Fiction

DEADWOOD

Old grievances make a fine fire she found out. And when you throw on memories, dry and dead as sticks, even the days ahead catch the glow

KAY WEBSTER July 15 1948
Fiction

DEADWOOD

Old grievances make a fine fire she found out. And when you throw on memories, dry and dead as sticks, even the days ahead catch the glow

KAY WEBSTER July 15 1948

DEADWOOD

Fiction

KAY WEBSTER

Old grievances make a fine fire, she found out. And when you throw on memories, dry and dead as sticks, even the days ahead catch the glow

HIS VOICE over the telephone was thick and soft as fur. It was always like that when he had been drinking.

“How are you, baby?” He was a long way yet from being drunk, but the beginning was there in the slow, deliberate shaping of the words.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Just absolutely dandy. The little woman busily stoking the home fires.” “What’s the matter?” he said. “What have I done now?”

How like him, how inevitable that he would say just that. Obtusely, wilfully ignoring this most recent of his failures, accusing her of unwifely doubt, as if she had not the best right in the world to be suspicious.

“You promised,” she said. “You promised.” She said it and yet she knew that it was useless.

“Why, sweet,” he said, “of course I promised. And I meant it. But you know how these things are.” He would admit it now because he had been found out. She always found him out.

“No,” she said, “I don’t know how these things are.” She knew how they were all right.

She should know after five years. As clearly as she should know that it was pointless and humiliating to go on like this, pushing at him with words, forcing him to lie again and again; and yet there was a certain perverse pleasure in it, a momentary release from responsibility in a game that was too well-learned and simple to be a challenge any longer.

She could hear the doctor saying “Don’t quarrel with him when he’s like this, don t aggravate him, don’t nag.” That had been one of the more recent doctors, the young, terribly sincere one with the lovely, untried ideals and the smattering of elementary psychology. And truly she didn’t quarrel with him. She never nagged. It wasn’t necessary. He would reveal himself in time, ineffectually floundering through a bog of explanations, until finally he would sink exhausted under his own futility.

“Well, look,” he said, “Mac dropped by. You remember old Mac. I haven’t seen him in years. I had to give him a drink.”

“I know all about old Mac,” she said, “and Bill and Ted and what’s his name ... the whole disreputable crew. They come in very handy.”

She could never be sure, nor did it really matter with whom or in what place he was—the clubroom, the back of a service station, some dim, anonymous warehouse, the kitchen of a cheap café—she could be sure only that his behavior would not vary, that the pattern would be the same, always the same. Good old Steve Leckie, the pride and shining light of all the back rooms in town. He was so charming, everyone said, such a good guy, and no one for a moment considered his wife, or what she went through every day of her life. There was no one she could go to, no one at all. How needlessly cruel that she should be so alone.

“You don’t believe me.” His voice was sepulchral, consciously pitiful. He did this sort of thing exceptionally well. So charming, so very charming.

“Never mind,” she said. “Let’s not go on about it.” She was very tired. It seemed that she was always tired now and close to tears. When had she last laughed, really laughed? Not, it seemed to her, since her father’s death nine years ago. If only her father were alive she knew what he would say. “There’s no need for you to put up with this, Annie. You just pack your things now and come home to us,” his voice soothing, his words considerate. But now there was only her mother, her selfsufficient, undemonstrative mother, and her sisters far away and complete in successful marriages.

“You’re a good girl,” Steve was saying, “I love you very much.”

“Oh, Steve . . . Steve,” she said. “Don’t make iL-any worse. Please, don’t make it any worse.’

“Now don’t be upset, sweet,” he said. “I’m all right. I’m perfectly all right. You’ll see . . . I’ll be home for supper.”

Perhaps tomorrow, she thought, or the day after, you’ll be home for supper. And it isn’t

good enough. Once it was not the best, certainly, but it was almost good enough because I loved you. Or I thought I did. But now whatever love there was is gone and there is nothing in it at all, no hope or laughter or even anger.

“Yes,” she said. “Of course. You’ll be home for supper.”

SHE hung up and went into the kitchen. She lifted the lids from the steaming pots and peered vaguely at the contents, things she had shopped for this morning, all the things he loved. He had been so eager last night, so contrite, and although she had not trusted his sincerity she had —fool that she was!—been willing once again to give him a chance to do what was expected of him. Now the heavy smell of garlic and bay leaf nauseated her. There was, she thought, something

foreign about garlic. In her home as a child there had never been strong, alien flavors, everything had been decent, respectable, conformist. Her father had loathed even the smell of garlic and he had never been late for dinner in his life.

