Among the Daughters/Chapter 14
"We'll have to have a going-away party for you here in the studio," Clem said a week before August 1st.
"That'd be lovely," Lucy said in the consoling tone she had found herself adopting toward Clem since she told him Mae had bought the railroad tickets.
Two long green paper ribbons. Congress to Lincoln to Omaha to Chicago. Parmalee Transfer to New York Central Station. Chicago to New York. And attached, two slips of smooth pink, Lower and Upper 9, Car 207. Two separate berths in which to arrive in New York in style. They would share an upper from Congress to Chicago to make up for it. The first two days Mae kept the tickets in her purse because Lucy wanted to look at them every few minutes, but the nervous strain of a possible purse snatcher proved too much and she put them in the fireproof makeup box.
"Who'll we ask to the party besides Semy—and I ought to ask Henkel and Larson because they paint here evenings. Who would you like to ask?"
He waited, fearful lest there be some boy. He knew nothing about how she spent her evenings. God only knew what went on nights while he taught Henkel and Larson.
"Well, Mother would love to come, and I know a girl I could ask."
Damn her vagueness, he fretted. Good she was leaving as it would give him more time to develop his new form. When he was its master he would join her in New York. She'd be a little older too. Since the picnic they had subtly graduated into an intimate indulgence of each other.
"I wish I could see what you really look like," she said, affectionately pressing the prickly russet hair close to the contour of his chin.
The party was planned for the last night before the next day leave-taking on the train.
Today may be the last time I'll see her alone, Clem thought miserably as he got out of bed the morning of the day before the party.
He slowly descended the stairs to breakfast and Mrs. Brush looked at him for an unbelieving moment.
"Clem, boy, I'm glad you shaved off that thing for me. It made me feel like an old woman."
He smiled uncertainly. "Glad you like it, Ma."
He felt conspicious on the streetcar to the studio, inversely, because no one noticed him.
He heard Lucy tapping up the stairs in rhythm to her whistling of "Don't Blame It All On Broadway, You Have Yourself To Blame."
Fine time to feel gay.
He was in the storeroom selecting backgrounds for his paintings of her to decorate the downstairs room for tomorrow night's party. Moss and olive plush, amber and garnet brocade. Secondhand store relics of dismantled Brick Street homes. Delacroix colors.
"Hey, where are you?
He answered hastily, embarrassed she might think him in the toilet.
"Well, for heaven's sake, I didn't recognize you." She took him by the hand and led him into the studio. "Come here where I can see. How different you look. Why, you're almost as young as me. I feel I really know you now."
He stood, defenseless, naked, as she continued her probing. She ran her fingers over the modeling of his face. He doesn't look as serious, less artistic. While he isn't exactly handsome, he's like a boy even though he's a big man. His chin is rounder than with a beard. He has nice skin too.
"My goodness," she said.
She was exaggerating. How could a short half-frame of hair make a difference? What the hell—I can always grow it back when she's gone. Shouldn't have done it, she makes me feel a kid.
By late afternoon the sunset rays were, for once, clear of dust particles and a damp soapy cleanliness permeated the transformed clubroom. Clem stood in the doorway studying the wall varnished by the late apricot glow. The lush Delacroix red, green, and amber hangings and the messy couch made it a Paris studio, or rather an altar to the Aphrodite peering elusively from each vaguely Laurencin, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Modigliani, Picasso, Pascin, and even Derain canvas. Goddess of Love who had drawn from him these expressions of his admiration for these masters and who, in so doing, had freed him from their influence.
Two things were missing. He ran upstairs, three at a time, and staggered down with his easel, placing it in a corner. The second he could not supply—the old curved symbol of painting, the palette with its hole for the thumb, would have been a finishing touch. He regretted having given up using such a palette for the piece of clinical porcelain proclaiming him a scientific modern. In substitution he placed a bouquet of brushes on the mantelpiece.
"Well, I guess that's that," Lucy said, in critical contentment.
