The Dowries


First, some mention of our unique situation.  While the mountains in this part of the country are neither very high nor very large, they create at various contiguous points a maze of plateaus and valleys that has isolated the inhabitants for two centuries, if not longer, while yet permitting, via single-lane roads built up around numerous culverts, as much congress as has ever been needed with the wider world without.

There are people directly over on the other side of Mount Tunder who take strange vows and whom we call the Vow People.  Another people, the ones who rename each other and whom we call the Renames, live in a valley formed by smaller mountains around one-hundred miles from the foot of Tunder's eastern slope.  We know of each other by ancient reputation and rumor as well as from the tales told us by the city people, who otherwise have little truck with any of us and, in fact, regard us all with abiding disapprobation.

Actually, we're almost city people ourselves.  Our town square is much more built up than what I've seen of similarly isolate communities in rural South and New England regions.  Our population has also grown.  There are almost twice more of us than there are Renames while the Vow People are a much smaller group altogether.  If we're not city people like the people of Huntsville, Alabama or Burlington, Vermont, we're closer to being city people than, say, the people of Fitzgerald, Georgia or Belchertown, Massachusetts.  As of the millennium, there were 8,758 people in Fitzgerald and 12,968 people in Belchertown.  I can assure you there's more of us than that. 

My name is Richard Dolan and let me say forthwith that I am not an official local historian.  While I have gathered much information about our people and their lives over the years, I've done so really in order to figure out the good and the bad of it all rather than to simply record mere genealogy.  I have indeed compiled enough detail of what has happened—or, not so much what has happened, but rather the unhappiness that happened as a result of its happening—that some of my neighbors have come to implicitly distrust me, deeming, it would seem, my historiography insidiously programmatic, tract by or for some Peter the Great or Ataturk, my purpose to force wide our world's portals to the other side and fuse our lives with theirs and leaven our venerated long-beard customs until they are no more, and we ourselves, in fact, are no more other than transmogrifications into what they, who have never known the dowries or anything like it, are and will likely continue to be.  By "they," I mean, of course, "you."

If you have never been to the nearby cities, either the two cities due south or the third city more or less northwest of Mount Tunder, then you've probably not heard the stories about us predictably whispered or guffawed in their barbershops and saloons and coffee klatches, and so you will therefore want some explanation of our dowry system, its operations if not its etiology. 

The simple reality of our dowry system is that every groom gets his choice of an immediate relative—meaning sister or mother—of his bride with whom to have sexual intercourse anytime from ten days to two days before the marriage itself.  Women without such dowries are marriageable but they are exceptional instances: often pathetic if the groom is himself in some way defective and cannot woo any other bride or merit a dowry, or sometimes extraordinary if a fine groom's love for the bride is such that he willingly and in the fullness of his heart foregoes the prize of a sister or mother. 

I'm not sure how the ten- to two-day time frame was historically determined but it was so stipulated in my grandparents' day and, I'm sure, long before then as well.  I asked my father once why ten days, why two days.

"You need to have it close to the marriage itself," he said.  "You need to have it close enough to make the dowry an intimate part of the wedding, but not so close that the marriage is just an aftermath to the dowry."  Fair enough, I thought, but that doesn't explain why not eleven days on the one end or three days on the other.

Once married, a solemn prohibition, rather scarifying in its solemnity, separates the groom from any further sexual contact with the sister or mother who had been his dowry.  As you may imagine, this taboo has not infrequently been violated and the gravity of the violation often the stuff of legend in subsequent years.  Yet it's hard to say what the price of violation ever really was.  There are no legal penalties to pay nor is social isolation a necessarily mandated outcome.  No matter, the taboo still pervades and its pervasiveness is a constant.  People watch husbands, they watch them for years, they watch their backward glances at the dowries.  They watch for tell-tale signs.

"Abe," I remember my father saying.

"Oh?" asked my mother.

"Yes, and Betty," he said.

"Abe and Betty?" my mother asked again, in a tone more of sad disappointment than scandal.  "Poor Ruby," my mother added, referring to Abe's wife.