Looking at the food she said to herself: I can’t eat all that. No one could expect me to eat all that. If I want to, I can throw out the whole hateful mess. If she could only be angry she would do just that, but there was no anger in her, only a dim, frightening hopelessness. She knew that in the end she would eat it, every mouthful of it, picking at it without appetite for days. He could eat in restaurants, spending money which he should have brought to her and she, she could eat scraps, leavings, dregs, because she could not afford to throw them out.

She went into the bedroom to look for her purse. She rummaged in drawers, opened cupboards and she could not find it anywhere. He’s taken it, she cried inside herself, he’s taken my defenseless, empty purse. Is there nothing he would not do^ And then she began to cry aloud, but softly so that she would not disturb Lucie.

Lucie hasn’t even a room of her own, she thought, other men provide decently for their children, for their wives. And then—cruel deception—she found the purse, pushed deep under a pile of lingerie in a drawer. I must have suspected he might take it, she thought, or I would never have hidden it so well. She counted the money in the purse. Sixty-five cents. Enough for Lucie’s Pablum and tomorrow’s milk. I can look after myself. Nobody cares what happens to me. Not even that woman.

Dr. Dahlburg her name was. She did psycho-

analysis and charged ten dollars an hour. And very quick she was too with the bill, sitting there with her long face as sadly calm as a patient horse, her eyes half-shut and judging. “That will be ten dollars, please,” she had said. “And I would like very much to see you again, Mrs. Leckie.” So I can pull you apart some more, misjudge you, remove your centre and leave you hollow, like a cored apple.

Now, sitting on the floor of the bedroom, she tried to get past the picture of the woman’s face into a remembrance of how the interview had been.

“It’s about my husband,” she had said, on her tongue like live things the accusations, his faults, his deviations from the acceptable form for husbands. For her husband.

“I’m more interested in you, Mrs. Leckie.” What was this? The doctor found her interesting.

“Think now, were you a happy child?” “Fairly so, I suppose. I was . . . alone a great deal.”

“You were an only child?”

“In a way, yes. My two sisters were much older. They married when I was still quite young.”

Suddenly, with the force of a shot, the doctor said, “Describe your mother to me. The first words that come into your mind.” “Reasonable,” she said slowly, “. . . uncomplicated . . . cold.” Was this a true picture of her mother? The question had been so abrupt, so unexpected, that she was confused. “By cold you mean undemonstrative?”

“I suppose so. Yes.”

“Your father? Describe him to me.” “Warmhearted, generous, kind. He died when I was fourteen.” The words came with difficulty. She resisted the sharing of her father with this woman.

“You wert; very fond of your father?”

“Oh, yes. We had wonderful times together. You see . . . he needed me. My mother was always so busy . . . she didn’t always understand him.”

“I see,” the doctor said. Of course she didn’t see. How could she? It had been a particularly delicate relationship.

“How old were you when you married?”

“Eighteen.”

“That was rather young, wasn’t it? Did you want to get away from home?”

“Perhaps. I don’t remember very well. It was . . . harder, after father died.” She thought of the long nights beside her mother in the big bed and her mother saying, “Sleep with me, Ann. I can’t bear to be alone.” And she would lie there rigid, hating her mother for her grief, refusing to cry because her mother cried. She would be different, more discerning, more truly griefstricken because she did not cry. And she had not wanted, even while hating herself for this, to comfort her mother at all.

DR. DAHLBURG went on, inexorable, blunt.

“What attracted you in your husband?” These must be standard questions, proceeding in set order according to rule. Questions one to twenty, tyj>e X, female, marital maladjustment. In a way it was quite fascinating, the woman was so callous and unswerving. At least the question of Steve had finally made its appearance. Type Y, unstable husband.

“He was older . . . older, that is, than most of the boys I knew. I thought he was kind, considerate, decent. I realize now it was only a veneer. Oh, he can be very persuasive ... he had me completely fooled.”

“Did he, by any chance, tell you that he needed you?” For the first time, the doctor smiled. Aha! the smile seemed to say, I’ve caught you. I knçw it all the time.

Was it a crime, then, to be needed? There was a dim horror about this. She had a feeling as of something inside her dislodged and shaking. It was like being dissected and left gaping, quivering.

