properly at the other.
Buddy and I stood together by the window, a few feet away from the woman,
where we had a perfect view.
The woman's stomach stuck up so high I couldn't see her face or the upper part of
her body at all. She seemed to have nothing but an enormous spider-fat stomach and two
little ugly spindly legs propped in the high stirrups, and all the time the baby was being
born she never stopped making this unhuman whooing noise.
Later Buddy told me the woman was on a drug that would make her forget she'd
had any pain and that when she swore and groaned she really didn't know what she was
doing because she was in a kind of twilight sleep.
I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a
woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn't groan like that,
and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her
forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long,
blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in
The head doctor, who was supervising Will, kept saying to the woman, "Push
down, Mrs. Tomolillo, push down, that's a good girl, push down," and finally through the
split, shaven place between her legs, lurid with disinfectant, I saw a dark fuzzy thing
"The baby's head," Buddy whispered under cover of the woman's groans.
But the baby's head stuck for some reason, and the doctor told Will he'd have to
make a cut. I heard the scissors close on the woman's skin like cloth and the blood began
to run down -- a fierce, bright red. Then all at once the baby seemed to pop out into Will's
hands, the color of a blue pluto and floured with white stuff and streaked with blood, and
Will kept saying, "I'm going to drop it, I'm going to drop it, I'm going to drop it," in a
"No, you're not," the doctor said, and took the baby out of Will's hands and started
massaging it, and the blue color went away and the baby started to cry in a torn, croaky
voice and I could see it was a boy.
The first thing that baby did was pee in the doctor's face. I told Buddy later I
didn't see how that was possible, but he said it was quite possible, though unusual, to see
something like that happen.
As soon as the baby was born the people in the room divided up into two groups,
the nurses tying a metal dog tag on the baby's wrist and swabbing its eyes with cotton on
the end of a stick and wrapping it up and putting it in a canvas-sided cot, while the doctor
and Will started sewing up the woman's cut with a needle and a long thread.
I think somebody said, "It's a boy, Mrs. Tomolillo," but the woman didn't answer
or raise her head.
"Well, how was it?" Buddy asked with a satisfied expression as we walked across
the green quadrangle to his room.
"Wonderful," I said. "I could see something like that every day."
I didn't feel up to asking him if there were any other ways to have babies. For
some reason the most important thing to me was actually seeing the baby come out of
you yourself and making sure it was yours. I thought if you had to have all that pain
anyway you might just as well stay awake.
I had always imagined myself hitching up on to my elbows on the delivery table
after it was all over -- dead white, of course, with no makeup and from the awful ordeal,
but smiling and radiant, with my hair down to my waist, and reaching out for my first
little squirmy child and saying its name, whatever it was.
"Why was it all covered with flour?" I asked then, to keep the conversation going,
and Buddy told me about the waxy staff that guarded the baby's skin.
When we were back in Buddy's room, which reminded me of nothing so much as
a monk's cell, with its bare walls and bare bed and bare floor and the desk loaded with
Gray's Anatomy and other thick gruesome books, Buddy lit a candle and uncorked a
bottle of Dubonnet. Then we lay down side by side on the bed and Buddy sipped his wine
while I read aloud "somewhere I have never travelled" and other poems from a book I'd
Buddy said he figured there must be something in poetry if a girl like me spent all
her days over it, so each time we met I read him some poetry and explained to him what I
found in it. It was Buddy's idea. He always arranged our weekends so we'd never regret
wasting our time in any way. Buddy's father was a teacher, and I think Buddy could have
been a teacher as well, he was always trying to explain things to me and introduce me to
Suddenly, after I finished a poem, he said, "Esther, have you ever seen a man?"
The way he said it I knew he didn't mean a regular man or a man in general, I
knew he meant a man naked.
"No," I said. "Only statues."
"Well, don't you think you would like to see me?"
I didn't know what to say. My mother and my grandmother had started hinting
around to me a lot lately about what a fine, clean boy Buddy Willard was, coming from
such a fine, clean family, and how everybody at church thought he was a model person,
so kind to his parents and to older people, as well as so athletic and so handsome and so
All I'd heard about, really, was how fine and clean Buddy was and how he was
the kind of a person a girl should stay fine and clean for. So I didn't really see the harm in
anything Buddy would think up to do.
"Well, all right, I guess so," I said.
I stared at Buddy while he unzipped his chino pants and took them off and laid
them on a chair and then took off his underpants that were made of something like nylon
"They're cool," he explained, "and my mother says they wash easily."
Then he just stood there in front of me and I kept staring at him. The only thing I
could think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed.
Buddy seemed hurt I didn't say anything. "I think you ought to get used to me like
this," he said. "Now let me see you."
But undressing in front of Buddy suddenly appealed to me about as much as
having my Posture Picture taken at college, where you have to stand naked in front of a
camera, knowing all the time that a picture of you stark naked, both full view and side
view, is going into the college gym files to be marked A B C or D depending on how
straight you are.
"Oh, some other time," I said.
