FICTION

ON THE CORNER IN THE SUN

The poignant story of a mother who tried to understand her son after he returned from battle ... A story that will be relived in many hearts

JORDAN BARLOW July 15 1945
FICTION

ON THE CORNER IN THE SUN

The poignant story of a mother who tried to understand her son after he returned from battle ... A story that will be relived in many hearts

JORDAN BARLOW July 15 1945

ON THE CORNER IN THE SUN

JORDAN BARLOW

THE first thing I did, after the telegram came, was go downtown and buy a new hat. Usually I am not in the habit of buying new hats, these days especially. But it isn’t every day in the week that a mother has her son come home from the war. This wasn’t like a birthday, or Christmas or Easter, they would be around again in another year. This was something very special.

So nobody was going to talk me out of buying a new hat.

1 knew what 1 wanted, something in blue. My son George likes blue. There was a blue hat on the stand, but it had a veil on it, and 1 wasn’t sure how the boy would take that. It’s a queer thing, you live with your son 27 years and you don’t know how he feels about a veil on a woman’s hat.

My hands were trembling when I tried it on and looked in the mirror.

“Very smart,” the saleslady said. They always say that when you try on a hat; it’s part of the sales talk.

I had to be sure, i didn’t want the boy to think his mother looked silly with a long veil on her hat.

“You really think it looks all right?” I said. “You don’t think it looks too conspicuous?”

The saleslady frowned and shook her head. “Madam, I assure you, you’ll like it better than any hat you ever bought.”

“But it isn’t for me. It’s for my son. He’s coming home from the hospital today. He’s been overseas.” She smiled. “You must feel very happy.”

Happy? How could 1 tell her how I felt? I just smiled back at her, but she understood. She was a nice person; you can tell nice people just by their eyes.

“I think I’ll take it,” I said, and smiled at her again. It was a beautiful day outside. The sun was shining and the whole street seemed to sparkle. I could tell people were looking at my new hat. I was glad 1 had decided on the veil. I lifted my chin a little and my steps felt light as a feather. My boy was alive and coming home, and 1 had on a new hat. Could I ask for anything more?

Then 1 remembered . . . and for a minute I was ashamed of myself.

1 crossed the street and hurried past the many stores until I was out of breath.

The pigeons were out in front of the church as usual. I went inside, to the first altar on the right, the one with the statue of Joseph and the Christ Child in front of it. I lit five candles: one for my George who was coming home, one each for the other three boys, and one for all the mothers who had sons over there. Then I knelt down in one of the pews.

When l came outside again 1 felt better. Maybe I should have come to the church first., before buying the hat—but then I knew He would understand.

Ï MADE George Sr. put on his good suit and wear a X clean shirt. And l told him to shine his shoes and put a white handkerchief in his coat pocket. His son doesn’t come home from the war every day.

“Now, Madge,” he said, “don't make such a fuss. The boy will be so darned glad to get home again he won’t notice his father’s shoes. Just sit down and relax,”

Relax !

“Do ns I say,” I told him. “Do you want your son to feel ashamed of his father?”

“But they keep telling us the boys want to come home and find things just like they were before. Young George never saw me with a handkerchief in my pocket in all his life—”

“Don’t stand there and argue,” 1 said. “We’ll have to hurry. There isn’t much time.”

“But, Madge, we’ve got almost an hour yet.” “Suppose they take an earlier train?” I said. “Suppose they made a mistake in the telegram?”

If it wasn’t for me continually keeping after hinv my husband would still be working at a machine instead of being foreman. I don’t take all the credit,

but if I hadn’t kept reminding him all these years that he had a wife and five children to support, I don’t know where we would be by now. In the poorhouse probably.

