She sensed Julian come in, but remembering the party at the officers’ club, remembering too that for the first time in their long marriage he had gone into the guest room and shut the door (he was not one to slam), she did not speak or get up. She was lying at the base of a revolving stand — the north light of her studio clear and bright — looking up at a working model of her statue and assessing the bulk of the woman’s heavy socks. On the wall behind her hung one red wool sock. Her plaster model of a woman running wore the other.
Standing above her, he asked, “Must she be so thin and sad?”
The clay figure wore a tattered T-shirt, jeans, the socks and tennis shoes with a toe protruding. She held up her T-shirt with one hand. Her round belly hung low. Yesterday Dorothy had stripped away the woman’s hair and tapped the bare skull with a mallet to simulate nappy hair. (“If only mine could be like that!”) Three children huddled at the statue’s feet.
“Yes,” Dorothy said. “She’s a survivor.”
They’d quarreled about survivors. “We must keep Fort Sheridan open,” Julian (Captain, United States Coast Guard, Retired) had been saying to his Navy friends at the party. “For survivors.”
“What survivors?” she’d asked.
“Civilians,” Julian had said in his command voice. “We’re talking about the evacuation of survivors in case of nuclear attack.”
“Just so they have shovels,” Dorothy had said.
Now, moving closer to the statue, Julian said, “She’ll get thinner in the rain.”
“This one will be cast in bronze.” Even now she couldn’t believe that her husband paid so little attention to the process of her work.
He pulled her to her feet, then led her to a chair by the big window. “Every time I open my mouth you oppose me.”
“Yes,” she said.
She didn’t believe Star Wars meant peace. She didn’t believe nuclear plants should be built until scientists figured out what to do with the waste. She didn’t believe the government should decide who might have an abortion. She did not believe. . . .
“I would ask you, Dorothy, not to challenge me in front of my friends. They’re professionals. They know what they’re talking about.”
“I have to say what I feel.”
“You weren’t so opinionated when I married you.”
“When we married.”
“Think what you must.” He spoke slowly. “But at officers’ parties, please shut up.”
“Touch me,” she said. “Please.” But she didn’t say it out loud.
He said, “I suppose your statue is protecting her children from me,” and walked away.
Her fingers caressed her statue. She pressed her thumbs into the woman’s forehead. Her beloved clay was soft and cool and oily. Her mother had willed her the clay. Heritage clay. Ninety years old. “It will mold your life,” her mother had said. Now Dorothy’s life threatened the clay. Her hand was too heavy.
She stood for a moment studying the scale model of the park where her statue would stand, then sprayed the statue with quick wide arcs of water. She wrung out cloths from the water bucket, wrapped the figure, then washed and dried her tools. On her way to the car she put cheese and an apple in her tote. Just this once she’d break working rules and go downtown during the day. Just this once she’d march for a Nuclear Free Zone, no matter what Julian might feel.
Julian had been a conscientious objector before Pearl Harbor. (“At least I should defend our coasts.”) His first assignment: Dakar. He’d seen ships go down for lack of equipment and well-trained men; he’d do and think as the Coast Guard brass did until he died. Dorothy sent cash to peace groups in anonymous brown envelopes.
Julian was the one with friends. Dorothy was prickly and abrasive, or so his friends thought. Julian remembered names, cared about his friends’ children and asked about hobbies. Despite a hip that made him limp, he stood straight and never complained. (“It’s getting worse fast,” the doctors had told Dorothy.) He’d given up sailing, but still preferred cruises and tramp steamers to any other vacation.
His blue eyes got bluer as his hair grayed. He wore blue blazers, bright blue ties and gray flannels even when mowing the lawn. He swerved for turtles on the road and stopped for sunsets. Three days a week he read to patients at the Navy hospital. He gave two or three lectures a month and regularly hosted a round-table luncheon for Chicago’s leading journalists.
As for Dorothy, sailing weekends had given her wrinkles. She’d never liked boats or ships, but as she said on their last cruise off the Virgin Islands, “Julian is the only husband I have.” The wrinkles gave her face the translucence of parchment.
Long ago one of Julian’s friends, who pinched her at parties, said, “Dorothy, as far as looks go, you don’t have much to work with, but I admire what you do with it.” She’d thrown away her makeup and pulled her hair to the side in a ponytail. For parties she tied a ribbon over the rubber band. As she traveled with Julian she collected handwoven skirts. She’d gone braless since the Sixties and sometimes her scoop-necked blouses slipped to reveal the grooves in her shoulders made by thirty years of bra-wearing. Thong sandals showed off her long toes (“Well, you do have beautiful feet”) until it was the season for boots. On the days when her plain brown hair didn’t get clay in it, Julian’s friends pronounced her “arty” and “statuesque.”
