Summer is for steamy romance. Our new series of classic fiction from the 1940s and ’50s features sexy intrigue from the archives for all of your beach reading needs. Read “Marriage Is Not for Me!” from 1957, in which Maxine must decide whether to listen to her mother and marry John Milpagas or to run off “to Paris to the Left Bank, to Greenwich Village, to Acapulco” to live the life of an artist.
Julie Kramer was going out to lunch. She was always going out to lunch, out to dinner, out somewhere. Restless, energetic, efficient, too, she was a product of her age. She was clean-lined, thinned down and angular, twentieth century. Her black hair, untouched by gray or dye, was molded to her head as her clothes were molded to her figure. She looked hard. Those who loved her knew that she was not. She looked self-assured. But her eyes were easily panicked.
She stopped for a minute in the doorway of the north room, which they had turned into a studio for Maxine.
“Lunch, baby, at the Statler. I’ll be back about three. Have you had anything to eat?”
“Well, eat something! You hear?” Julie shouted at her as people shout at foreigners who don’t understand English. “There’s plenty in the refrigerator. Or go out somewhere.” She considered briefly Maxine’s paint-covered smock, paint-smudged face and blond hair falling in disarray. “Or have something sent in. But eat, Maxine!”
“Yes, mother. I will.”
“I’ll eat. I promise.”
Julie hesitated. She tapped thoughtfully on the door frame with long, perfect, crimson nails. “I wish you’d get married,” she sighed.
Maxine laughed. “What a thing to wish on some poor guy. Even if you want to get rid of me.”
Julie smiled her brittle smile, but her eyes were soft and fond. “Marry John Milpagas. Why don’t you, Max?”
“All right, mother. I will.”
“You ought to be living a life of your own!” Julie was beginning to shout again. “Twenty-six years and you’ve done nothing so far but devote yourself to me! It isn’t fair! You should cut me off! Do you hear, Maxine?”
“Yes, mother.” She smiled. “I’ll cut you off.”
“Marry John! And eat something! You hear? Goodbye.”
Maxine laughed. She sat for a moment to let the room recover its quiet after her mother’s electric presence. Then she fished around in the pocket of her smock, brought out her glasses and put them on. Her mother despised those spectacles.
“I don’t know why you wear those terrible glasses!” she had said to her sharply on more than one occasion.
“Because I don’t see very well without them,” Maxine always answered mildly.
“I mean, why can’t you get something good looking, up-to-date?” And finally Julie had delved into her bag and brought up a fifty dollar bill. “For heaven’s sake,” she shouted, “go get yourself some smart ones, jeweled ones or something! And if they cost more, pay more! You hear?”
Maxine didn’t mind the shouting because she knew that her mother loved her with an immense, yearning love bordering on the painful. She took the fifty dollars and got herself a stunning pair of glasses. But when she was painting, she wore the old ones with the hooks over her ears because they stayed on better. Whenever her mother came in, whenever the door chimes sounded, sometimes when the telephone rang, she would hastily slip them off and into her pocket.
As she turned again to her easel, she was thinking about John Milpagas. She wondered what ever made her mother think that if she married John she would be living her own life. John was just like Julie — efficient, restless, fond and domineering, always wanting to go someplace, always telling her she ought to get out — out of the house, out of herself. She would be exchanging Julie for John, that’s all. No, to be quite honest, that wasn’t all of the matter. When he ranted and raved and shouted at her, he was like her mother, and Maxine could smile. But when he stood close above her in a sudden onslaught of tenderness and put his arms around her, gently, fervently, she lost the advantage her sense of humor gave her and became breathless, unsure, a little frightened. He had that power over her.
But at such moments, at those very moments, she often thought to herself, “I should run now — to Paris to the Left Bank, to Greenwich Village, to Acapulco — with my own life and my painting.”
At first she didn’t run because her mother needed her so badly. When Joe Kramer died suddenly, and Julie, shocked, sat day after day with her grief bottled up inside her hard shell, she needed Maxine desperately. Maxine was soft and pliant where her mother was hard and brittle. Although she missed her father cruelly, she was able to absorb the blow, bend with it, diminish her grief by pouring out comfort — wordless, intangible, ever-present comfort, for her mother. And for three years John Milpagas waited with a patience that was astounding and meritorious.
