You will have perceived by now that I was not one to profit by the experience of others, that it was a very long time indeed before I stopped believing in new faces and began to understand the lesson in that story, which was that it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.
With you or without you I’m moving on. And I don’t know if I can do it alone. Will you help me?
Peggy doesn’t win a Clio that year.
In fact, St. Joseph’s first dropped the ad, citing that original thorn, original sin: “budget issues” the Monday after Thanksgiving. And now, a week later, they’ve dropped her too, tied to a request they return to the drawing board.
Peggy’s been doing that a lot lately: returning to the drawing board.
“I never liked it in the first place,” Ginsberg had said, staring down at the storyboards, all that remained of the original idea. “Too spooky,” and then he shuddered.
It’s Lou Avery who takes her off St. Joseph’s.
Lou Avery took over for Don in anticipation of the fact that Don will never come back. Don’s not anywhere Peggy knows, yet each time she steps into that office, she surprises herself by expecting to find him there.
“Your vision’s been compromised,” is what Lou says to her from behind Don’s desk. The line is delivered with the word kid implicit at the end, like he’s the good sheriff and she’s run afoul of the law. She stands there silent for a beat too long; the way he said it made it unclear whether this is an edict passed down from the St. Joe brass or Lou’s own opinion, and therefore, his own decision. She doesn’t ask for clarification; she doesn’t want to know the answer.
She leaves Lou’s office with a nod.
Something no one thinks to warn you about is that the ad world is a fishbowl and they’re all swimming in the same polluted stream. Everyone knows about her and Ted. They might not know the specifics, but they know enough.
“Discretion,” Joan had said coolly to her the day Ted left, the same day Harry Crane had been in the office and looked at Peggy like she was equal parts leper and Bond girl, “goes a long way for one’s reputation.”
“Did I ask?” Peggy had snapped before she stalked out of the conference room. The thing was: she hadn’t been mad at Joan. She hadn’t really even been mad at Harry Crane. If she was mad at anyone then and if she is still mad at someone now, it’s herself, and it’s Ted. All that effort it had taken to prove that she hadn’t gotten where she is now by sleeping with Don -- wasted, and thrown back in her face. Like she said, and like St. Joseph’s said: back to the drawing board.
Peggy walks into the creative lounge only to find it empty, save for Stan.
“Where is everyone? It’s two in the afternoon?”
He glances up at her, pen still poised against the paper in front of him. “Working, presumably.”
She frowns. “What are you doing?”
Stan sighs, drops the pen onto the table and leans back heavily in his chair. He takes a long drag off a joint before replacing it in the makeshift ashtray he’s created with a roll of mostly used masking tape and a plate from the kitchen. He casts a sidelong glance at her as he inhales, curious and challenging at once. “Working. Presumably.”
“My turn to ask what you’re doing?” he says when she continues to stand there, all pent-up energy, her hands braced on her hips. She plops down at the table across from him, watches stray wisps of smoke smolder up from his joint. She catches his eye and the lines around his eyes crinkle as he almost offers her a smile.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” she says.
A thing to remember is that in the lead-up to the last year of the 1960s, there is a lot of promise of change. Promise, or threat, depending on one’s position on the premise, or precipice, of change.
Here is a flash to the end of the story: Peggy will not end 1969 in the same place she ends 1968. If someone was to pull Peggy aside, tell her that by the end of this year she will have everything she wanted but nothing she would ever know she she wants now, Peggy wouldn’t believe them. Peggy would ask, well, then, what should I want.
At the close of 1968, Peggy doesn’t know what she wants and she doesn’t know where she will be in one year’s time. That makes the present unbearable and the recent past something worse.
At the close of 1968 there is a lot Peggy does not know. We will land on the moon that summer, and Peggy doesn’t know that yet. She will not win a Clio and Don will not come back. Ted will not come back. Oliver! will win Best Picture and Stan will rant about Kubrick for the better part of a week and she doesn’t know that yet either. She already knows too much and not enough about Stan. That will change too. Not the part where she knows too much, but the part where she does not know enough; with him, she will find the word enough does not apply.
But it is still 1968, and Peggy sits in the creative lounge while Stan continues to sketch and to smoke and Meredith attempts to navigate a string of garland down the hall, shedding pine needles in her wake.
Peggy doesn’t know a goddamn thing.
“I could never sleep with my boss,” Joyce says. “For one thing, he has this whole stomach girth thing happening. For another, he’s a he.”
Peggy makes the mistake of telling Joyce about Ted. She tells Joyce about Ted the same week she is dropped from St. Joseph’s, the week everything is too fresh for her and the city has begun to freeze over: sugar crystal ice mapping over glass window panes, storefronts glittering in red and green and plastic-faced Santas, Peggy’s hot whiskey cooling at the bar too quickly.
The whiskey warms her chest and Joyce’s eyes narrow as she considers her. “He’s old, right?” Peggy glares. “Okay, not old old, but he’s married. And your boss. So that makes him old at heart. Geriatric, even.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Peggy says and Joyce merely sighs.
“An affair doomed from the start,” Joyce says with a surprising lack of judgment (and an even more surprising amount of wistfulness). “Like all the great tragic literary heroines of yore.” Peggy quirks a brow at the word yore. Joyce leans forward, the side of her body braced against the bar; Jimmy Durante sings city sidewalks, busy sidewalks. “We need to find you a train to fall in front of, or a moor to wander, or,” and at this, Joyce lights up, her elbow bumping the full glass of beer she left unattended on the bar, “a new and improved, unattached,” she says pointedly, “gentleman caller.”
This will be how Peggy winds up meeting Ralph, a tall man with severely parted dirty blonde hair, who does accounts somewhere within the bowels of the Time-Life Building.
“Cheer up, Pegasus,” Joyce says, reaching for her beer. “At least you’re no one’s wicked stepmother. Yet.”
Peggy can’t help but grimace behind the lip of her glass. All that time spent begrudging Ted his family and she had never once considered the possibility they could have ever become hers.
Joyce raises her glass. “I’ll drink to that.”
Peggy meets Ralph at a movie theater over in the East Village. Joyce had picked not only the theater but the movie they would see -- some film about a girl gang of bikers, a selection which leads Peggy to consider that maybe Joyce hasn’t fully abandoned Abe’s side of the aisle in the wake of the great bayonet-stabbing-cum-ambulance-break-up -- lending the entire evening a sentiment they are being observed by an invisible third party chaperone.
Ralph’s cringing reaction to the movie is more entertaining than anything that happens on the screen and any piece of shared conversation from earlier that evening. Peggy wants to ask him what kind of movies he actually likes, but finds that she doesn’t really care. War movies -- he looks like the sort who would like a good (or bad, taste is supposedly subjective) war movie.
By the time the houselights come up, Peggy has already written Ralph off. The future of their night ahead ends, in her mind, on the sidewalk outside the theater.
She’s wrong. As they exit the theater, awkward conversation stretches between her and Ralph, like stale taffy stuck to the pull. And it’s there that she runs into him: Stan.
Peggy had been wrong when she said the most entertaining part of the night had been Ralph’s mounting disgust at a girl gang of bikers. The most entertaining part is the way Stan does a double take when they both spot each other, how, like always, his curiosity is tempered by a profound amusement at her expense.
They both freeze by the theater’s exit, Ralph at Peggy’s side, and what appears to be Stan’s date at his, the whole encounter a low-rent West Side Storystand-off. Peggy doesn’t bother to try and disguise her surprise, but she smoothes her hands over her dress, painfully aware that she’s still wearing the same thing she wore to work. She holds her chin a little too high, a little too imperious.
“Well, well, well. She does leave the office,” Stan says, his smile impish, eyes bright. His date is tall, thin in that willowy, chicly underfed way. Peggy notices her lipstick is faded, smudged just a hint below her bottom lip. Something mean lurches in Peggy and her eye keeps wandering to this woman’s bottom lip.
“Don’t make a comment about gin joints,” Peggy says, cutting him off at the pass. His smiles grows larger, but he’s eyeing her, looking at her in a way (she thinks) he never considers her in the office. Wolfish, she thinks; that’s the word.
“I wouldn’t dare. In fact, I’m personally offended you’d even think I could be that clichéd,” he says, that stupid smile of his not faltering for a second. His gaze drifts to Ralph briefly, amused question writ obvious on his face. “What brings you out here? Didn’t think this was your kinda movie.” She wonders if this is how their entire conversation is going to progress: Stan toying with her, his growing entertainment with her discomfort, each question and statement lobbed her way loaded with an understanding only she could have. He knows this isn’t her kind of movie; he knows too much about her.
“It’s not,” Peggy says at the same instance his date says, “I loved it.”
Peggy arches her eyebrows and mouths, “She loved it,” at Stan who only smirks.
“Joyce, our friend Joyce, picked it. For us,” Ralph says haltingly, choosing this moment to speak up, and Stan laughs, like he now understands everything. “I’m Ralph,” he says, extending a hand. Peggy feels a flush of embarrassment as Stan takes his hand and shakes, offering first his own name to Ralph and then Peggy’s name to his date (Francine, he says her name is Francine).
“So J-Bird’s playing matchmaker again?” Stan says. Peggy’s eyes snap to his arm as he wraps it around Francine’s waist, and Ralph starts a little at Stan’s use of again. Peggy glares. “Good luck with this one, man,” he says to Ralph, all jocular boys’ club, and Peggy’s bites the inside of her cheek. She doesn’t know what she’s irritated by more: this dialogue between Ralph and Stan or Francine’s smudged lipstick. Either one, or both, largely informs what happens next.
“We were gonna go grab a drink,” Stan says, “if you guys wanna come.”
“I’m not -- ” Ralph says.
“Sure!” Peggy says.
Stan’s face passes from surprised to suspicious quickly, like a shade drawn at dusk, his offer clearly an empty one.
He hangs back and grabs Peggy by the elbow, leans in as they leave the theater. “Ralphie that bad, huh?”
She looks down at his fingers wrapped around her arm and then back up at his face. “Shut up,” she says lightly.
“Gonna have to save a seat for Doris Day to round out this plot.” He holds the door for her.
“Stop talking to me.” She can hear him chuckling behind her as they step out onto the sidewalk.
They grab a table at a bar near the theater, a place Peggy would never frequent. The interior is dark, dim, crowded with too many people, the heat inside near oppressive. She pulls her coat off immediately, casting an eye warily around the place.
Over their table is a giant crude painting of a shipwreck in a chipped wooden frame, an apocalyptic beginner’s attempt to crib Goya (or at least that’s what Stan says about it when he catches Ralph looking up at it).
“So how do you know Peggy?” Ralph asks.
Stan smirks as he swallows his beer. “Oh. I’m her brother.”
Peggy rolls her eyes.
Ralph looks slightly taken aback. “I didn’t know you had a brother. You mentioned a sister, not a brother.”
“He’s the black sheep of the family,” Peggy says, maintaining eye contact with Stan. He grins. She turns back to Ralph. “He’s not my brother,” she says, and Ralph only looks more confused. “I work with him.”
“So you’re both in advertising,” Francine says, her tone flat, her posture slumped, Stan still looking at Peggy like he knows what it feels like to imagine them together and alone. Peggy nods, pinned by Stan’s gaze. Peggy is a lot of things, which sometimes all too often can include naive, but she’s not stupid. There is a knot of tension pulling itself tighter at that table, something electric she has always shied away from giving too much spark. Ralph is still casting glances at the shipwreck on the wall and Francine is watching Peggy’s hands, her face bored and unreadable. She is watching the space between them and Stan’s, the two of them seated across from each other, both their hands flat on the table as though they are both waiting for someone to call the word draw! -- and then pistols, bang. Peggy doesn’t look at their hands but she thinks about Stan going home with her (with Francine, not Peggy). She thinks about the smudged lipstick, drinks her own beer greedily and feels an odd fission of something (something she refuses to call jealousy, even if it feels a lot like jealousy, and labels it as loneliness instead) spread within her.
Peggy slips her hands in her lap. The band that had been playing when they arrived has stopped and over the radio, Bing Crosby this time, sings children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile.
“You know,” Peggy says, and for just a beat the awkwardness at the table, that mismatched chemistry, is suspended and obvious before them all. “This song has been following me . . . for days now. Just this song, no other Christmas carol.”
“Yeah?” Stan asks, his voice a low drag. He takes his hands and he cradles his beer. He looks to Francine, the song ends, and the moment dissipates.
“You enjoy the movie last night?” Stan teases her in the office the next day.
Peggy looks up from her desk. “You and I both know I only care a fraction what you do about fictional biker gangs.”
He smiles, almost laughs, pleased with either her or himself. Maybe both; maybe, sometimes, they’re knotted up that tight for him, interchangeable and indivisible. He pauses, and Peggy watches him, his face an almost comic mask of deep consideration.
“You think there’s a commercial in that?” he says finally.
Peggy crosses her arms over her chest, pushing back a little from her desk. “What? For Sunkist? Some oranges rolling down an open highway, chased by a roaring gang of bikers?”
He gets a faraway look to his face like he’s imagining exactly that. “I would watch that commercial. I would love it.”
She waves him off, returning to the notes she has scattered across her desk. “Get out of here. Go do some actual work.”
He pokes his head in on his way out.
“You think we could get Peter Fonda?”
“Good-bye,” she calls.
The idea to start their own agency comes about that New Year’s Eve.
Stan comes over, boards for Avon tucked under one arm. Before the holidays, there had been a sudden burst of momentum on the Avon front, and now, according to Lou, Pete, Joan, and probably God, they're behind. It had been Peggy’s idea to work at her place rather than the office. There was something decidedly dark and depressing about spending two New Year’s in a row at work, and considering the year that followed in the wake of last year’s, and considering (though she is loathe to admit it) Peggy takes stock in things like omens, she figured a change, if only in scenery, would be a good start.
With him, Stan brings a bottle of expensive-looking single malt whiskey someone must have bought him for Christmas.
“I didn’t get you anything,” she says when she opens the door, eyeing the bottle. She crosses her arms over her chest and leans against the doorframe.
He smirks. “Good. I didn’t either.” He raises the bottle. “This is for me.”
