BECAUSE THERE were so many tilings to occupy her attention Ann was often late for breakfast. This morning a russet leaf lay on the sill, just outside her window, daring the wind to blow it away.
With one black cotton stocking on and the other wrapped around her neck, Ann stood, small and intently curious, wondering which would win, the leaf or the wind. When the leaf finally sifted out of sight, she whirled into activity, pulled on the other stocking, slicked the sleep-tousled ends of the little brown braids that sprouted from behind her ears, and wriggled into her blue serge school tunic.
Prowling at night in her sleepers and when she went down to breakfast, Ann was no longer herself, but Flannelfeet, the burglar. So, straddling the handrail, she slid noiselessly down the stairs and, in the lower hall, tiptoed to the dining-room door and peeked inside.
Veronica was already scrunching toast, Ann noticed, and her mother, with fair curls brushed back lustrously, occupied her customary place at the far end of the table. It was cxld, she thought, lurking outside the doorway, that the sunlight which flooded vividly into the room never seemed to warm her mother’s pale, oval face.
She saw her father, whose straight, lean back was to the door, bite into a muffin. When he put it down and attacked his bacon, Ann dropped to her knees.
Keeping her father's chair between herself and her mother, she crept into the room.
“Call the cops,” said Veronica. "Here it comes!”
With five years of suave superiority, Veronica adopted an attitude of tolerant amusement toward her younger sister.
Ann ignored Veronica. Crouched by her father’s chair, she waited, then seizing the first opportunity, reached out and took the muffin. Flannelfeet had made another snatch.
“Who Ux>k my muffin?” demanded her father.
But before Ann could duck, he swung around and grabbed her.
"If it isn’t Anna-maloney!” he laughed» feigning surprise, and gave her a friendly spank that hurried lier toward her vacant chair.
A line of perplexity, however, crossed her mother’s smooth brow. She was the only one who didn’t understand about Flannelfeet. and that seemed to set her apart, just as the cups, and the cream jug. and the percolator made a fence around her end of the table.
“What a furtive way to come into a room, Ann!” she said reproachfully.
Sadie, sauntering in from the kitchen with a plate of fresh toast, released Ann from her mother’s disapproval.
“You want me to make cress rolls for this afternoon?” asked Sadie.
“Yes. Sadie. And order some of those little almond cakes.” As her mother talked with Sadie and her attention was drawn to other things. Ann was relieved to see that the line in her forehead disappeared.
“Having a party, mom?" enquired Veronica, when Sadie had gone on her heavy way back to the kitchen.
“Just a few' tables of bridge. Some friends to meet Lotte Lennard.”
Veronica’s head jerked back so quickly
Ann was brave and said she didn't need to be patted like the rabbits —But Lotte was brave, too, and she went to Europe
that her fair curls swung from her ears. At Lotte Lennard’s name, Ann, too. looked up. But Veronica glanced at her father obliquely, while Ann turned toward him with eyes that were level and blue, and directly questioning.
“Lotte Lennard, here! This afternoon—” he began, and stopped abruptly, staring down the length of table.
Ann waited impatiently for her father to say something further. Maybe then she would understand about Lotte Lennard. She was disappointed, for he only scraped back his chair and looked at his watch.
“Time to be off!” he remarked briefly.
And Veronica, who liked to ride with him as far as the corner on the running board of the car. got to her feet slowly, her eyes flicking slantingly from her father to her mother.
Left with her mother, Ann poured cream on her oatmeal and began to spoon it into her eager little mouth.
“Why is Lotte Lennard different?” she asked.
“She’s not. darling. Miss Lennard is a stranger in town. And since she’s an acquaintance of your father’s, it’s only hospitable to invite her to the house to meet our friends.”
From the remoteness of her mother’s reply, Ann gathered that questions were useless. Veronica understood about Lotte. But Veronica wouldn’t tell. Ann wanted to think about Lotte and the strange silences that always crept in and separated her name from the rest of the conversation. That would have to wait, though. Another issue demanded immediate attention.
“If I hurry home from school, may I help serve?”
“That’s not necessary,” her mother said. “It’s a very small affair.”
