“Good lord, Francis, you just had to take your new toy out for a spin, didn’t you?”
Slowly, the man across the seat peers up from over the top of the business section in the day’s issue of the Chicago Tribune. He takes his time meticulously folding the pages and laying them across his lap. Finally, he looks up and answers, “Did you say something, dear?”
The blonde and albeit lovely woman shakes her head, “I knew your hearing was on the fritz.” She scoffs, “Looks like someone’s getting old.”
“Need I remind, Mathilde, that you and I are not that far apart in age.” He opens the paper back up, crossing one expertly tailored leg over the other, “Certainly not far enough to have you going on about my getting old without, that is, implying your own ever increasing age.”
His wife of near on twenty years laughs out an ugly and all too common sound, “Yeah, just old enough to sign the license and young enough to imagine myself in love.” She shakes her head, gesturing to his person. “Never,” Mathilde Gold née Carabosse turns, addressing the boy seated beside her, the couple’s only child, “never, Bay, fall in love aboard an ocean cruise liner. It’s at best a symptom of sea sickness, and,” she pauses, giving her husband a sharp look, “at worst a legal complication.”
Though he agrees with his wife’s sentiments, Mr. Gold growls, “For the love of God, Mal, give the boy a spot’a peace.”
He refers to their thirteen-year-old son, Bailey, who takes note of neither parent, reading a comic strip—though this does not deter the mother. ““Like father, like son,” Mathilde says, looking between the two men and their broadsheets. Shaking her head, she continues, “I just can’t understand why these serials are all the rage with children these days. Really, what’s all the hoopla about?”
He looks back from the paper—economy appeared to be as bad as yesterday, and President Hoover still as unlikely as ever to do anything about it, so no change, and Gold doubted it would take a turn for the better before the second quarterly reports in two months time. It appeared quite certain that 1931 would prove no better than the year previous.
And reading the business section from top to bottom certainly wouldn’t change it.
Setting the newssheet on the empty seat beside himself Francis Gold rises to his wife’s provocations, knowing that she’d go on with or without his participation either way. “I believe you were in the middle of saying something, or would you rather continue with your platitudes on disillusionment and chance gone by?” he asks, with mock sincerity.
“I said, was it really necessary to take this thing out today, of all days?” She picks an imaginary piece of lint from the upholstery, “I would have much preferred taking the Packard.”
“As a matter of fact, I did.” He leans forward, bracing his forearms on his legs. “I’m leaving town on your fool’s errand, so I had to make sure the payment is viable.” He gestures to the inside of the grand automobile, “Besides, Mal, I rather like it.”
She smirks, examining her perfectly sculpted nails, “What is it again?”
“Rolls Royce, one of the Phantoms.” He looks around, hardly addressing his wife, for he knew her to be hardly listening, “with more than a few custom alterations, if I’m not mistaken.” Out of the blue, Mal chuckles at her husband.
“What?” Gold asks.
“It’s simply that it all makes sense.”
“I don’t follow, dearie, you’ll have to be more specific.”
“It’s English, of course you’d prefer it over the Packard,” she smirks, with her full lips, and Gold can’t help kick himself for falling for the cold beauty so many years ago, in a stupor of post-war euphoria and vanity unbecoming of a decorated soldier—he’d learned much in the past twenty years, including the good sense to separate love and stupidity.
However, speaking of automobiles reminded the former soldier turned entrepreneur. Ignoring the shrill voice across his seat, Mr. Gold taps a leather-gloved knuckle on the window separating the backseat from their driver. The black hide squeals an appropriately grating noise throughout the car.
“Yes, Mr. Gold,” the driver asks, straining to turn his head, without looking away from the road filled with dumb-struck pedestrians.
“Take the next left—we’re better off going past the docks.” The docks by mid-morning were empty of the usual slew of day workers, looking for a simple day’s hire, gone to stand instead in the bread and soup lines. They’d garner enough slack-jawed stares today, to be sure. He raises a finger to the curtain, taking in the waifs, all agog at the well to-do going downtown, “if you’d be so kind.”
“Of course, Mr. Gold,” the driver replies simply. Dover was not a man given to excessive speech, making him Gold’s ideal employee.
“Honestly, Francis, let the man do his job—it’s not like you do any of the driving.”
Grumbling, Gold lets the curtain drop and looks to Mathilde; if she wanted a fight, he was more than happy to oblige, “Tell us, dear, is it just me or are you making a concerted effort at being disagreeable this morning?”
“No, but unlike you, it actually takes effort for me to be that way,” she shrugs, her fur coat rustling leisurely, “whereas with you it’s just par for the course.”
“Mama,” the small voice beside his wife groans. Young Bailey Gold sits with his limp newspaper on his lap, looking too small and too pale, to his parents. He reads Buck Rogers, a favorite, and Bay never missed an issue, Gold made sure of it—the least he could do for his son.
“Indeed, Bailey—don’t you think we ought not bicker around the boy?”
“You too, Papa,” the boy reproaches, with a frown that looks nothing like either of his parents, for it lacks their bitter edge. Gold swallows hard—he hadn’t meant to use his son as ammunition against the woman to which he found himself legally bound, but it had happened, it always happened.
They both found themselves hurling Bay’s name, and any other, against each other in their constant clashes. For not the first time, Francis Gold wonders if they fought to distract from the very real threat of losing the only thing they loved, if they screamed to keep from crying. Didn’t matter, intentions or otherwise, they shouldn’t do it, at least where the boy could hear.
Both parents look down in shame.
