FICTION

Mr. Honey Skin and Bones

Ice man and Redhead — they argued and argued and argued

NORMAN MATSON October 1 1938
FICTION

Mr. Honey Skin and Bones

Ice man and Redhead — they argued and argued and argued

NORMAN MATSON October 1 1938

Mr. Honey Skin and Bones

Ice man and Redhead — they argued and argued and argued

NORMAN MATSON

MR. CECIL McKILLOP, the iceman, and his wife, Margie, live over at the other end of town in the Delight Cottage. It’s called the Delight Cottage because the design of the jigsaw work under the porch eaves is the word Delight. You walk by and there it is in curly wooden letters—Delight. You twist your neck to see around the corner and there it goes again. Delight, Delight, Delight; and if you are new to our town you wonder what under the sun ! Well, McKillop designed that and helped put it up; and why he did, he never hesitated to tell anybody. He did it to please his bride, Margie. That was ten years ago. It pleased her, what’s more; even though he was so busy w-ith the last touches he clean forgot the wedding and had to be sent for, while Margie waited in the brick church.

Now a man who sets sail under a banner with the strange device of Delight. Delight, Delight, invites, you might think, the thunder and lightning of misfortune and sorrow. But they held off. Though McKillop was deef and getting deefer, though he had to work like a dog to keep neck and neck with machine iceboxes, and though Margie was a redheaded arguer from ’way back and stubborn as a mule, still they got along fine, because they loved each other so much. She’d come into my grocery and talk to me about him while she was giving me her order, talking along in a high loud voice that was kind of sweet, like a young girl’s; and generally I felt like laughing, but sometimes I felt sad for her, because it didn’t seem the kind of Mayday picnic she was having with her life could last for long.

One day she was in my place with Blunt Fetter’s w-ifc, Laura, a plump, smiling woman, but a troublemaker. They were talking along, kidding me a little, when Margie lets out a sudden holler. We looked, but all we saw was her husband driving by in his old green truck. “There goes Mr. Honey !” Margie says, then she felt a little embarrassed, being so pleased just to see him, so she laughs at him: “He’s mostly skin and bones, and nigh deef as a post,” she says. “But he’s all mine.”

“It’s wonderful,” Laura Fetter says, with a look at me. “It’s wonderful to be so sure of him, ’specially he being the iceman, and always before he was married he was such a man to make up to the women, heh, heh.” Laura has a poisonous kind of laugh, but it didn’t disturb Margie any, not that day. Margie didn’t seem to hear her.

She always called him Mr. Honey. She called him Mr. Honey even when she argued with him, mad as hops; even when they argued their longest argument, which was about who discovered America. Margie’s maiden name was Ericson, and that, according to her, was the name of the guy who discovered America, Columbus having had nothing to do with it at all. "Prove it !” Cecil would holler at her. "Showme some documents!” Prove it,” she'd holler back. “Mr. Honey, you big lobster you. why should I have to prove it? It’s true !”

My gracious, it was wonderful ! The time they argued about whether it was 19IS or 1919 that had such a fierce w-inter, Cecil said he’d come to my store and look it up in my back files of the Advocate newspaper. “I'll beback in fifteen minutes," he says, “and in fifteen minutes you’ll be standing right there admitting you’re wrong.”

"I will not!” Margie says. “Not even if I am.”

Well, but she w-as right. Fact is (just skipping the Ericson argument ; my gracious, I don’t want to start that one) Margie was just about always right. She had a better memory than Cecil, a head for figures and dates. I guess she knew moren he did. though that didn’t make her Einstein exactly.

It's a miracle a man standing a woman that’s always right, the way he did. Maybe being deef helped. I don’t know; but all the good it did, after all! The lightning of misfortune saw that porch decoration at last, and when the sun of September seventh first streaked across Newcomb’s meadow out there, the Delight house was as full of grief as an egg is of egg.

"Kyi ARGIE sat up in bed. to untwist her hair from her -*-v* neck, and, as she told me later, she felt so horrible she was even surprised the sun had the gumption to rise again. There she was, alone, in the big bedroom, where they belonged; but he. Cecil, was downstairs in the little spare bedroom. The first time, and, my gracious, an argument had done it at last! But not an argument with statistics in it, not an argument about the hardness of ice. or the depth of the sea. or the breeding ways of alewives. Worse than that, no end to it; an argument, as you might say, for the pondering consideration of a Higher Power. It was about the hardness of Cecil’s heart; it was about the softness of his head; but the worst of it. the confusion and pain of it, was that she based her contention on the fearful theory that he didn’t know himself about what was going on inside himself—but she did !

