Authors: Harold Brodkey
Ida has gooseflesh.
Ma says, “I’ll be frank; I’ll be brutally frank: I’m nervous, I’m nervous about you. You’re intelligent, you like books, but watch, I don’t have a yellow streak. If I make a fool of myself, I expect you to know you have only yourself to blame; you know where you stand in this town, you have genuine
around here. It’s more than that: What you say counts. So, if I get tense, blame yourself … blame your own …
Will you do that for me?” She is being
Brave Like Ida.
“Lila, are you someone who might be a good friend? I see that you might be that. Oh, it is unbearable.”
“I am a good friend. Don’t let the way I look fool you. I have the soul of a good friend.”
“You’re a darling!”
But the world is unbearable: a chill goes through Momma: in Ida’s voice is a quality of unyielding announcement on the matter.
Ida is someone who has to run things—I wasn’t good enough for her to hold back and let me speak, too.
I think what Momma sees is that her seeing Ida as having a realer “beauty” is not triumph enough for Ida—Ida wants to hurt Momma, so that Ida can know more satisfactorily than in Momma’s being merely temporarily agreeable that she, Ida, is splendid, is the more splendid creature. You can’t call Momma “darling” unless you do it with a note of defeat, or conspiracy, without causing trouble with her. To Ma, what Ida does seems romantically naïve.
This is what I think Momma saw:
Ida owns everyone in sight.
Momma is sexed
angrily and ignorantly
and is sexually fired by curiosity. And she did not marry for money. Ida sometimes to Momma seems only to have the shine and edginess and sharpness of calculation of money, and to be hardly flesh and blood at all. Momma feels that Ida is like her, like Momma, but is less well educated in love, that she is at an earlier and more dangerous stage: Ida is sexed ungenerously, like a schoolgirl.
Momma’s romantic standing is not a
thing for her.
A woman like me finds out love is a different kettle of fish—I should have been a prostitute.
This stuff boils in Momma; it is her sexual temper—it supplies the vivacity in Ma’s sultry, wanting-vengeance prettiness. Tempestuousness and mind—Ma suspects everyone of cheapness when it comes to love—
, her husband. Lila romanticizes his emotional extravagance, his carelessness—perhaps he is romantic.
She is alive and reckless and glowing now and does not seem devoted to remaining at home and being respectable—but she has been that so far in her life; and she feels clever in her choices. I think she is as morally illiterate as Ida, and as unscathed so far: this is what she claims by being so willful—that she is usually right, unpunished. This is what her destructiveness comes from.
Both women feel that women draw you in and are grotesquely lonely and grotesquely powerful in intimacies. Ida has a coarse look.
What it is is that Ida has to be the star.
Ida’s courage is self-denial and self-indulgence mixed.
Momma’s performance is ill-mounted, since it rests on Ida’s
having a heart.
Ma has risen from the void of dailiness and nobodyhood to flutter in the midst of her whitish fire, but she flutters burningly in avoid of
heartlessness: it is worthless to be a pretty woman, but everything else is worse.
Ida governs herself shrewdly.
Momma is excited-looking: conscious-looking, alive, symmetrical—alight.
Ida “loves” Lila’s temporary
—perhaps only as a distraction. But Ida looks, and probably is,
happy for the moment
—but in a grim way:
This is where the party is.
Ida is game. She says, “Oh, Lila, I am happy to be here, deluge and all. Isn’t it nice that we are
What would life be without neighbors? A desert? A
Sahara?” She smiles nervously—boldly. A kind of sweat breaks out on her upper lip; she doesn’t care.
Lila, being so pretty, has lived with this kind of drama since early childhood and she has a peculiar air of being at home in it: Momma’s eyes and eyelids consider the speech, the praise. Momma looks
rather than surrendering—that means she’s not pleased as she studies Ida’s offer, its number of caveats. What it was was Ida is being
She should have spoken extravagantly, but she is too sure that Momma can be bought
Ma is a marvel of disobedience and a mistress of local manners carefully learned and fully felt. Her face is a somewhat contemptuous wound: comprehension and expressiveness tear her face when she
that Ida is smitten but impervious,
made of steel
, when that shows. It shows that
Ida has more class than I do; that’s where the battle lines get drawn, although I will say this for myself: I give credit where credit is due.
That’s a lie, often. Often she is destructive and fights the worth in other people.
This is a democracy, and who’s to stop me from doing what I think is best for me?
Ida is enamored and is
superior, la-di-da and all.
Lila arranges her voice: “I’m glad you came to see me.” It’s not her being a femme fatale or whatever, or being amusing anymore—she is holding back. She sounds a little like Ida.
Ida raises her head, blinks, puffs on her cigarette—looks at Ma, level-eyed, looks away.
This is interwoven with Ma shifting her legs, then her torso, and its burden of breasts on the slender ribs.
Both women are controlled—and full of signals—so many that I don’t see how they can keep track of what they are doing in the world, what with all their speed and knowledge and feelings and all the breaths they have to take.
They avoid each other’s eyes, except passingly, for more than a minute—it is as intense as speech. Then they are still. Both have small smiles.
This is where the lions and the tigers walk.
Momma has a dark light coming from her. She is a nervous star that gives a dreamer’s light
even at this late date.
She says, “Did you come over in the rain to see me for a purpose? You wanted to see me all dressed up for a party, when I was nervous? A ready-made fool? All dressed up and no place to go.”
Ida says at once, “Oh, Lila, no—no lovey-dovey.”
She tramples on Lila’s music—that request for
“I hate lovey-dovey—
is brutal. It’s
.” A love speech, bossy, intent, deep-feelinged: Ida’s sort of deep feelings.