But he shined his shoes and put the handkerchief in his pocket. 1 didn’t say a word. I pretended not to notice him standing in front of the mirror, admiring himself. He wasn’t fooling me one bit; he was just as excited as I was, only he didn’t want me to know it. Of the four boys, George Jr. has always been his favorite. Maybe he felt closer to the boy; neither one of them ever had the advantages the others had. They both put Tommy and James through business school and Frank, the youngest, through McGill. And never so much as a word out of the boy. A mother couldn’t ask for a better son.

“Now you look like Mr. Bensel, who works in the bank,” I said to my husband. “You look dignified.”

My husband made a noise through his nose, a habit he has that drives me crazy. “I look like a bookie at a race track,” he said.

But I knew he didn’t mean it. My husband is just1 like a baby. If you don’t make a fuss over him when he does something out of the ordinary, like wearing the handkerchief in his coat pocket, he feels hurt and stays that way for the rest of the day.

“We can take him to the movies tonight,” I said, “and 1 can wear my new hat.”

His head came up like he was stuck with a pin. “Your new hat?”

“Yes, my new hat.”

“Shoes shined, handkerchief in the pocket, new hat. Poor George.” He shook his head. “He’ll think we’re in vaudeville.”

Just then Mrs. Catana, who lives across the hall and is one of God’s best creatures, put her head in the door. “Can 1 do anything?” she said. “Is it time yet?”

“Not yet,” I told her.

“I’ll stand outside and watch for him,” she said.

“That’s a good idea. Call the minute you see him.”

George Sr. put down the paper he was reading. “Now let’s not everybody get excited,” he said, loud enough for everyone in the block to hear. “He won’t be here for another half hour yet.”

“Now, George,” 1 said, looking at him in a way he wouldn’t mistake, “Mrs. Catana is only trying to help out.”

I put my cake in the oven and took the steak out of the refrigerator to let it defrost a little. The cake and the steak both were special for George Jr. Chocolate layer cake has been his favorite ever since he was a boy. Then I dusted his room again and tidied up the living room. I straightened the flag that hung in one of the front windows. Georgè Jr. would be awfully pleased when he saw that. I moved his picture from the piano to the mantelpiece, but it looked better on the piano, so I put it back. I looked at my cake and changed my apron, but there was still 15 minutes left.

The poignant story of a mother who tried to understand her son after he returned from battle ... A story that will be relived in many hearts

1 sat down across the room from George Sr. and put my hands in my lap.

“Do you think they might have missed the train?” 1 said.

George Sr. got red in the face. “Madge. Madge, will you let the Army worry about that train? The Army’s been catching trains for years now.” •

“1 can wonder, can’t I? I’d feel better if we had gone down to the station to meet him.”

George Sr. put his paper down again. “The telegram said they’d bring him to the house, didn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, “but—”

“Didn’t it?”

“Yes, but maybe they won’t find the right apartment. The boy hasn’t been up here in over two years. He might forget the way.”

My husband looked out the window and didn’t say anything. He had that look he gets when I beat him in rummy.

He said, “Madge—” and just then I heard Mrs. Catana’s voice outside on the street.

GEORGE Sr. went down the stairs ahead of me.

When we got to the front door of the building we both stopped.

Outside, on the street, a big tan-colored ambulance had pulled up to the curb. It had “Canadian Army, M.D. 3” printed across the side of it. For a moment 1 couldn’t breathe.

I gripped my husband’s arm, tight. “Now take it easy,” I heard him say. “He’s all right. He’s alive, isn’t he?”

I couldn’t speak. AU I wanted to do was go sit down someplace.

Two soldiers got out of the ambulance. Some people were standing around on the sidewalk, watching. The soldiers began lifting a wheel chair out of the back of the ambulance. Then I saw George Jr.

He was sitting in the wheel chair and the soldiers were lifting it up the curb. He smiled when he saw us and raised his hand and made a little feeble wave; his face was thin and pale, and he didn’t look like George Jr. at all.

I ran down the steps and threw my arms around him. I didn’t care if the whole world was watching; he

was my son. I hugged him close and cried like a baby.