Now Julie was her old self again. Now it could be the Left Bank at last. Maxine felt a surge of triumph at the thought, for she was a very good painter, with small recognition as yet. But nevertheless with a divine gift and a complete, calm confidence in her ability to use it.
The Left Bank, of course, was just a symbol. It might just as well be here, Hollywood. But freedom. Freedom to eat or not, as she chose. Freedom to emerge even on to the street with her spectacles hooked over her ears and paint on her face and hands. Freedom to hole up for days on end, to leave the phone on the hook while it rang and rang and she laughed at it. To wrestle with truth, and, sweating, demand of her soul the highest refinement. In a word, to live alone on the lofty rack of artistic endeavor. To die alone, striving!
She sat hunched over on the high stool, so lost in the intensity of her thought that the synthetic chimes of the front door broke in upon her as a shock. She forgot about her glasses and went to the door with them on. And through them she blinked in surprise at John Milpagas.
He stood tall in his immaculate, well pressed suit against the high-glossed wall of the air-conditioned corridor. Twentieth century. He belonged here in these Towers with their seventy-degree, filtered air, their stainless-steel elevators, metal windows and doors, soundproof walls, built-in planters with great, dark, horrible, shining leaves. If she married him, this is where she would have to live, no doubt. He thought it was the last word. And so it was.
“Come on, kitten,” he said. “Take off those terrible glasses, clean yourself up. We’re going out to lunch.”
“Oh, John!” she said crossly.
“I met your mother downstairs. She said you had a cup of coffee for breakfast, and that’s all today. Come on. I can’t kiss you till you get cleaned up.”
“Oh, John!” she said despairingly, and went to change.
When she reappeared, he looked at her in approval.
“It’s always astonishing to me,” he said, “that from such a hopeless, paint-covered little grub can come such a pretty — such a very, very pretty girl.”
“Thank you, I think.” She laughed up at him.
“Oh, Maxine!” he said with sudden, yearning intensity.
“Farmers’ Market? ’’ she asked quickly, parrying that moment of intensity. She loved the press and color of the market place. She fed both her persons there, the animal and the artist.
She was surprised by the seriousness of his tone. “Aren’t you going to kiss me, now that I won’t get paint on your suit?”
“On second thought, no. Not yet.” He shook his head slowly, his eyes brooding upon her.
Her smile faded and her heart gave a little jump of fear. Evidently this was not going to be a casual luncheon date. Maybe she wouldn’t eat after all. Maybe he wouldn’t eat either. And above all things in the world she hated to cause pain.
They sat in a private back booth of the Luncheon Club on Wilshire Boulevard. John ordered. He said not a word to disturb her, not a personal word at all, except “Eat your lunch.” She was hungry and did eat. When she had finished, he said, “I have something to say.”
“It’s this: I’m not going to wait for you any longer, Maxine.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked in a small voice.
“I want to get married. I’m going to find another girl.”
Maxine stared at him. “But I thought—-You said you loved me.”
“You said you loved me,” he returned. “What does that have to do with it?”
“But when two people love—-”
She opened her mouth and then closed it without saying a word.
“It’s been three years and a half, Maxine!”
“Don’t shout, John.”
“I’m not shouting!” he shouted. Then he lowered his voice. His lips were twisted slightly with hurt. “I know how you feel about your great gift and all that, Max, but I wouldn’t be a Victorian husband. Good Lord, I don’t object to your painting.”
“That’s just it,” said Maxine miserably. “You don’t object — you don’t object. That’s a very peculiar attitude toward art.”
John looked bewildered. “You don’t want me to object, do you?” Then, as she did not answer, he rose abruptly, turning away to hide the pain in his eyes. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” Disappointment and frustration were choking him. “I’ll take you home.”