“You understood him, of course,” the d^tor

went on, stony,

Continued on page 24

Continued from page 9

relentless, her long prying nose pointing like an accusing finger over the minute hieroglyphics she was scratching on one of a pile of little cards in front of her. The writing was so small that Ann could not, even by leaning forward, decipher any of it. Not only had she had enough of this but she refused to have her unconsidered, misleading words passed on to posterity in some weird case history. She stood up.

“My husband,” she said clearly, “is an alcoholic.” There—let the doctor see what she could do with that one. And then, because she was truly frightened by the woman’s ruthless insight, she amended her words a little. “At least ... he drinks too much and stays away from home. He never gives me enough money . . . he’s weak . . . undependable . . .”

The doctor looked up from her busy work. “I see,” she said. “That is a shame. Poor man.”

Ann sat down, flattened. What about me, she thought wildly, what about me? I come here for sympathy and do I get it? Oh, no—he gets it. So charming, so very charming. Even in absentia. It must come through the walls.

“Why have you not left him, then, if he makes you so unhappy?”

“1 want to leave him now. That’s why I have come to you.”

“You want me to tell you to leave him, is that it? You want to be able to say to yourself, the doctor has told me to leave him, therefore it is all right?”

“I did leave him once,” she said tentatively. Perhaps this time she had given the right answer.

“But it is plain that you returned. Why?” Another crime and herself a criminal.

“I told you,” Ann repeated, almost desperately, “I told you. He needs me.”

The doctor picked up the monstrous little cards and put them into a box on the desk.

“I think,” Dr. Dahlburg said, squinting through the cloud of smoke, “that it

is you who need your husband. I think that you enjoy this situation. If you did not you would do something about it, or leave your husband altogether, without any advice from me. But 1 think that if you leave him now you will be very unhappy. And, if you should divorce him and remarry it would be no better, since you would choose someone very like him and for the same reason. It is a classic pattern. Your husband has never truly been your husband. He has been, shall we say, a substitute—and probably in your eyes a very poor substitute—for your father.” She smiled at Ann. It was, Ann thought, a hateful, knowing smile, as if she had just delivered herself of an unfunny and particularly smutty story. Well, she was not amused.

“Thank you,” she said, furiously polite, “thank you very much.” “Think over what I’ve said,” Dr. Dahlburg went on. She looked at her watch and rose to open the door.

SHE was dismissed, like a child from school. And she had gone home with only enough money in her purse for bus fare and with a feeling of angry perplexity so great that she was almost sick with it.

That had been a week ago and here she was, right back where she started. Oh, she had had it out with Steve all right. And where had it got her? Exactly nowhere. She had been very firm, drawing strength from her furious rejection of the doctor’s words. It must be plain to anyone that she was not enjoying the situation, that she was doing something about it.

“The next time,” she had said, “will be the last. Oh, I know I’ve said it before, but this time I mean it. Do you hear, I mean it!” And she had cried until her face was swollen and unlovely, not caring because she was safe in the knowledge that it was not her face he loved but what she was.

“I know, baby ... I know. It’s no kind of life for you. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea if I jumped off a bridge.” But you won’t, she thought. That would be too simple.

Continued on page 30

Continued from page 24

“I only want you to stop drinking.” she said. “I only want you to be more . . .”

“More the way you want me to be,” he had finished for her. “I know, Annie, I know.” And he had promised. A promise that once again had been broken.

But where could she go? Back to her mother? Her strong, busy, certain mother. “If yoa’re going to do a thing,” her mother would say, “do it. But once it’s done don’t carry on about it.” Sometimes she hated her mother for being so uncomplicated, so at ease with life. She hated her when she remembered her father. “Do you remember,” her mother was always saying, “do you remember the time your father . . and there would follow a long string of reminiscences and at the end the laughter until the tears were running down her face. Laughter and Ann’s father dead.

She had felt separate in her grief, as if she and her mother were concerned with different people. And he had been different with her, they were always having secrets from her mother. Little, important things. “Don’t tell your mother,” he would say, “Your mother might not understand.”

She was stiff from sitting in this cramped position on the floor. How long had she been here? It seemed like hours. Her hand was hot and wet, still clutching the sixty-five cents. She counted it again. Just enough to take a . taxi to her mother’s. She looked over at Lucie sleeping in the crib. She leaned over the crib, speaking softly, “Wake up, darling.” Lucie stirred drowsily. “Wake up, baby. We’re going to visit grandma.”

