THIS WOULD BE '82. I was out at the Viceroy with Bobby Baldwin. Bobby Baldwin was my one employee, which made us not quite friends, but we went out to the Viceroy almost every night. My marriage was finished and his hadn't started, so we spent a lot of time together that most everyone else we knew was spending with their families. I didn't mind. My business card had the Viceroy's number in the corner, under "may also be reached at." Buyers called me there. It was a good sign if they wanted to see a house again in what you might call the middle of the night. That meant they couldn't wait till morning. And if they wanted to see it again in the middle of the night--well, I did my best to show it to them. That was the difference between Bobby and me. He always said, "Their motivation needs to be tested, that's what I think. Let 'em wait a little bit."
Bobby was not my brother, but he might as well have been. Sally, his sister, had been my girlfriend in high school for about a year and a half. She was the first person I ever knew who had a phone of her own. She used to call me up and tell me what to do. "Now, Joey," she would say, "tomorrow wear those tan pants you've got, and the blue socks with the clocks on them, and your white shirt, and that green sweater I gave you, and I am going to wear my blue circle skirt with the matching cashmere sweater, and I'll meet you on the steps. We'll look great. Have you done your algebra problems? When you get to number four, the variable is seven, and x equals half of y. If you remember that, then you won't have a problem with it. Did you wash your face yet? Don't forget to use that stuff I bought you. Rub it in clockwise, just a little tiny dab, about the size of the tip of your pencil eraser. Okay?"
I had been short, and now I was tall. I had been skinny and quiet and religious, and now I was good-looking and muscular. It was Sally Baldwin who brought me along, told me what to wear and do and think and say. She was never wrong; she never lost her patience. She created me, and when she was done we broke up in a formal sense, but she kept calling me. She was smart and went off to Smith College, and I was sure she would get everything organized there once and for all. I went to Penn State. In April of my freshman year, Sally was killed in a car accident outside of Boston. I had talked to her two days before. "Now, Joey," she had said, "it's okay to see a woman who is almost thirty, but you don't say that you are dating her, you say that you are seeing her. Seeing is much more sophisticated than dating, and it doesn't lead to marriage."
I went home for the funeral. It was as if the Baldwins had been eviscerated. All they had left were Felicity, Norton, Leslie, and Bobby. That didn't seem like much without Sally to move them along. Betty, their mom, couldn't act of her own free will. The funeral director, Pat Mahoney, had to seat her here and stand her there and remove her from this spot and place her in that spot. Gordon seemed better, almost vigilant in a way, though my mother said he would never recover and maybe he never did. Bobby was ten then, nine years younger than I was. Gordon came up to me afterward and asked me how I was doing. He was concerned, the way you always get at funerals, and I couldn't help telling him that I wasn't doing at all well--I hated college and was terribly homesick anyway, and now there was this stunning thing that was the end of Sally--and the next thing I knew he was offering me a job and I was taking it, and I went back to pick up my stuff at Penn State two days after the funeral, and I started working for Gordon the following Monday, which I certainly would not have been invited to do if Sally were alive and my girlfriend or fiancee because Gordon didn't like to be bankrolling everyone in the whole family, especially not sons-in-law.
Excerpted from Good Faith by Jane Smiley Copyright© 2003 by Jane Smiley. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
Blood at the Root
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