t stand her.  I wouldn’t call it hate but whatever it is.  It makes me miserable and her too. Maybe that happens too often. More than I want it to, more than your mother is hoping for.  Fortunately, it never lasts for more than an hour or two.  But it’s real, very real.”

“Only an hour or two?”

“Sometimes more.  A lot more.”

“So then why don’t you leave or at least think about it?”

“I do…But…You know, there are years I can’t stand the Mets.  One year when they were really bad I tried to be a Yankee fan. Just so I’d have something to watch.  I couldn’t do it.  I was bored stiff watching the Yankees. Your mother is like the Mets. She’s part of me.  You can’t get rid of a part of yourself just like that.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know.  I guess that means I love her.”

“You guess?”

“I guess. Sometimes I try to convince myself. Other times I simply do. When we stopped faking it, the love percentage took a dive.  I don’t think it was a sudden thing.  It was gradual.  But yes, I don’t like her plenty of times.  And she doesn’t like me.”

“But would you end it if it goes to zero?”

“It won’t. It can’t.  We both know that.”

“Because you love each other?”

He knows what she wants to hear.  Both CC and Ira have watched Evelyn glow with her Audrey Hepburn thing. CC wants to be reassured. As much as he dismisses it, her parents’ romance, while tangled, is not severed. She is still Audrey Hepburn to him. Who could leave Audrey Hepburn?

“Remember when Mom had us all watch Charade?” CC asks.

He has a big smile. “Yeah.  She went wild over her clothes. Wild! Mom and Audrey Hepburn. Like they were stars in the sky. Shooting stars. And you’re one of them.”

“Me?”

“Come on. Look in the mirror?”

“Jeremy, the guy I broke up with talked like that.”

“He must have really loved you.”

“I don’t know.  If anything. He’s more of a shooting star.  Flames would come out of his mouth. I’m sure he meant them, but they burned themselves out in no time.”

“So. You didn’t love him?”

“In the very beginning I was crazy about him.  More than anyone I had ever met. But then?

“Then what?”

“I don’t know.  He scared me and then the worse thing of all.  He bored me.  The harder he tried.”

“I feel sorry for him.”

“I guess so.  Me too. But it’s all so raw now.  I don’t know how I feel.”

“You’ll figure it out.  You’ll see this relationship has probably been good for you.  If you learned something…”

They are both quiet, as they think about what they have said.

Ira continues, “The nice part between your mom and me is that since we’ve become real with each other, totally real, we have moments when we know we love each other. We know it. And that’s based on reality. Not like in the beginning. Better than that. Maybe more than ever. Not something we invented in our imagination.  Better even than a romantic movie.  There are moments…”

“You have moments?” she asks.

“Moments.  That’s it. Too little for you? Sorry.”

“Moments?”

“At our age that’s what you get. ”

“At your age?”

“I’m grateful to have that.  Some people lose it altogether.”  He takes her hand and studies it. “We still have it.  We know we love each other.”

“Then why don’t I ever see it anymore?”

“It’s there sometimes.  Like I said moments.”

“But I never see it.”

“You don’t see everything.”  We aren’t ourselves when we are with you guys.  Especially when Mark around.”

Ira stands, finds his hedge shears on the ground and heads towards another clump of winter killed ornamental grass.  He starts chopping away.  CC again notices that he does it with difficulty.  She takes the shears from him.  Despite her myasthenia she gets in a cut or two. He takes the shears back from her and finishes the remaining grass, Then he stops.

“Actually, you don’t get to see hardly anything in our relationship.  We don’t see you that often, so when you come home, we want the visit to be nice.”

“I know.  It’s nice, but it’s kind of blah. Phony. Everyone is play acting.”

“Mark makes sure it doesn’t get too phony.”

CC smiles but then becomes more serious. “How often do you and Mom connect?  I mean really connect.”

“I just told you.  Moments. Like that smile on the lawnmower. Sometimes when we are together, sometimes when we are alone with our thoughts.”