When they stepped out on the street, a fresh wind was blowing. There were billowy, peppermint-white clouds against the blue, blue sky. The sun sparkled on them, on everything. Three white gulls wheeled overhead with their small, wild, mewing cry. Maxine forgot John, forgot her misery, forgot the world, as her artist’s heart lifted with joy on the white wings of those three gulls. The next minute she had overlooked the curb, missed her footing, and would have gone down hard if John’s arm had not been there, reaching out quickly to save her.
She looked up, startled. He was looking down at her, holding her firmly, smiling with tight lips. There was significance for him in that incident, she could see. She felt it too. And suddenly, by magic, there was no barrier between them at all. They were soul to open soul for an instant. No words. No silly words. Then it was over. But Maxine was shaken. She had no idea that John could look into her like that, so deeply.
Then he was holding the car door for her. Then they were back at the Towers. He put her in the elevator.
“You have your key? You don’t need me to go up?”
“Then, goodbye.” As the elevator door closed, he was looking at her with a steady, calm air of finality.
After all, she had forgotten her key. But she knew her mother would be home shortly.
When Julie got out of the elevator some twenty minutes later, she found Maxine sitting on the highly polished floor of the corridor, her back against the wall, waiting.
Julie laughed. “You forgot your key again?”
“I forgot my key,” said Maxine, and burst into tears.
“Maxine!” shouted her mother, dismayed.
“It’s all right, mother,” said Maxine quickly. She laughed a little and wiped her eyes.
“But just forgetting your key is no reason to —-” Julie fussed, slightly frantic. “Why didn’t you go to the superintendent’s office?”
“It’s all right, mother. Truly.”
“I can’t make you out at all. Did something happen between you and John? I wish your father were alive. He used to be able to talk to you.”
“I’m all right, mother. It’s nothing,” said Maxine with patient insistence.
“Nobody can be all right who cries about nothing,” said Julie, and gave up.
Maxine laughed. But when she went into her own room, the slow tears began to run down her cheeks again, and she looked at herself in the mirror with exasperation. For she knew from the beginning that the Left Bank was going to be a lonesome place. Why should she cry? Was it because, with all the calm and finality in John’s last look, there was also pain and bewilderment? Was it her loneliness or his that made her cry?
After that, for a couple of weeks, she seemed to be living a life in limbo, suspended between realities. She wore her spectacles all the time. Her mother did not shout at her. When Julie was out, she could leave the ringing phone endlessly on its hook and laugh at it. That was one reality. But the other reality was that the phone did not ring. She was free to starve herself if she wished. Actually, she nibbled all day — crackers and cheese, cookies, fruit, and cup after cup of coffee.
One morning, as a gesture of freedom, she went up to Hollywood Boulevard in her smock, gold-rimmed spectacles and all. She was coming, more or less happy and relaxed, out of an art-supply store when she saw John’s tall, man of distinction figure striding along toward her. He did not see her. Quickly she scurried back into the shop. And through the window, with reluctant eyes, she watched him go by. His face looked drawn, unhappy, not well. The tug on her heart and the pity in her breast were uncomplicated, unreasoning pain. What am I? she asked herself. A monster?
She went home, sat down with determination in front of her easel and pretended to be an artist. But all the time she knew in her terribly honest heart that it was not artistic truth she was wrestling with now, but doubt, self-reproach and longing. She sat hunched over her problem on the high stool, a small, nearsighted, unhappy monster.
As once before, into her intense thought broke the musical chimes of the front door. Surely not John! And her mother never forgot her key. On the way to answer, she removed her spectacles and dropped them into the pocket of her smock.
The strange man who stood in blurred outline before her seemed completely sure of his right to be there, and his welcome. Yet he certainly did not belong there in that shining, sterile, aseptic corridor. He was even eager to get in out of it.
“You’re Maxine. I’m the man who’s going to marry your mother. May I come in?” His voice was crisp, staccato.
Maxine grabbed a breath of surprise. “Come in. Of course.” She was flustered. “Come in. Sit down, please. Does she know you’re going to marry her? She hasn’t said—-”
“She knew it before I did.” He followed her into the living room, but did not sit down.
