Monday, July 14, 2014

Mrs. Sullivan

Sherry Sullivan makes her appearance in Chapter 11 of "The Leather Man." It's love at first sight, although neither she nor Ben Steinbrecher is willing to admit it. She is introduced as the curriculum manger of the institution which young Teddy Steinbrecher calls home, because his mother won't allow him in her house, but it's revealed later in the chapter that she doubles as a teacher of Teddy and other learning-challenged children. The school has a shortage of qualified instructors, assistant administrator James Allen explains to Ben, whose schedule as a coach at Canyon State College in another part of Idaho only allows him one visit to Teddy per week.

The electricity between Ben and Sherry is evident from the start. Ben, usually slow to reveal details about himself, feels befuddled after trying to clarify Allen's mistake in identifying him as the head coach of the Canyon State Wranglers. Sherry shows some advance knowledge of Ben's past by asking if he doesn't coach wrestling as well.
"Yes, as a matter of fact." Ben was taken aback. He felt mesmerized, as if he had gone for a stroll and awakened in a crosswalk wearing his boxers. How did this diverting stranger know that much about his career? He plowed ahead: "I coach football, assist with the wrestling program and run the weight room. It's just that, well, football is in season now, and that makes it difficult to focus on anything else. If you're a coach, I mean. I don't really coach the Canyon State team _ I'm an assistant to Buck McKinnon." Ben stopped, feeling oafish. No one had asked for a resume, and he was not in the habit of volunteering one.
Sherry rescues Ben by telling him that participation in sports (in an era before the Special Olympics movement got off the ground) seems to help the development of the mentally handicapped. Allen suggests that Ben begin his visit with Teddy, since he arrived later than usual and is running up against the time when the students need to be in their dormitories. Ben finds Teddy and carries the eight-year-old in is arms because Teddy wants to be held, finally putting him down near the playground. That's where Teddy finds and picks a mature dandelion, causing Ben to ponder:
What keeps a mind from ripening?
At that moment that Sherry reappears, and Ben takes his first honest look at her, seeing beauty that takes his breath away. Ben, who is six-feet-six, is attracted by the fact Sherry is five-ten, athletic and beautiful, with long legs, "a generous mouth, strong but delicate nose, prominent cheekbones and eyes the color of nutmeg." She also continues to exhibit the ability to get him to talk about feelings he isn't used to sharing:
"What do you think about when you're with Teddy?" 
"Sad things mostly." Ben was grateful she didn't smile, and he wondered again how she'd extracted the information. Men in his profession were not often afforded the luxury of sadness, and he rarely used the word. "I think about the way things are versus how they might have been. Maybe some artist could visualize 'Might Have Been' as a subject _ you know, take it out of the abstract."
The discussion gets deeper before Teddy finally saves his father, wandering back while Ben is trying to figure out how to avoid discussing his difficult marriage to Gloria. He is determined to honor his wedding vows, starting with controlling his thoughts, and the drive home becomes a wrestle with himself to stop replaying his conversation with the ravishing educator.



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