"Yes, troubled waters lie ahead," said my father, and then no more was said but I remember their tone and the sad burdened glances capturing, as similar fragments of conversation must have captured for others raised like me in this community, the heavy air of transgression.

In such an environment, privacy is often sacramental.  Our people tend to hide their attractions, as if the dowries impose blanket fearfulness over publicly evidencing sexual admiration.  Withal, it erupts or at least with many of us it simmers.  Even as a child I had a distinct sense that Tyrone Macaulay and his mother-in-law Margaret Gerard were tied at the groin in ways neither one could accept or control or resist.  When Margaret turned sixty-five, I was fourteen and invited like others my age on our block to the celebration.  Did anyone else, child or adult, hear something ominous in her tone when they brought out the magnificent cake with all the candles, and Margaret tremulously asked, "How can I blow out so many?"  I didn't know then what that meant nor do I know even now what it really meant.  I only know I felt a strange tingling and a tension when she asked it.  Had I been older and worldlier, I'd at least have glanced over at Sherrie Macaulay nee Gerard to observe her reaction.

So great is the taboo that, even in the absence of direct penalty or public sanction, some errant couples have been unable to withstand the tension, a veritable woof and warp of tensions that typically follows on.  They simply flee for the city.  Ah cities, long the refuges of the star-crossed and fallen!  Yet I wonder how many of these people of ours who illicitly revisited their dowries have been able to escape detection and/or overcome the deep self-blame and settle in to lives of comfortable domesticity despite their profanation repeated who knows how many times.  I bet there's quite a few.

Over the years the flights have created a caste of abandoned brides.  In 1879, for instance, Bret Marquard abandoned his wife Phyllis and made for the city with her sister Emily.  That was the first our collective recollections disclose.  Since then, hundreds of women have suffered the same fate as Phyllis.  Women in other communities are marked similarly but more simply for having been brides abandoned at the altar.  You can imagine that our women are palpably odder, a more tortured and torturous lot, who must now reflect through the decades on what kind of grunt or genital scent or sexual acrobatic, proffered by their own dear kin, might have proved too tempting for the men who abandoned them, and with which they, for all their earnestness and amorous intention, could not compete. 

I don't want to sound like I'm carping or that I have, as some of my acquaintances suspect, a tendentious and negative intent toward the dowries, but let it be said that there is added to the supreme tension of the aftermath the awful anxiety of the night itself.  In particular, what if the male fails in his sexuality?  Imagine the relationship between mother and daughter afterward.

"Are you happy with him?"

"Yes, of course."

"Are you sure?"

"Why, why do you ask?" cries out the daughter, appalled that her mother would know with such intimate certainty and specificity those frantic efforts at potency, the laboring over the flesh of the other in desperate hope that something, something will happen to retrieve the night. 

Worse by far, the sister, the grinning bitch of a sister, exults in penultimate sibling rivalry.  She sucks power from it.

"How's that husband of yours?"

"He's fine."

"Oh really?" she asks with something of a disingenuous nod toward fraternal sympathy.  Beyond this penultimate stage of stark revelation, the married sister in the eyes of her old rival is now become virtual spinster locked in a marriage exposed as nakedly ineffective even before it is ceremonially finalized. 

Rumor has it that Henry Jardin was a tragic flop with Gloria Barrett.  He and Rose Barrett never did seem happy together.  There are others I can think of.

Lest it be said that some personal embitterment has motored iconoclasm, that I am being driven by some disaster of my own within the dowry system to clinically diagnose it as the disease I sometimes think it is, I will tell you that, if there is anyone in this community who can talk about it disinterestedly or even approvingly, it is I. 

Indeed, my personal discomforts are likely miniscule compared to some others.  My father's dowry was the former Bella Titinsky, now married to Bruce Sprague.  As is not uncommon in close families, my mother was, in turn, Uncle Bruce's dowry.  My mother and my Aunt Bella were the daughters of Lev Titinsky who, as they've described him, was part visionary and part pragmatic businessman—I think not unlike those communal engineers, the ones who built experimental settlements in the Europe and America of the century before the last, some still famed and others fading to memory—who made money as a dry goods wholesaler in eastern cities but migrated to our community after the death of my grandmother, and who was apparently so much a man on a mission that nearly any new collective schemata, any reconfiguration of social relations, would have fired his imaginings and intensified his loyalty to whatever world he found different enough from the ones he knew and loathed in Russia and America.

