Lucia Nevai – I’ll Try Anything Once

Lucia Nevai

I’ll Try Anything Once


Ian, Laurel’s blue-eyed, rugged-jawed, decade-younger groom, had informed her that there was no Klodczew family humor, but here Laurel was, at the traditional Klodczew Fourth of July, biting her lip to keep from laughing. She saw funny things everywhere, beginning with Ian’s mother. “Call me Mor-Mor,” the stoic, withered Warsaw native said to Laurel, her tone combining the intimidation of a police presence with the imperfect accent of a displaced person. Laurel’s error had been to greet her mother-in-law as Irene.

“Mor-Mor,” Laurel said, snapping to attention in the military manner, her tone draining all the cuteness out of the nickname baby Ian had invented when learning to speak. She eyed Ian to see if he had caught the comic subtleties of the exchange, but he was in duty mode at the grill, jabbing, stabbing, flipping, nudging. The traditional Klodczew menu was an excessive mixed grill, kielbasa, chicken, pork chops and steaks. Ian had the gaunt, driven, self-sufficient profile of the Everest climber, though the mountain he climbed daily was made of Human Resources. Being with a man ten years younger made Laurel feel superior. She passed for his peer — with reason. Her face was still model-good, conveying an aura of freshness and candor especially when her hair had just been washed and fell to her shoulders as it did today, in brown uncalculating waves. She still had a sleek figure that made the most of a summer sheath. Her legs were fabulous. Even her feet were beautiful.

The next-door neighbors were arriving. Instead of knocking on Mor-Mor’s front door, they trickled over from both sides, walking across their back yards to Mor-mor’s deck. High Street was the highest, hilliest street in this commuter town. All the homes up here were lavish contemporaries, built side by side into the cliff overlooking the Hudson River. The pinchiness of ostentatious East Coast real estate always surprised Laurel. She grew up in Hollywood. Here, the narrow lots went skidding down the cliff into a thick messy forest that terminated in a train station perched on the river’s edge.

Laurel cleared her throat, expecting to be identified as Gregor’s bride. The neighbor wives greeted each other. They were beauties on hormones, wearing expensive, blocky linen summer separates in neutral shades — so expensive, so blocky and so neutral, the underlying misogyny was hard to miss. Their husbands were interchangeable business successes whose costly leisure wear would have been destroyed by any activity more strenuous than drinking. Here came Mor-Mor with the Vodka Tonics. The striking absence of official introductions enveloped Laurel like a light summer stole. She eyed Ian, to see if he would do the honors, but he was engrossed in the kielbasa — he was compulsive when it came to the doneness of meats. Laurel regretted taking Ian’s last name. She should have kept Kent, the link to her mother, Tricia Kent, a gifted Hollywood comedienne, whose bit parts were frequently cited by reviewers as gems. She died when Laurel was sixteen.

A car engine backfired in the driveway, producing an explosive, rubbery flatulence that sounded low-class here in the land of the Lexus, the Mercedes, the BMW. Mor-Mor’s features filled with enchantment. “My Pauli!” she said. She informed her neighbors that they were about to meet her brother, a wonderful person, good to everyone, a big success in Brighton Beach. She dispatched Laurel with a sneer. “Go to welcome your husband’s only uncle.” Laurel curseyed like a domestic. No one caught it.

The vehicle was an old model Ford station wagon with wrinkled, self-adhering fake wood on the side. Out stepped Pauli, a meaty, red-faced man of medium age with a nose that looked like a handful of raspberries had been glue-gunned to his face. His solid, beaver-colored toupee had inched its way forward in the heat of the ride. The orange polyester pants suit held the creases where it had been folded and pinned around a rectangle of cardboard. With a cartoonish waddle, sneakers squeaking, Pauli advanced, nudging along a bulging, lime green plastic suitcase on four small, stuck rollers. Laurel bit her lower lip to keep a straight face.

Pauli’s nine-year old ran ahead of him. Her hair was colorless and ragged, her skin sallow. Her narrow face was made narrower by rage. She was jarringly dressed in hot pink, her tank top and short shorts profuse with ruffles and sequins. In her right hand, the girl had a death grip on a naked Barbie, whose indestructible hair flew straight out to one side like a paintbrush. With her left hand, the girl grabbed her crotch.

“Clea needs a bathroom,” Pauli said. The girl rushed inside. Assuming news of Ian’s nuptials had reached his Uncle Pauli, Laurel smiled with bride-like radiance and offered her hand as one offers a punch line, saying, “I’m Laurel.”

