There wasn't any part of Peggy that wanted to go to Brooklyn that day, so she didn't.
The issue was the strike. If it happened, she wouldn't be able to get to Bay Ridge again until it was over. But if she went out there on Friday and the transit workers walked out on Saturday morning, she'd be stuck. On both counts, her mother's sense of justice and well-being now hinged on Peggy spending New Year's Eve with the family, though Mrs. Olson also seemed to have developed the tragic sense that Peggy was never going to do the decent thing, ever again.
Peggy had been home the previous weekend for Christmas, and it had been both more and less annoying than usual. The atmosphere on the block was anxious and aggrieved. The new policy of saying Mass in English got on people's nerves, although they wouldn't say so. John Lindsay, who would be sworn in as Mayor on New Year's Eve, was upper class, liberal, and Republican—in other words, a stranger. The good jobs were vanishing, and a lot of people were moving to Long Island.
So to some extent people were excited to see Mike Quill, the fiery Irishman who headed the Transit Workers Union, pushing a showdown with the new Mayor. But they couldn't really root for that team, either. For one thing, Quill was also a civil rights guy, just like Lindsay. Soon, the men were saying, you'd need to be colored to get a job with the Transit Authority. And who the hell wanted a transit strike, anyway? Quill was asking a lot.
Everyone was tying themselves in knots trying to be who they always had been, trying to stay the same when the church and the neighborhood and the city were all being turned upside down. No one was sure who was on their side, though they were pretty sure who wasn't.
Peggy had a professional curiosity about how people were feeling, and there was plenty to notice. She understood that they felt like they were being left behind, how angry they were becoming. But she wasn't going to be drawn into it. This wasn't her clientele, unless it needed to be. She was going somewhere, and she'd learned from Don that understanding people was the first step to leading them in a new direction. She wasn't going to let them lead her, or challenge her, or even waste her time.
So when they asked if she was seeing anyone, she wasn't about to mention Abe. Bay Ridge these days wasn't the place to play with a lighted match. When they urged her to come back out the next weekend for New Year's, before the union shut the subway down and left them feeling bound to shore while Peggy floated off on the receding island of Manhattan like a passenger on a departing ship, she felt their sadness but she wasn't fooled by it. She was all right. She was better than all right. Their sadness was full of bitterness, and they'd tie her to shore if they could. As long as she stayed free, she could afford to be a little generous.
She'd bought them nice gifts, and they were baffled and uncomfortable and pleased. She'd gone to Mass with more curiosity than resentment, and felt more like a stranger than a sinner. She'd played with the kids, helped in the kitchen, and then she'd gone home.
And today was glorious. The office was closed, even though it was Friday, since New Year's Day was Saturday. Abe was in her bed, pretending to read but actually watching her, and the weather was bizarrely spring-like; they said the temperature might go to 65 this afternoon, a record. And the telephone was a marvelous device. Peggy could afford a ship-to-shore call.
"Well, you don't have to worry, Ma. No one goes to Times Square anymore. … OK, no one I know. I'm not going. ... Well, I'm glad you had a nice time. … I'm sure they do. … I'm not condescending to you! … I'm going to a club. … Some friends. … People who work in my building. … I don't know … I don't know how I'll get out there. … You can't promise that. … Look, Ma, I have to go. … The blackout was fine! … Happy New Year, Ma. … You too. … Bye, Ma. … Bye!"
Joan stood at her closet door, assessing the shoe situation with the same uncompromising authority that she applied to emergency Christmas parties and all other crises. Mike Quill had never worn heels (while pregnant) (in January), or his estimate of likely civilian casualties would have been a lot higher. But what was she thinking: civilian casualties were the whole point.
The shoes were lined up in good order, but the hanging rack that held them was soft. Joan liked to be cozy when she was at home, and she liked her shoes to be cozy, too. So there was plenty of stuffed pink satin, and there were ribbons and sagging pockets full of colored leather and well-maintained heels. There was one pair of loafers, but it had never crossed her mind to wear them to work. There might be dykes and beatniks lapping at the edges of the Time-Life building, but she certainly wasn't going to let everything fall apart. Most of the walking would fall to the winter boots, and that would probably be manageable, assuming winter ever came.