"Sometimes I think the dowries were more important to him than the marriages," my Aunt Bella once said.  "It was his way of proving himself.  He was a revolutionary.  The dowries affirmed him."

Aunt Bella and I used to talk for hours.  Most of our young men are initiated in the knowledge of the dowries by their fathers.  Not that my father was ever negligent in this regard, yet, to a far greater extent than the norm, it was a female, my Aunt Bella who vouchsafed deep hints that have likely allowed me a peculiarly intimate sense of it that others don't get when they're as young as I was then, and that in later life may have goaded me to be its chronicler, yet, as I say, if there is in my account an assumption, even a suggestion, of pathology, and I acknowledge there is some such, I simply cannot trace that sensibility to anything particular that Aunt Bella ever said or to any dubious undercurrent I ever observed in her relationship and her husband's relationship with my parents.

Quite to the contrary, the world she offered was palpably beneficent.  "Does Uncle Bruce love my father?" I asked her once when I was a boy.

"Oh sweet darling, they're positively devoted to each other," she smiled.  "Watch how they are with each other.  Peek at them when they don't think anyone is looking.  See the way they look at each other.  They are beloved friends, that's what you will see."

"Do you love my father?" I asked her.

"Everybody loves your father.  Think about everybody you know and name somebody who doesn't."

Such was the benign cocoon of the dowry system in which I was raised: Russian-faced smiling sisters devoted to their strong and generous men.  Perhaps I don't so much hate the dowries as I am disappointed and perhaps a little resentful at having observed things through the years that I was never taught to expect.  I have seen so much unhappiness, I don't know if my grandfather ever suspected it, or, if he did, to what he might have attributed it. 

"Did you want to be his dowry?" I asked Aunt Bella once.

"I was young and confused, so a little frightened at first, but he is such a fine man that . . .  You know what?"

"What?"

"I am just happy for your mother," said Aunt Bella.

"Is my mother happy for you?"

"That is a wonderful question.  My answer is that she should be," said Aunt Bella with her delicate smile.

I don't know if Aunt Bella ever talked intimately with my mother about their husbands.  Some women do and, of course, mothers who are dowries are especially likely to share a great deal with their daughters.  On my wedding night, my wife squatted on all fours and spread her buttocks just as her mother had done for me.  I can guess that her mother told her how much that gesture of devotion pleased me, but I never asked, and it's one of those things you mustn't ask.  These things are great secrets and a world without great secrets isn't fit to live in.  I will say too that the bonds between women thus formed from intimate whispers are among the lovelier things in our world. 

Sometimes mothers are chosen because it is the politic thing to do.  Many grooms ascend the power ladder of their new families all the faster for having mounted the mother, especially as a ballast to powerful fathers-in-law.  In some families, demi-patriarchs are chastened as a result of their daughters' marriages because young bucks reinvigorate the mothers.  It's a wicked little secret of our world that we do often study on the sly the smiles of the fifty year-old dame whose eyes at her daughter's wedding are twinkling just a little more naughtily as a direct effect of the groom's fond attention.  In such cases, also expect the sixty year-old crones to twitter about it amongst themselves, an audible but indecipherable chorus.  Sometimes too, whole families become surreptitious jokes when the only dowries of interest are the mothers.  Lena Sheffield was mounted by all her daughters' grooms because not one of those grooms would settle for any of the sisters.  "You marry a Sheffield girl but you fuck a Sheffield woman," leered Herb Phillips one evening when he and I were having dinner.

