The Eve of Destruction: A Mad Men fan fiction

“Nothing so rare as a day in June.”

“It’s not June. It’s September.” Peggy pulled her sweater tighter. A sweater set? Pearls? Low heels? She screamed suburbia. What had she been thinking? She knew. Cover the curves. The years had added pounds, as well as debt, resentment and a growing sense of disillusionment. She sipped her coffee and stared at the bustle outside the cafe. This had been her city once. Before she’d married him. Before she’d decided a career wasn’t such a big deal. Before she’d had Heather and Greg.

“You know what I mean. Beautiful day. Great day for Roger,” Stan said, perusing the menu. Would he order a big breakfast? If she’d put on curves, Stan had added the inner tubes of the Michelin Man. Yet, because of his height, he merely looked burly when he stood. And his health seemed as robust as ever.  At least he still had his hair, a bushy, if shorter, head of it. She’d caught a glimpse of Pete checking in the night before. His receding hairline had turned into no hairline at all. She had to admit he’d done the right thing by shaving it all off, though. That gleaming pate was a good look. A Bruce Willis look. Trudy probably nudged him on that. Why wouldn’t Stan listen to her when she suggested a health diet, more exercise? On the latter point, he’d say “when we pay off the mortgage, then we get the gym membership.”

“Roger is dead,” she said flatly. The waitress came over, and she ordered toast and fruit, narrowing her eyes when Stan asked for the eggs, pancakes, sausage and hash browns plate.

“But his legacy lives on!” Stan said with forced good cheer. Stan had become a veritable font of cheer over the past decade, trying to jolly her out of empty nest syndrome, encouraging her to go back to work. But an office held no appeal any longer. It was a cage after years of the flexible schedule of a stay-at-home mom. Her brief stint in a college PR office had ended after a year and a half, when migraines began plaguing her days. But she wasn’t giving up. Stan didn’t know, but she’d sent an email to Joan, after finding her on Facebook, and hoped to talk to her some time today, after the Roger memorial thing was over. Stan might be coasting into retirement. Peggy still had things to prove. To herself.

“Oh, look!” Stan said, gazing behind her, then standing and waving. “Joan! Over here!”

She turned to catch a glimpse…and tried to suppress her shock…

***

“You won’t believe this,” Pete said, clicking off his cell phone. “They screwed up the reservation.”

“What?” Trudy popped her head out of the bathroom, placing a diamond stud earring in. She looked gorgeous, as always. Still trim, with a chic haircut that emphasized her big eyes, her face as smooth as when she’d been in her twenties. And, despite their Kansas residency now, he knew she’d put many a Manhattanite in the shade with her Dior suit and Prada pumps. His heart swelled looking at her, and for the umpteenth time since moving from the city, he felt something bubble up in his soul–a prayer…of gratitude?

“The ceremony. They bollixed up the location. It’s being moved. Everyone should be getting a call.”

“Oh,” she said. “I was looking forward to being in that building. Damn. Maybe we can have lunch there tomorrow.”

“Sorry,” he said, inwardly cringing. “I have to get back. I moved up the flight time. How about breakfast?”

Disappointment morphed to happiness in a second. “I’ll take it. And when is it you said you’d retire?”

He shook his head. They’d been having this discussion for five years now. She wanted him free-er so they could travel more. Specifically, travel to see Tammy and Clay, now in North Carolina where Clay was establishing himself as a top-notch resort real estate agent. But it wasn’t Clay they both wanted to see. Nor, for that matter, was Tammy the drawing card. No, it was their three grandchildren–Peter, Abby and Dustin.

The thought of children rattled his serenity, but he shook it off. He’d deal with that. Later.

***

Sally Draper Wiggins plopped her soft leather attaché on the desk of her old friend, Bob Gremont, and clicked her phone to see the time. Just after six. He was late. Sure it was early, but it was the only time Bob could fit them in. Dammit. Couldn’t even make it on time for–

Bob breezed in, holding out a coffee while he got comfortable behind his desk. She thanked him and sat down.

“I appreciate you coming so early. Sleep okay?”

“Jet lag and the time change conspired against me,” she said good-naturedly. She’d flown to LA from Boston just last evening, and had spent most of the night poring over California law. Although she was a member of the Massachusetts and New York bars, she didn’t practice here. Thus her frantic appeal to Bob, and his squeezing them in before his day began. The suite of offices was dark, except for this lone spot, and the gray dawn had just begun to creep over the city.