Then someone said, "I’m Captain A lier ne thy, from the hospital,” and 1 looked up. “There’s nothing to be alarmed about, Mrs. Fahy,” he said. “Your son’s legs will be good as new again in a month or so.”

1 didn’t know whether to believe him or not. He must have seen from my face what I was thinking.

“Believe me, Mrs. Fahy,” he said. “We wouldn’t have released him from the hospital if we didn’t think so.”

1 didn’t know what to say. I just stood there, looking like an old fool, I guess, with my glasses all steamed up and my hair falling down in front of my

face.

Then my husband was signing some papers the captain had and the neighbors were crowding around the boy. Mrs. Catana was hugging me and somebody else was crying and everybody was talking all at once. It sounded just like an Irish wedding.

AFTER a while everybody left and we had the boy . to ourselves. He was sitting in the middle of the living room, in the wheel chair, looking around the

room.

“How does it feel to be home again, son?” I said.

He leaned his head

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On the Corner in the Sun

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back and smiled as if he had a secret he was hiding from us. “It feels swell,” he said.

He was so pale and thin, and he looked so strange sitting there in a wheel chair. I reached in my pocket for my handkerchief, but I saw my husband look at me.

“I baked a cake for you,” I said, “a chocolate cake. And there’s steak and French fried potatoes and iced tea. How does that sound to you?”

The boy looked tired. “That’s swell, Mom,” he said.

“And after supper the three of us will go to a movie. I’ll bet you haven’t seen a movie in a long time. And tomorrow, we can go see your grandmother, and maybe we’ll have time to stop in and see your Aunt Hannah. If it’s a nice day Saturday I’ll take you to Sunnyside. The cool air will be good for you.”

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t look as if he was listening.

I began talking faster. “When your father gets his vacation we can all go to the mountains. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? And we can go down to Yonge Street one of these days. They have a big War Bond show at Maple Leaf Gardens, with dance orchestras and singers and movie stars. Then we can go to a park . . .”

But my son wasn’t listening. I looked over at George Sr., and he looked down at the floor.

“Son,” I said, quietly, “what’s the matter?”

He didn’t say anything. Then after a couple of minutes he said. “No, Mom,” in a voice so low 1 could hardly hear him “Thanks, but—I don’t think I want to.”

“What do you want to do?” I said gently.

He looked at me, then out the window. “Sit, Mom. Just sit.”

“But, Son,” I said, “you’re back. Don’t you want to see people and look around the city? Maybe we can take a ride in Mr. Catana’s car. I think—”

“Mom,” he said, “I’ve seen cities. I’ve seen people. And we had movies almost every night at the hospital. I’ve seen enough cities and mountains and beaches to last me a lifetime.”

Yes. he had. It was hard to believe; my son George, who never finished grammar school, who never set foot outside the province, had seen London and Paris and hundreds of other places.

“Madge,” my husband said, “the boy’s tired, can’t you see that? It’ll take him a while to get used to things again. Let him do what he wants.”

Was I stopping him? Did I say anything wrong? I was only trying to make him feel at home. My son comes back from the war and he tells me he doesn’t want to do anything but sit. It isn’t natural. It isn’t any way for a boy of 27 to act. Can anyone in their right mind blame me for worrying about him?

He didn’t say a word about the handkerchief in his father’s coat pocket. He didn’t notice the flag in the window. He ate his steak and he ate his chocolate cake, but there was half a piece of cake left on his plate when he pushed his wheel chair away from the table.

Around nine o’clock I put on my new hat and went out for some ice cream.

1 went and came back; I passed in front of him twice, right under his nose in the living room. But he didn’t say a word about the hat.

After my husband and I were in bed with the light out, I couldn’t go to sleep. I lay there and worried. My son was home; my prayers had been answered. But he didn’t seem glad to

be back. Had I done something to make him angry? Was he ashamed of his mother because I cried in front of the captain and the other soldiers?

George Sr. squirmed and tossed beside me. “Go to sleep, Madge,” he said.

