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Letter the Ninth
From Mavis Brinkley to Antoinette Charleton
Dec. 22, ‘48
I wish you could see me now. I wish I could force you to look me in the eye and let me tell you how incomparably sorry I am over this whole thing. I deserve every epithet my tailor has bestowed upon me, every bad-humor your Diane sees fit to fling my way. I did not think of consequences and you’re right: I never do. It is one of my growing rank of failings. When one has worldly consequence at one’s fingertips, one never thinks of the common sort. It isn’t done. We pay our consciences off, thus keeping them relatively quiet.
Quiet, that is, until someone like you comes along and exposes us as the cowards we are.
You know me, Toni, and know that I hate feeling less than perfect. So please take this rare humor of mine as the real Me, sorry as sorry can be that I got you into this flak.
Now, to discuss John Garribault.
Toni, marry him.
Oh, I know it’s easier said than done, but think of it. This man answers your wildly bold call for him to meet you at the Willard, survives your abandonment, takes you to coffee, extends a (cheap) bit of creativity to the effort of getting you a present, and braves that savory Mrs. Simmons for the sake of attending your silly little cocoa party.
He is not in love with you. I quite agree. He is also not in love with Diane. Use this fickleness of purpose to your benefit and make him love you. Ordinarily, this would require flirting, teasing, showing a bit more of your obsequious collar-bone than is proper, etc. but we are talking about you, Toni, and your best claim to his heart is your own decency.
Be the girl who stood on the train of my evening gown and ripped it at the fitting. Be the girl who cried tears of shamed and offered to pay for the damage herself. Be she who took the half-wild Diane Luray in hand and made her a domestic angel. The girl who fell in love with a silhouette and was willing to go all lengths to protect the owner of it from knowing her real feelings.
In short, Toni my dear, be yourself. (Now I really have exhausted my store of cliches. How exhausting it is to make amends!)
Because you have always liked to be on-the-nose (I found one more cliche!) with instruction, if you begin to feel a little frantic over it all, follow this list:
- Wear perfume
- Close your window shades one afternoon to make him curious
- Find something he presumably left at your place and take it to him
- DO NOT TRY TO OUT-CHARM DIANE
- Invite him to go ice-skating
- Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re sweet on him, but don’t go over-board
I realize it is not exactly The Thing for the girl to pursue the fella, but when you’re standing at the altar, the method that worked will be happier than tradition. That might not be sound wisdom, but I’m fresh out of decency right now. You’ve milked all there was. If any of this offends your far-seeing eyes, discard it. Otherwise, keep me posted.
Yours With Love,
From Antoinette Charleton to Mavis Brinkley
December 22, 1948
To Mavis Dear-Creature:
I bet you knew beforehand that your letter would make me blush. Did you also know that I would still be blushing when John Out-the-Window (Garribault is such a funny name. I prefer our old moniker) came to hand-deliver the ninth present? I bet you did. Somehow, Mavis Brinkley, that blind eye of yours can see future embarrassments for me.
I had only just finished reading the evening post when someone tapped on my door. I expected it to be Diane, because she had said she might come read the epilogue of her novel to me and ask my opinion. I’m quite the Watson to her Sherlock. Having absolutely no idea what sounds right or wrong, I tell her it’s genius.
“Come in,” I called from my lounging position in the beaten armchair. The lounging position: upside down with my spine cranked around to allow for my head to rest on one arm, heels waving in the air above the chair-back. You know it’s comfy.
The door opened.
It was certainly not Diane addressing me that way with a tone of stark surprise around the gills.
I did as graceful a side-flip out of the chair as I could and plotted murder for the day you showed me the delights of contorting oneself into odd positions for comfort’s sake.
The dear creature tried his hardest not to burst out laughing. He failed. I ran a hand through my hair.
“It’s...okay,” I said helplessly. “Go ahead and laugh.”
“I see children still like the play on furniture.” His mouth bent. “Where is your mother? Does she know you’re getting foot-prints on her sofa?”
“Oh...” Past trying to pretend I am not an absurd goose, I flapped my hands. “I thought you were Diane.”
“And I thought you were a grown woman.”
“Not a child, this time?”
He winked. “Not entirely.”
“Well,” I spread my hands on my hips. “Apparently you thought wrong.”
“Is that really comfortable?”
“I think so.”
John Garribault actually tossed his trilby to me, tucked himself in the chair, propped his heels up on the back, and crossed his arms behind his head.
“Bit tough carrying on a conversation.”
“But if you’re single, the problem vanishes,” I said.
“Now that,” he replicated my side flip out the chair, “is true. I ought to purchase an armchair immediately.”
He’s single, Mavis, and doesn’t mind that I know it.
“As it turns out, I’m on my way to a meeting with a colleague but I had to swing by and hand this off.” He put a slender envelope into my hands.
“How did you manage to put the Irish dragon off your scent?”
John chuckled. “Had no trouble. I think she’s resigned herself to the fact that you’re a woman of low morals. Which is a terribly unfair estimation. Won’t you open it?”
I undid the plum-colored bow and tore the right end of the envelope because I’d lost my letter opener. Before removing the contents, I stole a look at my John. His eyes were warm and content in his anticipation of the revelation to come.
Platonic ideals be hanged. I shook my head and tipped the paper cocoon and revealed two ticket stubs.
“Thought I’d swing by at eight to take you out. Think if we scour the cast we can find nine ladies dancing?”
I bit my lip and felt my eyes shine. “It’s worth a try.”
If it was improper to reach out and squeeze his arm, I’m a woman of low morals. I don’t think I could have helped it if I’d tried. Laughing a little sheepishly, John coaxed his trilby from under my arm and crushed it onto his head.
“Eight then. See you in a while, little girl.”
I quietly shut the door and pinched myself to be quite certain. No, I was terribly wide awake. Wider awake, maybe, than I’d ever been.
I went about the business of getting ready in a strange hush. Diane never materialized and the phone (which has been reconnected), never rang. It seemed as if the world, outside and in, bent low to listen to my erratic heart beating its Christmas carol. I sang while I got ready and hummed when John put me into the taxi and whistled when he left me on the curb to reach back into the cab and tip the driver.
The Nutcracker was beautiful. There were plenty of ladies dancing to make our nine and leave no gaping holes in the ranks. John said nothing lover-like. I’m not even sure, in retrospect, that he said much of anything. The companionship was enough. We sat together and enjoyed the ballet, sat together and enjoyed ice-cream sodas afterward, sat together and enjoyed the hiss of slush under the cab’s wheels on the ride home.
If all we ever do is sit together, I think I could be happy.
Is John in love with me? I can’t tell. Is he fond of me? I’m beautifully sure. And when a person’s fond of you, Mavis, love sometimes follows.
Goodnight. I hope you’re half as warm as I am tonight.