bumping knock-a sharp tap-tap, and another, much crisper voice said, "Miss Greenwood,
your friend wants you," and I knew it was Doreen.
I swung to my feet and balanced dizzily for a minute in the middle of the dark
room. I felt angry with Doreen for waking me up. All I stood a chance of getting out of
that sad night was a good sleep, and she had to wake me up and spoil it. I thought if I
pretended to be asleep the knocking might go away and leave me in peace, but I waited,
and it didn't.
"Elly, Elly, Elly," the first voice mumbled, while the other voice went on hissing,
"Miss Greenwood, Miss Greenwood, Miss Greenwood," as if I had a split personality or
I opened the door and blinked out into the bright hall. I had the impression it
wasn't night and it wasn't day, but some lurid third interval that had suddenly slipped
between them and would never end.
Doreen was slumped against the doorjamb. When I came out, she toppled into my
arms. I couldn't see her face because her head was hanging down on her chest and her
stiff blonde hair fell down from its dark roots like a hula fringe.
I recognized the short, squat, mustached woman in the black uniform as the night
maid who ironed day dresses and party frocks in a crowded cubicle on our floor. I
couldn't understand how she came to know Doreen or why she should want to help
Doreen wake me up instead of leading her quietly back to her own room.
Seeing Doreen supported in my arms and silent except for a few wet hiccups, the
woman strode away down the hall to her cubicle with its ancient Singer sewing machine
and white ironing board. I wanted to run after her and tell her I had nothing to do with
Doreen, because she looked stern and hardworking and moral as an old-style European
immigrant and reminded me of my Austrian grandmother.
"Lemme lie down, lemme lie down," Doreen was muttering. "Lemme lie down,
lemme lie down."
I felt if I carried Doreen across the threshold into my room and helped her onto
my bed I would never get rid of her again.
Her body was warm and soft as a pile of pillows against my arm where she leaned
her weight, and her feet, in their high, spiked heels, dragged foolishly. She was much too
heavy for me to budge down the long hall.
I decided the only thing to do was to dump her on the carpet and shut and lock my
door and go back to bed. When Doreen woke up she wouldn't remember what had
happened and would think she must have passed out in front of my door while I slept, and
she would get up of her own accord and go sensibly back to her room.
I started to lower Doreen gently onto the green hall carpet, but she gave a low
moan and pitched forward out of my arms. A jet of brown vomit flew from her mouth
and spread in a large puddle at my feet.
Suddenly Doreen grew even heavier. Her head drooped forward into the puddle,
the wisps of her blonde hair dabbling in it like tree roots in a bog, and I realized she was
asleep. I drew back. I felt half-asleep myself.
I made a decision about Doreen that night. I decided I would watch her and listen
to what she said, but deep down I would have nothing at all to do with her. Deep down, I
would be loyal to Betsy and her innocent friends. It was Betsy I resembled at heart.
Quietly, I stepped back into my room and shut the door. On second thought, I
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didn't lock it. I couldn't quite bring myself to do that.
When I woke up in the dull, sunless heat the next morning, I dressed and splashed
my face with cold water and put on some lipstick and opened the door slowly. I think I
still expected to see Doreen's body lying there in the pool of vomit like an ugly, concrete
testimony to my own dirty nature.
There was nobody in the hall. The carpet stretched from one end of the hall to the
other, clean and eternally verdant except for a faint, irregular dark stain before my door
as if somebody had by accident spilled a glass of water there, but dabbed it dry again.
RRAYED ON THE
Ladies Day banquet table were yellow-green avocado pear
halves stuffed with crabmeat and mayonnaise, and platters of rare roast beef and cold
chicken, and every so often a cut-glass bowl heaped with black caviar. I hadn't had time
to eat any breakfast at the hotel cafeteria that morning, except for a cup of overstewed
coffee so bitter it made my nose curl, and I was starving.
Before I came to New York I'd never eaten out in a proper restaurant. I don't
count Howard Johnson's, where I only had french fries and cheeseburgers and vanilla
frappes with people like Buddy Willard. I'm not sure why it is, but I love food more than
just about anything else. No matter how much I eat, I never put on weight. With one
exception I've been the same weight for ten years.
My favorite dishes are full of butter and cheese and sour cream. In New York we
had so many free luncheons with people on the magazine and various visiting celebrities I
developed the habit of running my eye down those huge handwritten menus, where a tiny
side dish of peas cost fifty or sixty cents, until I'd picked the richest, most expensive
dishes and ordered a string of them.