“Please!” Ann loved the sight of fat, purple olives nudging green ones in the silver dish, of amber tea in china cups, and rolled sandwiches with cress hidden away in the middle like a secret.
“Please!” she teased again, but failed to obtain a nod of assent.
Finishing her breakfast, Ann went out to feed her rabbits.
“Lotte is different,” she confided to the rabbits, as she picked them up in turn and stroked their warm, soft ears.
She stood there, wondering about Lotte and fondling the rabbits until Sadie called out, “It’s ten to nine! You’d better take to your heels!”
ALL DAY, in school, Ann thought of Lotte and the silence that always followed her name. She had noticed it when she had first heard of Lotte, a month ago, when Veronica burst in at dinner with an unfurled newspa per in her hand.
“I^xik!” shrieked Veronica. “Father’s picture’s in the paper!”
It was the reproduction of a photograph which had won first prize in an amateur camera contest at a night club the previous evening. It was titled, “Rendezvous,” and some quality about it, of expectancy, drew the breath from Ann’s body in a thin, quivering sigh. She hardly recognized her father; he looked like a stranger, young and darkly seeking. And he was smiling into the eyes of a very beautiful person.
“What’s Rendezvous?” she asked.
No one, apparently, heard her.
“That photographer certainly managed to make the
most of my eccentric beauty!” her father remarked, obviously pleased.
“Who is she?”
Ann thought her mother’s voice sounded as though it had been scratched over sandpaper.
“Lotte Lennard. A friend of AÍ Gordon’s. She’s taken the old Corey place for the winter.” He propped the paper before him and grinned. “Al’s a camera hound. He jx>rsuaded me to cut the speeches at the office dinner and go to this contest.”
“I remember that you came home last night in an unusually exuberant frame of mind !”
Her mother spoke lightly. She even smiled. But Ann began to feel uncomfortable. The glow faded from her father’s eyes. He folded the paper and slapped it to the floor.
“It was just one of those ideas that crop up on the spur of the moment,” he said flatly.
And that first, brittle silence had crept into the room. Ann had seen her mother’s lips close so tightly that they were ringed with an angry, white line.
As the days slipped by, her mother’s lips wore the white ring more persistently and her father was often late for dinner. A feeling of tension invaded the house. Ann couldn’t explain it.
Then, one evening, her rabbits got loose. Veronica was helping her catch them when a long green car stopixxi beyond the entrance of the driveway and they saw their father alight. He loitered by the car until, with the happy shout he used on particularly merry occasions, he stood back and it drove off.
They watched him walking toward the house, the laugh still lingering all about him. He looked exactly like the picture in the paper. In the half-dusk he didn’t see them, and Ann felt strangely lonely.
“That was Lotte Lennard’s car,” Veronica whispered bleakly.
"Tell me, what is it about Lotte Lennard?” Ann pleaded, dread making the question sound awkward, even to her own ears.
But Veronica covered her face with her hands and turned away without answering.
Crawling through the hedge into the neighboring garden in search of her rabbits, Ann grew afraid, terribly afraid. Everything appeared distorted. Dead asters rustled with a witch’s cackle and dim shapes of withered dahlias became threatening. The familiar garden was unaccountably alien and sinister, just as her father, striding along without even seeing her, had been transformed into some totally unknown person.
The more she thought, the more confusing it all became. As soon as school was dismissed, Ann ran for home. Without stopping to look at her rabbits, she burst into the kitchen.
“Did mother say if I could help serve?” she demanded of Sadie.
“If you wash your face and hands and comb your hair.”
“And change into my pink silk dress?”
“Your mother said you needn’t bother to change.”
Ann was momentarily dashed. Her mother knew it was no bother to change into the pink silk dress. It was a pleasure.
SCRUBBED and brushed, but still in her blue serge school tunic, Ann followed Sadie down the hall. She was quite excited; not only was she going to an adult party, but she would soon see Lotte.
When she held open the living-room door for Sadie and the tea tray, the welcoming smell of perfume mixing with cigarette smoke rushed out to claim her. Laughter died a little and several of her mother’s friends turned and cried out. “It’s Ann!” “Ann, darling!” and “How are you. Ann?” Then her mother was introducing her to Lotte Ixmnard.
