Cold spring harbor, p.1
Cold Spring Harbor, p.1Richard Yates
COLD SPRING HARBOR
A Delta Book
Delacorte Press hardcover edition published September 1986
Delta trade paperback edition published August 1987
Delta trade paperback reissue / November 2008
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint excerpts from the following: Portions of the lyric from “DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE” by Duke Ellington and Bob Russell. Copyright © 1942, 1970 by ROBBINS MUSIC CORPORATION. Rights Assigned to CBS CATALOGUE PARTNERSHIP. All Rights Controlled & Administered by CBS ROBBINS CATALOG INC. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by Permission.
Portions of the lyric from “MAKE BELIEVE,” written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, II. Copyright © 1927 by T. B. Harms Company. Copyright Renewed. (c/o The Welk Music Group, Santa Monica, California, 90401.) International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
Portions of the lyric from “HE WEARS A PAIR OF SILVER WINGS” by Eric Maschwitz and Michael Carr. Copyright 1941 Renewed, The Peter Maurice Music Co., Ltd., London. Reproduced by permission of Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc., and EMI Music Publishing Ltd., LONDON WC2H OLD., and for Australia & New Zealand J Albert & Son PTY LTD.
All rights reserved
Copyright © 1986 by Richard Yates
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 86-2095
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Published simultaneously in Canada
Other Books by This Author
All the sorrows of Evan Shepard’s loutish adolescence were redeemed at seventeen, in 1935, when he fell in love with automobiles. His persistent bullying of weaker boys, his thick-witted ways of offending girls, his inept and embarrassing ventures into petty crime—none of those things mattered any more, except as bad memories. He had found a high romance in driving fast and far, over most of Long Island, and he soon attained intimacy with the mechanical parts of any car he could get his hands on. For whole days at a time, meticulously taking a car apart or putting it together in the dust of his parents’ driveway, Evan would be lost to the world.
And it was always a pleasure for his father, Charles Shepard, just to stand at a window and watch him working alone out there in the sun. Nobody could have guessed a year ago that this particular boy would ever learn to organize and focus his mind on a useful job of work; and wasn’t that the beginning of maturity? Wasn’t it what helped a man develop will and purpose in his life?
Well, of course it was; and the aching, crying need for will and purpose in your life—anybody’s life—was something Charles Shepard knew about from long and helpless experience. He was a retired army officer, a man with poetic habits of thought that he’d always tried to suppress, and it often seemed that his own capacity for zeal had vanished with the Armistice of 1918.
As an impassioned young second lieutenant of infantry, newly married to the prettiest girl at the officers’ club dance and reasonably sure she would pray for him, he had arrived in France three days after the war ended—and his disappointment was so intense that more than a few other officers had to tell him, impatiently, not to be silly about it.
“I’m not,” he would insist, “I’m not.“But he always knew there’d be no escaping the truth; he had even begun to suspect that a queasy sense of abortion might haunt the rest of his life.
“Apart from knowing I’ll love you forever,” he wrote to his wife from Le Havre, “I seem to have lost confidence in just about everything else. I’ve come to believe that only a very, very few matters in the world can ever be trusted to make sense.”
Back in the States again and surrounded by whooping, hollering men who could scarcely wait to be out of the army, Charles came to an abrupt and unpopular decision. For reasons never entirely clear to himself, he signed up to stay in.
One way he could always tell the reasons weren’t clear was that he had to keep going over and over them in his mind for years, as if they were answers in a dim little three-part catechism: the army could almost be seen as a vocation; it provided the security that a married man and a father would always need; and there might, eventually, be another war.
He served as a first lieutenant long enough to make him worry about being the oldest first lieutenant anyone knew, and almost all of his duties in those years, greatly against his wishes, lay in the heavy tedium of office work.
Fort Devens, Fort Dix, Fort Benning, Fort Meade—every army post made brave attempts to be different from the others, but they were all the same. They were as plain as hell, and they were built on the assumption of obedience. Even in the closely guarded privacy of Married Officers’ Housing, and even at night, you could never forget where you were, or why, and neither could your wife. If everything in both your lives was expected to conform to the boundaries of a peacetime military preserve, and if your wife was as bright and spirited a girl as Grace Shepard, you could never honestly say you were surprised—frightened, certainly, but not surprised—when her nerves gave way and fell apart.
From the time of her first hospitalization Charles knew he had better make what plans he could for getting out of the army soon—and by then there was another trouble that suggested he’d be out of it soon enough anyway: his eyesight had gone rapidly bad and was getting worse. Ironically, though, it was during that same year that the army gave him something interesting to do. On being promoted to captain at last, he was placed in command of a rifle company.
