FICTION

Perfectly Normal

When a 16-year-old chick starts pitchin' woo in the parior with a local goon it's out of this world stuff—especially to mothers

ALEC RACKOWE July 1 1944
FICTION

Perfectly Normal

When a 16-year-old chick starts pitchin' woo in the parior with a local goon it's out of this world stuff—especially to mothers

ALEC RACKOWE July 1 1944

Perfectly Normal

When a 16-year-old chick starts pitchin' woo in the parior with a local goon it's out of this world stuff—especially to mothers

FICTION

ALEC RACKOWE

Mr. Ray Cobb, General Engine« Suite, Hotel Shoreham, Ottawa, Ont.

Saturday

DEAREST RAY : I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clear when you phoned tonight. I know the lines from Ottawa are terribly busy, but even if you’d had more time I couldn’t have explained.

It’s Alice and Cynthia but Cynnie mostly. It’s the war. I'm sure of that, but that’s the only thing I am sure of. I’ve always let you be the head of the house. I've encouraged the girls to go to you with their troubles and confidences. I’ve even been thankful that we haven’t any sons, but now I’m not so sure. Mrs. Embury said to me at the Manor Club meeting today, “You’re so fortunate, Mary. You don’t know what it is to have sons in the Services and worry about them.” I didn’t say anything but I was wondering. I’ve got daughters, both of them at home, and I’m sure I’m worrying just as much as ever Paula Embury is about Thad and Doug.

You asked me t > write and tell you what is wrong. I don’t know. 1 only know something is radically wrong. With both of them. Mut it’s Cynnie I’m frantic about—truly bewildered.

Of course, there’s something wrong with Alice. There must be. She’s 19. I was 19 when we fell in love back in ’23. But we did fall in love normally, didn’t we? We did hold hands and sit in dark places and say silly things; and Dad got annoyed with you mooning aroupd the house.

But Alice. She’s really lovely. Everyone says so. She’s got my dark hair and blue eyes and your undeserved lashes and natural cur! that drives me mad with envy whenever the air turns damp. She’s much lovelier than I ever was, even if you say she isn’t— bless you. But, darling, she simply doesn’t seem to be interested in boys, or love. Of course, she doesn’t ever discuss such things with me. 1 guess that’s just habit, the way you all treat me like someone who has to be protected from the harsh facts of life, But it’s not natural, is it, for her to be like that? Working in Toronto. Coming home on the five-ten; getting into her Red Cross uniform and doing all sorts of chores before she gets back just in time to go to bed. Not a boy even writing to her, except a few letters just for the sake of letters. Not a swain coming to sit on the porch or trying to kiss her when the moon is shining through the honeysuckle. It isn’t natural, Ray. I’m worried about Alice.

But Cynthia. Oh, darling, I’m afraid something awful is going on. You know what a normal child she's always been. Up to last night I’d say she was becoming a normal young lady, too. She’s 16, and, though a man mightn’t agree, there is a great difference between a girl of 15 and a young lady of 16. Anyhow until yesterday I’d say she’d always been normal, even if she is frightful about clothes and goes

around wearing those faded blue slacks turned halfway up her legs and a shirt hanging over them as if she’d forgot to tuck in the tails. Practically nothing underneath, and those ancient moccasins. But it does look quaint on her, what with that nice scrubbed look she’s always had. That mass of bright hair and a really chic way of using lipstick so that it emphasizes her teeth and her smile and the fact that she doesn’t use any makeup at all. And with those grey eyes— she’s getting to be simply killing, dearest.

Yes, I’d certainly have said up to last night that our Cynnie was normal. Now I don’t know. I don’t know at all.

You know how Cynnie’s friends from High have always used the house as a sort of club? Well, it’s been no different since you’ve been away. That is, not until last night. The whole mob clattering up on their bikes or in that Ponson boy’s rattletrap car. (I shouldn’t be surprised if he gets gasoline illegally, because it’s always on the go.) The Mace girls and Jen Broker, Flora Stine and Peg Thomas; Billy Lewis and Frankie Crown and that Amesbury lath—the one they call Slim. The whole lot of them. Jabbering away and turning up the radio. Bringing new records to exclaim over. Making such a row. It’s good we’ve known our neighbors so long that they’re understanding.

It’s been like that ever since you had to go to Ottawa. Until yesterday, that is. After dinner (we had stuffed breast of veal and oh, I did miss you, Ray. We have all your favorite dishes. It makes me feel you’re nearer, though that doesn’t help you much, does it?)

