Skip to main content



Happy All The Time

Guido Morris and Vincent Cardworthy were third cousins. No one remembered which Morris had married which Cardworthy, and no one cared except at large family gatherings when this topic was introduced and subjected to the benign opinions of all. Vincent and Guido had been friends since babyhood. They had been strolled together in the same pram and as boys were often brought together, either at the Cardworthy house in Petrie, Connecticut, or at the Morris's in Boston to play marbles, climb trees, and set off cherry bombs in trash cans and mailboxes. As teenagers, they drank beer in hiding and practiced smoking Guido's father's cigars, which did not make them sick, but happy. As adults, they both loved a good cigar.

At college they fooled around, spent money, and wondered what would become of them when they grew up. Guido intended to write poetry in heroic couplets and Vincent thought he might eventually win the Nobel Prize for physics.

In their late twenties they found themselves together again in Cambridge. Guido had gone to law school, had put in several years at a Wall Street law firm, and had discovered that his heart was not in his work, and so he had come back to graduate school to study Romance languages and literature. He was old for a graduate student, but he had decided to give himself a few years of useless pleasure before the true responsibilities of adulthood set upon him. Eventually, Guido was to go to New York and take over the stewardship of the Morris family trust-the Magna Charta Foundation, which gave money to civic art projects, artists of all sorts, and groups who wished to preserve landmarks and beautify their cities. The trust put out a bimonthly magazine devoted to the arts called Runnymeade. The money for all this came from a small fortune in textiles made in the early nineteenth century by a former sea captain by the name of Robert Morris. On one of his journeys, Robert Morris had married an Italian wife. Thereafter, all Mortises had Italianate names. Guido's grandfather was Almanso. His father was Sandro. His Uncle Giancarlo was the present administrator of the trust but he was getting on and Guido had been chosen to be eventual heir.

Vincent had gone off to the University of London and had come back to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had begun as a city planner, but his true field of interest was sanitation engineering, as it was called, although Vincent called it garbage. He was fascinated by its production, removal, and possible uses. His monographs on recycling, published in a magazine called City Limits, were beginning to make him famous in his field. He had also patented a small machine for home use that turned vegetable peelings, newspapers, and other kitchen leavings into valuable mulch, but nothing much had happened to it. Eventually he would go off to New York and give over his talent and energy to the Board of City Planning.

With their futures somewhat assured, they lolled around Cambridge and wondered whom they would marry.

One Sunday afternoon in January, Vincent and Guido found themselves perusing an exhibition of Greek vases at the Fogg Museum. The air outside was heavy and wet. Inside, it was overheated. It was the sort of day that forced you out of the house and gave you nothing back in return. They had been restless indoors, edgy out of doors, and had settled on the Fogg feeling that the sight of Greek vases might cool them out. They took several turns around. Guido delivered himself of a lecture on shape and form. Vincent gave his two minutes on the planning of the Greek city-state. None of this quieted them. They were looking for action, unsure of what kind and unwilling to seek it out. Vincent believed that the childish desire to kick tires and smash bottles against walls was never lost but relegated, in adulthood, to the subconscious where it jumped around creating just the sort of tension he was feeling. A sweaty round of handball or a couple of well-set cherry bombs would have done them both a lot of good, but it was too cold for the one and they were too refined for the other. Thus they were left with their own nerves.

On the way out, Guido saw a girl sitting on a bench. She was slender, fine-boned, and her hair was the blackest, sleekest hair Guido had ever seen. It was worn the way Japanese children wear theirs, only longer. Her face seemed to print itself on his heart indelibly.

He stopped to stare at her and when she finally looked back, she glared through him. Guido nudged Vincent and they moved toward the bench on which she sat.

"The perspective is perfect," said Guido. "Notice the subtlety of line and the intensity of color."

"Very painterly," said Vincent. "What is it?"

"I'll have to look it up," said Guido. "It appears to be an inspirsed mix of schools. Notice that the nose tilts-a very slight distortion giving the illusion of perfect clarity." He pointed to her collar. "Note the exquisite folds around the neck and the drapery of the rest of the figure."

During this recitation, the girl sat perfectly still. Then, with deliberation, she lit a cigarette.

"Notice the arc of the arm," Guido continued. The girl opened her perfect mouth.

"Notice the feeblemindedness that passes for wit among aging graduate students," she said. Then she got up and left.

The next time Guido saw her, she was getting on the bus. The weather had become savagely cold and she was struggling to get change out of her wallet but her gloves were getting in her way. Finally, she pulled off one of her gloves with her teeth. Guido watched, entranced. She wore a fur hat and two scarves. As she came down the aisle, Guido hid behind his book and stared at her all the way to Harvard Square, which was, it turned out, their common destination. They confronted each other at the newsstand. She looked him up and down and walked away.

Happy All The Time
by by Laurie Colwin

  • paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060955325
  • ISBN-13: 9780060955328