A soft knock at the door was followed by the entrance of her father. She stood and waited for the hug and peck on the cheek, as she tried to control the geyser of emotions threatening to blow away her professional calm.

“Sally, Bob,” he said in that low reassuring tone, as if he were the host here. They all sat, and as Bob started laying out the issues, she glanced at her father, studying him. Except for a brief text exchange last night to announce she’d arrived safely, they hadn’t spoken since he’d been charged.

Man-men-LogoStill had good looks under there, she had to admit, but now his lean figure seemed less attractive, more…seedy…like the body of a drug addict who’d abused himself for too long. His skin was tan, though, and his hair–she really had to tell him to stop coloring it. The stuff he used was so monochrome that it shouted fake and just made him look older than the gray it tried to cover. His sport coat and open shirt were fashionable, but retro, and she wasn’t sure if the items were made to look vintage or had been sitting in the back of his closet for lo these many years. In a flash, she saw him as a stranger. And she realized he was the type of man who would normally make her skin crawl. A creepy, slick kind of fellow who thought he was more appealing than he was.

Oh, Dad.

“…so I’m going to recommend we settle for…”

He’d retired in ’86, a year after the Coke debacle. New Coke had been a disaster, and everyone knew that Don Draper had been a moving force in suggesting the formula reworking to the company. Once that scarlet F was emblazoned on his head, it was easy to push him out. From the bits and pieces she’d heard, McCann Erickson wasn’t sad to see him go. He was a problem employee, and his creativity didn’t seem to keep up with the times. The firm had brought on new blood by then, young men and women who understood the zeitgeist better than Don Draper, who, despite efforts to keep up, was as out-of-date as yesteryear’s science fiction movie costumes. They’d given him a nice sendoff, a gold watch, a severance package that made for a comfortable retirement, and he’d moved to LA, where he’d enjoyed partying with old buddies, until they started dying off, and he started getting careless.

Her thoughts screeched back to the present as she heard her father’s voice rising.

“She’s always been about the money! I tell you, that was what she wanted from the get-go!”

“That might be true, Mr. Draper, but the fact remains she was fourteen. Roman Polanski is still in exile for similar.”

Her father grimaced and shook his head. “But it sets a bad precedent. Any girl will see this payout and know I’m good for more.”

The anger she’d suppressed earlier shot up. “Then keep it in your pants, Dad,” she said drily. “For god’s sake, you’re what, seventy-five? Is it really that difficult to act as responsibly as, say, a well-raised teenager?”

“Oh, you mean like you back in the day?” he retorted.

“Was I a well-raised teen, Dad? And is that what you aspire to now–becoming like me, back then?”

She saw his jaw work, as he gritted his teeth. He didn’t like being told to rein it in, and he certainly didn’t like it when she acted the parent. She was prepared to say worse. Still up her sleeve: her brothers had told her to cut him loose, let him face the music on his own. They were done with him. And they lived in fear of the day they’d have to face taking him in.

Finally, he stared at Bob. “What’s involved?”

“They want a DNA test…”

“No,” she said, interrupting him. No DNA record entering the system. Not when Dick Whitman’s secrets were still buried. Just the other day she’d seen a story of long-ago war dead remains being shipped home from hither and yon. She knew some of her father’s history, and she knew enough of his temperament to realize there was peril in unearthing the past.

“Just negotiate a good settlement,” she said to Bob. “Contingent on charges being dropped–she comes up with a story that she lied about her age–”

“Who says it’s a lie?” her father groused, but she ignored him.

“–so the slate is completely clean. He pays, everyone’s happy.” She turned to him. “And you learn to grow up.”

In the artificial light of the office, he appeared old, no longer current. Standing still. Even during his most dapper days, though, he’d stayed the same, the one constant as time marched on like a news reel. That constant was out of place.

She remembered her drive from the airport. The taxi had gone past a newly developed block, with one lone small house in the middle, a holdout. But now its owners had lost their leverage, their prestige, their value and lastly, their looks. Her dad was that house. The world had grown up around him, faster than even the nimble Don Draper could keep up, and he’d eventually decided to ignore it all and stay who he was. Who he’d always been.

***

Kisses and hugs. Perfume so heavy, she nearly coughed. But then again, she’d nearly gagged when she’d seen Joan come in. Her Facebook photo had been flattering, of course, as if she hadn’t changed. But up close, it was apparent that constancy had been achieved through multiple plastic surgeries. Joan’s face appeared slightly distorted, eyes just a millimeter too uplifted, cheeks just the tiniest bit too firm, skin just the faintest bit too taut, its expert makeup adding to the artificial  effect. Her hair was an orangier shade, slicked into a contemporary cut that owed its waves to heavy doses of some product, and her tight-fitting designer dress hugged her Spanx-captured body the way her purse jailed a little pooch, whose head looked with sad eyes at Peggy as they sat down. My god, it was awful.