“So chivalrous,” she says, stepping out of his way just enough to allow him entrance. The small hallway is freezing and she closes the door quickly after he brushes past her, bits of snow from him now clinging to her sweater and her jeans. “Merry Christmas.”
“Nice tree,” he teases.
She still has her Christmas tree up, a sad little thing she had picked up on an equally sad weekend she had been determined to make not-sad (and she had mostly succeeded, buying the tree, buying the ingredients she thought went into her mother’s spice cookies but she forgot the molasses; she bought a string of lights and cheap multicolor bulbs and tinsel, and it was back at home that she realized the molasses was missing, and the cat had found the tinsel and the tree looked too bare and too small and Burl Ives was on the radio and -- )
“There’s some cookies in the kitchen,” she offers. “I don’t think they’re stale yet.”
“With an offer like that . . . ”
Peggy can smell the cold on him, snow still melting in his hair and his beard, on the shoulders of his coat. “Give me that,” she says and she takes his coat from him.
“You order food?”
“Chinese,” she calls, pulling two beers from the fridge. “How was the family?” she asks him.
He shrugs. “Familial.” He takes the beer from her. “And how was the Olson clan?”
Peggy offers him a tight-lipped smile he returns until it spreads too wide across his face and he bares teeth.
“They’re good,” she finally says. “They were good. The Christmas ham was good. Mass was good,” and Stan interrupts her with an amen. “Everything was good.”
“Good.” His smile shifts, softens even, until she thinks it’s something past friendly -- too intimate and knowing, yet there is a marked lack of judgment from him. It makes her uncomfortable, the bottle of beer clenched tightly in her hands.
“So,” she clears her throat. “Are we going to get to work, or what?”
They get to work. They eat the Chinese, they argue over the distribution of egg rolls or whether the Szechuan chicken from this place is any better than the kind they get at the office, and they drink the beer. They brainstorm idly about Avon without really getting anywhere.
Around ten, Peggy turns the television on and Stan pulls out his stash.
“Quitting time already?”
“Time,” and he pauses, his concentration split, “to usher in the New Year. Care to partake?” he asks, slow and distracted as he rolls a joint. Peggy watches him. She likes his hands, likes looking at his fingers -- thick and suggestive, yet their movement precise and adept.
“The New Year’s not really a thing that should be ushered in alone.”
“1969,” he drawls. He flicks his lighter and inhales deeply.
She picks up the bottle of unopened whiskey left on her coffee table. “This is fancy,” she says, her tone turning mocking. “You don’t do fancy. This should only be drunk by, like, the Stanley Rizzos of the world. Not the Stans.”
He snorts, passing her the joint.
He unscrews the cap on the bottle of whiskey while Peggy takes a hit, watching him through narrowed eyes. He pours a generous helping into the two coffee mugs she left out on the table, both imprinted with a faded SCDP logo.
They clink their mugs together. “To the Stanley Rizzos and Margaret Olsons of the world,” he toasts.
“1969,” Peggy says. “Go.” The talk of starting their own agency is borne out of drunken talk of resolutions.
Stan sighs heavily, leaning back against the couch cushions. “No more forgetting I do not in fact enjoy tripping on acid, and trying again is really unlikely to change that.”
Peggy laughs. “There’s a morally responsible resolution.”
“I’m a paragon of moral responsibility.” He takes a long sip from his mug, punctuated by a low gasp as he swallows. “You. Go.”
“No more sleeping with married men.” She says it quickly, without thinking. She’s drunk, and she laughs at that too -- at what she said, at her own drunkenness. Stan looks at her with a creeping smile, like she might have just proven him right, answered a question she had no idea had been posed.
He sighs again, leans forward and sets his empty mug down on the table. He rubs at his beard like he’s mulling something over. “What?” she asks, halfway afraid to hear what he might say.
Instead he surprises her.
He surprises her when he says, “Start our own agency.”
Here is the thing that will carry with her throughout not just the coming year but for a long time after: he said our instead of my. He had included her from the start.
“What?” she asks again, on the verge of another laugh (she almost feels bad they’ve all but wasted this bottle of whiskey on their own unrefined, stoned palates), but this time, the caution is gone.
She knows that Stan had wanted LA. She also knows that they will never talk about it, how Stan had wanted Los Angeles and it was Ted who took his place. How in a way that could tell another story -- Stan wanted it, Ted took it -- but they’re never going to talk about that either.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it,” he says. “Striking out on your own.”
She has, and he knows it, so her mouth twists slyly. She doesn’t know when they closed the distance between them on the couch -- sometime between that first sip of whiskey and this conversation -- but Stan’s still leaning forward, their knees almost touching, and she looks at him, actually looks at him. It’s a casualty of daily encounters with the same person: you stop looking at them. When they’re no longer new, you don’t pay as close attention. She’s paying attention now, and he’s paying attention to her. Stan looks like the sort of man who would want to build something (based on the beard, she thinks that should be a log cabin or a rocking chair or a better rock anthem -- not this). Like he’d want to create something from nothing and know that it was his. She supposes most men would want that, that she even wants that for herself, but as of late it’s begun to read plain and obvious in him.
“Thinking about it is one thing. Resolving to do it? That’s another.”
“Humor me,” he says, and she looks at him like that’s all she ever does. But she smiles as she imagines it. Stan with ambition, with obvious ambition, is another thing too. It’s a thing she likes.
Which she supposes is why she kisses him.
Peggy kisses him first.
In that moment, she wants him. She wants everything he’s saying but it’s also him she wants. So she leans over that much closer and she kisses him. The kiss is tentative at first, like when he had kissed her back at the office, after Ginsberg had stabbed him in the arm. She can feel him sigh against her mouth and he hesitates. He hesitates, not her. He’s too close for her to view him clearly (and hasn’t always been the case? He’s always too close, she can never comprehend what she is seeing, she has no distance and she has no bigger picture where Stan is concerned).
“You know. That wasn’t a line to get up your skirt,” he says.
“I’m not wearing a skirt,” she breathes against his mouth. His hand slides up from her knee to grip her thigh and squeezes once. So she kisses him again, more confident this time, and he kisses her back, grabbing her to him, the kiss going deep and sloppy. His tongue is hot, pushing against her own and his hand on her thigh drags her closer, her own mouth rough and aggressive with his, her hand pulling at his hair. She’s stoned and more than kind of drunk, but it all feels good, feels good in this impossible, foreign way she know she can’t fully chalk up to the weed or the whiskey. She wants this, she wants him, and that strikes her as borderline insane.
When Peggy grinds down against his thigh, she can feel the hitch in his breath, can hear the loud wet smack of their lips when they separate, his beard rubbing at first her neck and then her collarbone as he bites his way down her throat. His hand drags up her body, feeling her up through her sweater, and she can’t stop panting, feeling like she always does with Stan, but heightened: like he has managed to find that loose thread inside of her and rather than stitch her up, he’s pulling, he’s unwinding her. He’s hard against her, she can feel him, but there’s no real demand or insistence from him, instead just taking what she’ll give him.
They abruptly stop kissing when the New Year hits. The countdown on the television interrupts them, “Auld Lang Syne” playing tinny and small yet filling her apartment. They sit there together, separate, not touching, catching their breath and watching the TV coverage. Peggy’s lips feel hot, swollen and bruised, and she fights the urge to press her fingers to them. She can’t look at him, afraid she’ll have that shellshocked look to her. They’re still sitting too close and he reaches over for the smoldering joint he left in the ashtray, taking a drag. It all feels a bit like something she made up, a bizarrely graphic fantasy, if it wasn’t for the puffy mouth and the ache still pulsing between her legs.
“Happy New Year,” he says as he exhales.
She finally looks at him. His eyes drift to her mouth and his lips tip upward. They’re drunk and they’re stoned, and it will surprise her how easy this will be to push from her mind. It will be easy for business as usual to resume the following days and the days they continue to work on Avon, while he’ll draw pictures of women with full and colored lips and Peggy will attempt to plumb the depths of female desire where a pretty made-up face is concerned.
“Yeah,” she says. She takes the joint, turning her attention back to the television. “Happy New Year.”
In January of 1969, here is a collection of things Peggy knows for sure: she will not trust Joyce to set her up with any more prospective blind dates; she will not return to the salon on 7th Ave., even if it is that much closer to the office; she shouldn’t kiss Stan; she shouldn’t kiss Stan and pretend that if she keeps kissing Stan it’ll be a thing that adds up to nothing; Lou Avery is not Don and Don is not coming back; the dry cleaner’s one block from her apartment is almost definitely an Italian mob front; Ted is in Los Angeles and Ted will remain in Los Angeles and when if ever she thinks of Ted she will remind herself: Los Angeles; she does not think of Ted much anymore.
Peggy doesn’t think of Ted much anymore. When she does, she finds there is no longing, just a humiliating sense of futility shrouded in something darker, something angrier. When she does, she finds it’s all ruined, marred by how he left it. How he left it, not her; because of him, not her. When you have no say, she thinks, you can’t be the one who left anyone or anything behind.
Because of this, the departed party doesn’t get a say in how they are remembered after their exit, be it hastily, planned, or entirely unexpected.
For once, Ted doesn’t get a say.
Ted belongs in the dustbin now with all the other men, men who left her with a variety of things, a catalog of different adjectives for different emotions, but namely disappointed. Ted belongs to Los Angeles now -- where they say the sun is always shining, where his wife is always blonde, a place where Peggy has never been.
Certain things are ruined now, not just her idea of him.
(He’s not that virtuous -- he’s just in love with you: she had called the first a lie and the second the truth, but now she wants to flip them, revise her thinking, no longer a lie followed by the truth, but a truth paired with a lie, or two truths, she still doesn’t know what to do with that line, he’s just in love with you.
She had asked Stan about it once -- the virtue, not the love -- though not directly and not in detail. It was in early in December. It was early December and Peggy still sometimes thought of Ted. She often thought of Ted. “Who’d you say is the most virtuous person you know?” she had asked him abruptly. It was early December and it was dark out, it was late, and they were still at the office.
He had frowned when he looked up at her. He stretched back in his chair, tipping it back, mumbling to himself more so than to her, “I don’t think that word’s even in my vocabulary,” before returning the chair to the ground and on all four legs. “I honestly have no idea,” he said. “I don’t think I keep much company with the virtuous sort.” He said the word virtuous like it soured in his mouth.
“You don’t think I am?”
Stan bit down on a smile (and knowing him, a laugh as well). “No,” and he said it with pride, not for himself, but her.
Something must have shown in her face because his own gentled. “Virtue’s overrated,” he said, and either wholly unaware or all too aware of the irony, poured some whiskey into his coffee mug.
“How’s that?” she had asked, pushing her own cup forward. He took it from her.
“Because,” he said, distracted, as he poured, “you put yourself up there on that pedestal,” he paused as he screwed the cap back on the bottle, and then looked at her, “from which one can only fall,” he concluded dramatically.
She rolled her eyes and took a long pull from her cup. She smacked her lips. “Who do you think is the most virtuous in the office?”
He considered the question. “Caroline,” he said definitively.
“Roger’s secretary?” she laughed. She took another sip and then said, “Oh my god, I think you’re right.”)
Take, for example, Rosemary’s Baby. Take the film itself, take the ad, take the theater they saw it in, where Don saw them. Take it all from her -- even thinking about it makes her feel embarrassed, a tight knot that threatens in the center of her gut, making her feel small and stupid. Played. It makes her feel played.
He was right, that’s the worst of it. She could almost thank him for it, thank him for how he left it. Left her. He left no room for her to want him back, no desire to repeat any of that again, all the small humiliations lit up cruel and obvious in his wake.
So Peggy does not remember Ted fondly. For a good while there, Peggy does not remember Ted fondly, until, eventually, she will not remember him much at all.
When Ted calls the office he talks to Lou or Stan. He talks to Lou as his equal and to Stan about art; he checks in with Lou and makes demands upon Stan.
She doesn’t talk to Ted much now and when they do they talk about oranges. Peggy finds she can manage that: she’s never much cared for the taste of oranges.
Ted’s departure was without ceremony. He slinked off the island of Manhattan with only a memo offered as a farewell.
“I know you will flourish and succeed in my absence,” the memo read. It had been addressed to the SC&P creative team at large, but Peggy took it personally.
Ginsberg had held the memo in his hand. “Who knew he was quite the wordsmith,” Ginsberg said. They had looked at him and he had shrugged. “Never actually read these things before. But this one was nice. I almost feel bad.”
“Don’t,” Mathis said. “He’s with the angels and the palms and Raquel Welch now.”
“And Pete Campbell,” Stan had said and they had laughed.
Peggy hadn’t said anything.
That evening she sat with Stan and a bottle of rye in the creative lounge. It went unremarked how easily they had reverted to their previous working relationship after she came back from CGC, after Ted left. Stan never talked to her about Ted, never goaded her or needled her the way he had about Abe (or about Mark, about Duck, and had there been another man who wasn’t Ted, it would have been more of the same).
The most she ever said to him on the subject of Ted was that night, and this came after three glasses of rye. The side of Stan’s hand was stained with ink and she kept staring at it, the work for Maytag abandoned between them on the table.
“People, I have found,” she had proclaimed, “disappoint you.”
“Yeah. They do,” Stan nodded. “They do do that,” he said, his understanding quiet and implicit. He sat there with her and neither of them said a thing.
And that was that.
People, she has found, not only disappoint, but they move on.
So Peggy moved on.
Peggy doesn’t win a Clio that year, and in fact, she’s not even nominated. There’s a moral buried somewhere in that story, but Peggy is tired of seeking out morals almost as much as she is tired of fearing the words, “I told you so,” strung in bitter succession and then whispered in her ear.
The same month the Clios are held, the New York Ad Association holds a dinner. SC&P is invited, and by extension Peggy is invited, so Peggy buys a dress. It’s a plain dress, black, no frills, no bows, all harsh, unfeminine lines.
“It’s a dinner, Peggy,” Joan tells her at the open bar. “Not a funeral.”
It might as well be one, the serious tone struck for the night managing to be both somber and self-congratulatory. At their table, Roger is tipping towards the unseemly side of drunk. Cutler is eyeing the room, and Peggy’s unclear if he’s on the prowl for potential clients or potential employees to poach from rival firms. Ken is explaining something elaborate and mechanical, if only based on his dramatic hand gestures, to Stan. And Stan -- she’s not entirely sure how he does it, but he’s managed to make a black tie event look casual: his lazy posture at the table, his indifferent but amused attitude, and his utter lack of self-consciousness in the way he wears a tux.
