RUN, FRITTER, RUN!
When a reg’lar guy in first year High, washes, brushes, stammers, blushes—look out family! It’s love
ELMIN SPROULE KENNEDY
A STILLNESS like that which occurs just before a storm lay upon the old grey building that housed the high school population of the town and environs. Like the first flash of lightning, the electric bell drove its shrill spear through the grey quiet. There was a stir of movement, a muttering of footsteps in classroom and corridor, doors opened and the hope of the future poured out upon the land.
The flood had almost disappeared when the door of the boys’ entrance opened again to emit Fritter (short for Wilfrid) McKeever. Miss MacDougal, under whose rather scraggly wings Fritter was to shelter during his first year in high school, had wanted a word with him. It had developed that she wanted a good many words, some specific, the majority dealing with the fact that now that Fritter was in high school, it would be a good idea if he laid away his fondness for horseplay which, while it might be grudgingly condoned at prehigh school age, was inappropriate to him now.
Fritter cast an injured glance about the almost deserted grounds and then brightened as he observed Shorty Gillis mooching along in the distance. He belted after him, slowed abruptly while some distance behind him and stealthily drew nearer. A large rain puddle lay in Shorty’s line of march. With an adeptness brought by years of practice, Fritter’s shoulder met Shorty’s. He whooped triumphantly and prepared for the second half of the game, the joyous struggle to prevent retaliation.
Shorty stepped out of the puddle, but he made no move to retaliate. Rage distorted his face and the look he gave Fritter was that of a hostile stranger, rather than a bosom friend of many years’ standing. He scrubbed ineffectively at the mud splashes on his trousers, straightened up and glared coldly at Fritter.
“Ya half-witted dope!” he said. “Now I’ll have ta go home and change.”
Fritter was so taken aback that he narrowly escaped looking crestfallen, but he managed to bristle in time.
“Fleas!” he said. “I suppose you think you’re going somewhere! Old Tyrone Power! Suppose you’re going somewhere with a girl !”
“Well,” said Shorty, “I am, if you have ta know. Someday maybe you’ll grow up !”
That ended the encounter. Fritter, muttering darkly to himself on the effects of high school, and more emphatically of girls, on some people, went in search of the second friend of his bosom, Doogie Miller. He found him, but here again things were not as they had been.
Doogie was walking briskly along. When Fritter joined him he continued to wralk briskly. He even speeded up a little and he showed no enthusiasm for Fritter’s company. As they approached Doc Wiseburg’s drugstore he suddenly commenced to lag. Mary Saunders stood in front of the drugstore. She smiled brightly at them, or more particularly at Doogie, as they approached, and as they dragged past, her smile changed to a look of hurt amaze-
ment. They walked on about a block and Doogie suddenly stopped.
“Gotta go back,” he announced. “Forgot somethin’ !”
“Okay,” said Fritter. “I’ll go back with ya.”
“Listen !” said Doogie. “Ya don’t have ta, see? I can go somewheres alone once in a while, can’t I?”
Fritter found himself back at the school. He crossed the grounds and walked wearily along the path through the back, reached the point where enemy territory ended and neutral began, stepped off the path and sank unhappily to the ground. Someday you’ll grow up ! Fleas ! Grow up and stop having fun ! He hauled an apple from a pocket and rubbed it moodily on his jacket front. Well, he wasn’t going to grow up into something that couldn’t have any fun any more. You grew up and what happened, for gosh sakes? There you were, running around with girls. Catch him running around with some old girl! He sank his teeth violently into the apple.
She came walking along the path, taking careful
little steps so that she wouldn’t scuff her highheeled, brown suede pumps. The slanting sunlight caught the yellow ribbon in her hair, the fringe of her eyelashes and the sweet contours of her face and mouth. She wore a soft yellow sweater and a brown skirt with rhythm in its swing. She was tall; she was lovely! She was Elvira Jameson, newly arrived in town and returning from registering for her senior year at high school. Her warm brow'll eyes widened when they fell upon Fritter. She smiled, a gay little smile that said, “Oh, hello, you startled silly me.” Fritter did not smile back. His teeth were embedded in his apple and a paralysis had come upon him.
