Hank Rolland was thoroughly confused and more than a little conflicted....alternately pleased with himself, then bitterly disappointed. For an hour he had sat back in his recliner, asking himself the same questions over and over, without once finding a satisfying answer.
If all went well he could offer Jimmy Brooder an evening with Gladys Horner. He would count that as a win, if it happened. Yet helping the Scooter would come at a price....a Big Band Night spent with Angie McDonald in front of God and the whole world. To make matters worse, what Hank was referring to as a concert, Angie was calling a ‘date’ as she spread the good news
The arrangements....inviting Angie to go with him, and then asking her to approach Gladys Horner as part of Hank’s Jimmy Brooder campaign, had been hatched in the course of a single after-church Coffee Hour. As uncomfortable as it had been, that ordeal was behind him.....if Jimmy and Gladys accepted his plans.
Now came the hardest part of all. For the last hour he had replayed his discussion with Angie, while focusing on a more immediate dilemma.... how to break that startling news to Sarah.
They had been together an hour....Hank in his chair, Sarah on her shelf. Sixty minutes, and still he had not spoken a word to her. How could he, until he found a way to explain the inexplicable? Unless, of course, those words and his explanation were not necessary. What if she already knew the truth?
Moments later, taking the Clabber Girl tin from the shelf, he rested it in his lap to begin their intimately quiet conversation with his first question. “Do you remember the times I’ve asked if you could tell what I was thinking? Whether you could read my mind?
“I’ve heard it said that people on the other side can do that. But I don’t recall that you ever answered me. It would help to know if you’ve already know what I have to tell you, so I wouldn’t be repeating myself. Because if you do I’d rather not have to explain it all over again.”
Did he actually expect an answer? So often he had asked his questions, certain that he knew in advance how she would respond. When that happened he could plow ahead, accepting her silence as validation that he had read her intentions properly. Unfortunately, his present dilemma was very different.
Never before in the course of their years together had they discussed the presence of another woman in his life. How could he predict Sarah's response? Folding his hands across her lid, he closed his eyes and waited patiently, hoping for some hint, anything to confirm that she understood what he had done and why.
Minutes later Hank’s eyes popped open and he was asking a new, embarrassing question. Had he fallen asleep waiting for Sarah’s answers? What did that say about his serious intentions? It was time to move ahead, before that happened again.
“Honey, there’s something I need to tell you.” He was looking directly at her colorful label. “You remember when I told you that Kelly said I needed to get a life? Actually she said that’s what you wanted me to do. I’ll admit I didn’t like hearing that. But now, just lately, things have started to get even more complicated.”
Wiping his sweating palms on the arms of the recliner, he wondered why it was so hard to talk to someone he could not see. For an instant he sensed a larger doubt flash through his thoughts, the wondering if she was even there at all. Pushing that ambiguity aside, he continued.
“I told you about Jimmy. How he’d like to get acquainted with Gladys Horner, to know her better. And you know all about Angie, and how persistent she’s been. Grace was kidding me about that this morning. She calls Angie 'The Super-Glue Lady,’ like there’s no getting rid of her. Grace thought that was pretty funny. I didn’t.
“Anyway, I think I’ve found a way to put all those things together....Jimmy, Gladys, and Angie. If it works out Jimmy and Gladys might be going to Big Band Night together.” He paused, wishing there was a way to avoid what came next. “With Angie and me.”
There, Sarah had heard the words from his own mouth. What must she be thinking? Could she tell that a night out with Angie meant nothing to him? “Don’t you worry about me. You know very well she’s not my type. It just felt like something I should do....for Jimmy.”
“For Jimmy,” he repeated to himself. Was that a cop out? Was he being truthful, with Sarah or himself? A few minutes later his wondering again ended in sleep.
Gladys Stein had grown up in Tanner, the daughter of a prominent physician. Although hers might have appeared to be a privileged upbringing, even as a youngster she had accepted it as run-of-the-mill normal. While her classmates spent their summers toiling in the berry fields and canneries, Gladys had spent her mornings training for the country club swim team and her afternoons life-guarding at the club pool. “Tan Time,” she liked to call it.