AS SHE knocked at the door of her . mother’s house it came to her with a little shock of astonishment that since she had left this house to marry Steve she had never once entered it without knocking. And yet the door was never locked. Her mother did not believe in locked doors.

She heard her mother’s footsteps coming down the hall and quickly decisively, she turned the knob and walked in, pushing Lucie like a baby chick ahead of her.

“Ann, darling,” her mother said, “it’s good to see you.” She sounded genuinely glad. She bent down to kiss Lucie. Certainly she’s demonstrative enough with Lucie, Ann thought. Was she like that with me in the beginning?

She found it difficult to meet her mother’s eyes. “I wanted to come,” she said. “And Lucie would like to see you every day. She thinks you’re something special.” She forced herself to look at her mother, at the clear, steady brown eyes, the tall, firm body, always so impeccably dressed.

Her mother said, “Let me take your things. Then you must go into the front room by the fire. You both look frozen.” How nice it was, Ann thought, to have someone think of her, to have someone care whether she was warm or cold, whether she was happy or unhappy.

She went in and sat before the fire, pulled Lucie up on her knee and began to peel off the layers of clothing.

“1 won’t be a minute,” her mother said from the doorway. “I’ll just tell Hilda to put the kettle on.”

Ann held her hands out to the fire. How heavenly the warmth was. Her father had liked to see a fire blazing when he came home. For an instant an almost forgotten picture of her father flashed across her mind. Her father standing by the fire, rubbing his hands together near the flames, “Ah, your mother and her blessed fire. It’s good to be home.”

Her mother came back into the room. “Hilda is making cookies,” she said to Lucie. “I think she would like to have a little girl to help.” Is it on my face? Ann wondered. Is it so plain that there is something wrong, that the child must be excluded?

Her mother pulled a stool close to the fire. “I’ve always loved an open fire,” she said. “Perhaps because it’s so predictable and constant. I have one always . . . even with fuel so expensive.” She turned to Ann. “You don’t often have one, do you?”

“I always have to haul the wood myself,” Ann said. “Steve never remembers. He never . .

“You’re young,” her mother interrupted, “and strong. What are a few sticks of wood?”

The feeling of tension rose and suddenly it exploded into tears. She put her hands over her face, attempting to conceal this indignity from her mother.

“It’s sometimes good to cry,” her mother said. She sat quietly waiting until Ann had finished.

Finally she said, “Go upstairs now and wash your face. Lucie mustn’t see you like this.” I’ve never seen my mother cry, Ann thought, except when father died.

WHEN she came downstairs again her mother was still sitting on the stool before the fire. Tea was set out on the coffee table. She could hear Lucie’s treble chatter incessant in the kitchen.

“Lucie will stay with Hilda,” her mother said. “The kitchen is a nice place for a child.”

Ann took her tea and drank it thirstily. She felt warm now and sleepy, as if ¿he tears had washed away everything but simple physical sensation. She did not know how to explain herself to her mother and yet it did not seem to matter. It seemed to her that her mother was aware of all her problems, that she might solve them.

“Tell me, Ann,” her mother said, “what made you want to see me? . . . Oh, I know it must be something important. You see, I expect you only on Thursdays . . . your weekly duty call.”

1 deserved that, Ann thought. Mother must be often lonely. And then the words came out of her mouth, not the words she had intended at all. “What was father like?”

“He was a man.”

“Not that,” Ann said. “Not just that he was a man. What was he really like?”

“He was a man,” her mother said. “Why do you keep on telling me that?” Ann said and her voice rose in irritation. Was there to be no more help than this? “Naturally I know he was a man ... a very special sort of man.”

Her mother said, “He was a man like any other. He wasn’t perfect. Lord save us from perfection! He had hi." faults, his weaknesses. He didn’t always make me happy.”

“I suppose you made him happy,” Ann said,“. . . perfectly happy.”

“I don’t know,” her mother said. “I don’t really know. I did what it was in me to do. There were times, long lonely times, when we were completely miserable with each other. He needed so much, you see. continual reassurance, love, appreciation. When I was too busy, or too tired, he depended on his children. On you. But I think that in the end I was the one who gave him what he needed. In some ways, it seems to me, your father was very much like Steve. But perhaps it’s only that all men are much the same.”

“Like Steve!’ Ann said incredulous. But that’s ridiculous. Father never drank or stayed away from home.”

“There are other things,” her mother gaid. “Similar tilings, worse things. Sometimes it was quite a strain living with your father ... he cared so for his sensitivity.”