She leaned against the mantelpiece, left leg crossed over right. A vine with its root growing from the floor at the base of her right heel, hair tied to the top of her head to keep it out of the way as she worked, an escaped strand corkscrewing down her cheek. Clem turned to speak but could not. That tinted opalesque column with rounded limbs and pointed breasts no longer was the child Tanagra with enormous almond-shaped eyes who stood gazing into Cheever's window. An Ingres "Odalisque." Why does it take me so long to learn? What a dope never to have seen her in her essence, art and woman united. Only now I begin to understand the thing all great painters get. To think I never asked her to pose nude. Congress, I guess. Would she have? Don't think she'd have let Congress stop her. Congress sure turns you into a hymn singer. Suppose it does—nothing wrong in that. That's what I must get in my new style of painting after she's left, that kind of austerity, purity.
"I suppose you'll have to be getting home for supper," he said tonelessly.
The sun had gone and the paintings became simplified patterns of light and dark in the fading light, strange without their colors. Exciting new shapes appeared and he wanted to rush and repaint each one in its exoticism but was afraid to move for fear they would disappear from sight, Lucy with them.
"I told Mother I might be late. Why don't we sit and talk? I'm not hungry, are you?"
They sat on squeaky wicker chairs facing each other across the diagonal of the room in the manner of callers awaiting a hostess to put them at ease. The nonsense and raillery of their former camaraderie seemed futile now to Clem, the everpresent oppressive thought of her leaving sharpened his sense of loss.
"It feels good to sit. I didn't realize I was tired, did you?" Lucy leaned back and clasped her hands over her head. It was the right thing to have said because now Clem leaned back too and put his left foot up over his knee, and began to tap the other foot in erratic rhythm. That means he's thinking about us.
She laughed suddenly and he grinned back sheepishly as though she had read his thoughts. She became serious. "I wish I knew some of your friends in New York. We don't know anybody except Miss Klemper, my dancing teacher—when she comes, that is."
"Well, she'll show you around." He'd be damned if he'd turn her over to someone else, especially Raymond Figente who knew everyone. If she had to leave him to study dancing then let her study. Perhaps things wouldn't be easy and she'd be back.
Lucy was saying, "Well of course I'll be busy working but it'd be nice to know someone you know. It wouldn't make you seem so far away. I'm going to miss you."
"What a thing to say! Aren't you going to miss me?" She cocked her head provocatively. He certainly was leaving everything to her.
"Not at all. I'm going right out and get another model one minute after you leave."
"Oh, you devil you, don't you dare, or I'll pose for the first artist I meet."
"Don't you dare."
They laughed: this was more like old times before the picnic.
She'll think it queer if I don't give her a letter to someone, and after all—"I'm going to give you a letter to a friend, Raymond Figente. He's a sculptor and lives on East Tenth Street."
She hardly could see him beyond the patch of light from the street. His voice was pitched lower than usual and had an owning quality that was exciting. She heard his wrist watch marking time.
All ready, get set, go. Was he going to speak or was it to be up to her again? She ought to wait and give him his chance.
He leaned over and put his lips to her forehead.
Of all places, she thought.
"Come, darling, it's time I took you home."
She could tell he didn't want to go. Why was he pretending? As far back as she could remember boys and men couldn't keep their hands off her. Politeness must at last give in, or what was the point of it all? There was always that excitement of men. Clem too in spite of his holding back. She wanted to feel that excitement too, and it would be silly to stop now without knowing once and for all. Not the act, for she had known what that was a long long time. Always, it seemed. By inference, hints, drawings by boys on billboards, scratched words on girls' toilet walls—the same words that night at the Crofter Hotel. Why should Clem be so afraid when he was her best friend?
She took his head in her hands and, marveling at its weight, pulled his lips to hers to prove that she at least wasn't scared. Kissing him, she even forgot the objective in her effort to help him in his indecision. Then, without warning, he became a madman, someone she didn't know, obsessed only in his own passion as he fumbled crazily to find her.