Pauli’s buxom, blonde wife was standing poker-faced right behind him as Pauli gave Laurel a flagrant once-over — eyes, lips, throat, breasts, waist, hips, crotch, knees, calves, ankles, toes. Instead of shaking the hand she extended, he kissed the back of it with lingering, sloppy lips, as if offering a sample of pleasures to come in lower regions. “He can satisfy you?” Pauli said. Laurel yanked her hand away. Pointedly, she wiped it on her sheath.

Back on the deck, Mor-Mor gave Laurel an order. “Deep, deep, here,” she said, tapping hard on the glass coffee table. “Ian, honey,” Laurel said with a straight face. “Is deep Polish for dip?” No one caught the humor. In the kitchen, Laurel removed the saran from the spinach dip. The sound of her mother’s voice cheered her heart. Pauli’s wife was sitting on a bar stool at the granite counter, watching an old movie on a small clean kitchen television. She’d only been in America a week, which may have accounted for her gun moll ensemble, the black leather boots and black leather pants, the gold, cable-knit, bangle-covered sweater designed to make the most of a bosom. Her dyed blonde hair was styled in the manner of the young Marilyn Monroe. Her face was beautiful if you could discount the twitches. Pauli had been raising their daughter alone for a year while his wife completed a nursing contract that contributed to her pension in Warsaw.

Laurel paused at the television to watch the scene. Her mother played the big-bosomed dame living by her wits, who kept turning up as a maid in the mansions of new widowers. Here she came, sailing through the posh living room with a feather duster, practicing the French lesson which she hoped would snag this one. “Voulez-vouz voyez mes titties,” she said, sneaking the naughty line past the under-educated censors. Laurel giggled. “That’s my mother,” she said to Pauli’s wife.

“She’s a maid?” the woman said. A slight wrinkling of the muscles above her mouth telegraphed condescension. There was no one, no one to share this with. To mark the moment in her own mind, Laurel turned a deadpan expression on Pauli’s wife, its mere duration offering emphatic criticism. Laurel descended the steps to the deck and placed the deep where told. The wives dove in.

Clack-oomph. Clack-oomph. Clack-oomph. Here came Pauli, rear end first, dragging the ornery, bulging green suitcase down the steps, across the treated wood. He unzipped the zipper with a homely screech. Inside were dozens of hand-painted porcelain items, watches, clocks, picture frames, bracelets, cuff links, lockets. “Look how beautiful they are,” Pauli said to the wives. “Direct from Poland. All half price.”

The wives picked willingly, if listlessly, through the porcelain imports, talking up the items to each other, raising Pauli’s hopes. But heightened enthusiasm was, for them, not a prelude to purchasing — it was a replacement for it. They happily returned to the suitcase all the most precious, profitable things. Each took a twenty dollar locket. They called to their husbands for money — their separates had no pockets. Pauli was unhappy. He held the two twenties in his palm, as he watched the wallets, lovely and thin with new hundreds, go sliding out of sight again deep in the sleek pants of the men.

In the periphery of her vision, Laurel registered a jerky, pinkish movement in the woods. Pauli’s daughter was inching her way down the slope to the last strip of negotiable ground. Here, she raised her arm high over her head with the elbow stiff and hurled her Barbie down the cliff. It was a lousy throw. Barbie landed a short distance away in the underbrush next door. The neighbors’ Akita was startled. It leapt through the woods in two huge bounds and sank its teeth into Clea’s arm. It shook its head back and forth mightily, as Clea screamed. Blood shot out of her arm. The husbands and wives eyed the girl dispassionately, drinks in hand. For legal reasons, no one wanted to get involved. Pauli ran through the woods and scooped up the girl. As he bore her back to the kitchen for first aid, she bellowed with rage.

“Pistou, stop!” a wife said. The reprimand was so belated it had the contradictory effect of praising the dog, which wagged its tail and came to her. She held it by the collar close to her knee. “She has her tetanus shot, I assume,” the woman said to Laurel.

“I’m not her mother,” Laurel said.