“This is Ann. our younger daughter.”
Ann wondered at the emphasis on “our.” Without knowing why, she resented it and drew away slightly from her mother’s hand, lying possessively on her head. She stared at Lotte openly.
The picture in the paper hadn't shown that Lotte’s hair was almost the color of the leaf on Ann’s windowsill that morning, or that, her eyes were like a wood fire, bright and crackling. She was wearing a brown dress with deep bands of fur around the cuffs. Ann wanted to stroke the fur. And she couldn’t stop looking at Lotte.
“Will you have cream or lemon?” her mother was asking lootte. “Or would you prefer a cocktail?”
No one else had been asked if they would prefer a cocktail. The question set Lotte apart. And although her mother was barricaded behind the tea tray, just as she had been fenced off by the percolator and the cream jug at breakfast, Ann saw that, for the moment, the question made Lotte seem even more solitary than her mother.
"Lemon, please,” Lotte replied. The corners of her mouth rose in an odd little quirk, and she added, “When in Rome—”
Ann laughed out loud, for her mother’s friends certainly weren’t Romans in togas and helmets like the pictures in Veronica’s history txx>k. But no one else considered it funny, and her mother frowned at Ann. Lotte intercepted the frown. Her smile asked Ann’s forgiveness for making misleading remarks.
“Ann, dear! The sandwiches—”
Her mother appealed to her wavering sense of duty before Ann could return Lotte’s smile. Ann was sorry.
When Sadie had gone back to the kitchen with the tea tray. Ann perched herself on a chair beside her mother. She tried to arrange her blue serge tunic so that her black cotton knees wouldn't be quite so conspicuous. Then she folded her hands and prepared to listen.
Always fond of the half-finished sentences people used at parties, today she didn’t hear them. She kept watching Lotte and the bands of fur around her cuffs. It was probably softer than a dog’s fur. Or a cat’s.
Finally, she slid off the chair and crossed the room to Lotte's side.
“May 1?” she murmured, extending a small, tentative finger toward the fur.
I.otte said nothing but moved her arm invitingly, closer to Ann. The fur was even softer than the rabbits. Ann stroked it happily. And Lotte made a tiny noise in her throat, like a kitten purring. Lotte was fun.
“You’d better run along, Ann,” her mother interrupted. “Veronica will lx: looking for you.”
Ann was tcx> surprised to protest. Veronica seldom bothered to look for her; besides, when she helped serve she was always allowed to stay until the guests had gone.
In half-humorous apology to Lotte, her mother continued, “Ann doesn’t usually make a nuisance of herself.” Ann bridled. She hadn't been making a nuisance of herself; anyone could see that Lotte hadn't minded.
“I can’t imagine Ann being a nuisance under any circumstances,” Lotte said, and Ann felt immensely grateful.
OUTSIDE, she went down the driveway. Veronica was standing by Lotte’s big green car, admiring it sullenly. Catching sight of Ann, she pounced on her.
“What’s she like?” she demanded.
Faced with such a direct challenge. Ann couldn’t think what Lotte was like. “She’s pretty —” she said. “And nice.” With a quick rush of emotion, she concluded, “She’s brave!”
“She’s no prettier than mother,” sharply contradicted Veronica. “And she’s hateful! But you’re t<x> little to understand.”
A group of Veronica’s friends, with arms linked, walked along the opposite side of the street.
“Hi! Wait a sec!” yelled Veronica, dashing after them. Alone, Ann turned one of the door handles. It was unlocked, so she slid into the driver’s seat and looked at all the unfamiliar gadgets on the instrument panel. The speedometer was marked in metres instead of miles. That meant it was a French car. Sitting in an imported car made Ann feel important, even more important than when she was Flannel feet. She was a princess. Or a million-dollar baby.
Her father came down the street, saw her, and stopped. “Hello, there, Anna-maloney !” he called. “Who do you think you are now? Ann, the Beautiful? Or Ann, the Benign?”
Shoving her over, he got in beside her.
Continued on page 35
Continued from page. 17—Starts on page 1(1 -
“How’s the bridge party?” he asked.
