Chapter no 44

East of Eden

It was only after Aron went away to college that Abra really got to know his family. Aron and Abra had fenced

themselves in


themselves. With Aron gone, she attached herself to the other Trasks. She found that she trusted Adam more, and loved Lee more, than her own father.

About Cal she couldn’t decide. He disturbed her sometimes

with anger,

sometimes with pain, and sometimes with curiosity. He seemed to be in a perpetual contest with her. She didn’t know whether he liked her or not, and so she didn’t like him. She was relieved when, calling at the Trask house,

Cal was not there, to look secretly

at her,


appraise, consider, and look away when she caught him at it.

Abra was a straight,

strong, fine-breasted woman, developed and ready and waiting to take her sacrament

—but waiting. She took to going to the Trask house after school, sitting with Lee, reading him parts of Aron’s daily letter.

Aron was lonely at Stanford. His letters were drenched

with lonesome

longing for his girl. Together they were matter of fact, but from the university, ninety miles

away, he made

passionate love to her, shut himself off from the life around him. He studied, ate, slept, and wrote to Abra, and this was his whole life.

In the afternoons she sat

in the kitchen with Lee and helped him to string beans or slip peas from their pods.

Sometimes she made fudge and very often she stayed to dinner rather than go home to her parents. There was no subject she could not discuss with Lee. And the few things

she could talk about to her father and mother were thin and pale and tired and mostly not even true. There Lee was different also. Abra wanted to tell Lee only true things even when she wasn’t quite sure what was true.

Lee would sit smiling a little, and his quick fragile hands flew about their work as

though they had

independent lives.


wasn’t aware that she spoke exclusively of herself. And sometimes while she talked Lee’s mind wandered out and

came back and went out again like a ranging dog, and Lee would nod at intervals and make a quiet humming sound.

He liked Abra and he

felt strength and goodness in her, and warmth too. Her features

had the bold

muscular strength which

could result finally either in ugliness or in great beauty. Lee, musing through her talk, thought of the round smooth faces of the Cantonese, his own breed. Even thin they were moon-faced. Lee should have liked that kind best since

beauty must be somewhat like ourselves, but he didn’t. When he thought of Chinese beauty the iron predatory faces of the Manchus came to his

mind, arrogant and

unyielding faces of a people who

had authority by

unquestioned inheritance. She said, “Maybe it was there all along. I don’t know. He never talked much about his father. It was after Mr.

Trask had the—you know— the lettuce. Aron was angry then.”

“Why?” Lee asked. “People were laughing at him.”

Lee’s whole mind

popped back. “Laughing at Aron? Why at him? He didn’t have anything to do with it.” “Well, that’s the way he

felt. Do you want to know what I think?”

“Of course,” said Lee. “I figured this out and I’m

not quite finished

figuring. I thought he always felt—well, kind of crippled— maybe unfinished, because he didn’t have a mother.”

Lee’s eyes opened wide and then drooped again. He

nodded. “I see. Do you figure Cal is that way too?”


“Then why Aron?” “Well, I haven’t got that

yet. Maybe some people need things more than others, or hate things more. My father hates turnips. He always did. Never came from anything.

Turnips make him mad, real mad. Well, one time my mother was—well, huffy, and she made a casserole of mashed turnips with lots of pepper and cheese on top and got it all brown on top. My father ate half a dish of it before he asked what it was. My mother said turnips, and

he threw the dish on the floor and got up and went out. I don’t think he ever forgave her.”

Lee chuckled. “He can forgive her because she said turnips. But, Abra, suppose he’d asked and she had said something else and he liked it and had another dish. And then afterward he found out. Why,

he might have

murdered her.” “I

guess so.


anyway, I figure Aron needed a mother more than Cal did.

And I think he always blamed his father.”


“I don’t know. That’s what I think.”

“You do get around, don’t you?” “Shouldn’t I?”

“Of course you should.” “Shall I make some fudge?”

“Not today. We still have some.”

“What can I do?” “You can pound flour

into the top round. Will you eat with us?”

“No. I’m going to a

birthday party, thank you. Do you

think he’ll

be a


“How do I know?” said Lee. “Maybe it’s just an idea.”

“I hope he doesn’t,” said Abra, and she clapped her mouth shut in astonishment at having said it.