He glances over at Peggy and Joan as they approach, raking his eyes deliberately over Peggy before meeting her face with a smirk. Peggy takes the empty seat next to Stan, waving him off when he -- after a delay -- attempts the gentlemanly and stands, reaching for her chair.
“You clean up nice and severe,” Stan says, his eyes drifting over her and her dress again.
She narrows her eyes at him. “Your tie’s crooked.”
His grin is loose and boyish. “Wanna fix it for me? Tell me I’ve been a bad boy? Get you a whip and you’d definitely have that whole disciplinarian, dominatrix-y vibe -- ”
“Please stop talking.”
He laughs. “Yes, ma’am,” he says as the emcee takes his place at his podium, the banquet hall going quiet in drips and drabs around the room.
It’s a boring speech, and she finds herself watching Stan out of the corner of her eye. He traces a finger over the condensation dripping down the side of his glass. She didn’t eat enough earlier and they have yet to be served dinner; she feels lightheaded, which is what she’s choosing to blame for any and all thoughts running through her head right now (all thoughts dealing exclusively, it would seem, with Stan, Stan and his crooked tie, Stan and his wet fingers, that tux, his mouth on New Year’s Eve, his mouth now -- all bad thoughts).
She turns her attention back to the speech, cheeks slightly flushed. Stan doesn’t fix his tie.
They’re at the bar after dinner, waiting on another round of drinks.
The man next to her introduces himself. Peggy misses his name, but she catches that he’s from Geyer. That’s the important part, she assumes, at an event like this.
“I’m Peggy. Peggy Olson. SC&P.” She leans to the side a little, reaches back and grabs Stan’s arm. “This is Stan. This is . . . ” she turns her head towards Stan and mumbles indistinctly, “from Geyer.” She really should have eaten more for dinner and drank less. A lot less.
The nameless man from Geyer takes Stan’s hand and shakes it. “You’re the husband?” Geyer says. Peggy freezes, and so does Stan, still holding this guy from Geyer’s hand. He drops his hand and they stare at him wide-eyed. Oddly, it’s Peggy who recovers first.
She laughs, the sound high and nervous. “Might as well be,” she says, but she says it too cheerfully. Stan just squints at her before laughing to himself, taking their drinks from the bartender and standing there with both in his hands.
“Give me that,” she mutters, taking her drink from Stan.
It’s not long after that when he asks her if she wants to get out of there. It’s like a line from those dumb biker movies he likes so much, only he’s wearing a tux instead of leather, and she’s Peggy and not anybody else. She grins all the same, trying on her own version of a Hollywood line:
“What you got in mind?”
“Whose party is it?” Peggy asks.
He shrugs, his hand bumping against her thigh. “A friend.”
They are in a cab, en route to a party over on Mercer in the Village. Peggy’s loaded already, crowded in the backseat with Stan, and this close, she can smell him: the cigarettes he smoked one after the other at the bar, a faint hint of aftershave he never wears, the clean starch of his shirt, and him, the heat of him. She rolls her head towards him.
“We’re gonna be so fancy,” she says, “so, so fancy,” and then she starts to laugh.
She has no idea whose party this is or who Stan’s friend is hosting it. Peggy had been right in the cab: they are grossly overdressed. A friend of Stan’s -- his name either Karl or Carl -- will only refer to her as “Pat Nixon,” laughing each time like it’s the funniest joke. “Look at you two,” a man in a frayed Army vest and a tattoo of a dreamcatcher covering most of his upper arm says (a man who turns out to be Stan’s dealer, a fact that makes itself known to Peggy when she witnesses their exchange of cash for grass), “a fucking portrait of upstanding Manhattan citizenry. You the mayor yet?”
The party is its own carnival of lost and chemically-altered souls, Peggy thinks. A girl with tall white boots and a wide mouth, drinking tequila neat, keeps describing Peggy as being “familiar” with Stan -- as in, “This one, in the dress, she’s familiar with Stan,” like Peggy not only knows Stan, but she has learned all his tricks. A skinny guy with his shirt unbuttoned, his hipbones poking out above the low waistband of his jeans, is holding court over by a dented keg, telling about the time he spent an entire night with The Doors, his sermon infused with the fervor of an evangelical, though his every word a blaspheme.
Stan catches Peggy’s eye. “He spent two hours at a diner with a roadie for the band. That’s his story.”
“Do they know that?” Peggy asks, pointing at the meager crowd surrounding the guy, now proclaiming the inherent apocalyptic eroticism of The Doors’ music.
Stan shrugs. “Doesn’t matter. They just wanna hear a story.”
She wants to accuse him of being cynical, yet she also thinks he’s probably right. She loses Stan soon after to some guy with a bolo tie and a freckled complexion hidden by aviator shades. She loses him to an argument about Cambodia or Nixon’s bombs or both Cambodia and Nixon’s bombs, or they’re not arguing, they’re agreeing, their voices are merely raised. Peggy bums a cigarette off a crying woman in harlequin checkered pants, sitting on the floor alone like a jester without a court to serve. Peggy is told this woman is having a bad trip (either meaning the acid she took when she got here or her entire stay in New York) and that she is to be ignored. She is also told that no one knows who the woman belongs to, and that’s almost enough to make Peggy feel sad. Instead she takes her cigarette, lights it with a book of matches she finds next to the phone, which she notices, is off the hook. Peggy replaces the receiver back into the cradle then sits down, ignoring the crying woman, watching Stan argue or agree, smoking her cigarette. A girl with smudged eyeliner and tanned bony shoulders sits down next to Peggy on an old love seat that threatens to buckle under their weight. She recommends to Peggy a cocktail of Dexedrine and gin, for, she tells her, when the times are hard. The girl leans in to Peggy, as though she has a secret in mind.
“The times,” she says, “are always hard.”
The bottle of ketchup at their table is empty.
Back at the party, Stan had said, “I’m starving. You starving? I’m starving,” his shadow looming over her as she sat looking up at him. He led her out of the apartment, his hand pressed against the small of her back, fingers flexing, and down three blocks into a diner.
He’s bleary-eyed across from her in a booth, the red vinyl cracked, his tie undone, and she has his tux jacket draped over her shoulders. Her hair’s gone limp, her lipstick completely faded, and she thinks they’re both approaching the other side of drunk, a headache already starting to threaten. They order greasy cheeseburgers and she chokes down some burnt-tasting coffee.
“Your friends are weird,” she says, picking at the remains of her burger.
“They’re just some people I know.” She’s not sure if that’s supposed to be a mitigating statement, if he’s trying to pardon himself, or if that’s really how he sees them.
She takes another sip of her coffee and regrets it immediately. She makes a sour face. “Tomorrow’s Friday,” she says.
“I don’t want it to be Friday.”
“It’s basically the weekend.”
“Yeah,” she concedes. “Wild weekend plans?” she teases.
“Oh yeah.” He stifles a yawn. “Hot date Saturday.”
“I pity the lucky lady.”
“You met her actually.” He says it too casually, and Peggy blanches, pictures the woman with the white boots at the party, the crying woman, the girl who warned her, the times are always hard. “Francine?” he adds.
It takes Peggy a beat, and then she remembers. Francine. Francine and the girl gang of bikers, the bar with the shipwreck and “Silver Bells.” The smudged lipstick. “Oh, right. Her,” she says. “That was awhile ago,” she says after a too-long pause. “The same girl, all these months later. And she hasn’t kicked you to the curb yet.” She had aimed for levity, but even to herself she sounds like a woman scorned. Stan must hear it too.
“Don’t do that,” he says.
A bell chimes over the door and Peggy looks over. An anonymous man in a hat shuffles his way to the counter and she watches. She looks back at Stan.
“Do what?” Peggy plays innocent, snags a French fry off his plate and eats it even though it’s cold.
“You don’t get to do that.” It’s been a long night, she thinks, and now it feels like it has taken yet another turn. Stan’s expression is not unkind, but it is also without patience. It makes her wonder how long she’s been working to earn that, his lack of patience. Her own expression goes stony as she looks at him, a half-eaten fry held up to her mouth.
“You comment about the men in my life all the time,” she says. She’s already gone defensive and they both know it.
Stan shakes his head. “Not the same.”
He looks away and then back at her, everything about him long-suffering, and she thinks that’s unfair. “Yeah. Really.”
She leans forward, her elbows on the table. “Explain that to me then. Dazzle me with your reasoning.”
“No dazzle necessary.” He says it lazily, like this isn’t even worth talking about it, but he pauses too. He pauses too long. They’re at the edge, the place they don’t ever go further than, at least not with words. “I never resent you for it,” he finally says.
“I don’t -- ”
“Maybe you don’t,” he interrupts, holding up his hands. He sounds so reasonable and calm about it; it makes her furious. “But you expect me to just hang around. You expect me to always be around and stay . . . available.” She almost sighs in relief that he didn’t use the word single.
“That’s not true,” she says, but her voice is too quiet.
Her voice is too quiet, and he looks at her almost pityingly, like he doesn’t believe her. “If you say so,” he says. Peggy looks back at the man at the counter. He’s eating soup now.
Stan might be right. That’s the uncomfortable, unfortunate part. It’s uncomfortable and unfortunate that he’s right, and god, she hates when he’s right, he’s intolerable when he’s wrongheaded about ideas but that much worse when he’s actually right about something, but also because -- well, yeah, she does like when he’s around all the time. She does want him to always be around, or at least when she wants him there. She wants to be the one he makes exceptions for, and god, that really is uncomfortable and unfortunate and should be wrong instead of right.
What she can’t admit to herself though is what any of that might mean. Thinking about Stan that way is like trying to chase down a misplaced thought or a mostly forgotten dream and each time you try to remember, each time you think you’re getting closer, the further it recedes from your grasp.
Something like that -- something awful.
Peggy points at him with another one of his fries. “You’re drunk,” she tells him.
“You’re coming tonight,” Joyce had said that morning. “I’m not above the use of brute force.”
Peggy sighs, pushes her hair out of her face and considers the dress.
It’s late that spring and the office has gone quiet. Joyce had said the party was to start at nine; it’s a little after eight-thirty now. Peggy knew even when she had agreed to go that she wasn’t going to arrive at the party at nine.
“This isn’t another set-up, is it?” Peggy had asked Joyce, and then, as though the two were somehow connected, said, “if it rains, I’m not coming.”
“No,” Joyce replied, faux-solemnly, or perhaps, earnestly and truly sorry -- her tone was difficult to parse over the phone, always that dry monotone implying casual disinterest. “I have given up on enabling your romantic prospects, or lack thereof. And it’s not going to rain.”
It hasn’t rained, which is why Peggy supposes she is still here, in her office after hours, clad in only her underwear and hosiery, pulling a fresh dress off the hanger when her door swings open.
Stan freezes in the doorway, staring at her, eyebrows raised. She stares back.
“What are you doing?”
“No one was out there!” He gestures wildly. “Your secretary wasn’t out there!”
“And you thought a closed door meant ‘please, open me,’ as opposed to, I don’t know, knock?”
Stan doesn’t reply. Instead he has that stupid slack-jawed look to him, and it’s sort of flattering. It’s like when she first started working with him, she thinks. Back at the Waldorf, he wore that same expression.
“Jesus. Shut the door!” she finally spits out. He does, though he remains on her side of it.
“I meant with you outside.” She braces her hands on her bare hips, and if it’s possible, his eyes glaze over that much more.
He ignores her, blatantly raking over her with his gaze. “This what goes on behind closed doors in your office, huh? I gotta stop by more often.”
Peggy rolls her eyes, reaching for her dress. “I think you stop by enough.” She pulls it over her head then drags it down her body. “I have to go . . . ” she grumbles, “to a party, and I’ve been lectured plenty in the past about my . . . wardrobe choices, so. I figured. I would change first.” The dress hangs on her, gaping open in the back.
“Right,” he says, but his voice has dropped to that low grumble he does. She doesn’t think he’s heard a word she said. He’s still looking at her in a way that makes something hot and needy expand inside of her, and she thinks she shouldn’t want that, that she doesn’t have time for that, not tonight, not ever.
So she says the dumbest thing she can possibly say in this scenario:
“If you’re going to stand there and gawk, you can at least zip me up.”
It is the single worst thing she could have said, and a part of her knows that. The other part of her, that dangerous part, is curious. Not if he will do it, but what it’ll feel like. What it would feel like to have his hands on her, what it would feel like to want him again, the same way she wanted him at the start of this year. She thinks that’s a thing that can be repeated; she’s felt small flashes, tugs of it, since then. She thinks that’s how it works: you let a man touch you once and you’ll continue to be drawn to him after, if only out of curiosity to see if lightning really can strike twice.
He reads the dare in her and his mouth twists. It really is the Waldorf all over again, she thinks. Another game of sexualized chicken, but the stakes are different this time.
His hand is hot on her hip and he’s slow with the zipper along the back of her dress. His knuckles brush against her spine, her exposed skin, as he goes, their breathing loud and low, and it’s the most stupidly erotic thing to happen to her in recent memory.
He pulls the zipper all the way up but neither of them moves. They just stand there, his hand still on her hip, the tips of his fingers barely brushing the nape of her neck, the only sound in the quiet office the shared rasp of their breath.
“Stan.” It’s all she says. She says his name, and she doesn’t know if she intended to say more than that, if there’s freight hidden in that even from herself, but his name is quiet when she says it, sticking in her mouth.
He slowly pulls her hips back to him, her ass pressed flush against him. He’s hard, and that makes her want to squirm, makes her want a lot of things. He presses his mouth, open and wet, to the back of her neck, and she bites the inside of her cheek after sucking in a harsh breath. She wraps her hand around his wrist when she can feel blunt teeth at her neck, heat tripping electric down her spine, and drags his hand from her hip down between her legs, under her dress. Stan’s breath stutters against her skin.