“George,” I said in a whisper. “George, he didn’t even notice my new hat.”

The next morning mv son was up early. When I opened his door and looked in he was already dressed.

“Why don’t you stay in bed a little while longer?” I asked him. “I should think you’d want to sleep late for a change.”

He smiled a little. “I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to, Mom.”

The smile made me feel relieved. I knew he would change his mind and want to get out and see things. A good night’s sleep always makes a difference.

I went into the kitchen and put the coffee on. The morning sun was beginning to come in the window; it made the whole kitchen seem cheerful. I called in to the men and asked them how they wanted their eggs done. It was like old times, fixing breakfast for hungry men. I began to hum to myself and the sun was warm on my back.

After breakfast was over George Sr. pushed back his chair and stood up. He stretched his arms out over his head and yawned. “Time to go to work,” he said.

Twenty - nine years we’ve been married, and every morning for 29 years my husband says that. If the day ever comes when he says something different I’ll look for the world to come to an end.

He put a hand on George Jr.’s shoulder. He said. “See you later,

Son.”

We had a family again; it was something to be thankful for. Soon the others would be home, but for the time being, having one son back was enough to ask for.

The boy was watching his father pick up his coat and his lunch box. “Dad,” he said, “before you go, would you mind helping me down the stairs? I think I’d like to get a little sun.”

For a second George Sr. stood there looking at him. It would take all of us a little time to get used to the idea that the boy would need help.

“Certainly, Son.’’ his father said, “I’ll get Mr. Catana to give me a hand.”

Mr. Catana, a generous soul if there ever was one, is a strong man with shoulders like Tarzan in the movies. When he came in he laughed in that cheerful loud way of his and said: “Where you wanna go, boy?”

He put his big arms under George Jr. and lifted him up. He lifted him as easy as you would lift a baby. My son. who used to hammer fenders in Hartman’s Garage, and come home every night with his hands and face dirty from a man’s work, being carried in someone’s arms like a baby!

I went back to the breakfast dishes, and from the kitchen I could hear the wheel chair bumping down the stairs as my husband wrestled with it. I smiled to myself. Ask him to move a lamp across the room and he’d grumble his head off.

In a little while I went into the living room and looked out the front window. Down below, I could see the boy through the fire escape. He was sitting in his wheel chair, on the corner by the telegraph pole. Not doing a thing, just sitting there. I stood there and watched him for a few minutes. During all that time he didn’t move once. He didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular. He just sat there like a statue.

I leaned out the window and called

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down to him. “Son, do you want a magazine or a book to read? There’s a detective story here your father’s been reading.” He turned his head and looked up at me. “No thanks, Mom.”

“Do you want the paper? I was going to use it to wrap up the garbage, but you can have it.”

He shielded his eyes against the sun and smiled. “I don’t think so, Mom.” “Well,” I said, “if you want anything, just call up to me.”

I couldn’t understand the boy at all. You would certainly think that after three years of Army life he would want to do something else besides sit on a corner of a street. But he’d get over it. In a couple of days he would get tired of it and want to go somewhere. I’d let him alone. Boys are always afraid you might be coddling them anyway.

IT TURNED real hot along about the middle of the week. Every night we sat out front on the steps with Mr. and Mrs. Catana and the Losers from upstairs. When it got dark we would go inside and play poker in the Catana’s kitchen, which is the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen. The game always ended up the same way: George Sr. would begin to lose and he’d get mad. Then Mr. Catana would laugh at him and kid him about losing his temper, and that always made it worse. After that we’d just sit around and drink iced tea and talk about things in general. Politics or the war or the neighbors.

Around 10 o’clock we would say goodnight and go across the hall to our own apartment. It was always the same; the boy would be sitting there in his wheel chair, listening to the radio. His father would say, “What are you doing, Son?”

The boy would look up, as if he was right in the middle of thinking about something, and say, “Oh, just listening to the radio.”

