Sample text for Drives like a dream / Porter Shreve.
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On the morning of her ex-husband"s wedding, Lydia Modine set the table for
four. She had always made sure that her family ate breakfast together--
orange juice, granola and milk, strawberry yogurt topped with wheat
germ. "How many kids eat wheat germ?" the children used to complain.
"Only the ones who live forever," Lydia would say.
Now they were grown, and a year and a half had passed since
Lydia had seen them together in the Detroit suburb she called home. Despite
the circumstances, she planned to enjoy this time. She sliced a loaf of
zucchini bread that she"d baked yesterday and laid out batik napkins and
earthenware bowls on the kitchen table. It was almost eight, about an hour
before she"d have to wake up the kids and hurry them downstairs.
She had once assumed, then later hoped they would all live in the
same place, even the same neighborhood. But with Ivan in D.C., Jessica in
Oregon, and Davy in Chicago, this had become more of a dream. The Empire
of Lydia, Jessica had said on her last trip home--Jessica, who had moved so
far away for reasons she had yet to explain--Welcome to Historic Lydiaville.
But Lydia wanted no such thing. Just the company of her family. Was that
really so much to ask?
Waking before dawn this morning, she had pulled her knees to her
chest, burrowed into the slide of pillows, tossed about on the king-size bed
that Cy had bought for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. The bed had
only put more room between them, and sleeping alone these days on this
great raft, Lydia stayed close to the edge. When she couldn"t keep her eyes
shut any longer she got up and went downstairs, still in her nightgown. She
had heard the kids come in late last night from the rehearsal dinner; they"d
left cheese and cracker crumbs and an empty jar of olives on the kitchen
island. Lydia rinsed the dirty plates and dropped the jar in the recycling bin,
wondering if Cy and his bride-to-be had run out of food for their guests. She
hoped there had not been enough food. She hoped the toasts had been
embarrassing, that the whole evening had gone badly.
But she would not allow herself to think about that now. Her
children had come home and here she was, up and about and for some
reason excited, as if today were her day, too.
The morning sunlight filtered through the kitchen"s sliding glass
doors and spread over the table. Lydia unloaded the dishwasher and arranged
the clean glasses in the cupboards, tall in the back, small up front. She
wiped the countertop, swept the floor, ran a cloth over the tops of the picture
frames that hung in the kitchen and along the hallway. She took a bottle of
Windex to the mirror in the foyer and to the same glass doors that she"d
already made sparkle yesterday. She cleaned the pictures in the living
room--the fences and haystacks that her father had painted in high school,
the architect"s drawing of the Mackinac Bridge, which linked lower Michigan
to the Upper Peninsula. She dusted the clock and the miniature pushcart on
the mantel, and as a finishing touch straightened the cloth dolls that sat on
the living room sofa. "One for me, one for Ivan, and one for Davy," Jessica
liked to say. "What better way to keep an eye on us? Go on, Mom. Give my
arm a twist."
Lydia went along with the joke, but it made her self-conscious
about the dolls, these floppy-limbed harlequins in doublets and checkered
skirts. To Lydia they were whimsical, with their orange, blue, and purple yarn
hair, their bright expressions of knowing and surprise. When the children
were young, people had marveled at the way Lydia could do so much at
once--write books, help support a family, hold the household together, all
with a seemingly absent-minded ease. She was more fluid then, with no time
to worry over the details. But now she had too much time, and Jessica in
particular no longer seemed awed by her mother. To Lydia the dolls brought a
little life to the room; she thought they might cheer her back to the person
she once was.
She did a final check of the downstairs, and, seeing that all was in
order, she went out to the back patio. It was a beautiful day for a wedding,
she realized with a mix of anticipation and regret. A clear sky, warmer than
usual for mid-May. She breathed in the scent of lilacs. Last week solid rain
had brought up the tulips in front of the house, and the magnolia bloomed
magnificently beside the garage. She looked forward to getting on with the
day, vaguely imagining the bride or groom panicking and calling off the whole
thing. Such lovely weather seemed almost too auspicious for something not
to go wrong.