We’ll go back to explain. Margie sees Mr. Honey looking at Fritzie Allen, who is the new alto in the choir at the brick church. All right, he couldn’t help that; there she is up there, singing, and here he is down here beside his redheaded wife, Margie. Fritz'e has dark brown eyes: she’s little and sleek, and pretty as a tinker mackerel or, maybe, better say a bird. She sings like a bird —a naughty, yearn-

ing sort of a bird. Mr. Honey sighs . . Two days later

when Margie is shopping at the corner she sees Mr. Honey driving the brand-newtruck for the first time—and who’s with him? You guessed itFritzie. My gracious, it was a blow ! But Margie didn’t say a word. She went back home to the Delight Cottage and made him four pies—one mince, three apple. Couple days go by, so comes the day she sees him sneak into Bickerton, the florist’s, where Fritzie is cashier. But no flowers come for Margie, oh, no; and that evening she started the argument.

“Tell me, Mr. Honey.” she says, being careful and gradual about it. "what do you think of Fritzie Allen? I mean, just what do you think of her?”

"She’s all right,” Cecil says.

“Of course, she’s all right. She certainly is sort of pretty, isn’t she?”

“I like redheads,” he says, making a joke.

“You know you are getting to like Fritzie Allen. Anyway, that’s what I think.”

“She’s all right, like I said.”

"You like her specially.”

He looked up then. “I do not,” he says.

ou don’t realize it, Mr. Honey,” says Margie.

“Listen, I know what I think of her,” he says.

"Oh, no. I’m afraid you don’t.”

So that’s how it started. Pretty calm and sensible at first, up in the air and impersonal; rather more a study of his mental condition, as you might say. than the true nature of his heartfelt emotions. A complicated, terrible sort of an argument; bad as a kid argument Margie had had at home years before, Margie’s point then being that her little sister Mavmie did not like squash. “I do!” says Maymie; and ou don’t !” Margie says. “Maybe you think you do, but you don’t!” That one ended in hysterics and tears. This one. about little Fritzie Allen’s place in the deepest being of Cecil McKillop, ended, as I said, with poor Margie untwisting her bright hair and gazing at the first light of September seventh like it was the last day of this world.

SHE FELT apprehensive, being away so long from her Mr. Honey, like a wife will, as if he might melt away if he w-asn’t watched. Oh, he was w-rong and she was right; but, heck ! this was the cold grey dawn, and w-hose nose was she cutting off anyway? So she says, “I’ll go downstairs to him.”

She got up to her feet and felt around for her blue slippers, and then she said right out loud but quietly, “I will not go downstairs to him !” because she could even start an argument with herself. But still she was going down to him all right. But right then she heard this mysterious w-hispering at the spare bedroom w-indow. Blunt Fetter’s voice. No strangeness in Blunt being up so early—he w-as bound down as usual to his boat, to go out to the traps— but what’was he w-hispering to Mr. Honey about? She crept to her window-. She didn’t hear much, but it was too much, at that. She heard Mr. Honey say, “Shhh, Blunt, or she will hear you. Then it will be all up w-ith me.” Guilty w-ords! And “she.” That word hurt, made her feel like a stranger.

But still, when it w-as time she went down to the kitchen. She looked at Mr. Honey, and she wished him good morning. She couldn’t eat any breakfast, though. Cecil could. He stuffed himself calmly with fried ham and potatoes. He didn’t really look so much like a fiend, a calm thin man w-ith a long nose, reddish. But he was expecting something; a kid would have know-n that. His ears were expecting something.

As she was taking the mince pie from the oven—cold mince pie, according to Cecil McKillop, might be all right during the day, but served at breakfast it gave you heartbum—the telephone rang.

“I’ll answer that,” McKillop said, galloping out into the hall. Margie stopped everything to listen. Much good it did her. “Hello, yes—yes. Oh, thank you.” A little, affectionate, secret sort of a laugh here, and then, w-hispering: “No. no. no. Can’t talk now.”

