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60 the minnesota review Enid Dame The Present from Chicago "Captain Video? Are you kidding? Not tonight!" the man with the horn-rimmed glasses informed his ten-year old daughter, one evening in 1954. He snapped off the television set and waved in the direction of a secondhand portable typewriter set out on a card table. "Tuesday's my writing night, Lizzie. You know that. Go help your mother." Behind them, in the small kitchen, his newly-pregnant wife could be heard, clinking silverware in a metal dishpan. Water hissed; faucets groaned. "I'll do my homework," the daughter offered. "Mama doesn't like the way I dry." Ostentatiously, she carried her Social Studies book into her bedroom, once the sunparlor of the large house this small apartment building had been. Four rooms, the man told himself again, ought to be enough for three people. One room for each person; one room left over for the impending baby. What could be more reasonable? Why, then, was privacy so hard to achieve, drawing on all the man's resources of diplomacy and aggression? He thought of the difference between theory and practice — the subject of his best paper in English class twelve years before. Then, of course, the issue had been entirely theoretical. Sighing, the man rolled a sheet of paper into his typewriter. He wished Clarke Walker, his Creative Writing teacher at the YM&WHA, did not insist on typed manuscripts. Thoughts that flowed easily from a fountain pen got jammed in all that machinery. One night, the man had wasted his entire writing period backing a stubborn ribbon through recalcitrant notches. Tonight, he had his title ready: "The Present from Chicago." He typed it confidently, then sat staring at the words for several minutes. Eventually , he skipped two lines, indented ten spaces, and began: "This time it was going to be easy. On all my other trips to the furniture market in Chicago, it was an ordeal trying to decide what to bring my ten-year old daughter as a memento of the trip. For my wife, it was no problem. One time, I'd buy perfume, the next time a compact, and so on alternately. My daughter was not so easily pleased, and the wrong present was much worse than no present at all." Reading these words thirty years later, the daughter smiles. Had she really been such an imperious little girl? She remembers her childhood differently: as a conspiracy on the part of grown people to harass, threaten, and thwart her. She recalls a photograph taken later that year. She is sitting with her mother on a beach towel, beside Lake Erie. The mother is Dame 61 pregnant and pretty; she smiles at the camera, but her manner is detached , vague, as if she has nothing to do with the scene around her, or with her children, actual and potential. The daughter, who is not pretty, refuses to smile. She looks wrinkled and self-willed as a monkey. Today, at forty, she is still not pretty. At best, she is "attractive" in a thin, dark-haired, businesslike way. Her looks are sufficient for the life she leads as a part-time composition teacher and full-time lover of Jack Tannenbaum. In either role, she suspects, too much prettiness would be a complication, if not a handicap. She returns to her father's story: "But this time it was going to be easy. I asked her what she wanted and she told me The Bobbsey Twins Solve a Mystery. Now she owned about a dozen of these little gems of literature that have charmed children since they were first conceived in a leisurely, pre-atomic age and I surmised that perhaps here was one she hadn't read." (Here, Clarke Walker, the teacher, had penned in the margin: "Logical? She tells you she wants this particular book; we can assume she hasn't read it." The daughter had taken a dislike to Mr. Walker and his prissy violet ink. She pictures him living alone in a furnished room, wearing bow ties, opening a can of sardines at his bureau, with exquisite neatness. She tries to ignore his comments.) "I waited...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 60-66
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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