My growing disenchantment, or at least my expulsion from the cocoon of Bella, probably began when I was around 13 or 14 with a growing sensitivity to the pain of others natural to that age.  I began brooding on the women not chosen.  Poor things, especially the ones with many sisters who are passed over again and again.  Their legs are there to be spread but the grooms won't spread them.  Their mouths are ripe fruits but there's no one to suck them.  What pain for loving parents!  Kristin Woods had three married sisters and remained a virgin, even though, I must say, I found her not unattractive in her pale flesh and hungry gaze.  I would have gladly gotten into her panties although, of course, it was never my place to do so.  As I grew older, I understood the equally grave predicament of other unwed women who, having been chosen as dowries on multiple occasions, therefore no longer interested many men as brides. 

So our system by its nature creates defects.  As in other communities, large dowries betoken stature and a man with multiple daughters has a position of some respect in our world.  But it is a rather treacherous stature because, while he has much to offer the most eligible bachelors, the upshot is that these young men will graze throughout his pastures and feast where they will.  So our system by its nature creates ambiguity.  The more a man of substance can provide, the more his many holes get snatched wide open. 

Yet ponder too the whirligigs of vulnerability.  Grooms are often warned, at least tacitly, against a too beautiful wife if she has many sisters.  The more sisters, the more chance his bride will be mounted by successive grooms.  True, if there are six sisters, and all are desirable, the likeliest outcome will be that each of them, or most of them, will be dowries in their respective turns.  But the man who marries nonpareil beauty may find his wife the dowry each time. 

Barbara Alderman is one of the great chiseled beauties of our world.  She has a smell of hyacinths about her and there is in her greenish eyes a veritably other-worldly cast, yet her smile is as rich and warm as a mother's.  She is thus goddess and companion both.  Martin Alderman adored her and married her, and now lives in a kind of anxious vigil as Barbara's sisters come gradually of age. 

"Every time I touch her, I know somebody else is bound to as well," he told me once, miserably.  "Richard, don't you worry?"

"I don't worry because it is our common lot," I answered, a platitude I doubt was of much comfort.  You can, in any event, see some of the painful combinations our system sets.  In the 1920s there was a fabled beauty named Theresa Lane.  Because she had four unwed sisters and was so beautiful, no one dared marry her.  All four of her sisters married and she was the dowry in each instance.  In their later years, some of these conspicuously repeated dowries take on the mystique of goddesses or whores, or sometimes both, a tacit mystique in the crevices of collective perception.  Thus do we reify the women whose behaviors and destinies our own system dictates. 

Of course, there is a presumed intensity to the dowry night that is different from the marriage night, even in cases like mine where I was so strongly attracted to my wife.  It may, in fact, be a trait of our communal psychology that, the more intensely we're attracted to our wives, the more proportionately intense the dowry.  After all, here before us is the sister of the woman we adore, so much like her yet different.  Or here is the mother, the very space that bore the beloved, and that space is now before us to suck and fuck. 

In my case, the delectation was enhanced because her mother had never seemed and likely never was a particularly sexual woman, which meant that I was extracting an accommodation that for her was actually rather outlandish, and which was therefore all the more an expression of supremely heartfelt intention.  The squatting, and the showing of her rump, was a gift, it was breathtaking, and when I rested in her bosom afterward, I nuzzled close to her face to be as near that sweet smile of hers as a soul can get.  Thus our system by its nature promotes such nearly terrifying levels of sexual communion as are unheard of, I daresay, in great cities like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles where vague hints from antique times never revive for more than the most fleeting instant this vast connection, this electric linkage to Cambrian tides, and then only in dreams or poems.  Perhaps you are right to immure this reconnection as I (and I'm sure in my community I am hardly unusual in this respect) am still wounded to the quick for having been given just this taste and no more, and forced at last to shoulder, as we are all expected to shoulder, the burden of respectful distance.

"This is what I'm going to stick in your daughter," I said softly when I guided her hand between my legs.  Her smile when I said that, the gentle admixture of embarrassment and fond warmth, and the way she held on to my cock as if she cherished it, I think at that moment she loved me quite apart from any role we happened to be playing in the ongoing social tableau.  Oh this community is a horrible place, to offer so much more than you people are ever offered, only to forbid us to die of love if we need to.  At least in your living death from childhood on, you are seldom tempted with much more than that.