“You’re making father out to be some sort of monster,” Ann said. “It’s not fair. It’s not even decent.”

“You asked me, Ann,” her mother said, and her face was stern. It was the same rebuking look Ann associated with imminent punishment as a child. Always then there had been her father to turn to. “You asked me what your father was like. I’m trying, awkwardly ’m afraid, to tell you that your father was not a god, but only a man. Just a plain, ordinary man.”

“Were you so perfect, then?” Her voice came out in a sort of timid bleat, like a child’s small cry.

“Heavens, no. No more than any other woman. Sometimes I shudder to think what a mess I was. Rut there was one thing about your father, he had his own kind of stubborn strength and he never let me get away with it. Oh, we had some lovely fights.”

HER distinct, uncomplicated mother a mess? And quarrels? Quarrels, and the child pushed out of the way, shielded from the thrusts and counterthrusts, excluded from the tears, the recriminations. (Lucie, help Hilda with the cookies. Ann, go upstairs and do your homework) and the voices downetairs, rising and falling into or out of hew many crises, blending finally into what adjustment or temporary separateness?

“I’m disappointed in Steve,” her mother said. “I’ve seen how he plays up to you. I thought he had more gumption.”

“You simply can’t say it’s my fault,” Ann said furiously. “You know what Steve’s like.”

“You’re a grown woman, Ann,” her mother said. “It’s time you began to work at marriage. I know Steve’s not all you would like him to be. No more than your father was everything I thought I wanted. Rut this I do know. If you expect too much of him, you’ll be lucky to get anything.”

You’ve never lived with an alcoholic,” Ann said stubbornly.

“Is Steve an alcoholic?” her mother laid. “I wonder.” The skin around her ¿yes crinkled and then—how could she? how could she do such a thing?— she laughed. “Poor Steve,” she said. “I’ve always liked him. He has a great deal of charm. He doesn’t strike me as the type who would enjoy living with a martyr.”

“He loves me,” Ann said.

“Well, then,” her mother said, ‘you’re very lucky. Rut don’t try your luck too far. I can quite imagine that he finds it pretty wearing to live up to you ... to do what is expected of him.”

“You don’t know . . .” Ann persisted, but there was no longer conviction in her words. It seemed to her now that she knew nothing at all. “You don’t know the things I’ve put up with. I can’t begin to . . . He always promises and then he never . . .” She found that she could no longer put his defections into words. They were escaping her into a mist. Here, as with the doctor, there was the same feeling of old ways and thoughts being rudely, unmercifully shaken, spilled out, and there was nothing to take their place.

“You say he loves you,” her mother said. “Why don’t you try loving him • . . for what he is? Instead of rejecting him for what he isn’t.”

Ann stood up. “The fire is dying,” she said.

I hate a meagre fire,” her mother said, reaching over to take wood from -he basket on the hearth. They

watched the stifled flames lick joyfully around the new wood, like the long red tongues of dogs. “A fire,” her mother continued thoughtfully, “is a demanding thing. There are old ashes to be taken away. It has to be continually fed. I don’t think there is anything quite so sad as a meagre, neglected fire.”

She looked up at Ann, smiling. “I’m sorry I was so rough, darling. I only want you to be happy ... to have a good life. These are things I’ve learned and it hurt to learn them.”

“I know,” Ann said, “I know.” Did the acquisition of self-knowledge always come so painfully? Like adolescent growing pains?

“Will you stay for supper?”

“No, it’s late. And Steve just might be home. Rut I’d like to take a taxi if you’ll lend me the money.” How many hours ago was it that she had cried because she had no money? Steve would have given her money if she had asked. Was it possible that she expected him to give it to her without asking, as her father had given her his small change for being a good girl?

At the door her mother said, “I miss you, Ann. Sometimes the house seems very empty.” She had never said those words before.

“I’ll come,” Ann said. “I’ll come often,” and she knew that now she would, because they were no longer rivals but just two women who could be friends. It would not be simple, the old resentment would return at times, perhaps there was always this between two women, but they had made a small beginning.

She was very tired when she got home, as if she had been on a long, strenuous journey. Rut there was a certain peace, too, because the journey had been satisfying and productive.

After she had given Lucie her Supper and put her to bed, she returned to the kitchen and took stock of the dinner. It was certainly cold and unappetizing now, but she could easily warm it up. She would give him until seven-thirty and if he were not home by then she would eat alone. She might even eat before if she were hungry. It didn’t matter, really. What was a dinner, after all?

