Hammersmith: Reckoning Up (conclusion)
The dilemma had a straightforward logic to it, supposing a father a little overbearing, and a little inclined to take things for granted, could be ushered—
To the hilltop perspective, to see his daughter through the eyes of an interested friend.
“June is happy. June in unhappy.”
Aimee put out a left palm, and a right palm. “Let’s see. She’s happy looking after your house, you think? Shopping for your larder, sending your shirts out for laundering, cooking your dinners, cultivating your vegetable patch.”
“That’s her own, that patch.”
“I’m not arguing.”
“No. You’re up to putting me in the wrong, ma’am.”
They locked eyes. And when she saw him smile, she conceded the point. “For your own sake. And…minding the office when you’re away, setting out Chilly’s bundles, keeping your cash accounts on the books, working your linotype machine.”
“June understands the Clew’s got to go out. She’s a good, helpful daughter. She knows money doesn’t grow on trees. If you’re telling me she hasn’t been happy…”
“She would’ve complained. Like Mossbunker might have said about his factory hands. Vic, I’m proposing… A thesis. June is happy with her life the way it is. But you’d bring a second wife into the house she’s always managed by herself. What happens?”
“You two sort it out.”
“Oh, do we? What have you got in mind?”
She saw him try a shrug, choose limiting this to one shoulder. She tapped a warning fingernail. “In some gal fashion you can’t be bothered to think about?”
“Now, see. Let me get a word in first, before you make me take it back.”
He poured out another cup of coffee, and reached for the marmalade.
Aimee had had experience, attending on Vic’s ruminations. “Listen. Having me here makes things tricky for June. I’m the lady of the house now…do I take over the cooking? Do I sit in my chair and let her cook? Do I go through all the cupboards and arrange things the way I like? Do I tell June, run next door and borrow a potato? Reach down my company pitcher and give it a polish? If two people are doing a job, one is in charge, and one is taking orders. You were in the army.”
“I could get along with people.”
“Hmm. I’ll ask Chilly, when he stops by. That time you stumbled into the enemy camp, though, did it never occur to you to just…?”
Befriend them, she might have finished. Vic, while draining his cup, was making “hold up” gestures.
“When have you and June ever not gotten along? Don’t you always say hello? Are you telling me you can’t think of any way to split up the chores, without getting into some kind of tussle every day?”
“Why, yes. Hire someone. Couple with good references wanted for general work and housekeeping. Apply this office. Vic, I know you have a better mind than that. Again…let’s consider June unhappy. She hates that patch. She’s sick of your shopping. She curses your linotype. I move in…and I bring Mrs. Frieslander, of course.”
“And Carey. And Jane and Cynthia.”
“I never said you couldn’t. Carey better find himself some work and stick to it.”
“Well, obviously, what else? You haven’t forgotten the Warples?”
He had, his face said; also, that this reminder of them invoked an old annoyance…
But of themselves, Warples were less material than the idea of Warples. “From the little stretch along the river, what’s it called?”
“I don’t know. Hurleyville.”
“Picture the Daily Clew becoming the Valley Clew. McKeefe doesn’t take your paper either. And why not? Because he doesn’t come up to town, so he never drops by your office…”
“Because he’s got nothing to advertise…legit.”
“But he’s got news… The same kind of news a ‘correspondent on the scene’ will share with our readers in our exclusive piece on the untold story of the factory rebellion. Mysterious figure with close ties to Mossbunker directs clandestine rescue effort… Brave show of defiance by hostages. Workers led by Emma Goldman-like figure…”
She rooted again in Ralph’s pockets for Oldfield’s propaganda. “Stop frowning, Vic. Famous names fascinate. It has nothing to do with June. Now, we should print at least a part of this. We need the workers’ side of things, too. Why don’t the hands buy your paper, Vic?”
“Cause I don’t cater to all creation. And as far as that nut fringe you’re aiming at…”
“There’s no catering about it. If the Warples can read about the Warples, and the McKeefes can read about the McKeefes, and the hands can read about the hands, none of that means the Clew is taking an editorial stance. The only thing you need to start writing your Sunday piece about is the war, and what a makes a good patriot. Zipping lips, no doubt… But knowing enough to know a pig in a poke when someone tries to sell you one. Meanwhile Carey will make his rounds with Chilly, since Chilly’s got the wagon. He’ll interview the people in the little valley towns, and they’ll buy the paper because they’re in it. Because someone cares about them, for once.”
Vic stirred. “Sky’s lightening up.”
“June is happy. June is unhappy.” She said these words again, with a prosecutorial penetration. “And a handsome man comes along. Not that he has to be. But a man in any case, Vic, who wants to talk about one thing…an interesting thing. He’s not a wag, not a roué, not Selma Bott’s nephew Clarence, who thinks it’s a Christian woman’s duty to marry him if he asks her…”
She lifted an eyebrow. Vic didn’t know everything. “Interesting to June especially, because she feels it herself, that her life is hers and she has the right to decide, and no one has ever allowed it. I hope you realize we might as likely be talking about a traveling salesman. Hogben! And June’s stepmother is going to disagree with her father if he claims he’d rather have Hogben for a son-in-law than Nico. But see how either side of the coin leads to the same outcome. If she’s happy, upending her life makes her unhappy. When she’s unhappy it’s easier for her to leave. That part of June is gone anyway, that you could drag back home and say, ‘from now on, behave yourself’. If you love your daughter, you’ll see her on her own terms, and when you head out in a minute for the town hall, the first thing you’re going to say to her is…”
He’d gone to the front hall mirror, to see about the state of his clothes.
“Better go upstairs…” He muttered this in passing.
“Ma’am, you said a Philadelphia lawyer?”
(2019, Stephanie Foster)