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Grandmother’s House

ISSUE:  Winter 1979

There was a certain place in her bedroom between the desk and the bed in which Mrs. Stewart once in a while found herself standing stock-still, watching scenes from novels through the window panes. It was just as a moment ago, when she had been crossing the room to put a book away, and then had had suddenly to reacquaint herself with herself once again, standing like that, turned slightly into the plain white light from the window, gazing and gazing, her other senses in abeyance. The coolness of the boards against her bare heels, a chill almost, traveling up the backs of her ankles to the bend of her knees, had finally relocated her as she was, and only then had she accounted for the panorama laid out before her: an impersonal view of her neighbors as she stared from her high window over the flat village. The glass panes imposed themselves upon the squares of rich, plowed earth that were her neighbors’ gardens. They seemed queerly, this morning, to be her own domain entirely, laid out as they were so accessible to her eye. This did not seem to be a place in which she lived but a place seen only through a window. Her own history she held off to herself in parentheses, as it were, rooted somewhere farther south. But now, this was not hers, this raw village in the Midwest, where the weather came sailing in so abruptly, where in the evenings if she went out for a stroll she felt the lightness of the air as a rebuke; it would not envelope her in soft, sweet dampness.

But . . . but, the trick was to get on with things, and she made an attempt to innervate herself. She wanted above all else to go down to the kitchen and have her first cup of coffee of the day, but John and Nancy and the children were having breakfast, and she was not up to the pretense of gaiety that eventually set all their nerves on edge, but did, indeed, charm her grandchildren.”Now, Sammy,” she would cajole, “if you eat up every bit of this horrid, gooey, sticky sweet roll—every bit, I said—I just might let you drink some of your milk!” She passed him another roll, “Oh, no! No! Sammy, you musn’t drink so much milk or you will grow so tall that I shall have to buy you some new clothes!” Sammy and the baby, Anna, would sputter their food about in nervous laughter and delight at being so flirted with, and they would topple their orange juice with their broad gestures.”Tonight,” she would go on, despairing of her own integrity, “I shall have to sneak into your room while you are sound asleep and put a big book on your head to keep you from growing!” The table, or at least the children, were very jolly at all this, but soon a feeling of such pervasive fatigue and boredom would engulf her that her spirits would falter for all to see, and the general good will would dissipate like a fog.

So now, instead, she watched a novel from her window. A Russian novel this morning as the children across the far street seemed to float over the grass, only shirts, pants, and dresses, and perhaps a flash of dark hair discernible in the early light, almost like evening light but cleaner, less used. Children under lime trees, she thought. Clean, fresh children tended to by someone else. Or it might be that she was watching an early chapter of her own memoirs, chapters in which John and his friends played out under the towering, trembling soft-maple trees and sometimes came running in for a drink of water. Howard had often taken John along to the office on a Sunday to pick up the mail or some such errand, and John would telephone her from this other world, although his father did the dialing, “How are you, Mama?” he would say, sounding older than she thought he should. She would try to envision him there at his father’s office, probably sitting on the edge of the big roll-top. She could not think it feasible that that fairly uncivilized wisp of humanity could impress itself on the orderliness that so permeated that office; the air itself seeming brisk with an invigorating efficiency.

“Oh, not well at all,” she might answer. “I think you had better bring home some ice cream . . .and maybe some cake, too. That might perk me up,” But it had struck her even then—my son away from me is not my son. Sometimes it had thrown her into melancholy; sometimes it had surprised in her a certain relief. Eventually it was no longer a matter for consideration; it was done; he was only himself.

Beneath her window now, as she stood brooding, she saw that Nancy had come out into the yard with Anna canted onto one hip and had begun to run water into the children’s wading pool. And she heard Sammy clattering up the stairs, coming to see her, and she thought that she should have dressed by now.

And Sammy did, indeed, enter the room with a caution only he could have been aware of as he shyly ignored his grandmother and circled the room, touching and pulling at the knickknacks, small evidences of this magnificent woman whose adoration he had been led to expect but had not received. His grandmother was wondering why Nancy didn’t call him out to swim, but she immediately felt ashamed and offered to read him a story, Sammy regarded her—so tall, with the air just moving the hair along the back of her neck—and when they sat together on the bed with the book between them he felt himself buoyed up by an ecstasy of glee. He couldn’t contain himself as she read this slow story.

