Growing Up Innocent in a Quiet Age

The following is an excerpt from an as yet unpublished novel by Ms. Becker. Although the author uses fictional names, she describes the 90-page work, entitles Rules, as "very autobiographical."

January 3, 1956--It was the only mail in my box that Thursday after New Year's. The heavy, white envelope was addressed to me, Janet Pressell, 55A Shepard Street. The engraved return address read:

Office of the Dean

Fay House

Radcliffe College


10 Garden Street

Cambridge 38, Massachusetts

There was only one reason a Dean should write to me. I out the envelope back, unopened. I could always pretend I never got it. Or I could fake amnesia, like Joseph Cotton in that movie. A convincing case of amnesia would wipe out all traces of Janet Pressell. Then, after some artistic plastic surgery and some intensive dieting, she could emerge as Victoria de la Mandolin, tall and willowy a femme fatale on twenty continents.

Or, even better, maybe I could run my life backwards, like a movie reeel, and cut it before the point where I met Christopher.

My little plot had backfied. I had thought I could make this handsome, not Jewish, Oxford-educated poet fall in love with me if I stayed overnight at his house. Then we would get married. I would cook for him and clean his house. (I neither knew how to cook nor how to clean, but these could not be difficult to learn).

While I did the housework, Christopher would compose poems, and the sun whould shine into the windows of our cheery little home all day. There would be a number of children with blond hair and pert, turned-up noes and English accents born to us, and the burden of Jewishness would be lifted from me because I was the mother of these angelic children.

My life would now miraculously work. I would paint, or write, or play music--whichever of my talents I chose to pursue--and at night there would be mad, sexual orgies ending with me and Christopher Iying spent and beautiful as beached fish on the bed.

That was the dream. Instead, the morning after I stayed with Christopher, he left me doing the breakfast dishes while he went off to spend New Year's Eve in New York with another woman.

It would all have been corny if it weren't so sad. "Don't strain yourself," were Christopher's parting words. "Just leave the dishes in the sink." But I washed every one as reverently as if it were a part of him, and then I snooped all through the tiny house, hoping to get a clearer fix on him by absorbing the flora and fauna of his life into my skin.

HJe became a rack of pipes, a Bellini bust of a Young Boy, a first, signed edition of Frost's North of Boston. This man had everything! And I had lost him! Never, never would I be able to find a man like that again.