There was, however, another side to young Miss Stein, an adventurous streak that sometimes landed her in trouble....and invariably drove her father to distraction. Like the time during the family’s Christmas in Mazatlan, Mexico, when seventeen year-old Gladys simply disappeared for an entire afternoon.
Her parents’ understandable panic had turned to loud anger when local police finally located Gladys across town, at a dinghy neighborhood marketplace deep in the heart of a sprawling barrio. While her parents stewed frantically, she had been visiting with curious street-urchins....trying out her first-year Spanish and learning more about their obviously deprived lives.
Once back at the hotel her straight forward explanation, “I just wanted to see how they lived, how they could possibly get along on so little,” had only fanned Herman Stein’s upset.
Though Gladys may have been surprised by her father’s livid complaints, she was not at all shocked to hear that his chief concern had not been for her well being, but instead about how her ‘irresponsible’ behavior must have looked to others.
“What self-respecting young man would allow himself would be attracted to a woman who acts like that?," the doctor asked. "You must think of those things before you run off on your irrational adventures. You never know who will hear about your silly escapades.”
In time Herman Stein would be proven at least partially correct. Young Lester Horner was the kind who expected to see his wife on the society page, in the company of the ‘right’ people....not mixing with the masses in a backstreet slum. He was the son of a wealthy Portland family and for as long as Gladys had known him, since their sophomore year of college, he had made no secret of his political ambitions.
By the time he and Gladys left college Lester was already fleshing out vivid mind-pictures of his successful career path, often using a young John Kennedy as his inspiration. He was determined to make his mark as a leader of the people. That was, after all, his destiny....a future befitting someone with his capabilities and social station. Not long after their wedding the Horners set up housekeeping in Tanner, the state capital, the better to facilitate Lester’s dreams.
Lester Horner was an unquestionably bright and insightful young man. By almost any measure his political possibilities appeared encouraging. Before long he was meeting the right people and making himself at home among the Capital’s movers and shakers.
Yet in spite of his apparent qualifications he had never been able to win an election, not once in six primary contests. More to the point, when called on to demonstrate his connection with the average voter Lester never failed to fail. The reality of his dilemma was not hard to understand. His many capabilities came wrapped in a bland, often grating package, capped by an irritating habit of talking down to everyone, including his own wife.
Unable to win office and unwilling to accept the ignominy of a run-of-the-mill state bureaucratic position, Lester had spent his entire working career managing a medical-billing service, financed and sponsored by his father-in-law, who regularly channeled clients to the business. For his part, Lester continued his life long practice of being seen in the right places with the right people, basking in their reflected glory.
For forty-two years Gladys Horner had played the loyal wife....loving her husband, though never completely comfortable in the lifestyle he had chosen for them. She had raised their only son, David, largely on her own and spent the best years of her life in pursuit of what she personally considered constraining and largely superficial results.
In that light, it was perhaps not surprising that when the opportunity finally arose she had wasted little time in changing course. Within months of Lester’s passing Gladys had returned to the liberating possibilities of a long postponed teenage dream, this time in an updated, age-appropriate form.
She began volunteering in the church’s English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) program. Before long her involvement, which would never have earned her late husband’s approval, had become an important part of her post-Lester life.
In was a challenging routine she had settled on, tutoring ESL classes three nights a week during the school year. In addition she spent two hours each Saturday morning with Estella, one of her advanced students, who had been hired to help Gladys improve her own long-dormant Spanish language skills. There in Estella’s apartment, where she tended her grandson on weekends, the student taught the teacher.
To her way of thinking Gladys had settled into a comfortable and satisfying widowhood. There were no money worries. Her ESL classes, working with half a dozen Hispanic women who had become her friends, kept her occupied. Though not as active as some she remained involved in church activities, helping out from time to time, enough to maintain contact with her congregational sisters, like Angie McDonald.