The next morning I watched her dress and I wanted to tell her that her breasts were beautiful, and that the way she loved she was as young as if she were still a marsupial, but I said nothing and she left soon to help prepare for the wedding day.

I only have one daughter, which made my wife the inevitable dowry.  To expand on the special intensity of the dowry night, I'll have you consider possible ambiguities of intent among certain grooms, and I'll reference a rather painful conversation between my wife and me the day before our daughter was married.  I like Michael Stamp well enough, although I am certainly aware that others do not.  He has a voluble manner, an over-earnestness that alternates with exasperated diffidence, as if he's willing to exert supreme energy one moment but, as soon as that moment produces nothing of whatever he was intending or wanting, he retires into a shell of disappointment and minor despair. 

While our community does not encourage graphic discussion of the dowry, human nature often takes over in those instances when the mother returns to the father and the private floodgates open.  In my case, even had my wife not returned home seeming ill at ease, I might have gently queried the experience.  But I know my wife well, and I knew she was indeed perturbed, so I queried with some intentness.

"His lust disturbed me," she admitted.

My immediate concern was for our daughter.  "Is Cynthia in trouble?  Will he hurt her?"

"I don't know what you mean by 'hurt,'" she said.

"If you experienced anything untoward, tell me now," I said.  "I can't change what's been done, and I'm sorry about that, but I simply won't tolerate Cynthia exposed to harm."

"It's hard to say," she said.

"Just tell me what he did."

"Oh Richard, he ransacked me," she said, and I felt along with worry over my daughter a sense of being exposed myself as if, by harshly taking my wife, he'd ruggedly invaded my whole domain.  Part of it, I acknowledge, was vaguely arousing.  "His face was contorted," she said.  "He opened me so wide and his face was contorted.  Richard, he just tore at me."

"I don't know what this means.  I don't know what, if anything, to do."

"I don't think you understand my real concern," she said.

"Which is?"

"It might be me that he wanted.  That's why he's marrying Cynthia." 

That was nearly six years ago.  Since then the surface waters have been untroubled.  They seem content with each other.  My wife treats him warmly.  His behavior has been visibly irreproachable.  At this stage of the game, the worst likely possibility is that he has been content to settle for Cynthia and to make a life with her in exchange for that one evening in which he could get between my wife's legs and rage there for hours.  If that was the deal he set up for himself, I pray Cynthia never suspects it.

I do my praying and when I look around at Anthony Ehrenburg and Chris Conroy and Joe Scully, Joe with his four daughters, I imagine they are praying too.  I imagine there are many of us praying all the time, some of us because of specific circumstances and others because we can't help but feel naked amid so much indeterminate possibility.  But then there are the ones who don't pray, who in a real sense run this world and, because they run it, don't need to pray, and because they run it and don't need to pray, I hate this world, I hate it for things my grandfather, blinded by hatreds of his own, probably never guessed at.

The ones who run this world are the ones who do not have daughters.  Without daughters, they are invulnerable.  There are no holes in their homes pried open by sanctified custom.  Some men, for fear of having daughters, opt out altogether and remain alone.  They are a caste, a recognizable bachelor caste.  Louis Dunes typified them.  He was by nature a quiet man and observed the world without commenting on it, but I'm sure he viewed it both critically and fearfully.  Other men marry and won't have children for dread of future tuppings.  I despise these men who drag their women (without hesitating to accept their dowries) into stark childlessness, women who I'm sure never assented to any such fundamental deprivation.  I remember Dorothy Mayhew, I knew her well, and I know she would have lain naked on the drear altars of the world for a baby child, but James Mayhew would not have it and he crushed her.  So our system by its nature makes the deed of life itself an imperilment, but so too does our system by its nature dare us to live despite the danger and, who knows, makes the bearing of children all the more delectable for the risk we are forced to run as a result. 

Of the neighbors who I've said distrust my historiography for its presumed tendentiousness, these men without daughters are the most confrontational.  Bernard Loveness, actually a good friend of mine, typifies them. 

"There is a contradiction and a moral flaw in your misgivings," he said to me once.