Actually, Laurel did have a nine-year old. Hers was celebrating the Fourth on a yacht on the Hudson River somewhere north of here with her dentist father and his doctor friends. Robin was gorgeous, a child model with long dark hair and large grey eyes, who was in great demand for the lithe, thoughtful, unselfconscious way she could run, swing or skip in eight hundred dollar dresses. Laurel’s eyes hung on the river, a great, flat ribbon of pewter-tinted brightness woven between the trees far below. Laurel went inside to help with Clea. The teeth marks were ragged and deep. The flow of blood could not be stanched. Pauli asked Mor-Mor how to get to the emergency room. She gave confusing directions. Ian corrected her, making things worse. Pauli was panicking. Although Laurel knew he would take it wrong, she offered to drive.

It took six hours. When they returned, the neighbors had gone home. Ian, Mor-Mor and Pauli’s wife were sitting at the kitchen table, fanning out their hands for Aqualina, the Polish version of Old Maid, a pair-forming game in which the loser gets stuck with the unpairable Queen of Hearts. Pauli’s wife had come to life. The primitive gloating in the eyes, the transparent scheming in the licking of the lips — Laurel had only observed a working of the features this Chaplinesque in silent movies, never in life. Laurel poured herself a double vodka and slipped out to the deck. Sprawling in one Brown Jordan chair with her sandaled feet up on another, she felt disaffected. The burnt smell of firecracker concentrate drifted up from the harbor. She’d missed the fireworks. To the south, the orange glow over Manhattan suggested something more festive, more complex than Aqualina.

On the steps, Laurel heard the squeak of Pauli’s sneakers. He brought himself to a stop alongside her and placed a hand in violation land above her knee. His breath smelled of kielbasa. “Thank you for what you did today,” he said. Laurel removed the hand with a disdainful fling.

“So you like to play rough?” he said.

“I don’t like to play any way with you,” she said.

“That is a shame because I like to play every way with you. You have dash. You’re the passionate type. All snobby and looking down your nose at people until they get you behind closed doors, and then you can’t get enough. Do you make noise?”

Laurel was shocked. She did make noise. She rose and exited.

“My wife knows I do this,” he called after her in a voice as loud as if the whole neighborhood knew. “She does it too. How do you think we spent a year apart?”

Six months later, Laurel was asking Ian for a separation. She hadn’t meant it to be a humorous occasion, but when he demanded that she give him one good reason, unplanned comedy was the result. “Because you’re not f–.” She burst out laughing, straightened her lips, apologized and tried again. “Because you’re not f–.” Her laugh was higher this time, verging on the out of control.

“This isn’t funny,” Ian said with a Mor-Mor-like sneer.

“Funny!” She half-screamed it, making the on the nose gesture from Charades. “Because you’re not funny!”

Laurel moved to Manhattan and took a job as assistant to Larry Goth, the head of programming for a television network. He was the kind of New Yorker she’d always been afraid of — a dapper, fast-talking, impatient, well-traveled, order-barking, married alpha male with power at the base of every transaction. When she wasn’t looking right at him, Laurel couldn’t remember what his face looked like. He was neither exceptionally bad looking nor exceptionally good. His features were alive with power, and power — at this stage of her life — appealed.

When a mistake got on the air, Larry would slam down the phone, stalk out of his office, looking for blood, and circle the cubicles, his head and shoulders menacing and fin-sharp. Somehow, instead of cringing like the other subordinates, Laurel found ways to make Larry laugh, beginning with humming the two-note soundtrack to “Jaws.” How could he not want more?

She exercised tact, loyalty and discretion with his calendar, covering for him when his wife called and he was with his mistress as adroitly as when his mistress called and he was with his wife. Whenever Laurel stayed late, they ended up kissing. One morning he called her into his office and told her to book the corner table at Montrachet and the room he liked at the Plaza. “And call a temp,” he said, “to cover your desk.”

“God, you’re funny,” he said, lying back on the bed afterward.

Wrapped in the monogrammed Plaza robe, she was entertaining him with dead-on impersonations of the marketing hacks at the network, serving up the same old ad campaigns rife with ellipses season after season. “He… was a blank. She… was a blank. Never… have two blanks blankety-blanked like this… before.”

“Write something,” he said, “and I’ll make it.”

As they dressed, Laurel turned on the television. There was Tricia Kent in “All My Loves.” She played a devout but penniless young beauty whose charitable contributions came from servicing wealthy gentlemen. “Father, forgive me,” she confessed to the priest. “For I undo others as I would have them undo me.”

That evening, Laurel told Robin the good news. She’d been asked to write a sit-com. Robin barely registered the remark. It was Thursday. She was watching “The Simpsons” and eating the pizza alone that Laurel had promised they would eat together. Laurel got back on the phone. Robin had turned twelve and her beauty had changed. She no longer looked like the daughter of a wealthy W.A.S.P. She looked like an emotionally damaged outsider who could be enlisted in criminal causes. Encouraged by her shrink, Robin was making the rounds of the theatrical agents. She was getting guest parts in soap operas, playing disturbed teenage girls who stole things from money to husbands. Laurel was disappointed. She’d been hoping her daughter’s next break would involve the family comedic gift. Soap operas had been Laurel’s mother’s pet peeve. They were too easy and they paid too much. Comedy was the high road in the Kent family. But Laurel kept her mouth shut. Robin was raking it in. Robin paid the hefty rent for their gorgeous loft.

Sometimes Robin spent the weekend in Brooklyn. During Laurel’s six month tenure as a Klodczew, Robin had developed an intimacy with Clea. Clea’s mother had gone back to Poland. Pauli was doing well, Laurel learned from Robin, buying foreclosures in rundown neighborhoods, fixing them up and flipping them. When he showed up in his new Toyota on Friday nights to pick up Robin, Laurel noted that the apparel, while still screaming Borough, had improved a notch — black leather sports jackets with thin lapels, white shirts, bright silk ties. But Pauli still wore the beaver-colored toupee. And there was still that nose.

Robin auditioned for entry into the Arts High School. Laurel was surprised when she got in. She had yet to watch her daughter perform in a soap. She had yet to write anything. It was more fun — and easier — to romp around five-star hotel rooms, making Larry Goth laugh. Pauli and Clea had moved to Westchester. Pauli was restoring a neglected Victorian on an acre of land. Now Robin was taking the Metro North train up to Croton on Friday afternoons. She didn’t return until Sunday night. Weekends were the logical span of time that Laurel should devote to writing. But sitting down at her desk to actually put words to paper, Laurel came up against a monstrous impatience that seemed to mask a monstrous sorrow. Nothing seemed funny.

“Where do they get their money?” Laurel asked Robin two years later when they opened the invitation to Clea’s Sweet Sixteen at Tavern-On-The-Green.

“Real Estate,” Robin said. Indeed, in the Sunday New York Times Classified, there were a dozen homes offered by PK Associates. Laurel took stock. She had just turned forty. She didn’t have a dime in the bank. She hadn’t become a successful comedy writer. She hadn’t even written a word. Making Larry laugh — that was all she had to show for herself, except that she couldn’t show it. She extracted a promise from Larry to accompany her to Clea’s Sweet Sixteen, then she panicked. She had to buy a Larry-worthy dress.

The black crepe gown had a slit from the hem to the knee. The bodice was cut on the bias so that folds drooped in elegant starlet abundance from her right shoulder to her left. A black evening coat was necessary to pull off the dress. And what was all that without the right shoes. The horror was jewelry. Laurel had none. The sales girl suggested she do what some first time Emmy-nominees do and wear nothing — simply display a bare, statuesque white neck. At the last minute Larry canceled. Laurel spent all day canceling for Larry at the last minute, yet when it came to her event, she forgot that’s what he did. She and Robin took the limousine without him. Entering the long reception line, Laurel could see Pauli had lost twenty-five pounds. His distinguished new toupee must have cost as much as the catering. But he still had the nose, that bumpy, purplish comic touch from the past. She found herself mentally competing with Pauli’s new girlfriend. Laurel won the gown category — the girl’s red satin strapless sheath succeeded mainly in exposing a tremendous beefiness in the upper arms. But the girl won the overall category. She did have jewelry. She had rubies.

As Laurel approached Pauli, his eyes traveled the full length of her, noting and approving every detail — shoes, slit, drooping folds, throat — on which she had lavished so much of Robin’s earnings. He was taking it personally, as if she’d dressed for him. In greeting her, he arranged an indiscretion, placing his palms in the intimate spaces on her ribs where the soft curves of her breasts began.

Clea’s dress was voluminous, costly and white. It looked as wrong on her at sixteen as the sequined hot pink shorts had at nine. Her face was still anxious, still angry, but there was something refreshingly low-class about her manner, as if she knew how to be pretentious, but didn’t find it fun. “I never see you,” Clea said to Laurel with genuine emotion as they hugged. Next in line was Mor-Mor. Laurel bit her lip. In her chin-high, floor-length royal blue organza gown, Mor-Mor’s wizened, harsh expression evoked Chief Black Kettle in drag.

“Congratuations, Mor-Mor,” Laurel said.