His fingers cup her and then press against her. Peggy fights the urge to make a sound, pushes her body back against his, which seems to embolden him: his fingers press firmer against her and start to rub. He’s got to be able to feel how wet she is, his hand moving roughly now, and just thinking that makes her flush. His other hand drags up her body, covering her breast and then up to the column of her throat, her pulse thumping in her ears. She can picture it perfectly, him bending her over the desk and fucking her; she gasps, and he grinds against her, his breathing loud against the back of her neck, each threatening to tip forward into a groan. Her own fingers squeeze too tight around his wrist, and when she touches his thigh with her other hand he grunts, pushing against her that much harder, like he’s actually trying to fuck her with his pants on, his mouth sucking a bruise at the base of her neck. It’s then that she realizes that she’s panting, making these high, tight noises, her head tipped back against his shoulder, mouth parted open, her hips rolling back against him and then into his hand. She needs to come, she needs him to make her come, she --
There’s a knock at the door, and they both freeze.
“Peggy?” they hear Joyce call.
“Shit,” Peggy whispers, and then louder, “just a minute!”
She pushes Stan away from her, continuing to mutter the word shit under her breath. “I have to go,” she says hurriedly, running a hand through her hair and then another over her dress, ignoring the fact she seems to ache at every pulse point on her body. “Do I look . . . ”
“Presentable?” His voice is too low, too raspy, and she thinks about pushing him down into her desk chair, straddling his lap, and just ending this -- whatever the last few years have been leading up to, whatever just happened in her office -- right here.
To her credit, Stan seems to be having just as much difficulty dealing with this as she is. He fidgets, like he’s considering doing exactly what she’s thinking (or like he’s got a raging hard-on no amount of deep breathing is going to cure; it really is the Waldorf all over again).
“Okay, I’m gonna go,” he says suddenly, stepping to the door.
“She’ll see you!” Peggy hisses, snapping her compact shut and throwing it into her purse. She looks good enough.
“She’ll assume we’re working!” he hisses back, throwing the door open.
“Stanley,” Joyce says, her arms folded over her chest. Stan salutes her mockingly, and then he’s gone. Joyce continues to stand in the door.
“I’m coming,” Peggy says.
Joyce cocks her head. “And here I had hoped you already had.”
“You’re not funny,” Peggy says, shutting her office door behind her.
“I see why you weren’t into any of my prospective suitors now.”
The elevator dings.
“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.”
Peggy goes to the party with Joyce. She drinks too much and she gives her phone number to a man with glasses who tells her he reviews movies for a living. When she asks him what his favorite movie is he says Citizen Kane with too much gravitas, as though he is proud of his selection. Peggy regrets giving him her phone number but she doesn’t ask for it back.
The entire cab ride home she scrambles the numbers in Stan’s address until she convinces herself that she has remembered it wrong. She has remembered his address wrong, she has remembered the encounter earlier wrong. She’s remembered him wrong, too. She can’t recall which number goes where, and by extension, where he goes. In this city, in this situation, inside of her. She tells herself it would be pointless to try each possible combination. That there’s not enough time for that.
Instead she closes her eyes and leans her head back against the seat, remembers leaning her head back against him and doesn’t think she’s wrong about that. Stan’s favorite film is not Citizen Kane, but The Wild Angels.
She should have asked the man with the glasses what he thought about that.
The next morning Stan gets to the office before she does. He doesn’t say a word and neither does she and when it starts to rain that afternoon Peggy calls it one day late.
Lou Avery is a problem.
Stan likes to tell Peggy that anyone occupying that office (Don’s) and that chair (Don’s) behind that desk (Don’s) would be considered a problem by her. He’s probably right, and he probably doesn’t need to hear that.
The pitch meeting with Palmolive does not go well. Stan’s flashes her that “shoot me in the face and pour cheap whiskey on my corpse” look of his (he only ever used that line once, accompanying the same familiar expression he’s wearing now, but the line stuck for her). She grimaces, mouths, “S.O.S.,” at him and then takes a seat.
Lou clears his throat, shifts in his chair. “Now, see, I agree: this probably wasn’t the greatest fit for your product and for your image. But sitting here got me to thinking, and all I ask is that you hear me out.” Lou clears his throat again and leans forward; Peggy casts a quick glance at Stan and finds her own confused curiosity mirrored back.
Peggy listens to Lou talk, the first line of his pitch familiar in a way she can’t place, but by the second line she knows. Stan gave the exact same pitch in yesterday’s meeting and Lou rejected it outright, deeming it “inappropriate,” or, no, “outlandish” had been his word. She listens and she tries to hide her surprise. Beside her, Stan sits very still; she watches him out of the corner of her eye.
The men from Palmolive laugh when Stan would have wanted them to laugh, and at the end, they all shake hands, Ken and Lou stepping out of the conference room with them, leaving Peggy and Stan alone.
“You didn’t say anything,” she says to him.
“Of course I didn’t! What? I was going to interrupt him mid-pitch?”
Peggy stands. “I’m gonna talk to him.”
“No you’re not,” Stan says dismissively.
“Yes. I am.”
“No, you’re not. I don’t need you riding out, tilting windmills for me, Quixote.”
Peggy scowls. She leaves Stan to the empty conference room. She talks to Lou anyway.
“Well. That went well.” It’s the first thing Lou says when she closes the door to his office, his obliviousness seemingly genuine.
“You know that was Stan’s idea, right? You rejected it.”
Lou’s expression doesn’t falter. “The clients love it.”
“The clients think it’s yours.”
“The important thing is that the client goes home happy. Mine, yours, ours, his, hers: ownership really that big of a sticking point for you?”
“You don’t care because you got the credit.”
Lou considers Peggy from behind his desk. “Peggy,” he says, a note of condescension she thinks comes easy when you’re the one behind not in front of a desk like that. “This is no longer Don Draper’s office. I don’t know the specifics of how business was conducted here in the past, but I do know you were afforded certain liberties. That ends now.”
There’s an ugly implication in what he’s said and Peggy thinks fishbowls and Los Angeles and St. Joseph’s, she thinks there’s a truth to be found in those who say history is circular -- not so much that the events are bound to repeat themselves, but rather you can’t help but run into the past.
“Will that be all?” Lou asks. Peggy shuts the door.
“I didn’t even like the work,” Stan says. He takes a drag off his cigarette and Peggy wrinkles her nose at him. She drops down in Ginsberg’s empty chair; their muted reflections stare back in the darkened window.
“You did though,” she says. “It made you laugh. It made me laugh.”
He chuckles to himself, and then he points at her with his cigarette. “You shouldn’t have talked to Lou though. He’s gonna have such a hard-on for us, gunning for our assured destruction.”
“No, he’s not. Not unless you give him the blueprints for it.”
“Lazy son of a bitch,” Stan mumbles around his cigarette, laughing softly.
Peggy reaches over and snags the cigarette hanging from his mouth. “Are you happy here?” she asks, the question quiet but sudden.
He glances sidelong at her. “It has its moments,” he says, looking at her mouth, his cigarette.
“I don’t think I’m happy here.” It’s strange saying the words out loud, putting voice to the thought that’s been biting at her for what feels like weeks now.
Stan looks up at her with resolve in his eyes, his hands clasped behind his head as he leans back in his chair.
“Hey, you remember what we talked about? New Year’s Eve?”
“Which part?” she hedges.
He smirks, and then he ignores her. “My suggestion? You open up shop.”
She considers him, inhales, and replaces the cigarette in his mouth, her fingers briefly brushing his lips.
“Would you come with me?” The question is small and nervous, and it’s her tone that catches them both by surprise, not what she said.
Stan looks at her, something bright and excited to him. “Of course,” he says. “Can you even imagine? It’d be this all the damn time.”
“I was then and I am now.” A pause stretches between them, but it’s like they’re still communicating on the same wavelength, envisioning a similar shared future, imaginary tin cans strung between them. “I meant what I said to Don, about building one desk into an agency. I want that -- now more than ever. And you want that too. I can see it.”
“I’ve worked so hard to get here,” she says, still quiet.
“You have. But, the writing's on the wall: we’re not going any higher. Not under this regime. Get Pol Pot out as Creative Director, and maybe. But it’s . . . it’s so static here, man. You think we’re ever gonna get the kind of work we wanna be doing here?” He’s not wrong, she thinks.
“Olson and Rizzo,” she says dramatically, her hands spread like she’s showcasing a sign.
“Sounds like a semi-successful detective agency,” he says around his cigarette.
She starts to laugh. “Advertising by day . . . ”
“ . . . murder by night.” Her laugh jumps an octave and fills the room.
“I think we’d be more than semi-successful,” she says after a beat.
“As detectives?” he teases.
“As anything,” she says, and then realizes how that sounds. She looks up to find him gazing at her. There’s too much gentleness and too much of something else in how he looks at her. He smiles and her own grin reflects his.
“Though,” he says, passing her the mostly burnt-down cigarette, “we’re gonna need one more.”
“Hmm? One more what?”
“Two things,” he says, like he’s already given this a lot of thought and he was just waiting for the right moment to showcase his findings. “One: the name. O&R? R&O? Either we’re ripping Y&R or we sound like a defunct railroad.”
She snorts. “Okay. And two?”
“Two: neither of us are accounts men.”
She doesn’t argue with that. She grounds the cigarette butt out in the ashtray. “Who do you have in mind?” she asks, because he very clearly does have someone in mind. “Don’t say Pete.”
“Not Pete. Kenny. That ol’ sawbones Ken Cosgrove.”
“He doesn’t look like a pirate anymore, his eye’s fine,” she says, but she’s smiling. “We used to talk about doing something like this,” she says. It’s not entirely the truth, but Stan doesn’t know that.
“Then it’s destiny,” he says, grand and hilarious for it.
“We’re gonna have to bring Ginzo over,” he says. His tone has returned to something more serious, and he’s still looking at her like he’d follow her anywhere. It makes her not only feel powerful, but something else, too. Something she won’t name.
“Okay,” she says.
“I think he’s become my surrogate son now,” he says and she laughs. He lights another cigarette and he passes it to her.
1969 is the year Peggy celebrates her thirtieth birthday.
She goes to her mother’s and her mother makes her a cake and Anita bought her a scarf they both know Peggy will never wear and at the end of the evening, Peggy splurges on a cab rather than taking the train, justifying the expense simply in her head: “It’s my birthday.”
During the ride back into Manhattan, Peggy thinks she hasn’t really gone anywhere. In that moment, on her birthday, it feels to her the only distance she has traveled is the one between her mother’s place in Bay Ridge and the brownstone she bought with Abe. Last year it had felt like so much, that she had managed to travel so far and there was still so much road left in front of her. This year all she feels is static, like Stan said, a television left on the same channel for too long, tuned to nothing.
“I have to work in the morning, Ma,” Peggy had said. She dried her hands on a faded dishtowel, left the plates to drip next to the sink, ignored Anita when she offered more cake.
The cab descends into the Battery Tunnel as they cross the East River.
“You have to work, you have to work, of course you have to work,” she had said, waving her off. “Always the work with you.”
“Tell me what you’re going to do tomorrow,” Peggy says into the phone. Stan laughs to himself on the other end.
“Why you wanna hear what I got planned?” His voice carries lazy over the line. “You looking to ask me out? Finally make an honest man of me?”
“I’m not a miracle worker,” she says, deadpan, and he laughs again. Silence pulls between the both of them and Peggy winds the cord around her finger. The first of June brought rain this year, and now as midnight approaches the skies have cleared but the humidity remains, steam rising up off the street below. Peggy thinks that means it’s going to be a hot summer. She had told Stan that earlier in the call and he had doubted her. “It’s weather, not fortune telling,” he had said, no prophecies to be divined from a rainstorm in June.
They would talk about something as flat and impersonal as the weather rather than acknowledge that despite the fact they now spend their entire days together in the office, their nightly phone calls have continued. She thinks if she was ever to bring it up, his response would be similar: no prophecies to be divined from a rainstorm in June, a phone call after dark. She winds the cord tighter around her finger.
“Sometimes I can’t imagine the next step. Sometimes I find that impossible.”
Something must carry in her voice, a tonal shift to the conversation, because he doesn’t tease her. He doesn’t say anything at first. He clears his throat and she can hear him shifting. She imagines him in bed; she tells herself it’s innocent when it’s not.
“You’re allowed to stand still,” he finally says, playing into the metaphor she hadn’t entirely intended to set up for him. “You don’t have to be on the move all the time.”
“I do. I need that.” The abrupt vehemence of it almost surprises her. What she wants to tell him is that she feels like she has been standing still since last year. Since Ted and Don decided to merge, since Ted decided first he wanted her and then he could leave her, since Lou Avery took over that office. She hasn’t been moving in a long, long time.
“What do you want?” he asks, a low rumble of a question. “You figure that out, and you go from there.”
“Yeah,” she whispers, suddenly exhausted. She doesn’t fill in the rest. That she wants everything. That she’s tired. That it’s tiring wanting everything.
“I’m gonna go to work tomorrow,” Stan says, that same low, intimate tone. “And so are you. And depending on how you play the next ten minutes of this conversation, I might just bring you a cup of coffee. We have a status meeting . . . some time before lunch.”
“10:30,” she interrupts.
“Right, but first I’ll waste about an hour checking in with the Ginz and the state of his strange, strange little world. I’m gonna spend the rest of the day learning too much about lipstick, probably incur the wrath of Old Man Lou on Maytag again. I’ll have too many beers, smoke too much. I’ll talk to you. And I will sleep. That’s what I’m doing tomorrow, weather and lack of sudden spontaneity permitting.”
She grins and doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t either. They don’t always need to talk. She’s not sure when she realized that about him. That silence was okay. That silence was a thing that could be shared. That sometimes saying nothing said more than you could possibly shape with words. She can hear him breathing and he can hear her, and that’s enough.
“I think we should do it,” she says into the phone.
Stan pauses. “Do what?” Two words, but it’s enough or she knows him enough to read more than hesitation there. She ignores it.
“The agency.” She presses her lips together. “Our own agency. I think we should do it. We should open our own shop.”
He laughs softly. “I say? You sleep on it. And we’ll revisit this again tomorrow. After the ten o’clock meeting.”
“10:30,” she reminds.
“10:30,” he repeats.
“You guys want me to come?” Ginsberg gestures to himself. “I mean, of course you do. I’m a goddamn talent.”