SHE WAS eating when she heard his key in the door. She waited for him to come into the dining room, not raising her eyes from her plate.

“Hello, Annie,” he said. “I’m late.” She looked up at him taking her time, not yet sure of herself in this new role. He didn’t seem to be very drunk. Maybe just a little. It was hard to tell with Steve. He’s very good-looking, she thought. He has a nice, clean, smiling mouth. He wasn’t smiling now. It occurred to her that he didn’t smile often any more.

“Actually, you’re just on time,” she said. “I’m only starting. Lucie and I went over to mother’s.” He was lining against the wall, staring at her. An actor who had forgotten his lines and who had just been carelessly tossed a cue from the wrong play.

“Poor little Annie,” he said, “eating all alone.”

“It’s a better dinner than I thought it was,” she said. “I’ll get yours so you can tell me what a wonderful cook I am.”

“Poor little Annie,” he said. “Such a good cook and married to a bum like me.”

“Stop calling me Annie,” she said. “I’m not a child. If you don’t stop calling me Annie I’ll fire the whole works at your head. Gravy and all.” She got up from the table and stamped furiously into the kitchen. It seemed to her that she had never been

Continued on page 33

Continued from page 31

angry in her life until this moment.

The swinging door banged hard against the wall and he was suddenly behind her. She had forgotten how large he was. He grasped her shoulders in his hard, long hands and pulled her roughly around to face him. She had never been frightened of him before. Always he had seemed completely ineffectual, not the man she had expected him to be at all.

“You’re hurting me,” she said. He tightened his grasp. Tears of rage and frustration came to her eyes.

“That’s right,” he said. “Why don’t you cry? Then you could say to yourself that I beat you. Poor little Ann Leckie, her husband drinks and beats her too. You could be sorry for yourself for weeks.”

She kicked viciously at his shin. “Let go of me,” she yelled. “If you don’t let go of me I’ll scream the house down.”

He dropped his arms. “That would never do,” he said. “What would the neighbors think?” He reached down to investigate his damaged shin.

She shook herself like a wet puppy. “I think I’ll yell anyway. I’ve never yelled good and loud in my whole life.” He looked at her as if she were a rather interesting stranger.

“Look here,” he said. “You haven’t taken to the cup that cheers while my back was turned, have you?”

“I have not,” she said. “One of that type is enough in this family.”

He had retreated to stand with his back against the refrigerator. A slow, uncertain grin spread across his face. He looked like a man who has just been told a joke that everyone else thinks is uproariously funny and who has been unfortunate enough to miss the point entirely.

“I’m not usually this dumb,” he said. “But something very odd has been happening around here.”

“Indeed it has,” she said. “Move over. You’re in my way.”

“Immediately,” he said. “I don’t care for the look of that plate at all.”

She giggled. She was having a very good time. “Not this one,” she said. “This one is much too good for your thick head.”

“Feeling your oats, aren’t you?” he said, somewhat crossly.

His evident confusion was exhilarating. This way, she thought, he’s exactly what I want. This is Steve, the way he is, and I think I love him very much. She went up to him and put her arms around his neck. “You big lug,” she said, “hello.”

“Well, hello,” he said, grinning down at her.

“Do you love me,” she said slyly, her eyes intent and watchful on his face, “because I’m such a good girl?”

“Now that you ask me,” he said, with the utmost cheer, “when you’re a good girl you give me a pain.”

She considered whether to be angry or amused. It did not occur to her that here was cause for tears. She began to laugh and in a moment they were both laughing as they had never laughed before together, rocking back and forth, clinging to each other.

“Where are all your little pals tonight?” she said, against his shoulder. The cloth of his jacket was scratchy and comforting.

“Probably right where I left them. Their wives are no fun to come home to.” There was a certain smug pity in his voice. “You know how it is, the poor guys get cheesed off and . . . well, you know what it’s like . . . one thing leads to another . . .”

“Fancy that,” she said. “Poor things.” She could see now the way it was. “Poor things,” she said. It was really very sad. “Perhaps it would be nice of you to go and cheer them up.” She could afford now to let him go because he would come back.

“Not on your life,” he said. “I’ve got my evening all planned. ■ I think I’ll stick around and watch the home fires burn.”

“That reminds me,” she said. “We could have a fire. We haven’t had one for a long time. A great big roaring crackling fire.” ★