Behind Elvira trudged a smaller girl, one who, anywhere near Elvira, could claim about the same share of attention as a bug-eaten leaf well down on the stalk of a perfect lily. She also looked at Fritter. It was a look that started to say “Well, h’m! Not bad!” and ended, as it took in Fritter’s swooning perusal of Elvira, with “Aw phooey!” This lesser individual then removed her glance
from Fritter and delivered into the sunshine a rousing example of the sound peculiarly known as “the bird.” Through his paralysis, Fritter was faintly aware of this. The great, fluffy cloud on which his psyche was floating had been bumped by a feeble but very black little cloud. The bump was a slight one, however, and it was only Elvira he watched as the two girls walked out of sight.
SHORTLY after six that evening, Fritter’s psyche fell off the cloud-, swooped earthward and reentered its customary hangar. Conscious once more, Fritter discovered himself 4o be seated at the supper table. With one hand he had been dreamily steering a piece of bread through gravy on his plate. The other hand had, apparently, been supporting his head, although it was now flung into space and the elbow nearest to it smarted. Mr. McKeever was straightening up from having knocked the elbow off the table. Echoes of the “Wilfrid!” to which he had just given utterance still quivered in the room.
“Your mother and your sister have both been speaking to you,” announced Air. AlcKeever, with heavy politeness.
Fritter rallied quickly. He glanced from sister Emmy-AIay, who was nineteen and glamorous, to his mother. “Well,” he asked, “who was first?”
“I was,” said Mrs. AlcKeever. “I told you to take your elbow off the table and to stop mooning and to stop mopping up your plate in that disgusting manner.”
Fritter corralled the last of the gravy. Then he glanced at Emmy-AIay. “And you?” he enquired.
Emmy-AIay laid down her fork, chewed daintily and swallowed. “Well,” she said, “it’s a silly thing to ask a pig, but since you’re a great big pig in high school now, I was going to ask you if you’re going to the high school dance.”
Fritter’s face took on the expression of one who has a mouthful of something extremely unpleasant, which cannot at the moment be decently disposed of.
“Because,” went on Emmy-May, “if you are, I thought you might like me to teach you to dance before then.”
Fritter delivered himself of his mouthful. “Dances!” he spluttered. “Who wants ta go ta dances!”
“Lots of people go to dances!” said Mrs. McKeever. “Dancing’s something everybody wants to do well.”
“Fleas!” said Fritter. “Yuh have ta dance with girls. Hanging onto some old girl and wiggling your feet! Ideas!”
“Don’t ‘fleas’ at me like that,” said Mrs. McKeever, indignantly. “If you don’t want to learn, Emmy-May’s certainly not going to bother teaching you—but you can be polite about it, even if you are going to grow up a bumpkin.”
“Goon, jerk or meatball,” translated EmmyAIay.
“Because I won’t go to dances!” squeaked Fritter. “It’s jerks that go to things like that. Pop never went to dances!”
“Of course your father went to dances!” said Mrs. McKeever.
Fritter directed a betrayed look at his father. Then he said, hopefully, “Anyhow, I bet he wasn’t ever any good at it.”
“Well,” began Mrs. McKeever, slowly, “I wouldn’t say—”
Continued on page 33
Continued from page 17—Starts on page 16
“All right!” barked Mr. McKeever. “Leave my inadequacies out of this. Let’s get onto another subject.”
No one advanced another subject and the table relapsed into silence. Fritter relapsed with it. He was well along in rescuing Elvira from the burning high school building when Emmy-May, whose eating habits were a delight to the eye but considerably prolonged a meal, set down her .knife and fork. Fritter arose dreamily, laid his crumpled napkin beside his plate and prepared to depart.
“Sit down !” roared Air. McKeever, in a voice that brought Fritter’s rear smartly into contact with his chair.
Fritter looked at him dazedly. “Why?” he enquired.
“Why!” repeated Mr. McKeever. “Because supper isn’t over, that’s why! We haven’t had dessert yet.”
“Oh,” said Fritter, “haven’t we?” He slumped drearily down on his spine.
“Sit straight!” commanded Air. AlcKeever. “Try acting like a man if you want to grow up to be one. What’s the matter with you, anyway?”
“Fleas,” said Fritter, but the expletive lacked its usual power. “Nothing’s the matter with me. Absolutely nothing, except I’ve got ta grow up in the middle of the nosiest family in the world !”