So then he comes back into the kitchen and eats his mince pie. When he had finished it, he pointed his nose at

Margie and he said the pie was good. He enlarged on this. He said the pie was just about right, in flavor, in temperature. The filling was different and better; it had a certain —what should he say?

Margie just looked at him; her eyes too bright, her pretty face all flushed with woe and desperation. She put one hand into her hair, which, coiled-up and glossy, was so thick and bright you’d go pay money to see it in a circus or a show. It seemed to get brighter, too, as she looked, just looked, at Mr. Honey.

What was he doing? He was doing an act. It wasn’t good. It was a rotten act. He was pretending he didn’t even notice how she had frozen into that position of looking two holes through him. He says in a tone of voice that it’s a wonder didn’t get him murdered right there, he says; “Say, you certainly look younger and good-lookinger than ever this morning. Godfrey, you do, Margie !’’

When she spoke, it was so sudden and she was so near to him I guess his grey hair streamed right straight out from his thin head. “Who,” she shouted, “was that?”

“Who?” like he was surprised.

“Telephoning, you lobster.”

“Oh, oh, telephoning. Oh, that.” The jackass points out to the hall as if he was trying to remember where the telephone was. “Oh, I see what you mean. No, that wasn’t anybody. I mean, I don’t know who it was.” Even in his own long ears this must have sounded fairly thin, so he tries to build it up a little. “That,” says Cecil, looking his redheaded wife in her bright blue eye, “that was just a wrong number.”

“For once,” Margie says, slow and hostile, “for once, you’re right. A wrong number, Mr. Honey, and she’ll be a wrong number all her life.”

' “Now. Margie, think a minute. Who are you discussing, if you’ll be so kind?”

“Fritzie Allen.” Margie said, no louder than the fire siren on Duke’s garage. “That’s who! And don’t you dare tell me it was—”

“All right.” Cecil says, changing his story in midstream, “it was Fritzie Allen, so what the heck? She works for Bickerton, the florist, and Bickerton, the florist, what does he want?”

“Proceed,” Margie says.

“Well, I am proceeding, if you’ll keep your red hair on your head, Margie. Bickerton wants—well, what do I deal in? Ice. That’s what they want—ice.”

THE enormity of this called for something more than shouting. Margie took a deep breath. She spoke in a low alto tone. “Bickerton, Mr. Honey, has an electric icebox that high, and you know it, you lobster. Now you listen to me.”

“I am listening, Margie.”

“You listen to me. You. . .”

No good, there weren’t words for it. She didn’t know any. She sat down and put her face in her hands. “You see I was right, Cecil. You do like her. You’re crazy about her.”

“Oh, go to grass,” says he.

“Mr. Honey,” softer now, “please . . .” begging him. But, nope, he shook his head. He even laughed. He went out the back door. There was a spring in his step. And, my gracious, the way he began to sing out in the icehouse. “Will there be any stars in my crown, in my crown”—at the top of his voice. Oh there’s nothing like love to change the voice of man—or moose, for that matter. It gives the voice a certain warmth, a hop, skip and jump, a joyful, wild note. And Margie alone in the kitchen, listening to him !

As with the strength of ten men the sinful Mr. Honey rassies 100-pound cakes of ice from the icehouse to his new truck in the oyster-shell drive, singing; “When at evening the sun goeth down, goeth down. When I wake with the blest, in that Mansion of rest—will there be any ...” and breaks off because he sees Cap Farnsworth, the mailman, coming upstreet.

From the kitchen window Margie sees Cecil go out the driveway, so she goes to the strong door and then out on the porch where the sun is streaming through the whirls and railings of the Delight decoration. She stands there unseen, and watches Cap Farnsworth give three letters to her husband. Three.

Cap chances to look up. and this is what he does—he nudges Mr. McKillop with his elbow. And then, but not till then, he sings out, “Hi, Margie! Morning! Mail for you,” so she goes down there slowly, hoping her Mr. Honey is at once going to turn around and say something or do something that will, as you might say, make everything that’s happened be unhappened.

But . . .

Mr. Honey handed her two letters. Not three - two. She waited. “That’s all,” he says. “Just two.”

Both men grinned at her. Evilly. Knowing something she didn’t. It was like a hot nightmare for poor Margie.

And then the fire siren on Duke’s garage began yelling— went down, stopped, came up again; and for a third time, and a fourth, making echoes in the hills.