Lydia remembered her own wedding day, in the height of summer
1965. The forecast had called for rain, and all morning the sky had
threatened. As she got into her dress she kept looking out her bedroom
window, her mother calling the wedding coordinator at the Book-Cadillac
Hotel every fifteen minutes. In the afternoon it grew dark, the temperature
dropping below 70. So the reception had been moved from the rooftop, with
its view of the Detroit River and the lights of Belle Isle, to a ballroom on the
first floor. Everyone seemed to have a good time, but Lydia couldn"t help
feeling disappointed, especially since, after so much trouble, it didn"t rain
Now she checked the patio chairs and table that she had spray-
painted forest green earlier in the week. The chairs needed touching up, but
no one would notice, certainly not today. She crossed the flagstones and
admired her tidy patch of perennials and herbs, freshly weeded, bordering the
patio. From the garage she got a pair of scissors and cut a bunch of day
lilies. Licks of flame to brighten up the kitchen.
The sounds of animals from the Detroit Zoo drifted over the trees.
It was the one exotic aspect of her quiet suburban neighborhood. As a social
historian of the automobile, with four books to her name, she had always
eyed the suburbs with suspicion, the way they leeched off cities, drawing all
the benefits without paying the costs. And yet here she"d lived for more than
twenty years, albeit just outside Detroit off the main thoroughfare of
Woodward Avenue. Cy had won the battle over where to settle down,
appealing to Lydia"s sense of protectiveness. He had promised her that
Huntington Woods had better schools, cleaner streets and parks than the
ones in midtown Detroit, where they"d lived for the first years of their
marriage. And while she"d felt compromised at the time, she had grown to
love her house, this simple American foursquare with its roomy interiors and
wide front porch.
Back in the kitchen she put the lilies in a vase, set them on the
table, and went upstairs to shower and dress. The three doors at the top of
the stairs remained closed. Lydia took a quick shower, careful to save hot
water, then stood in front of the bathroom mirror in her towel and checked for
People always assumed that she dyed her hair, but at sixty-one
she was still a glossy auburn. She pulled her hair back into a bun and pursed
her lips, thinking they could use some color. She hadn"t worn lipstick since
before the divorce, three years ago, but searching the medicine cabinet she
found a single abandoned tube. It smelled like a box of old crayons. The color
was more orange than she"d remembered ever wearing, a matte persimmon
hue that she blotted with a Kleenex. She added a touch of mascara, just
enough to darken her eyes, then rifled through the bathroom drawers for the
bottle of Eternity that Cy had given her for her fifty-sixth birthday. At the time
she had resented him for not knowing that she didn"t wear perfume, but today
Lydia dabbed some on her neck and clavicle.
In her bedroom, she stared at the clothes in her closet. This
morning, all of her suits and dresses looked pilly and worn, but she finally
settled on a red tunic--Cy used to say that red flattered her--and a gray
linen skirt. Standing at the bureau mirror, she put on her favorite silver bead
necklace. She looked pulled together, even attractive, she thought, on a day
when everyone would expect her to be a wreck.
Before heading downstairs she knocked on each of the bedroom
doors. "Morning!" she called. She could hear a slight rustling on the other
In the kitchen, she poured herself a cup of coffee and listened to
the sounds of her children as they gradually got out of bed. Ivan, always the
first, walked in short, regimented strides. Not long after that, Davy"s softer
steps followed. Lydia could feel an energy returning to the house that
seemed to move through every room, right into her own skin.
But she quickly checked herself. This energy was not intended for
her. She had kept in constant motion for weeks preparing for her family"s
return. Now she realized she had nothing left to do but wait for the kids to get
ready. Who was she kidding? She was not the story. All the preparation in
the world couldn"t change the reasons why her children were here.
She had to face the fact that this weekend would be a swindle.
Four winters ago her husband of thirty-three years had asked for a
trial separation, citing the usual: they had drifted apart. Six months later, at
his new job selling wireless accounts for Michitel, he fell for a woman he met
at a trade show. Lydia had never seen Ellen, whose name was not easy to
scorn, but she pictured the much younger woman with big trusting eyes, her
head crowned with a hands-free phone set. This afternoon, at precisely one
o"clock, Cy and Ellen were getting married. Till death do them part, they
would be the hyphenated union of Mr. and Mrs. Spivey-Modine.
So the kids had returned to see the transition made official.
They"d stopped what they were doing for their carefree, distractible dad. And
today Lydia was expected to disappear. Jessica had said as much before
leaving last night for the rehearsal dinner: Lydia"s presence would be
unnerving as they prepared for their father"s second marriage. A groom at
sixty. There was something unseemly about that.
