Alma Johnson was called Alma Johnson because, although she was born Alma Gebhardt, she married Harold Johnson. This was a few years ago, when married women half disappeared and in upper-class circles entirely disappeared into “Mrs. Harold Johnson” and analogous names.
But Harold Johnson died one day, and because he hadn’t been an entirely satisfactory husband to his wife Alma Johnson, after a year Alma took her half of her name back and became Alma Gebhardt again.
Harold Johnson’s aged mother Phyllis Johnson uttered imprecations against her thankless ex-daughter-in-law Alma for changing her name but no one was listening because no one ever listened to Phyllis Johnson.
One day, that is, a different day later on, Alma Gebhardt happened to encounter the late Harold Johnson’s brother Earnest (that was a spelling error on the part of his mother Phyllis Johnson, but it was too complicated to legally correct it). Alma and Earnest hit it off and Earnest proposed to Alma, who was pleased but nodded noncommittally.
One day, that is, another different day, Earnest Johnson told Alma Gebhardt that she should become Alma Johnson again, or even Mrs. Earnest Johnson, if Mr. Earnest Johnson got that next promotion and could afford a wife with none of her own names.
But that didn’t happen because Alma Gebhardt ultimately refused Earnest Johnson and later married an accountant named Arthur whose surname must remain nameless because he was wanted by the authorities for a moral lapse that resulted in several thousand dollars going missing. And still is.
As part of his effort to avoid the inconvenience of arrest, Arthur began calling himself Arthur Gebhardt. Alma was pleased, even though she’d always hated the name “Gebhardt” because it was awkward to say and no one could spell it.
(* perhaps in honor of Lydia Davis)
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