Nora Johnson

Tender Offer

People brought up as I was never discussed money; it wasn’t considered nice. In fact I hardly even heard of it until I was old enough to have an allowance, eight or nine or so, when I got a quarter a week. Our lives were so smooth and seamless: Daddy going to the office, Nanny and Sophie taking care of us, school and dancing lessons and shopping at Best’s, summers at Daisy Hill, our house in Connecticut, that I never knew for much too long that the juice, the lifeblood, the fuel that made the wheels not only turn but even exist was money, the stuff I hardly ever saw. Oh, I got a peek at it occasionally, dug grudgingly out of Nanny’s change purse to pay the butcher’s boy when he delivered the meat, or pulled delicately from Mummy’s alligator wallet to pay the taxi or the waitress at Rumpelmayer’s. It caused Daddy to shift his body in the restaurant chair to get the wallet out of his hip pocket. He’d ruffle it out half-hidden by the tabletop and shoot out a couple of bills, after a quick look at the check, then hide the wallet away again, and Mummy would look in another direction as though he were doing something not quite nice. The rest of the time everybody used charge accounts.

……

Feeling weak and dizzy, I got up and staggered to the bathroom. I ran water into the bathtub and got in. Michael was fiddling with the doorknob. “Please stay out, Michael. Leave me alone.” “Jamie, I’m sorry. God, I feel awful. Are you still bleeding?” Actually it seemed to have stopped. “I’m gushing buckets. I must be having a hemorrhage.” Said he, “I’m getting the hotel doctor. Just stay there.” I screamed, “Don’t you dare get any doctor.” I stood up and looked between my legs; the water ran clear. “If you so much as touch that telephone, I’m going to leave here without further discussion.” I poked my finger tentatively into the hole. The diaphragm seemed to have descended; now it was stuck in the middle. I tried to pull it out but it wouldn’t move without agonizing pain.

There was complete silence from outside the door. Then: “Jamie, let’s get married again and start all over.”

……

“I couldn’t tell this to anybody but you, Buff. Oh, I feel so stupid for not thinking about this before. But J.S. hasn’t given me any money since I was married.” Said she, puzzled, “Well, was he supposed to? Maybe it’s in trust or something.” I said, “This is very difficult to talk about. But I remember you saying something about how you got your money when you were twenty-one, so now you have your own income.” “That’s right,” she said. “I mean, it’s all unreachably invested, and they give me this pittance, and it’s all under the control of a dragon named Mr. Thurmond.”…There was a cold knot in my stomach. “But Buff, I was twenty-one months ago and J.S. never gave me any money. Or ever said a word about any arrangement, or anything. And Michael thought – he just expected I’d have some. I was such a fool. Nobody in my family ever talked about money, ever.”

……

…I was down to about two hundred dollars in my checking account. I’d run up bills all over town. The strangest part was that I wasn’t really worried. Though Mummy had made it clear she didn’t have a spare cent, and Michael was either sitting it out or so besotted by Dodie that he didn’t care about anything else. I was as sure something would save me as I’d been as a child when the bike started to wobble, the horse to gallop, or the marks began to sink unacceptably. Now I marvel at how trusting I was. I’d jump off a high place in complete confidence that an adult would be there to catch me, and one always was. With the same irrational nerve I smiled ever more sweetly at hints from the local merchants that I “bring my account up to date”… Because I was a Ricklehouse they might believe I was eccentric but they just couldn’t believe I was broke. My credit was almost infinite.

Selected Works

Memoir
Coast to Coast: A Family Romance
       “…a lovely, piercing book…that provides the reader with a twinkling portrait of Hollywood and New York in the 1940’s and 50’s”
-Michiko Kakutani
Novel
The Two of Us
“Nora Johnson has revitalized the American novel. The Two of Us  is daring in concept, dazzling in execution, profound in theme. A triumph and a treasure."
-Garson Kanin
 
Tender Offer
“A smart and funny and tightrope combination of frolic and farce and sad and surgical insights into the world of rich WASPS.”
-Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
 

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