She knew that Cy had always needed someone to take care of
him. His mother had died when he was fifteen, and after high school he had
drifted from one job to another. Lydia had spent years comforting him when
he was out of work, encouraging his hobbies and meandering dreams. She
had filled the role with an eagerness that only began to fade late in the
marriage, when the house had finally emptied of all but the two of them.
After Davy left for college six years ago, Lydia poured herself into
her research. She published a social history of the Interstate and began a
new project, one she was still working on, about the General Motors design
team that had put into practice on a grand scale the philosophy of "planned
obsolescence." Out with the old, in with the new. Widen the fins, lower the
chassis. Make this year"s model just different enough so that last year"s
seems shabby and dull. Keep the wheels ever rolling.
Lydia had little patience for that old comparison between cars and
women, and yet she couldn"t help thinking, with increasing irritation, that her
latest book mirrored her own life in uncanny ways. No wonder she was having
trouble getting back to work.
She could hear the shower running and the heavy tread of Jessica
walking down the hall above her. It was a familiar sound, something to take
comfort in. How many times had Jess been the last to get up, late for
school? She"d come downstairs unshowered, in sweatpants and a pullover,
her hair in a ponytail. She knew this drove her mother a bit crazy. "Cut her
some slack," Cy would say when Lydia couldn"t resist making a
comment. "She always looks great."
As a teenager, Jessica had been expert at playing her parents off
each other. She and Lydia had always been close, even through the storm of
adolescence. They shared a similar character, the same pragmatic point of
view, and, as the two women in the house, they had been virtually
inseparable. But when Lydia and Cy had their occasional spats, Jessica
would invariably take her father"s position, assuming the role of daddy"s little
girl. She played both sides, almost as if to spark a charge into her parents"
languishing marriage, forcing them to pay attention to her--and, by extension
perhaps, to each other.
Lydia wondered sometimes if Cy would have left had she been
more present, kept up with her personal ministry to him. Hadn"t she buried
herself in her work those last years, all the while ignoring the obvious signs
that her marriage was coming apart? She took such pleasure in her research
that living with an acquaintance who happened to be her husband had
seemed not the worst circumstance. Men like Harley Earl, the legendary car
designer who had been her father"s boss at GM, had become more real,
more attractive to her than Cy.
It was true that Cy had tried at times. Toward the end, he bought
a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, one of the classic GM family cars, and began a
restoration project in the garage. It was a sentimental gesture. Lydia"s
workaholic father had helped design the original wagon. Inspired by the early
Corvettes, it was one of the first cars of its kind to combine sportiness with
the usual practical features. For a while Cy"s devotion to the project gave
Lydia hope that they could restore their marriage too, and she would join him
in the garage to discuss the next phase for the car. But eventually, like the
Nomad itself, the project failed. As with all of Cy"s dreams, he grew frustrated
and gave up.
Now Lydia filled the bowls with granola and took out grapefruit and
English muffins from the refrigerator. She loosened the grapefruit sections
with a paring knife, sliced the muffins, and stacked them on plates by the
toaster. She filled a pitcher with cold milk, put glasses of orange juice at
each setting, and took out the marionberry jam that Jessica had brought from
Oregon. Then, checking her lipstick in the hallway mirror, she went upstairs,
determined to appear, for her children"s sake, as if this day were like any
Jessica sat on the edge of her canopy bed putting on a black choker. She
wore a flowered dress and chunky-heeled shoes.
"Good morning," Lydia said, sitting down next to her. "Is that what
you"re wearing to the wedding?" Instantly she worried that she sounded too
"Well, it"s what I brought." Jessica got up from the bed and half
twirled in front of the closet door mirror. "What do you think?"
"Nice," Lydia said, hearing the hesitation in her voice. In spite of
herself, she still hoped to please Cy. She knew he would want the kids to
look their best today.
"I wasn"t about to buy an expensive dress. Even if I could afford it,
what would be the point?" Jessica asked. "Maybe when you get remarried I"ll
go all out. Hoop skirt and crinolines. But I don"t think Dad really cares."
