Walter said, “We really ought to be going, Sam.”
The pregnant Adeline said, “You don’t have to go yet, please? It’s Friday night.”
Sam smiled at her.
Walter said, “Everybody’s tired.”
Adeline said, “I’m not tired, even though I’ve been carrying this child around all day. All day—” She laughed. “All year. Toby’s not tired, are you, Toby?”
Toby said, “Ad men are never tired,” and smiled at them like an advertising man, to prove it. “Who’d like another drink?”
Sam looked at Walter. “One more.”
Walter shrugged and got up from his chair. Going to the mantelpiece, he picked up a figurine. It was the action of an actor in a play. Walter was an actor. He almost never forgot it, nor did anyone else. “It’s your party tomorrow, and if you want to start it tired, you can start it tired. You know nobody will leave until you lock up the liquor.”
On the sofa Adeline squirmed ungracefully, looking a little like a frog. “I’ll break everything up at a decent hour. I’ll pretend to have labor pains and howl the house down. There’s nothing like a pregnant woman to scare the wits out of people.”
Toby called from the kitchen, where he had gone to get ice and whisky, “You’re a fool to go.”
“It’s my last party before the baby, and I’m going,” she said, indicating that this was a familiar disagreement by not raising her voice to match his. She dropped her hand to Sam’s shoulder. Sam was sitting on a cushion on the floor beside her. He turned his head so that his cheek lay against her hand. She stroked his cheek absently with the back of her hand, and he rubbed his lips against her fingers without kissing them.
Toby came in from the kitchen. Walter set down the figurine he had not really been examining, caught Toby’s ironic grimace, and looked quickly at Sam.
“Aren’t they disgusting?” Walter said.
“Steady on,” Toby answered. “I’m the husband.”
“Nobody would ever know,” Walter said.
Adeline roused herself from her little reverie. “That isn’t nice, Walter.” She smiled at Toby. “We know.”
Sam got up from the floor and sat in a chair.
“Where’s your glass?” Toby said to Walter.
“I don’t know. I don’t want anything.”
“Have a little one,” Sam urged, holding out his own glass for replenishing.
“I’ll look puffy tomorrow if I do, and I’m seeing Eloise McKenzie.”
“Not until the party,” Sam said.
“I’ve got a luncheon date.”
“Girl reporter,” Adeline said.
Walter gave her a sharp look, but she smiled with eagerness and good will she did not feel. “We’re really going to see old Walter on the stage! Isn’t that exciting! No more television—except for big guest spots, of course—”
“It isn’t at all certain; we’re just talking,” Walter said warily, but he sat down beside her to show that he was not really cross.
She took one of his big brown hands into her small white ones. “Oh, you know it is!”
“I haven’t met Eva Fairchild yet. She’s the one who’ll decide.”
Adeline shook her head. “Eloise McKenzie is the toughest rose petal in New York, and she is not coming to your party because she is just sort of thinking of you for the part. You’ve got it, old son.”
Walter looked at Sam, who was sipping his drink and not looking at anyone. “Even Eloise McKenzie is not unaware of the opportunities of a party given by Samuel Kendrick. She has to finance her play, you know.”
“Is Sam putting money in the play?” Adeline asked in surprise.
“Sam hasn’t been asked,” Sam said.
Adeline clapped her hands. “Wouldn’t that be heavenly. So old-fashioned, the rich man putting money into a play to give his—”
“Lover,” Walter said quickly when she hesitated.
“—friend a chance on the silver stage. Just the way I thought New York was before I came to New York. I suppose things never really happen that way. Such a disappointment. New York’s as tame as Hiccup, Wisconsin.”
“Is it really called Hiccup? I’ve never believed that,” Sam said.
“Of course it is.”
“You never showed it to me on the map.”
“It’s too little to be on the map.”