Peggy rolls her eyes and there’s not a hint of surprise to Stan. When they had laid out their plan a few minutes ago, all Ginsberg could think of were those heist movies, like The Italian Job or something, the part of the movie where the heroes (or, well, villains, if you’re on the side of the law and not entertaining storytelling) try to assemble a crack team against all odds.
But if he’s being honest, with himself and with these two, he’s gotta admit he digs the idea. He likes the idea of getting away from the Cutlers and the Sterlings of the world, falling in with these two and whatever miniature empire they think they’re gonna create. It’s a slight improvement.
Peggy keeps watching the door while Stan’s sprawled lazy in his chair, slowly draining a semi-decent cup of coffee. They’re in a diner over on West 38th, and Ginsberg had fought them tooth and nail the entire walk over for the honest explanation as to why they were going over ten blocks out of their way for a mid-afternoon coffee break, a thing, he pointed out, they had never done in their shared professional lives together, not once, not ever.
Ginsberg cocks his head towards Peggy, still watching the door. “What’s this? Your Night of Long Knives or something? Looking for spies, waiting for the brass to come through the door, jumpstart this coup.”
Peggy looks blankly at him while Stan shakes his head, clearly not interested in getting involved.
“1934,” Ginsberg says, “the Röhm-Putsch, the purge of Nazi Germany -- you know what? Nevermind. Read a book.”
“We’re not long-knifing anyone,” Peggy says. Stan raises his eyebrows, shaking his head again while he drinks the coffee he had (falsely, if only based on his facial expression following each sip is one of complacency and not newly reached nirvana) claimed was the best in the city and that was why they had to come here on what had to be the second hottest day of the summer (in Ginsberg’s opinion, the hottest day hadn’t happened yet, the worst is always waiting around the corner). Ginsberg had sweat through his shirt on the walk over, and if he had, so had Stan, and they still got another few hours left to clock in at the loony bin and ten-plus blocks left to walk back, and he’s still gotta share an office with surprise-escape-plan-mastermind Stan Rizzo, and he can only begin to imagine the stench that will emanate from their shared office and sweat-stained shirts, and it’s disgusting, he’s disgusted already.
“What?” Peggy asks Stan. “We’re not.”
“ . . . but we may be bayoneting.”
“You’re not funny.”
“I am funny. And you really should read a book.”
Peggy turns back to Ginsberg. When she talks about this new, nascent agency, she makes it sound exciting. It almost sounds like some delirious fresh start, a step into the coming decade, free of the shackles of Dow Chemical or Jim Cutler’s glasses or Bob Bensons lurking around the corner (Bob Benson is a lurker, Ginsberg’s been saying that since day one). It’s not hard to believe something this fanciful could’ve sprung from the drug-addled brain of Stan or Peggy’s starry-eyes -- it’s just kinda crazy how much thought and planning has clearly already gone into it. The tunnel out of the prison is already being dug and they want him to join them on the crawl to freedom! (he’s gonna have to remember that metaphor; he likes that one, it’svisceral).
“You know, I was wrong,” Ginsberg says after a beat. “We’re not going the German route of history here -- it’s the Russian.” He says Russian a little too loudly and the couple at the table next to them glances at them warily. Ginsberg doesn’t notice or he doesn’t care, but both Peggy and Stan do, offering small wan smiles in their direction. “This is the siege on the Winter Palace! The start of a new order!”
“Oh my god,” Stan mutters.
“You wanted him,” Peggy says, like Stan brought a pet dog home and he’s got no grounds to complain when it pisses on the rug (Ginsberg doesn’t care for that metaphor so much).
Ginsberg places his hand on Stan’s upper arm. “That is really very touching, and I thank you for it.”
And then he goes back to his oral recitation about the Winter Palace in 1917 and what he believes was called “the greatest hangover in history” thanks to the contents of a massive wine cellar discovered by the toppling army, and if he knows these two at all he’s assuming they’re gonna try and rival that historically epic hangover track record.
“Speaking of wine,” Peggy says, “you think you can bring Manischewitz with you?”
“I thought we were having a moment here, and you wanna talk business? I was having a moment!”
“Are you busy?”
Joan looks up from her desk. “No more than usual.”
“I wanna run something by you,” Peggy says, stepping into her office and shutting the door.
Joan leans back in her chair and lights a cigarette. “Try me.”
It had been Peggy’s idea, not Stan’s, to ask Joan to join them. “Trying to even out the playing field?” Stan had teased. “Boy girl, girl boy.”
Now, in Joan’s office, Joan levels Peggy with a stare Peggy is far too familiar with. “Peggy. I’m a partner here.”
“I know that.”
“I just can’t leave.”
Peggy thumbs ash off the end of the cigarette she had bummed from Joan into the small gold ashtray on her desk. “But you could. They buy you out, and you’re free to do whatever you want.” Peggy pauses, trying to read Joan’s face. “You -- we could have more than this.” She gestures at Joan’s office, hopes she’s remembering all the same details that are on Peggy’s mind.
She must be, because Joan says, “I got us Avon.”
“And don’t for a second think a company like that will abdicate from here for some boutique shop started by a pair of unmarried women and some men they’ve never heard of before.”
Peggy frowns. “They’d like us more if we were married?”
“Not my point, Peggy.”
Peggy nods. “I know. But my point? We’re both better than this. There are better things out there. I want to go find them, and I want you to come. I think you’d be invaluable.”
Joan exhales a cloud of smoke. “Well isn’t that a thing to say to a girl.”
Peggy sits on the floor of her apartment, directly in front of the television. Her legs are crossed, the phone’s receiver in between them.
“Are you still watching this?” she asks, unable to hide that little bit of awe.
“Of course I’m still watching this,” Stan says. “I’m alive and an American, I’m pretty sure the entire country is still watching.”
Peggy snorts, her eyes still glued to the screen. A man on the moon. The surreal quality of it all has yet to fade for her. They all had watched earlier in the office, crowded around Harry Crane’s desk and television set, and then took up residence in an already overcrowded bar on West 49th.
“If you could, would you go?” she asks.
“That your idea of a solid vacation plan?”
A pause stretches as they both watch their separate televisions. “I’m serious,” she finally says.
“No,” he says, slightly distracted. “I don’t think I’d be that brave.”
“You wouldn’t want to see that?”
“Of course I’d want to see that.” She can picture him gesturing at his TV set, his eyes wide in that expression that doubles for both are you crazy andam I crazy. “But then you’d have to come back. You can’t live on the moon,” he says, like maybe he thought that she thought you could. “Can you even imagine trying to come back from that? Everything -- everything would always pale next to that.”
He says it passionately, like it would be the worst thing to happen to a human being and if she was to ask, he would say he has never felt worse for two people than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (Buzz especially, on account of that name and on account of being the second not the first man to step foot on the moon).
“One could even say,” he says, and she can hear the laugh buried in his voice, “everything would be eclipsed.”
“Oh my god,” she groans.
“Give me a few minutes and I’ll definitely have a few more moon puns for you.”
“No one would miss if you decided to live on the moon.”
He laughs at her faux-insult. “Are you kidding? So many people would miss me.”
“I mean real people. People other than your friendly neighborhood pot dealer.”
“He’d hold . . . a fucking vigil for me.” Peggy abandons her spot on the carpet in front of the TV for a more comfortable perch on the couch. She draws her knees to her chest, her chin balanced on top. “You’d miss me,” he says, his voice low in her ear, sounding as though he is both farther away than any distance a street in Manhattan could yield from her and close, too close. “You’d miss me so much.”
“If I did -- if!” she stresses when he makes a noise that sounds a lot like triumph, “I’d drive down to NASA -- ”
“You’d drive to NASA?” he repeats, laughing. “In what? Your moon buggy?”
“I’d go to mission control!” she says over his laughter. “And you could talk to me over your radio. Tell me all about your lunar adventures.”
“From inside my moon rock igloo.”
“That’s not a thing.”
“Neither is moon-dwelling. We’re inventing as we go here.”
He might be onto something, she thinks, as her attention drifts back to the television screen.
By the end of the month, some real things are happening. Things like Joan says yes. Ken says yes. Ginsberg agrees to come onboard.
They’re at Stan’s apartment. They’re sitting on the floor behind his coffee table, the couch at their backs, his kitchen table cluttered with their earlier work -- so many lists, all she seems to do anymore is make lists: potential clients, potential expenditures, cost-benefit analysis as funneled through Joan’s sharp eye.
The two had been on the phone with Ken. When they hang up, Peggy is grinning, wide. So is Stan. The moment turns or the moment has already been there, always been there, they just have refused to recognize it as such. Their shoulders are brushing, their faces close, and they both are watching the other. His eyes drift down to her mouth and then back up again and she finds herself doing the same.
“So we’re really doing this,” she says softly.
“Yeah we’re really doing this,” he says just as quietly, but his voice is low, makes something ache within her.
So she does the inevitable, so some histories are circular: she kisses him. There’s nothing light or hesitant about it this time, more of a collision than anything else, her mouth crashing into his, their noses bumping, everything about it awkward and off. But he reaches for her, cups her jaw, and the kiss goes open and filthy.
Peggy pitches forward into Stan’s lap as they kiss noisy and frantic, like every aborted attempt in the past has done nothing to lessen this, but rather intensify it. His fingers are thick inside of her as she pushes against him, pulls at his belt, pushes him back against the couch; he jerks his wrist and his fingers push harder, deeper, into her, making her shudder, stammer out a sound that isn’t a word. Her hands are clumsy as she tries to pull his pants open while his fingers twist and she clenches hard around them on a high whine, her head dropped forward; he groans against her neck, fingers working faster. She pulls her dress over her head, he drags the straps of her bra down one-handed until she’s naked in his lap and he can’t stop touching her, she can’t stop touching him, shoving his shirt off his shoulders, her bare chest pressed against his.
Stan’s patience snaps at that point. He mumbles something down at the dip of her throat, something that sounds a lot like gonna fuck you, and even that -- his voice, those words (those stupid words), the combination of his voice and those words -- is enough to make her hips buck against him, a quiet moan caught in the back of her throat.
He lays her out naked on the carpet and he fucks her. That burn of flesh against flesh as he pushes inside of her is almost too much at first and her heel skids down the back of his thigh.
The carpet scratches against her back, must be hard on his knees, but the only he’s saying is the occasional yes murmured into her skin. He’s rough with her, and she likes that, likes the way his fingers bite into the flesh at her hips, etc. He doesn’t treat her like anything weaker than himself, anything he could break. Their teeth knock together when they kiss; she bites at his bottom lip, and he snarls at first and then he laughs. She can’t stop rocking her hips into his, urging him on, making these stupid breathless babbling sounds, his name twisted into something polysyllabic and crude. She arches up under him, almost begging please, and when she comes, it catches her by surprise.
She looks up from her vantage point on the floor and the lamp looming above her, that halo of light, the bright bulb. She stares at it as she steadies her breath, her thighs wet from him.
“Oh god,” Stan groans, rolling off of her, his shoulder colliding with the leg of the coffee table, his hair messy from her hands.
“Shit,” Peggy says, still naked, still flat on her back. And then she starts to laugh.
They quit their jobs that August. That August is heavy and hot, merciless, and if Peggy was a better Catholic, she might even call it punishing.
Ted calls her office on her last day. They’ve done a decent job of dodging each other the rare times he’s visited the office in the last six months. He never calls her directly, like he worries that even her voice would result in another lapse in marital fidelity. She supposes that should be flattering, and maybe a year ago it would have been. Now all it inspires is another bout of weary disdain.
“I imagine you’ve heard,” she says, and for a moment she sounds like the sort of woman free of all past attachments. “The transcontinental grapevine, as conducted by Harry Crane.”
Ted doesn’t laugh. “Peggy,” and he doesn’t so much as say but rather sighs her name. “Have you really thought this through? I mean, really, really thought about this?”
“Of course I have.” It’s funny, she thinks, how quickly she can get mad. Her anger still feels as new as it did back in November, but now she finds it’s tempered by something else. She’s angry, but she’s not invested. She still feels insulted, but she’s tired of nursing that hurt. She rustles though an old file on her desk purposefully, trying to distract herself. She can picture Ted’s face in her mind, can see clearly the way he’d stand in front of her desk, one hand raised as he tries to make a point, like a professor speaking behind a lectern. Like a man who thinks he already knows everything and there’s still so much left for her to learn. She knows now that he’s wrong: when it comes to her, he doesn’t know a goddamn thing.
“It’s . . . I would hate to see you go. I’d hate to see you risk so much for so little. I’ve been there before, and it is a hard, hard road. And there’s so much that we could still do for you here, with the firm. So much I -- ”
“Don’t,” she bites off. “Do not say another word.” She scrubs at her face quickly, grateful this conversation is happening over the phone rather than face-to-face. “I am so tired of men like you promising to do things for me.”
“Peggy,” that same sigh again. “I just think -- ”
“I don’t care what you think, Ted.” Her voice is tight but calm, and she finds the words are true.
“All right then,” he concedes.
“All right,” she repeats.
A pause stretches, punctuated by yet another sigh from Ted. “Peggy. I didn’t want to end things the way we did, when I left, and I don’t want to end them like this either.”
“But you wanted to end it, isn’t that the point.”
He sighs, again. At this point, it’s almost comical: he’s one belabored sigh away from a feigned asthma attack. “I didn’t want to. I had to.”
“I’m not getting into an argument about semantics with you,” she snaps.
He chuckles. “No. We won’t do that.” He pauses. “We never did argue much, did we.”
“We didn’t do a lot of things.”
“Why didn’t we ever argue?”
“I don’t know,” she says, but she does. Arguing would’ve broken the spell, arguing would have made the both of them real and fallible. They only time they ever fought brought him first into her bed and then out the door, out of New York.
“What if we could do it right. What if I came back.”
Peggy’s speechless for a beat. “You are unbelievable,” she says. It surprises her, that animal outrage burning in her veins is absent from her voice.
“You find out I’m moving on, that I’m making my life happen, I’m -- what were your words? ‘Flourishing and succeeding in your absence?’ And you pull this?” She’s yelling now. She rubs at her temples, takes a deep breath, and in her head, she dares him to sigh again, like it must be so goddamn hard being him. “You’re just like the rest of them,” she snarls. “You don’t just want to have it all, you think you deserve it. That you’re entitled to it. That I’ll take you back after . . . after all that. That I ever even had you.” Her voice has dropped, quiet now, belying more hurt than she’d ever want him to hear.
