My Mother Was a Girl
By Sheldon Kranz

part 3

He drove around for a while trying to enjoy the night air, and then he came home. He felt awful for the rest of the evening. And May didn't seem to want to understand. 

"How long is this going to go on?" she asked. "Something's got to change." 

"It's easy for you to talk," he said irritably. "She's not your mother." 

That night in bed, he told himself that she had always been this way. She had done the same thing with his father. Nag, complain, feel sorry for herself. How did you change a woman who saw all the world's meanness and inconsiderateness aimed at her. If she were anybody else, he wouldn't visit her in a hundred years. But she wasn't just anybody. When he wasn't angry, he felt quite another way about her, alone in the apartment with no family to take care of. That had been her one pleasure, taking care of a family. And now she was alone with only herself. Why did he have to lose his temper with her? Why couldn't he please her more? He straightened the blanket again, and turned his pillow, but it didn't help. He slept restlessly all night. 

His luncheon appointment the next day with a prospective customer helped him forget about his mother. He and May had talked it over and agreed that Robert should ask Mr. Howitt out to lunch. He was a wealthy manufacturer of men's shoes, and besides, he had a lot of important friends who might also buy new cars. Mr. Howitt was definitely worth taking out to lunch. 

At one o'clock, Robert drove up to the expensive businessmen's restaurant in the Fifties he had carefully chosen. He was wearing his good gray suit, and his inside jacket pocket bulged slightly with papers and figures which he hoped he might be able to present before lunch was over. He wished he had slept better. He needed to be at his best today. If Mr. Howitt got to like him, there was no telling what this could lead to. 

Walter Howitt arrived just as Robert got a table far back in the busy, dark-paneled room. All the tables were filled with well-dressed men eating and talking leisurely while the waiters in white mess jackets moved about quickly and efficiently. The room made Robert feel important and less nervous. 

While they ordered lunch, Robert tried to judge what Mr. Howitt's mood was today. He was a short, stocky man with a bald head and tired eyes, and he always wore dark suits to look thinner. He liked to talk, Robert knew, and so he had to say things quickly so as not to interrupt Mr. Howitt and his stories about his family and his numerous business trips. There seemed to be an infinite number of stories about unscrupulous business practices in other American cities. 

All through the soup, Mr. Howitt talked enthusiastically about his youngest daughter's engagement party last week at their home on Long Island. Robert decided he was in an expansive mood. But the coming wedding might make him cautious about spending money for other things. He hadn't known about this daughter, and he felt annoyed. Mr. Howitt's bald head nodded cheerfully as he talked about now much the flowers had cost and about the bubbling fountain of champagne they had. 

During the scallops, Robert heard about a trip Mr. Howitt had taken recently to Cleveland. He had a large shoe factory in Cleveland, and Robert made obliging remarks that would not impede Mr. Howitt's flow of narrative. He kept wondering how he was going to get to the subject of automobiles. 

"Cleveland's a great city," Mr. Howitt said, spearing one of his scallops, "I was born there, you know. Thirty-five years I lived in Cleveland. It was where I got my start. You ever been there?" 

It was the first question he had asked, and Robert felt encouraged. 

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