DURING the ensuing days the nosiest family became also one of the most bewildered. Fritter continued to go through the motions of living but his former robust awareness had given place to a drifting indifference. He appeared to have forsaken, or been forsaken by, all his former cronies, and a great soggy sadness settled upon him. This gave place occasionally to a sort of dreamy exaltation and this alternation of moods began, shortly, to fray his family’s collective temper.
“If he’d only stay just sad!” bleated Mrs. McKeever, jabbing at pork chops cooking on the stove. “But he can be looking miserable enough to break your heart and then you look again and his face is full of a great light, as if he’d just seen an angel.” She sprinkled salt over the chops and turned to Mr. McKeever, who was reading the evening paper at the kitchen table. “Did you ever go through a stage like this?” she demanded.
Mr. McKeever laid down the paper. “Not till I met you, my love,” he said. “And then there was no sadness about it. I distinctly remember going around with my face full of light, though, because I had seen an angel.”
Emmy-May, from her perch on the back stairway into the kitchen, regarded her male parent with some surprise. “Corny, but cute at that!” she pronounced. “Wouldn’t have thought you had it in you, Pop. Well, scrap my roller skates, you don’t suppose little lame-brain’s got girl trouble, do you? At his age?”
“Which is,” said Mrs. McKeever, “just slightly over what yours was
when you had your first attack of boy-trouble, old sere and yellow leaf. And if you remember, you spent your time crying in corners. Wilfrid just uses the back gate.”
“The back gate?” repeated Mr. McKeever. “To cry on?”
“No, to come in by. Before, he climbed over the fence; now he comes in the gate. What’s more, he closes it. And he hasn’t had Shorty Gillis or Doogie Miller around here for two weeks. I asked him about them and he pretended he was going to be sick.”
“I asked him again if he wanted to go to the dance,” said Emmy-May. “To clean it up and put it briefly, he doesn’t. So his angel apparently doesn’t jive much.”
“Like to have a peek at her, even if she doesn’t — whatever that means,” remarked Mr. AlcKeever. “Must be a combination of Greta Garbo and this Hedy Fontaine—and your mother, of course—to get him in a state like this.”
Mrs. McKeever snorted. EmmyMay set her father right regarding two Hollywood personalities. There was a sound of the back gate being closed.
During the past hour Fritter had undergone a second attack of paralysis, this time while engaged in downing a before-supper quick one at the drugstore soda fountain. Elvira had come in. That she was accompanied by someone was evident in that, having seated herself at a table, she proceeded to talk to that someone; but Fritter had no eyes for the small female with her. He so far lost interest in his soda that Elvira had ordered and eaten a meal, paid her check and left before he was conscious that air alone was coming, noisily, through his soda straws. He entered the kitchen in a trance and slowly became aware that it contained his family.
“Hullo,” he said, dreamily.
“Hello, dear,” said his mother. “Supper’s nearly ready.”
“Then,” said Fritter, “I guess I : better wash.”
In the awestruck silence that followed this observation, he drifted across to the back stairs, laid a gentle hand on Emmy-May’s shoulder and carefully steered himself around her.
“ ’Scuse me,” he said.
Emmy-AIay watched him ascend the stairs. Then she turned to her parents. “Well !” she whispered. “In some ways you must admit it’s an I improvement.”
Mrs. AlcKeever poured gravy into the gravy bowl. “I still wish he’d climb over the back fence,” she said, unhappily.
FRITTER walked into the high school corridor with a load of autumn-colored maple boughs. It was the day of the dance and the Decorations Committee, bereft of balloons, paper streamers and what-not, had resourcefully turned to the woods for material. The high school auditorium, customarily unadorned save for dreary blue drapes on the long windows, was being
transformed with feverish rapidity into a rather tousled bower.
Fritter’s participation in this activity betokened no softening in his attitude toward the dance. He was in it for one single, sordid reason. Since woodsy material had a way of withering, decorating had to be done on the day of the affair. Thus it required many hands and it had been made known that anyone who would toss in a pair would not have to appear for afternoon classes. Fritter had weighed this carefully and after lunch had taken himself off to the woods. He entered the auditorium and cast about for Miss MacDougal, in order to remove any sneaking doubts she might have as to how he had spent the afternoon. From somewhere above him came a girlish yell of pleasure.