“Peggy -- ”
“I’m done,” she interrupts him. She takes another deep breath. She takes a look around her office and wonders if there will come a time when she will miss it. “I deserve it all too, you know,” she says, her voice quiet but sure. “Not just a piece of something, or someone. But the whole thing. I deserve that.”
Ted doesn’t respond.
“I’m going to go now,” she says.
“Good luck,” Ted finally says.
“Good bye,” she says.
For the first time in a long time, she thinks about Don. She thinks of the good things about him. She makes herself remember that. She thinks he’d be excited for them. A part of her longs to confirm this, but she knows she won’t make an effort to do so.
With change you don’t so much forget, but you step away. You make that distance grow and you grow from that. Peggy has taken a lot of steps.
“Are you going to miss it?” Stan asks as they leave the SC&P lobby that evening. Peggy smiles, looks back at the sign just the once. She looks to Stan.
“I don’t think we’ll have time for that,” she says.
She’s started to leave it all behind.
Since they arrived at the bar, some upscale place in Midtown not all that far from the Time-Life Building (“it’s poetic, in a way,” Ginsberg had said; “no it’s not,” Stan said), Ginsberg has been making a spectacle of having only one beer.
“We’ll probably never be able to afford this again -- so, bottom’s up.” Stan raises his glass.
“That’s a terrible toast,” Ginsberg scowls. “A celebration of poverty is hardly a celebration at all!”
Peggy grimaces as she takes a sip. “This is . . . not good. It’s all vermouth.” She takes another sip. “This is why I never order martinis.”
“Then why’d you order a martini?” Stan asks with that oversized incredulity that always seems to creep into his voice.
“I thought this place was supposed to be nice! People drink martinis in nice places! This? Is not a nice martini.” She pushes the overly full glass towards Stan. “Drink some -- it’s awful.”
“With a glowing testimony like that . . . ” he says, but he hasn’t reached for the glass. She arches her eyebrows at him in expectation.
“For the love of all that is pickled and holy, order the girl another drink. Please,” Ginsberg says.
“Why don’t you order me a drink?” Peggy asks Ginsberg, theatrically coquettish and definitely already drunk. She’s almost glad they decided against champagne to accompany their final day at SC&P; she’d be even drunker by now. Stan laughs.
“No. Never. I have zero interest in your . . . school dance, swing set, pigtail-pulling,” he waves his hands at both of them like he’s trying to find the right words, “ . . . flirtation tactics. Whatever this is. I wash my hands of the both of you.” Peggy’s eyes widen.
“What are you talking about?” Peggy asks. She doesn’t look at Stan because if she looks at Stan, that would give them away. Ginsberg would know then. Rationally she knows that makes little to no sense, but the martini in front of her and all the drinks that came before that are telling her otherwise.
It’s at that point that Ken arrives. At that point, the conversation is abandoned.
Ginsberg holds fast to his One Drink Only rule; the rest of them abide by their own rules of conduct.
They sit there, drinking rail whiskey (Ken’s cut with water, Stan’s with ice, Peggy’s straight). Their idle chit chat gives way to grandiose borderline delusional plans for their future agency, jokes about Pete in Los Angeles (most of which seem to revolve around his hairline and the probability of a sunburnt scalp), and a recap of past office antics (Harry Crane a star of most of the stories).
You do that, Peggy thinks. Look back before moving forward.
Towards the end of the night, Stan and Peggy find themselves alone at the table. Ginsberg’s gone to the bathroom and Ken is at the bar ordering another round.
“We can’t . . . do that again,” Peggy says quietly. Her head’s bowed when she says it, penitent, if only for a moment, before she raises her eyes to him.
“What a shame,” he says, looking directly at her mouth, no need for her to clarify.
“We’re business partners,” she says. She wanted to sound decisive, the way a business partner would sound (or at least the way she imagines someone who can call themselves a business partner would sound), but instead it sounds like a not-so-subtle innuendo. She really has had too much to drink.
Stan smiles wide. “That we are.”
When they leave the bar, the sun has set, the city dark, heat still thick.
Doubts surface in her mind. Doubts tied to nerves, and for the first time since they started all this, it strikes her as a terrible idea. They’re unemployed. They have no clients, at least not for sure. Tomorrow morning she’ll wake up and for the first day in a long time, she doesn’t know what happens next. They start from the bottom, she supposes, and then work their way up. No, not the bottom entirely. Even now, she thinks, they’re a long way from where she started.
She grabs Stan’s arm as they step out onto the sidewalk. The side of her body bumps against his. “Aren’t you afraid?” she asks, apropos of nothing.
He shrugs, like he hadn’t considered that until now. “Part of the fun, I guess.”
“It’s not going to be fun if we fail.”
He stubs out his cigarette under his show on the sidewalk and he looks down at her. “We’re not going to fail,” he says. She must look at him with too much doubt in her eyes, because the cockiness slips from him, just a little. He steps closer to her. She can smell the cigarettes on him, the beer he switched to after the whiskey, heat, his skin.
“It’s gonna be great,” he says, too quiet, almost tender. His words are threatened by the roar of the traffic beside them, a car horn blaring at the end of the block, the crush of equally drunk and equally sweaty people passing around them on the sidewalk. Stan cups her face with her hands and he kisses her forehead. She smiles small, looking down at their feet, her breath stuck in her chest. He’s still holding her face and she’s still looking down when she places her own hands on his forearms, her grip loose. He rolled his shirtsleeves back at the bar and his skin is hot and damp under her hands.
Peggy glances up at Stan. She looks away quickly, and she will remember this later as foolish. It’s just she doesn’t think she’s ever seen a man look at her with that much open kindness before.
Someone bumps into her back, and she stumbles into Stan before stepping away entirely.
“See you tomorrow.”
Stan has fucked four women in the past month. One was Peggy.
First, there was the Nico lookalike who smoked those skinny feminine cigarettes and wanted to talk only about Jim Morrison or Scientology or the perks of a vegetarian diet. She told him she wasn’t eating meat anymore before looking pointedly below his belt and told him from behind her cigarette and behind her long dirty blonde bangs that she’d be willing to make an exception. She said it smug and not flirtatious and it was easily one of the worst pick-up lines he had ever heard. But he liked the shape of her mouth, wanted to know what it felt like around him, so he accepted.
The second claimed the moon landing was faked. She was a writer, or she said she was, but the only thing she seemed to have to show for it was an ink-stained left hand. Her name was Angela and she had a Queens accent that became thicker the more she drank, at its most pronounced when he fucked her. When she introduced herself, she claimed she knew his friend Tom, but Stan didn’t have a friend named Tom, or at least he didn’t think he did. He found that didn’t matter. She told him about the moon and she told him about film, the properties of filmmaking, gravity, Neil Armstrong, none of it sounding like fact but rather a biased desire to uncover a conspiracy. He went back with her to her place, and she had short cropped hair (made him think of Jean Seberg before he thought Mia Farrow, neither entirely on the mark: Angela was skinny as opposed to gamine) and he was distracted by the pale curve of her throat, the spasm of it while that Queens accent spilled from her, while he fucked her on faded floral sheets.
The third said she was from Los Angeles. Stan had believed her. She had freckles across her tanned nose, and oddly it was her teeth -- large and white, encased beneath thin pale pink lips -- that convinced him that it was California she belonged to, not New York. She didn’t say what she had done in Los Angeles, which led him to believe she was a failed actress with too much pride to admit it. She was a bottle blonde; he learned this later. He fucked her in the bathroom at a small bar where a band who thought they were The Moody Blues was playing.
And Peggy. He fucked her on the floor of his apartment, and it’s the single strangest sensation in the world: getting what you’ve wanted only to find there was no way you could have possibly imagined it in rich enough detail. Peggy fucks greedy -- her hands, her mouth, the tight grip of her cunt before she comes. She left her ripped pantyhose coiled like snakeskin on the floor the next day. He thought about her returning home, bare legs, blue underwear under her skirt, and he already wanted to fuck her again. What else is new, he might have asked; he’s spent the last five years wanting to be inside of her.
In his head, but never out loud, Ken has taken to considering this their own moon landing. Madison Avenue without the safety net of older men’s names as their own foreign moonscape -- waiting, he thinks, for them to stake their claim.
Space age conquistadors. That had been what Stan had called Neil and Buzz, throwing down the newspaper on Peggy’s desk (and it’s only now that Ken considers that perhaps Stan hadn’t meant the name favorably but rather as an indictment), and Ken’s mouth had cracked open in a wide hopeful grin.
Apollo 11. Ken hadn’t slept the night they landed on the moon. He sat up with the baby, the volume of the TV turned down low (even though the coverage was over, even though it was an episode of The Twilight Zone he had already seen, but he had hoped new coverage would materialize, that they would broadcast at them, down from the moon again, secret missives only Ken would be awake to receive, and if this was to happen, he feared to miss it, feared to lose whatever terrifying cocktail of awe and hope had been stirred up within him).
It was the thrill of discovery. Everyone kept using that word: discovery. It was the proof that there was more out there than they could ever know or imagine. It galvanized him, in a way, made him brave, made him want more than he would ever find in that single office.
So at the end of July he said yes to Peggy and while Stan and her talked excitedly over each other, speaking more to themselves than to Ken, Ken didn’t mind: he was imagining they were bound for the moon.
Now he sits in Peggy’s apartment, their temporary place of business, each arriving with a list of potential old (or at the very least, dissatisfied) clients.
“Peggy, you either need to marry a woman or hire a maid,” Joan says as she surveys the place.
Peggy doesn’t answer. She’s mid-argument with Ginsberg about God only knows what while Stan smokes between the two of them, rifling through past designs they had shelved over the years.
The phone rings and they all freeze. Joan is the first to move.
“Holloway Cosgrove Olson & Rizzo,” she says.
An afternoon in late August, Peggy runs into Megan. It’s been a hot summer, and the end of August is no different.
The city feels like the heat is trapped in the maze created by the buildings, no calming breeze to be found, nothing to break through the dense and oppressive heat. No respite to be found except behind closed doors -- polished lobbies, the dark bars belonging to hotels, the floor of her bedroom directly in front of the air-conditioning unit perched in her window. It’s an old building, drafty, and the cool air does not spread. It gets swallowed greedily by the heat, and them.
New York manages to feel too small a city at times. In this heat it tips over the border into claustrophobia.
It’s in this environment that Peggy finds Megan. They are both over by Grand Central Station wearing twin expressions of embarrassed surprise several paces away from each other.
“It’s funny,” Peggy says when they sit down at a table at the first bar they pass, “Running into old friends in this city.”
Megan frowns and smiles at the same time, the end result marking her as confused. “Were we ever friends?”
“Yeah!” Peggy says a little too forcefully. “We were friends. Colleagues.”
“Friends of Don,” Megan jokes.
“Now there is a man with too many friends,” Peggy jokes, pointing a finger at Megan. Megan only smiles a little, and it’s sad, makes Peggy sad and she doesn’t even know why. So she asks, “How is he?”
“You don’t see him?”
Peggy shakes her head. “Do you?” She tries to ask it as another ill-conceived joke, but it falls flat.
“Well, sure. He’s still my husband. It’s just -- it’s complicated. I live there and he lives here, and.” She stops abruptly there, not even trailing off. Megan is not that great of an actress, Peggy thinks, not at all charitable. She doesn’t ask Megan what Don has been doing. Their conversation goes at fits and starts, too revealing and too much giving way to unsure and stumbling.
“We’re both following our dreams,” Peggy says, and even to her it sounds unbearably cheesy.
Megan smiles at her politely, like she knows firsthand how lonely and steep the road to follow a dream can be. “Shall we order?” she asks.
Their conversation inevitably circles back to Don, even if obliquely at first. They talk about work (Megan’s acting, Peggy’s new agency) which becomes advertising which becomes Don which becomes marriage.
“I thought,” Megan pauses, shaking her head with a silly smile, like she might start laughing or crying at herself. She does neither, just shrugs self-consciously. “I thought that was going to be me and Don, you know? Partners. Equals.”
Peggy doesn’t have anything to say to that.
“That’s what you want,” Megan is saying. “There’s the romance of it all and the excitement, that passion. It’s the partnership you want to come home to.”
“Sure,” Peggy says too casually, and when Megan smiles again, Peggy thinks it’s at her own expense.
“I have missed you,” Peggy says as they leave the restaurant. “And hey, you ever consider a return to advertising -- my door’s open.”
They both know it’s an offer Megan will never take her up on, they both that by Monday Megan will have returned to Los Angeles and the life she has there, but they both smile at each other as though to say, wouldn’t that be nice.
“Thank you, Peggy.”
“Break a leg,” Peggy says, feeling a cliché, walking out into the sweltering heat alone.
There are random stacks of Life magazine open all over her apartment, separate stacks designated to the ads they love and the ads that make them mourn their chosen profession.
Peggy finds she likes living where she works, working where she lives, chicken or the egg, whichever comes first. So far they have been working with small fish, local nibbles, but, as Ken pointed out, their version of local is New York, and as though he had been about to burst into Broadway song and dance, he had said, “the greatest city in the world.”
“Cool it, Sinatra,” Stan had said, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Stan and Peggy sit on the couch, exhausted. Lately, it’s become his custom to be the first at her place and the last to leave. That night, he stayed late, helping to finish the work they had done for some city council candidate’s campaign. Hardly the work they had imagined doing when they stepped out of SC&P, but, like Ken said (and Stan mocked after their third beer): greatest city in the world.
The work never seems to be over now. She likes that though; she thinks he likes that too, that he wouldn’t be here otherwise.
Stan’s hand rests between their bodies, and with idle curiosity, she touches the knot of his wrist, her fingers circling it loosely, passing up over the bumped ridges his veins make along the back of his hand, on to his knuckles. He rolls his hand over, palm up, and she presses her palm to his, their fingers interlocking easily.
They’re sitting on her couch holding hands like they’re on their way to prom. She gulps down the dregs from a cheap can of beer.
