Father let Daisy amble on quite a piece before he answered. ' I suppose it is prostitution, if you want to stretch the definition to cover it. It does involve payment, not for intercourse per se, but for the result of that intercourse, a baby. The Howard Foundation will not pay you to marry a man on their list, nor is he paid for marrying you. In fact you are never paid; he is paid. .. for every baby you bear, sired by him!
I listened and found myself humiliated by these arrangements. I was never one of those women demanding the vote. .. but fair is fair! Somebody was going to inseminate me. .. then, when I groaned and moaned the way Mother does and gave birth to a baby, he gets paid. I fumed to myself.
‘It still sounds like whoring, Father, from where I sit. What's the going rate? How much does my hypocritical, hypothetical husband get paid for each set of my labour pains and one smelly baby? '
‘No set price. '
‘What? Mon papa, that is a hell of a way to run a business. I lie down and spread my legs, by contract. Nine months later my husband is paid. .. five dollars? Fifty cents? This is not a good bet. I think I would be better off to move to Kansas City and walk the streets. '
‘Maureen. Behave yourself. '
I took a deep breath, and held it. Then I lowered my voice an octave, the way I had been practising lately. (I had promised myself never to let my voice get shrill. ) I'm sorry, sir. I guess I'm just another vapourish ex-virgin - I had thought I was more grown up. ' I sighed. ‘But it does seem crass. www.formulablud.ru '
‘Yes, perhaps "crass" is le mot juste. But let me tell you how it works. No one will ask you to marry anyone. If you consent, your mother and I will submit your name to the Foundation, along with a questionnaire that I will help you fill out. In return they will send you a list of young men. Each man on that list will be what is called an "eligible bachelor" - eligible quite aside from the Foundation and its money.
‘He will be young, not more than ten years older than you are, but more likely about your age -‘
‘Fifteen? ' I was amazed. Shocked.
‘Simmer down, flame top. Your name is not yet on the list. I'm telling you this now because it is not fair not to let you know about the Howard Foundation option once you have graduated to functioning woman. But you're still too young to marry:
‘In this state I can marry at twelve. With your permission. '
‘You have my permission to marry at twelve. If you can manage it. '
‘Father, you're impossible. '
‘No, merely improbable. He'll be young but older than fifteen. He will be of good health and of good reputation. He wilt be of adequate education -‘
‘He had better be able to speak French, or he won't fit into this family. '
The Thebes school system offered French and German; Edward had picked French, then Audrey also, because both Father and Mother had studied French, and made a habit of shifting to French when they wanted to talk privately in front of us. Audrey and Edward established a precedent; we all followed. I started on French before I could take it in school; I did not like having words talked in front of me that I did not understand.
This precedent affected my whole life - but, again, that's another story.
‘You can teach him French - including that French kissing you asked me about. Now this faceless stranger who ruined our Nell - Can he kiss? '
‘Good. Was he sweet to you, Maureen? '
‘Quite sweet. A bit timid but he'll get over that, I think. Uh, Father, it wasn't as much fun as I think it could be. And will be, next time. '
‘Or maybe the time after that. What you're saying is that today's trial run was not as satisfying as masturbation. Correct? '
‘Well, yes, that is what I meant. It was over too fast. He Goodness, you know who drove me to Butler. Chuck. Charles Perkins. He's sweet, cher papa, but. .. he knows less about it than I do. '
So I would expect. I taught you, and you were an apt student. '
‘Did you teach Audrey. .. before she got married? '
‘Your mother taught her. '
‘So? I suspect that you taught me more. Uh, was Audrey's marriage sponsored by the Howard Foundation? Is that how she met Jerome? '
‘That is a question never asked Maureen. It would be polite not even to speculate. '
‘Well, excuse my bare face! '
‘I won't excuse your naked manners. I never discuss your private affairs with your siblings; you should not ask me about theirs. '
I suddenly felt the curb bit. ‘I'm sorry, sir. This is all new to me. '
‘Yes. This young man these young men - will all be acceptable prospects. .. or, if I don't approve of one, I'll tell you why and not permit him in my house. But in addition to everything else, each one will have four living grandparents. '
‘What's special about that? I not only have four living grandparents but also eight living great-grandparents. Have I not? '
‘Yes. Although Grandpaw McFee is a waste of space. If he had died at ninety-five he would have been better off. But that is what this is all about, dear daughter; Ira Howard wanted his fortune used to extend human life. The Foundation trustees have chosen to treat it as if it were a stock breeding problem. Do you recall the papers on Loafer, and the reason I paid a high price for him? Or the papers on Clytemnestra?
You have long life in your ancestry, Maureen, all branches. If you marry a young man on the list, your children will have long life in all their branches. '
Father turned in his seat and looked me in the eye. ‘But nobody - nobody! - is asking you to do anything. If you authorise me to submit your name - not today but let's say next year - it simply means that you will have six or eight or ten or more additional suitors to choose from, instead of being effectively limited to the few young men near your age in Lyle County. If you decide to marry Charles Perkins, I won't say a word. He's healthy, he's well behaved. And he's not my cup of tea. But he may be yours. '
(He's not my cup of tea, either, papa. I guess I was just using him. But I've promised him a return match. .. so I must. )
‘Father, suppose we hold off until next year? '
‘I think that is sound judgement, Maureen. In the meantime, don't get pregnant and try not to get caught. Oh, by the way - if you submit your name and a young man on the list comes along, if you wish, you can try him out on the parlour sofa: He smiled. ‘More convenient and safer than the judges' stand. '
‘Mother would have heart failure! '
‘No, she would not. Because that is exactly the arrangement her mother provided for her. .. and that is why Edward was officially a premature baby. Because it is stupid to go the Howard route, then find out after you're committed by marriage vows that the mo of you are infertile with each other. '
I had no answer. Mother. .. my mother who thought ‘breast' was a dirty word and that ‘belly' was outright profanity. .. Mother with her bloomers off, bouncing her bawdy buttocks on Grandma Pfeiffer's sofa, making a baby, out of wedlock, while Grandma and Grandpa pretended not to know what was going on. It was easier to believe in virgin birth and transubstantiation and resurrection and Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. We are strangers, all of us, family most of all.