He drove around for a while
trying to enjoy the night air, and then he came home. He felt awful for
the rest of the evening. And May didn't seem to want to
"How long is this going to go on?" she asked. "Something's
got to change."
"It's easy for you to talk," he said irritably. "She's not
That night in bed, he told himself that she had always been
this way. She had done the same thing with his father. Nag, complain,
feel sorry for herself. How did you change a woman who saw all the
world's meanness and inconsiderateness aimed at her. If she were
anybody else, he wouldn't visit her in a hundred years. But she wasn't
just anybody. When he wasn't angry, he felt quite another way about
her, alone in the apartment with no family to take care of. That had
been her one pleasure, taking care of a family. And now she was alone
with only herself. Why did he have to lose his temper with her? Why
couldn't he please her more? He straightened the blanket again, and
turned his pillow, but it didn't help. He slept restlessly all
His luncheon appointment the next day with a prospective
customer helped him forget about his mother. He and May had talked it
over and agreed that Robert should ask Mr. Howitt out to lunch. He was
a wealthy manufacturer of men's shoes, and besides, he had a lot of
important friends who might also buy new cars. Mr. Howitt was
definitely worth taking out to lunch.
At one o'clock, Robert drove up to the expensive
businessmen's restaurant in the Fifties he had carefully chosen. He was
wearing his good gray suit, and his inside jacket pocket bulged
slightly with papers and figures which he hoped he might be able to
present before lunch was over. He wished he had slept better. He needed
to be at his best today. If Mr. Howitt got to like him, there was no
telling what this could lead to.
Walter Howitt arrived just as Robert got a table far back in
the busy, dark-paneled room. All the tables were filled with
well-dressed men eating and talking leisurely while the waiters in
white mess jackets moved about quickly and efficiently. The room made
Robert feel important and less nervous.
While they ordered lunch, Robert tried to judge what Mr.
Howitt's mood was today. He was a short, stocky man with a bald head
and tired eyes, and he always wore dark suits to look thinner. He liked
to talk, Robert knew, and so he had to say things quickly so as not to
interrupt Mr. Howitt and his stories about his family and his numerous
business trips. There seemed to be an infinite number of stories about
unscrupulous business practices in other American cities.
All through the soup, Mr. Howitt talked enthusiastically
about his youngest daughter's engagement party last week at their home
on Long Island. Robert decided he was in an expansive mood. But the
coming wedding might make him cautious about spending money for other
things. He hadn't known about this daughter, and he felt annoyed. Mr.
Howitt's bald head nodded cheerfully as he talked about now much the
flowers had cost and about the bubbling fountain of champagne they
During the scallops, Robert heard about a trip Mr. Howitt
had taken recently to Cleveland. He had a large shoe factory in
Cleveland, and Robert made obliging remarks that would not impede Mr.
Howitt's flow of narrative. He kept wondering how he was going to get
to the subject of automobiles.
"Cleveland's a great city," Mr. Howitt said, spearing one of
his scallops, "I was born there, you know. Thirty-five years I lived in
Cleveland. It was where I got my start. You ever been there?"
It was the first question he had asked, and Robert felt