“Grandmother, I can do a somersault!” He tucked his knees beneath him.”Did you know that?” But she read on doggedly, pulling the book a bit to one side to avoid being jostled.”Watch this! I’ll show you.” And he began to somersault down the length of the bed.

She stood up suddenly and went to the center of the room. “I have to dress now, Sammy. Why don’t you go out to swim? I’ll be out soon.”

Sammy came to a halt and subdued himself. He had somehow made a misstep. He climbed off the bed and once again circuited the room, trailing his hand behind him. He loved her; what was the matter? “I’m sorry Grandfather isn’t here anymore.” he said, and his voice inflected upward in search of the proper note to placate his grandmother.

She ran her hands down her long thighs and thought for a moment of the silky fabric of her robe.”Well, I am too, Sammy,” she said, “but I really do have to dress now. You had better run along.” And Sammy knew enough, anyway, to leave the room, and just in time, he felt. If he stayed he might find out that she did not like him. He was afraid of that, because he had clearly felt the tide of her hostility wash over him. And she had thought: How have you come to be such a bully at four years old? Hah! The things I could tell you! And for some time she stood there with her hands at her sides.

But, dressing. She thought of it almost with enthusiasm. It was such an old pastime: which dress, the one that made her seem slimmer, the one that heightened her color, the one that John would like best? And then the accessories—shoes, scarves, belts, jewelry, earrings, bracelets, pins! What to wear, what to wear? A sensual experience all in itself, dressing. But, really, that had been over for a long time. Now she bought dresses as she would paintings—they went with her mood, they went with her shoes, and they had an intrinsic value apart from herself. It had been a relief to her how little she had minded losing her beauty. She still remembered, of course, entering a large room filled with beautiful dresses, beautiful faces, and heightened wits like static in the air, Each person feeling that this might be the moment for which they had been so long waiting, the instance in which that intangible clarification of all their dreams and desires might take place—she was sure parties had been like that when she was young. But to enter and hear that circuitous murmur, a sigh engendered by her own effervescing beauty, her own glow; that had been stirring! What so stimulates the senses of a collected group that their emotion becomes audible? She thought she saw it now in retrospect. That murmur was simply inspired by all the myriad possibilities of her life, the potential they sensed for great joy. Ah, to have everything at one’s fingertips! And yet, in the long run, her beauty hadn’t altered her life one way or another, Aging had been for her something of an embarrassment. She felt oddly apologetic towards those people who seemed somehow disappointed that she would let her skin take on a papery quality, that the tight flesh beneath her eyes would crinkle and sag, But once the metamorphosis had been completed her friends were content with her the way she was, and, in fact, they seemed to greet her new self with something like relief.

This morning she chose from her closet a sky-blue shirtwaist dress with many pearl buttons and a nubbly feel that she particularly liked, and she stood buttoning the cuffs and looking down at the children splashing and Nancy sprawled in a lawn chair with the paper. She was taken aback, as always, by Nancy’s dark, overblown looks, so unlike the tall, fair women of her own family. But it was easier, probably, never to have been beautiful. It was such a pleasant scene there beneath her on the bright green grass that she felt oddly mollified.

The children seemed comfortable enough swimming in the sun, but Nancy had brought a sweater out for herself. This was a peculiar morning in that, although it was summer, the air was chilly, and the grass remained wet with dew long into the morning. The sun shone blandly down without its seasonal ferocity. It was a day to make one wonder at the nature of things, fate, and the general character of one’s circumstances. And Nancy sat puzzling her thoughts out into the delicate air, glad of a respite from the society of the household. She had never before felt compelled to toe the line to such a degree. She expected John’s mother to have changed in some way since his father’s death, but she had not expected this strengthened propriety, this emphasis on putting a good face on things. This morning John had sat over his coffee reviewing a sheaf of papers concerning his mother’s financial affairs. The children were at their worst since they had only one parent’s attention. John glanced up a moment.”Why don’t you wipe Anna’s chin?” he asked crossly.

“Why don’t you?” she said. And Anna’s chin was left to drip serenely, staining her front with a mixture of orange juice and cream of wheat. John was edgy. But, then, so was she. She didn’t like it that this job fell to him; he wasn’t relaxed about this sort of thing. Money matters touched off in him an emotional response to what she considered a clerical concern. She bemoaned John’s transparence; his mother would surely see his irritation.

