Family Life

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It seemed as unlikely as the venerable Shakespeare actor once dating a Supreme. Never having heard of him Greta was certain she had heard one or two Supreme songs. “Baby love, my baby love …” Teasing us she laughed in her unruly way. “Is that the one?” I felt it better to say nothing more in case idle talk increased her willful attraction to this man four times her age and half her weight. If they were more than friends, neither Patrick nor I really wanted to know. A liaison like theirs might be plausible in a celebrity world of relaxed shack-ups, but to us it felt ridiculous.

“He’s peacocking!” said Patrick.

We liked Rudy, it was not that, even my parents had enjoyed his company, and we trusted him once to babysit Greta when our regular sitter had had a conflict. He melted her cheese bagel and dusted the den. At musical chairs she’d made him lift the needle off Baby Beluga so many times he cricked his wrist. He waggled it, that evening on our return, punctuating his account of their time getting acquainted. Like a house on fire? I didn’t ask. Before bed came Princess Mouseskin—although he confessed she hadn’t settled until they played Chinese checkers on her pillow. Younger, two decades ago, our old family friend was already balding and recently into a comfortable retirement.

So no, it was not his lack of trustworthiness, at least not quite. I was puzzled the next morning by what I found on Greta’s bedspread. His effect on her was coincidental. The prospect lately of imagining him bobbing up and down atop our daughter, who would be unable to stop laughing at his effeteness, discomfited us. Having to toilet him before she was thirty could well turn her compulsive laughter manic. She loved long swims, so it seemed grotesque to contemplate for her an abridged future of pre-palliative care. Patrick confided to me, and I wished he hadn’t, it would be like mating the family’s pet goat to a rubber raft. Shamefully then, every time Rudy arrived that summer to take her chopping carrots—once our front door closed, and we watched him in the driveway ushering her regally into his Nash Metropolitan, we fell apart on the floor.


We could as well have wept.

“Vintage slapstick,” said Patrick. “He and that puddle-jumper!”

The fullback bulk she inherited from her father. Until she turned nine, I had cooked leanly for them both, after which, when they wouldn’t suspend their taco top-ups before bed, I gave in to more lamb roasts than were good for either. By fourteen she weighed approximately half her father’s weight, and by nineteen all of it. By twenty I turned to Pacific cod and deluxe veggie burgers, too late to reconstitute her chronic hunger. I knew she was compensating on campus with oriental fare—just not of the Japanese variety. Pork, I guessed, not tuna—thick Shanghai noodles instead of sushi. Patrick had her tested for diabetes and an underactive thyroid, prescribed a statin for cholesterol, and made a valid attempt to put things right by yielding to a better regimen himself. But he was unable to resist the snacks his clinic should not have provided its staff, but did, continuing on his own to measure between Important and Severe on the Body Mass Index and so proving a poor model for the younger doctors, their patients, his own daughter.

Greta herself wondered about bariatric surgery, to reduce the capacity of her abounding belly. Patrick poo-pooed this and checked her further for sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation.

A perfectionist about everything but her weight, she was sailing through college as she had through school. Academically, that is. She enjoyed snap quizzes as much as acrostic puzzles. Do No Harm proclaimed the guiding motto of her current faculty, and if an unexpected headwind blew up in her ethics course, her tack was squally but never unscrupulous. For example, one evening over dinner at Pastis, she put it to us: “When could eliminating sodium chloride entirely from the food you serve be called an act of love?”

“At Macdonald’s,” said Patrick, “definitely.”

She looked serious.

“Go on, sweetie.”

He knew from listening to patients it was better to establish a baseline than answer any query too soon. A case history required forbearance, especially in ethical riddles of the heart, of which Patrick was convinced this was one, and not a practical question about blood pressure. Margaret claimed it was an interesting conundrum if we could imagine the consequences in a world of older men like Kim.

“Rudy?” I said.

“His taste buds,” she explained, “have withered enough. Rudy’s.”

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