She'd made such a point over the years of not riding the subway. She couldn't afford to appear put out. But lately it was getting harder, and she really relied on that bus. And she'd have to pick up the slack for the girls who didn't make it in from the outer boroughs. It was going to be a mess.
Well, then. If there was one thing Joan specialized in, it was cleaning up a mess.
Joyce had wanted to go to Max's Kansas City, which Peggy had never heard of but Abe said was "really important." It must have been important to somebody, because they couldn't get in, even though some friend of Joyce's had promised to help. There were too many of them.
They wound up at another show in the East Village (which Abe insisted on calling "the Lower East Side," in deference to his ancestors) with a band that Peggy had also never heard of and couldn't really hear while they were playing, either. In fact, she couldn't hear much of anything for about an hour afterwards, but she liked being there and seeing the people.
"Some of these people seem insane." Peggy was trying to shout and whisper at the same time.
Joyce looked her. "Have you heard of LSD?"
Peggy smiled and nodded. She leaned in to answer, but all she said was, "Oh."
After the show they went to something else Joyce knew about, a party in SoHo, and smoked a lot more grass in this long, narrow loft with a huge swing, like you'd see hanging from a tree in the country, that you could swing on right in the middle of the room. There were books on the floor, Barbie dolls and toy soldiers in the bathroom, and the many paintings weren't in frames and weren't hanging on the wall.
It was really, really late, and they were really, really stoned.
"What'd you think, Peg?" Joyce always asked questions like it was a test. Kind of like Don, only the test was in a different subject. Peggy smiled at the thought of Joyce and Don as schoolteachers. She liked tests. They gave her a chance at an A.
This time, though, Abe got in there while she was still remembering how to speak.
"Aw, it was so cool, man." Man. My boyfriend says, "Man." She pictured the look of outrage on Anita's face if she'd been a fly on the wall. Somehow that image turned kind of literal, and soon she was picturing Anita as a fly.
"Naw, man, let … what's your name again? Peggy? Let Peggy answer, man." That was Tom. She remembered everyone's name, usually, even if she'd just met them. She felt like she'd been storing this answer all evening; she decided to try it.
"I thought it was pretty groovy."
Joyce definitely chuckled—just a small, quiet, momentary chuckle. "OK, Peg."
"I think Peg should be 'Maggie.' That's such a cool name." That was Steve.
"What are you talking about?"
"We'll call you Maggie, like in Maggie's Farm." A few giggles went around, but Joyce wasn't impressed.
"Why would anyone want to be Maggie in Maggie's Farm?"
"Because it means Dylan digs them."
"Dylan hates Maggie." Tom snorted and then continued silently laughing and shaking his head.
"At least it would mean Dylan knew who you were." That was Ellen. Ellen always made sense, even though Peggy had less than no idea what any of them were talking about. They all seemed a million miles away. But she knew about wanting people to know who you were.
"Everybody stop renaming my girlfriend. Her name's Peg, OK? It's her name."
Peggy was a little spaced out. "Peggy."
"Right," said Abe. "What? Right, what did I say?"
"It doesn't matter." Peggy pulled him back on the couch. Everyone saw them as a pair, and that was groovy, too, even if Abe wasn't quite clear on what her name was.
"Hey," said Steve, who Peggy was starting to think had taken something besides grass and booze. "Let's walk across the Brooklyn Bridge!"
"It'll be bad enough tomorrow."
"Don't worry about the strike. Joyce'll drive."
Joyce raised an eyebrow. "Why do you keep talking about the stupid strike. Jesus."
It was supposed to start at 5 a.m. That was probably now.
Joan didn't expect Greg to call until midnight, but the phone rang at nine o'clock.
"What are you doing there? Don't you have a party to go to?"
"I didn't want to."
"I never liked parties very much."
"Are you joking? You're the life of the party! I thought you were going to Frank and Beth's."
"I changed my mind."
"I just did. Aren't you glad I'm here to answer the phone?"
"Of course I am. Hey, Happy New Year."
"You're a little early."
"Not here. We're already well into next year."
"How does it look?"