Toby smiled at them all as he sat down with his drink. “My wife, the milkmaid. Did she ever tell you about the time she delivered her baby brother, Sam? It was winter, and the snow was up to Paul Bunyan’s ass. There was no telephone, no way to get a doctor, and her father was too drunk to help—or was he scared, Addie? Anyway, twelve-year-old Adeline boiled lots of hot water, and before you can say, ‘O, Pioneers, the cord was cut; she was holding the little one by his ankles and spanking his bottom. And through the cold farmhouse rang the angry cry of the newborn. Did she ever tell you that, Sam?”
“Yes,” Sam said, smiling at Adeline.
“Yes,” Toby said. His eyes closed a little, but he kept his voice light. “I was forgetting. You’ve known each other such a time. Makes us feel out of things, doesn’t it, Walter? As if the play started long before we got to our seats.”
“What?” Walter said.
Sam said, “Toby, don’t you know actors never listen when the talk isn’t about them?”
Adeline had been pressing and rolling a damp paper napkin in her hands, making a small, hard ball of it. “Ah, I’ll tell you,” she said, shifting her heaviness again on the sofa and blinking her eyes comically, “any girl in the world would give her eyeteeth or her eyes or her teeth, or all three—that’s more than three—well, three kinds of things she’d give to be in my shoes—”
“You’re not wearing shoes,” Sam said.
“You a publisher and don’t know a figure of speech when it hits you.” She threw the ball of paper at him, hitting him on the chest. “Wake up, man. Shake off the shackles of your literal mind and live!”
Toby said, “About this girl who’d give everything.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Adeline resumed amiably. “To be sitting here, the only woman in the room with a smart advertising executive, a famous publisher, and a matinee idol.”
Toby laughed insultingly. Walter, who had been thinking his own thoughts, looked at him with surprise before turning to Sam. “No, Sam won’t put money into the play. It would be too chancy.”
“That’s show business,” Sam said with a shrug.
“He wouldn’t,” Walter continued, “because I might fail. He wouldn’t because I might succeed.”
“You’re too deep for me,” Adeline said, pretending to yawn.
“Finish your drink,” Walter said.
“Not yet,” Sam said patiently, but with enough firmness to make Walter subside.
“Everyone’s so snappish,” Adeline observed. “After that good dinner I cooked, and me with—” She hugged her belly and looked at it as if it were a person she knew. “It’s because it’s Tired Friday.”
“So let’s go home.” Walter laughed when he said it, but a little sharply.
Sam said, “I want to stay a little longer because I’m tired.”
Toby said, “That makes sense.”
Sam nodded in a mock-pleased way and looked at Walter again. “If you say, ‘Let’s go home,’ another time, I’ll make you take the subway. And I’ll make you take a piece of chalk and write on every subway step at the Fourth Street station, ‘Next time I will be a good boy and let Sam finish his drink.’ So, nnaah.”
Adeline said, “Toby-sweetie, are you going to wash the dishes in the morning?”
“I guess so.”
Adeline squirmed again. “Oh, boys, you do buck a lady up with your little courtesies and witticisms. Let me tell you, this poor old knocked-up lady appreciates it.”
Toby said, “One of the boys at the office said to me this morning, ‘Who was that pregnant lady I seen you with last night?’ ”
“And you said,” Adeline interrupted, “ ‘That wasn’t no pregnant lady, that was my Isetta.’ ”
“How did you know?”
“Because I wasn’t with you last night.”
“You thinking of getting an Isetta?” Walter asked.
Toby blinked at him. “No,” he answered seriously, “it isn’t really a family car.”
“I’m hungry again,” Walter said.
“I thought actors were supposed to watch their figures,” Adeline said.
“You’re one to talk,” Toby said.
“I never gain any weight,” Walter said with innocent pride.
“Toby, go feed the child,” Adeline said. Toby got up. “There’s some roast left. Let’s go make a sandwich.”
They went into the kitchen together.