And oh, he liked those two hundred men—even the misfits; even the soreheads. After a very few weeks he was proud of them, and proud of seeming to have earned their respect. He savored those moments of every day that encouraged him to believe he was looking after them, taking care of them, and to believe they knew it; and he never tired of hearing them say “the captain,” or “the company commander.”
When he took them out on long marches, under full field equipment, he liked the rhythm and the sweat and the disciplined pain of it, even though he might not always be sure he could make the distance. And there were other times, squinting and peering into their opened, empty Springfield rifles, while the men themselves stood unnaturally straight and perfectly still in formation, with perfectly expressionless faces, when he would find himself wishing he could lead this company into some fanciful war of his own imagining. Nearly all of them would distinguish themselves in the field because nearly every action there would be above and beyond the call of duty; then when the war was over their dead would come back to life again, just in time for the drinking and the laughter and the pretty girls.
If Grace had made a full recovery he might have tried to fake his way through any number of eye tests, just to sta
For several days, as they sorted out and packed their belongings, Charles toyed with the idea of moving to some place that neither of them had ever seen—California, say, or Canada—where they might both be rejuvenated in the bravery of starting a new life. But then, earlier Shepards had always been Long Island people, accustomed to grassy plains and potato farms and a wind smelling faintly of salt water, and so the more sensible thing was to go home. On the strength of his small but adequate retirement pension he bought a small but adequate brown frame house on the north shore, at the edge of the village of Cold Spring Harbor.
Before very long he was known around the village as a dignified, courteous man who always did his family’s grocery shopping, and took care of their laundry, because his wife was said to be an invalid. There were hesitant, groundless rumors that he’d been a hero in the war, or that he’d served with some other kind of brilliance; people might have been surprised to learn that he’d retired as a captain because his appearance and bearing were more in the style of a colonel: you could picture him taking salutes from a battalion or a whole regiment of men and sternly watching them pass in review. That impression might take on a faintly comic aspect sometimes, when you saw him wrestle and grapple on the street with grocery bags, or with laundry bags, his gray hair blown awry and his thick glasses beginning to slip down his nose; but nobody, even in the tavern, ever made jokes about him.
“I’m back, dear,” he called to Grace one afternoon, easing a great burden of groceries onto the kitchen table, and he continued talking to her in the same raised voice as he went about the business of putting things away where they belonged. “I think Evan’s been out there working on that engine for about ten hours straight,” he called. “I don’t know where he gets the energy. Or the diligence.”
When he’d finished with the groceries he broke out some ice and fixed two drinks of bourbon and water, one with a double shot of whiskey. He carried them into the living room and out onto a heavily shaded sun porch, where Grace reclined on a chaise longue, and he carefully put the one with the double bourbon into her waiting, reaching hand.
“Isn’t it remarkable how a boy can change? Just in a few months’ time?” he asked her as he sat with his own drink on a straight chair, close beside her. The day had been tiring but he could rest for half an hour now, until it was time to get dinner started.
At certain moments, if the light and the alcohol worked to her advantage, Grace could still be the prettiest girl at the officers’ club dance. Charles had learned to wait for those moments with a lover’s patience, and to cherish them when they came, but they’d grown increasingly rare. Most of the time—this afternoon, for example—he found he would rather not look at her at all because she would only look ruined: heavy, dissatisfied, apparently grieving in silence for the loss of herself.
A kindly, aging army doctor at Fort Meade, in discussing her condition, had once made use of the word “neurasthenia”—and Charles, after looking it up in the dictionary, had decided it was something he could live with. But later, in New York, a much younger civilian doctor had dismissed that term as being too old-fashioned and imprecise to have any value in modern medicine. Then, like an overconfident salesman, this younger man had begun to press for what he called “a course of psychotherapy.”
“Well, if we’re going to argue about words, Doctor,” Charles said, barely keeping his temper, “I’ll have to tell you that I have no confidence in any word beginning with ‘psych.’ I don’t think you people know what you’re doing in that funny, shifty field, and I don’t think you ever will.”
And he’d never been sorry he’d said that, or that he’d gotten up and walked out of the office a minute later, even though it gave the doctor permission to sit there looking as piqued and vain, as dirty-minded and victorious as a portrait photograph of Sigmund Freud himself. Some things you did were worth regretting; others not.
Not very long ago, during the worst of his son’s difficulties, Charles had found himself unable to prevent the insidious current of psychiatric jargon from beginning to flow again, here in his own house, as various people urged him to “get professional help” for Evan, or to “look into professional counselling” for him; and the funny part now was that he could remember being halfway tempted to go along with that kind of talk, if only because all other talk at the time had been so much more unsettling—talk of police probation and of juvenile court, even talk of reform school. Those were days when it often seemed there would always be a stranger’s angry voice on the phone, complaining about Evan, or a couple of cops at the door.