Well, after dinner Alice went off in that fetching getup as usual. Rhoda was washing up in the kitchen; in a hurry to get out and catch her bus before the horde got on because they terrify her. Cynnie went out onto the porch and I couldn’t decide whether I’d try and read a book up in our room or find out if May Decker wanted to go with me to the pictures. (It’s awful how empty the evenings are without you, even though I’ve had 20 years of your company and you’d be surprised how many times I’ve thought a marital vacation would be a good thing. You too, darling? Or are you enjoying Ottawa? You are a handsome beast, even at 42.)

I couldn’t quite decide. I was standing by the window when I saw Slim Amesbury coming up the sidewalk on his bike. I was sure the rest of them would be along in a minute-—all at once. Just like the blackbirds descend on the lawn. You know—not a one in sight and then—whoosh—and the place is covered with them.

He is like a lath; that Amesbury boy. Lanky and angular, but sort of appealing. I heard him drop his

bike against the hedge. (No, he didn’t break any of the privet. I looked in the morning.) He said, “Hello.”

I heard Cynnie say, “Hello, droop. Come on in.” He said, “Right with you, keed.”

They came inside. I sort of shrank, waiting for the noise of the others but it didn’t come. It got dark and there wasn’t a sound from the street. There wasn’t a sound from downstairs, either. It made me nervous because after all even the most modern and broadminded of mothers can’t help imagining things . . .

I went out into the hall and down the stairs a bit. I could see into the living room. They had the lights on. Cynnie was sitting curled up on the big couch. She looked fetching. Like a magazine illustration. The Amesbury boy wasn’t near her. He was sitting in your big chair looking at her. She was looking at him. I don’t know how long they’d been like that but it was a good two minutes that I stood there and they didn't move.

I simply didn’t know what it was all about unless they were waiting for the others and I couldn't understand why the others didn’t come, or why the phone wasn’t ringing. It usually is.

All of a sudden Cynthia swung her legs down. “I’ve got a stiff neck.”

The Amesbury boy got up. All six wavering feet of him. He looked down at Cynnie and she looked at him. She said, “No?” and after a moment he shook his head. “No.”

He scratched his nose and Cynnie pushed back her hair. Then he said, “Let’s crawl, hey, beetle?”

They went out onto the porch, but they didn’t stay there. I heard Cynnie say from the side of the house, “Foo, this bike’s sopping with dew.” I didn’t hear what Slim said but I saw them racing along the sidewalk, past the Cahill’s; and no lights on either.

I didn’t know what to make of it, Ray. I went down and turned off the lights. I got my polo coat and went out onto the porch. I tried to figure what it was all about, why the others hadn’t come—only the Amesbury boy—but I couldn’t. Alice came home at nine-thirty. She came in a car. There was a young man in uniform at the wheel. I saw him get out and open the door for her. Alice said, “Thank you. It was nice of you to drive me home.” Oh, darling, she was so formal and distant I could have shaken her.

The soldier said, “Not at all. Glad to.”

I went to the top of the steps. Alice came up the walk. She said, “I’m going up and have my bath, Mum. I’m dead.” She went past me into the house and the soldier boy, closing the door of the car, said, “Good evening, Mrs. Cobb.”

I asked, “Who is it?” And he said, “John Brace.”

You remember him, don’t you, darling? Edgar Brace’s boy. He’s been at college the last three years but he used to play golf with you when one of your regulars couldn’t make it. A quiet boy. He’s filled out a lot since he’s been in the Army, though. Quite handsome.

I said, “Why, Johnny Brace. How nice. When did you get home?”

He got out of the car again and came up the walk. He’s back on leave before going to Officers’ School. He sat and talked to me and I know Alice could hear. But she wouldn’t come down like any normal girl. Johnny left, and I waited for Cynnie. It was almost ten-thirty when she came. All she said was, “Hi, Mum, don’t sit out in the dew too long. You’ll get your back porch wet.”

I didn’t have a chance to say anything to her. I wouldn’t have known how if I had. You’ve always done that sort of thing in this family. But you can see why I couldn’t tell you what was wrong. I don’t know. But there is something.

I hope the laundry there isn’t starching your collars. And I do miss you—more now than ever.

Mary

(Your wife. Better remember.)

Mr. Ray Cobb,

General Engines Suite,

Hotel Shoreham,

Ottawa, Ont. Monday

RAY DEAR: I got your telegram. It’s all very

well for you to tell me not to worry about this war generation but I can’t help it. I’m simply

bewildered and disheartened since Saturday night. There is something wrong, definitely. I mean Cynnie and that Amesbury boy. It can’t be that she’s fallen in love. Not at her age. And anyhow they don’t act normally at all—even taking into consideration the madnesses of this war.