“I was a nuisance,” Ann told him. “But Lotte Lennard stood up for me. I like Lotte Lennard. She’s brave—”
“Brave?” her father repeated. IIis face tightened. “So it was that kind of a parlor dog fight—”
'Flic front door opened and the ladies who had been playing bridge trooped out. Lotte, pulling on her gloves, came toward them with short, quick steps. She seemed in a hurry to get away. In order to make room for Lotte, her father lifted Ann to his knee.
"You’ve accumulated a couple of passengers.” he told Lotte, laughingly.
“I can’t take passengers. I’m going too far away.”
There was no answering smile—on her lips or in her eyes.
“We don’t mind distances. Annamaloney talks about magic carpets that fly around the world and I've always wanted to lay out a golf course on the moon, making use of the natural hazards, the craters and canals.”
“The canals are on Mars.” lootte said. “As for me. I'm only going to Europe. And leaving tomorrow.”
Ann felt her father’s arm tighten around her.
“When did you decide?” he asked thickly.
“This afternoon,” Lotte said. She glanced toward the house, meaningly, and added. “But not for the reason you imagine.”
Lotte got into the car. She put her hand on one of Ann's black cotton knees, pinching it tenderly.
“I met your daughter, Anna-maloney, this afternoon.”
“I told you—”
“You told me. And I’ve only now come to realize—”
It reminded Ann of the double-talk Veronica and her friends used when they didn’t want her to know what they were saying. Her interest wandered back to the instrument panel. She touched an ivory knob that opened a door into a little cupboard. She longed to sec what was inside.
“Go ahead,” Ix>tte said to her. “You'll find all sorts of junk in there.”
As Ann opened the little door, her father and Lotte resumed their conversation.
“I didn’t mind rioting in the face of convention,” Lotte said. “Or waiting until your lawyers settled things. Either way. it seemed simple. But now, it appears. I've got an unsuspected sense of responsibility, or something equally uncomfortable.”
D)ttc wouldn’t let him finish. “Small, growing things are very dependent on understanding and love,” she continued. “You have to kick through with most of that, I imagine. In this case, anyway.”
Discovering colored spectacles in the little cupboard, Ann turned to see what her father and D)tte looked like through them and found, to her surprise, that they were both gazing down at her.
“We’ll talk later,” her father said to Lotte.
Putting back the colored glasses, Ann wondered if her father had a sore throat; he sounded SÍ) choked. Then she found the gloves that fastened on the back and had holes punched down the fingers in a pattern, and forgot to ask about the sore throat.
“No! It’s got to be this way,” D)tte said softly. “Abrupt and final.”
“You forget—I'm concerned in this ”
“I haven’t forgotten!” It was a high note of despair. “I haven’t forgotten anything — anything about this last month !”
"I’m not allowed to have a compact yetemdash;” Ann murmured. She hadn’t intended to interrupt lootte, but the compact was silver with a bright wreath of enamelled flowers. It had been lying in the cupboard with the gloves and glasses. Ann held it. cradling it in her hands, and it was so pretty that she couldn’t help speaking of it.
"Keep it, Anna-maloney,” Lotte said. “Until you’re old enough to use it.”
Ann looked up, radiantly happy, to thank Lotte. But no words came. She saw her father’s hand, closed on Lotte’s, grippingly. They were staring at each other, her father and Lotte, and a heavy pulse pounded in her father’s cheek and tears glinted in Lotte’s eyes. At last, Lotte jerked away her hand.
“Get out of this car ! Both of you !” she cried. “I’m in a hurry !”
The words were so crisp that Ann jumper]. Her father hesitated for a minute, then silently scrambled out. He was about to reach for Ann when Lotte leaned over. Ann thought Lotte was going to tell her something tremendous, but all she said was, “Anna-maloney,” in a little whisper, and kissed her. Then Lotte kicked at the starter as though she hated it.
Her father pulled Ann from the car.
“Lotte !” his voice cracked out. “You’re acting impulsively ! Think this over and write meemdash;in a monthemdash;-or a yearemdash;”
Lotte shook her head.
“I’ll only send back roller skatesemdash;for your Anna-maloney emdash;at Christmas. By that time you, too, will realize that this is the only way.”