Momma is perplexed by so much intensity, so much
, and all that energy, with none coming toward her—except maybe nibblingly, condescendingly—but directed at Ma’s flirtatious mockery. It was a love speech asking for rough play.
Ida’s personal fires are alight and skeletal. They are not like the expansive whirlwinds and fires in which Momma is trapped and consumed; Ida’s have focus and great style. Momma feels Ida’s unforgivingness as character and strength, but it’s directed toward what Lila is—a beauty of a certain kind, a flirt and willful, a Jew—and that is unforgivable. But that’s how things are.
You have to take love as you find it.
Ma’s tolerance and acquisitiveness and Ida’s nervousness—and her courage—are the paramount social factors, the strong movers in the board game, in the scene: both women tacitly agree on that. The
(Lila’s phrase) that go with
love when it works
are what Ida was forbidding in her love speech.
Momma thinks of
two bones kissing
and sees how what is painful in emotion might be adjudged banal—or tedious—as
clattering—and you can get away with it
, loving and calling love boring. She isn’t really sure. She is a lively fire of spirit and mood, intention and will, and she can’t really do that herself, take love lightly.
how to keep up a social air when things are tough.
It is not a new experience for her that there is
hatred in the moment; i.e., infatuation, and rivalry, a lot of failure—
love of a kind, of all kinds
… women deal in love. Momma’s Theory of the Ego (
that everyone and her mother thinks she is the Queen of the Earth
) now holds, in this flying moment, that Ida cannot bear not being the prime example of
in the room, in the world:
She only chases me so she can be better than someone like me: she has to be the star; her husband, Ben, is the same way, but he kowtows to her because she has the money and he bullies everyone else.
Momma calls a moment like this, this-kind-of-thing,
We’re getting in deep.
It is her form of mountain-climbing: exhaustion, danger, despair. The fires of mind and of physical courage in her are a working heat for
her getting her own way
—according to her Theory of the Ego—but in such an extravagantly putting-on-a-show fashion that it does not seem to her to be of the same family as Ida’s putting on a show, which is more measured, purposeful, meanly hammerlike, tap, tap, tap …
She’s like a machine. She has a position to keep up—there are demands on her all day long—she can’t give her all to any one thing
—that’s Lila being
fair … But she’s a fake:
that’s Lila being Lila.
Physical desire in Ida is the trembling of nerves in a strong woman’s frequently disowned body. Ida is warm—or hot—but without
in physical negotiation,
a rich woman.
She maintains her value against Lila’s more and more immodest-seeming glamour: why is this woman still shining at the age she is? (Daddy would say Ma was on a rampage.) A wild pathos and self-pity invest Ida with an air of threat in her desirousness—she feels she
erotic reward. Ida’s class, her being superior to Momma in self-control and focus, her sexual abnegation
, her hardness about defeat and the hurt of others oppress Momma as signs of
being infatuated with her is what I think. Whereas Ida feels love is one substance throughout eternity—that it shouldn’t matter what deformities that will and privilege and folly have forced on the softer tissues of the self in the course of your living the way you live if someone loves you.
Momma feels that love is invented daily and that each person does it differently. Momma, in some wordless way,
herself in these matters. She is at home here.
Neither woman intends to be a fool—being a fool is something only men do.
Of course, if you contemplate these attitudes and consider the feelings they have, it is clear that at the moment Ida hates Momma, and Momma hates Ida. But they get along.
Lila thinks of it this way, that Ida puts
a quick kibosh on anything she can’t run.
Ida does not know just how two-sided the thing of sex is—or how improvised it is. Momma feels that Ida is being “cute,” attractive in her way, even gorgeous—but not in the romantic vein. Momma often says, A
truth about me is that I fight back.
Momma is a brute. She would like to break Ida’s bones.
To put a cast of reason on Ma’s brutality, she wants to hurt Ida in order to frighten her,
so that Ida won’t eat me up alive.
Ma says, “I’m always lovey-dovey. I think I was born that way. Laugh, they say, and the world laughs with you, but sometimes when you laugh alone it gets very dark. Look how dark it’s getting—it’s turning into a thunderstorm.”
getting stronger, brackish and threatening; and wind flings the dampness around.
It genuinely hurt Ida to be cornered—to be straightforward—to admit to having feelings. Her hurt is
stormy at the moment.
But she looks Ma in the face and smiles one of her top-grade, friendly, large-area smiles and says in a tragically rebuking manner, “You’re wearing your diamond bracelets—I suppose that means you mean business today.”
Momma says stubbornly, “Did you get wet? Did you ruin your shoes? Coming through the rain to see me? Did you do that for me?”
Ida says, “You don’t show any damage from the rain—you show no damage yet, at all—Lila.”
Ma’s radiance is skittery in this light.
I can keep it up until the cows come home.
But that’s not true. Some centrally human element gets worn out in these skirmishes. Why does Ida
(about the world)
that I don’t know
? So Ma gets depressed about herself. The effect of Ida’s will and style on her. When this sort of thing happens to Momma, she becomes ill. She dies. She becomes stern.
Perhaps everything will be all right, I can handle this, I’m not nineteen.
Ida is relentlessly enthralled and ruthless still, and makes no promises, even with her eyes; her escape will be part of Lila’s comeuppance.
And this: the beauty Ida feels (and shows) has subsided and is more memory than immediate fact, and that imprisons Ida, who can’t hold back from agonized nostalgia about her own great moments in the same way that Momma can from hers. For a moment, Ida can’t act at all. Ida is not exhausted but she is
slain: You have killed me, Lila.