Oh, he cared, Lydia knew. He didn"t talk about Ellen per se, but
he did call Lydia every couple of weeks, and once in a while they met for
lunch to discuss the children. How are their jobs? Any news on their love
lives? Can you believe that Ivan turned thirty? Cy would even talk about the
upcoming wedding: Will the kids arrive in time for the rehearsal? Can"t they
come in on Thursday instead? You"re sure you don"t mind all the trips to the
Which was why she had an impulse now to fetch a brush, sit
Jessica down on the bed, and comb her mass of black hair until it fell long
and straight. Jessica had always been a beauty, with her thick hair and wide-
set brown eyes. At five foot nine, she was taller than Lydia, but she still had
an adolescent slouch. From an early age, Jessica had never paid much
attention to how she looked. A standout basketball player, sweats and
running shoes had been her high school uniform.
"I think maybe your father cares more than you think he does."
Jessica pulled back her hair and turned to check her profile. She
had shaved her underarms--a welcome development since yesterday, Lydia
"If Dad has a problem with the dress I"m sure he"ll let me know.
We"re going out for brunch before the wedding."
"But I"ve made breakfast downstairs." Lydia felt her perfectly
planned morning slipping away. Cy had said nothing about brunch.
"Well, we"re eating in less than an hour. But thanks, anyway."
Ivan, in a black suit and silver tie, came into the room and kissed
his mother good morning. His hair had been clipper-cut so short that he
looked like a Secret Service agent. Lydia wished he would grow it long and
curly again, as it had been when he was young, to soften his strong features.
"You look nice, honey." She stood up and smoothed his lapel.
"I am the best man in my father"s wedding. Tell me if that"s not
every boy"s dream." Ivan stood behind his sister at the mirror and adjusted
"Where"s Davy?" Jessica asked.
"Sewing a button on one of my old blazers. He didn"t exactly
"So, how was the rehearsal dinner?" Lydia tried to sound
nonchalant, though she"d been waiting all morning for a full report. Last night
she"d even offered to drive the kids to the restaurant, hoping to catch a
glimpse of Ellen. Instead, Jessica had asked to borrow her car.
"My speech was brilliant. There were tears--" Ivan began, before
Jessica clapped her hand over his mouth.
"It was fine," she said.
Lydia wondered how she could have such different children. From
temperament to interests to where they had chosen to live, they had spun off
in all directions. Out in Oregon, Jessica had discovered radical politics, and
her phone calls home had become increasingly tense. She talked down to
Lydia now, as if speaking to the unenlightened. Ivan, on the other hand,
worked for the International Trade Administration; he was a government man,
but Jessica never turned her hostility on him.
"Did Dad tell you he"s shaving his beard?" Jessica asked her
"For the wedding?"
"Yeah, this morning. It"s probably headed down the drain as we
Lydia realized that this news was meant for her. Cy had always
worn a beard. For as long as they"d been married, he had groomed it every
day with an electric razor that he kept at the same low setting. She hadn"t
seen him with a clean-shaven face since well before they were a couple. As
he had aged--his hair and beard going from brown to grizzled to fully gray--
he looked increasingly distinguished. People had often said they made a
handsome couple. She favored long skirts and crisp blouses; he had worn his
wire-rimmed glasses and the clothes that Lydia picked out for him. "The
Mennonites step out on the town," Jessica used to joke. But during the
separation Lydia realized how two people could put a lot of extra miles on a
marriage if they looked as if they belonged together.
"Don"t tell me he"s going to dye his hair, too," Ivan said.
"No, he"s been reading some men"s movement book. It told him
that the beard was a mask."
"Ah, yes. Of course." Ivan always responded badly to his father"s
soul-searching. Nothing infuriated him more than Cy"s earnest talk about
spontaneous healing, the God within, and random acts of kindness. And
though Lydia would later laugh about this too--much later, after the tightly
wound spring of her would at last uncoil--Cy"s shaving his beard stood for
"I should let you two finish getting ready. I"ll be outside with the
camera," she said quickly and headed back downstairs.
During one of his incarnations Cy had been an amateur
photographer, and though he soon tired of lighthouses and freighters, he had
continued to take pictures of the children. The result was a series hanging on
the kitchen walls: of the kids on the front steps, a chronicle of their shifting
hairstyles and demeanors, from the time Davy was five to just a few years
ago. Lydia had decided this week to keep the tradition going. She"d bought
film for the camera yesterday, and now she went outside to load it and wait
on the porch swing.