But now Nancy leaned back in her lawn chair and let the cool air soothe her, the reverse of a warm bath; her senses did not doze but were tantalized with possibilities, and she pondered and day-dreamed as she had seldom done since she was a teenager. She suddenly remembered a dark, squat man who held out his hand and detained her as she left the auditorium after being crowned a homecoming princess.”When I heard you were in the court again this year I drove 160 miles just to see your eyes!” This image popped into her mind without precedent; she had not recounted it since the moment of its happening almost 16 years ago. And she remembered that she had brushed by the man, because she was busy with her date of the moment and intoxicated by being celebrated. But even that long ago she had sensed some sinister implication in the man’s very presence, the intimation of a world removed and foreign to such innocent festivities. Yet who, now, would drive 160 miles just to see her eyes? And once, a long time ago, when she had been walking down a street in New Orleans early one summer morning, she had seen coming towards her a young, black man who had a nice walk, bouncing on the balls of his feet after each step, like an afterthought. Just as he had drawn abreast of her she had heard him say, “I’d really like to fuck you!” And she had walked straight ahead in her crisp, beige suit, gratefully blending into the pale brick and stucco which reflected the morning sun back into the street. But she felt she had left herself behind, standing like a statue on the sidewalk, always to be left surprised and wondering if, indeed, there was a correct interpretation to simple events, and to her environment, to which she was not privy. Had she, then, just walked on and on through those early morning pastel streets and come finally to be a 32-year-old woman with silvery stretch marks on her stomach, loving and being loved so quietly?

By the end of the week the heat had become part of the household, one to contend with and make allowances for. Anna lay in her crib naked but for a diaper, whimpering with discomfort. John bought Sammy a little bicycle with training wheels with which he tried to entice the little boy into the brutal sunshine.”Anything to get him out of the house!” Nancy said.”He’s making your mother a nervous wreck . . . . I don’t know why!” And Sammy did traverse the block endlessly and valiantly, having persuaded himself that if he could master the bike without the fragile training apparatus he would achieve some sort of victory in the eyes of his family.

John was mortified that his mother was so visibly distressed by his own lovely, endearing children. He knew how nice a child Sammy, in fact, was, and he was unsettled by the tension between the little boy and his grandmother. He wondered how, as an only child, he had once felt that he had so many more parents than anyone else, and now he seemed to have none. A question formed, oh, very briefly in his browsing mind. At what point, it flickered through him, at what point had his mother ceased to accept responsibility for his happiness? A helpless cynicism began to crystallize within him; he felt both abandoned and oppressed. Something has gone wrong with my mother, he thought; someone had better come fix her.

Nancy and John and the generally reluctant children spent interminable hours visiting old friends of his parents at the insistence of his mother.”Mr. Myers will be so hurt if he finds that you were in town but didn’t visit him.” So they went trudging up and down the searing sidewalks of the little tract houses that for the most part these elderly people had moved to for convenience’s sake. Their hosts were sometimes surprised to see them and embarrassed at not having adequate refreshments to offer. These were people easily tired out, people sitting on dark, airless porches with shades drawn down against the sun.

“Why in hell are we doing this?,” said Nancy when he and Sammy joined her in the car after one such visit to a colleague of his father’s. The heat in the car was like the beginning of an explosion; it seemed it could not increase without actual combustion, and Nancy had felt she had to remove Anna from the house in order to breast feed her. But Sammy and John found them now both furious and in tears.”We’ve driven 1200 miles to see your mother, and we spend two weeks traipsing around to her friend’s houses instead!” Nancy was on the verge of sobbing. Sweat soaked her collar and blouse, outlining her white nursing bra.

“I don’t know, Honey I’m sorry. It’s just the way my mother was brought up . . . . I don’t know.” John considered the way his mother had been brought up. It was hard for him to imagine. She had had a wedding for which her father, his grandfather, had imported and had had planted an arbor of flowering trees for the young couple to walk through. The young lawyer and his beautiful bride—his mother? What did he know of that woman now? He longed for his father sometimes, lately, as he ventured through the house, tentatively, avoiding sudden shocks. Once in a while an insatiable desire would make itself felt, taking the form of thirst, an acrid, metallic sensation in his mouth needing to be quenched. It was an old trick his body played on him, and from long ago summer camps he knew it as homesickness. But this peculiar loneliness caught him unawares here, because if this were not home where would he ever find it? He remembered once when he had come home here from graduate school and had been standing in the cool downstairs hall alongside his father, looking in on his mother’s bridge game.”If that was the highlight of my life,” he had said to his father, “I don’t think I’d want to go on living,” He cringed away from that remark now, but hadn’t he at that moment felt an alliance with his father seldom felt since childhood? Or had the two of them ever had an alliance of that kind?

