Page 51, “The Persuasion”
It was Christmas dinner (four courses) at Papa and Babi’s apartment on West 86th. I was nervous about which spoon was for soup, which knife for fish, whether everyone could see my lip quivering when I spoke. This was my first holiday with his family (I’d gone to Shelter Island with Aunt Julia and Uncle Irving for Thanksgiving) and I hoped our relationship wouldn’t come up.
Announce may not be the proper verb to describe what Tonin did. “You guys will have to come for dinner,” he said when his grandmother was ladling cream of parsnip soup into my bowl. “We’d like to show you what we’ve done with the place.”
We? What we had done with the place? I bit the inside of my cheek.
“Well, then, Mariana,” Janos said. “I think we need to have a meeting.”
We, now meaning Tonin's father? A meeting? And we weren’t even at the salad course. “I think it’s just wonderful that you and Tonin are living together. We need to give you a proper room of your own. Isn’t that what Virginia Wolfe said women need? I think we should convert the guest room into your study. Just say what you want and we’ll make it like that. Think of it as a down payment on your graduation present.”
Tonin’s father made it sound so simple. A room known as mine in Tonin’s apartment was permanent—and elaborate. Since my mother’s death, I’d been making do with meager surroundings and I liked it. Confined space left less room for sadness to take up residence.
When I moved into the maid’s room off the kitchen in my aunt and uncle’s apartment, I’d compacted my belongings into one trunk, three boxes, and a suitcase. Everything—meaning my childhood and most else associated with my parents—went into storage. A whole room for me, big enough for a desk, books, and some belongings I really wanted to have near me? Disturbing. I reached for the water and knocked over my glass.