Love Story
indeed; Oliver III had on a fancy cashmere
sport jacket. And there was an insidious smile on his usually
rocklike countenance.
    ‘Do come in and meet Mrs. Barrett.’
    Another once-in-a-lifetime thrill was
in store for Jennifer: meeting Alison Forbes ‘Tipsy’ Barrett. (In
perverse moments I wondered how her boarding-school nickname might
have affected her, had she not grown up to be the earnest do-gooder
museum trustee she was.) Let the record show that Tipsy Forbes never
completed college. She left Smith in her sophomore year, with the
full blessing of her parents, to wed Oliver Barrett III.
    ‘My wife Alison, this is Jennifer -

    He had already usurped the function
of introducing her.
    ‘Calliveri,’ I added, since Old
Stony didn’t know her last name.
    ‘Cavilleri,’ Jenny added
politely, since I had mispronounced it - for the first and only time
in my goddamn life.
    ‘As in Cavalleria Rusticana?’
asked my mother, probably to prove that despite her drop-out status,
she was sail pretty cultured.
    ‘Right.’ Jenny smiled at her. ‘No
relation.’
    ‘Ah,’ said my mother.
    ‘Ah,’ said my father.
    To which, all the time wondering if
they had caught Jenny’s humor, I could but add: ‘Ah?’
    Mother and Jenny shook hands, and
after the usual exchange of banalities from which one never
progressed in my house, we sat down. Everybody was quiet. I tried to
sense what was happening. Doubtless, Mother was sizing up Jennifer,
checking out her costume (not Boho this afternoon), her posture, her
demeanor, her accent. Face it, the Sound of Cranston was there even
in the politest of moments. Perhaps Jenny was sizing up Mother. Girls
do that, I’m told. It’s supposed to reveal things about the guys
they’re going to marry. Maybe she was also sizing up Oliver III.
Did she notice he was taller than I? Did she like his cashmere
jacket?
    Oliver III, of course, would be
concentrating his fire on me, as usual.
    ‘How’ve you been, son?’
    For a goddamn Rhodes scholar, he is
one lousy conversationalist.
    ‘Fine, sir. Fine.’
    As a kind of equal - rime gesture,
Mother greeted Jennifer.
    ‘Did you have a nice trip down?’
    ‘Yes,’ Jenny replied, ‘nice and
swift.’
    ‘Oliver is a swift driver,’
interposed Old Stony.
    ‘No swifter than you, Father,’ I
retorted.
    What would he say to that?
    ‘Uh - yes. I suppose not.’
    You bet your ass not, Father.
    Mother, who is always on his side,
whatever the circumstances, turned the subject to one of more
universal interest - music or art, I believe. I wasn’t exactly
listening carefully. Subsequently, a teacup found its way into my
hand.
    ‘Thank you,’ I said, then added,
‘We’ll have to be going soon.’
    ‘Huh?’ said Jenny. It seems they
had been discussing Puccini - or something, and my remark was
considered somewhat tangential. Mother looked at me (a rare event).
    ‘But you did come for dinner,
didn’t you?’
    ‘Uh - we can’t,’ I said.
    ‘Of course,’ Jenny said, almost
at the same rime.
    ‘I’ve gotta get back,’ I said
earnestly to Jen.
    Jenny gave me a look of ‘What are
you talking about?’
    Then Old Stonyface pronounced:
    ‘You’re staying for dinner.
That’s an order.’
    The fake smile on his face didn’t
make it any less of a command. And I don’t take that kind of crap
even from an Olympic finalist.
    ‘We can’t, sir,’ I replied.
    ‘We have to, Oliver,’ said Jenny.
    ‘Why?’ I asked.
    ‘Because I’m hungry,’ she said.
    We sat at the table obedient to the
wishes of Oliver III.
    He bowed his head. Mother and Jenny
followed suit. I tilted mine slightly.
    ‘Bless this food to our use and us
to Thy service, and help us to be ever mindful of the needs and wants
of others.
    This we ask in the name of Thy Son
Jesus Christ, Amen.’
    Jesus Christ, I was mortified.
Couldn’t he have omitted the piety just this once? What would Jenny
think?
    God, it was a throwback to the Dark
Ages.
    ‘Amen,’ said Mother (and

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