Sammy didn’t really mind those visits to ancient acquaintances of his grandmother’s, and he had been especially fascinated by one old woman who wore dark, smoked-lens glasses and who had given him an iced glass of coke in which stood one of the most magnificent inventions he had ever come across. It was an elegant silver straw with a heart-shaped spoon at the end—for stirring, he supposed. And he stirred and stirred, rattling the ice with relish, apparently to no one’s irritation, so for an hour or so he was contented. And these visits physically removed him from his bicycle which was ever-present on his mind.”Sammy really loves that bicycle, doesn’t he?” his grandmother had remarked with pleasure and some relief.

But Sammy was obsessed with his red bicycle. He would master it, and that necessitated rounding the block, a task filled with terrifying obstacles for a boy from a suburban neighborhood which had straight sidewalks and well placed trees. He left his grandmother’s stately house and rode slowly along the kindest street, with the church on one side and the little box of a building that was the telephone company’s switching station on the other. The switching station was a sociable place with men in and out, men wearing bright yellow hats and usually smiling and joking with each other. They invited him in once, and he had been much taken by the intricate banks of red and yellow wires and flashing lights, but he had been most intrigued by the fact, which he had discovered quite by good luck, that there was no bathroom, and that the men urinated when need be into an old coke bottle. That was a very satisfying fact to have tucked away in his mind.

But at the end of this street he rounded a corner and was at once encased in a cavernous tunnel of shivering soft-maple branches populated by dozens of flapping and squawking grackles. The only house on the street was a queer looking little bungalow that his father said was built of native stone. But it seemed to Sammy a house one might come upon in a fairy tale forest. Always, in front of the house under the trees and in the cool gravel there lay a big brown and black dog who seemed oblivious to Sammy’s circling, but Sammy was not oblivious of the dog; it was so still, perhaps it was dead. It was on this street that Sammy generally fell, scraping some part of his body on the asphalt and peddling the rest of the way around the block bleeding and crying. Once he fell right in front of the little house and lay there many moments paralyzed with fright, But then he got up slowly, as in a dream, unable to move his limbs at their accustomed speed, and he walked right over and gave that dog a kick, as hard as he could, The dog only raised his head impassively, and Sammy went screaming home on foot, alarming the telephone men and his father, who finally retrieved his bike.

In the evenings the family dressed up a bit for dinner. Oh, just a fresh blouse or a scarf or a pin here or there. Nancy sat on the lawn in a chaise lounge, seeming to glimmer in the twilight in a dress with muted silver stripes running down its length. She held a cigarette in one drooping hand and with the other tended Anna who scuttled about in the weedy grass sending up small blooms of tiny insects in her wake. John stood mixing drinks in the kitchen and glancing out the window at this group—Sammy dashed back and forth to his mother with bits of information, and she only reached out, almost languidly, to give him a touch of recognition—enough for him, and off he would go.

Mrs. Stewart arranged a tray of crackers and cheese, a bowl of olives, and watched her son watch his family, which was certainly a good sight, a whole picture of fulfilled expectations. But she felt a wound within her in spite of herself, felt it physically right at her middle. Oh, and she was feeling tired!

“Excuse me a minute, John, I haven’t had a chance to dress yet.

John turned to her and he was overflowing, this afternoon, with good will.”Oh, you look fine, Mother. You know, you always manage to look cool, even in this heat.”

“Well, I’ll just be a minute.” And she went up the back stairs and through the big hall to her bedroom where she rummaged through her closet, finally taking out a flowered blouse and a long skirt. She unbuttoned her shirtwaist and draped it over a chair and stood in her slip at the window, leaning into the weak breeze that lifted the hair away from her temples. She looked down at the family on the lawn and felt affronted. She was 67-years-old and could never, never be younger, never be held again by someone to whom she could assume she came first, to whom her happiness was necessary as Nancy’s was to John. For a long time her illusions had been built on what she had naively thought of as extended coincidence. When she had first learned that Howard was dying, she had clung to any small, unrelated disaster as one would cling to a life preserver. When her car was hit from behind by a pick-up truck and smashed like a deflated accordion, and she, herself, had had to wear that neck brace for such a long time, she had said to herself, “Well . . .then surely nothing worse than this . . . .” And Howard’s terrible dread of his own death, a subject they never spoke of; she had really thought that that fear might save him. But it had been a fear well founded, because he had, in the end, died after all. And still, she found his death hard to acknowledge.