“Oh, fire!” says Mrs. Margie McKillop.

The two men only shook their heads and exchanged a knowing glance. Suddenly, tossing his head toward Margie, Cap Farnsworth snickered.

“Maybe,” says Cecil McKillop in the tone of voice he always used for telling untruths, “maybe they are testing

the si-reen.”

“Or just monkeying,” snickered Cap Farnsworth. He went upon his way. So did Mr. McKillop go on his.

Watched by Margie from a window, he stopped his truck, as he always did, at the bottom of the hill where the road curved along the sea wall. He wras looking at the harbor, his morning look at the w'eather. But this time he climbed down. He looked and he looked. At what? Not just the weather. Margie ran for the binoculars, and was back in time to see Joe Doane. keeper of the lighthouse on

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Mr. Honey Skin and Bones

Continued from page 17

the island, two miles off shore. Joe was waving a large white flag—a bed sheet on an oar—this way, that way, this way . . . Then Mr. Honey raised his arms, lowered them, wagged. Making signals.

At nine o’clock the McKillop phone rang.

“Cecil?”

“No. this is Mrs. McKillop.”

“Oh, hello, Mrs. McKillop.”

“Hello, Fritzie Allen.”

“How are you. Mrs. McKillop?”

“I’m very well, in fact I’m marvellous. Thank vou.”

“Well—ah—hello?”

“Hello.”

“Will you—ah—tell Mr. McKillop that Bickerton, the florist, phoned?”

“Oh, sure; yes, yes, I’ll tell him.”

“Tell him that it was—ah—on business.”

“On business? Oh, yes, of course. On business.”

“Thank you, Mrs. McKillop.”

“Not at all, you snake in the grass, you sneak, you little choir-singer, you! You . . But of course Margie didn’t say this over the phone. She said it to herself after the receiver had been hung up.

r~PHE whole town knew. That was the worst of it. When Margie went down to the corner to do her shopping for supper, she saw that the whole town knew. It wasn’t only the smiles of the people she met; of Oliver at the drugstore, Tyson at the fish shop, and so on; but a kind of special kindness toward her. When she walked home, Margie knew that if Mr. Honey would take her back, even if the worst were true, she’d be glad; and she

sat at home waiting for him. But he didn't phone her.

The only one who phoned was Mrs. Blunt Fetter. She wanted to know had Blunt been there and, for heaven’s sake,

I where was his boat to? “What’s up?” asks Mrs. Fetter, the talkingest woman in our whole town. “You watch Cecil, my girl.” says Mrs. Fetter to Margie. “He’s up to something. Who’s he running off with in our boat? I been after Blunt, but he won’t tell me a thing. All he says is I’ll knowsoon enough.”

Margie phoned Pilgrims’ Pride cold storage, where Mr. Honey worked in the afternoons. The man in the office listened to Margie say she was Mrs. McKillop and wanted to speak to Mr. McKillop. “Oh, yeah,” he says. “I’ll bet you do, at that!” he says. “Well, he ain’t here. You’ll soon knowwhy, Margie McKillop, I guess.” Well, so what then?

So then she went back to mama, Mrs. Erickson a widow lady who lived with Aunt Martha and Margie’s sister, Maymie. Margie’s mother was h;x)king a rug in the square yellow house near Money Hill. A design of oak leaves and the w-ord Welcome, but the welcome didn’t seem to be for Margie.

Her mother listened for a while and then she said: “The more you cry, the

worse you look. Go fix your hair. It’s a pile of seaweed.”

“No. I won’t,” Margie said.

"You alw-ays w-ere too arguing with the man,” her mama told her.

“I was not.”

“Many the time I warned you.”

“You never.”

“See?"

“What?” weeps Margie.

“What an arguing-and-arguing female you are. I don’t doubt he’s hauled off and left you. All the wonder is how did he stand you for ten mortal years. That’s all I’m saying. Ixx>k, here comes Tom Newcomb, the grocer. What’s he want?”

So I come in (I’m Tom Newcomb) and say “How do” to both of them, and I look at Margie. “She coming home?” I ask Margie’s mother.

“Ask her. Goodness, she’s grown, though she don’t act it.”

"You coming home, Margie?”

“No.”

“Well you’d better, that’s all I got to say.”

“Why?”

"Because,” I said.

