Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 658
Faith is preparing breakfast for both her husband and her former husband, who is back from a British colony in Africa and has slept on an aluminum cot in the living room as an overnight guest. As they talk over breakfast, it is difficult to tell the men apart. Faith...
(The entire section contains 658 words.)
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Faith is preparing breakfast for both her husband and her former husband, who is back from a British colony in Africa and has slept on an aluminum cot in the living room as an overnight guest. As they talk over breakfast, it is difficult to tell the men apart. Faith privately assigns them names that make them seem like twins, so that although she calls one “Livid” and the other “Pallid,” they are otherwise indistinguishable. Faith derives these names from the way the men respond to the eggs that she prepares for them. One rejects the eggs in a livid way, the other in a pallid way, but both sigh in unison because they are disappointed in breakfast, and both are eager for a drink. Faith does not keep liquor in the house, however, and pointedly brings out her God Bless Our Home embroidery, which she seems to see as a protective talisman against Livid’s presence. The complaints about the eggs introduce a bickering note that continues throughout breakfast.
The two men share no sense of rivalry or jealousy; they are such a convivial pair that Faith seems to be the outsider. Livid has casually ceded the children to Faith’s new husband as if they are a used car he no longer wishes to maintain. Neither man takes full responsibility for the children. After establishing the shallow ties that the two rather feckless men have to the boys, the story drifts into an unsettling discussion of yet another of Faith’s old lovers, a man named Clifford, who is soon to marry. While Livid and Pallid dwell on the charms of Clifford’s new girlfriend, Faith’s silence suggests that she has unresolved issues with Clifford.
The two children, Richard and Tonto, wake up and are delighted to find their father and breakfast. Livid expresses concern about their education and becomes enraged when Pallid raises the issue of Catholic parochial schooling. Both Livid and Pallid are lapsed Catholics, and the conversation turns to religious and political topics concerning Jews, Catholics, and the state of Israel. Faith surprises the men by speaking out against Zionism and on her identity as a Diaspora Jew, an identity that she feels she can affirm in the bohemian mix of Greenwich Village as readily as in Israel itself. For Faith, Judaism is not a nationalist identity but an exacting moral and spiritual condition. The two men are astonished, because Faith is usually more silent and subservient; as she puts it, she only lives out her destiny, “which is to be laughingly the servant of man.” This clever phrase has a double edge to it, suggesting a certain mockery as well as good nature, which is why she keeps this particular remark to herself. Her two husbands continue the religious conversation and point out that Faith has abandoned her faith by marrying out of it, but she responds that she has forgotten nothing of her past, and that Judaism is a religion that does not take up space but continues in time. Taken aback by her comments, the men let go of the discussion and relax in her cozy kitchen. Faith extends the olive branch by apologizing about the eggs but, eager to see them go, reminds them of their work responsibilities.
As the men prepare to leave for their appointments, Faith happily plans a day that excludes them, involving morning housekeeping, playtime and the park with her children, and finally, as a reward for having endured beans all week, a rib roast with little onions, dumplings, and pink applesauce. She tells the two boys to hug their father. The older one runs to Livid, the younger to Pallid. Both men kiss Faith good-bye, but Pallid’s kiss is the more erotic. She sends her two boyish men off into the outside world, wishing them well but with little interest in their concerns, preferring to find fulfillment in her home and children.