"All right." Buddy got dressed again.
Then we kissed and hugged a while and I felt a little better. I drank the rest of the
Dubonnet and sat cross-legged at the end of Buddy's bed and asked for a comb. I began
to comb my hair down over my face so Buddy couldn't see it. Suddenly I said, "Have you
ever had an affair with anyone, Buddy?"
I don't know what made me say it, the words just popped out of my mouth. I
never thought for one minute that Buddy Willard would have an affair with anyone. I
expected him to say, "No, I have been saving myself for when I get married to somebody
pure and a virgin like you."
But Buddy didn't say anything, he just turned pink.
"Well, have you?"
"What do you mean, an affair?" Buddy asked then in a hollow voice.
"You know, have you ever gone to bed with anyone?" I kept rhythmically
combing the hair down over the side of my face nearest to Buddy, and I could feel the
little electric filaments clinging to my hot cheeks and I wanted to shout, "Stop, stop, don't
tell me, don't say anything." But I didn't, I just kept still.
"Well, yes, I have," Buddy said finally.
I almost fell over. From the first night Buddy Willard kissed me and said I must
go out with a lot of boys, he made me feel I was much more sexy and experienced than
he was and that everything he did like hugging and kissing and petting was simply what I
made him feel like doing out of the blue, he couldn't help it and didn't know how it came
Now I saw he had only been pretending all this time to be so innocent.
"Tell me about it." I combed my hair slowly over and over, feeling the teeth of the
comb dig into my cheek at every stroke. "Who was it?"
Buddy seemed relieved I wasn't angry. He even seemed relieved to have
somebody to tell about how he was seduced.
Of course, somebody had seduced Buddy, Buddy hadn't started it and it wasn't
really his fault. It was this waitress at the hotel he worked at as a busboy the last summer
at Cape Cod. Buddy had noticed her staring at him queerly and shoving her breasts up
against him in the confusion of the kitchen, so finally one day he asked her what the
trouble was and she looked him straight in the eye and said, "I want you."
"Served up with parsley?" Buddy had laughed innocently.
"No," she had said. "Some night."
And that's how Buddy had lost his pureness and his virginity.
At first I thought he must have slept with the waitress only the once, but when I
asked how many times, just to make sure, he said he couldn't remember but a couple of
times a week for the rest of the summer. I multiplied three by ten and got thirty, which
seemed beyond all reason.
After that something in me just froze up.
Back at college I started asking a senior here and a senior there what they would
do if a boy they knew suddenly told them he'd slept thirty times with some slutty waitress
one summer, smack in the middle of knowing them. But these seniors said most boys
were like that and you couldn't honestly accuse them of anything until you were at least
pinned or engaged to be married.
Actually, it wasn't the idea of Buddy sleeping with somebody that bothered me. I
mean I'd read about all sorts of people sleeping with each other, and if it had been any
other boy I would merely have asked him the most interesting details, and maybe gone
out and slept with somebody myself just to even things up, and then thought no more
What I couldn't stand was Buddy's pretending I was so sexy and he was so pure,
when all the time he'd been having an affair with that tarty waitress and must have felt
like laughing in my face.
"What does your mother think about this waitress?" I asked Buddy that weekend.
Buddy was amazingly close to his mother. He was always quoting what she said
about the relationship between a man and a woman, and I knew Mrs. Willard was a real
fanatic about virginity for men and women both. When I first went to her house for
supper she gave me a queer, shrewd, searching look, and I knew she was trying to tell
whether I was a virgin or not.
Just as I thought, Buddy was embarrassed. "Mother asked me about Gladys," he
"Well, what did you say?"
"I said Gladys was free, white and twenty-one."
Now I knew Buddy would never talk to his mother as rudely as that for my sake.
He was always saying how his mother said, "What a man wants is a mate and what a
woman wants is infinite security," and, "What a man is is an arrow into the future and
what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from," until it made me tired.
Every time I tried to argue, Buddy would say his mother still got pleasure out of
his father and wasn't that wonderful for people their age, it must mean she really knew
what was what.
Well, I had just decided to ditch Buddy Willard for once and for all, not because
he'd slept with that waitress but because he didn't have the honest guts to admit it straight
off to everybody and face up to it as part of his character, when the phone in the hall rang
and somebody said in a little knowing singsong, "It's for you, Esther, it's from Boston."
I could tell right away something must be wrong, because Buddy was the only
person I knew in Boston, and he never called me long distance because it was so much
more expensive than letters. Once, when he had a message he wanted me to get almost
immediately, he went all round his entry at medical school asking if anybody was driving
up to my college that weekend, and sure enough, somebody was, so he gave them a note
for me and I got it the same day. He didn't even have to pay for a stamp.
It was Buddy all right. He told me that the annual fall chest X-ray showed he had
caught TB and he was going off on a scholarship for medical students who caught TB to
a TB place in the Adirondacks. Then he said I hadn't written since that last weekend and
he hoped nothing was the matter between us, and would I please try to write him at least
once a week and come to visit him at this TB place in my Christmas vacation?
