Soon After My College Graduation, a novel fragment
Soon after my college graduation, I became engaged to Harold. I’d known him since freshman year; we had dated casually until my senior year, when he watched me perform with the modern dance ensemble and fell in love with the way I moved across the stage in my clingy leotard and filmy skirts. Everyone in the family adored him. My father, who never learned to drive a car himself, let Frank drive our very first car home from the dealer. Though I was happy about the engagement, I wasn’t in a rush to marry. I wanted to work for a few years, get a taste of the world before settling down at home with a brood. My parents were skeptical, but they didn’t make a fuss. They knew I wanted a big family, at least six.
Harold was very good-looking: strong chin, auburn hair, lean and athletic torso. We were engaged, so it was the usual custom to sleep together. His touch was delicate, his hands smooth and lovely. It was a peaceful, dreamy experience, being with him. He gave me a pear-shaped blue diamond set in platinum — I wore it and real silk stockings to the office every day. My family was just middle class, but people thought I was rich. Nobody knew my father got the stockings free as part of his job at the patent office. In those days my hair was dark brown, cut in a short pageboy, draped gracefully over my forehead and curled at the ends. I looked good in simple tailored skirts; my legs were long and well-formed from all that dancing. Of course the stockings were a plus!
It was about a year into the engagement to Harold that I happened to work with the same young lawyer on several complicated adoptions, right in a row — Robert was Italian, short and bald, and his suits were nicely cut though threadbare. Something about the confidence in his fluid voice grabbed my attention; one evening after work we met for a drink. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he had bright, lively features and a charming way with funny stories. That night, over a pitcher of Rob Roys, he confided to me that he was leaving the Department after the first of the year. He had an office and secretary all lined up, and could hardly wait to get into practice on his own. We ordered another pitcher of drinks to celebrate his daring move.
I suppose my big mistake was letting him take me out to dinner, too. I was drunk: not so drunk I didn’t know what was happening, just so drunk that I didn’t much care. Robert touched my cheek, tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear, then closed his eyes and sighed. I was all over him in a second — he kept saying, are you sure, are you sure? As I unzipped his trousers, he asked, what about Harold? I said, I don’t owe him anything. What I had then with Robert was neither peaceful nor dreamy, but a jolt of electricity that kept my nerves humming for hours. Afterward, I held my breath for ten days, then kept right on holding it when my “friend” never showed up. I started having trouble sleeping. I was all mixed up. There was no one I could talk to.
See, if I married Robert and the kid looked WASP, no big problem. But if I married Harold and the kid came out looking Italian, what then? I went with the easiest lie. Does this seem terribly evil? I had no real alternative at the time. Now, I suppose I’d have an abortion and be done with it. It’s true that I felt a little less awful as time passed and Robert and I had three more children who resembled their father, but I was never entirely certain about Robert Junior’s pedigree — depending on the time of day and the season he had the look about him of both men.