And long after I was in bed I would hear the radio going. The first night I got up and tiptoed down the hall and peeked into the living room, thinking he had fallen asleep with the radio turned on. But he was awake all right, just sitting there with his head back and his eyes open. Seeing him like that gave me a queer feeling. There was a time, when he w'as younger, when I would have told him to come to bed. But I didn’t want him to think I was worrying about him,

I don’t know how late he stayed up listening to that radio, but every morning he was up in time for his father and Mr. Catana to help him down the stairs before they went to work. And every morning he would sit outside on the corner in the sun. I began to be afraid that he was lonesome. There weren’t any boys his age left in the neighborhood and my son George isn’t the kind to pay attention to girls.

On my way to the store I stopped by his wheel chair. “Son,” I said, “I’m going up the street to the store. Can I get you anything?”

He turned his head and looked at me, squinting in the sun. “No thanks, Mom.”

“Anything in particular you want for supper? How about some nice lamb chops?”

“That’d be swell.”

All of a sudden I was frightened. I t hought of it for the first time . . . my son and I hadn’t sat down once since he was home and talked to one another. Really talked, like a mother and son should. There he was, sitting in his wheel chair with his thin ankles crossed and his nice face pale and sick-looking. and he had been to the other end of the

world, to strange cities among a lot of strange people. There were no labels on him to show where he had been. He had gone without food and slept in mud and rain and gone through only the Good Lord knows what else; he had been shot at and had pieces of metal in his body, and all he had to show for it were two pathetic-looking legs that he couldn’t stand on. He wasn’t a young man anymore; he wasn’t—God forbid -—the George Fahy Jr. I used to know. I stood there and felt very old and helpless. I felt as if my son hadn’t come home at all.

I went up the street to the butcher shop and while I was waiting for the butcher to wrap up the chops, Mr. Hartman, George Jr.’s old boss, walked in. We talked for a while and he asked about the boy.

“Mrs. Fahy,” he said, “will you tell him that his old job’s waiting for him at the garage? Tell him I’m holding it for him until he’s up on his feet again.”

I could feel the tears burning my eyes when I thanked him. It was a godsend. And it was healthy work, too, good and steady. My husband always says that the man who knows how to use his hands is the man who’s going to get ahead these days. I hurried out of the store and down the street to tell thè boy.

But he didn’t say anything. Not a word. He just sat there, looking at whatever it is he sees across the street, or wherever he looks.

“Son,” I said. “Son, look at me. Aren’t you glad to hear it?”

“Sure. Sure, Mom.”

“Son, is anything the matter? Is anything wrong?”

He shook his head. “It’s just that I— oh, Mom, stop worrying so. Nothing’s wrong.”

Nothing wrong? Mr. Hartman is good enough to 1œep his old job open for him and he takes the news as if it happened every day, as if jobs grew on trees. Nothing wrong? You tell me. Is it natural for a boy to want to sit on the corner and do nothing? What was there to see? Some people hurrying past to the streetcar? The apartment house next door? The cemetery across the street? With the whole city to look at, with Yonge Street only 45 minutes away, with Sunnyside and High Park only a short ride away, my son sits and looks at a cemetery with nothing but tombstones in it.

And they keep telling us, “Keep things the same for the boys when they come back.” Had I changed? Had our home changed? Was there one piece of furniture out of place?

T TALKED with my husband. He said: “Let him alone, Madge. He’ll snap out of it.” I talked with the neighbors. They all said the same thing: let him alone, he’d snap out of it. But what did they know?

I went to see Dr. Connally, our family doctor. I told him what it was. He said he would take a look at the boy.

I invited him over for supper, so it would look perfectly natural. 1 didn’t, want George Jr. to think I was’worried about him. The doctor got around to it casually, and when he was finished examining the boy he stepped out in the hall with me.

“Mrs. Fahy,” he said, “you have nothing to worry about. Your son is as healthy as you or me, with the exception of his legs, of course. And in a few weeks they’ll be as strong as ever.”