“Quite right—sorry, son,” Gold says.
“Mama’s sorry, baby,” Mal says, leaning down to kiss the boy on the head and take his pale hand into her own. The child nods, and returns to his comic. After he finishes the strip, Bay pushes open the window curtain, taking in the changing scenery, apartment flats giving way to industrial sites, the docks and the growing number of shanty-towns, as the car continued downtown.
“Papa,” the boy exclaims, with a surprising amount of energy. He points out the window, “Look at all of ‘em.”
“Hoovervilles,” Mrs. Gold, sighs. “They’re growing every day. Aren’t they, Francis?”
“Indeed,” he answers, taking in his wife’s tense expression. He thinks on allaying her fears, reminding her of their many, many assets, how he had insisted on diversifying their incomes and business ventures, so as to prepare them for what he’d predicted, for he’d seen it coming, the end of the Great War, the extravagance, the return to the gold standard.
However, he holds back. It was entirely Mathilde’s fault he had to leave town in the first place; let her stew.
“What’ll happen when it snows?” Bailey asks.
“We’re in the middle of a drought son—not to be worrying over that, just yet, Bay.” Gold pats his son’s good knee. “Never you worry.”
They arrive at the train station without further incident, and only three double-edge comments between them (one from him, two from Mal).
The Rolls Royce pulls up and parks before the entrance, a small crowd quickly growing around them while still giving the car a wide berth. The father turns from the window, sighing at the people, “You needn’t see me off son, it’s only for two weeks—maybe less.” Mrs. Gold chuckles, and Mr. Gold frowns up at her, “Something funny, Mal?”
“Just the idea that you’d come home early from a business trip, is all.”
He glares at the woman, and opens his mouth to remind her just exactly who paid for the clothes on her back, who kept her checkbook from overdrawing, when Bay says, “I’m going, Papa.” The boy speaks in a firmer tone than Gold ever expects the sickly boy to utter, but he nods—that’s the thing about the love the parents felt for their child, if Bay spoke, they obeyed without question.
He taps on the glass and the driver hurries around to collect the boy. With a strength Gold envies, the man picks up the crippled boy and carries him easily up the stairs leading into the train station. Malthide moves to slide out the car and follow her son, but Mr. Gold takes up his son’s cane and moves it across the seat, blocking her path. “Are you trying to overtax him?”
She looks from the cane to the man. “Me?
“Yes, you, or have you already forgotten which of us had outstanding balances with a number of lawyers, dearie.”
“I already told you, It was just a consultation.”
“Yes, and one that cost me a pretty penny.” He bites back, referring to the divorce lawyers he’d caught her meeting with. “Much as I share your feelings, dear, we can’t, not the way things are now,” Francis says, perfunctory and without emotion, the things to which he refers being their son’s condition.
As usual, Bailey ended any and all talk of divorce, too expensive, and they needed to save for his care, what’s more the boy needed both his mother and father—two households were certainly not conducive to giving the boy the best optimal care.
He leans back, removing his obstructing cane, and gesturing for his wife to exit the car first. “We can continue the discussion when I return, I’m sure. Just don’t let Zosowlski burn the whole enterprise to the ground before I return.” Gold refers to his business partner, Aleksander Zosowlski. The Polish émigré had a sharp eye and shrewd mind for deals, and the two had merged their businesses, shipping, largely textiles, early in Gold’s career. However, the man had a temper better fitted to ordering about difficult customs officers than overseeing a teetering empire, attempting to stay out of the red amidst an economic collapse. “Even if we can’t afford the divorce, we still have a son with polio to support, need I remind.”
“I can handle Zosowlski,” she says, confidently.
“Oh, I’m sure you can,” he says in a derisive tone.
Mal looks up, eyes sharp, “You’re so quick to point the finger, Francis, but think about this, will’ya: you’re the one gone all the time.” She leans forward, staring up at him from under her painted eyelashes, “You know what he asked me the last time?”
Gold frowns; of course he remembers.
“Asked me, plain as day, ‘Is it my fault Papa’s gone so much?’” She chuckles.
“I didn’t plan this, Mathilde. You know that.” With his free hand he points an angry finger at her face, “Your country cousins are the ones that up and died and left you with a plot of land in the middle of bloody nowhere, that now is suddenly my problem.”
“Yes, you’re right, Francis: it’s all my fault,” Mal shakes her head, “Everything’s always my fault.” She puts a hand to her head, and he wonders if she takes care not to upset the blonde curls, or if it’s just her unconscious nature toward self-preservation. “You’re a bastard,” she says, and it’s the gentlest thing she’s said to him all morning.
Maybe all week.
Gold sighs, “A bastard with a train to catch, as it were.”
Mathilde Gold says nothing, stepping demurely out of the car, her well-dressed, war hero husband following a moment later. Ever the picture of a high-class couple, he escorts her up the stairs, a hand at the small of her back, opens the door for her. They both nod to any they pass; neither smile.
Once inside, he finds that Dover has already deposited his luggage on board, though his little spat with Mal has drained most of any time to spare. He hugs Bay goodbye, taking care not to knock into his son’s cane—blatantly ignoring the stares of those unused to seeing a cripple. His wife kisses his cheek routinely, biding him a safe trip.
Francis Gold boards the train, and though it is not in his nature to be so sentimental, he lifts his hand out the window as the train begins to pick up the pace, the closest he could bring himself to a farewell wave, nodding to the grim faces in the cloudy, mid-morning fog.
After they and then the station fall away in the background, he sits down to finish the rest of his Tribune; the train moves south.