“But how often do those moments occur?”

“You’re relentless,”

“I want to know.”

“It could be twice in a day, three times, ten times, but then not for weeks, once practically five months.”

“And that’s enough?”

“It’s plenty.”

She lifts the cut grass from the second clump and with Ira holding the bag open pushes the grass into it.

“You often seem hurt. . .. Often,” she emphasizes. “You!”

“I am, but….  As long as I get—”

“Your moments?”

He closes the full bag of grass, tightly winding the coated wire around the top.   ”What I am saying is wrong.  It isn’t just moments. You know, when we’ve had a blowup, within minutes we both want to make up.  Well not always. Sometimes it takes a few hours.  Once or twice, it was days, and even longer than that, but inevitably we want to make up. I guess we are both stubborn.  When you’ve had a fight it’s humiliating to show you want to make up. It’s admitting defeat.  But it makes things worse by continuing to fight.”

He throws the bag of grass over his shoulder and starts towards the house. But then realizing he has something else to say, he puts it down.

“When we do connect it isn’t fake! It’s coming from our hearts.  Sure, we have fear.  No one wants to be alone. Actually, that’s a part of it. Being alone.  Before we met each other, when we were alone–we knew what that was like.”

CC listens quietly.

“Part of that great feeling when you fall in love is that with the first kiss that kind of loneliness disappears. It’s completely gone. You’re not alone in the world.  There are two of you.  In a split second your entire universe is transformed.  It’s amazing how good that feels.  You don’t want to lose that– go back to the way it was.”

“What do you mean go back? Your loneliness was that bad?”

“When I was young.  Are you kidding me?”

“Really.  I can’t make it alone?”

“Not everyone is miserable being alone.  Some people have their books, or their hobbies, or their dog or cat… something. That distracts them enough to feel okay. I don’t know if I really believe they’re okay like that but I’m not like them at all. Back then, when I didn’t have a girlfriend, it would tear me up inside, especially when I’d see couples showing their affection to each other.    It was the same for mom.  She told me.  You figure she is so pretty she could have anyone right away. She wouldn’t be alone. An awful lot of men, probably 99% of them could be crazy about her if she gave them the slightest encouragement.  But…Yeah they could be crazy about her.  And she might even like that. Except really connecting isn’t so easy at our age.  Forget that romantic certainty that this is the one.   So, without all the years behind you this new person has to be the right fit.  That’s practically impossible. At our age the way we are is pretty set, not set in stone but close to it.   Who we are is who we are.  So, yes, like me she fears loneliness, even if ten guys would propose to her if we broke up. No way they would fit.”

“And if I  drop dead. I don’t know what she would do.”

CC is taken back by the thought.

“Sorry, that runs through my mind since my heart attack?”

“I thought you’re not worried about your health.”

The doctor tells me I have made a complete recovery, and I never get chest pain, but it does sneak in to my thoughts like it just did.”

“If you say so.  But the rest of what you were saying, how much you fear loneliness––that’s what keeps the two of you together? Really?”

“Yes.”

“Sounds pretty pathetic.”

“CC, I don’t know how to break this to you, but that fear never goes away.  Sometimes things are going so well with Mom that the fear totally leaves.  You forget about it.  We have had months, even years like that.  But it always comes back.  If you are unlucky, it can come roaring back.  Other times you get hints that it is not far away, but if that is the worst of it, you’re in good shape.  I mean it was pretty tame the first ten years of our relationship.  Almost was gone but since then–”

“But how long were you alone? Why were you so affected. I thought you got together in high school.”

“We did, but we both remember what it was like before that.  Especially back then. When I was fifteen, sixteen, loneliness was a very powerful feeling. On a Saturday night, if I didn’t have someone it tortured me. Back then all of my feelings were huge.”

“Well…Me too.  I understand what you are saying.”

“Sorry.  Maybe if I did a better job you would not have that.”

