Ten

 [p.138]He was dreaming of The Ed Sullivan Show when his headache woke him. Bill Dana, Alan King, Steve Lawrence. He had been watching the show somewhere when someone came in with bad news. He couldn’t remember what the bad news had been.

He turned to look around the room, and his head hurt worse. Last night, when the cocktail waitress convinced him to stop drinking, he had gone right to the desk and checked in.  Now he was paying for that good Scotch. A wave of nausea hit him as he sat up.

It was 9:50. He could be in Salt Lake City by 3:00 and maybe to work by 5:00. With the computer show going on at the Salt Palace, everyone would be working late.

There was only one person who would truly sympathize with his getting drunk, and that person was lying immobile in a hospital.

Still, Catherine had surprised him, taking it calmly and asking if he wanted her to call the office. He told her yes.

“Okay,” she said. “Come and see us before you go to the office. And be careful.”

[p.139]“I will.”

“I love you,” she said, and for an instant he wanted to cry.

He got out of bed and walked to the window. He could see the river. And the temple. He and Rose had planned to spend their honeymoon in this hotel. That had been a fantasy. Like shooting the white water instead of going back to work for Ross. He had always known that marrying Rose was a fantasy, a fantasy of the purest kind.

Alan King was smoking his cigar and telling dry jokes.  Someone came into the room with bad news. Then Chinese acrobats, poodles jumping through hoops. An angel on top of the temple. Rose telling him he shouldn’t drink. Catherine taking off her earrings. The girl from the bus getting in his car in the rain. Aunt Norma sitting in the corner reading the scriptures.  A certain man went down to Jericho.

His head hurt.

Floating the Snake all the way from Yellowstone to the Pacific. What a fantasy.

 

When he got home Catherine told him the kids were in the backyard.

“Let’s go out and see them,” he said.

“Okay.”

Tyler came running when he saw Ryan. “Daddy, Daddy, I’m glad to see you.”

“Glad to see you, buddy. How’re you doing?”

“Fine.”

He picked Tyler up.

“Your grandpa’s sick, huh Daddy.”

“My uncle.”

“Oh.”

“Where’s Allison?”

“Watering the garden. Hey, Daddy, wanna see me do a trick on the swings?”

[p.140]“Sure.”

“Hi, Dad,” yelled Allison from the garden. She had the nozzle on the hose and was shooting a fine spray over the garden.

She was smiling.

“Hi, sweetheart.”

“They’re good kids, aren’t they,” said Catherine.

“They sure are.”

“Daddy, look at me.” Tyler was sitting on the top bar of the swing set.

“Wow, that might be a little dangerous, Tyler.”

“No, I can do it.”

“He’s a little daredevil,” said Catherine.

Ryan and Catherine walked into the house. She asked how things were at the office.

“Miles won’t last much longer.”

“You mean he’s going to get fired?”

“Or else he’ll quit.”

“Like you wanted to do when Ross snubbed you,” she said.

“Yeah, it made me feel like quitting.”

“But you didn’t because of me.”

“Well, it’s more complicated than that.”

“What do you think you would be doing right now if you were single?” she asked.

“I have no idea.”

“Ryan, do you regret marrying me?”

“You’re really putting me on the spot, aren’t you?”

“I want to know.”

“Why do you ask me that?” he said.

“I just feel like you’re disappointed with your life, and that I’m part of that disappointment.”

“I don’t know how I feel right now.”

“That’s not too reassuring.”

“I guess it isn’t. But it’s the truth.”

“I think you should think things over,” she said.

[p.141]“Think what over?”

“Our marriage.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I think you should decide if you want to stay married to me.”

“What brought this on all of a sudden?”

“It’s not sudden. We should have talked calmly about it a long time ago. I’m not threatening you. But if you stay, I want you to stay because you love me.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t love you.”

“You dodged the question when I asked if you regretted marrying me.”

“Okay. I regret marrying you. Sometimes.”

“You regret it most of the time,” she said.

“I didn’t say that.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Are you asking me for a divorce?”

“No.”

“Then what are you doing?”

“I’m asking you to decide. I want you to want to stay.”

“Why should I be the one doing all the deciding?”

“Because.”

“Because why?”

“Because I’m asking you to.”

“We’ve been married sixteen years. And I’m here now.

Doesn’t that show how I feel?”

“Sure. About the kids.”

“And about you,” he said.

“I don’t know if that’s true or not.”

“What do you expect? For me to announce a decision on the matter?”

“I want you to have your heart in what you do, whether it’s staying or leaving.”

[p.142]“I guess that’s a reasonable request.”

“You don’t have your heart in your work or your marriage.”

“Maybe I don’t.”