Greg hesitated, like he wanted to say something but thought better of it. "I don't know yet. Green."
"I heard you didn't get your presents."
"Where did you hear that?"
"There was a big story about it. Thousands of G.I.s didn't get their presents. People were worried that you wouldn't have a nice Christmas."
"That's what they're worried about, seriously?"
"Did you get your present?"
"Yes. I love it. Thank you."
The conversation went on in its usual way. Greg was sort of edgy—like he usually was, only more so. Joan didn't really want to hear about it, and she knew Greg didn't really want to talk about it. It was war, it was getting worse in a hurry, and it was catching up with him. What was there to say? All he really wanted was a chance to feel like he still mattered at home.
Above all, he wanted to hear that she was going to quit her job. He didn't understand why she hadn't, any more than he understood why she didn't want to go to a party on New Year's Eve with friends of his who hadn't joined the Army and weren't in Vietnam, and their wives who had babies and would tell her what to expect.
If anyone was going to tell people what to expect, it was going to be Joan.
Walking to work was nothing. It was only about two miles from Peggy's apartment, and it didn't snow all that week, though it did get cold. The office was already understaffed, and most of the people who hadn't been laid off lived in Manhattan, except the secretaries. Most of the time, she, Joan, and Megan were the only women in the office.
Pete seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly, and complained with gusto about the many places he was forced to go on foot (actually, he said "au pied," but Ken translated). Harry just complained about the lack of girls, and about the many minor problems, such as lack of coffee, that girls were not around to solve. On Friday, nothing was resolved, so she went downtown to stay at Abe's for the weekend.
On Saturday, a week into the strike, they went to check out an antiwar protest in Tompkins Square Park. Later they saw the same protest and a story from Vietnam on a color television in a store window.
It was like she was standing next to something very real and vivid and totally unreal at the same time, something she could only see out of the corner of her eye.
A few weeks ago they'd watched a story about kids in California burning their draft cards. In public. Peggy said it was a little melodramatic, and she was treated to a lecture on how melodramatic it was to be ordered to kill people who had never done anything to you.
Which was fine, but all the fire really bothered her. That afternoon, and again at night, after they left the movie, she kept thinking of the photograph of the Buddhist monk burning himself alive. Self-immolation. That had become a word she knew. So had "napalm," the name of the sticky incendiary jelly they were pouring into the jungle, which Abe said was made by the same company as Saran Wrap.
"Think about that the next time you're putting food away."
"Is that why people are setting themselves on fire?"
"To protest the war, you mean?"
"But usually when people protest they don't set themselves on fire."
"People are desperate. It's an emergency. They'd do anything."
"But what they're doing is setting themselves on fire. Or setting government property on fire. It's like the way we try to get people to respond to advertising. They see something on TV and they can't stop thinking about it."
"Can you stop thinking about it?"
"Not really. But I'm not going to set anything on fire."
Abe got really quiet.
"I have to think about what I'm going to do."
"You?" Something had gone wrong. "What—why?"
"I'm eligible for the draft, Peg. I'm not too old. I'm done with school."
Peggy felt a familiar lurch, like part of her was calmly going about her business in one place while the other part of her was panicking and getting angry a couple of feet away. It was the feeling she got whenever she knew that she was being treated unfairly and she couldn't pretend anymore that it wasn't happening. Everything had been going so well.
"I guess I thought there was some reason that wouldn't happen. Like you were too old or had flat feet or something."
He smiled at her across the table, in the deli where they sat nursing coffee and pierogies. "Flat feet?"
"I guess I don't know what flat feet look like."
"I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they're flat."
"OK." Peggy didn't know what to say. The war in Vietnam, which obviously was none of her business and she didn't care about at all, was annoying the hell out of her.
"I'm not going."
"Of course not." She felt around for a bright idea. "Can you go back to school? Or be a conscious objector?"
"Conscientious. Maybe--I think it's hard. Or there's Canada." She looked away to prevent him from catching her eye.
She wished she hadn't brought it up. She didn't understand how Vietnam could feel closer than Bay Ridge.
"Do you want to walk down to Steve's, see how his sculpture is coming along?"
"I don't want to walk anywhere," said Peggy. "I'm sick of walking."