“You were fine.  I’ve spoken to other girls. They have just as hard a time.  And their parents tried hard just like you.  You turn fourteen or fifteen and your family is fading. Away from home, out in the world.  At some point we have to make it on our own.”

“And you had a hard time?” Ira asks her.

“I did fine.  You did a good job of preparing us.”

“What I was saying before–years ago, when your mother and I had fights, if one lasted too long we could fear the end of us coming. Back to that loneliness.  It scared the crap out of me. Same for your mother.  She told me.  It taught us something. We really could land up alone.”

CC  says nothing.

“We came up with a solution. We didn’t discuss doing it.  But when we have a fight now, for the last ten, fifteen years, we try harder to be nice to each other. Seriously nice. We speak tenderly. It’s amazing how real that feels.  How happy it makes us. At your age, you probably have make-up sex.” They both smile.

“I used to think that’s the best. But now.  Maybe not.  Making up and being nice, being very nice to each other can go on for days.  Sometimes weeks. We don’t try to do it.  We just do it.  It’s baked in. I guess because of. our fear.

“And?”

“It actually is wonderful.  I wish it could be like that all the time…. The joke is, as horrible as a fight can be, it’s almost worth it, if it makes us nice like that.  Our relationship is refreshed by it.”

“So, you are recommending having fights regularly. Bad fights?

“I don’t know about that but feeling scared and miserable is not bad for our relationship.  Not if it brings us to the right place. If It forces us to rethink.

After a bad fight, after weeks of not being nice to each, when my anger dies down, I take a good look at your mother, and I like what I see.”

“You mean she looks pretty?”

“Yes, that, but more than that.  Don’t laugh.  Actually, it’s closer to what I just told you about her being a homemaker.  Giving me my home.”

CC smiles bemused

“You think what I am saying is trivial?”

“Well–”

“Sitting in the living room.  Noticing her touches in our bedroom.   Making  home sweet home.”

“Like in the movies?

“CC.  It isn’t just in the movies. You didn’t feel at home?

“I did.”

“And you think it’s easy to make a home feel like home?”

“I never thought about it.  Never.”

“You took it for granted. That’s when it’s best… The way your friend Laura was talking yesterday.  For her it’s almost a put-down to be called a homemaker. But I’m telling you. After one of our fights, when I sat in the living room, with her tchotchkes… with mine, that’s the love I’m talking about. Every single item I remember when we got it. And how pleased we were with it.  I appreciate what we have made together. Our family. Sure,  But even without you kids being around.  She has such good taste. She has that because her spirit is huge.  Her determination   She’s made our home a place that I love And that’s without her being in the room.”

“Come on.  That’s it?  Her taste?”

“The first time I appreciated that  was ironic. She had been a bitch that day, actually for several days, and I wasn’t much better.  But, when I left the kitchen and sat in the living room, I started noticing things. One thing after another, noticing where she put our tchotchkes. Perfectly.   Pretty things. An inch or two to the right or left would be wrong. I felt her presence. And that is because I had been feeling so much animosity.”

He is quiet but soon continues. “Nanny’s chest puffed up when she called herself a balabusta.  Laura said something about how women were forced to think like Nanny.  She was kept down, kept from doing something meaningful.  I don’t think my mother ever thought someone else was forcing her to make our home. We had so little.  She was proud of making what we had do.  She appreciated how hard my father worked even if it was for very little and how hard she worked to make something out of what he brought home.  As frustrated as they were, neither felt someone forced it on them.  It was circumstance and they were proud they were holding up under it. At least when they were. Even when they weren’t, when they didn’t know how they were going to pay their bills, they had this stubbornness. Not just stubbornness, pride that they were making sacrifices.  That kept them going..

“What about if the government could take away that burden, make it easier for poor people?”

“Boy. Mark has really gotten to you. No, the government can’t get rid of how hard life can be.  There will always be something.  And it certainly isn’t going to happen like Laura thinks it will, by getting a great job and having a great career.