Was this sharp pain love? If so, why didn't she faint from joy as she had dreamed? Or feel the rapture the poems Vida read said? Maybe only men feel rapture. Clem didn't seem to realize she was there, as though he was alone in her. As if through her he was trying to reach something. Here was no oak which made her feel, leaning against it, she was growing with it.
He was awfully heavy as if he had died on top of her, not knowing she was being crushed. She shifted slightly to remind him she was there and wanted to get up. His head lifted. His voice was hoarsely anxious. "Are you all right?" He was still breathing heavily.
Well at least he was alive and remembered she was there. Certainly she was all right. Why shouldn't she be? She felt sorry for him because he was so apologetic, but she was sorry for herself too because of her disappointment. Was that all?
"Yes," she said matter-of-factly, "but I want to go upstairs for a minute."
He mopped his face over and over and paced up and down waiting. The others had known how to take care of themselves. He had not been their first lover. She must know—she had wanted it. Unthinkable she would want to leave for New York now.
When she returned his voice broke as he held her close. "Lucy darling, don't go to New York. Stay—marry me."
She kissed him on the forehead, maternally it seemed to him.
"Clem honey, I can't marry you—I'm much too young to get married."
The bedroom was a welter. Invisible hairpins kept turning up everywhere. The pile on the dresser presented a packing problem.
"I'll just throw them out," Mae decided, and swept them into a paper bag with a tangle of old rag curlers, lingerie ribbons, shoelaces, mateless stockings, and scraps that had seemed too good to discard. "And I'm going to cut up all your old dresses and the one you wore today before Mabel has a chance to see they're still good."
Lucy in bed hugged her knees.
"What's the matter, Pussy, don't you feel well?"
There also was the fear that at the last moment something would happen to keep them in Congress, and that would make Lucy so unhappy. As for herself she wouldn't be so disappointed to stay on a while. Despite Mabel's constant bickering the year in Congress had been the easiest since she had left it with Charles Claudel. She even had gained weight that tightened not only the contours of her face but necessitated readjustment of belt hooks and hip seams. But she couldn't bear to have Pussy disappointed.
"I'm fine. I'm just sleepy from all that work in the studio."
"You go to sleep while I get rid of this stuff. I don't know how we could accumulate so much trash in one year."
Was there any truth, as Vida said, that the eyes were the mirrors of the soul? Vida was foolish anyway reading poems instead of going out with boys. Still, those poems were written by famous men. Maybe words didn't mean what one thought they meant. Could that have been love without my knowing it?
She opened her eyes a chink to let in meaning, saw Mae, and shut them again.
Perhaps I'll tell Mother in New York. She might be too upset if I tell her now and mightn't want to go. It certainly wasn't what I thought it'd be. I guess women are different from men that way. He wasn't thinking about me. Maybe I was trying so hard to feel excited that I didn't. Does this mean I'm a bad girl because I found out what boys do? Certainly is a funny way for babies to happen. Mother's so bashful. Oh! What if I have a baby!
"Lucy dear! Pussy darling! Wake up—you're having a nightmare."
"I guess it's all this excitement. I'll be glad when we're on the train. It's a shame we have to change in Chicago."
Clem walked the night-damp streets until dawn. Everything was the color of the cruel grey light.
Jesus, I should feel good! I did. But I don't. Lost my head. God, what if she's pregnant! She must know what to do. Or does she?
"You're working too hard, Clem boy," Mrs. Brush said severely, seeing him hollow-eyed, unable to touch the congealing slice of ham and glassy eggs. "You don't get out enough. All you do is paint, paint, paint. You ought to get out with young people. There are a lot of nice girls in Congress. Irene Thompson, for instance. It ain't natural for a young man not to go out with girls."
How could that calico figure at the sink have relaxed—or did she relax—long enough to conceive him and still remain so unsuspecting of his manhood? Bet she thinks I'm still a virgin.
