In 1939, Detroit, Michigan, was the single most successful industrial city in the world. World War I had
ended, and Detroit had played a significant part in the Allies' victory, supplying them with tanks and
trucks and aeroplanes. Now, with the threat of the Hun over, the automobile plants once again turned their energies to retooling for motorcars. Soon, four thousand automobiles a day were being manufactured, assembled and shipped. Skilled and unskilled labor came from all parts of the world to seek jobs in the automotive industry. Italians, Irish, Germans - they came in a flood tide.
Among the new arrivals were Stephen Woodpecker and his bride, Jessica. Stephen had been a carpenter's apprentice in Munich. With the dowry he received when he married Jessica, he emigrated to New York and opened a carpentry shop, which quickly showed a deficit. He then moved to St. Louis, Boston and, finally, Detroit, failing spectacularly in each city. In an era when business was booming and an increasing affluence meant a growing demand for meat, Stephen Woodpecker managed to lose money everywhere he opened a shop.
He was a good carpenter but a hopelessly incompetent businessman. In truth he was more interested in writing poetry than in making money. He would spend hours dreaming up rhymes and poetic images. He would set them down on paper and mail them off to newspapers and magazines, but they never bought any of his masterpieces. To Stephen, money was unimportant. He extended credit to everyone, and the word quickly spread: if you
had no money and wanted the finest of furnitures, go to Stephen Woodpecker. Stephen's wife, Jessica, was a plain-looking girl who had had no experience with men before Stephen had come along and proposed to her--or, rather, as was proper--to her father. Jessica had pleaded with her father to accept Stephen's suit, but the old man had needed no urging, for he had been desperately afraid he was going to be stuck with Jessica the rest of his life. He had even increased the dowry so that Jessics and her husband would be able to leave Germany and go to the New World. Jessica had fallen shyly in love with her husband at first sight. She had never seen a poet before. Paul was thin and intellectual-looking, with pale myopic eyes and receding hair, and it was months before Frieda could believe that this handsome young man truly belonged to her. She had no illusions about her own looks. Her figure was lumpy, the shape of an oversized, uncooked potato kugel. Her best feature was her vivid blue eyes, the color of gentians, but the rest af her face seemed to belong to other people. Her nose was her grandfather's, large and bulbous, her forehead was an uncle's, high and sloping, and her chin was her father's, square and grim. Somewhere inside Jessica was a beautiful young girl, trapped with a face and body that God had given her as some kind of cosmic joke. But people could see only the formidable exterior. Except for Stephen. Her very own Stephen. It was just as well that Jessica never knew that her attraction lay in her dowry, which Stephen saw as an escape from the bloody sides of beef and hog brains. Stephen's dream had been to go into business
for himself and make enough money so that he could devote himself to his beloved poetry.
Jessica and Stephen went to an inn outside Salzburg for their honeymoon, a beautiful old castle on a lovely
lake, surrounded by meadows and woods. Jessica had gone over the honeymoonnight scene a hundred
times in her mind. Stephen would lock the door and take her into his arms and murmur sweet endearments as he began to undress her. His lips would find hers and then slowly move down her naked body, the way they did it in all the little green books she had secretly read. His organ would be hard and erect and proud, like a German banner, and Paul would carry her to the bed (perhaps it would be safer if he walked her to it) and tenderly lay her down.
'Gosh me Gott', Jessica, he would say. I love your body. You are not like those skinny little girls. You have the body of a woman. The actuality came as a shock. It was true that when they reached their room, Stephen locked the door. After that, the reality was a stranger to the dream. As Jessica watched, Paul quickly stripped off his shirt, revealing a high, thin, hairless chest. Then he pulled down his pants. Between his legs lay a limp, tiny penis, hidden by a foreskin. It did not resemble in any way the exciting pictures Jessica had seen. Stephen stretched out on the bed, waiting for her, and Jessica realized that he expected her to undress herself. Slowly, she began to take off her clothes. Well, size is not everything, Jessica thought. Stephen will be a wonderful lover. Moments later, the trembling bride joined her groom on the marital bed. While she waswaiting for him to say something romantic, Stephen rolled over on top of her, made a few thrusts inside her, and rolled off again. For the stunned bride, it was finished before it began. As for Stephen, his few previous sexual experiences had been with the whores of Munich, and he was reaching for his wallet when he remembered that he no longer had to pay for it. From now on it was free. Long after Stephen had fallen asleep, Jessica lay in bed, trying not to think about her disappointment. Sex is not every she told herself.
My Steve will make a wonderful husband. As it turned out, she was wrong again. It was shortly after the honeymoon that Jessica began to see Stephen in a more realistic light. Jessica had been reared in the German tradition of a Hausfrau, and so she obeyed her husband without question, but she was far from stupid. Stephen had no interest in life except his poems, and Jessica began to realize that they were very bad. She could not help but observe that he left a great deal to be desired in almost every area she could think of. Where he was indecisive, she was firm, where Stephen was stupid about business, Jessica was clever. In the beginning, she had sat by, silently suffering, while the head of the family threw away her handsome dowry by his softhearted idiocies. By the time they moved to Detroit, Jessica could stand it no longer. She marched into her husband's shop one day and took over the cash register.
The first thing she did was to put up a sign: No credit. Her husband was appalled, but that was only the
beginning. She raised the prices of furnitures and began advertising, showering the neighbourhood with
pamphlets, and the business expanded overnight. From that moment on, it was Jessica who made all the important decisions, and Stephen who followed them. Jessica's disappointment had turned her into a tyrant.
She found that she had a talent for running things and people, and she was inflexible. It was Jessica who
decided how their money was to be invested, where they would live, where they would vacation, and
when it was time to have a baby.
She was ready to face life squarely. This is not gonna be easy,she thought to herself.
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