Saturday started out all right. Alice went off after breakfast in uniform to do some job and Cynnie took her bike and went off to swim. They didn’t come back to lunch, either of them. Cynnie 1 didn’t expect. She usually lunches on a hot dog and a candy bar at the beach and Alice phoned to say she was having lunch at the drugstore near Red Cross headquarters.

I was quite busy in the garden. The vegetables are turning out nicely, but the aphis are terrible on your roses and those foul Nip beetles . . .ugh!

Cynnie came home about six. I was having my bath and I heard her call. I heard that Slim Amesbury yell something at her and she yelled back. Then I heard her come whistling up the stairs. She said, “Hi, Mum, where’s the body?”

I called, “I’m bathing, dear,” and I felt easier because she sounded quite normal.

When I got downstairs, about seven, Alice had already come in. She came down to dinner and though she was very quiet I didn’t think anything of it. She’s not the chatterbox of the family, is she? Cynnie had evidently showered but she still had her permanent costume on and though I sighed I knew it wasn’t any use asking her to put on a dress. I’ve tried. She’s got some of the Cobb stubbornness. (Cobb, dear.)

Alice went out again right after dinner and I was so engrossed with Cynnie that I forgot to ask Alice about

that nice Johnny Brace and why she’d been so cold to him. I helped Rhoda with the leftovers, because we're cutting down a lot on food since you left, and I answered the phone—which was for me for once. Ada Peters had some bridge going and wanted me over later.

I was in the living room, sitting in your chair looking at the afternoon paper and amazingly wishing you were there and I could be furious because I never get a look at the paper until you’re done with it. The paper wasn’t as interesting as it is when you’re at home and 1 can’t get at it. I put it down and then I heard Cynnie coming downstairs—but not galloping as usual. Coming down slowly. I sat up straight because I could hear the click of heels.

I went out into the hall and there she was in that blue net and satin I got for her the last Holiday Dance at the club. Oh, darling, she looked so lovely, but so grown-up. Her hair in an updo; her skin so soft and white and her grey eyes big as saucers above that red mouth. And her legs—Ray, they’re terrific.

I said, “Cynnie, dear, you look lovely. Is it a dance?”

I hadn’t heard of any but there’s always a lot of impromptu stuff these days—and it was Saturday night.

Cynnie looked at me. She was a totally different person all dressed up. “No, Mother. I’m waiting for someone.”

I was startled, but I didn’t know what to say beyond, “Are you, dear?”

I went up to dress for Ada’s. I heard the doorbell.

Continued on page 49

Perfectly Normal

Continued from page 9

My door was open and I could hear. And, of course, I was simply dying of curiosity as to who could be coming to call, formally, on Cynnie. Someone important if she’d dressed up for him.

I heard a voice. It said, “Hello. Hello, Cynthia.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. It was that Amesbury boy’s voice. I ought to know it by now. I heard Cynnie say, “Why, Slim. How nice. How very nice.” It sounded as if she hadn’t seen him in years instead of having yelled at him not three hours before. I simply didn’t know what to make of it. I went on dressing and just as I was getting my hair to my liking I heard their voices below. Not just talking at the top of their lungs as usual when the whole horde is here, but quarrelling.

I got very angry. I went out into the hall and I heard Slim say, “The moment my back is turned . . the very moment. Who was it?”

Cynnie said coldly, “You don’t know him.”

“I suppose you let him kiss you— didn’t you?” Slim demanded fiercely.

“What if I did?” Cynnie asked and I got cold all over. “Does it make any difference?”

“Difference,” Slim stormed. “Difference ...” His voice died away and I ran back to our room to finish dressing and get down there in a hurry. I was so upset I’m sure I cried.

I’d hardly got the pins in my hair when I heard Cynnie come racing upstairs. I heard her door close with a bang and I could imagine her throwing herself across the bed, weeping. I could hardly get my dressing gown on, my fingers shook so. I went out into the hall and opened Cynnie’s door.

She wasn’t lying across the bed, weeping. She was changing out of the dance frock into her idea of a proper change— the new yellow slacks she bought herself and a checked shirt, brown and yellow. I just stared at her. I said, “Cynthia ...”