Lee got up and pulled

out the pastry board and laid out the red meat and a flour sifter beside it. “Use the back side of the knife,” he said.

“I know.” She hoped he hadn’t heard her.

But Lee asked, “Why don’t you want him to be a minister?”

“I shouldn’t say it.” “You

should say

anything you want to. You don’t have to explain.” He went back to his chair, and Abra sifted flour over the steak and pounded the meat with a big knife. Tap-tap—”I

shouldn’t talk like this”—tap-tap.

Lee turned his head

away to let her take her own pace.

“He goes all one way,”

she said over the pounding. “If it’s church it’s got to be high church. He was talking about how priests shouldn’t be married.”

“That’s not the way his last letter sounded,” Lee observed.

“I know. That was

before.” Her knife stopped its pounding. Her face was young perplexed pain. “Lee, I’m not good enough for him.”

“Now, what do you mean by that?”

“I’m not being funny.

He doesn’t think about me. He’s made someone up, and it’s like he put my skin on her. I’m not like that—not like the made-up one.” “What’s she like?”

“Pure!” said Abra. “Just absolutely pure. Nothing but pure—never a bad thing. I’m not like that.”

“Nobody is,” said Lee. “He doesn’t know me.

He doesn’t even want to know me. He wants that—


Lee rubbed a piece of cracker. “Don’t you like him? You’re pretty young, but I don’t think that makes any difference.”

“ ‘Course I like him. I’m going to be his wife. But I want him to like me too. And how can he, if he doesn’t know anything about me? I used to think he knew me.

Now I’m not sure he ever did.”

“Maybe he’s going

through a hard time that isn’t permanent. You’re a smart girl—very smart. Is it pretty hard trying to live up to the one—in your skin?”

“I’m always afraid he’ll

see something in me that isn’t in the one he made up. I’ll get mad or I’ll smell bad—or something else. He’ll find out.”

“Maybe not,” said Lee. “But it must be hard living

the Lily Maid, the Goddess-Virgin, and the other all at once. Humans just do smell

bad sometimes.”

She moved toward the table. “Lee, I wish—” “Don’t spill flour on my

floor,” he said. “What do you wish?”

“It’s from my figuring out. I think Aron, when he

didn’t have a mother—why, he made her everything good he could think of.”

“That might be. And

then you think he dumped it all on you.” She stared at him and her fingers wandered delicately up and down the blade of the knife. “And you wish you could find some way to dump it all back.” “Yes.”

“Suppose he wouldn’t like you then?”

“I’d rather take a chance

on that,” she said. “I’d rather be myself.”

Lee said, “I never saw anybody get mixed up in other people’s business the way I do. And I’m a man who doesn’t have a final answer about anything. Are you going to pound that meat or shall I do it?”

She went back to work.

“Do you think it’s funny to be so serious when I’m not even out of high school?” she asked.

“I don’t see how it could

be any other way,” said Lee. “Laughter comes later, like wisdom teeth, and laughter at yourself comes last of all in a mad race with death, and sometimes it isn’t in time.”

Her tapping speeded up and its beat became erratic

and nervous. Lee moved five dried lima beans in patterns on the table—a line, an angle, a circle.

The beating stopped. “Is Mrs. Trask alive?”

Lee’s forefinger hung

over a bean for a moment and then slowly fell and pushed it

to make the into a Q. He knew she was looking at him. He could even see in his mind how her expression would be one of panic at her question.

His thought raced like a rat new caught in a wire trap. He sighed and gave it up. He turned slowly and looked at her, and his picture had been accurate.

Lee said


“We’ve talked a lot and I don’t remember that we have ever discussed me—ever.” He smiled shyly. “Abra, let me tell you about myself. I’m a servant. I’m old. I’m Chinese. These three you know. I’m tired and I’m

cowardly.” “You’re not—”

she began.

“Be silent,” he said. “I

am so cowardly. I will not put my finger in any human pie.” “What do you mean?”

“Abra, is your father mad

at anything except turnips?”

Her face went stubborn. “I asked you a question.” “I did not hear a

question,” he said softly and his voice became confident. “You did not ask a question, Abra.”

“I guess you think I’m

too young—” Abra began. Lee broke in, “Once I worked for a woman of thirty-five

who had

successfully resisted experience, learning, and

beauty. If she had been six she would have been the despair of her parents. And at thirty-five she was permitted to control money and the lives of people around her.

No, Abra, age has nothing to do with it. If I had anything at all to say—I would say it to you.”

The girl smiled at him.

“I’m clever,” she said. “Shall I be clever?”

“God help me—no,” Lee protested.

“Then you don’t want

me to try to figure it out?” “I don’t care what you

do as long as I don’t have anything to do with it. I guess no matter how weak and negative a good man is, he has as many sins on him as he can bear. I have enough sins to trouble me. Maybe they aren’t

very fine sins

compared to some, but, the way I feel, they’re all I can take care of. Please forgive


Abra reached across the table and touched the back of his hand with floury fingers. The yellow skin on his hand was tight and glazed. He looked down at the white

powdery smudges her fingers left.

Abra said, “My father wanted a boy. I guess he hates turnips and girls. He tells everyone how he gave me my crazy name. ‘And though I called another, Abra came.’ ”

Lee smiled at


“You’re such a nice girl,” he said. “I’ll buy some turnips

tomorrow if you’ll come to dinner.”

Abra asked softly, “Is she alive?”

“Yes,” said Lee.

The front door slammed, and Cal came into the

kitchen. “Hello, Abra. Lee, is father home?”

“No, not yet. What are you grinning all over for?” Cal handed him a check. “There. That’s for you.”

Lee looked at it. “I

didn’t want interest,” he said. “It’s better. I might want

to borrow it back.” “You won’t tell me where you got it?” “No. Not yet. I’ve got a

good idea—” His eyes flicked to Abra.

“I have to go home now,” she said.

Cal said, “She might as well be in on it. I decided to do it Thanksgiving, and Abra’ll probably be around and Aron will be home.” “Do what?” she asked. “I’ve got a present for

my father.”

“What is it?” Abra asked.

“I won’t tell. You’ll find out then.”

“Does Lee know?” “Yes, but he won’t tell.” “I don’t think I ever saw

you so—gay,” Abra said. “I don’t think I ever saw you gay at all.” She discovered in herself a warmth for him.

After Abra had gone Cal

sat down. “I don’t know whether to give it to him before Thanksgiving dinner or after,” he said.

“After,” said Lee. “Have you really got the money?” “Fifteen

thousand dollars.” “Honestly?”

“You mean, did I steal it?”


“Honestly,” said Cal. “Remember how we had champagne for Aron? We’ll get champagne. And—well, we’ll maybe decorate the dining room. Maybe Abra’ll help.”

“Do you really think

your father wants money?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” “I hope you’re right,”

said Lee. “How have you been doing in school?” “Not very well. I’ll pick

up after Thanksgiving,” said Cal.


After school the next day Abra hurried and caught up with Cal.

“Hello, Abra,” he said. “You make good fudge.” “That last was dry. It should be creamy.”

“Lee is just crazy about you. What have you done to him?”

“I like Lee,” she said

and then, “I want to ask you something, Cal.”


“What’s the matter with Aron?”

“What do you mean?” “He just seems to think only about himself.”

“I don’t think that’s very new. Have you had a fight with him?”

“No. When he had all that about going into the church

and not getting

married, I tried to fight with him, but he wouldn’t.” “Not get married to you?

I can’t imagine that.” “Cal, he writes me love

letters now—only they aren’t to me.”

“Then who are they to?”

“It’s like they were to— himself.”

Cal said, “I know about the willow tree.”

She didn’t seem

surprised. “Do you?” she asked.

“Are you mad at Aron?” “No, not mad. I just

can’t find him. I don’t know him.”

“Wait around,” said Cal. “Maybe he’s going through something.”

“I wonder if I’ll be all right. Do you think I could have been wrong all the time?”

“How do I know?” “Cal,” she said, “is it

true that you go out late at night and even go—to—bad houses?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s true. Did Aron tell you?” “No, not Aron. Well, why do you go there?” He walked beside her and did not answer.

“Tell me,” she said. “What’s it to you?” “Is it because you’re bad?”

“What’s it sound like to you?”

“I’m not good either,” she said.

“You’re crazy,” said

Cal. “Aron will knock that out of you.”

“Do you think he will?” “Why, sure,” said Cal. “He’s got to.”

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