Page 34 of Airport

She was still standing alone, in the plush La Salle Salon of the Lake Michigan Inn, where tonight’s reception for the press was being held. The buzz of conversation around her was mostly about the storm and the difficulty everyone had had in getting here; but at least–unlike Mel, Cindy thought–they had made it. Occasionally there was a mention of Archidona, reminding Cindy that she still hadn’t found out which Archidona–Ecuador or Spain… damn you, Mel Bakersfeld! Okay, so I’m not as smart as you are–her charity was directed at.

An arm brushed against hers and a voice said amiably, “No drink, Mrs. Bakersfeld? Can I get you one?”

Cindy turred. The questioner was a newspaperman named Derek Eden, whom she knew slightly. His by-line appeared in the Sun-Times frequently. Like many of his kind, he had an easy, confident manner and air of mild dissipation. She was aware that each of them had taken note of the other on previous occasions.

“All right,” Cindy said. “A Bourbon and water, go lightly on the water. And please use my first name; I think you know it.”

“Sure thing, Cindy.” The newspaperman’s eyes were admiring and frankly appraising. Well, Cindy thought, why not? She knew she looked good tonight; she had dressed well and made up carefully.

“I’ll be back,” Derek Eden assured her, “so don’t go away now I’ve found you.” He headed purposefully for the bar.

Waiting, surveying the crowded La Salle Salon, Cindy caught the glance of an older woman in a flowered hat. At once Cindy smiled warmly and the woman nodded, but her eyes moved on. She was a society page columnist. A photographer was beside her and together they were planning pictures for what would probably be a full-page layout in tomorrow’s paper. The woman in the flowered hat motioned several of the charity workers and their guests together, and they crowded in, smiling obligingly, trying to look casual, but pleased that they had been selected. Cindy knew why she had been passed over; alone she was not important enough, though she would have been if Mel were there. In the city’s life, Mel rated. The galling thing was–socially, Mel didn’t care.

Across the room the photographer’s light gun flashed; the woman in the hat was writing names. Cindy could have cried. For almost every charity… she volunteered, worked hard, served on the meanest committees, did menial chores which more socially prominent women rejected; then to be left out like this…

Damn you again, Mel Bakersfeld! Damn the bitching snow! And screw that demanding, stinking marriage-wrecking airport!

The newspaperman, Derek Eden, was coming back with Cindy’s drink and one of his own. Threading his way across the room, he saw her watching him and smiled. He looked sure of himself. If Cindy knew men, he was probably calculating what his chances were of laying her tonight. Reporters, she supposed, knew all about neglected, lonely wives.

Cindy did some calculating of her own concerning Derek Eden. Early thirties, she thought; old enough to be experienced, young enough to be taught a thing or two and to get excited, which was what Cindy liked. A good body from the outward look of him. He would be considerate, probably tender; would give as well as take. And he was available; even before he left to get the drinks he had already made that clear. Communication didn’t take long between two reasonably sensitive people with a similar idea.

A few minutes earlier she had weighed the alternatives of going home or to the airport. Now, it seemed, there might be a third choice.

“There you are.” Derek Eden handed her the drink. She glanced at it; there was a lot of Bourbon, and he had probably told the barman to pour heavily. Really!–-men were so obvious.

“Thank you.” She sipped, and regarded him across the glass.

Derek Eden raised his own drink and smiled. “Noisy in here, isn’t it?”

For a writer, Cindy thought, his dialogue was deplorably unoriginal. She supposed she was expected to say yes, then the next thing he would come up with would be, Why don’t we go some place where it’s quieter? The lines to follow were equally predictable

Postponing her response, Cindy took another sip of Bourbon.

She considered. Of course, if Lionel were in town she would not have bothered with this man. But Lionel, who was her storm anchor at other times, and who wanted her to divorce Mel so that he, Lionel, could marry her, Cindy… Lionel was in Cincinnati (or was it Columbus?) doing whatever architects did when they went on business trips, and wouldn’t be back for another ten days, perhaps longer.

Mel didn’t know about Cindy and Lionel, at least not specifically, though Cindy had an idea that Mel suspected she had a lover somewhere, stashed away. She also had a parallel notion that Mel didn’t mind much. It gave him an excuse to concentrate on the airport, to the total exclusion of herself; that goddanined airport, which had been fifty times worse than a mistress in their marriage.

It had not always been that way.

Early in their marriage, soon after Mel left the Navy, Cindy had been proud of his ambitions. Later, when Mel was rapidly ascending the lower rungs of aviation management, she was happy when promotions, new appointments, came his way. As Mel’s stature grew, so did Cindy’s–especially socially, and in those days they had social engagements almost every evening. On behalf of them both. Cindy accepted invitations to cocktail parties, private dinners, opening nights, charity soirees… and if there were two the same night, Cindy was expert at judging which was more important, and turning down the other. That kind of socializing, getting to know prominent people, was important to a young man on the rise. Even Mel saw that. He went along with everything Cindy arranged, without complaining.