When she joined the family in the yard, she pulled up her chair next to Nancy’s and offered snacks all around. But she had disturbed something; they all felt it, and they all knew that she felt it. She was well aware that she had been allowing herself small vanities of vexation and irritation these past two weeks, vanities not easily excused in 67-year-old women, but try as she might she had been unable to impose discipline upon herself in the matter of these slight luxuries of ill-temper. Everyone rearranged themselves a bit, there on the lawn, and an air of formality fell over them like a comforter. Oh, I didn’t want this, she thought.

John shifted his chair toward her and took a sip of his drink, briefly leaning back his neck in a restrained stretch. “Ahhh . . .you know, Mother, there are some things we need to talk about before we leave. The taxes and things.”

“Ummm,” She said, thinking, oh, not right now, for God’s sake.

“And by the way, did you have four new tires put on down at the filling station?” John’s voice took on that faintly nasal, querulous tone that she had come to despise even in his boyhood.

“Hey, watch this, Grandmother! Daddy, I don’t even need the training wheels any more!” A vague, audible nod was directed Sammy’s way as he took a run across the yard on his bike.

“Well, Mr, Arnez said the old tires were so badly worn,” She stretched an arm out to him in explanation, “I didn’t think I had any choice. Besides, he’s such a nice man. You know, your father did him a great favor once, helping his boy through school. Some sort of scholarship was arranged. And he’s always so considerate of me and Jean Campbell—whose husband died last year, you know,”

And no wonder, thought Nancy, the two of you in your Cadillacs! Oh, damn! And we have to make do on John’s salary, and his mother . . . . Oh Lord, there’s no point in this, she thought, and she lay a consoling hand on her mother-in-law’s arm and bent to her as she shook Anna away and rose from her lawn chair.”I’ll go in and see about dinner tonight. Just something light? You haven’t had a chance to visit all day.”

“Look,” cried Sammy, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it!”

His mother waved in his direction as she made her way into the house, having reversed herself in that one instant of touching her mother-in-law’s arm and looking down at her beautifully long, tapering hands. What a bastard this Mr. Arnez must be to cheat this lovely, vulnerable woman. She envisioned her mother-in-law picking her way through the paraphernalia of a gas station. She would be in yellow, probably amidst all the grease and oil, and in doubt. But didn’t those still elegant long legs and that crisp carriage bespeak a character nourished on the expectation of honor on all counts, even from tradesmen? Who was this Mr. Arnez to dash and trample such kindly optimism? Who was John, himself, to do it? Even she had once been so fresh, when she, too, lived within a house, and not in the world. It had been, literally, a rainy day when her naïveté had been split wide open like a watermelon dashed on the ground at a picnic. And she thought of Lenore, with her lovely, complicated darkly circled raccoon’s face turning full force on her as they sat in the car after a political meeting at which Nancy had signed a petition of which Lenore did not approve.

“Sometimes you are a fool, Nancy!” She had said, swinging her head away with a swoop of her long, dark hair and looking out at the rain.

And suddenly in that damp, gray light Nancy had had an interior knowledge of her own face, her own gentle features. She felt how the flat planes of flesh lay along her cheek bones, she knew the length and tilt of her nose, she felt the skin along her brow unfurrowed. A nice face; she was defenseless! There were no crevices or corners to harbor her expressions, no shadows; her innocence was there for all to see; she was never allowed to suspend judgment. She felt as though Lenore had overturned a rock and found beneath it a pale, flaccid grub— inoffensive, but pitiably exposed there ready for the taking.

“If only you were Jewish, you would know . . . you would know that you can’t . . . . Oh, Nancy! You must not always take people at face value!” Lenore had spoken with such despair, and Nancy had thought about what she had said a good deal since then. If only she were a Jew, a Palestinian, a black, an Armenian, but she was not, and even for that she must suffer. Nancy had been initiated into cynicism, but why not leave John’s mother out of it? What more did she need to know about life than that here she was, lone possessor of this tall house?