She remembered when Jessica had sat here with her brooding
friends or when the children had lined up with their duffel bags before leaving
on trips: Davy to music camp at Interlochen, Ivan to college in D.C.--the only
one in the family not to go to the University of Michigan.
All three kids came out at once, crisply dressed. Ivan sat on the
third step down, Jessica in the middle, Davy on the top step.
Lydia knelt on the front walk and tilted the camera. "Look at these
matinee idols!" she called out, and caught Jessica rolling her eyes.
After Lydia snapped a few frames Davy stood up. "Can we get you
in here, Mom? Let me take over."
"That"s okay." She waved him off.
He sat back down, cleaning his glasses with his teardrop-
"The groom will be here any second, you know," Jessica said
"Just a couple more shots, then. How about some smiles?"
"C"mon Jess," Davy said. "It"s Mom"s weekend too. She made us
a nice breakfast and everything."
Thank you, Lydia wanted to say. It was about time someone
noticed. Nobody had said so much as "The place looks great" or "Don"t you
look nice this morning." She did look nice, as a matter of fact. And it was her
She had clicked off half the roll, her hands shaking a little, by the
time Cy pulled up in front of the house. The kids stood up, looking almost
solemn as their father got out of his car.
Cy"s cheeks were pink, his small chin newly revealed, a hint of
the face Lydia remembered from long ago. She should have known that
without the beard, behind the so-called mask, he would resemble an
overgrown boy: bright-eyed like Davy, ruddy like Ivan.
"Sorry I"m late. Got caught up with the endless details. So you
took some pictures?"
"I did," Lydia said emphatically, though she wasn"t sure why.
He leaned forward to kiss her chastely on the cheek, and as she
felt for the first time, after more than thirty years of marriage, his shaven face
touching her skin, flesh to flesh, a peculiar regret washed over her: she
wished that she had been the one to shave him.
When Lydia was a girl, her father used to send her on errands to a
tailor in Hamtramck. He was an ancient rheumy-eyed Polish immigrant, and
often when she walked into the shop early, before school, the tailor would be
sitting on a stool by the cash register with a towel around his neck. His face
would be covered in shaving cream, and hovering over him, a bone-handled
straight razor in her fist, would be his wife. She would shave him with quick,
adept strokes, slapping the spent lather against a towel in her hand, lifting
his skin and drawing the razor down. The tailor would sit there, waiting out
the daily ritual until his face was smooth and clean. Then he would rise to his
feet and gather Lydia"s father"s suits. His wife would put the razor away,
neatly fold the towels. Then she would ring up the sale. And as Lydia turned
to wave goodbye, the tailor would say, "Remember, young lady. Don"t fall in
That was marriage, Lydia thought--every morning a straight razor
shave, routine and precarious at the same time. The domestic trinity of care,
trust, and repetition all contained in that simple tableau. How long had the
tailor and his wife been married? Fifty years? A hundred and fifty? Lydia half
believed that if she were to drive across town to Hamtramck right now, she
would find the two of them still holding down the shop. "Don"t fall in love," he
would say. And Lydia would answer, "Maybe I never did." Or, "I never will
She stood on the front porch as the kids piled into their father"s
new Infiniti sedan.
"Well, bye," she yelled out. "Have a wonderful time." And, as the
doors closed, "Congratulations."
But Cy must not have heard her because he didn"t look back, just
gave a quick wave. They drove off and Lydia stood staring down the street as
the car turned the corner. "Well," she said, then realized that no one was
around to hear her. "Well."
She went back into the house and looked at the uneaten
breakfast. Granola, grapefruit, zucchini bread, English muffins, even the jam
that Jessica had brought--all of it went into the trash. Lydia poured the
coffee, milk, and juice into the sink, put the dishes in the cupboard, wiped
down the table, and turned off the light.
Then she climbed the stairs to her office and gathered her
manuscript papers and laptop for the library. "Back when I am," she wrote on
a white note card.
She put the note on the kitchen table, then locked the front door
Copyright © 2005 by Porter Shreve. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Parent and adult child -- Fiction.
Automobile industry and trade -- Fiction.
Eccentrics and eccentricities -- Fiction.
Detroit (Mich.) -- Fiction.
Divorced women -- Fiction.
Weddings -- Fiction.