I didn’t want to be kidded; I wasn’t one to be kept in the dark. If there was anything wrong with my son I wanted to know about it.

“You’re telling me the truth now, doctor?” 1 said. My son George had quit school in the fifth grade to help

send his three brothers and his sister through school. I didn’t have much, but my son could have any part of it.

“I assure you, Mrs. Fahy,” the doctor said, “there is nothing wrong with your son.”

I DON’T know how long it had been going on, but one day I looked out the window and saw a girl talking with George Jr. Now I don’t see anything wrong with a boy of 27 talking to a girl. I know a mother is supposed to be jealous where her son is concerned, but it wasn’t that. I always say that when George Jr. has found himself a nice girl I’ll be the first to say to him go ahead and marry her and settle down. But I want him to pick a nice girl, one he won’t be ashamed to bring into his home and introduce to his mother.

This young miss wasn’t such a girl.

In the first place I didn’t like the way she was dressed. She had on a sweater that was too tight for her; and her skirt was too short, it wasn’t decent. She wore too much make-up; she looked like a painted Indian. And she didn’t stand still for a minute—she was forever jiggling her feet, doing some kind of crazy dance. I didn’t know her name, but I had seen her once or twice coming out of night spots with soldiers and sailors, laughing and carrying on like something brazen.

I couldn’t imagine how George Jr. happened to know her.

She was there the next day, and the day after, standing there doing those silly, undignified steps, like she had ants crawling all over her. I don’t mind saying I didn’t like it.

I wondered what in the world she could possibly see in a poor boy sitting in a wheel chair. It might have been this hero-worship business the papers are full of; it certainly wasn’t kindness of heart. A girl like that doesn’t spend time talking with a boy in a wheel chair when she can be cavorting around with young men who are healthy.

I didn’t know whether to speak to the boy about it or let it pass. The way he was acting, so quiet and secretive, I couldn’t be sure. He never talked about her once—and when a boy doesn’t talk to his mother about a girl he’s been seeing it’s high time you did some thinking.

One night at supper I broached the subject. I waited until George Sr. had left the table and was buried in his newspaper. He gets so unreasonable whenever I ask the children something. Right away he wants to know what’s wrong. Can’t I look after my own children? And why can’t his family be like other men’s families?

So I lowered my voice to make sure he wouldn’t hear me.

“Son,” I said, “if you want to entertain your friends, why don’t you bring them into the apartment? It doesn’t look right for you to see them on street corners.” I thought surely he would say something about that scatterbrained girl.

He didn’t though. He just laughed in a queer way and said, “What friends, Mom?”

Now I ask you, what are you going to do with a boy like that?

ßY THE end of the month he was walking with a cane. His father and I were awfully proud of him. I thought now he would begin thinking about his old job. But no, that girl was still there. I hoped he might want to go to the movies or go to Sunnyside. At least ride in the streetcar downtown. I asked him one day. Did he feel like seeing a movie? No. Sunnyside? No. A ride in the streetcar? No. Some other time.

Some other time.

That night I didn’t say a word to

anyone where I was going. I put on my hat and let myself out the back way very quietly and went up to the next block to see Mr. Hartman. I didn’t like to break in on people that way, but I felt if Mr. Hartman would have a talk with the boy it might do some good.

I stayed later than I intended to. It was dark by the time I started home. I took the long way past the stores and the movie house, so I wouldn’t have to walk in the dark. When I got close to the movie the early show was just letting out. I was almost up to the lights when I saw something that made me stop right where I was.

A fellow and a girl were coming out; the fellow was limping and had a cane. I didn’t have to get a close look at them to know who they were.

I stepped behind a tree so they wouldn’t see me. The girl was laughing, a loud, boisterous laugh, and the fellow was smiling at her. I could feel my heart beating. I felt like a sneak, but nothing in God’s world could have made me step out from behind that tree.