“We’re doing well, right?” she asks him suddenly. “This thing? We haven’t failed?”
“Yet,” he says, but he squeezes her hand, bumps his knee against hers.
She pokes him. “You’re supposed to be my optimist.”
“And I am. I also just so happen to be your pragmatist, too.”
“Optimist, pragmatist. Hedonist. One-man show, Stan Rizzo.”
“Only where you’re concerned,” he says lightly, but their hands are still entwined, and she knows what he means. She thinks she agrees.
That morning Joan came in to find Peggy, Stan, and Ginsberg passed out on the couch, all one heap of wrinkled clothes, two-thirds hungover, all in need of a shower.
“I missed the slumber party?”
Peggy had yawned wide, pushing Stan’s head off her shoulder. “Shit,” was all she said. And then, “Ken told us about your meeting with Yellow Taxicab. We got to work . . . ”
“And then you fell asleep?”
She had left not long after, bound for a meeting with a Manhattan-based wig company (“We’re a parody at this point, you know this, right,” Ginsberg had said).
She couldn’t do what Peggy is doing, no sense of balance, merging it all under one roof: her home where she works and where she works, her home. That’s too messy and impossible an integration for Joan to even entertain. A lot of things Peggy attempts are too messy and impossible for Joan to consider. But then, Joan has made a career out of balance.
Take, for example, the men in her life.
It’s a Tuesday and Bob calls from Detroit on Tuesday nights. He’ll ask about Kevin and he’ll ask about the new job and she knows that if she were to tell him about anything, anything at all, unasked and unsolicited, he’d listen with that same polite attention. “It’s nice,” she had told her mother, “to have a friend.”
She had said the same thing to Roger and his reply had been predictable: his arms spread open in selfish supplication, his face a mock frown. “Hey? Who’s saying I’m not a friend?”
The wig company, for what it’s worth, said yes.
The fall of 1969 is the season when Stan lives with Peggy. They don’t call it that or consider it that way, never speaking of the routine develops, the routine where Stan is always there, domesticity borne out of the pretext of work. But he’s there, he accumulates within her apartment, a toothbrush left in her bathroom, his shoes kicked under her bed, his shirts brushing up against her dresses in her closet. His body in her bed.
But that comes later.
People like to speak of falling in love. This, whatever this arrangement is, is what they fall into.
Peggy pads out of her bedroom in an old ratty pair of pajamas only to find Stan asleep on her couch. He’s sprawled out along the length of it and the blanket her mother gave her is pulled up over him, his legs hanging off the edge and the cat is stretched along the back of the couch just behind his shoulder. He’s snoring lightly, mouth parted open.
She reaches over and shakes his shoulder, his snoring cutting off sharply and in question. He blinks up at her. “What to my wondering eyes,” he grumbles, a dumb smile spreading his mouth. “And here I had thought you were just a dream,” he teases.
She rolls her eyes and folds her arms over her chest. “It’s not even six and you’re charging straight out of the gate.”
He yawns widely, his arms stretched overhead, nearly cuffing the cat in the head. “Credit morning wood.”
Peggy rolls her eyes again and pushes his legs over a little too roughly and sits down, his legs dropping back down into her lap near instantly. Her hands rest on his legs, just below his knee and she can feel the muscle in his calf twitch slightly when she runs her fingers over it.
“I think I had an idea last night, a really, just, genius idea, but fell asleep in the middle of it,” he says, his words bleeding into a second yawn.
“An idea about what?” she asks. The cat paws its way over to Peggy trying to get her attention but she ignores it.
“I don’t remember,” he frowns. “Nothing. Everything.” He laughs.
Peggy considers his leg under her hand and his body stretched out next to her.
“Please tell me you’re wearing pants under there.”
Stan waggles his eyebrows at her. “Wanna get under here and check?”
“Get up,” Peggy says as she stands, unceremoniously dumping his legs off her lap.
“Oh, I am up,” he says. She means to glare at him, but maybe it’s because it’s so early, maybe it’s a lot of things, but instead she winds up offering a coy, lopsided smile before bracing her hands on her hips and shaking her head.
“I’m going to make breakfast,” she announces a little too loudly.
“Thanks, honey,” he mocks, the cat now spread over his chest, purring loudly. “I like my eggs over-easy,” he calls after her.
“Make them yourself!” She can hear him mumbling, and she’s pretty sure he’s talking to the cat.
Another morning, Peggy wakes fully clothed besides Stan on her bed. There are still notes and production boards at the foot of the bed, and an uncapped pen has leaked blue ink all over her sheets.
“Oh shit,” she mutters into his back. “Wake up, we fell asleep.”
Waking Stan up is like waking a slumbering bear.
“This is not how I envisioned waking up in bed with you,” he mumbles.
“Stop imagining me naked and get out of bed.”
“Your mattress,” he says into the pillow, “is really firm.”
“Get up.” She shoves at him.
“Like sleeping on a cement block covered in a fancy sheet.”
“Then roll over and get up.”
He sighs when he stands, his knees popping, stretches his arms out and yawns dramatically.
“I’m gonna take a piss. And then I’m gonna make some coffee.”
“Buy some coffee,” Peggy shouts after him. She pulls the collar of her shirt up to her nose, sniffs, decides she definitely should change.
“What?” he shouts back.
“Buy coffee. We ran out yesterday.”
She can hear him mutter goddamnit and then the toilet flushes, the pipes whining in protest. He’s humming, she can hear it over the running faucet and his side of the bed is still warm and it’s all so painfully domestic she doesn’t know what to do with it or herself. The intimacy between them isn’t new. Hell, the domesticity isn’t either. It’s been there for a long time, whether in the office or on the phone calls that came after, that easy lived-in feeling has always marked their every interaction.
Nothing changes them. No, that’s not true. Plenty of things have changed them -- the hotel room at the Waldorf, all those pitches and all those campaigns, Ginsberg’s hiring, her departure -- but for the better. Better sounds like too much. Closer. Closer is the word. Even, and especially, all the things that should have pulled them apart -- they brought them closer.
Pushed closer and closer until here they are, alone together every night in her apartment.
Partners, she thinks, remembering Megan, remembering her own comment to Stan back at that bar in Midtown. They’re partners now.
“I’m gonna get the coffee!” she yells, semi-panicked. She tugs a (semi) clean shirt on and grabs her purse.
“What?” he swings the door open, his face wet. “I said I’d do it.”
“No, you didn’t,” she says. “I’ll be five minutes, don’t destroy the place.”
He raises his eyebrows and looks around. “As if that’s possible,” she can hear him say as she unlocks the front door.
“Get some danishes!” he shouts after her.
So it makes sense they start sleeping together -- platonically, sexually, every potential meaning of the phrase -- a lot.
They start sleeping together. Again. A lot.
The first time, that’s actually the second time, but the first in a pattern that emerges:
Peggy initiates it and he goes for it immediately, like he’d been waiting for her to reopen the door to this. The Carol Burnett Show is on the television and the first draft of work for Gordon’s Gin is scattered on the coffee table in front of them. He goes down on her on the couch, first dragging her trousers down her legs before biting at the naked crook of her knee, grabbing her by the hips, hauling her against his mouth. Peggy doesn’t know why she initiates it. She thinks it’s because he’s always there. He’s always around and that makes this a thing impossible to resist. She also tells herself it’s different with Stan, different from Pete, from Duck, from Ted. He’s not her boss, he has no rank over her, and if honesty is a thing she can achieve with herself, then maybe she can admit that they haven’t just been about business for a long time now.
He makes her come with his mouth, and he pushes into her when she’s still coming down, and it’s a lot, too much, and she can hear herself whining his name, him chuckling in her ear, the sound bitten off fast into a low groan as she arches up under him, Peggy saying something that sounds a lot likemore.
“You left bite marks on my thighs.”
“Do you want me to apologize, or you want more?”
She shoves him away, a dumb smile on her face and he laughs.
Again: on her knees against her littered coffee table, bumping her chin on the edge of it when she comes, Stan groaning behind her.
Again: only once again at his apartment, no reason for them to venture outside of the Upper West except on business, the both of them stoned, her skin prickling under his hands, feeling like they’ve been fucking for hours, no sense of time, Stan telling her she’s hilarious when she’s high.
Again: they fuck, her on top, her body flush with his, his feet planted against the mattress fucking up into her, telling her to go slower. He likes to fuck her slow, likes her impatience, how given enough time and enough pressure, she inevitably cracks, says anything, begs him. This time, all she does is smirk and snap her hips faster. “Jesus, fuck, Peggy.” He tips his head back and sucks in a breath. “I’m gonna fucking come.”
“Good. I want you to,” and that makes him laugh breathless and groan at the same time, like everything about this and her is impossible. She watches his face when he comes, can feel him inside her, makes her bite her bottom lip.
“Talk to me,” Peggy says into the dark. “Like you do on the phone.”
The sheets stick to her legs and the mattress shifts as Stan moves beside her.
He chuckles, but the sound is appreciative. “I spend every waking hour with you. I’ve got nothing to tell.”
“That’s work. And I don’t want to argue about wigs or city comptrollers or taxis. Talk to me about something other than work.”
He sighs, but then he starts to talk. He talks about movies. He is always talking about movies. He’s always talking about stories that happened to other people or rooted faraway in the fictional, yet somehow still all too telling about him.
He mumbles beside her, his beard and his mouth occasionally brushing her shoulder, about the skeleton fight scene in Jason and the Argonauts and how he saw it for the first time on a date and after the movie ended that was all he had wanted to talk about but she didn’t and he saw the movie three times more in theaters but he never saw that girl again.
He can’t remember her name but he can remember that fight scene. He can remember exactly how it made him feel.
These are the things Peggy has learned about Stan: he’s still obsessed with biker films and he made her see Easy Rider twice in theaters. He likes to hum Ennio Morricone scores while he works and the bulk of 1966 for her is marked by the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as performed by a preoccupied Stan Rizzo. He thinks that The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was the first movie he ever saw in a theater and she thinks it’s strange that he can’t remember for certain. She told him that, for her, it was All About Eve, and that had made him smile, lines crinkling around his eyes as he said of course, as he said, no wonder you’re always gunning for that brass ring.
She’s learned that he’s a night owl, that morning finds him cranky and irrational, easy to anger, but his anger is quick, both to spark and then to settle and go at best forgiven, at worst forgotten. That he likes her mouth, her lips. When they fuck, he likes to pass his fingers over and into her mouth. How all she has to do is bite, lick, suck a little and his whole body seizes up.
That he talks too much. He talks too much in bed, not just dirty, but conversationally, telling her about an idea Ginsberg had about a chain restaurant who wanted their business while biting at her breast, about how some buddy of his got arrested at some protest down at Washington Square while he lazily fucks her. Peggy has a hard time keeping up her end of the dialogue when he does this, her body too responsive to his, her mouth made clumsy.
He has the movie poster for Blow-Up on the wall in his kitchen. He had called it the most depressing movie he had ever seen, but there it was, pasted on his wall (his aversion to photography was a nerve she loved to poke at with him, and it seemed the same held true for him, like a sore tooth he couldn’t stop worrying with his tongue).
That he’s well-read in a way that never ceases to surprise her (a fact he takes as an insult against not just his person but his brain, as he has told her multiple times). He’s always reading. There’s Stan on her couch reading back issues of the New Yorker Peggy forgot she had. Reading Bukowski poems, reading Philip K. Dick sci-fi novels. Reading Vonnegut and Vidal and Mailer and Updike.
“You have a decidedly male perspective when it comes to literature,” she told him one night. They were in bed, they were naked, and Peggy had picked up a book -- Roth this time, she remembers the cover -- he had left on the nightstand on her side of the bed.
Stan had looked down and she had followed his gaze until she rolled her eyes at his half-hard cock. “I have a decidedly male perspective on most things,” he had said, taking the book from her.
That fall they take a meeting with Ray-Ban. Since going into business on their own, they’ve managed to attract some attention, including a brief write-up in the Daily News as arranged by Joan. Leading up to the meeting with Ray-Ban have been two other successes: first, Gordon’s Gin and then Kool-Aid.
So they take the meeting with Ray-Ban at the Hilton in Midtown. So Peggy and Stan make their pitch while Joan and Ken entertain.
And they sign them.
“I believe this calls for a celebration,” Ken says.
They celebrate. And like every other drunken outing, Peggy and Stan are the last ones standing at the bar.
“We left Ginzo all alone,” Peggy says, on the verge of giggling. “He’s alone in my apartment; we have to come home to that.”
“We could get a room.” She meets his eye; heat unfurling in her.
“We can’t afford a room,” she points out. “We can barely afford these drinks.”
“Is this a Dickensian romance, or what.”
“Romance?” she says. “There’s a word.”
She can’t read him for a beat. “Which word would you prefer.”
“I don’t know.” They maintain eye contact, and the only thing Peggy can think is that she’s in so much trouble here. “Finish your drink.”
He smirks, almost meanly. “You going to romance me?”
Peggy slides off her stool and presses her body against his side. “No. I’m going to fuck you,” she says against his ear.
He clutches the sweaty glass and downs its contents. His hand rests at the small of her back as he steers her first out of the bar and then into a cab.
The house is dark when they get back, no sign of Ginsberg. They stumble through her apartment, Stan’s blazer dropped in front of her door, her dress already pushed up over her hips.
“Not on the table,” she gasps into his mouth. “We work on that table.”
She rides him on the bed, brutal, the muscles straining in her thighs, their hips rubbing together. As she’s about to come, she leans her body down against his, his hand gripping the nape of her neck. She comes hard, tucks her face against his chest. He rolls them, fucking her through it. Not the way she fucked him, but slower, deeper, kissing her -- her mouth, her jaw, along her face -- and her arms are wrapped around him, tight.
After, he makes a move to roll from her and she grabs him by the shoulder.
“Don’t move,” she says just under his ear.
“My ass is cold,” he mumbles. She laughs against his neck, runs the heel of her foot against the curve of his ass and he hitches against her. He pulls back, grabs the blanket at the foot of the bed and drapes it over them, wrapping himself around her again.
They lay there for awhile, diagonally across the bed, their bare feet poking out from under the blanket. Her fingers drag through his hair and she can feel his breath hot against her neck, his own fingers running over, testing, the sharp curve of her bare hip.