I had never heard Buddy so upset. He was very proud of his perfect health and
was always telling me it was psychosomatic when my sinuses blocked up and I couldn't
breathe. I thought this an odd attitude for a doctor to have and perhaps he should study to
be a psychiatrist instead, but of course I never came right out and said so.
I told Buddy how sorry I was about the TB and promised to write, but when I
hung up I didn't feel one bit sorry. I only felt a wonderful relief.
I thought the TB might just be a punishment for living the kind of double life
Buddy lived and feeling so superior to people. And I thought how convenient it would be
now I didn't have to announce to everybody at college I had broken off with Buddy and
start the boring business of blind dates all over again.
I simply told everyone that Buddy had TB and we were practically engaged, and
when I stayed in to study on Saturday nights they were extremely kind to me because
they thought I was so brave, working the way I did just to hide a broken heart
, Constantin was much too short, but in his own way he was
handsome, with light brown hair and dark blue eyes and a lively, challenging expression.
He could almost have been an American, he was so tan and had such good teeth, but I
could tell straight away that he wasn't. He had what no American man I've ever met has
had, and that's intuition.
From the start Constantin guessed I wasn't any protégé of Mrs. Willard's. I raised
an eyebrow here and dropped a dry little laugh there, and pretty soon we were both
openly raking Mrs. Willard over the coals and I thought, "This Constantin won't mind if
I'm too tall and don't know enough languages and haven't been to Europe, he'll see
through all that stuff to what I really am."
Constantin drove me to the UN in his old green convertible with cracked,
comfortable brown leather seats and the top down. He told me his tan came from playing
tennis, and when we were sitting there side by side flying down the streets in the open
sun he took my hand and squeezed it, and I felt happier than I had been since I was about
nine and running along the hot white beaches with my father the summer before he died.
And while Constantin and I sat in one of those hushed plush auditoriums in the
UN, next to a stern muscular Russian girl with no makeup who was a simultaneous
interpreter like Constantin, I thought how strange it had never occurred to me before that
I was only purely happy until I was nine years old.
After that -- in spite of the Girl Scouts and the piano lessons and the water-color
lessons and the dancing lessons and the sailing camp, all of which my mother scrimped to
give me, and college, with crewing in the mist before breakfast and blackbottom pies and
the little new firecrackers of ideas going off every day -- I had never been really happy
I stared through the Russian girl in her double-breasted gray suit, rattling off
idiom after idiom in her own unknowable tongue -- which Constantin said was the most
difficult part because the Russians didn't have the same idioms as our idioms -- and I
wished with all my heart I could crawl into her and spend the rest of my life barking out
one idiom after another. It mightn't make me any happier, but it would be one more little
pebble of efficiency among all the other pebbles.
Then Constantin and the Russian girl interpreter and the whole bunch of black
and white and yellow men arguing down there behind their labeled microphones seemed
to move off at a distance. I saw their mouths going up and down without a sound, as if
they were sitting on the deck of a departing ship, stranding me in the middle of a huge
I started adding up all the things I couldn't do.
I began with cooking.
My grandmother and my mother were such good cooks that I left everything to
them. They were always trying to teach me one dish or another, but I would just look on
and say, "Yes, yes, I see," while the instructions slid through my head like water, and
then I'd always spoil what I did so nobody would ask me to do it again.
I remember Jody, my best and only girlfriend at college in my freshman year,
making me scrambled eggs at her house one morning. They tasted unusual, and when I
asked her if she had put in anything extra, she said cheese and garlic salt. I asked who
told her to do that, and she said nobody, she just thought it up. But then, she was practical
and a sociology major.
I didn't know shorthand either.
This meant I couldn't get a good job after college. My mother kept telling me
nobody wanted a plain English major. But an English major who knew shorthand was
something else again. Everybody would want her. She would be in demand among all the
up-and-coming young men and she would transcribe letter after thrilling letter.
The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate
my own thrilling letters. Besides, those little shorthand symbols in the book my mother
showed me seemed just as bad as let t equal time and let s equal the total distance.
My list grew longer.
I was a terrible dancer. I couldn't carry a tune. I had no sense of balance, and
when we had to walk down a narrow board with our hands out and a book on our heads
in gym class I always fell over. I couldn't ride a horse or ski, the two things I wanted to
do most, because they cost too much money. I couldn't speak German or read Hebrew or
write Chinese. I didn't even know where most of the old out-of-the-way countries the UN
men in front of me represented fitted in on the map.
For the first time in my life, sitting there in the soundproof heart of the UN
building between Constantin who could play tennis as well as simultaneouly interpret and
the Russian girl who knew so many idioms, I felt dreadfully inadequate. The trouble was,
I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.
The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes, and that era was
coming to an end.
I felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks or a champion college
footballer suddenly confronted by Wall Street and a business suit, his days of glory
shrunk to a little gold cup on his mantel with a date engraved on it like the date on a
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.
From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned
and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was
a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the
amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another
fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names
and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and
beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested