Good for You
Originally published in Faultline
She writes a note to the newsman Cliff Conway, a very good-looking and very big man. It is remarkable but she makes no corrections to the note, which she writes on a card with a worn-out horse in the corner. My name is Connie Dodd, she writes. Today is my forty-forth birthday. I have yet to put this to anyone in strong terms: When I come home at night, I look forward to the moment when I turn the corner and raise my eyes to those three hanging flames. Can you follow me? Women are not supposed to be this cautious.
This is in sincere consideration of coming to see me. Would you like to?
I will not go on too much. Thank you.
Connie folds her note and goes downstairs to see her son, Dean Dodd, who has brought a larky girl to meet his parents.
"The champagne cork never does hit the ceiling for Dean," says his father.
They all sing happy birthday to Connie. Her husband gives her a toothsome gouda, it's always a cheese, and he smiles and takes her hand. Marriage is not, she thinks, what you "make" of it. You just remain in it.
Dean's larky girl didn't know it was Connie's birthday so Connie lets her do the dishes. Before they go to sleep, Connie's husband tells a particularly long, pointless story and Connie writes a list of her own positive and negative behaviors:
Pleasure taken as pleasure.
Salt bloats face?
No will to masturbate
The next thing that happens is the newsman Cliff Conway sends a note to Connie:
Do you play the piano?
No! Connie replies. I absolutely do not play!
Thus far you do not seem to have any very definite plans toward life. Consider piano?
She is very satisfied by Cliff Conway's suggestion of the piano, because music and art come very naturally to her, and there is a nice story about that, but first Connie puts his note in her pocket and goes out for a walk.
When she walks past the newspaper, she meets someone, a copyeditor.
"You might know my friend Cliff Conway?" she asks.
"Yeah, I know him. He's not such a great guy."
"Why do you say that?"
"One time I screwed something up. It wasn't even actually wrong, it was just the British spelling and I changed it to the American, and he comes over to my desk and starts asking me a bunch of sarcastic questions.”
"That doesn't sound like the Cliff Conway I know."
"Well, good for you," the copyeditor says.
"Please take me inside and show me how to find him."
"I don't know about that."
"Please! I want to surprise him."
Connie has the newsman's note in her pocket when she and the copyeditor walk through the front doors of the newspaper. She walks down the long hallway, and goes right up to the newsman's office door, walking very fast, and opens it.
"I'm Connie Dodd!" she says.
He looks at her appearance.
"I’m free for lunch,” he says.
“I’ll see you then!” she says. She shuts his door. She is suddenly exhausted.
Cliff Conway is even bigger and more attractive than in his syndication photograph.
Well then what happens is Connie is goes back home and pulls out a blank card with a different worn-out horse in the corner and she writes a note to her husband, I have tried to love you. She is only as frank as is ever necessary.
At lunchtime, Connie returns to the newspaper but Cliff Conway is not in his office. She sits in his chair and his phone rings.
"Hello," she crooks the receiver into her neck and picks up a pen. "Connie Dodd speaking."
"Hello, I am looking for Cliff Conway."
“Who’s calling?” Connie asks.
“This is his wife, Linda.”
"Oh, I was just looking at all of your photographs!" Connie says.
"Are you sitting at Cliff’s desk?"
"And who are you?"
"Connie Dodd, friend of Cliff."
"Have we met?"
"I don’t know," Connie says.
“Is Cliff around?"
"Well, I was supposed to meet him for lunch, but he isn't here."
"Did you ask his secretary?"
"She is talking with a police officer."
"Oh God," Linda says. "That's her luggy husband."
"I will be sure to tell Cliff you called."
Connie waits around until she’s too embarrassed and walks home and throws out the callous note she left for her husband.
Connie's son Dean Dodd brings another girl to meet his parents and Connie cuts a fish and her husband comes home and gives her the latest on every individual person who is or ever was working in his office.
But Cliff Conway is coming nearer.
He finds her house and stands at her door. He looks through a window and sees Dean Dodd watching television with the girl and decides to come back when Connie is alone.
The next morning he knocks on Connie's door.
"I understand you spoke to my wife," he says.
"Yes. I answered your phone while I was waiting for you."
"I'm in the doghouse."
"Because we were going to have lunch?"
"No, because I stood you up. She insists that I invite you to dinner at our house."
"I would love that!" Connie says.
"When are you free?"
Now it gets a little exciting because Cliff is the son of a working-class people, and writes a working-class newspaper column, but is himself wealthy and exhibits corresponding radical sexuality.
For her part Mrs. Conway is very lively with tiny eyes and an enormously good mind.
"Do you have children?" Mrs. Conway asks.
"I have one grown son, Dean,” Connie says.
"We have a grown son and a grown daughter and these days our house is so proper!"
"Mine too, my house is proper."
"I miss the noise and the mess!” Mrs. Conway says.
"My husband is very kind to me, but sometimes we’re like monk and nun," Connie says.
"Cliff is very good, of course," Mrs. Conway says.
Another evening, some time later, Connie butters her meat and Mrs. Conway says, "Why don't you spend the night?"
"Don't be afraid," Cliff says.
It is true there is nothing to be afraid of, but Connie worries so much about being brutal, not brutal, but callous to her husband, and to Dean, but anyway they never listen. Cliff calms her and Mrs. Conway calms her.
Mrs. Conway says, "I miss you when you aren't here."
Cliff says, "You have become much more than a dinner guest."
Connie says, "I don’t understand.”
Cliff says, "We are asking you to consider adopting a different course."
Mrs. Conway says, "We feel a spiritual connection to you."
Connie says, "I like to think I was an unusually spiritual child."
And so she very earnestly opens the door to the guest room and Cliff sleeps with her, but other times he sleeps with Mrs. Conway, and eventually, but only once, Cliff takes them both in the same bed.
We've already come back to Connie's birthday, it is her forty-fifth, and she celebrates with Cliff alone.
Mrs. Conway, for her part, is alone in a hotel, this is her gift to Connie. She is drinking and crying. She thinks: it really is more than I intended, much more than I intended.
Connie tells Cliff: “I don’t mean to be flippant, but romance and having fun and looking pretty — I hope it doesn’t go away.”
Cliff says, “It never will, darling. Although I feel a bit bad for Linda tonight.”
Connie says, “She’s fine. She wants me to have this.”
Cliff says, “I hope she really does.”
Connie says, “Maybe she would like meet my son Dean?”
Cliff says, “You know I can’t stand him.”
Connie says, “But it would be so good for Dean,” Connie says, “Let me do this for him.”
Meanwhile, Connie's husband packs books into boxes. He is moving to a smaller house, a house for one, and Connie's list of positive and negative behaviors falls out of a book. Her husband tapes the list to the wall and pulls up a chair to really look at it.
She had such interesting handwriting. He loved her. He imagines his wife and Cliff Conway’s wife together on some sofa, reading foreign travel guides, while Cliff cooks a birthday meal for his new Connie.
For Connie’s husband, it’s been one a long, stinging rejection — from his country’s military, his community college, his girlfriends, and, now, his wife, but perhaps the first sting came from his father. Connie’s husband knew the appeal of refusing right back -- his government, his currency, his body, even his son Dean. He has felt very left out for a very long time, of course, but eventually he settles down with that old idea, disappointing as it is honest, that thieves and crows must eat, too.
|Lauren Spohrer has fiction published or forthcoming in Noon, the Mississippi Review, Unsaid, and the Guernica blog.|
Faultline is UCI's Pushcart prize-winning journal. We publish new poetry, fiction, translations, and artwork in an annual spring issue, and feature the work of emerging and established writers from the U.S. and abroad.