“Yes.” Maxine laughed. “Yes, I suppose she did.” She sat uneasily on the end of the couch. “But she won’t like your coming here like this, unannounced. She likes everything to be planned and the stage set.”
“I know. I came unannounced because I thought it was the better way, and because, as yet, I haven’t promised to love, honor and obey her.”
Maxine was seized by a momentary annoyance. She took her spectacles out of her pocket and hooked them over her ears. His face came into focus. He was standing, smiling down at her, scrutinizing her. He had a rounded face, high forehead, vigorous hair, and keen, burning black eyes. His fine smile took all the sting out of his last words. She was reassured.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Maurice Fowler.” He nodded quickly at the question in her wide, surprised eyes. “Yes.”
“How strange,” she whispered slowly, unable to take her eyes from his face. “How absolutely astonishing. And you’re going to be my stepfather. You, of all people. She has never once mentioned you.”
“I’m sorry,” he said in a gentler voice. “I have the advantage over you, Maxine. I know all about you.”
“I know all about you,” she returned quickly, with a smile. “Everything that’s essential.”
She struck a sudden spark in his eyes with that remark. “Thanks.” He gave her a wide smile.
And she did too. Through his work. Probably every painting that he had ever released, she had seen and studied. Among all the present-day American painters, he was the one for whom she had an absolutely unreserved admiration. Maurice Fowler! This was an astonishment that would take time to digest.
“Look, Maxine,” he was continuing, “do you know why I have come here? I’m not going to pretend it isn’t self-interest. It is. I love your mother. I can’t bear to see her anxious and worried. Besides, I want to marry her. And she will never marry while you are in this — er — crisis. And you’re right; she wouldn’t like it if she knew I was here. She is afraid of forcing your hand.”
“Forcing my hand?” repeated Maxine faintly.
“But I’m not afraid. Because I have a hunch that you and I speak the same language.” He stood above her now. His voice was quiet; his words came out concise, relentless. “Now forgive me. It is a man. It is marriage or art. You have chosen art. You loved him, but that’s all over now. Is it?”
Maxine looked down without answering. Instead, she said, “Would you — would you look at my work? I have a few that—-”
He put his hand under her chin and lifted her delicate, reserved little face so that he could look into it. And after looking, “It’s too late,” he said, and laughed. “My dear girl, the question of marriage is inconsequential now. It became too late the minute you fell in love. He isn’t one of us, eh? Well, sometimes it works out better that way. Leaves you freer, really.”
He released her chin and turned away to take several vigorous strides around the room. He noticed his surroundings for the first time.
“My heaven!” he said. “What a horribly tasteful room! Now I’ll make a pact with you. If there is such a thing as reincarnation and you and I do meet in another life, I’ll remind you and you remind me, don’t fall in love! Agreed?” She was smiling again. “All right! Let’s see your work.”
She led him into the north room. He glanced at the painting on the easel; then threw her a quick, surprised, appraising look from his black eyes. Respectful too. Maxine felt her heart beat hard in tremendous elation. She stood still while he stepped around the room quickly, turning over canvases that were leaning against the wall.
“Yes, yes, yes!” he said. “You’re on your way surely. Firm, fine draftsmanship. I never hoped—You fooled me with your little myopic, indecisive manner. And they have an alluring air of health and youth! They certainly have! Oh, Maxine!” He threw his arm for a moment across her shoulder and held her tight. “What else? Crayon? Good! Let’s see.”
She opened a portfolio. He fell silent. They were all portraits of her mother.
“I’m a little — overwhelmed,” he said finally. “You know her very well — much better than she knows you. Her chin, though. She holds it higher. Look.” He took a crayon and made a few explicit, telling lines. “She leads with her chin all the time. It makes her very vulnerable.” He became still, gazing down.
“Yes,” agreed Maxine, with unexplained tears in her eyes. Yet she felt compelled to ask, “Why are you marrying my mother?”