She let out the clutch and the car lurched forward. Turning onto the road, a fender scraped against the stone gateway.
Ann held up the compact, showing it to her father, but he didn’t seem to know she was there. Head down, he walked away, with great strides, his hands crammed into his pockets.
TAKING the compact to her room, Ann searched for a place to keep it safely. Veronica was calling her so she slipped it under the pillow. Ann didn’t want Veronica to see it; Veronica didn’t love Lotte.
Veronica came in with a dish of nuts that had been left over from the party. Placing it on the bed, they sat, one on each side, eating the nuts tum and turn about.
“Well, there’s one thing about all this,” Veronica began defiantly. “Not many of the girls in my class at school have a divorce in the family, anyhow !” '
Ann. reaching for the biggest nut, stopped, her hand poised in mid-air.
“What do you mean, divorce?” she asked.
“When anything like this happens, it i usually ends that way. Mother will I divorce father.” Veronica was obviously in an explanatory mood. "It will all seem very friendly, of course, like mother asking Lotte here to play bridge.”
Ann pushed the nuts away from her, spilling them on the coverlet.
"Lotte’s not coming hack,” she cried. “She’s going to Europe.”
"How do you know?”
"She said so !’’
Veronica ate nuts in quick succession while she reconsidered.
“That doesn't mean much. They often ; go away before the 'divorce. Besides.
I mother’s the one to do the divorcing, j She’ll get custody. And we’ll keep on living here with mother while father goes away somewhere and marries Ditte.” With the words echoing crazily through her head, Ann got to her feet. She felt a little dizzy and everything was becoming distorted again, just as it had that evening in the garden. Fearful things she could neither see nor touch were all about her. She could feel them. And although she understood very little of Veronica's reasoning about the divorce, one thing stood clearly before heremdash;the mental image of her father, striding off, without even seeing her.
“Do you meanemdash;” she whispered, "that father might go away, now? And never come back?”
Veronica nodded. “It’s possible,” she admitted.
A gasp caught in Ann’s throat. Turning, she ran from the room, down the stairs, and out to the driveway. Her father was nowhere in sight. With her small legs working as regularly as pistons and panting sobbingly, she circled the garden, dashed through the house and out to the garage. But still she could not find him. Finally, she seated herself in the straightbacked chair by the front door.
If Veronica was wrong, if he came home, she would see him the minute he stepped inside the door. And if he didn’t come, then part of her would die. The part that was his. The Anna-maloney part.
She was still there when Sadie rang the gong for dinner.
“I expect her stomach’s upset,” observed Veronica when Ann refused her dinner. "Too many nuts.”
Small and white, and entirely unheeding, Ann insisted on sitting in the chair by the door. Her stomach was all right. But the Anna-maloney part was slowly dying. In the silence of her desolation she could hear her heart beating, like a clock ticking away endlessly in an empty room. Afraid lest she cry, she wedged her fists between her knees in an effort to hold herself together. And waited.
At last it was bedtime and she was sent to her room. Her father had not returned.
SOME TIME in the night she wakened, remembering the rabbits. She had neglected to feed them. It was a wonderful opportunity for Flannelfeet to prowl; and there were probably some almond cakes in the tin box in the pantry. If anyone caught her. the rabbits would he her excuse.
Then remembrance crashed in upon her with the blighting chill of loneliness. Her father had gone away. Anna-maloney was dead. Without Anna-maloney, Flannelfeet seemed silly.
After a while, she again thought of the rabbits.
Swinging out of bed, like a little white wraith in her sleepers, she moved soundlessly toward the hallway.
The house was dark and very mysterious. At the head of the stairs she stopped, for a ribbon of light streaked across the lower hall from the living-room door and she heard voices, her mother’semdash; and her father’s. And she was shaken with relief.
As she gazed into the darkness below. Ann saw her mother come from the living room and stand in the streak of light while she finished something she had been saying.
“We don’t have to discuss this now. You’re terribly tired. Things will arrange themselves as we go along.”
