Kathleen's Engagement

Kyle sure seemed to be crazy about her, and from her way of smiling back—ooh, I can’t say it

A WEEK and a half after announcing her engagement, my best friend. Kathleen, brought Kyle over to meet us. At this time we still knew only one thing about him: he worked at Knott’s Berry Farm. My husband, Mark, was pessimistic about it, because he thinks there’s almost no chance an unmarried woman—d i vorced. in this case—who’s past the age of twenty-two can meet a decent man. Inevitably she’ll marry the other kind, and spend the rest of her life covering it up. So we won’t know.

He was putting out glasses and ice and dip, all fixed that tidy way I’d found so jarring when we were first together. He wants to put everything in arrangements. I could never reconcile it with his love of smoking dope. This is a man from a really bohemian family—they’ll tell you they had a cousin who was almost blacklisted before you even get through the front door!

I’m not talking about those clown-face platters with pimiento noses, such as, for example, Kyle may make—but I do mean celery sticks all arranged in a row according to their size and their color. Speaking of Kyle, by the way, Mark claimed he wears shirts with flapping short sleeves, and goes out and buys a new snowblower every two years. He couldn’t possibly know this! Also, with no evidence whatsoever. he harped on what he called “the main disappointment of Kyle’s life—that rejection by Mensa.”“Kathleen will probably want to stay after he’s gone home,” he was saying. “Why?”

I said “Why?” but was at that moment reading his mind. He imagined she would be so embarrassed by Kyle all evening that we’d have to have an hour with just the three of us, to make sure she understood we didn’t think any less of her. Of course she was bound to make an occasional mistake in her desperate rush to marry someone like: himself! He thinks this is the desire of any woman he happens to think well of, and in fairness to him I will admit that all women think he is “adorable,”and something about him makes them feel they can and should tell him so.

I threw up my hands. “You know he may be great! He may be perfect for her!”

“Yeah,” he muttered in his preoccupied way over the celery. “We should try to keep an open mind. But she’s always so lonely, and she’s so good-natured—you just never know what kind of creep she’ll drag in.”

The doorbell rang at that second, as if to say, “I’ll show you what kind!” It was twice as eerie since Kathleen always comes through the back door.

“Doesn’t want Kyle to know about the back door,” Mark said on his way past me. “I think she’s regretting the whole business already.”

I went quickly to the mirror to see if my hair looked all right, and when t joined them they were standing staring up at an old brass sconce with a worn shade, as if it were a mysterious deity.

First I hugged Kathleen while she said, “Another one of your cheerful black outfits!” Then Kyle and I shook hands.

“1 was just admiring your light fixture!” he said.

I wasn’t about to laugh—well, that’s not exactly true—so I said, “Oh, are you a ... a sconce enthusiast?”

ATHLEEN rolled her eyes at me. She was amused, though. Meanwhile. Mark was staring beadily at

Kyle, who had an oval bald head. He was a normal-looking man—he looked somewhat like David Gergen.

Murmuring something, Mark lifted Kathleen’s raincoat up off her shoulders, so I reached out for Kyle’s.

He handed it over, and I took it back to the vestibule and slid it onto a hanger. Cooties? I couldn’t be sure.

“Fantastic house!” I heard him exclaim as I joined them in the living room. “It really makes one think of the gracious old days, doesn’t it, when they had plenty of servants and knew just how to live!”

“Thanks,” I replied, seating myself next to him. The other two were on the couch facing us. Kathleen seemed happy, and Mark, I guessed, was going over in his mind what might be the best way to console her.

“Kathleen got lost coming back from the airport!” Mark said to me.

“I did,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s the fifth time I’ve forgotten the name of my own exit.”

“It’s Ridgefield,” Mark said.

“I know it now” she said. “I’ll know it next time. You know, I thought it was that, but it seemed so obvious that I thought. ‘Of course you think it would be that, but it’s so obvious, it can’t be.’ That’s how these things always happen to me.”

“Your hair looks great, and that’s the main thing,” I said.

“Doesn’t she have fantastic hair?” Kyle said. “That hair and that figure!” Kyle pretended to have an attack of the shivers. “Boy, the guy who could walk out on that!”

He’d called Kathleen “that.” I couldn’t help glancing over at Mark. He’d been gazing at her knee, perhaps musing on the terrible odds she faced, but now he sat up straight, as if he’d been punched in the stomach. I looked away, wondering if someday there’d be some horrible repercussion for Kyle.