Irene,” the old bag snarled.

The luxury of the occasion was accomplished without class. The unlimited hot butlered hors d’oeuvres all involved dough. Every course in the meal involved meat. The birthday cake was too high. Now Laurel was glad Larry bailed. To break up the evening, Laurel went often to the ladies room. After the cake, when Laurel pushed open the carved and gilded door, she heard someone in distress behind the closed door of a stall. There were dry heaves; there was retching and gagging. She knocked authoritatively on the door, saying, “Do you need help?” There was a pause.

“Laurel?” Clea’s voice was sheepish. “It’s my sick little thing,” she said when she came out to gargle. “Don’t tell?”

The D.J. was cueing up the karaoke machine for “You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Clea took the microphone. She wished, she said, to dedicate this song to her father. The girl started out skillfully — her tone was passable in the middle registers — but as the range grew higher and the words more emotional, her voice grew off-key and frantic. Everyone in the ballroom was anxious for the song to be over — everyone but Pauli. As Laurel watched him mopping his eyes, she was moved. He chose that moment to catch her eye. The DJ spun an Oldie. Laurel left the party before Pauli could ask her to dance.


*         *         *


Larry went to California for two months. One of the network secretaries got in the habit of sneaking into Larry’s office every afternoon at one p.m. to watch the edgy new soap opera. It starred Robin. “That’s my daughter,” Laurel said, watching with her. The secretary was star-struck. Which other parts had Robin played, she wanted to know. How many hours did she rehearse? What did she get paid per episode? Laurel didn’t know the answers. She bluffed her way through, spouting generalities. She felt uneasy about Larry. He was abrupt on the phone. Something was afoot. She could feel the tectonic plates of their relationship preparing to shift.

He came back from California early, calling Laurel from the airport, telling her to book lunch for the two of them that day at Montrachet. She arrived twenty minutes late. His rule of thumb for people beneath him was to wait no more than five minutes. Laurel was amazed he was still there. Subliminally, she took note of some essential difference in him as she entered the restaurant and crossed to his table. He was wearing an unstructured linen blazer and Italian loafers without socks. His ankles were tan — was that it? His face was purple, his features flexed for the kill. “Hold it,” she said. “I am late for a funny reason.”

Larry’s rage dispelled. He cocked his head a degree. “Let’s hear it,” he said.

Laurel acted it out. All the way down Sixth, her cabbie was behind a U-Haul truck and couldn’t pass. Finally, the U-Haul signaled to make the left turn onto Houston where it immediately got broadsided by a van running a red light. And not just any van, the Lubavitchers’ van with the loud speaker on top, calling lapsed Jews back to the fold. The impact sent the rear doors of the U-Haul banging open. “Guess what fell out?” Laurel said.

Larry wouldn’t guess.

“Inflated fuck dolls,” she said.

Larry smiled. Laurel was a delight. “How many?”

“Twenty? The Lubavitchers are jumping out, smoke is pouring out of the engine of the van, they see the dolls –” Laurel paused to mimic the wide eyes, the blow-job mouth. Larry chuckled. “All you could hear was, Oi! Oi! Oi! And they jumped back in the van. All of us are honking. People are furious. We try to drive around the dolls — and that makes them bounce up, down and around. We have to drive over them. Everywhere all you can hear is the squeak of inflated plastic and the sound of Sssssssssssss.”

Larry had stopped smiling. He was leaning back in his chair. “You are so much funnier,” he said. “Than the woman I’m leaving you for.”

That’s why he’d waited. Laurel went to the ladies room to think. She stared, dry-eyed, at the mirror. She wasn’t the type to cry. Comedy, not tragedy – that was how she got through things. What would Tricia Kent do? She remembered “Diamonds and Dandies.” Her mother played a showgirl who was getting the brush-off from her sugar daddy at the Copa Cabana.

Laurel returned to the table with a brave face. She ordered the Venison Carpaccio in a Cassis reduction with Artichoke/Sage polenta. Larry had the salmon. For desert, Laurel equivocated so convincingly between two choices that, when the cream pie came, Larry forgot she never ordered dessert. He was beautifully off guard, already looking forward to having her off his hands. Across the room, the waiter’s face registered horror as Laurel, pie in hand, tapped Larry on the shoulder.


