(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)
“Are you ladies ready to order?” The waiter at La Maison Verte, whom Sandy took to be a student, hovered superciliously over the table, order pad in hand. Her mother was treating her to lunch, to celebrate her graduation the day before.
Mrs. Beichten looked at her in doubtful inquiry, then glanced toward the door. Sandy frowned and shook her head ever so slightly. “Yes, thank you,” Sandy said. “We’ll order now.”
When the waiter departed, her mother asked, “Isn’t Werner coming? I was looking forward to meeting him.”
“No, Mom. He’s not coming. I guess I didn’t tell you. We broke up almost three weeks ago.”
“Oh, sweetheart, you did? Oh, I’m so sorry! I thought you were getting along so well! What happened?”
“We . . . Philosophical differences, Mom. Philosophical differences.”
Her mother looked at her, a skeptical smile on her lips. “There had to be more to it than that.”
“No, there wasn’t,” she all but snapped.
Oh, gosh, why did she do that? Her mother wasn’t trying to be nosy. She really cared. Sandy took a deep breath. “Mom, have you ever known someone . . . and liked them, a lot . . . and they kept talking a certain way . . . about Communism, say, or against the rights of women, and you think, ‘They can’t be serious about that, that’s just them talking,’ and you ignore it or put up with it because you like them and, well, that’s just the way they are?”
“Werner isn’t a Communist, is he?” said her mother, astonished. “He’s from West Germany, I thought you said?”
“Yes, I did, and no, Mom, he’s not a Communist. It isn’t that. But what I was saying was, you have this friend and you think all that talk is just them blowing off steam, until one day you find out they are serious about it; so serious they’re already acting on it, and they expect you to act on it, too.”
“You’re talking in riddles, child. Help your old mother along here.”
“Oh, Mom,” she laughed, “you’re not old!”
The waiter brought a basket of bread and set it down between them. Sandy took one of the hot rolls and began to play with it, pinching off steaming fragments, most of which ended up not in her mouth, but on her plate.
“Sandy, stop playing with your food,” her mother couldn’t help saying.
Sandy looked up at her. “I’m not– No, I guess I am. Here I am with my Architecture degree and I still haven’t grown up.
“No, Werner’s not a Communist,” she repeated. “It’s . . . Mom, it still hurts so much, and I’m afraid if I talk about it too much here–” she gestured around the elegantly-decorated room with its white linen covered tables and tasteful draperies– “I’ll break down and make a fool of us both.”
“That bad, sweetheart! Why, what did the man do?”
“He asked me to marry him.”
If her mother had been confused before, now her astonishment appeared to know no bounds. “Alexandra, what– ! Why–!”
“And I said Yes.”
“But then, what– how– ?” Mrs. Beichten could hardly speak.
“It wasn’t that, Mom. It’s just that after I said Yes, and after I– I– Well, after that, I found out what he thinks marriage means.”
Their food came and until the waiter departed they were both silent. But Sandy could almost hear the wheels spinning in her mother’s head. Mrs. Beichten was no innocent when it came to current trends in radical thought. She said, “Don’t tell me he believes in Open Marriage!”
Sandy looked down at her plate. Trout amandine. She loved trout amandine. But today she saw only the bones, prickly and awkward as the story she hadn’t intended to tell. “No, it wasn’t that . . . no, yes,” she admitted in a tone that was nearly a sob, “yes, I guess that is what it was. Only not so bald and crude and modern as that. He dressed it up in the most beautiful philosophical wrapping you could imagine, Mom. He’d been telling me all about it for months. He practically had me believing it was a good thing, too; some of it, at least. It’s my own damn fault for not understanding what it meant in real life.”
“What do you mean? Surely you wouldn’t be willing to accept that!”
“No, Mom. Like I said, he dressed it up. It was always about Universal Love and the Spark of God being in everyone and serving the presence of Christ in everyone you meet.”
“He’s a Christian? Or claims to be?”
“Oh, he is– according to his own way of thinking! But it’s not the kind of Christianity Dr. Wallace would recognize. Or you or Daddy, either.”
Her mother waited. Sandy made an effort to take a bite of her fish, then put the fork down, the food still on it.
“There was nothing in it about . . . sin, or forgiveness, or the cross, or any of that,” she said. “He’s all about the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man.” Her tone was bitter. “With a heavy layer of loving your neighbor as yourself.”
“You’re being cryptic again, Alexandra.” She took a bite of her Coquilles St. Jacques. “This is good, by the way.”
“I’m glad. Well, Mom, I . . . I mean– I’m sorry,” she said a little frantically, casting her eyes around the restaurant again. “It’s just, well, he told me that capital-L Love, his love, at least, is too big a thing to be confined to one woman. He was willing for me to be first in his heart– ” she laughed ironically as she realized she’d inadvertently quoted from her favorite hymn “–but me and me only it could not be. He felt he owed it to the divine spark in other women to spread his love around to them, too. He even said that by loving them he was loving me, since we’re all linked by the oneness of God in us all!”