I doubt she’ll find the satisfaction my mother took in what she did for us.  We knew it.  She knew it. Her determination was refreshed every day by new problems.  She knew her purpose.  There’s a big surprise coming for Laura, especially if she becomes a lawyer.”

“You weren’t too happy being a lawyer, were you?”

Ira presses her hand. “It was something I had to do, I still have to do, support our family, pay the bills.  It’s mostly not fun.  Work is work, but it’s okay. Doing my part.”

He smiles teasingly.

“I have to pay for college for the three of you and medical school, and lobster when we eat out.  There is no one else to do it.”

“You don’t think we appreciate that?”

“I suppose– especially Mark.” He smiles ironically.

“He appreciates it.” CC quickly answers.

“Yeah right.” Ira says bitterly.

But hearing himself, not wanting to seem bitter he changes to being the wise all knowing parent he is trying so hard to be today.

“It’s okay if Mark doesn’t,” he adds. “I like that he’s been spared the understanding about money that I had when I was his age. I took very little pleasure in anything to do with money. Still don’t.  Well maybe.  It feels great at a restaurant when you order the most expensive thing on the menu.”

CC laughs. “Oh come on.  You tell me to get the lobster.”

“True.  I admit it. I criticize when you are mindless about spending money.  Still I also enjoy it. It’s nice to have enough money not to have you worry. Or me worry. My father never had that. That’s the gold medal I will give to myself when I retire.”

“What you were saying Dad––”

“When did you stop calling me Pops?”

“Around 8th grade when I had my period.  That ended you being my pops. Continue what you were saying.”

He has been scratching his spade on the teak bench to peel off moss where he doesn’t want it. He works at that for a while before continuing.

“Not just your friend Laura.  A lot of women your age are making a big deal about their careers.  Like it means so much. Yeah it means a lot if they have that ammunition at a party.  So they will seem cool. But they are going to be very disappointed. Just like I was.”

He hesitates before continuing but then his voice becomes indignant.

“I just don’t get Laura.  I never thought work would be fun. My choices were clear. Doctor or lawyer. That’s what a nice ambitious Jewish boy was supposed to want to be.   So, I became a lawyer, not that I knew then what a lawyer does.  We didn’t have any in the family.  My father worked for someone else making jewelry.  He didn’t like his boss and his boss didn’t like him. But he was happy to have a job. Yes, being a lawyer, working in an office has meant clean hands, wearing a suit.  No manual labor. But fun?… Maybe at the water cooler but otherwise it’s been work.  A lot of it.

And glory?  I never thought about it. One in a million men find glory from their career.   Most of us are working stiffs…” He thinks further.  “Why does Laura think great things are ahead for her? Or that men have been having a great time while their wives suffered at home.  I know Laura’s father.  It’s so clear that he’s been struggling. For years. I don’t know what she thinks is going on in the work world, what she thinks will happen for her. Hot shot ideas make people believe things that have nothing to do with reality.

“Yeah but.” CC intercedes.

“But what?” Ira asks her.

“I remember how Nanny talked about the men in our family.  Maybe your father didn’t like his job, but she made it sound like you came from a long line of men with glorious careers.”

“That was Nanny. She had this thing about men and their glory. Either way, to me it’s always been clear–what Nanny did was meaningful, making a home for us, trying to make us happy, secure…Same for my father.  He was proud to take care of someone besides himself.  That is not psychobabble. Being responsible for us–my father and Nanny took it seriously.”

“I know.”

“Sometimes Nanny took it to an extreme. I remember how she used to blame herself whenever I was unhappy. I thought it was ridiculous.  Typical Jewish mother stuff. My friends told me the same thing was going on with their mothers.  We laughed at them for exaggerating their importance.  But the fact that she considered what she did as central to my happiness tells you something about how important, how meaningful she felt her job was. Not for one second did she think what she was doing with her life was trivial.