When they were far enough down the street I turned around and hurried along the back way in the dark.

My son was ashamed to go to the movies with his mother; he preferred the company of a silly, cheap girl.

Right then I was thankful it was dark . . .

I knew then it was useless to try to fight it any longer. Where a girl is concerned a mother is wise not to interfere. If the Good Lord wanted it this way, who was I to try to stop it?

I asked my son to bring her to supper Saturday night. I would have steak and chocolate cake; I would put on the good tablecloth that I kept for Father Convery’s visits and the silver that my grandmother gave me. My son would never have to feel ashamed of this meal. And he wouldn’t have to feel ashamed of his parents either. I would leave my apron in the kitchen and see to it that George Sr. wore a coat and tie.

ALL IN ALL, I think the meal was a . success. She seemed to be surprised that we had asked her, and I thought she looked a little uncomfortable, although I did my best to make her feel at home. As I said before, when the time came for my son to choose a girl I would welcome her as one of my own. That the girl happened to be one I didn’t entirely approve of wasn’t important. My son’s happiness comes first.

Around 10 o’clock he walked to the bus stop with her. I had insisted that he go all the way home with her, but she said there was no need for him to do that. She said she had ridden home alone on the bus at night before and didn’t think anything of it. I only hope she did go home, directly . . .

When we were left alone I looked across the living room at George Sr. and he looked at me. We didn’t say a word.

In a little while I heard the boy’s cane on the stairs.

“George,” I said to my husband, “tell him you thought she was very nice.”

He picked up his paper again and adjusted his glasses. When George Jr. opened the door I was smiling. “Son,”

I said, “she’s a very sweet girl. I hope she had a nice time.”

He stood in the doorway with a peculiar look on his face. “Sure,” he said, “sure, Mom. Of course she had a good time.”

I looked across at my husband. “George,” I said, “George.”

He looked up. “Huh? Oh.” He put down his paper and cleared his throat. But the boy interrupted him.

! “Mom,” ho said, “can I see you a minute?”

He limped into the dining room and went down the hall toward his room. I got up from my chair and followed him. I wondered what on earth it was he wanted to ask me that he didn’t want his father to hear.

I sat down beside him on the bed and waited.

“Mom,” he said, “I want to ask you I something. Promise me you won’t laugh.”

“I won’t laugh, Son,” I said, “what is it?”

He wet his lips and looked at me. “How much money do you have in the bank?”

I sat up straighter. “Are you think| ing of something that will cost money?” I asked gently.

“Yes.”

“I have enough, whatever it is. Your father and I have been saving while all of you wer? away.” I hesitated. “Why? Are you thinking of getting married?”

He blinked. “Married?” Then he began to laugh. “Whatever gave you that idea?” He wet his lips again. “No. No, you see, I—I want to go back to school again, Mom.”

I looked at him. It was so unexpected I didn’t know what to say.

“I mean it, Mom. I’ve been thinking

about it for some time. And I don’t think I’m being selfish in asking. I helped put all the others through. They’re taken care of. Now I want a chance for myself. The rehabilitation people will stake me to vocational training and a $60-a-month grant, so I won’t be a burden to you.”

Burden to us, his own mother and father! That wasn’t why I stared at him.

“You want to go to school—at your

age?”

“Why not?”

“Son, the neighbors will laugh at

you—”

“Let them laugh.” He leaned closer and began talking faster. “Listen, Mom. I’ve had time to think. Plenty of time. That’s all I’ve done since I came back. Listen, I saw other guys— officers with good education—and they weren’t any better than me. They weren’t any smarter. I don’t want to pound fenders the rest of my life. Do you see, Mom?”

He looked so serious. “Mom,” he said, “you aren’t laughing at me?”

Laughing! Was I laughing at him!

“But, Son,” I said, “what about that girl?”

“What girl, Mom?”

“The one who —never mind, it doesn’t matter. Oh, come here, Son. Hand me your handkerchief.”