On Friday, Roger had figured it out. He'd called her into his office, right when she didn't have a minute to spare, and made a fuss. He was exactly how Joan knew he'd be: defensive, proud, needy. Also chivalrous. He said she was crazy to try to keep it a secret, and that he was going to tell everyone she was pregnant right then and there. Hell, with two thirds of the secretarial staff laid off and the rest trapped on the other side of bridges and tunnels, Joanie was doing half the work in the office, and literally all of the heavy lifting. It was very sweet, and, in the end, he'd been pretty discreet about helping her out for the rest of the day. He even pushed the mail cart, making a big joke out of it--not since the Pacific had brave Americans endured such hardships, he'd been busted down to Private for his sins, etc.
The attention was nice. It didn't even come with any expectations. But it meant she couldn't sit on it much longer.
He sent a car for her on Monday morning.
On Monday, day ten of the strike, Peggy realized Joan was pregnant. She just saw her through the windows of the conference room, clearing a stack of folders from the table—Joan didn't use to have so many menial tasks, she thought—and she knew.
Peggy went back to her office and closed the door, looking down through the window at the plaza, which looked pale and emptier than usual. Joan had gotten married, after all. So it shouldn't be a surprise that she was pregnant. And Joan loved her job, so it shouldn't be surprising that she hadn't told anyone or resigned.
It was just that no one did that. Girls got married, and they quit. They didn't wait to get pregnant. And certainly no one ever went on working once they were pregnant.
Would she be able to get away with it? How long could it go on? Peggy was surprised how much she cared. Ever since that day when Don waltzed in and announced that all their worries were over because he'd lost his mind and proposed to that Canadian giraffe, she and Joan seemed to have an understanding. They would catch each other's eye in meetings. Joan would tip Peggy off with small pieces of information that she'd gathered from the partners. Nothing important. Peggy didn't expect to have Joan's first loyalty. But they were colleagues now, more than they used to be. After the ambiguous status relationship that had existed between them since Peggy was first promoted, they finally felt like peers.
At least, that's what Peggy had thought.
Suddenly she pictured Joan's husband, the slick, good-looking doctor she had once seen at the office. He was in Vietnam. He was actually there.
What would Joan think if she had heard Abe talk about the draft?
Something practical, probably. But she wouldn't approve. In some ways, the gap between Peggy and Joan was wider than ever.
All her life, Peggy had felt like there was a thick pane of glass between her and the world. There was something that protected her, and she wasn't afraid. She was separate.
She used to think Joan was the opposite. Joan attracted so many men, and commanded so many girls. She seemed to be exactly what so many women fantasized about being. How could she be separate from the world? She was the world. She was the system, the rules of the game. The girl she was supposed to be, with the power that was supposed to come from that.
And maybe that's all it came down to. Seeing Joan pregnant, doing the jobs of the people she was supposed to supervise while she kept her secret and slowly outgrew her clothes--Joan just seemed so human. Peggy thought they had become closer because of their roles in the agency. But maybe it was something more personal. Maybe it was because they had stopped just being roles.
Peggy had never relied on having an ally, but she was starting to think that she could really use one. It wasn't Abe. It certainly wasn't Joyce, and it wasn't even Don—not the ways she needed him to be.
On Wednesday, the subway reopened, and Joan told the partners that she was going to have a baby but that she didn't want to give up her job.
Afterwards, Peggy waited the ten minutes it took for Don to call her into his office to share this electrifying news. He met her eyes with that cool, testing look. To be fair, he did say, "You may already know this."
Then she went into Joan's office and pulled the door closed behind her. "Congratulations."
Joan wondered why the door was closed, and hoped they weren't about to have a heart-to-heart. "Thank you."
Peggy nodded and continued. "If they give you any trouble--you know, about staying--I want you to know..."
Joan looked at her skeptically, but Peggy soldiered on. "Well, it might not be much, but I'd like to do what I can to help."
Joan looked down at her desk and continued turning the pages of Harry's expense report.
"Well," said Peggy. "I just wanted to say that. That I'm on your side. If you, you know, need me." She turned to open the door again.
Joan answered without looking up. "Thank you. I'll let you know."