“Oh, dear! And all this came out after you’d said Yes? It was after that that you found out this was his plan?”
“Yes, that’s when I found out, but it wasn’t just a plan. I realized he was already doing it.” She told her mother most of what she knew about Lise and Yoshiko, reserving the point about the futon and its stain. In her gut was the hard, guilt-knotted conviction that maybe he had been telling the truth about that. The less said about it, the better.
“Oh, Sandy, I’m so, so sorry!”
“So am I. I still miss him so terribly. If it weren’t for that one thing, he’s the sweetest, kindest, most considerate man you’d ever want to meet. And, Mom, such a genius at music! If only you could have heard his recital.”
“He can’t be all that kind and considerate, if he’s made my little girl cry.”
“I know . . . but a lot of it is crying over my own stupidity. I held out against– being truly in love with him all those months, and then that one day, when all the signs that he was– he was– all the signs were right there in my face, I gave him my heart, my promise, my– ” She broke off, then tried again.
“Mom, we– fought. I’m so ashamed of myself, I made a terrible scene. And I have to be fair. He– he said he’d give them up for me. Those other girls. He did. But it was still there. All that mixed up jumble of Christianity and Buddhism and TM and who knows what else that made him think it was all right in the first place. He really believes in it.”
“We’ll both be better off apart in the long run, but right now . . . I don’t know who broke whose heart worse, him or me.” She put her hand to her head. The thought of it pained her.
“I hope you were finished with your schoolwork when this happened?”
“No, not quite. Almost. Thank God I only had a couple of drawings left to do. Did you know my final project was a concert hall, and Werner came up with the program? It’s like he was there in Studio with me, begging me to come back to him . . . I don’t know how I got it done.”
“But you did, Sandy, and I’m proud of you. More proud of you now than I was before.”
“I don’t know if you’d say that if you knew what I almost did.” She pushed her food around her plate. How ironic it was, being taken to the top restaurant in town and being unable to eat.
Her mother looked at her, waiting.
“He apologized. He said maybe he was wrong about his philosophy letting him love all sorts of women like that. So after that . . . I was actually tempted to say his religion didn’t matter after all. That he could have his version of Jesus and I could have mine and we could pretend they were the same. And we could go ahead and get married . . . He was so earnest and sincere about it, I nearly gave in! I wanted to give in . . . ”
“Oh, sweetheart!” Mrs. Beichten said sympathetically. She paused. “Are your girlfriends any help? Do they know?”
“Yes, they know, some of it, at least,” she replied wearily, “and no, they’re not. Tracey– you remember Tracey– she says that if I’d put out for him all this time he wouldn’t have had to get it on with other girls.”
Mrs. Beichten grimaced. “Is that what you think?”
“No, not really. No, that’s not how it is with Werner. He would have been spreading the love around regardless. And with me, I think he enjoyed the pursuit. It appealed to his artistic nature.”
“What about your roommates?”
“Barbie and Danielle? Oh, God– !” (Her mother shook her head at the oath) –“I’m sorry, Mom– No, Danielle says he just wanted a non-musician for a built-in audience, his ego’s so big. As if she knew him that well! And Barbie, her opinion is it was all a ruse to marry an American citizen and get permanent residency. His visa’s up the end of August. That– damn her!” (Her mother looked shocked) “–that he never really loved me at all.”
“Do you believe that?”
“About the visa? No. I don’t. For one thing– Well, Lise’s Swedish so she wouldn’t have done, but even though Yoshiko was born in Japan, she’s naturalized American now, so she would have worked just as well. Even better, since she’s a fiddler herself. Now that I’m out of the picture, they should make a nice musical pair.”
Her mother placed her hand over hers on the table and patted it. Sandy smiled wanly and went on. “And, Mom, Danielle and Barbie never would have said that if they saw everything he did for me that evening. Mom, he orchestrated that– proposal– like he was composing a major symphony!
“That’s the worst part.” She bowed her head. “He was so sincere about it. He really thought I believed the same way he did, and since I’d be his official wife in public, I’d go along with the rest of it in private. He really did love me– in his way. Oh, blast it, he still does! That’s the hardest thing of all.” She looked up. Her face was streaked with tears, which she hurriedly tried to wipe away with the linen napkin.
“Oh, Sandy. Oh, Sandy,” was for a couple of minutes all her mother could say. Then, “Sweetheart, you’re not eating. There’s no point– Waiter, check!” she called to the young man as he passed by. “I’m going to get you out of here. I have some news for you as well, and it sounds like that house of yours isn’t the happiest place for you just now. Is there anywhere else we could go and be more private?”
Sandy thought for a minute. “Yes, Mom. The park. There’s a spot, very private, overlooking the river. We can talk there.”