She looked around. She said, “Hi, Mum. Going out?” She gave her hair a shake and the whole piled mass came down. She picked up her comb and worked on it a full second. I said, “Cynthia ...” and she dropped the comb and whirled past me, just stopping to give me a swift kiss on the cheek. “Gotta run, Mum. We’re going down to the candy shop. Be good.”

Then she was gone. I didn’t know what to think. I don’t now. I think of so many things but they don’t make sense. I went over to Ada’s and I played atrociously.

It wasn’t late when I got home. I just couldn’t stay at Ada’s for refreshments. I saw Cynnie’s bike as usual right in the middle of the walk at the side of the house. I went upstairs and peeked into her room. She was fast asleep, curled up in a ball as she’s

always slept since she was a baby— remember? I went downstairs again and out to the porch. I felt a little better, but only a little because 1 couldn’t—I can’t—understand it all.

It was such a lovely night. (Was it in Ottawa, too? And did you think of me, dearest?) I saw Alice coming in the gate and I thought it odd. She was walking so slowly, slim and tall and lovely even in the dark. It wasn’t right for anyone like her to be alone on a night like that.

She didn’t see me until she got to the top of the steps. Then she looked at where I was sitting miserably in your porch chair. She came across and she said, “Mum, do you miss Dad?”

Her voice was low. It made me simply ache for you, darling, what with everything being so wrong. I could hardly keep from crying. 1 said, “Yes. Terribly.”

She stood by me a moment. “Have —have you always felt like that, Mum?”

I said, “Yes. Ever since I knew I loved your father. I hate for him to be away.” And it’s true. I do, dearest.

She touched my cheek with her warm lips. Then she went into the house and I was so busy worrying about Cynnie and missing you I didn’t stop to think that Alice was acting queerly, too. Not until she’d gone.

I wish you were here. Not only for my sake but because of Cynnie and Alice. There’s something going on, Ray. I know there is, but I don’t know what.

Don’t forget to take that kao-stuflf if your tummy starts getting nervous.

Mary (Your wife)

Mr. Ray Cobb,

General Engines Suite,

Hotel Shoreham,

Ottawa, Ont. Wednesday

RAY DARLING: I got your night letter. I know what I should have done, but you’ve always had that job and I know I wouldn’t have known how to go about it. But it won’t be necessary, thank heavens. Everything is all right, Ray, even if I don’t understand some of it.

I really did think I’d have to get you to come home last night, because frankly, darling, when I saw Cynnie and that Amesbury boy kissing so madly I got frantic—for she’s still a child . .

It was really just another day. A j little hotter than it has been, if possible, but a thundershower cooled things off j and Alice came home from town and | went off again after dinner. I noticed she was quieter than ever but I was still so concerned with Cynnie—wondering why the gang hadn’t showed up since last week and what was going on between her and Slim Amesbury . . .

I knew he’d be along after we’d

finished eating. He was, though he

didn’t come until it was almost dark.

None of the others came. Cynnie was

sitting on the porch but she went

Continued on inside back cover

Continued from page 49

inside with him. I heard them in the living room but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. The phone didn’t ring and they didn’t open the radio wide. After a while there wasn’t any sound at all. I was looking over some of your socks again—I’m afraid they’re all mended—and the silence worried me. I went out into the hall and halfway down the stairs and I almost dropped. There they were with every light going all seven lamps—and kissing. You never saw a kiss as long as that in the movies — they simply wouldn’t permit it. They were on the couch and Cynnie was lying back in his arms. If I could have screamed I would have but I was too paralyzed to make a sound. My legs got weak and I had to sit down abruptly on the stairs.

I saw Cynnie sit up in his arms. That odious boy said, “Hot stuff.”

Cynnie shook her head. “Don’t be a swamp, Slim. Did it?”

He looked at her and then he said, “No.”

Cynnie stood up and I pulled myself up by the rail and went to our room to fry and think what to do. I almost called you then but I decided I’d better go down first and tell that Amesbury boy to get out and stay out.

He wasn’t there when I got to the living room. Cynthia was on the porch. I could hear her whistling. I turned out the lights and went out. She was sitting on the steps. She said, “Hi, Mum.” And 1 asked, as sternly as I could, because I was petrified, “Where’s that Amesbury boy?” “Gone,” Cynnie said.

I sat down in your rocker and looked at her. I could see the shine of the moonlight in her hair; the silhouette of her figure. She’s not a baby any more, Ray; that was what hurt somehow.

I said, “Cynthia, is there anything between you and that boy?”

She turned her head. “Slim? What do you ever mean, Mum?”

“You were kissing him.” I felt all weak inside.