The door was open, the afternoon sun falling on Catherine.  She was thirty-eight, and she had to be just as tired as he was.  But she looked good. Maybe she was still the same person he had fallen in love with in 1965.

Neither of them spoke until she said she had to give Tyler a bath. Ryan sat alone in the living room, with all the objects they had collected over sixteen years.

The bookcase had a ribbon around it the first time he saw it, near the door of the reception center, Catherine so beautiful in her wedding dress. He brought the TV home one night over her objection, saying he was sick and tired of watching a miniature black and white. So he watched a movie by himself while she slept, Allison in the crib next to her. They picked the desk out together, at an antique shop, on her twenty-eighth birthday.  The coffee table had had a nick since the day he bought it, Tyler crashing it with a rock he had brought in from the garden.  Catherine had slapped his face and sent him to his room, saying that she couldn’t stand the kids ruining everything.  Thirty minutes later she was holding Tyler on the couch.

He had never loved or hated anyone as much as Catherine.

Now she was asking him to make some kind of decision, but he was too tired to do anything. He just wanted to sleep.
“She’s doing what I expected,” said Miles. “She and the all-American boy are taking the kids and moving to Atlanta.”

“Atlanta?”

“That’s right. As far away from me as they can get.”

“When?” asked Ryan.

“In about a month.”

“When did you find this out?”

“She just called me. ‘I hope you’ll be able to come often to [p.143]visit the kids.’ Who is she kidding? She knows I won’t make it out there very often.”

“Atlanta. What are you going to do?”

“Nothing. I can’t chase them around the country.”

“I guess you can’t,” said Ryan.

“I should just let them go.”

“But your children.”

My children—Mindy never believed that. All through the divorce it was ‘my kids this,’ ‘my kids that.’ You would have thought I wasn’t even related to them.”

“How do they feel about moving?”

“They’re not too happy about it. But, of course, ‘they need time to adjust,’ ‘they’ll be just fine’—Mindy’s got an answer for everything. She takes pride in keeping the kids away from me, and then faking sympathy. She and Ross are a lot alike.”

“Well, that’s bad news, Miles.”

“Yeah, as if I didn’t have enough problems right here at the office.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Oh, it’s this reference card I’m working on. It’s really a monster. I fell behind on it and didn’t do as much detail as Jake did last year. Anyway, Jake was proofing galleys and got all shook up because he still thinks of it as his, and he doesn’t like the way I’m doing it. He came in and told me how I should change it. Anyway, I decided I better change it, so I was here half the night working on it. And …”

“Let me guess what happened next,” said Ryan. “Jake goes in to discuss the whole thing with Ross.”

“That’s right,” said Miles. “The ironic thing was, I was sitting in my office working like a dog on the reference card when I find out Ross, Jake, and Henning are sitting in Ross’s office trying to decide what to do about it. And I’m the editor of the thing.”

“So what did you do?”

[p.144]“I knocked on Ross’s door and asked why I hadn’t been invited to the meeting.”

“And Ross said, ‘I was just about to call you in, Miles.”

“Right again,” Miles continued. “He proceeds to give me a public reprimand about changing the style of the reference card and then announces that several people have to work overtime to fix it.”

“That’s great.”

“And to top things off,” said Miles, “Ross decides on a change that trashes all of my work the previous night. Then he puts Jake in charge of the thing.”

“I haven’t seen you this mad for a long time,” said Ryan.

“Everything would have been fine if he had met privately with me. But I’ve been mad at Ross for a couple of years. This is just the final straw.”

“You mean you’re going to quit?”

“I don’t know. This was just the most important assignment I’ve had in a while, a chance to make contacts that might lead to a new job. Now Jake is waltzing around acting so prim and proper. I’m about ready to belt the guy.”

“Well,” said Ryan, “I might have to send a memo to the Department of Public Safety about this situation.”

Miles couldn’t quite manage a smile.

At the Salt Palace Ross was giving a pitch to a group of potential clients, showing them some of the work Maeser had done in the past and explaining that Maeser could handle anything from magazine adds to military contracts.

Ryan stood off to the side, straightening one of the displays.

“Excuse me, are you with Maeser?” asked a woman.

“Yes, I am,” said Ryan.

She was about thirty, with short brown hair, wearing a white blouse, blue skirt, and blue heels. Her name tag read “Elaine Nathan, Data World.”

[p.145]“I work for Data World, in Denver,” she said. “I’m familiar with Maeser and think you do a good job.”

“Thanks,” said Ryan. “My name’s Ryan Masterson. I work in design.”

She was standing close enough that he could smell her perfume.  He asked if this were her first time in Salt Lake City.

“Yes. My daughter’s been learning about Brigham Young at school and was mad she couldn’t come with me.”