In the same voice she had used when Veronica had been ill with scarlet fever, sorry and wanting to help, but not knowing how, she added, “I was deliberately unpleasant to Lotte this afternoon. I misjudged her.” Then she started to ascend the stairs and Ann. huddling in the shadows, caught a glimpse of her face, stricken and helplessly groping. It held Ann in awed fascination.
When her mother had disappeared into her room, Ann crept along the hall until she could see, in the mirror, the reflection of her mother’s face as she sat before her dressing-table, brushing her pale hair. It was as though Ann had never perceived it before. The eyes, particularly. In spite of the fact that they followed every stroke of the brush, noting each strand of hair as it passed through the bristles, they appeared not to see. Their real sight was turned inward to things that were hidden in a small, secret fastness that was the core of her mother’s being. Ann understood then, vaguely, why the sunlight never seemed to warm her mother’s face, why she seemed set apart. It was because she was always looking at those inward things. Sympathy nearly strangled Ann. It
must be dreadful, she thought, only to see inward things when so much happiness came from without. She went into the room and, standing beside her mother, reached up to stroke the light, silky hair.
“Ann!” her mother cried, whirling upon her and raising the hairbrush. “You’re getting to be a regular little pest ! Sneaking around this way !”
“The rabbits!” Ann shrieked, and then murmured, “I forgot to feed my rabbits.”
Her mother put down the hairbrush. Embarrassment tinged her cheeks.
“I didn’t mean to strike you, Ann. But you startled me.” The line of perplexity was beginning to crease her forehead. “Why do you have to steal through the house this way?” she asked patiently.
Ann didn’t know' how' to explain about Flannelfeet; it was so useless when her mother was concerned only with those little inward things. Her father, bursting into the room, saved her.
“What w'as Ann screaming about?” he asked.
“The rabbits,” her mother supplied, and turned again to Ann. “I’ll feed the rabbits, Ann. You go back to bed.”
“But it’s not just giving them lettuce,” Ann stood before her mother, resolute in her new understanding. “They get lonely out there, and like to be patted.”
“Ven,' well,” compromised her mother. “I’ll pat them.”
“And I’ll escort you to bed,” her father said, gathering Ann into his arms.
AS HE carried her to her room, Ann •TA. noticed deep shadows ringing his eyes. Furrow's that had never been there before lined his cheeks. Unsmiling, he dumped her on the bed and straightened the covers. Ann knew that he w'asn’t cross w'ith her; he was sad. When he plumped up the pillow, his fingers touched the compact. He drew it out and his eyes clouded. His mouth looked stretched and thin, as though he might cry.
Watching her father as he held the
compact clenched in his hand, words that she hadn’t planned to utter dragged themselves from Ann’s lips. They burned their way into existence, leaving her with the ice of loneliness crowding all around her again. But they had to be said, even though they tumbled out chaotically.
“We’ll be all right, here, with mother— Veronica and I—if you w:ant to go away. We’re not like the rabbits. And besides, it’s not all mother’s fault. She tries to lx* loving and understanding. But she can’t see outside herself.”
The compact dropped from her father’s fingers. He leaned over Ann. staring at her.
“You can’t possibly understand !” he exclaimed. Ann had an idea that he w'as talking to himself, not to her. “You’re scarcely more than a baby !”
His eyes prodded into hers. He seemed to be referring to something entirely beyond her comprehension. Lost in bewilderment, and frightened by her father’s intensity, she began to cry. To cover her confusion, she picked up the compact and dropped it in his pocket; it was all right for her father to have it.
Although his lips were still stretched out, he managed to smile at her, queerly.
“Don’t cry like that, Ann ! I’m not going away. Some day you will grow' up and leave me, but I’ll never go away from you, Ann. Never.”
He brushed back the straggling el flocks that clung damply to her forehead and pulled caressingly at the little brown pigtails. Ann stopped crying. The chill of loneliness no longer oppressed her. She felt happy, and w'arm, and safe. And her father was teasing her.
“Think what Veronica would say if she caught me carrying a compact,” he joked, taking it from his pocket and shoving it back under her pillow. “Now, just think of that, Anna-maloney !”
Ann thought. Suddenly she burrowed into her father’s shoulder and giggled. That is, Anna-maloney giggled. For Annamaloney w'asn’t dead, after all.