CC makes believe she is playing an imaginary violin as he speaks.  He smiles but his voice becomes loud, emphatic. “Not just my mother.  That was your Mom’s job and mine. The same kind of thing. Different but the same. Yeah she had Beryl.  She didn’t have to work very hard. But your mother has always taken it seriously, as her most important ambition, getting off on you about fashion.  In her mind it wasn’t harshness, but a favor to you, helping you to get going on a path that’s meant so much to her.  So you could do as well as she did. That’s what counted.  Preparing you. That is how she loved you.”

“Right By criticizing me nonstop.”

“Well, that’s your mother, high standards. But it doesn’t change what it was. She thought she was helping you. And she wouldn’t give up.”

“So the way she loved me was to tear into me.”

“She didn’t tear into you!”

“Oh no?

Ira is suddenly silent.  In a sweet ironic way he teases CC.  “You have always been too sensitive.”

That doesn’t placate her.

“Okay, your mother is a monster.” He shouts at her.

They both smile with the knowledge that it isn’t true.

They also have both begun to sense it is time to stop their talk.  It’s enough.  But they want more. He is quiet for a while thinking about what he has said and she has said. CC is doing the same thing, uncertain of where they want to go, but wanting more, always more, some kind of resolution.

“You were sitting in the living room after a fight?” she jokes.  “You realized how pretty the room was and that was the magic? That’s how you realized you love her?”

“Laugh if you want, but yes.  I had noticed how nice it was in that room before but then it just hit me.  What she did meant something.  It was really pretty. I guess it took a very bad fight, where we both hated each other. So that fear took over.  Suddenly I saw this beauty everywhere.”

“Like your garden. I can’t wait for the summer to see what you’ve planted”

“I’m glad you notice that Mom and I do things well, very well. A lot of things. We have no choice.  We have to do it like that. We have to.  That’s what I saw in the living room. Beauty!”

He smiles happily. “Those hand painted silk pillows she got on sale at Roche Bobois.  They are incredible. As nice as any painting–that enormous Oriental rug that suddenly appeared one day.  I still remember. She complained for over a month about the reds in it.  Thought they were the wrong shade.  Then she decided they were perfect after she put up drapery that coordinated with it.  Mark makes fun of Mom’s perfectionism Sometimes I agree. I think it’s stupid the way she knocks herself out, schlepping from store to store. Who cares if the red was off.  But that day in the living room, the way it came together meant a lot.  All of it. Like I said before, Mark would never make fun of a painter who had to get the colors just right, but our living room.  Where we live?”

“But Dad. We didn’t live in that room.  It was for guests.  We lived in the family room. And she didn’t choose that rug, Tommy, her decorator did.”

“Not true.  He chose the rug before it, not that one. I remember. Your mom is a ballabusta, just like Nanny was. Yes she has Beryl. But her going from store to store was as exhausting as my mother’s cleaning.  Maybe not as much work but the aggravation and effort is the same. And when she succeeds, which eventually she always does, how hard she worked at it disappears.”

“Okay.” CC says with sarcasm unnoticed by him.

“Your Mom and I take each other for granted, and yeah, both of us can get pretty selfish and oblivious of each other, petty and nasty. Sometimes we argue because neither of us wants the other one to win. But sometimes, even when I’m pissed and thinking about whether our marriage is worth it, I have one of those moments like I did in the living room.  Qualities that you take for granted, that you hardly notice.  Suddenly you do notice.  Sitting in the living room I was  flooded  by the love I have for her. It engulfed me. The beauty she put there. The love I felt that day, that I still feel, is stronger than the drop-dead love I felt the first time I saw your mother.”

“Oh, Come on.” CC shouts laughingly. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the best.  You and her dancing at  Midwood High for the first time? Mom’s told me that story twenty times. It’s why she fell in love with you. How she felt in your arms, protected by you.”

“It was great.  So was our first kiss, but–”

“The Living Room.? That was the highest of the high?

“Yes?”

He starts to walk away towards the hydrangea garden.

“It can’t be the living room” she shouts to his back.  He doesn’t turn  around. Then he does. They hesitate but then they approach each other.