“How old is she?” asked Ryan.

“Nine.”

“Two years older than my daughter.”

She asked about the floods in Salt Lake City the previous year.

“Yeah. They put up sandbags and turned State Street into a river,” he said.

“That must have been wild.”

“It was. I saw one guy catching fish.”

She laughed. She didn’t have great natural beauty, but her hair was so well-groomed, and her make-up so meticulous, and her confidence so contagious that she was surprisingly attractive.

He gave her some literature about Maeser and watched her walk to another booth. It always surprised him when a woman like that acted like he was attractive. Talking with her just for a moment had left him with a vague loneliness, and he left the building thinking of Ed Sullivan and Rose and Miles and Catherine. I want you to have your heart in what you do, Catherine had said.

He walked over to the mall and sat down on a bench near the theatres. The last time he and Catherine had seen a movie here—or tried to—they had been late on account of him. They arrived just after the movie had sold out.

“Next time you want to go see a movie,” she said. “Go by yourself.”

[p.146]Aunt Norma was probably at the hospital. She would probably spend most of her time there until Neal died. He had survived three and a half years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

He had survived a serious car accident, almost fallen to his death in the Wind River Mountains, and come within inches of being run over by a bull dozer while working on the dam. He had lived through all of that, and now a group of doctors with the latest technology wouldn’t be able to save him.
He left the mall without knowing where he was going; he just needed to walk. He ended up at the Hotel Utah and went into the restaurant for something to eat.

The woman he had met at the Salt Palace waved to him and asked if he would like to join her.

“Hello,” he said, sitting down at her table. “Isn’t it Elaine?”

“Yes. And you’re Ryan.”

“Yes. Looks like you had the same idea I did.”

“I was famished,” she said. “Haven’t had anything to eat since I flew in this morning.”

“Did you make it over to the Beehive House?” he asked.

“Yes. Got some nice pamphlets for my daughter.”

“That’s good.”

As she picked up her cup of coffee, he noticed a striking gold band and large diamond.

She asked how long he had lived in Salt Lake.

“Ten years.”

“You must like it,” she said.

“I like it a lot.”

She looked at his cup of coffee. “Do you happen to be a Mormon?”

“Not officially.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, I almost married one. And one of my aunts is a good Mormon. So I know a lot about them.”

[p.147]“Then I guess you don’t mind living in a Mormon community.”

“No, it’s living in a Republican community that bothers me.”

She laughed. “I can appreciate that. You ought to see Denver.”

She held the cup with both hands and sipped the coffee.  She had nice-looking hands.

“What do you do for Data World?” he asked.

“I’m in sales. I concentrate mostly on training. We produce an interactive PC-videodisc system that’s getting quite popular in the aviation industry.”

“So is it hard—having a career and a family at the same time?”

“Yes, it is.”

“But it sounds like you have an interesting job.”

“It was for a while,” she said. “I’ve grown tired of it.”

“I know what you’re saying. How long have you been at it?” she asked.

“Ten years.”

“That’s about how long it takes, isn’t it?”

“I guess.”

The waitress brought their orders.

“This looks good,” said Elaine.

“It usually is here.”

She slowly took a Virginia Slim from her purse and lit it, blowing the smoke out very deliberately. “Smoking is one of the things I’m tired of,” she said.

“But old habits are hard to break.”

“You said it.”

She was quiet again, stirring what was left of her coffee.

“Aren’t you going to ask me about my husband?”

“How’s your husband doing?”

[p.148]“Not bad,” she laughed. “Not bad. But that’s one of the things I’m tired of—marriage.”

“But you don’t want a divorce.”

“No, I don’t.”

“I understand that.”

He put his hand to his eyes.

“You look tired,” she said.

“Exhausted. And hung over to boot. I’ve been up in Idaho the last two days. My uncle had a stroke.”

“I’m sorry. You must be close to him.”

“Well, closer than I am to my father. I lived with this aunt and uncle for a year and a half.”

“So you’re from Idaho?”

“Yeah, Idaho and Wyoming. We were always moving back and forth.”

“I lived in the same house in Denver till I got married.”

“That’s good,” he said. “It gives a child security to stay in the same house.”

“I guess it does. Which means my kids aren’t too secure.

We’ve moved from one house to another, until we finally made it into our three-hundred-thousand-dollar dream house.”

“And how is it?”

“It’s very nice. But I’m tired of it.”

“That’s the trouble with success—it’s boring.”

“Ryan, did you ever think that in the end life boils down to luck—the people you meet, your job, your marriage?”

“I feel that way sometimes.”

“Sorry. I’m sounding stupid.”

“No, you’re not,” he said.