We were always taken out on expense accounts, so I never felt guilty. I made a
point of eating so fast I never kept the other people waiting who generally ordered only
chef's salad and grapefruit juice because they were trying to reduce. Almost everybody I
met in New York was trying to reduce.
"I want to welcome the prettiest, smartest bunch of young ladies our staff has yet
had the good luck to meet," the plump, bald master-of-ceremonies wheezed into his lapel
microphone. "This banquet is just a small sample of the hospitality our Food Testing
Kitchens here on Ladies' Day would like to offer in appreciation for your visit."
A delicate, ladylike spatter of applause, and we all sat at the enormous linen-
There were eleven of us girls from the magazine, together with most of our
supervising editors, and the whole staff of the Ladies' Day Food Testing Kitchens in
hygienic white smocks, neat hairnets and flawless makeup of a uniform peach-pie color.
There were only eleven of us, because Doreen was missing. They had set her
place next to mine for some reason, and the chair stayed empty. I saved her placecard for
her -- a pocket mirror with "Doreen" painted along the top of it in lacy script and a wreath
of frosted daisies around the edge, framing the silver hole where her face would show.
Doreen was spending the day with Lenny Shepherd. She spent most of her free
time with Lenny Shepherd now.
In the hour before our luncheon at Ladies' Day -- the big women's magazine that
features lush double-page spreads of Technicolor meals, with a different theme and locale
each month -- we had been shown around the endless glossy kitchens and seen how
difficult it is to photograph apple pie a la mode under bright lights because the ice cream
keeps melting and has to be propped up from behind with toothpicks and changed every
time it starts looking too soppy.
The sight of all the food stacked in those kitchens made me dizzy. It's not that we
hadn't enough to eat at home, it's just that my grandmother always cooked economy joints
and economy meat loafs and had the habit of saying, the minute you lifted the first
forkful to your mouth, "I hope you enjoy that, it cost forty-one cents a pound," which
always made me feel I was somehow eating pennies instead of Sunday roast.
While we were standing up behind our chairs listening to the welcome speech, I
had bowed my head and secretly eyed the position of the bowls of caviar. One bowl was
set strategically between me and Doreen's empty chair.
I figured the girl across from me couldn't reach it because of the mountainous
centerpiece of marzipan fruit, and Betsy, on my right, would be too nice to ask me to
share it with her if I just kept it out of the way at my elbow by my bread-and-butter plate.
Besides, another bowl of caviar sat a little way to the right of the girl next to Betsy, and
she could eat that.
My grandfather and I had a standing joke. He was the head waiter at a country
club near my home town, and every Sunday my grandmother drove in to bring him home
for his Monday off. My brother and I alternated going with her, and my grandfather
always served Sunday supper to my grandmother and whichever of us was along as if we
were regular club guests. He loved introducing me to special tidbits, and by the age of
nine I had developed a passionate taste for cold vichyssoise and caviar and anchovy
The joke was that at my wedding my grandfather would see I had all the caviar I
could eat. It was a joke because I never intended to get married, and even if I did, my
grandfather couldn't have afforded enough caviar unless he robbed the country club
kitchen and carried it off in a suitcase.
Under cover of the clinking of water goblets and silverware and bone china, I
paved my plate with chicken slices. Then I covered the chicken slices with caviar thickly
as if I were spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. Then I picked up the chicken
slices in my fingers one by one, rolled them so the caviar wouldn't ooze off and ate them.
I'd discovered, after a lot of extreme apprehension about what spoons to use, that
if you do something incorrect at table with a certain arrogance, as if you knew perfectly
well you were doing it properly, you can get away with it and nobody will think you are
bad-mannered or poorly brought up. They will think you are original and very witty.
I learned this trick the day Jay Cee took me to lunch with a famous poet. He wore
a horrible, lumpy, speckled brown tweed jacket and gray pants and a red-and-blue
checked open-throated jersey in a very formal restaurant full of fountains and
chandeliers, where all the other men were dressed in dark suits and immaculate white
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This poet ate his salad with his fingers, leaf by leaf, while talking to me about the
antithesis of nature and art. I couldn't take my eyes off the pale, stubby white fingers
traveling back and forth from the poet's salad bowl to the poet's mouth with one dripping
lettuce leaf after another. Nobody giggled or whispered rude remarks. The poet made
eating salad with your fingers seem to be the only natural and sensible thing to do.
None of our magazine editors or the Ladies' Day staff members sat anywhere near
me, and Betsy seemed sweet and friendly, she didn't even seem to like caviar, so I grew
more and more confident. When I finished my first plate of cold chicken and caviar, I laid
out another. Then I tackled the avocado and crabmeat salad.
Avocados are my favorite fruit. Every Sunday my grandfather used to bring me an
avocado pear hidden at the bottom of his briefcase under six soiled shirts and the Sunday
comics. He taught me how to eat avocados by melting grape jelly and french dressing
together in a saucepan and filling the cup of the pear with the garnet sauce. I felt
homesick for that sauce. The crabmeat tasted bland in comparison.
"How was the fur show?" I asked Betsy, when I was no longer worried about
competition over my caviar. I scraped the last few salty black eggs from the dish with my
soup spoon and licked it clean.
"It was wonderful," Betsy smiled. "They showed us how to make an all-purpose
neckerchief out of mink tails and a gold chain, the sort of chain you can get an exact copy
of at Woolworth's for a dollar ninety-eight, and Hilda nipped down to the wholesale fur
warehouses right afterward and bought a bunch of mink tails at a big discount and
dropped in at Woolworth's and then stitched the whole thing together coming up on the
I peered over at Hilda, who sat on the other side of Betsy. Sure enough, she was
wearing an expensive-looking scarf of furry tails fastened on one side by a dangling gilt
I never really understood Hilda. She was six feet tall, with huge, slanted green
eyes and thick red lips and a vacant, Slavic expression. She made hats. She was
apprenticed to the Fashion Editor, which set her apart from the more literary ones among
us like Doreen and Betsy and I myself, who all wrote columns, even if some of them
were only about health and beauty. I don't know if Hilda could read, but she made
startling hats. She went to a special school for making hats in New York and every day
she wore a new hat to work, constructed by her own hands out of bits of straw or fur or
ribbon or veiling in subtle shades.
"That's amazing," I said. "Amazing." I missed Doreen. She would have murmured
some fine, scalding remark about Hilda's miraculous furpiece to cheer me up.
I felt very low. I had been unmasked only that morning by Jay Cee herself, and I
felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I
couldn't hide the truth much longer. After nineteen years of running after good marks and
prizes and grants of one sort and another, I was letting up, slowing down, dropping clean
out of the race.
"Why didn't you come along to the fur show with us?" Betsy asked. I had the
impression she was repeating herself, and that she'd asked me the same question a minute
ago, only I couldn't have been listening. "Did you go off with Doreen?"
"No," I said, "I wanted to go to the fur show, but Jay Cee called up and made me
come into the office." That wasn't quite true about wanting to go to the show, but I tried
to convince myself now that it was true, so I could be really wounded about what Jay Cee
I told Betsy how I had been lying in bed that morning planning to go to the fur
show. What I didn't tell her was that Doreen had come into my room earlier and said,
"What do you want to go to that assy show for, Lenny and I are going to Coney Island, so
why don't you come along? Lenny can get you a nice fellow, the day's shot to hell
anyhow with that luncheon and then the film première in the afternoon, so nobody'll miss
For a minute I was tempted. The show certainly did seem stupid. I have never
cared for furs. What I decided to do in the end was lie in bed as long as I wanted to and
then go to Central Park and spend the day lying in the grass, the longest grass I could find
in that bald, duck-ponded wilderness.
I told Doreen I would not go to the show or the luncheon or the film première, but
that I would not go to Coney Island either, I would stay in bed. After Doreen left, I
wondered why I couldn't go the whole way doing what I should any more. This made me
sad and tired. Then I wondered why I couldn't go the whole way doing what I shouldn't,
the way Doreen did, and this made me even sadder and more tired.
I didn't know what time it was, but I'd heard the girls bustling and calling in the
hall and getting ready for the fur show, and then I'd heard the hall go still, and as I lay on
my back in bed staring up at the blank, white ceiling the stillness seemed to grow bigger
and bigger until I felt my eardrums would burst with it. Then the phone rang.
I stared at the phone for a minute. The receiver shook a bit in its bone-colored
cradle, so I could tell it was really ringing. I thought I might have given my phone
number to somebody at a dance or a party and then forgotten about it. I lifted the receiver
and spoke in a husky, receptive voice.
"Jay Cee here," Jay Cee rapped out with brutal promptitude. "I wondered if you
happened to be planning to come into the office today?"
I sank down into the sheets. I couldn't understand why Jay Cee thought I'd be
coming into the office. We had these mimeographed schedule cards so we could keep
track of all our activities, and we spent a lot of mornings and afternoons away from the
office going to affairs in town. Of course, some of the affairs were optional.
There was quite a pause. Then I said meekly, "I thought I was going to the fur
show." Of course I hadn't thought any such thing, but I couldn't figure out what else to
"I told her I thought I was going to the fur show," I said to Betsy. "But she told
me to come into the office, she wanted to have a little talk with me, and there was some
work to do."
"Oh-oh!" Betsy said sympathetically. She must have seen the tears that plopped
down into my dessert dish of meringue and brandy ice cream, because she pushed over
her own untouched dessert and I started absently on that when I'd finished my own. I felt
a bit awkward about the tears, but they were real enough. Jay Cee had said some terrible
things to me.
When I made my wan entrance into the office at about ten o'clock, Jay Cee stood
up and came round her desk to shut the door, and I sat in the swivel chair in front of my
typewriter table facing her, and she sat in the swivel chair behind her desk facing me,
with the window full of potted plants, shelf after shelf of them, springing up at her back
like a tropical garden.
"Doesn't your work interest you, Esther?"
"Oh, it does, it does," I said. "It interests me very much." I felt like yelling the
words, as if that might make them more convincing, but I controlled myself.
All my life I'd told myself studying and reading and writing and working like mad
was what I wanted to do, and it actually seemed to be true, I did everything well enough
and got all A's, and by the time I made it to college nobody could stop me.
I was college correspondent for the town Gazette and editor of the literary
magazine and secretary of Honor Board, which deals with academic and social offenses
and punishments -- a popular office -- and I had a well-known woman poet and professor
on the faculty championing me for graduate school at the biggest universities in the east,
and promises of full scholarships all the way, and now I was apprenticed to the best
editor on an intellectual fashion magazine, and what did I do but balk and balk like a dull
"I'm very interested in everything." The words fell with a hollow flatness on to
Jay Cee's desk, like so many wooden nickels.
"I'm glad of that," Jay Cee said a bit waspishly. "You can learn a lot in this month
on the magazine, you know, if you just roll up your shirtsleeves. The girl who was here
before you didn't bother with any of the fashion-show stuff. She went straight from this
office on to Time."
"My!" I said, in the same sepulchral tone. "That was quick!"
"Of course, you have another year at college yet," Jay Cee went on a little more
mildly. "What do you have in mind after you graduate?"
What I always thought I had in mind was getting some big scholarship to graduate
school or a grant to study all over Europe, and then I thought I'd be a professor and write
books of poems or write books of poems and be an editor of some sort. Usually I had
these plans on the tip of my tongue.
"I don't really know," I heard myself say. I felt a deep shock, hearing myself say
that, because the minute I said it, I knew it was true.
It sounded true, and I recognized it, the way you recognize some nondescript
person that's been hanging around your door for ages and then suddenly comes up and
introduces himself as your real father and looks exactly like you, so you know he really is
your father, and the person you thought all your life was your father is a sham.
"I don't really know."
"You'll never get anywhere like that." Jay Cee paused. "What languages do you
"Oh, I can read a bit of French, I guess, and I've always wanted to learn German."
I'd been telling people I'd always wanted to learn German for about five years.
My mother spoke German during her childhood in America and was stoned for it
during the First World War by the children at school. My German-speaking father, dead
since I was nine, came from some manic-depressive hamlet in the black heart of Prussia.
My youngest brother was at that moment on the Experiment in International Living in
Berlin and speaking German like a native.
What I didn't say was that each time I picked up a German dictionary or a German
book, the very sight of those dense, black, barbed-wire letters made my mind shut like a
"I've always thought I'd like to go into publishing." I tried to recover a thread that
might lead me back to my old, bright salesmanship. "I guess what I'll do is apply at some
"You ought to read French and German," Jay Cee said mercilessly, "and probably
several other languages as well, Spanish and Italian -- better still, Russian, Hundreds of
girls flood into New York every June thinking they'll be editors. You need to offer
something more than the run-of-the-mill person. You better learn some languages."
I hadn't the heart to tell Jay Cee there wasn't one scrap of space on my senior year
schedule to learn languages in. I was taking one of those honors programs that teach you
to think independently, and except for a course in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and a seminar
in advanced poetry composition, I would spend my whole time writing on some obscure
theme in the works of James Joyce. I hadn't picked out my theme yet, because I hadn't got
round to reading Finnegans Wake, but my professor was very excited about my thesis
and had promised to give me some leads on images about twins.
"I'll see what I can do," I told Jay Cee. "I probably might just fit in one of those
double-barreled accelerated courses in elementary German they've rigged up." I thought
at the time I might actually do this. I had a way of persuading my Class Dean to let me do
irregular things. She regarded me as a sort of interesting experiment.
At college I had to take a required course in physics and chemistry. I had already
taken a course in botany and done very well. I never answered one test question wrong
the whole year, and for a while I toyed with the idea of being a botanist and studying the
wild grasses in Africa or the South American rain forests, because you can win big grants
to study offbeat things like that in queer areas much more easily than winning grants to
study art in Italy or English in England; there's not so much competition.
Botany was fine, because I loved cutting up leaves and putting them under the
microscope and drawing diagrams of bread mold and the odd, heart-shaped leaf in the sex
cycle of the fern, it seemed so real to me.
The day I went into physics class it was death.
A short dark man with a high lisping voice, named Mr. Manzi, stood in front of
the class in a tight blue suit holding a little wooden ball. He put the ball on a steep
grooved slide and let it run down to the bottom. Then he started talking about let a equal
acceleration and let t equal time and suddenly he was scribbling letters and numbers and
equals signs all over the blackboard and my mind went dead.
I took the physics book back to my dormitory. It was a huge book on porous
mimeographed paper -- four hundred pages long with no drawings or photographs, only
diagrams and formulas -- between brick-red cardboard covers. This book was written by
Mr. Manzi to explain physics to college girls, and if it worked on us he would try to have
Well, I studied those formulas, I went to class and watched balls roll down slides
and listened to bells ring and by the end of the semester most of the other girls had failed
and I had a straight A. I heard Mr. Manzi saying to a bunch of the girls who were
complaining that the course was too hard, "No, it can't be too hard, because one girl got a
straight A." "Who is it? Tell us," they said, but he shook his head and didn't say anything
and gave me a sweet little conspiring smile.
That's what gave me the idea of escaping the next semester of chemistry. I may
have made a straight A in physics, but I was panic-struck. Physics made me sick the
whole time I learned it. What I couldn't stand was this shrinking everything into letters
and numbers. Instead of leaf shapes and enlarged diagrams of the holes the leaves breathe
through and fascinating words like carotene and xanthophyll on the blackboard, there
were these hideous, cramped, scorpion-lettered formulas in Mr. Manzi's special red chalk
I knew chemistry would be worse, because I'd seen a big chart of the ninety-odd
elements hung up in the chemistry lab, and all the perfectly good words like gold and
silver and cobalt and aluminum were shortened to ugly abbreviations with different
decimal numbers after them. If I had to strain my brain with any more of that stuff I
would go mad. I would fail outright. It was only by a horrible effort of will that I had
dragged myself through the first half of the year.
So I went to my Class Dean with a clever plan.
My plan was that I needed the time to take a course in Shakespeare, since I was,
after all, an English major. She knew and I knew perfectly well I would get a straight A
again in the chemistry course, so what was the point of my taking the exams; why
couldn't I just go to the classes and look on and take it all in and forget about marks or
credits? It was a case of honor among honorable people, and the content meant more than
the form, and marks were really a bit silly anyway, weren't they, when you knew you'd
always get an A? My plan was strengthened by the fact that the college had just dropped
the second year of required science for the classes after me anyway, so my class was the
last to suffer under the old ruling.
Mr. Manzi was in perfect agreement with my plan. I think it flattered him that I
enjoyed his classes so much I take them for no materialistic reason like credit and an A,
but for the sheer beauty of chemistry itself. I thought it was quite ingenious of me to
suggest sitting in on the chemistry course even after I'd changed over to Shakespeare. It
was quite an unnecessary gesture and made it seem I simply couldn't bear to give
Of course, I would never have succeeded with this scheme if I hadn't made that A
in the first place. And if my Class Dean had known how scared and depressed I was, and
how I seriously contemplated desperate remedies such as getting a doctor's certificate that
I was unfit to study chemistry, the formulas made me dizzy and so on, I'm sure she
wouldn't have listened to me for a minute, but would have made me take the course
As it happened, the Faculty Board passed my petition, and my Class Dean told me
later that several of the professors were touched by it. They took it as a real step in
I had to laugh when I thought about the rest of that year. I went to the chemistry
class five times a week and didn't miss a single one. Mr. Manzi stood at the bottom of the
big, rickety old amphitheater, making blue flames and red flares and clouds of yellow
stuff by pouring the contents of one test tube into another, and I shut his voice out of my
ears by pretending it was only a mosquito in the distance and sat back enjoying the bright
lights and the colored fires and wrote page after page of villanelles and sonnets.
Mr. Manzi would glance at me now and then and see me writing, and send up a
sweet little appreciative smile. I guess he thought I was writing down all those formulas
not for exam time, like the other girls, but because his presentation fascinated me so
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