“Because she needs me,” he answered promptly. “Don’t mistake me. If I didn’t love her, her needing me wouldn’t matter to me — so excruciatingly. Undoubtedly your young man needs you, and if you love him — which I more than suspect you do — it is of excruciating importance to you. That’s probably what’s the matter with you now. But what you really mean to ask me is why I marry at all, isn’t it?”
“Yes. That’s it.”
“Yes, well, let’s face it — because I made the big mistake of falling in love, and because, in the tradition of my family and my society, falling in love means marriage. Now that I’ve seen your work, I see that for you it’s a big mistake too. From an absolute viewpoint, that is. Probably a worse mistake, because women get so — tied up, emotionally and physiologically.”
She nodded. “That’s what I’ve been afraid of.”
“Of course. And that’s what I’m here for, really. And now we come to the mystery of mysteries, the inner shrine, the paradoxical secret of the brotherhood.”
He smiled with his lips alone. Maxine was so intent on his words that it seemed there was nothing in the world now but that man of controlled energy, half sitting on the stool with one foot on the rung, and she, leaning against the door jamb with her hands behind her back, waiting to hear the words that would mean her whole life.
“It’s this: you and I are strong, Maxine, with a strength that people more active, yet more dependent, can never understand. We don’t have the same needs at all. Your mother would be shocked to know how little it would matter to you if she got married and took herself off. No, rather, how very happy you would be, deep down under the surface agitation of your emotions.”
Maxine felt her face flush guiltily under the honest, wise look he was giving her. He noticed and smiled.
“We are strong because we have a central drive, primal, unremitting, indomitable. When it takes over, you are tireless. You can paint all day without food, all night without sleep. You have tapped the source of all power. But you can’t hug it to yourself, Maxine; it will tear you to pieces if you don’t share it. Nor am I sure that one outlet, art alone, is enough to keep the tremendous pressure down. For Van Gogh it wasn’t.
“Now, if you’re not interested in keeping the pressure down, then go ahead, use just one channel, force the stream upwards and the result may be something sublime. A few have done it — Michelangelo, Beethoven.” He paused. “I admit to you, Maxine, I am not that great an instrument. I need other outlets.”
Her eyes were far away. When he spoke again, she knew that his mood had changed. She felt in him a kind of secret laughter. At her? At himself? At life?
“I forgot,” he said, “the comfort of the memory of Johann Sebastian Bach, that superbly adjusted genius, who managed to be earthy and sublime at the same time, and to produce prodigiously at both levels. Maxine—-”
He called her back gently from her other world. It was significant that he did not have to shout.
“—-I give you my word, there is no limit to the kind of energy we artists have access to. It is possible for you to raise twenty kids and to be painting even better when you’re a grandmother.”
She took a deep breath and opened her heart to him in a wide, beautiful smile. “I love you!” she burst forth intensely.
He nodded vigorously. “I love you too. It’s going to be a great life!”
A little later she called up John and invited herself to have luncheon with him.
“Oh, Max!” he said, and she felt shamed by the joy in his voice. Then he added, unfortunately, “I knew you’d see the light.”
“Yes,” she said resignedly.
“Can you meet me? In the Roosevelt lobby? At one?”
“All right, John.”
She had been waiting for him about ten minutes when she heard her name called over the public-address system: “Miss Maxine Kramer. At the information desk, please.”
Surprised and puzzled, she crossed the lobby.
“It’s a telephone call. Will you take it in Booth Two, please?” The clerk indicated the phones.
It was John. He said, “Hi.” His voice had a hint of suppressed laughter.
“Where are you, John?”
“In the next booth.”
“In the next booth. Number Three.”
“I like to hear you laugh,” he said, his voice deep with feeling. “I like to see you coming across the lobby looking surprised and puzzled.”
“I hate you,” she said good-naturedly.
“You also love me, Maxine?”
“Yes, I do. Yes, I do.”
She heard the receiver go down and turned to see his bulk in the doorway of her booth, blocking it. She had just a brief moment of feeling trapped. He saw it in her face and hesitated. Then, swept with compassion, she reached out quickly, drew him in to her and raised her face to be kissed.