She put her hand on his arm. “It’s just that—I don’t know I feel condemned to live a half-empty life. And I don’t feel like I can do anything about it.”

“I hope that’s not true, Elaine.”

“But you feel the same way, don’t you?”

[p.149]“Maybe I do.”

“I’d like to be more hopeful,” she said.

“But for the time being, you have to feign interest in computers?”

“Exactly. And at times I really am interested. I just get in trouble when I get reflective.”

The waitress asked them a second time if they would like anything else. Ryan told her no.

“I guess we ought to take a hint,” said Elaine.

“I guess we ought to.”

She wanted to pick up the check.

“No, that’s okay,” said Ryan.

“I insist. Besides, I’m putting it on my expense account.”

“I would have ordered steak if I’d known that,” he said, and she laughed.

They started up the stairs, and she put her hand in the crook of his elbow.

“Ryan, I’m going back to my room at the Sheraton. Would you like to come with me?”

He couldn’t utter a syllable. She was still touching him.  All he had to do was open his mouth and it would be settled.  Just a simple yes, and in five minutes they would be alone together.

Who knows what would have happened if she had fallen into my arms?

He would hate himself if he said yes, but he would hate himself more if he said no.

They got to the top of the stairs, Elaine still touching him, still waiting for an answer, but he was paralyzed.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Maybe you think I’m a tramp.”

“No, I don’t.”

“I want to tell you something. I’ve never propositioned anyone like that before.”

[p.150]They crossed South Temple, and he glanced over at the temple.  Rose would call it the sin next to murder, giving yourself to someone else after you had pledged loyalty to your husband or wife. Rose wouldn’t care if you were tired and lonely. She wouldn’t care to hear any excuses at all. But even Rose—in all her earnestness about religion—had felt cheated once.

Elaine let go of his arm. “You’re a good man,” she said.

“No, I’m not.”

“It’s okay. We would have regretted it.”

“We should have met at a different time,” he said.

“But we didn’t. Goodbye, Ryan.”

“Goodbye.”

She walked into the mall without looking back and was gone. All it would have taken was a simple yes. She had mistaken his paralysis for virtue. He hadn’t been able to say yes at the crucial moment, and now the opportunity had vanished.

Nothing had ever felt better than her hand on his arm. But he could not say yes. It would do no good to chase her through the mall, look for her room at the Sheraton, or find her the next day at the convention. She would certainly say no.

A lonely woman from Denver. After an hour in her hotel room he would never see her again. At least they would have had that hour. Now they had nothing. And neither of them was naive enough to think that goodness would magically come to them because they had given up that one hour together.

So she was gone. He made his legs move in the direction of the office. He could consider being unfaithful to Catherine, but not to his job. She would never forgive him. His job was the woman who really controlled him. She knew he wouldn’t dare take another lover.

He walked down the street like a robot, not thinking about anything but walking. He did not have  to contemplate his life—[p.151]all he had to do was walk, swing the arms gently back and forth, like a human being. Stop at the red light and cross at green.

He reached the office successfully, walking right past the security guard, who mistook him for a human being. Ross made noise, but that didn’t affect a robot. Glad to see you, Ryan, which, as any robot knew, meant Where the heck have you been? But a robot didn’t care—it just sat down and went to work, moving the arms and hands smoothly, as if they were made of flesh and bone instead of wire and metal, pasting the slick down on the art board, inking in the black lines, and not saying a thing to Ross, who seemed to be waiting for some kind of apology.  Ross couldn’t make a robot feel uncomfortable.

Ryan performed flawlessly, convincing everyone he was human. At 11:00 Ross made noise: “Thanks for staying late, Ryan. I know you’re exhausted after the day you had yesterday.”

He said okay. A robot had no reason to say thanks.

Catherine and the kids were asleep when he got home.  There would be no noise. He took off the human shoes, sat down on the couch and closed his eyes, like a human. Then he walked to the window and watched the darkness. The sky was overcast, the wind gusting, the streetlight at the corner flickering in the trees. The room behind him was dark, and the house across the street dark, its shrubs blowing. An empty garbage can at the edge of the street quivered in the wind. Steady wind and steady darkness were preferable to this: he could not stand the wind and shadow so unsure of themselves, first one way and then the other, uneven and out of hand, like the hope within you.

Elaine was alone in her room at the Sheraton, asleep. Her white blouse and blue skirt hung neatly in the closet, her silver earrings on the dresser, and a picture of her children on the nightstand.

[p.152]He walked back to the bedroom and got in bed next to Catherine. He lay there with images of Alan King, Stayner Richards, and Elaine Nathan rolling around in his head. Then he felt Catherine move close to him and put her arm around his waist.