Did I Say That, Or Did John Updike?

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Did I Say That, Or Did John Updike?

I'm glad we finally got this out in the open. I mean, "That a marriage ends is less than ideal, but all things end under heaven," right? I believe that's a quote of mine, or one of John Updike's. Would you pass me a menu?

What are you going to have? Oh, it's Tuesday; they have the chicken and dumplings today... though sometimes, the chicken here can be a little stringy, I find. I might prefer my usual tomato stuffed with tuna salad. That and a glass of iced tea... Helen? Why, what's the...? Oh, golly.

Of course I love you. Here, drink a glass of water. There you go. Take my napkin. Wipe your eyes. ...There. Now, what's the matter? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, that's silly. You're only 51. Look at me, Helen, I'm 57. Besides, "Middle age is a wonderful country. All the things you thought would never happen are happening." That's something I said to Bob last week at the club. We were seated at his father's table, under that one portrait of the old scowler—you know the one—and I said, "Bob, middle age is a wonderful..." Wait a sec. You know what? I think that might have been something I read in Updike.

What? Well, gosh. I guess I don't know why I brought you here... I guess I... How to explain... You know, it's sort of like that part from Updike's In The Beauty Of The Lilies. Do you remember? Where it's Tuesday, and Clarence is driving with his wife, and he says, "Helen, I have been having an affair with my receptionist. I want a divorce." It's in the third chapter, I believe. Although, having given it a moment's thought, it occurs to me I may have conflated that with something that happened to me roughly half an hour ago.

Sit down, Helen. Don't make a scene. Now, truth be told, I feel like a heel taking you to this bum diner. But, then, after all, what was I to do? Throw myself face down and weep? Crash the car into an elm?

Say... This is like Rabbit At Rest. Remember? How's that go again? I think it's, "Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went." Actually, no. That was a thing I said.

I said it to Stevie before his commencement. I remember... We stood below the old sycamore. The late spring sun filtered through the leaves and dappled his shoulders like golden coins, or something majestic—like something from the Greeks, or Shakespeare's tragedies. I put a hand on Stevie's shoulder, and I said, "Well, Stevie, most of American life is the"—the quote I just said. Then I said another quote, one of Updike's. I said, "It's not the flowers you don't send, Stevie." It had something else to it, I think.

Oh, waiter? When you get a chance, we're ready to order. Yes, I'm going to have the stuffed tomato, an iced tea, and another napkin. My wife will have a vanilla milkshake. Vanilla milkshake. See... Here on the menu? This. The vanilla milkshake. That's right. Helen? Did you want anything besides a milkshake? How about a plate of fries? You'll enjoy those, Helen. You need to eat. Of course, "People who tell you what to do always have whiskey on their breath." My quote.

Rabbit, Run? I don't remember that being in there.

Aw, Helen, I'll always love you, but we're just... We aren't... You remember us then, Helen? Driving to the office each morning, babying the furniture, cooking indifferent meals—we fell into bed at night like a revelation. I remember the first time I saw you; I was beside my father at the Brauers' picnic. With your hair back and a hundred tiny hairs loose, you had a sort of coronet in the sun. And your shoulders were slightly stooped, but I swear to you they were golden, and Le-Le Brauer said something or other, something about how I had to try Zabar's, and I said, quoting Updike, I said, "I love those fancy groceries. I like the little weenies." That's Updike. Helen, I'm positive that's Updike.

Lookee, our food. Mmph, delicious. What? Oh yes, waiter? We had a vanilla milkshake, as well.

"Say, could you hand me the pepper, Helen?" What's this? Oh, I see. No, I wasn't asking for pepper, I was quoting from an Updike story. Not sure of the title, but it's in The Afterlife And Other Stories. Have you read that? Oh, you ought to. Updike writes prose the only way it should be written. That is, ecstatically.

No, I haven't looked at John Updike's blurb on every Nabokov book published by Vintage. Why?