So she got her coat and went with me in my sedan.

Her house was dark. It was the same house, too; but it looked as cheerful as a skull. With a wreath of Delight-DelightDelight on.

“Nobody’s home,” she says.

“No?”

“I don’t want to go in.”

"But you'd better.” I told her. “I’ll be I right beside you.”

SO WE went in. and all at once the lights blazed and there was a sudden explosion of noise. She saw a lot of faces, laughing and calling to her.

Next she saw Mr. Honey. He was coming toward her. fast as his long legs would work. The first word he said was plumb crazy. He said. “Congratulations.” “What for?” she asked him when she could speak.

“She’s clean forgot,” he hollers. “Why, Margie, this is our tenth anniversary. It’s j the seventh of September.” he says. “Remember last year I just forgot it entirely? So I went around town and I arranged so I wouldn’t forget it this time. I got Duke’s to blow a special signal on the fire si-reen, and I even had Joe Doane out on the island wave at me just when I’d be stopping to take a look over the harbor,

; and I had Fritzie Allen—she did the j flowers. Look at them. And there’s more j upstairs. And—Margie, listen, you run I upstairs and get fixed up. Everybody’ll wait.”

“But,” says she.

“Hurry,” Mr. Honey told her, so she 1 went.

There were flowers in her room, glads and snapdragon and annual phlox, all her favorites. But but !

It uasn't their anniversary. Never mind what he said, the lobster.

They had been married on the eleventh. Not the seventh. And she would tell him so in front of the whole town ! When she’d changed into her white silk with the green helt and the green cloth flower on her shoulder, and fixed her hair and put powder over tear stains, she opened the special drawer and took out their marriage license from its tin box. Then she started for the stair.

The bottom stair door was open and she could hear all their voices, voices of people she’d thought had a bad secret against her, but who instead had only known how, after ten years, Mr. Honey Skin and Bones still loved her.

But . . .

You know, by gracious, truth is truth. You can’t go back on principles, can you? She went downstairs.

Fritzie Allen was there. She waved and covered her mouth to show how tickled she was.

TT WAS two things that happened then.

One, Margie saw the bandaged finger on Mr. Honey’s left hand. The other was the sight of Mrs. Blunt Fetter elbowing a path to Margie. Mrs. Fetter waved. Mrs. Fetter shouted, “And they never told me a word !”

Well, thinks Margie, if they wanted to keep it secret, they wouldn’t. But now Margie had Mr. Honey’s ear.

She says, what had he done with his finger? And he told her it wasn’t hurt, he’d only tied it up to remind him to remember what all the other reminders meant. “And it worked,” he says. “You have to admit that.”

“No,” says Margie in the gentle sweet tone she always used to start an argument. “You’re wrong, Mr. Honey,” she says. “And you were never in your life wronger than you are right now-, and I can prove it,” she says, with the old fire returned to her eye and her voice going up.

“What?” he says, not having heard half of it, but seeing by her face she’s starting something. People began to be quiet.

By that time Mrs. Fetter had reached Margie, and she pulled Margie aside and whispered in her ear. “My dear,” she whispered, “I remember distinctly, it was the eleventh. Just like a man. Heh, heh. Tell him, Margie. Tell him, right here. I can hardly wait.”

Well, in that moment, and I guess we have to thank Mrs. Fetter for her share. Margie made a decision. It wasn’t easy. For a moment I thought she was going to burst; but I see her swallow a couple of times, and then I hear her say, “Laura Fetter, you’re wrong. And he—this one,” she says, taking hold of her husband’s arm, “this, Mr. Honey, here, he’s right."

So that was one argument that was nipped in the bud.

+ + +

Storing Sun’s Energy

CONVERSION of the sun’s energy into power to operate man’s world, or storage of that energy for future use. is the goal toward which research scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology will shortly bend their efforts. Dr. Karl T. Compton, president, in announcing receipt of a gift of $647,700 for the project, pointed out that the sun pours an average of four million calories of heat daily into every square yard of the temperate zones. In the three months of maximum sunshine, he said, each acre of land receives from the sun heat equivalent to that produced by burning about 250 tons of coal. Scientists believe that means can be found through chemical, electrical and mechanical studies to harness this tremendous energy. At Harvard University, research workers are studying the possibility of speeding up growth of trees.—Popular Mechanics.