In Paris he'd gone to a performance of Wedekind's "Awakening of Spring." The Parisian audience had laughed derisively at the intense Germanic solemnity about a function as natural as eating and breathing. Was it his midwestern Nordic heritage that made him overdramatize the importance of last night? But, dammitall, it was important. An image of Lucy lying on her deathbed in consequence of last night suddenly came out of nowhere to torment him. In a panic he phoned her house but there was no answer. Had she perhaps been rushed to the hospital? He tried again and again. Finally a voice like his mother's, but dryer, answered. Lucy had gone shopping.
At least, he thought wryly, she's all right. He walked down Venner Street wondering what to get for her as a parting memento. A brooch of blue enamel hepaticas with chip diamond dewdrops caught his eye to be rejected as too sentimental. He chose instead a delicate gold chain with five pearls, which could be added to later with pearl milestones binding her to him in all the years to come.
If I work hard I'll be ready for an exhibition in New York next year.
Semy arrived on the heels of Henkel and Larson with a corsage for Lucy.
"Perhaps I'll be seeing you in New York before too long. Drop me a line and let me know what you're doing. I'll put it in the society column."
An irony lost on her, he noted annoyedly. New York was not an impossibility for him if this little bitch could make it. Lauter was the old bastard to cultivate through son Herold, the dope. That bastard Pop, though managing editor, was only an employee.
Clem placed an armchair for Lucy next to his own but she chose instead a hard straight chair between Mae and Vida. It would relieve her aching side and keep him away. His solicitous hovering irritated her. He ought to pretend he was having a good time too. She had dreaded seeing him and having him sit next to her. She hoped Vida would keep him talking about art.
I'm mean but I don't care, she thought, and laughed at Larson balancing a cigar on the end of his red up-tipped nose. He reminds me of Vida's fox terrier except Tina is old and fat. Henkel and Larson reminded her of something else. Oh yes, those two slapstick comics who tried to build a house and it's always falling down.
Henkel and Larson had the best time at the party. It was, they informed each other, a real art studio party, like you'd probably have in Paris, with even a Model and wine. The only thing not so good was the Model leaving after just meeting her. No wonder old Clem hadn't let them in on her. Afraid they'd take her away from him—to pose of course, and both winked. Some looker. They kept looking at her and the canvases. New styles in painting were O.K. for a landscape or still life maybe, but why not paint a Beaut like her as she looked? You might even break into cover art that way.
"You know," Larson said to Henkel, "there's a lot to be said for a good colored photograph. Done right, it could look like a real painting. Better even. You could even paint over a photo. Think I'll get me a camera and try it. Not sure I go all out for this slapdash modernistic stuff like Clem here. Gotta keep an open mind a'course and at that it's pretty good for some kinds of advertising when they want to sell modernistic style goods. But I like Clem's new style of painting better, it's more actual, like a photo, know what I mean? I want to know what I'm looking at so I can put my teeth into it."
"You got something there," agreed Henkel, and leaned over Vida to speak to Lucy. "Too bad we didn't meet before. I would of painted you as you really look. Might even have put you on a calendar. Working on one right now for Gibbons Laundry. You'd've been famous. How'd you like that?"
"That would have been just dandy," Lucy said coolly. Whatever made that ox think I'd pose for him? I'll bet he brushes his teeth once a week. I'll bet he isn't an artist even if he does paint pictures.
I guess, guessed the rebuffed Henkel, she's stuck-up because she's going to New York.
What's up between Lucy and Clem? Semy wondered, tabulating Clem's anxious glances and Lucy's unusual evasion of him. Had old Clem tried? Did they? How old was she actually? Looked about seventeen tonight. Maybe he could get a rise out of her. He stood, looked from Clem to Lucy, and lifted his glass of wine.
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
A girl's voice interrupted—
Who canst [not can] express
Vida corrected, hoping to divert the man's gaze from Lucy who after all was leaving Congress, to herself who would still be here. He was nice-looking and it would impress him that she knew Keats too.