And, oddly, it made Peggy feel better. Joan might have a successful company–now run by her son, it turned out. She might live comfortably in a rent-controlled apartment in town and a beach condo in Florida. But if you had to carry a dog in your purse for company, something was missing.

“Did you hear?” she said in a voice more gravel than velvet now. “They’ve moved us! Someone double-booked the room.” She shook her head and gave a click of her tongue that took Peggy back to a time when Joan controlled appointments and schedules with the exactness of a military commander. This made her smile, too. Joan was meticulous, but not creative. She could organize things, not make them. With online programs, instant connection via cell phone, palm organizers, no one needed the Joans of the world anymore. Secretaries, how Joan had started, were becoming dinosaurs.

The door to the cafe opened again, and Pete and Trudy stepped in. Peggy’s attention flicked between them and the TV mounted in the corner where a picture of disaster flamed into view. A plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

“Oh, my God!” she whispered, her hand fluttering to her chest. Others turned to look. The world changed.

***

In the horror that followed, they stayed together in the restaurant, a band of survivors on an island, grimly fixed on the news reports, the occasional rumors that swirled into the cafe from people rushing by. They were far enough away from the towers that the rubble and dust didn’t find them when they fell. But Peggy found herself shaking uncontrollably at the thought that, had some weaker version of Joan not double-booked their room in the World Trade Center that day, causing McCann Erickson folks to scurry to find a hotel banquet hall nearby for the ceremony honoring Roger Sterling with a college scholarship fund in his name…they would all be dust.

As she sank into a chair, Pete came up to her, claiming the seat next to her. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Is anyone?” she responded, unable to take her eyes from the television.

“Peggy, I need to talk to you about something,” he said.

She stared at him. What on earth could be so important that he’d choose this time to bring it up?

“I signed up for the bone marrow registry a year ago–there was a drive at the office because some fellow’s niece needed one. Anyway, I’m a match for a fellow,” he said, leaning forward.

“That’s nice, Pete.” Maybe he needed to talk about something good in the world with all this evil destruction around them. She let him go on.

“A perfect match, Peggy. Perfect.”

He let the words linger. It took her a few moments to understand, and when she did, her heart fluttered again. No. Yes. Tears sprang to her eyes. She needn’t hide them. Not on this day. As she searched for a handkerchief, he went on.

“He’s in New Jersey. I’ll go for the procedure next month. I can let you know when it is. You could, well, visit me in the hospital.”

“But how do you know it’s him?”

Pete reached out and squeezed her hand. “They told me — the docs — that they’ve never seen such a good match, that it looked like a family match.”

“Does Trudy know?” she managed to squeak out.

He nodded, and she saw at that second Trudy turn around and look at them, her face a mask of compassion.

“He might not know he’s adopted,” Pete went on. “He might not want to know who his real…I mean, his biological…parents are.”

“But we could see him.”

Pete nodded.

She let out a heavy sigh. And then a sob broke through, as if against her will. Stan, who’d been close to the TV, heard and rushed over, kneeling in front of her as Pete pulled away.

“Honey, you okay?”

She let him hug her, rocking in his arms, sobbing into his shoulders. Yes, on this day of death and loss, she’d found something that was alive and whole. She was whole again.

“Thank you,” she mouthed to Pete.

***

On the street, Sally put the phone back in her purse and swayed. She felt unsteady, faint. Her father came over to her.

“You okay?” he asked. “Who was that?”

“Bobby. Our Bobby,” she clarified, meaning her brother, not the lawyer upstairs. “He said…he said….” She was hyperventilating. She had originally been booked for a flight from Boston to LA today for a late meeting this afternoon. She would have been on that plane if Bob’s office hadn’t called yesterday asking if she could do an early morning meeting instead.

She calmed herself, told her father the news. If he was shaken, he didn’t show it. He grabbed her elbow.

“You’re lucky,” he said, staring into her eyes as if he was a mesmerist intent on calming her. “Like me. Let me buy you breakfast.”

“Okay,” she said, happy to be led, to have her father play father to her. “Okay.”

They walked down the street, his arm on her shoulder, and she felt like a child again, cared for by a very imperfect but loving dad. She was lucky.

THE END

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