“Alone at last,” Adeline said with the gentle self-mockery that was characteristic of her. It was a habit of speaking that irritated some people, especially at first acquaintance, because it seemed to indicate that Adeline thought everything she said was witty or droll. It was, instead, a small veil she stretched over her embarrassment at being alive.
Sam, who understood this, winked at her solemnly.
“Such nice boys,” she went on.
Sam frowned. “If you like nice boys.”
“Hell, I like any kind I can get.” She smiled quickly with her eyes, but Sam was not looking at her, or really listening to her. He had set his drink down and was looking at the palms of his hands.
She said, “Are the pains getting closer together?”
This he heard. Without looking up he said, “I haven’t timed them.”
“When they begin to overlap, it’s time to go.”
“It’s not up to me. I can’t do any more about them than you can about the ones you’re going to have.” He picked up his glass and took a big swallow. “You look like a frog with your feet under you that way,” he said to dissolve the pity he saw in her eyes. “A pretty enough frog, but a frog,” he added. She blinked to let him know she was not going to cry.
“When I go to the hospital, I want you to stay with Toby.” His eyebrows went up in surprise. “I’d rather have you with me, but I can’t. So stay with Toby.”
“He’s crazy. He might do something strange.”
“What do you—”
“Don’t ask questions, Sam. Just promise.”
She smiled again with light self-mockery. “I tell you, boy, this is the life. I’m going to stay pregnant all the time.”
“You’re coming back to work in a couple of months, aren’t you?”
“Why don’t you turn over children’s books to Joyce? She can do it.”
“Not as well as you. You’re good with the artists, as well as those chirpy spinsters who write the things.”
“I meant it when I quit, Sam. Don’t keep Joyce in suspense by calling it a leave of absence.”
“You don’t know that you won’t want to come back.”
“I want to spend time with my baby.”
Laughter came from the kitchen. Adeline cocked her head a moment, then nodded. “Toby. I almost couldn’t tell which.”
“They’re not alike.”
“Sure they are. Especially when they’re together. They have to join forces against us.”
“They don’t have to.”
“They think they do. That’s why I’m not coming back to work. How old are you, Sam?”
“You know I’m thirty-seven. And you’re thirty-two.”
“All right!” she pretended to flare. “You don’t have to be that way!” She slipped one of her feet out from under her and wriggled her long toes, looking at them a little distastefully. She was a small, daintily-made woman, and it used to distress her that she had such long feet. “If it’s going to be bad, Sam, put it off until I’m able to help.”
“Being alive, you help.”
“This is the third time since I’ve known you. Each is harder.”
“I’m getting older.”
“I hate watching you do it. Maybe next time, someone nearer your age?”
“I don’t go out with a list like a housewife going to market. I meet somebody. Something happens or nothing happens.”
“Playthings of passion,” she said with the old veil of mockery now opened to include him.
After a pause she said, “Why does he want to deny it?”
“Everyone has a large capacity for self-deception.” He stuck out his tongue at her. “I hope you don’t mind our staying on a little.”
“You know I don’t.”
“I’m too tired to talk to him tonight.”
“I know. Give me a cigarette.” He offered her the pack from his jacket pocket and lit her cigarette with a paper match. Exhaling, she smiled for both of them and said, “Your trouble is, you’re too serious. Affect a gay, sophisticated manner. Throw an occasional French phrase into your conversation. Wear an ascot on windy days. Practice laughing in front of your mirror. I do it all the time. See these lines around my eyes? Laughing can be fun. How’s business?”
“Publishers always complain. Things are never as good as they used to be. I almost feel sorry for you until I see your list in the ads or have lunch with Joyce. How’s old Sophie Rose Glover?”
“Regular as a rabbit.”
“A new book in April?” He nodded. “I read a book of hers once. Zowie. She writes about food as if it were sex and sex as if it were food. Unbelievable.”
“Well, at least she can cook. I stayed with her a couple of days in Savannah when I was visiting Southern writers. What that woman can do with a little old helpless dead chicken would make your hair stand on end.”
