The Novel We Couldn't Put Down: An Exclusive Excerpt from Rules of Civility
Eve hailed from somewhere at the upper end of Indiana's economic scale. Her father was driven to the office in a company car and she ate biscuits for breakfast cut in the pantry by a Negro named Sadie. She had gone to a two-year finishing school and had spent a summer in Switzerland pretending to study French. But if you walked into a bar and met her for the first time, you wouldn't be able to tell if she was a corn-fed fortune hunter or a millionairess on a tear. All you could tell for sure was that she was a bona fide beauty. And that made the getting to know her so much less complicated.
She was indisputably a natural blonde. Her shoulder-length hair, which was sandy in summer, turned golden in the fall as if in sympathy with the wheat fields back home. She had fine features and blue eyes and pinpoint dimples so perfectly defined that it seemed like there must be a small steel cable fastened to the center of each inner cheek which grew taut when she smiled. True, she was only five foot five, but she knew how to dance in two-inch heels—and she knew how to kick them off as soon as she sat in your lap.
To her credit, Eve was making an honest go of it in New York. She had arrived in 1936 with enough of her father's money to get a single at Mrs. Martingale's boardinghouse and enough of his influence to land a job as a marketing assistant at the Pembroke Press—promoting all of the books that she'd avoided so assiduously in school.
Her second night at the boardinghouse, while taking a seat at the table she tipped her plate and her spaghetti plopped right in my lap. Mrs. Martingale said the best thing for the stain was to soak it in white wine. So she got a bottle of cooking Chablis from the kitchen and sent us off to the bathroom. We sprinkled a little of the wine on my skirt and drank the rest of it sitting on the floor with our backs to the door.
As soon as Eve got her first paycheck, she gave up her single and stopped drafting checks on her father's account. After a few months of Eve's self-reliance, Daddy sent along an envelope with fifty ten-dollar bills and a sweet note about how proud he was. She sent the money back like it was infected with TB.
—I'm willing to be under anything, she said, as long as it isn't somebody's thumb.
So together we pinched. We ate every scrap at the boardinghouse breakfast and starved ourselves at lunch. We shared our clothes with the girls on the floor. We cut each other's hair. On Friday nights, we let boys that we had no intention of kissing buy us drinks, and in exchange for dinner we kissed a few that we had no intention of kissing twice. On the occasional rainy Wednesday, when Bendel's was crowded with the wives of the well-to-do, Eve would put on her best skirt and jacket, ride the elevator to the second floor, and stuff silk stockings into her panties. And when we were late with the rent, she did her part: She stood at Mrs. Martingale's door and shed the unsalted tears of the Great Lakes.
Next: When Eve met her match