Fritter looked in that direction. Seated on the top of a stepladder, Elvira was beckoning to him. She wore her brown skirt and soft yellow sweater. “Oh,” she was saying, “those are lovely ones! Could I have those?”
Fritter stumbled over to the stepladder. Wordlessly he held the bundle up to her. Elvira selected a bough and placed it behind a light bracket. Fritter continued to hold the bundle aloft. His arms began to ache. He was dimly conscious that someone small had come over to them and had been standing about, but he had no eyes for anything but Elvira.
“There!” said Elvira, finally. “How does that look to you?”
To get himself a better view, Fritter took a step backward. His foot crushed something and there crashed upon his ears a yowl as of wildcats in anger and in anguish. He turned to find a girl somewhat younger than himself. He got rapid views of all sides of her, for she was hopping in circles on one foot, while with both hands she held the other some distance off the floor.
“Owwww!” she yelled. “Ow! Ow! Ow! Darn clumsy old thing, you! Oh, my foot! Owwww!”
Fritter stared at her and what he saw brought him no pleasure. Her head was swathed in a cotton arrangement such as his mother wore when she curled her hair. Her eyes were slitted in fury and her wideopen mouth revealed not only her teeth but as brave and solid a set of hands as ever a dentist hopefully tightened. She continued to whirl and she continued to yell.
Elvira came down off the ladder. “Anne Jameson!” she said. “Stop that noise at once! You’ve been told and told not to stand right behind people. Were you looking for me?”
Anne subsided, although she still glared at Fritter.
“Dumb goon, walking around backward !” she growled and, turning to Elvira, “Mother says if you expect her to finish sewing that tulle on your dress, Elvira dee-ahr, the least you can do is come home and get supper.” Then she abruptly and haughtily departed.
Elvira laughed. “That’s my little sister,” she said, companionably, to Fritter.
“Your sister!” gasped Fritter.
“Uh-huh,” said Elvira. “I’ll have to go now. Thanks a lot for helping —ah—what is your name?”
“Well, thanks, Fritter. See you at the party.”
“Pa-urk,” said Fritter.
Elvira looked down at him in surprise, her brown eyes warm and wide. “But you’re coming to the party?” she asked.
“Pa-rur-urk,” said Fritter.
“But you must come!” said Elvira. “You’ve worked so hard! You are surely going to come?”
“I—I—sure Pm coming. Sure I was going to come.”
“Well,” said Elvira, “that’s better. ’By, Fritter.”
Mrs. McKeever upended her iron and shifted a flimsy affair of EmmyMay’s on the ironing board. Her eyes strayed to the back window of the kitchen. “Well, heavens to brown betty!” she exclaimed.
Fritter scaled the back fence with gusto, effected a series of kangaroo leaps across the yard, clattered up the back steps and burst open the door. He seized his mother around he~ comfortable waist and jounced her laboriously up and down.
“Will ya press my blue pants for me, will ya, old hard-working Mom?” he puffed.
“I will,” said Mrs. McKeever, disentangling herself. “And for goodness sake what’s got into ycu? You’re not—well, Wilfrid—you’re not going to the dance?”
“Sure I am. Don’t want me to grow up a bumpkin, do ya? Where’s Emmy-May?”
“She’s out,” said Mrs. McKeever. “She’s going to be out for dinner and then go on to a party. She’s having the gayest time these days that a girl—” She broke off, seeing Fritter’s stricken face. “Oh!” she said, “I forgot. You want her to teach you to dance. Well, she just won’t be here, dear.”
FRITTER collapsed on the kitchen stool. The soggy sadness settled over him again as his mother went on with her ironing. The sogginess increased until Mrs. McKeever found herself wondering why pools did not form around his feet. At length he spoke
“Mom,” he said, “what’s tool?” “What’s what?”
“Tool. It’s something that goes on a dress.”
“Oh, tulle,” said Mrs. McKeever. “It’s—well, it’s a sort of fine net stuff. It’s swirly stuff, very pretty.” “Yeah,” said Fritter, sadly. “Tulle!” Mrs. McKeever was thinking. “So the angel will be wearing tulle. Now I once had a dress with tulle and I went dancing in it. It would be an old-fashioned dress today and the dancing we did, well, that would have been cake-walking and now they’re jitterbugging. But if they’ve got around to tulle again, well ...”