The trouble was, Cindy now realized, she and Mel had two different long-term aims. Mel saw their social life as a means to fulfilling his professional ambitions; his career was the essential, the socializing a tool which eventually he would dispense with. Cindy, on the other hand, envisaged Mel’s career as a passport to an even greater–and higher level–social life. Looking back, it sometimes occurred to her that if they had understood each other’s point of view better in the beginning, they might have compromised. Unfortunately, they hadn’t.

Their differences began around the time that Mel–in addition to being general manager of Lincoln International–was elected president of the Airport Operators Council.

When Cindy learned that her husband’s activity and influence now extended to Washington, D.C., she had been overjoyed. His subsequent summons to the White House, the rapport with President Kennedy, led Cindy to assume they would plunge forthwith into Washington society. In roseate daydreams she saw herself strolling–and being photographed–with Jackie or Ethel or Joan, at Hyannis Port or on the White House lawn.

It hadn’t happened; not any of it. Mel and Cindy had not become involved in Washington social life at all, although they could have done so quite easily. Instead, they began–at Mel’s insistence–declining some invitations. Mel reasoned that his professional reputation was now such that he no longer needed to worry about being “in” socially, a status he had never cared for, anyway.

When she caught on to what was happening, Cindy exploded, and they had a first-class row. That was a mistake, too. Mel would sometimes respond to reason, but Cindy’s anger usually made him stand firm to the point of obstinacy. Their dispute raged for a week, Cindy becoming bitchier as it progressed, thus making things worse. Being bitchy was one of Cindy’s failings, and she knew it. Half the time she didn’t intend to be that way, but sometimes, faced with Mel’s indifference, her fiery temper got the better of her–as it had on the telephone tonight.

After the week-long argument, which never really ended, their quarrels became more frequent; they also stopped trying to conceal them from the children, which was impossible, anyway. Once–to the shame of them both–Roberta announced that in future after school she would be going to a friend’s house first, “because when I stay home, I can’t do my homework while you’re fighting.”

Eventually a pattern was established. Some evenings Mel accompanied Cindy to certain social events which he had agreed on in advance. Otherwise, he stayed longer hours at the airport and came home less frequently. Finding herself alone much more, Cindy concentrated on what Mel sneered at as her “junior league charities” and “silly social climbing.”

Well, maybe at times, Cindy thought, it did look silly to Mel. But she didn’t have much else, and it so happened she enjoyed the social status competition–which was what it was, really. It was all very well for a man to criticize; men had plenty of activities to occupy their time. In Mel’s case there was his career, his airport, his responsibilities. What was Cindy supposed to do? Stay home all day and dust the house?

Cindy had no illusions about herself so far as mental acuity went. She was no great intellect, and she knew that in lots of ways, mentally, she would never measure up to Mel. But then, that was nothing new. In their early years of marriage, Mel used to find her occasional mild stupidities amusing, though nowadays when he derided her–as he had taken to doing lately–he seemed to have forgotten that. Cindy was also realistic about her former career as an actress–she would never have made the grade to stardom, or have come close to it. It was true that, in the past, she sometimes implied that she might have done so if marriage had not ended her theatrical activity. But that was merely a form of self-defense, a need to remind others–including Mel–that she was an individual as well as being the airport manager’s wife. Within herself Cindy knew the truth–that as a professional actress she would almost certainly not have risen above bit parts.

The involvement in social life, however–in the mise en scène of local society–was something Cindy could handle. It gave her a sense of identity and importance. And although Mel scoffed, and denied that what Cindy had done was an achievement, she had managed to climb, to be accepted by socially conspicuous people whom she would not have met otherwise, and to be involved in events like tonight’s… except that on this occasion she needed Mel as escort, and Mel–thinking first of his goddamned airport, as always–had let her down.

Mel, who had so much in the way of identity and prestige, had never understood Cindy’s need to carve out some kind of individuality for herself. She doubted if he ever would.

Just the same, Cindy had gone ahead. She also had plans for the future which she knew would entail a monstrous family battle if she and Mel stayed married. It was Cindy’s ambition to have her daughter Roberta, and later Libby, presented as debutantes at the Passavant Cotillion, glittering apex of the Illinois deb season. As the girls’ mother, Cindy herself would garner social status.

She had once mentioned the notion casually to Mel, who reacted angrily, “Over my dead body!” Debutantes and their silly, simpering mothers, he advised Cindy, belonged to an age that was gone. Debutante balls, he declared–and thank goodness there were few of them left–were an anachronistic perpetuation of a snobbery and class structure which the nation was fortunately shedding, though–judging by people who still thought as Cindy did–not nearly fast enough. Mel wanted his children to grow up (he told Cindy) with the knowledge that they were equal to others, but not with some conceited, misguided notion that they were socially superior. And so on.