Well, it certainly was remarkable how a boy could change. And maybe things like this really did get better of their own accord, if you gave them time; maybe all you could ever do, beyond suffering, was wait and see what might be going to happen next.
From this sun porch, by leaning a little forward in his chair and looking out through an unshaded section of one window, even a man with weak vision could see the outlines of Evan Shepard concluding his day’s work in the driveway—putting tools away, tiredly straightening his spine, wiping his hands on a clean rag.
“And you know what else is really surprising, dear?” Charles said. “About Evan? He looks so much better. In the face, I mean. I don’t think we could ever have expected it, but he’s turning into a very—an extremely good-looking young man.”
“Oh, I know,” Grace Shepard said, using her voice for the first time all day, and smiling for the first time too. “Oh, yes, I know. He certainly is.”
And they could both sense that they weren’t the only observers to have noticed that.
Girls, even those who’d been revolted by the very sight of Evan Shepard a year ago, were beginning to agree among themselves that he was handsome; and there was at least one girl who’d thought he was handsome all along, whether she’d ever confided it to her friends or not.
Mary Donovan was a slender girl with rich, loose, dark red hair and the kind of pretty face that other girls called “saucy,” and she had been secretly partial to Evan Shepard since the seventh grade. It had made her feel awful to hear about any of his troubles—the time he’d laid open a younger boy’s scalp with a brick; the time the police had booked him on a charge of disorderly conduct and locked him up for the night “to teach him a lesson”; the time he’d broken into a hardware store and been caught at the drawer of the cash register—and she may have been the first person in Cold Spring Harbor, apart from his parents, to care about the profound improvements that seemed to have begun in him all at once.
Mary had always assumed she would have an athlete for a lover—why not?—and so she found it slightly disappointing that Evan wasn’t athletic, though he looked strong and nimble enough for any team. Still, she soon discovered there were thrilling things to see—things to watch—in the very way he handled his car. Spraying gravel as he gunned away from school every afternoon, he would pull up short at the edge of the highway, craning his fine profile to watch and wait for an opening in the traffic, often with a light wind ruffling his wavy black hair; then he’d make a wide, swift, wonderfully confident turn into the right lane and take off, moaning away as far into the distance as her eyes could see, and beyond that. He was a boy born to drive, and in the heart of at least one girl he made driving into the equivalent of a spectator sport.
Standing alone to gaze after him, with her schoolbooks hugged at her breasts because that was the way all the other girls carried them, she began to understand that her life would never be the same.
On some nights, lying awake and restless in her fragrant bedroom, Mary Donovan would find it necessary to submit to make-believe. She would pretend that her own hands were those of Evan Shepard, and she’d allow them to roam and fondle various parts of herself, tak
One autumn afternoon in a heavily echoing high-school corridor, when they were both seniors, Evan found the courage to ask Mary if she’d like to go to the movies, and she said okay.
After the show that night they sat clasping and kissing like young movie stars, in the moonlit privacy of his parked car, until Mary drew away from him with a little pout of promise. She worked and shrugged her way free of her upper clothing and let it fall around her waist; then she put both hands behind her to unfasten her brassiere, and when she’d shucked it off she gave him an uncertain look, as if to ask if she’d done the right thing.
“Oh,” he said in a voice hushed with reverence. “Oh, you’re nice. Oh, you’re really nice, Mary.”
With one lovely tit in his hand and the other unbelievably in his mouth, he knew now, from the incessant talk of other boys, that the next thing to do was use his free hand for trying to “get into her pants.” But he’d scarcely begun that move when Mary surprised him again. Squirming, she rearranged herself and shyly opened her legs to make it easier for him.
“Oh, Evan,” she said. “Oh, Evan.”
Very soon, then, in whispered agreement, they pulled themselves briefly together, got out of the front seat for a moment’s painful deprivation, and sank voluptuously into the back.
Love may not be everything in the world, but neither of them gave that possibility a moment’s thought until after they were married. It was a marriage that might have occurred much later, when they were both a few years older, if Mary hadn’t found she was pregnant in the very early months of their romance. Then their parents had to be told, and plans had to be made in something of a hurry. A modest wedding was arranged, a small two-room apartment was found and rented in the adjacent commercial town of Huntington, and a friend of Mary’s father was able to secure a job for Evan at a machine-tool factory twenty miles away. It was unskilled work, at apprentice wages, but there was reason to hope that Evan’s mechanical ability might soon be recognized there; and it was certainly better than no job at all.
Cold Spring Harbor by Richard Yates / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes