An excerpt from

Friends & Marriages
by George Szanto

The Grasp of Immunity

Samuel loved two women. How could this have come about? A man of a certain age, with reasonable control of his emotions... I am surely not the first person in the history of the universe, he mused, living such a division. Or was it multiplication?

He could have lamented, How do we survive ruled by mores which reject double love? or romanticized, Surely fifty years from now such loving will be possible! But these fancies were extraneous, silly.

He did compare. At a restaurant, Sandra ordered a dish she knew and liked, Claire chose the one most difficult to prepare. Their sense of clothes: Sandra comfortable, stylish; Claire professional, a swathe of glamour. Sandra's mode of conversation before breakfast-talking through the day ahead; and Claire's-too little evidence. Sandra's past life was what it was, deal with what happens next. Claire: if she could shape a little what came next... Both women were intelligent, Sandra more rigorous, Claire more, what? speculative? she worried things through.

Samuel had married Sandra, seven years ago. They honeymooned in Ireland. It was a quiet love, and had grown. They named their daughter, conceived they guessed in Donegal, Kathleen. Tyke, long ago adopted by Sandra, lived with them. He was sixteen.

Samuel saw Midge, in her first year at Bryn Mawr, as often as she wanted to get away from her dorm. He would pick her up, the college only fifteen minutes away. In Boston, living with her mother, she'd conquered adolescence. She came to college near Philadelphia, she claimed, to rediscover her father.

Samuel had grown to love Tyke. Sandra adored Midge. Neither circumstance came about easily. Tyke had taken his father's death bitterly, for a long time rejected Sammy's attempts to be together one-to-one; even to talk about Talbot was, for Tyke, very difficult. Midge, down from Boston for a few days, had looked for an alternate mother in Sandra. But Sandra worked during the day, her cupboards and cabinets much in demand; she was often not home. When they were together, Midge from eleven to thirteen alternated periods of locked-in agony with poses of cool distance or baroque intimacy, her sense of what a young woman should be. She left Sandra guessing, misunderstanding, she and sometimes Sandra in tears. But over the seasons their progressing familiarity, their desire for it, drew them close and made them friends. Now, rare thing, both kids prized these parents. Kathleen was a delight from the start.

Into Samuel's life came Claire. She was divorced, an editor, her son Teddy off at film school in L.A. Some years ago she'd left Montreal for Toronto. Then over the summer she'd taken on a new job, down in New York at the head office. She was pleased by the recognition but remained unsettled about having moved, back again, to the U.S.

Sam talked easily with Claire about everything. He was straightforward about his dreams for research and for himself, about his fears and weaknesses. And his love for Sandra.

For Sandra, Claire was the editor of Samuel's book, esteemed by Samuel, important in furthering the new direction of his work. What more could he tell Sandra? That he loved Claire? For her ease of manner, skill in action, so comely and wise? These described Sandra also. Does a man who loves his wife, who is at home with himself, fall in love with just any attractive intelligent woman? What had gone wrong here? Or right.

The Book. It was a medical book, at the same time a philosophical work, about immunity. To be finished by next June.

Loving Sandra had not made Samuel immune to Claire; a joke he didn't share with Sandra.

Long ago the fear of being seen as unattractive, hence undesirable, would lead him into love. If an enchanting woman appreciated Samuel, he had to have her. Adolescent thinking this, a part of his prehistory. What did he need, these days, to legitimize?

In early November Claire's mother died, after a drawn-out illness. Samuel mentioned this to Sandra. Sandra wondered if Claire would like to be invited down for a weekend, to get away. Did she have friends yet in New York? Maybe for Thanksgiving.

Samuel said, "I doubt she'd come."

"Ask her. Let her decide."

Samuel let it drop.

A few evenings later Claire called. Sandra offered tactful condolences about Claire's mother, explained Sammy was out, then said, "Did Sammy talk to you about joining us for Thanksgiving?"

"No, no he didn't."

"Would you like to? We'd enjoy it."

"I-don't know what to say. That's very kind."

"Say you will."

"Are you sure?"

Sandra laughed. "We wouldn't have asked otherwise."

"Well. Thank you."

"Good. I'll get Sammy to call when he gets back."

Next morning Samuel phoned Claire. They argued; first time.