Sins of the Mothers

I asked her to dance, and she wasn’t too steady on her feet. Her breath
reeked of liquor and she had a faraway look. I was twenty-two years old,
in a strange city, and had few friends. Dances were the only places I
knew for meeting women.

It was almost midnight, and I had to get up for work the next morning.
Walking out the door, a hand grabbed me. Her again. She was afraid. She
needed someone to take her home. I felt mingled pity and disgust.

Pity won. We made our way down Eighty-fourth Street under the harsh
orange glare of sodium arc streetlamps. Where did she live? Some town
on the Island. Long Island. Where the rich folks lived. What the hell
had I gotten myself into?

She wasn’t a bad looking broad, maybe on the wrong side of forty by a
couple of years and a bit the worse for wear . . . but pretty classy for
all that. Tight-fitting slacks and sweater top. That view from behind had
attracted me like a magnet. Dammit, that’s why I had asked her to dance
in the first place. I’ve always been a sucker for a nice-looking ass.

There was the parking garage where she had left her car. She had to be
an Islander. It figured. Only an out-of-towner would pay $25 to park in
the city for a couple of hours.

She seemed to have a problem getting the key into the ignition. Did I
dare let her drive as zonked out as she was? “Ma’am, maybe you’d better
let me take the wheel. I haven’t driven in a couple of years, and my
license isn’t exactly current, but . . . ” She had leaned over and was
kissing me sloppily on the mouth. That damn liquor breath again.

Ten minutes later we were in the Midtown Tunnel, heading toward Queens
and points east. I had been a little wobbly at first, but her late-model
Buick rode steady as a tank.

“Over there. That’ll lead you to the LIE.”

“The what?”

“The Long Island Expressway. I can tell you haven’t been in New York long.
Don’t worry, you’re doing fine. You’re a real gentleman, by the way. Not
like my ex-husband, that lousy cheating bastard.”

She had snuggled up to me as I was squinting in the glare of oncoming
headlights. Not an unpleasant sensation, but dammit, she was sloppy
drunk. Did I really need this?

Half an hour later, I was still undecided. She nudged me and pointed to
an iron-gated entrance on the left. It must have been a quarter mile of
tree-lined driveway from there up to the house. Some house. Where I came
from, they would have called it a mansion.

She fumbled through her purse for the house key, dropped it, and finally
managed to insert it into the lock. All the lights were on inside and it
blinded me for a moment.

Chandeliers. Wood paneling. Multicolored wall hangings. Antique furniture.
Wealth on display.

“Help me up the stairs, guy. What’s your name, by the way?”

“You can call me Jake.”

She held on to me with a death’s grip as we precariously navigated
our way up toward the master bedroom. The last time I had seen a grand
staircase like that was at the Majestic Theatre in Des Moines. I seemed
to be coming up in the world.

The four-poster king-sized bed had a quilted cover over light rose silk
sheets. Silk. Luxuriously slippery-smooth.

She kept sagging as I undressed her. I gently lowered her to the bed
and tucked her in.

“Sleep tight, my darling, my love.” Ironic words for a ironic situation.
She would be neither darling nor lover to me tonight. Just a drunken,
snoring body for me to keep vigil over.

I got in beside her and held her from behind. I kept my underwear on. A
barrier between us. Her warmth was comforting, almost compensating for
the alcoholic fumes she was emitting. Her behind, round and soft, pressed
against my crotch. It occured to me that I could just slip inside her
and no one would ever know, least of all this person sharing a bed with
me. I drifted into darkness.

Sometime during the night her cries awakened me. She was shivering and
drenched with sweat.

“Daddy, Daddy! Help me! It hurts!”

I stroked her forehead and massaged her neck. Gradually, her breathing calmed
and she slipped back into sleep. A bit later, so did I.

The light coming through the window hurt my eyes. She was sitting up in bed
beside me.

“We did it, didn’t we?”

“Did it?”

“Made love, you darling fool!”

“I was sorely tempted. You’re a beautiful woman, but I couldn’t take
advantage of you in your helpless state. I’d better go. I don’t belong

“No, stay. Stay a while. Please. I’m afraid.”

“It would be better for both of us if I just left and we both forgot
this ever happened.”

“Don’t go. Please.”

She pulled a fifty-dollar bill out of a purse on the nightstand and thrust
it at me. I pushed it back. All of a sudden I felt dirty.

I left the room. She was bent over, sobbing.

A pretty teenage girl was sitting on the sofa downstairs. On second
thought, she was not quite a teenager, maybe just an exceptionally mature
12-year-old, an unspoiled version of her mother, but regressed thirty
years. She motioned me over and patted a spot beside her. I sat down as
far away from her as I could.

“So, you’re the latest of mom’s pickups. I’ve got to say, you have a
little more class than most. You should have seen the one last week. A
biker of some kind, greasy as all getout and he must have been crawling
with lice. When mom’s whacked out on gin and tranks, she’ll take on
anything on two legs with a hairy chest and — ”

I held up my hand before she could finish. “You have no cause to speak
that way about your mother. She’s not a well woman.”

She stuck her tongue out at me, got up and calmly walked out of the room
without looking back.

Time to boogie.

It’s twenty-five years later, and Alayna Marston runs my life. Well,
my work life anyway. Her family firm bought up our small engineering
design shop when we ran into a cash flow problem a few months back. Now
she’s summoned me to her office, but for what? Will she give me the
advance I need to forestall foreclosure on my mortgage, or will it be
an anonymous white envelope with a pink slip? I shouldn’t get my hopes
up. She has a reputation to maintain as the miracle worker who brings
failing companies back to profitability by cutting expenses to the bone
and ruthlessly laying off staff.