Lucy laughed approvingly. "That's right, Vida, you just show Semy you're just as smart as he is. Don't let him get away with a thing."
Vida smiled happily at her dearest friend, then looked for admiration from Mr. Klug. His mouth was open, but you could see he wasn't speechless with admiration. His look barely grazed her as he took a drink and turned to speak to Mr. Larson. She blushed and then laughed back at Lucy to show she hadn't been slighted. Who would have expected Lucy to be a friend of the man who wrote book reviews in the Husker-Sun? When he knew her better he'd realize she was closer to what interested him than Lucy, a jazz baby. She'd tell him she always read what he wrote. Sometime tonight. But Mr. Brush was the nicest man there. Wherever had she got the idea he was an old man with a beard? Life certainly was easy for Lucy. All a girl had to do was bleach her hair, be a dancer, and go to New York, to make everyone think she was wonderful and want to paint her. She could not keep her eyes from the paintings on the walls, or from comparing them with their subject.
They are simply wonderful. They don't look like Lucy but they must mean something deep. All those strong lines and triangles and patches of color. Sometimes you can even see Lucy. I don't know which I like best. Perhaps the one over the fireplace with the big black-shadowed eyes and cream skin and little pink mouth. I never saw her wear a bonnet with plumes like that, or a black ribbon around her neck. I could write a poem about it. What if I did and sent it to Mr. Klug? Of course I wouldn't sign my own name. If he printed it I could go and tell him who I really am. I'd say "Remember, we met at a mutual friend's, in Mr. Brush's studio." I wonder whether Mr. Brush gives painting lessons? I think maybe I could paint too.
Mr. Henkel, or was it Mr. Larson, winked at Vida and she stared back as Lucy had because he was being familiar. She felt experienced and foreign to herself, on an equality with Lucy, because of looking so grown-up tonight. She put her hand to her hair and readjusted the hairpin sticking the base of her skull.
What a wonderful night it was. On the walk over, the moon played jacks with the stars. It had been unbelievable when Lucy invited her. Not only inviting but bringing her with them after Mrs. Claudel had undone her braid and rolled her hair to make it look bobbed. As if that weren't enough, especially after Mrs. Claudel made her wear a tight patent leather belt, Lucy had made her put on lipstick. Until then she had given up hope that she ever would see the inside of the studio while Lucy was in Congress. She had thought up schemes for calling on Mr. Brush later. Lucy wouldn't write and so, worried, she'd go and ask if Mr. Brush had heard anything. Or she would have received a letter and use it as an excuse to relay news to Mr. Brush in case he hadn't heard.
"Pooh," Lucy was saying to Mr. Larson or was it Mr. Henkel, "I can do any of those easy steps" and, lifting her skirt to her knees, did a breakdown in The Starlings' manner while he whistled and clapped time.
"Lucy," Clem said abruptly, "you left some things upstairs. You'd better come and see what you want to take."
She was glad to stop, it hurt when she moved so fast.
"Now Semy," she admonished, "don't let anyone eat my sandwich while I get my ballet slippers."
In the studio, Clem held her for a long moment.
"Listen to me," he ordered. "Promise you'll let me know if you need me. I'll come." He pressed her fingers around a grey suede oblong. There was something in it she was not to look at until she got home.
He tried to hold her again but she eluded him.
"We'd better go downstairs or they'll wonder what we're doing up here."
Now he had lost her, as he always lost what he tried for so hard in his paintings of her. All his painting. He started so well and then the image eluded him. Everything he wanted from life escaped him and he did not know why because he tried so hard and meant so well.
And so, wearing Clem's pearl necklace, his hundred-dollar check in her purse, Vida's graduation pin in the ruffles of her blouse, wearing home-dyed light-tan silk stockings and a mushroom hat, Lucy blew interminable kisses to faces fading in the distance. Exhausted she leaned back on the prickly green-plush Pullman seat, prepared to meet the island that was the Prince who would fit the glass slipper to her foot.