your leave with your 0 so charming smile, and a butterfly kiss on the back of my neck… the kind you used to plant there when I was very small in the chest and very large in the jealous-of-mama department, whose face I can’t even remember any more.

I was browsing through Blake’s “Songs of Experience” after dinner hunting up old friends, when “A Poison Tree” renewed our acquaintance:

I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I water d it in fears Night and morning with my tears, And I sunned it with smiles, And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night, Till it bore an apple bright, And my foe beheld it shine, And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole When the night had veil’d the pole;

In the morning, glad, I see My foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.

I hadn’t read it in years. It’s rather awful, I think, although once I doted on it. But it does about sum me up just now, I mean what’s been going on away down inside where the heat’s unbearable. The San Virginia Fault. Guaranteed to give anybody’s seismograph the hotfoot when least expected.


Peter and I had an argument (“I was angry with my friend”) about where to meet. For some reason it seemed terribly vital to both of us. He was in as bad a case as I was, but oppositely oriented. He was in his Goddam Nino Mood, during which he usually threatens to shove Nino’s teeth down his throat. This time he wanted to climb up on the 43rd Street marquee of the Biltmore with a bullhorn, where everyone coming out of Grand Central on Vander-bilt and walking along Madison in the other direction could hear him proclaim our star-crossed love-everyone, including any passing newspaper reporter. I mean he actually opted for Le Pavilion, or 21, or that impossible restaurant everybody’s flocking to where the maitre d’ insults you or refuses to seat you no matter who you are, in fact the better known you are the nastier he can get, and I said positively no, Peter, in those omnium-gatherums it’s all grapevine, the word would reach Nino in two hours in Addis Ababa, if that’s where he is; and Peter said, “So what? The sooner the better!” He was being absolutely suicidal.

In the end we compromised on my choice, which was a dowdyish, unfashionable hideaway daddy had once taken me to (if they’re hidden away, old daddums knows ‘em!), where there was no chance anybody we or Nino knew would spot us. And the food’s better than in a lot of the toity places where they even charge your date for the look the cigaret girl allows him down her cleavage.

Somehow, being out in public with Peter for the first time, which I’d thought was going to be a supergas, turned out to depress me wonderfully. I certainly wasn’t at my best. For one thing, I don’t know why I picked the Pozzuoli A-line to wear, I loathe it, it makes me look as if I were hiding a pregnancy in a muumuu, which I loathe also; they’re great only if you’re in the ninth month or have the hips of Babar. And the coat I wore over it, the cashmere with the queen-sized Russian lynx collar, which I’d selected from the mixed herd in my closet because it’s the least conspicuous winter coat my lavish husband has allowed me to buy, had a hideous stain of some sort right in front, which I hadn’t noticed and which I couldn’t hide without laying back the coat, thus revealing the hated A- line. It was a total disaster.

In the second place, I was jolly-jelly-legged with funk in fear of being seen in spite of our precautions.

And thirdly, instead of acting the wise and understanding male and sticking to brilliantly innocuous table talk, Peter insisted on pounding away at me again about divorcing Nino and marrying him. As if I didn’t want to!

“Peter, what’s the point of going into that again?” I said in my most reasonable tone of voice. “You know it’s impossible. I’d like some glogg, please.”

“In this Greasy Spoon you picked?” Peter said, giving me his most hateful smile. “They wouldn’t know what you’re talking about, dear heart. My suggestion is to order beer. That they’ll understand. And nothing’s impossible. There has to be a way.”

“I’m cold, I want something hot,” I said. “And sarcasm isn’t your strong point. I repeat, impossible. I can’t leave Nino, Peter. He won’t let me.”

“How about an ordinary prole-type Tom and Jerry? There’s a fighting chance they’ll know what that is. How do we know he won’t give you a divorce unless you ask him?”

“Peter, no! Because you’re so close to him all day doesn’t mean you know him. I tell you there’s no chance he’d let me go, none at all, even aside from the religious reason. Oh, I’m sorry we were so foolish today. I have a feeling we’re going to regret going out together like this.”

“He really has you petrified, hasn’t he? Well, he doesn’t petrify me!”

“I know, dear, you’re old lion guts, while I’m the original chicken. Besides, there’s daddy to consider.”

Peter’s really sexy mouth drooped. Daddy is a subject we try not to kick around. Peter knows how I feel, and he does what he can to respect my feelings, but he never makes a very good job of it. Peter’s trained himself to be the unobtrusive backgrounder, like Winstons and confidential secretaries should, but he’s just too beautifully tall and broad and dark-gold-blond and God-bless-American good-looking and gray-blue-green-eyed (depending on what’s going on in his glands at the moment) to get by unnoticed all the time; I mean I at least can read him like a traffic signal. There was a big red light coming up.

So I suppose in trying to avoid it I stepped on the gas too hard and blabbed what I’d never told anyone, especially Peter. And did it the worst way-jokingly, as if it were some belly buster, the yuk of yuks.

“Oh, let’s stop talking about daddy,” I said cutely. “Do you know I have a pet name for my husband?”

Peter reacted as if I’d shot him. “A pet name? For Nino?

“Sickening, isn’t it?”

“You’ve got to be kidding. I mean, you are, aren’t you?”

“Not a bit of it.”

“But how could you? What is it?” Peter asked grimly.

“It’s a diminutive of Importuna.”

“Diminutive. You mean like Import? Look, Virgin, you’re trying to sidetrack me-”

“Shorter than that.” Something kept egging me on. A demon, what else? No other explanation is sane.

“Shorter than Import?… Imp? That’s about as appropriate for him as Cuddles would be.”

“In between,” I said. You know. Sprightly. A little boy-girl game. How stupid can you get?

“In between Import and Imp.” Peter’s blond-silk brows made like a frown. “You’re putting me on. There’s nothing between Import and Imp.”

“Oh, no?” Big Mouth babbles. “How about Impo?”

The moment I said it I’d have bitten my tongue off at the roots if my teeth could have reached that far. Because what it gave Peter was newborn hope. I saw the infant burst into life in his eyes, ready to yell.

“Impo!” he said. “You can’t mean Nino-the great Nino-is incapable of…?”

“It’s not worth discussing,” I said, fast. “I don’t know why I brought it up. Don’t you think we’d better order?”

“Not worth discussing?

“Peter, keep your voice down. Please.

“My God, baby, don’t you know what this means? If your marriage has never been consummated, it’s not a real, marriage. That’s grounds for an annulment!”

In his exuberance Peter didn’t think to pursue the subject of exactly what my marital life did consist of. Which was just as well. I don’t want to think of what might have happened. It turned out badly enough as it is.

So I went through the whole dreary recitation of no-noes. How it didn’t matter what I could or couldn’t do to have the marriage dissolved, legally, religiously, or any other way if such existed-how because of daddy Nino had me by the short hairs, now more than ever, because the Gay Controller had not learned his lesson in 1962, the lesson I’ve already paid for with almost five years of my life. Although he hasn’t dipped into the till again and played more hanky-pank with the books-Nino’s made sure of that-he hasn’t stopped plunging on speculative stocks in the market or betting on long shots at the track, either. He keeps losing and going into debt to the loan sharks and Nino, kind, generous Nino, keeps bailing him out… his suocero, his father-in-law, his beloved’s papa. Never failing to give me an accounting to the penny, so that I’ll know the rising score of my obligation to him, and what he’s still holding over dad’s and my head: that fitting for a prison

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