*         *         *


Robin was accepted at Yale Drama School. Laurel was surprised — she didn’t think Robin was that good. She was surprised again when Robin decided not to go to Yale, not to go to college at all, but to stay in New York, stay in her soap opera and get her own apartment. Robin loved the cast, she told her mother, and they loved her. They were like her real family, she told Laurel. Laurel was hurt. There was more. “You’ve been living off me since I was three,” Robin said. “You made me pay for my own psychotherapy.” The girl’s lips quivered. She managed not to burst into tears. “Well you’re on your own now,” Robin said. “I’d prefer it if you didn’t contact me.”

Laurel was immobilized by disbelief. She had accidentally been a terrible mother. She had assumed that because she idolized her mother, she herself was a good one. Apparently, it didn’t work that way. She walked Manhattan, negotiating the streets in a daze, allowing the accounting of her neglect and disregard to accrue. She couldn’t remember providing any of the mother-daughter rituals for Robin that her mother had provided her. There was no point in dress-shopping with your daughter for an important occasion when haute couture designers routinely sent her home from fashion shoots in dresses worth two months’ rent. Laurel and her mother had talked about movies for hours, lounging in bed. They went out for ice cream when they felt depressed. On their birthdays, they dressed to the nines and dined at the Bel-Air. What did Laurel do with Robin? She picked up pizza which her daughter ate alone while Laurel talked on the phone. It didn’t seem fair that this whole mother thing could catch Laurel so off-guard in middle age when it was over and couldn’t be re-done. The waste of it overwhelmed her. “Damn you, Mother!” she said out loud, drawing stares. She was walking up Fifth. “Why’d you have to die!”

She heard her mother’s voice. “I’ll try anything once.” The line came from “Hollywood Daze.” Tricia Kent played a talentless ingenue reduced to publicity stunts. And there she went, in wind-whipped aviator gear, her face green behind goggles, riding on the outside wing of a bi-plane buzzing a beach, pulling an advertising banner that read, TUMS FOR THE TUMMY. Laurel giggled hysterically. On the sidewalk, people who were staring fell back quickly or ducked into stores.

Laurel found herself at 83rd and Lexington. She’d walked all the way. She felt calmer, waiting for the bus. She studied the wares in a shop window, precious objects of pre-war Austrian design, gleaming chrome and ebony tea sets, desk accessories and vases. They were beautifully “modern,” not a curve in sight. Angles made up their forms — exclusively, economically — defiantly distinguishing their rules from the rules of ten thousand years of curves. The objects took such irresistible pleasure in simplicity that the long tradition of ornateness they were replacing seemed sentimental by comparison.

In the rear of the shop, a gentleman wearing dark glasses and a long expensive British trench coat stood with his back to her at the counter. He’d just made a purchase. The short, balding owner was fawning obsequiously as he wrapped the object once, then twice, placing it in a lovely box, then placing the box in a lovely bag. The customer turned to leave. Laurel caught his profile. She froze when she saw that nose. Lightning fast, she whipped around and removed herself from view in three great, comical sidesteps.

The bus rolled up to the curb. The hinged doors flapped open. The hydraulic mechanism groaned and sighed as the driver lowered the steps to convenient pedestrian height. Laurel watched in the reflection of the shop window before her as Pauli got on the bus. With a squeeze of diesel exhaust, the reflection of the blue and white MTA behemoth went sliding through Laurel’s reflection.


*         *         *


Laurel had to find a cheap place to live. Looking through the classifieds for a studio apartment in Queens, her eyes strayed to the Houses For Sale in Westchester. Half the listings were Pauli’s. A display ad for new water-front condos in Croton listed Clea as broker. It fit. Clea’s power suit would look terrible, her pancake make-up would come to a crashing halt at the jaw. Her come-on would be coarse. Maternal deprivation, deep-seated rage, the bilious fear of being exposed as a bulemic — all that would combine with the love and support of an ambitious, aggressive father to make Clea a killer saleswoman.

Before Laurel reached for the phone, she tried to think things out like grown-ups surely did. If she made an appointment to see the condo, Clea would insist they have lunch. Over lunch, Laurel’s sad update would inspire Clea to suggest that Laurel go into real estate. Once Laurel passed the exam, and was on staff at PK Associates, Pauli would make passes. Laurel would refuse at first, but not forever. Robin would approve. With judicious overtures and carefully planned social overlaps, Robin would end up seeing Laurel again. They would eventually be one big, semi-happy family. But there had to be ground rules. There could be nothing — absolutely nothing — with Pauli in the missionary position. Laurel would never be able to keep a straight face when she was eye to eye with that nose.