Still, even the service wives who agreed with her didn’t want lectures at their dinner tables. Only her fellow artists and three of her four children liked her quick tongue. Only Julian knew that she still trembled at his touch .
“NO MORE NUKES! NO MORE NUKES!” Flags and banners flew as men and women with baby buggies and baby packs, in wheelchairs and on walkers, wove in and out of the Du Buffet statue in front of the State of Illinois Center. Dorothy walked up to a woman she didn’t know and shook her hand; then, chanting, she entered the line of marchers. A man in a Burberry cap and raincoat, a slim briefcase in his hand, leaned toward her. She expected him to say, “Thank you,” or maybe “Join me later for a drink?” Instead he whispered, “Fuck you enough, you’d shut up.”
She swung her fist and struck softness. He bent over and clutched his stomach, breathless. She turned back across Daley Plaza, ran through the noontime crowd past Picasso’s “Little Rusty,” then east to Michigan Boulevard. A brisk September wind blew her ponytail across her eyes, as, head down, she walked north. She didn’t know whether to laugh or yell. For the first time since she was a child she’d struck someone. Would he go to the police? Perhaps a reporter would visit her at the Cook County Jail. (CAPTAIN’S WIFE K.O.’S LOOP ATTORNEY. PACIFIST COAST GUARD WIFE JAILED ON ASSAULT CHARGES.) “Yes,” she’d say, “yes, I hit him and I’m glad.”
She ate lunch by the lake, near Oak Street Beach. Above cobalt waters, white clouds roamed a sentimental sky. She pulled a sketch book from her tote bag. There were pages and pages of studies for the mother. Inside the skull, bone lay into bone in subtle harmony. But why would the mother want to live when all around her people struck out at strangers because they were unhappy? Dorothy let the sun and the beat of water against the high wall do their healing.
The shadows by the shore became indigo. Two sailboats tacked north, close together, parallel to each other and to the shore. Years ago Julian had taken her to a Republican meeting. She had heckled the speaker. Later she heard Julian telephoning, apologizing. That was when she had learned that they must live parallel lives. If only she could keep her own rules. . . .
By mid-afternoon she was on her way back down the boulevard. A middle-aged woman in blue serge, a lace hanky in her pocket, hop-stepped to match her walk with the man beside her. A beardless youngster leaned against the Wrigley Building and nodded off. Men in blue suits and matching yellow ties walked five abreast. A man in navy pinstripes carried a silvery Persian cat. At South Water, a black man with spiked hair handed her a paper. Hand out, palm up, he said, “Five . . . ?”
“No money,” she said. “I’ll read it first.”
He grabbed her hand and kissed the knuckles. Then, standing as far from her as possible to reassure her, he shook her hand, turned it and shook hands again, then touched just the thumbs, and finally locked fingers. “Thank you, thank you,” he said. His mimeographed sheet asked for “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace for World Africans.”
She was reading the Lord’s Prayer at the bottom of the smudged handout when brakes squealed. At the intersection to the south, a cyclist had turned west. As his wheels slipped, he had fallen in front of a red pickup truck. The muscled driver charged into the street and knocked down the rider who was rising to his feet, then picked up the bicycle and slammed it to the pavement. The rider, a thin man with a backpack, reached for his bicycle. The larger man lifted the bicycle again and beat it against the pavement. Pieces of metal scattered. She couldn’t hear what the cyclist said, but his gesture was universal: “Now, let’s be reasonable.” She wanted to call out, “Stop. Let me sketch you just so.”
As the cyclist wrote down the truck’s license number, the driver lunged and ripped the cyclist’s jacket. The smaller man backed away. The other man followed. Their necks protruded in Neanderthal position. No one on the sidewalk seemed to see them. There was no policeman. They were close to her now. No sound between them, only the bodies, the terrible bodies that said, “I’ll kill you,” and “I’ll fight as long as I can.”
The larger man smiled. He was wearing a heavy suede jacket. There was a scar over one eye. Shrapnel? A bullet? The younger man’s left foot caught on a break in the sidewalk. His ankle turned. He didn’t look down. He didn’t miss a step. His breathing was heavy and frayed. The other man kept coming. It was as if they were chained together. She stepped between them. The larger man’s breath mingled with hers. She felt his body heat. She said, “Time to stop now.” The men’s anger broke. Both shouted obscenities. They shuffled their feet, shook sweat from their eyes and walked away.
She hurries now, fatigue forgotten, heading for her car, for home, for Julian. She will tell him, “I broke the chain of violence.” Then she will shut up.
Tomorrow she will add strips of gray-green clay to the mother’s belly. Tomorrow she will model the baby inside, one leg out, eager, despite everything, to be born.