“I keep waiting for this to be a bad idea,” Peggy says, “to prove to be this . . . really bad thing. But it’s not, it doesn’t.”
“You think I’m a bad idea.”
“No. Not at all. I think mixing work and . . . ”
“You and that goddamn word.”
Peggy finds that New York is full of possibility again. They’re succeeding with the agency. The weather has begun to turn. The anticipation of 1970 is carried inside of each of them.
Late that fall, heading into the winter months, New York feels like the city it had been when Peggy had first moved to Manhattan from Brooklyn -- new and exciting, something potentially waiting for her in each and every building she passed, down every street and avenue she did not travel.
There’s an article in the Times that Sunday about the uptick in time capsules being buried in anticipation of 1970 and the advent of a new decade.
“I don’t like the idea of returning to the people I’ve been.”
Stan looks up at her over the portion of the paper he had poached from her. “I’m sure they were all perfectly lovely ladies.” He smirks then. “I remember the you I met. You were so angry, wound so tight.” He laughs quietly at the memory.
“And you were such an asshole.”
“Well, yeah. Sure. But you knew exactly what to do with me.”
She raises her coffee to her mouth, pausing before taking a sip. “I did, didn’t I,” she says proudly.
Stan tried to teach her poker one night.
He sat down across from her at the kitchen table. “Okay,” he said, “the game is Texas Hold ‘Em -- $100 bet minimum -- ”
“Shut up,” Peggy had giggled, interrupting him and bumping her teeth against the top of her bottle of beer with an audible clack, which only made her laugh harder.
“You are drunk,” he said, taking a long pull of his own beer. He pointed at her. “I am gonna take advantage of this. I am telling you now. I’m gonna clean you out, take you for all your money.”
Peggy had waved her arms around, indicating her apartment. “This is all my money,” she said mid-laughter before busting open in another gale.
He talked of small blinds and big blinds, the turn, the river, showdown. They both learned quickly that Peggy had no gambling sense whatsover.
“Can I bet the cat?” she asked after another disastrous hand for her. “You can have the cat, she likes you better anyway.”
“Everyone likes me better! And no, no felines in the pot. Give me that -- don’t look at the cards yet.” He batted at her hands as she said, “okay, okay, okay!”
She looked at her cards in her hand anyway and then looked back up at him. “You better not let me win.”
“Let you? Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t dream of it.”
He won easily, a pot ultimately comprised of bottle caps, paper clips, chewing gum and idle threats issued by Peggy. He got her naked in her bedroom, told her to get down on her hands and knees on the bed, and she did. She glanced at him over her shoulder as she settled on the mattress, her loud breathing drowned out by the creak of the springs, and he had paused, his hands still at his belt, his unbuttoned trousers.
“What are you doing?” she asked and Stan leaned over, his open mouth tripping hot down her bare spine.
“Taking my reward,” he mocked, and when he touched her she had moaned.
Ray-Ban proves to be their biggest coup. Joan is proud to announce that by the end of the year, barring catastrophe or act of god, they should have enough set aside to rent actual office space.
“Can’t say I’ll miss this hovel.”
Joan spearheads the real estate hunt and as the holidays approach she finds what she deems to be the perfect spot: two blocks over from the Time-Life Building on Fifth Avenue.
Which brings them to now: packing up all that’s come to accumulate within Peggy’s brownstone and prepare to open the offices of HCOR.
Here is the thing: Peggy is excited. This is exactly what they had wanted when they stepped away from their previous jobs. This is the mark of success. But at the same time, she feels as though a chapter she had no idea she ever even wanted to open is about to close. She’s enjoyed the hard scrabble strangeness of working out of her home, of having them all here, of Stan --
So early one morning she does the obvious thing: she picks a fight.
It starts with Peggy saying something glib, about how she’ll need someone else to overpopulate her apartment now that they’re all vacating it, goes one further when she adds, “warm my bed, now that the winter months are here.”
Stan freezes at the stove, ignoring the eggs frying up. “What are you doing?” he asks, slowly.
Arguing is nothing new with Stan; it’s hardly a novelty. They do it daily, over things both big and small, but this, she knows, already feels different. It’s one thing to argue about a vision for how to best sell gin or whether Nixon really is going to bankrupt American values or their movie viewing choice on a Friday night. This time, though, is about them. About everything they have let go unsaid, about how he makes her feel flayed open sometimes, all the sensitive raw parts of her showing, how in this moment she fears what he might do with her like that.
“Well, we may not have had a pension or bonus system in place, but we figured out our own benefits scheme, didn’t we.” She says it acidly and Stan doesn’t react for a beat. He turns back to the eggs, taking them off the stove when he realizes they’ve burnt.
Stan shakes his head, his back to her as he scrapes the eggs off the pan and onto a plate. “Sometimes I think you learned all the wrong things.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He folds his arms over his chest and leans back against the kitchen counter, facing her. “How to treat people, how you think they think of you,” he says slowly and then he shakes his head again. “You paid attention at the wrong time to all the wrong lessons. You missed the punchline, and now you call a joke a proverb.”
Something sours inside of her. “Hit the right nerve and look who finally gets artistic.”
“You don’t need to be mean,” he says patiently, but she doesn’t think he’s only referring to what she said.
“And you don’t need to insult me.”
He takes a deep breath. “Whatever you have to say, just say it. I’m not doing this bullshit waltz with you.”
She could tell him a lot of things. She could tell him that she likes having him here -- in her house, in her business, with her. That he has managed to permeate every aspect of her life, and the most curious part is that she finds she not only doesn’t mind, but that she likes it. That she doesn’t want him to leave, that she’s terrified he will.
Instead, she says, “If you’re going to hurt me, just get it over with and do it now.”
He frowns, confused, on the cusp of saying something when her front door opens.
“Jesus, not even Thanksgiving and we’ve got the snow and the snowplows and the fucking snowmen out there,” Ginsberg says, shaking himself off like a dog on the threadbare rug in front of the door.
“Oh, breakfast!” he says, kicking his boots off.
They work the rest of the day in mutual silence. Ginsberg notices, clearly, and the chatter he fills her apartment with to compensate for the both of them is incessant and exhausting.
That evening she picks at a plate of cold lo mein at her kitchen table, an array of sunglasses scattered around her she knows she needs to box up to move soon, and Stan joins her. He cracks open a can of beer.
“Are we going to talk about earlier.”
Peggy looks up at him, her face drawn and unyielding.
“Okay,” he says, “Then I’m going to talk.” He clears his throat; she thinks it’d be entirely unlike him to have prepared a speech or invented lines for this conversation, but he strikes her as nervous, which makes her wary. “I don’t know what is going through that head of yours right now, but I’m pretty sure, whatever it is, it’s really fucking off-base.”
“Are you going to leave?”
He frowns. “Leave for where?”
She smiles small, shaking her head slightly.
“Are you mad at me?”
He smirks, looks at her. “You at me?”
She shakes her head again, but she says, “Sometimes you are . . . just,” and then she stops.
“Right back at you.”
She wants to ask him if he’s staying but she can’t bring herself to say it. Instead he breaks the silence, says, “I’m hungry,” and reaches over for her plate.
This is a thing Stan has learned about Peggy: she has the single strangest collection of facts stored in her head. One night she told him about the old news reel theaters. That there was a sign in the lobby, “The thirst for news may now be quenched, so drink thy fill of Knowledge.” Stan likes her weird set of knowledge. There’s so much she doesn’t know or pay attention to, but when she does, she absorbs it all.
“You feed the cat?” Stan asks. He scratches at the back of his neck and rummages in the fridge.
Peggy screws up her face, looking up from the typewriter at her kitchen table. She’s still in her robe and he’s in his undershirt and a pair of boxers, hair uncombed, socks on, the floor too cold. She watches him at the fridge, taking the milk out of the fridge even though she hasn’t answered him. She really can’t remember if she fed the damn cat. When she tells him that, he just looks at her like he knows her, like of course, why bother asking, and he likes her for that.
He’s talking to the cat, unscrewing the bottle of milk that’s probably been in the fridge too long and taking a sniff. She watches him, the way the muscles in his back shift and ripple under his shirt, how in theory this all ends by the end of the month when they officially move into the new office space. The pretext is removed: there will be no reason why he needs to spend the amount of time he spends with her in her apartment. Maybe that reason never existed though. It’s a Sunday morning and the only person here with her is Stan.
Can you imagine coming back from that? he had said back in July. He had meant the moon, he had been talking about astronauts, but sitting there in her kitchen, she finally understands what he meant.
“I love you. You know that, right?”
Her words just hang in the air and he freezes, the bottle of milk still in one hand, the other gripping the handle of the fridge door. He looks at her over his shoulder. “I do now,” he says, almost smug.
“I just thought I should say it. Because. I don’t know.”
“Because I fed your cat?”
After breakfast, Peggy brushes her teeth.
Stan stands in the doorway and when she’s done, when she has turned the faucet off, she looks at him. He steps into the small bathroom, puts a hand on her waist and she stumbles forward into him. He bumps his forehead against hers and says, “You know I love you too.”
“Yeah,” she says just as quietly. “I do.”
At the end of this particular story, Peggy finds Don again. Peggy runs into Don, on Fifth Avenue, not far from her new office.
He’s there, on the sidewalk, a heavy wool coat, a hat, black gloves. He looks the same as when she last saw him, and it’s strange to her how that gives her a bit of peace. She wonders if Don has been in New York this entire time, just that far off her radar. It’s hard for her to imagine New York without Don in it.
“It’s been a long time,” he says as a greeting.
They sit down in a darkened restaurant surrounded by Christmas shoppers on their lunch break. Up close, she can see he does look different, if only a little. His face is softer, not as cruel, and there are more lines collected around his eyes.
“I saw the announcement,” he tells her. “Consider this my overdue congratulations.”
“You found out we seceded from the union in the newspaper?” It seems kinda cold when it’s laid out like that.
“That, and Roger a few months back.”
Their conversation feels stifled to her, like he’s a stranger. She thinks there are some people you can go months and years without seeing or speaking to and when you encounter them again it all picks up again, like no time as passed at all. With Don it feels like too much time has passed.
“Lately I find myself wondering about the past,” he says, cryptic and vague, though also like he knows exactly what she’s thinking. “You ever do that?” He lights his first cigarette since sitting down with her.
“Sure,” she says, non-committal. What she wants to say is of course she does.
She’s always going to imagine a great many different avenues she might have taken. She’ll wonder about Don’s office and if it ever could have been hers, and if it that had been a possibility, would the host of problems associated with that office have been worth it. Because there would be problems, just as many if not more than she has now. Because she might have wanted a great many things -- out of this job, out of her life, out of every person she has ever come in contact with -- but she has never wanted to be Don.
Their conversation ends when he asks her, “Are you happy?” She doesn’t think it’s a question she’s ever heard Don ask.
A small smile spreads across her face. “I am.”
“I know we didn’t . . . leave things well,” she says on the sidewalk. Wet flakes of snow have begun to fall. Don’s face betrays nothing. “But I really am grateful.”
He puts his hat on and looks down at her, extending his hand. “And I really am happy for you, Peggy.”
She takes his hand and rather than shake it, she gives it a firm squeeze and smiles.
Peggy meets Ken over at the new office space in Midtown.
“Not quite Paris,” he says, the two of the them standing side-by-side in front of the window in what will be his office, surveying the view, “but I’m helping to take you somewhere, right?”
Peggy smiles up at him.
“I think I liked you better with the eyepatch,” she says.
“Funny, Cynthia said the same thing.”
HCOR. Holloway Cosgrove Olson & Rizzo.
The four of them stand back looking at the sign.
“Would you look at that,” Joan says.
“I still like HOCR better,” Peggy says.
“Of course you do,” Stan says.
“It’s alphabetical, it’s neat,” Ken says. “Well, minus Joan. But she put the most money in . . . ” Ken continues to ramble about Joan selling her shares of SC&P, about how alphabetical order is easier to remember, until he becomes static white noise beside her.
“Holloway, Cosgrove,” Peggy whispers to herself, a slight pause, “Olson and Rizzo.”
Things Peggy has accumulated over the course of 1969: cheap gold ashtrays that crop up all over her apartment; detritus of Stan’s record collection bequeathed to her in the name of re-education and de-schoolmarm-ing herself (his phrase, not hers); the terrible habit of asking without a glance over her shoulder, “What d’you think?” thereby assuming that Stan is always there to answer; more debt than she had imagined herself saddled with by the age of 30; a mother who continues to attempt to set her up on blind dates with members of some sad Catholic men’s league; and a photograph taken that first morning they started working out of Peggy’s brownstone. In the photograph, Ginsberg is waving his arms (it was Dawn behind the camera, insisting they all be in it) like he’s trying to stop the photo from being taken. Joan is posed professionally next to the couch, her body turned at just the right angle, same for her chin, her smile cool and polished. Ken is leaning forward, his hands clasped between his knees, beside Peggy on the couch. Peggy sits in the middle, her posture straight, but her head is slightly turned. She’s looking not at the camera, but to the right of her. Not quite where Stan is sitting, but as though he has caught her attention and she is turning to look. In the photograph, Stan sits to her right and he’s laughing, sprawled out against the couch, his arm slung behind her.
On New Year’s Eve, Peggy and Stan sit together in her empty office. An empty bottle of champagne rests in the center of the room and she sits with Stan on the floor, the city illuminating the darkened room from outside the bare windows above their heads.
Peggy can remember a homily from when she was younger, fifteen or sixteen, and the priest had asked, “Do you know where you are going tomorrow?”
The priest had meant it in terms of eternal salvation, in terms of taking an inventory of one’s soul, but Peggy had been fifteen, she was sixteen, and she had taken him literally. It became a prayer all its own each night, a call and response: where will I go tomorrow?
Peggy always thought that it was important to have an answer to that question. For a long time it was easy to have an answer, and then it wasn’t. Then it was a warm summer night and she was asking Stan where he was going tomorrow. She was asking him because if she knew where he was going then maybe she’d know where she was going too. Not because she needed to be led, but because maybe she wanted to be where he was.
Where Stan is would be a good place to go tomorrow.
The city waits at their backs. Last year, she thinks, feels very far away.