Three Women--Hating, Loving, and Just "Living" Through the Difficult Eighties

JENNIFER AND KATE put the groceries away in the Plattsburgh farmhouse, Kate’s sleek bell-bottom pants and carelessly tossing hair contrasting strangely with Jennifer’s simple plaid muumuu and untidy bun.

“It’s hard to believe, coming back to the farm in Plattsburgh after Manhattan, that some people actually live here!” said Kate, shaking her head. “No theater! No ballet!”

Feeling inferior as she put away canned goods, Jennifer wras silent. I mustn’t show that I’m upset, she told herself, for the millionth time since Kate’s arrival at the farm that morning.

“Don’t you think so, Jen?” persisted Kate.

“Yes, 1 suppose you’re right,” Jennifer answered. Damn! she said to herself.

“I could hardly keep from laughing out loud when I saw the cashier’s hairdo in the supermarket!”

“Yes, that was funny.”

“She’s probably stupid, too,” continued Kate.

It began to snow outside as the girls finished up their chores, arranging the last canned goods and thriftily folding up the bags. Side by side, they stared out at the snow for a moment, perhaps thinking that it—falling, falling—was like the years that fall away from a woman’s life, and the boyfriends, and the dreams that don’t come true, as life turns her this w’av and that like a hollow reed.

“I remember standing here this way when we were little children,” said Kate. “I was older than you, and I recited ‘Star light, star bright . . .’ Remember?”

Jennifer nodded gently. For a moment the two women just enjoyed the shared closeness.

“I never dreamed then what the future would bring,” Kate continued. “Like most girls, I thought I’d marry a Prince Charming—wear a white dress, children, the whole bit! I never thought I’d actually move to Manhattan and attend graduate school!”

Jennifer coughed painfully. “I—I’d better start the spinach salad.” She moved away quickly so that her sister, Kate—the smart one, the brave one, the one who always got everything— wouldn’t see her quiet tears.

“I never thought I’d be attending graduate school!” shouted Kate. “Oh, Jen, vou wouldn’t believe how nervous I was, taking my GREs. I kept thinking, Me?? Then, when my scores came in the mail, I thought I might get into Rutgers . . . but Columbia! I thought Columbia was out of the question. Oh, I’m so happy, and my professors are so handsome!” At this she ran into the bright kitchen to embrace her sister, and saw that she was crying.

“Why, Jen, what is it?”

“Nothing, Kate, I’m just so happy for you and everything,” she said lamely.

But Kate knew something was wrong and for a moment peered carefully into the eyes of her sister, and as she did so, her own eyes took on a steely expression. Shrieking, she punched her.

“Jealous! You’re jealous of me and you always have been! Ever since—Paul!”

But Kate didn’t know her little sister and what the month since she had moved to New York City had wrought on that dormant soul.

“Be careful how far you push me, Miss Graduate School,” spat Jennifer, the flush in her cheeks making her almost pretty. “Yes, you’re surprised that I’m standing up to you now. You didn’t know, did you, that day in, day out on this lonely farm I’ve been studying too.”She threw back her head and let out a peal of hysterical laughter. “I know judo. And Paul taught me!” Hastily she pulled up the sleeve of her muumuu over the once delicate wrist. It was bulging with muscles! “Now’ 1 too can have a fuller erotic and professional life!”

Kate stiffened and fell back a step. “Okay, okay, take it easy,” she said. “Don’t get so uptight.”

AT THIS MOMENT a car was heard coming down the long drive from the highway to the farm that their grandfather had cleared with nothing but an old plow. As the sound grew louder, the two sisters—one a graduate student, the other a farmer—stared into each other’s eyes. Jennifer broke the silence at last and began to set the table, saying, “That must be her—Mother.”

“Well, she hasn’t been much of a mother to me!” screamed Kate. “But if she’s coming here tonight, there’s nothing I can do about it. But why, why can’t she accept the fact that there’s more to a woman’s life chan obedience and procreation?”

“Get the door, Kate,” said her sister.

Sullenly Kate went through the quaint sitting room of the farm, and patted her long, free hair as she passed an old-fashioned mirror. She was attractive . . . more attractive than Jennifer, and she knew it. Approaching the door, she set her mouth in an angry expression of defiance.

“Hello, Mama.”

“You’ve never liked me, have you, Kate? You don’t like me now, as a grown woman, any more than you did when, as a toddler, you saw me accidentally nudge your father and he fell down the stairs that Christmas Eve.”

“Because he was a dreamer, Mama Edna. You couldn’t stand that.”

The older woman’s silence acknowledged that this was the truth.

“You’re looking well, Mama Edna,” continued Kate, condescendingly, as she took the older woman’s coat and shut the door behind them.

“No, dear, don’t do that,” said her mother.

“Why not?”

Her mother looked uneasily around the sitting room of “the farm.”

“Because I’m not alone.”

Kate stared.

“It’s . . . Paul.”

Mother and daughter locked eyes in an age-old w’ar of struggling female walls, so different from when men get mad at each other. And they knew that this was only the beginning. For there was the tense cocktail hour to be gotten through. Ancient grudges would flare up during dinner—things that could be neither resolved nor forgotten. There would be the problem of the dishes and who would do them. Some or all three of them might be felled by menstrual cramps or another woman’s problem by then. And for women hideously constricted by feminine bonds, as these three w’ere, an untold number of such searing reunions lay ahead: christenings, face-lifts, divorces, graduations, Halloween parties, and innovative weddings. They knew it, and they faced it. It was the price they paid and would go on paying till, perhaps in the nineties, they learned just to turn on the TV, as Paul was wanting to do right now, and haggle over a Knicks game, and punch one another’s biceps. But all that lay far in the future. □