Kathleen herself didn’t seem bothered and only remarked that there’s no accounting for people’s tastes. And to really understand that, you have to know she mistakenly believes she has very mediocre looks. I laughed feebly, too weak to contradict her for the billionth time. Then we all chewed awhile on the celery. Kathleen eventually returned to the subject of the exit names, which she thinks are being changed all the time.

I said to Kyle, “I understand you work at Knott’s Berry Farm,” and he said, “Ah!” as if I were just about to win a grand prize.

“Yes. I manage the Good Time Theatre there at Knott’s Berry Farm.” He paused to swallow. “Do you know it? No? Kind of interesting how it happened. I took a job there in 1981, just to tide me over till the grad-school semester started. Guess what? I never made it to grad school!”

“Why not?” Mark said.

Kyle turned three quarters toward me and, slightly chewing, said that it was the only “family-type facility on the West Coast” that does something—can’t remember, I guess, but I heard him say “family-type fun,” too, which might be some kind of code for religious views—and then he concluded, “I guess I’m pretty proud of it, the way I go on!”

And then I came down on him for being ashamed of being proud of Knott’s Berry Farm, because I am such a snob and I didn’t want him to think he could read my mind. (And I’d been thinking, “Boy, you sure are proud of Knott’s Berry Farm.”) I pretty much said to him, “I may not like your shirt or anything, and I think you’re boring, but by God, I’m no monster.”

I caught Kathleen gazing at me, but it lasted only seven milliseconds.

So then I felt so guilty that I really threw negativity to the winds and said, in an encouraging voice, “Are you going to take Kathleen out there to see it?”

“Oh, nothing would please me more! Trish asks me if I’m taking you to the farm. I said nothing would please me more!”

He really looked like David Gergen in a happy mood as he reached over the crudités and put his hand on her knee for a moment. He sure seemed to be crazy about her, and from her way of smiling back— ooh, I can’t say it. But I was filled with forebodings. Because, other than looking like David Gergen. he didn’t seem like a real person to me. That’s going to have to be my excuse.

“Want to come out and help me carry in things Mark already made? I said to Kathleen.

“Now, that’s a skill I’m going to need,” she replied with a laugh. “Kyle’s such a great cook!”

“Great!” I said, my heart still sinking, sinking down into my shoes. Clown faces made with olives. It seemed more plausible than ever! But you know what? It didn’t even matter about that anymore. I felt the truth was so much worse.

GETTING out to the kitchen, we found Mark’s brother Carl standing there dripping rain on the floor. He must have come in through the back door, heard guests, and stood there wondering what to do, as he is very unsociable. It just so happens he has a crush on Kathleen, but that didn’t keep him from neglecting to say hello to her or to me.

“I came to get that manual Mark borrowed from me.”

“Oh, I think he’s still reading it. Mark!”

“I can’t help that. I need it back.”

“Carl’s here, Mark!” I yelled again, and then turned back. “Where’s Carla?” (That’s Carl’s wife!)

“In the car.”

“How’s she been?” Kathleen said. All the rest of the people in the world have stopped asking that question because of the way, once introduced, it spreads out and engulfs time and space, just like the Blob.

“She hasn’t any feeling in her left foot,” Carl replied punitively. “None.” Then he added, “People who are healthy all the time can’t imagine what it means to be in a situation like Carla’s.”

That’s Carl’s way of saying to Kathleen, “I want your body, damn it.”

But she actually managed a sympathetic response, and was even asking what the doctor thought it was. when Mark entered with the book. “Word something something User’s Guide ... is this it?”

“Yes!” Carl said churlishly. “I’m going to need it myself from now on.”

“Fine. Well, Kathleen’s brought someone over, so we’d better all get back in there.” He started and then turned back to his brother. “Or you can stay and have a drink if you want . . . there’s plenty of liquor; no Moxie, of course. They

don’t make it anymore.”

“Moxie! I remember that!” Kathleen said suddenly, a faraway look in her eyes. I picked up the next relay of crackers: spirals all laid out perfectly in advance (not by me).

These things that happen between Mark and Carl are unpleasant. and often about Moxie, absurd as that is, because as a young teenager, before he knew he was going to be a famous psycholinguist, Carl used to drink it, thinking it was alcohol and that he was getting drunk. He would actually go downtown and stagger around!

I turned back to get Kathleen to come. I no longer wanted to trap her in the kitchen and force her to explain Kyle to me. Right then I felt there was enough unpleasantness in the world! Of course, I did still feel an unspeakable dread on her behalf, connected with Kyle. I also had to face the fact that she didn’t seem curious about my opinion.

She was staring out the window above the sink. “Moxie! Something about Moxie! Wasn’t it almost black?”