Mrs. McKeever unplugged the iron cord. “Get something on the radio, dear,” she said. “I’ll teach you to dance.”
An hour later she came back into the kitchen. She limped a little as she set about wrapping up the remainder of the dampened ironing. “I’ll just finish that tomorrow,” she muttered. “If my feet are better by then.” She put away the ironing board and the iron, sighed, took them out again
and went in search of the unpressed blue pants.
Up in his room Fritter leaned his elbows on the dresser top and contemplated his reflection. This failed to produce any surge of emotion and he fell to dreaming. He would enter the auditorium and she would be dancing, her face sweet, but sad and a little lonely. Suddenly her eyes would find his and they would fill with a warm, glad light. She would murmur an excuse to her partner and, leaving him in a gratifying state of pique, she would come toward Fritter, tulle swirling around her in golden clouds. “Oh, Fritter!” she would say, “I’m so glad you’re here!”
At this point Fritter’s imagination bogged down. Just what happened when she got to him he couldn’t accomplish, but he went over the preliminaries with increasing relish until his mother called him to supper . . .
Elvira was dancing. Her face was sweet and it was sad, but it was by no means lonely. It was, despite its sweetness, a little angry. Seated in the centre of a row of otherwise empty chairs was the reason for her anger.
Anne had come to the party. She had come alone. She had scornfully skirted the group of girls of her own age that giggled and squeaked on one side of the entrance, for Anne was not one to hunt with the pack. She had marched with rather damaging hauteur past the group of boys sufficiently young to be prospective partners, and had planted herself firmly in the middle of a section that, for some reason, was left empty both during the dancing and in the intermissions. There she sat.
What, Elvira wondered, could her mother have been thinking of when she let her come out dressed as she was? Then she remembered that her mother and her father had gone out after dinner and that Anne would not have undergone inspection. Anne had made full use of her freedom. Her hair stood up from her head in a ferociously curled wad and in the centre of this she had pinned a paper rose. Over her simple pink party frock she had donned an old, green sequinned evening jacket of her mother’s, which drooped from her shoulders in tired folds. Her shoes were also from her mother’s wardrobe, too large for her and bearing some resemblance to the pumps that Minnie Mouse affects. She had spiked this ensemble with an enormous handkerchief of orange chiffon, which she occasionally waved in front of her nose and which Elvira correctly deduced was drenched with perfume.
She had smiled gaily when Elvira first looked at her and on every occasion after that when she caught Elvira’s eye. It was a smile that said, “I’m having a very good time and I see you are, too.” Elvira went to her in the first intermission and tried to persuade her to join the other small fry at the entrance, but Anne refused. She agreed vociferously that Elvira couldn’t ask any of the older boys to dance with her, and defiantly asserted that she was having a wonderful, wonderful time.
During the second dance Elvira pondered the problem of asking one
of the snickering, scuffling crowd of smaller boys to do his duty, but she had a fine clear picture of how such a request would be received. She still got the smile when she danced past Anne and it was still a brave smile, but as the dance progressed it seemed a little slower coming and even the shine on the dental bands seemed to dim a little.
Disintegration set in as the third dance got well under way. Elvira noticed that the shoulders under the tired jacket had become tired too. The Minnie Mouse shoes toed in and the hand that held the orange handkerchief lay limply on the next chair. Anne raised her head and smiled as Elvira danced past her, but the bravery had gone out of the smile and the eyes had a suspicious glisten in them. “Oh, the poor baby,” thought Elvira. “Whatever am I going to do?”
Her glance met that of Fritter McKeever, who stood on the outskirts of the group of smaller boys. Her eyes filled with a warm, glad light. She murmured an excuse to her partner and swept toward Fritter, tulle swirling about her in golden clouds.
As she started toward him Fritter’s knees turned to jelly, his stomach dipped and then soared upward and his throat closed over. He suddenly became aware that Elvira was taller than he, about seven feet taller, it seemed. As she bore down upon him he put out his hands, rather in the manner of a child expecting to be picked up. He was quite unable to utter any sound and into his eyes had come a look of utter terror.
“Oh, Fritter!” said Elvira. “I’m so glad you’re here!”
MOMENTS later, dazed and devoid of feeling, Fritter found himself manoeuvring down the side of the floor toward Anne.