"And that would be?"

"You think the sickness is in our system but it is not," he said.  "The sickness is in us, who cannot rejoice in the giving of dowries."

"The system has given you an arrogant power.  You fuck but never need to give back any meat for the rest of us to chew on."

"You should evangelize for joy in the giving of the dowries, not protest because only certain men have to give it."  Smart man this Loveness, as I'd always known.

"Human nature is human nature," I said.  "The dowries exploit its inevitable frailties and a few fortunate males benefit."

"Get fucked as proudly as we fuck, that's how you change the world," he retorted.

"Easy enough for you to say, you in your lucky homes where you have no cunts to yield up for the fucking," I said.  But, as I say, Loveness is a smart man and I felt bested.

No matter, I suspect my debate with Loveness may in the long term be academic.  I have spoken of the existence of certain sub-groups defined by the impact of the dowries, such as the brides abandoned by grooms in thrall to their dowries, or ungainly sisters with no likelihood of ever being dowries, or women left childless by men who dread engendering dowries.  Whatever may be said of these sad species, I'm sure they pose no threat to the social order.  On the other hand, there is a small but conspicuous brood that may.  This is the get of the dowries.

Every year there are dowries impregnated and the children brought to term.  (I would imagine only an incremental long-term decrease in the total number if abortion were encouraged here.) It is the most awkward of social relations when a woman's sister is pregnant instead of her, and the whole family must pitch in to support the child, economically and otherwise.  However much the dowry night is sanctioned, such accidents are considered to be misfortunes, not blessings, and a cause of potential and painful friction between sisters.  Angela Mill was distraught, I recall, and her relationship with her sister permanently adumbrated.  Faye Tracten is still childless though her husband's son by her sister Susan is grown to manhood. 

When I was a child, Josephine Walbrook's mother was impregnated by her groom, and it was three more years before Josephine was likewise favored.  Oh the murky pools Josephine's eyes must have swum in to see her own mother's belly swell at seven and eight months!  We have no poets in our society or at least none of the sort who can bravely chronicle the currents and cross-currents of a mind like hers confronted with such a sight. 

So our system by its nature creates freakish disorders as inevitable expressions of the order itself.  But focus if you will on the children themselves as a potential irruption disturbing the surface of collective quietude, if not someday a whole special interest group increasingly emboldened and darkly motivated.  The children of the dowries have always been marginal.  Some are cared for lovingly, and that love bespeaks a certain wise indifference or even hostility to the social system itself among the caretakers, as if these caretakers are saying, "Look, we will not allow innocent creatures to suffer any more than they have to because the dowry system miscarried.  It's not their fault!"  True enough and obvious enough—but it should be noted that today, as in past decades laid open by my research, many of these children (and there is no generic name for them, no word like "bastard" to set them apart, only a general sense that they are not quite right and might even be dangerous) are simply pariahs.  At best, they are vested with the powers of an idiot savant, which, as I remember how my mother and father used to talk about him, must have been the case with Fred Black, son of Rosemary Black by her sister's groom.  People used to go out to the town square to watch Fred play chess with Jeffrey Bush or sometimes Paul Williams.  The onlookers would grin and nod when Fred, hardly glancing at the board, would proclaim, often so vociferously as to sound feebleminded, "You will be checkmated in three moves!"  Not "I will checkmate you in three movies," but "You will be checkmated in three moves," as if the entire game were a cosmic unfolding that he was observing and reporting rather than causing.

Not long ago I had an interesting conversation with Cathy Packer, daughter of Mary Packer by her sister's groom, who is an example neither of the doted on and protected child of a dowry, nor of that sullen class of outcast progeny from whom one might expect restive or perhaps overtly hostile skepticism about this world and their imputed place in it.  She is something in between.  Of course, the most dangerous champions of any incendiary cause are never the most unfortunate representatives of the deracinated caste in question.

We ran into each other outside Wayne Lawler's hardware store.  I had simply asked what she was doing lately and she told me she was running the cash register at the filling station.  But that wasn't going to last for long because Tom Garro would be shutting it down by winter time.  "What are your plans?" I asked, expecting nothing more remarkable than a subscription to some mail order secretarial course.