“Ah, that’s better. That’s my Sam.” She smiled at him lovingly.
“Her hush puppies are the hushed-est puppies you ever put tooth to.”
“What the hell are hush puppies?”
“Honey-chile, you didn’t read the right book. In Save Me from Sorrow she wrote four pages about them. The passage stands as her most lyrical.”
“I’ll bet she adores you.”
“I wish I had more like her. She just writes and sells and never bothers me. But she’s sharp with a contract.”
“How did you get her?”
“She came to me. Said she wanted to be on a distinguished list. It was just after Jodelle got the Nobel prize.” Sam affected a bad Southern accent. “Said, ‘Honey, I know I’m not in that class, but I like good company, and I just wondered if you’d be interested!’ ”
“What did you say?”
“I smothered her with kisses and took her straight off to lunch at the Plaza to talk about it. Before we’d finished the first drink, she’d told me half the plot of a new book. But the thing that really tied it up was my having two desserts and insisting that she do the same. Something in her eyes kind of went then. I had a signature on a tentative agreement before four o’clock.” He laughed, remembering.
“You love all of it, don’t you, Sam?”
“All what?” he said vaguely.
“The good writers and the bad. They’re the same to you.”
“You make me sound remarkably childlike and undiscriminating. Most of it is boring.”
“Don’t kid me, Sam. You’re as happy in that office as a flea on a fat dog.”
He shrugged a little guiltily. “That’s nice, then, isn’t it?”
“I think it’s very nice.” She raised her voice. “Hey, boys!”
“What do you want?” Toby called back.
“Don’t eat all the roast. Save enough for a sandwich tomorrow night after the party.”
Walter and Toby came in from the kitchen, smiling and in good humor.
“See how they miss us?” Toby said.
Adeline said, “Come sit by me and hold my hands. They’re cold.” Toby complied.
Walter sat on the arm of Sam’s chair.
Toby said, “Walter was telling me all about Eva Fairchild.”
“I didn’t know you’d met her,” Adeline said to Walter.
“I haven’t. You know how everybody talks. You learn a lot about actors from other actors who’ve worked with them.”
“I always thought she was a cozy pudding of a woman with a good sense of humor. That’s the way she seems on the stage,” Toby said. “But Walter makes her sound like one crazy, mixed-up kid.”
“How can you be a crazy, mixed-up kid at fifty?” Adeline said.
“We’ll all manage somehow,” Sam said.
“I hoped it was clear sailing after thirty-five,” Adeline said.
“Don’t look at me,” Walter said. “I’m twenty-six.”
“Twenty-eight,” Sam corrected.
“And cute as a hound’s tooth,” Adeline said to mollify him. “Why don’t you get a haircut, Walter?”
“I do, every week.”
“Actors’ haircuts!” Adeline scoffed. “Have it cut short like Toby’s and Sam’s, so we can see that handsome skull structure. We could stuff pillows. Wouldn’t it be exciting, Toby, to sleep on a pillow stuffed with Walter’s hair? Hot damn.” When she looked at Toby, she saw that he was staring at Sam and Walter. Walter had put his arm on the back of Sam’s chair.
Adeline got to her feet and stretched. “You fellows can bark it up till dawn if you want to, but us old pregs have to get our sleep so we’ll look pretty at the party tomorrow.”
Sam got up and stretched, too. “What are you wearing?”
“Two of my old dresses I ripped apart and sewed together. I’ll look absolutely stunning. They’re almost the same color. I figured on painting big circles on the front like an archery target. If you can’t hide it, hang a bell on it, I say.”
They moved into the bedroom, where Sam and Walter put on their overcoats. Sam looked at the baby bed that stood waiting in a corner. Into it were piled diapers and other baby clothes. Observing Sam, Toby put his arms around Adeline from the back and caught her bigness with his two hands. “Man, I’ll be glad when this is out of my bed and in its own,” he said, laughing. Toby always began to strut a little when Sam was leaving.