“I don’t know,” I said with a sigh. “It was a weird drink that made a big impression on everybody. I’m sorry Carl was rude. I’m sorry about it. You know the reason—the main reason, anyway.” She laughed and said she realized that he was always mad about something or other. And suddenly I could feel it coming that she was about to say, “That’s why I like Kyle so much!”

“That’s what I appreciate about Kyle. You know, Trish. I’ve always picked the most demanding guys, and always felt it was up to me to soothe them, for some reason. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Till I met Kyle. You think he s too much the other way. don’t you? Never mind. I could tell you didn’t want to touch his coat!”

Boy. Horrible, unexpected feelings of shame invaded my being. I put down the tray. I said, “I didn’t know him yet then.”

She shook her head and started gazing out the window again.

“I just have the feeling I’m really not going to ever get married again.”

“Course you will!”

“Ladies!” Mark exclaimed from the living room. “How ‘bout those crackers! Not touching the arrangement, are you?”

“No, I won’t,” she continued. “You don’t like him. and” —she laughed—“I just couldn’t stand the strain of it!”

At that moment a smiling Mark reappeared beside us and whispered, “We were over looking at that sconce again and we heard every word you said about Kyle. Just so you know!”

We rushed back into the living room. Kathleen gave a hug to the ever-cheerful Kyle and led him back to the couch, along the way inviting him to tell us about a project he was planning. I supposed it was some kind of new ride at “the farm,” or a new “Las Vegas-type show,” and I begged him to tell about it too, while simultaneously shoving the tray at him. I was ready to do practically anything to get him distracted from what he might have overheard. I wonder I didn’t sit down on the other side of him from Kathleen and try to get him engaged to me, as well! (I know what he would have said, too: “Hey, aren’t you married to Mike?”)

He didn’t want to discuss the project after all. though, because, he said, it would probably come to nothing.

“It’s a book,” Kathleen said. “He’s an excellent writer.”

“A book you’re planning to write’?” Mark said.

“I guess it sounds strange, after all that about my job, and being so involved out there. But it’s true. At least it’s something I think I’d enjoy trying.”

“Kyle grew up in Michigan, and it would be a book all about Lake Huron, its history—economic history, mainly. And how neglected it’s always been by the rest of the country. His father was a newspaper editor in a small town, so Kyle saw better than most people how it all happened.”

“Amazing how we never even think about Lake Huron!” I said, still feeling a lot of guilt and anxiety.

“Huron: The Quiet One,”

Mark said in a dreamy voice.

“There’s a lot of people hurting up there,” Kyle remarked.

“How about a new Knott’s Berry Farm for the place?” Mark said.

“Ha! I wish!”

“Would you take a leave of absence to write it?” I said in a riveted voice.

Kathleen said. “I’ve offered to keep him, but he refuses. Gee, I was ready to extend all kinds of privileges, too!”

I was groaning on the inside. Groaning! But on the outside we all laughed. I was looking at Kyle’s bitten-down fingernails, but I was seeing the future. A monstrous foursome. Soon our names would be appearing in an article headed “KNOTTS BERRY FARM NUPTIALS.” Yes! And then Kyle, the opportunist twerp, would be turning his back on “the farm” and family values to move in with my friend, probably expecting her to buy him a word processor! Of course it had to happen that way. No way he’d let her move and give up her little firm that brought in so much money! Maybe he himself was a con man who’d never actually worked one day. He was probably from Lubbock, Texas, or something.

The snowblowing, family-values man with the flapping short sleeves now receded to a tiny point, while Kyle himself came rushing back, laugh on his face, fat cigar in his hand! At that moment Mark interrupted to say, “Macaroni and cheese ready, dear?”

That was a code, because we don’t like the dish.

“Yes,” I said, trying to gather my wits without showing how upset I felt. “I think dinner is ready, as a matter of fact.”

“Let me help carry things!” said our male guest.

Kathleen walked out beside me, telling me about her friend Ruthie who had had a nose job, claiming it was an operation for a sinus problem. “And when her friends see her, she’ll have to say something like ‘My nose feels so much better it actually looks better! Isn’t that weird?”’

“But they won’t think it looks better, because they think she just had regular surgery, don’t you think?” I replied.

I was interested, but also crushed by something else at

the same time, so I went straight to a kitchen chair and sat in it.

I looked at my hands in my lap. Kathleen was saying it was a subtle kind of change, they pulled in the nostrils a little bit, and I was listening but I was having a hard time. I was trying to bear a picture of my own future, when Kathleen would be all wrapped up in her own life, and I’d be the sole companion of Mark.