“What you don’t understand is that if you love someone you love who they are.  If decorating is Mom’s thing.  If that is what matters that is what matters. Period! I love her decorating because she loves it! It could have been the way she makes apple sauce.  Doesn’t matter what it is.”

“But the living room?”

“Fine make fun of it.”   As if pulling an ace from up his sleeve, Ira continues, “I got something more meaningful than the living room.”

“That’s impossible,” she answers jokingly.

His voice is serious again “You’re not going to understand this—”

“Try me.”

“Sometimes . . . Well, it was actually once.  Your mother apologized.”

“Once?”

“Once.”

“About what?”

“It doesn’t matter.  I knew she meant it.  She looked into my eyes.  She started to cry.  Through her tears she begged me to forgive her. For what I asked her.  For everything she said.

Begging.  That took courage.  It isn’t something Audrey Hepburn would do. What if I didn’t really care.  Or couldn’t forgive all the nasty things she has said to me. For her to do that.  She was leaving herself naked. That took courage.  And love.”

CC moves next to her father.

“Did you forgive her?”

He shrugs. “Of course not.  But she knows that I love her. Those tears beat what I felt the first time I saw her.  The electricity back then was exciting. But love at our age is even better.”

They are quiet. Ira’s hands grip the rake, like he wants to move on.  Intending to return to the house CC gives him a peck on the cheek. He looks at her appreciatively.  But something more is needed. They both sense it. Talking this long is not the usual between them. It might be months or years until they talk like this again.

Something more powerful than see ya’  should end it so that they feel finished.  Neither knows how to do it.  He keeps moving his fingers on the rake. The expression on his face, which a moment ago might have been saying we’re done,.  That isn’t there any longer.  As CC walks a few steps towards the house she feels empty. She shouldn’t but she does. She turns around hoping he has more to tell her. Or she has something to tell him.  It doesn’t occur to either of them that, whatever it is, can hold for another time. Now is the time even if both of them are getting tired. Same old story. He’s told her many times. In the rabbinical institutes discussions could go on throughout the night to the early morning, and not always end then, not until everyone could agree that the words of God in the passage of the Torah they were trying to understand was finally understood. Except it never was.  There were always more questions.  Something still not understood.

“An apology? That makes up for everything?”

“It’s plenty.”

Really?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.  Forget all that. I just know I still love your mother. And she loves me.  We can’t stand each other half of the time, some weeks three-quarters of the time.  But those moments.  It’s because we have gotten close enough to show everything. Say everything.  Bad and good. In fact I almost prefer that we don’t hide our feelings.  All the bullshit that goes on between people trying to be nice. We’ve cut all that away. And so when we have our moments they are real.

“Moments?” she says a bit loudly.

“No.  Not just moments.”

They are quiet as CC  rolls that over in her mind.

“Moments.” She repeats.

He realizes she doesn’t get it.  How could she? She’s twenty one.

Nevertheless, he’s not unhappy that he tried to explain.  She repeats the word ‘moments’ to herself trying to connect to it as she smiles sadly and heads back to the house with the bag of cut grass. As usual she compares her father to Mark.  And Jeremy. They all like to philosophize. So does she. They like it a lot, trying to get at the truth by talking about it. Whether they will ever get there is besides the point. They have to do it. Nanny was right. Pincus is in their blood. They are talking Torah without the Torah,

She wishes her father was happier and had had a better life. But then thinking about it further she decides he has done okay in the happiness department. Not great but good enough.  She wonders if he should see a therapist. She knows the real solution would be found if her mother was nicer to him. And if he were nicer to her. Neither will probably happen. On the other hand, CC’s talk with her father has accomplished one important thing. It isn’t just the Copacabana that magically keeps them together.  She doesn’t understand how or why, or what her father was trying to tell her, but she realizes that her parents love each other. In their way. She wonders if her father was bullshitting her, fooling himself.  But if he believes it… More importantly she is now convinced that neither of them is going anywhere.  And for that she is thankful for their conversation.