“Oh, yes,” Cynnie said. I waited. She didn’t say anything more and I said, “You’ve heen acting queerly. You’ve been seeing only him. None of the others have been here. Ever since last week.”

“Well, they couldn’t very well,” Cynnie said reasonably. And I had to wet my lips before I could ask, “Why?” “Golly,” Cynnie said, “he’s going away. Slim’s almost 19 and lie’s going into the Air Force.”

I was completely nonplussed. “What of it?”

“Jeepers, Mum,” Cynnie said as if I was definitely a moron. “He’s one of the gang. We’ve got to fix things for him.”

“What things?”

“His love life, Mum. He’ll be miles and miles away. We don’t want him moping around looking for some strange dish to console him if he’s really set with one of us. It would interfere with his work. lie might fluff it and never get his wings. Don’t-you see?”

I didn’t. I still don’t. 1 asked, “Is that why you were kissing him?”

“Sure,” Cynnie said cheerfully. “That’s why the gang hasn’t been over. We’ve been trying to find out if I’m the one for Slim.”

It began to get a little clearer, but not much. “Last Friday you and he sat in the living room ...”

“Friday?” I could see the tiptilt of her nose. “Oh, yes. That was to see could we be happy together. Just the two of us spending a whole evening alone. We couldn’t take it.”

“And Saturday? You dressed up and you were quarrelling about some

other boy—some boy who—who’d ' kissed you.”

“Oh, that. That was to see if Slim would be jealous if he came back on leave and found I’d been dating his i time with some other goon. He wouldn’t be.”

1 swallowed. “And tonight?”

“You mean us kissing? That was to see did it send him. You know —out of this world stuff. It didn’t, Mum. 1 guess I’m not the one to write Slim the torrid letters and keep his morale up. He’s gone over to Jen Broker to see if it’s her.”

“But why did hé come here first?” 1 I asked.

Cynnie said placidly, “I’m the best! looking pig in our lot, Mum. Naturally j he’d have to start with me.” She got ) up. “I’m going down to Muriel’s. The 1 gang’s there.”

I looked at her. That oval face bright in the moonlight. “Then there isn’t anything? You don’t think you’re in love with him? With that Amesbury boy?”

Cynnie stopped on the walk. “Slim? Ale, Mum? You know there couldn’t be anyone for me but Ronald Colman. Everyone knows that.” Then she went around the walk and I heard her say, “Blow,” when she hit her shins on her bike.

I just sat there, not sure of anything but the relief I felt. 1 didn’t quite understand, but I didn’t care.

1 was about to go in and write to you when Alice came. She asked, “Anyone come, Alum?” And I said, “Why, no, dear. Are you expecting company?”

She sat down on the stool and leaned against my knees, the way she used to with you. She said, “Mum.” And after a moment I asked, “Yes, dear?”

I couldn’t see her face. I heard her ask, “Alum, is it natural for a person j to see a person and be in love with him !

just like that? To meet him and j know, oh, immediately, that that he’s j the one? Is it? Can that be love -really love?”

“Of course it can, dear,” I said. “You realize you love someone suddenly no matter how long you’ve known him—or how short a time.”

“Did you? 1 mean with Dad?”

“Yes, dear.” I asked, “Who is it?” : And Alice said, “Johnny. Johnny ! Brace. I hadn’t seen him for years unt il Friday. He was at the Red Cross i and he spoke to me and 1 looked at him and oh, Mum, I . . . ”

So that was why she had been so distant to him; so formal t hat night. I said, “Johnny is a nice boy, dear.”

“He’s grand,” Alice said. “But I couldn’t believe it, Mum. It didn’t j seem possible. To fall in love like that. He I’ve seen him every night since. He loves me, too. It’s like that with Johnny. It is love, isn’t it, Alum? It will be like you and Dad—forever and ever?”

“Of course, dear,” I said.

I heard her sigh like a child. She got up. “I’m going to tidy. He’ll be along any minute, Mum. Talk to him for me.” She bent over and kissed me. “I know just how you miss Dad, darling. I’ll miss Johnny like that when he’s gone.”

So you see everything’s all right, Ray. I was terribly worried but it’s good to know that all I imagined was wrong. And I do miss you. Seeing Johnny and Alice together, seeing the way she looks, makes me want to go i upstairs and howl. I would too, only j Cynnie would hear and be disgusted ! with me. It isn’t, I’ve discovered, that j these young ones aren’t normal, it’s | that they are too terribly normal for j words.

So that’s that.

Mary.