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172 | ecotone fiction Alice Mattison The Vandercook | 173 When Molly and I had been married for thirteen years—splendid Molly, difficult Molly—she took over Conte’s Printing, a New Haven business my grandfather had started in the thirties. My father ran it when I was a child, and I spent much of my time in the shop. A teenage boy, Gilbert, ran errands for my father after school and also kept an eye on me. When I was in college I fooled around on the letterpress printer my grandfather had used, and Gilbert, who still worked there, teased me for caring about something old-fashioned. He was a shy black kid from New Haven’s Hill neighborhood who had grown into a moody guy who worked closely with my father all week and played the saxophone at New Haven clubs on weekends. A few years ago, Dad finally had to retire when he broke his hip carrying a box of newly xeroxed pages to a customer’s car. By then, Gil had been his manager for years. “We’ll have to sell the store,” I said, when we heard about my father’s accident, and Molly said, “I want it.” We were living in California, where Molly had done well marketing software, but money was becoming less plentiful, and she was angry with her boss. This was shortly before money— and what it may buy, including a sense of adventure and possibility—became less plentiful in other places; the software industry had trouble first. Molly’s instant certainty delighted me. I wanted to save the family business without running it myself, but the thought of her running Conte’s Printing hadn’t occurred to me. I was teaching a history class and assisting a letterpress printer—I’d retained my interest in letterpress without getting good at it— but I could find a teaching job in Connecticut. I missed New Haven and my old widowed dad. Our boys, Julian and Tony, would grow up near their grandfather. But I was cautious. “Is this because of what happened at work? You’ll forgive him.” “I won’t forgive him,” Molly said, and I knew that might be true. She and her boss had had a bad fight, and I’d told Molly I thought he was right. Dad was an ascetic-looking man, small and neat (I’m tall and disheveled) with pale, closely shaved cheeks and dark hair that had grown thin but never gray. People thought he looked like a priest. Starting a joke, he’d lower his voice and touch your arm, like someone delivering bad news. Sometimes he irritated me, but I respected him and was glad he respected my wife, a businesswoman who deserved his admiration. Still, I was surprised when Molly reported after a long phone conversation that Dad was ceding her full control of Conte’s Printing. Despite what Molly had said, I’d imagined all of us conferring. Then I realized that given Molly’s background, any other arrangement would have been insulting. 174 | ecotone “And what about Gil?” I said as she turned away. “The manager? He’ll stay on,” she said. “I can work with anyone.” Molly was restless—she did not rest. She had messy brown curls I loved touching, muscular arms and legs, and firm convictions. Now and then her hair flopped over her face and she flung it back with a look of surprise, as if this had never happened before. She was blunt, sometimes critical—often outrageous. Once she came to a decision, she was alone with it; even if the decision made everyone unhappy—including her—her determination was unwavering. The two of us mostly shared political beliefs, but it was Molly who went online and made the donation, led me and the kids to the protest march, phoned the senator. Occasionally Molly marched on the wrong side. For a couple of months she had unaccountably believed George Bush about Iraq, and would not hear me. When several events in my life with Molly might have made me take heed, I did not take heed. A day or two after that long phone call with...


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pp. 172-184
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