My Mother Was a Girl
By Sheldon Kranz
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.