“Dance?” he enquired.
To say that Anne accepted his invitation would be the rankest understatement. She threw herself upon him, clutched him in a stranglehold, and from then on Fritter found matters entirely out of his control. In place of his mother who, for all her adult size, had retreated fluidly before him, he was now face to face and chest to chest with a small but terrific force which was pulling him unswervingly through a mass of tossing bodies with outlashing feet.
With a frenzied effort he checked his own speed. This resulted in space momentarily appearing between them; then they came together with a crash. For the second time in a few hours Fritter’s ears were split with an unearthly howl. The orchestra wavered slightly and the dancers about them stopped. Anne whirled, her sequins flashing and one foot clutched in her hands. “Eeeeeyowow-ow-ow!” she yelled.
All the civilization to which he was heir and of which he was a product dissolved in Fritter at that moment. He was a small, terrified animal powered by one instinctive urge. He got away. He went through the crowd blindly, clattered down a flight of steps, burst through a door at the rear of the high school and ran across the yard. As he reached the
end of the grounds he realized that he was being pursued.
Anne couldn’t dance, but she could—and did—run. Fritter fled down the rocky little path on which he had first seen Elvira. Anne followed him. He sprinted along a street and clambered through an upslanting vacant lot and she held her own. He flitted through the patches of moonlight on the woodsy path that ran along the golf course and she stayed with him. He was going down the last few feet of this when bad luck overtook him. He caught his foot, strove with flailing arms and legs for balance, failed, and came down sprawling on the edge of the ninth fairway, his last remaining breath knocked out of him. Anne arrived, ready for the kill.
“Well !” she panted. “A swell jerk you turned out to be!”
Receiving no answer, she puffed strenuously for a space and then continued, “I say I’ll dance with ya and what do I get? First you murder me and then you run out on me!”
Fritter made a supreme effort. “Fleas !” he said.
He began to drag himself up. Anne was very quiet. He stood erect and looked at her and for the second time that night his knees turned to jelly. Anne was crying. Her hands were over her face and she bent forward, sobbing silently. Flight would have been easy, but Fritter found himself staying. He laid a reluctant hand on one of her upraised arms and tugged slightly.
“Don’t cry,” he said. “You don’t have ta for gosh sakes cry !”
Anne dropped her hands. The night air and the run had loosened her tight curls and her hair hung soft and cloudy about her small, pale face. The moonlight glistened on her wet lashes and the eyes that looked up at Fritter were big and dark, with no trace of wildcat in them. She gave a plaintive little bleat.
“I’m sorry,” she whimpered. “I’ve been just awful. I can’t dance. I’ve tried and tried to learn, but I can’t. I shouldn’t have let you dgnce with me.”
She lowered her eyes again and then swept her lashes upward with a look that would have put Elvira’s best effort in the shade. “And you were too wonderful !” she moaned.
“A-purr-urk !” said Fritter.
“How did you ever, ever learn to dance like that?” enquired Anne, with a sigh that did nothing helpful for Fritter’s composure.
“I— ah -I’m not so—Well, it takes an awful lot of practice,” he stuttered. “You’d be all right if you just practiced.”
“Perhaps,” said Anne, “if I had the right person to help me. No one has been able to, though dozens have tried. But it’s no use—they simply weren’t right.” She paused and then, as Fritter was again incapable of speech, she went on softly, “You could do it—you could! Do you think—well, couldn’t I be your special girl and then you could teach me?”
Fritter felt a sudden need to sit down. He did so. Anne flopped down facing him, her eyes wide and full of entreaty. She committed a strategic error. She smiled.
Fritter turned his head away. “I 1 don’t know,” he said. “It’s those— how long do you have to keep those things on your teeth?”
“Just one more month,” said Anne, happily. “I can have them off when I’m thirteen, because Elvira did.” Fritter’s head jerked around. “Elvira!” he barked. “Did Elvira wear those things?”
Anne giggled. “Did she! You should have seen her! She looked like the front end of an old-fashioned : train. She was specially funny-looking because she was always so big.” Fritter was silent for quite a while. When he replied his tone was that of one who had gone through struggle and conflict, who had put behind him certain things and who looked, not yet with pleasure, but still unflinchingly, into a new7 world.
“Well,” he said, almost briskly, “I guess w7e could try it for a wrhile.”