"I'm not planning, really," she said, affably enough.  "I'm waiting."

"Waiting for what?"

"Oh you know," she laughed good-naturedly.  "People like me are always waiting."

"People like you?" I asked.  "How so?"

"People like me," she simply repeated, this time in a terser voice, her eyes ominously narrower.  As she may have been aware of my research, Cathy seemed somewhat less guarded and more purposive in our conversation than might have been the case with someone else.

I did not rise to the bait, if that's what it was, though in retrospect I regret not doing so.  "Well, good luck," I said.

"Same to you," she said and looked up at the sky because a few drops of rain were beginning to fall.  It may only be my own perversity, but I sense a race of Spartacists.  I sense it budding.  Why now these Spartacists instead of ten or twenty or one-hundred years ago, I don't know.  I don't know how long things take or why they happen.  But I can still imagine my conversation with Bernard Loveness altogether moot; his prescription, the estimable wisdom of his prescription for spiritual rather than social remediation, altogether moot as well. 

Yet I wonder what a revolution would look like.  What becomes of any people invested with the atoms and molecules of a system such as ours?  Can you change the very wires of human circulation, can there be a transmigration of souls from a world like ours to one like yours, any more than from yours to anyone else's?  Can human beings survive the wholesale replacement of an entire social genetic?

My daughter and I had been discussing her coming wedding night.  All the while we were together, a vague—I would not call it discomfort, it was too prepossessing for that—it was more of an apprehension that settled over both of us, slowing the cadences with which we spoke.  I talked about the ceremonial feast we planned.  Taking her hand, I said, "Darling, it's going to be splendid."

Her lovely face, which to me will always be the face of a child, animated jaggedly.  There was tension in her voice but the smile on her face and the quick circular movements of her eyes were also informed by a certain almost giddy sense of life plunging headlong forward.  "Oh daddy," she suddenly exclaimed, "he's fucking mommy!" 

* * *

The notes below were appended to this history after the death of its author, Richard Dolan, who apparently visited at least one major American city between the time he left off writing the chronicle and the day he died.  The notes, which likely date from that period, seem unrelated to the chronicle but we include them for whatever tangential insights they might provide.

April 12 . . .  Watching Joseph Campbell on television with Bill Moyers, I conclude that his appearance—however the presentation may have been tailored to the needs of the broadcast format—was part of, in fact, a climax of, his own personal hero journey, simply because he was consciously going public and using the popular media of his time to do so.  As he himself had written, the journey must end or include as a postscript a definitive return to the world where the hero attempts to teach what has been learned and taught and untaught and forgotten "throughout," as he puts it, "the millenniums of mankind's prudent folly." 

April 26 . . .  All media are mysterious and none more so than the visual.  Andrew Wyeth's sketches, because they're sketches, seem less regional in both a geographical and cultural sense.  His sketch "Jamie" is worthy of Goya.  But because it's a painting, "Faraway" is kitsch.  Its provinciality dominates and demeans.  Sketches are less imposing, therefore less susceptible to the awesome demands of a grand canvas.  Sketches also seem minimalist and all minimalism approaches the universal.

May 3 . . .  Critics should learn a few things from journalists in the sense that facts ferreted out can't help but guide even the most rarefied levels of aesthetic rumination.  Take, for example, the journals of Anne Morrow Lindberg, especially Bring Me a Unicorn.  Some of these passages cannot be critically evaluated in the abstract.  We need to know if they were really written in 1928 or completely reworked just prior to 1970 when the book appeared.  It's not just a matter of scholarship, it's a matter of judgment—of how we see and feel and interpret the prose.  The homely facts must be known.

May 16 . . .  I have defined a new mode of human interaction.  I call it "corporate touching."  It's the way my wife's cousin Sam, who leases much of the commercial property in our community, puts his hand on my shoulder when I walk through a door ahead of him.  It's a real corporate touch.  I see businesspeople touching each other like that all the time.  I don't trust it but people seem to need it.  

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