They ate sandwiches out on the lawn that evening. Nancy brought them out on a silver tray, and the adults settled their plates in their laps, still talking. Sammy ate while manipulating his bicycle, and Anna investigated and disassembled her sandwich, casting it behind her in bits and pieces as she made her way among the chairs.

“Well, it’s to your advantage not to pay off the mortgage, Mother,” John was saying.”The payments are deductible, you see.”

Mrs. Stewart placed a hand under Anna’s belly, holding her away from the iced tea, “Oh, I don’t know, John.” The solidity of the baby felt good to her, and she scooped Anna into her lap. It seemed she had carried on thousands of conversations so long ago while restraining a baby in her lap. “You know I don’t like that sort of thing at all. Isn’t it a little underhanded? It just doesn’t seem right, if you see what I mean.”

We used to be able to afford integrity, thought Nancy.

Sammy observed this cozy grouping with a cold eye and took another run across the yard on his bike, but always on the grass the bicycle swayed and wobbled.”Look at me!” He cried anyway.

(Years later Sam Stewart leaned against the sink in his mother’s house while she washed dishes.”Do you remember the night at Grandmother’s when Anna was playing on the lawn and I ran right over her with my bike by accident?”

His mother considered a moment. “Oh, no, Sam. I’m sure that never happened,” she said, drying her hands.”You must have dreamed it.”)

Sammy gave the bike up for a moment, dropping it on its side in disgust, and edged up to his grandmother’s outside knee, still on the outs of the circle.”Would you put my shoes on, Grandmother?”

Mrs. Stewart had trouble understanding Sammy most of the time; he had something like a lisp. She glanced a smile at him and lay her long arm around his thin shoulders.

“You know,” John was saying, “Dad could have paid the mortgage off years ago, Mother, but it’s simply standard practice not to.” He reached for another sandwich.”I’m not suggesting anything illegal!”

Mrs. Stewart was distracted by the branches above them, dipping and swaying in the evening breeze from the river, and by the fireflies in Mrs. Lewis’s garden.”Oh, of course you aren’t, John. It’s just hard for me to take an interest in it one way or another.”

“Please, Grandmother, would you put my shoes on?”

“After all, I seem to have plenty of money for all my needs.” She looked at Sammy with a smile and then at Nancy whom she saw less clearly now across the space of dusk than she had a moment ago.”Sammy has the cutest way of talking! I just can’t get over it!” And she squeezed him to her, but Sammy looked her straight in the face, holding his sandals clutched to his chest resolutely, hopefully. His mother crossed over and sat him down on the grass to strap them on, but he still turned his eyes toward his grandmother who was holding Anna’s chubby arm in her hand and lightly rubbing her thumb over Anna’s thick little wrist.

“I can ride better with them on,” Sammy explained.

“If you really think it’s necessary, John,” his grandmother continued, “I’ll do it, of course. But I’d rather not.”

This time Sammy took his bike out to the street that fronted the yard, but he was fatigued. Back and forth he would go, falling at almost each attempt.

Nancy went back to the kitchen to make more iced tea. She stood at the sink rinsing the pitcher, and before she was conscious of hearing a cry, a shiver moved over her body, and then a shrieking howl seemed to pierce every part of her being. Her knees bent, and she caught herself against the counter. It was Sammy, and she was too alarmed to move. She stood in the kitchen with the pitcher in her hand, staring blank-eyed out the window,

John, too, sat frozen to his chair with surprise, and after a moment his mother deposited Anna in his lap—even Anna was immobilized by the noise which had become a raspy howl.

Mrs. Stewart confronted Sammy at the street’s edge where his bike lay on its side, and where he jumped upon its fragile spokes with his newly put on shoes. He jumped with all the force in his body—up and down, up and down, down down! His voice had run out, at last deserted him, and Mrs. Stewart stood staring at him as he mangled first the front then the back wheel. She felt a responsive chord being struck somewhere within her, and she did not stop him.

“Let’s go get an ice cream cone, Sammy,” she said, just as his father finally reached the scene.

“Sammy . . . !” He began.

But his mother turned to him, in front of Sammy, and an odd, cool anger clarified her voice which John had not realized had taken on the slightly tremulous quality of old age. “Just. . . John .., just leave us alone! We are going to get an ice cream cone!” And she led Sammy off to her big blue Cadillac.

John dragged the battered bike behind him with one hand and Anna with the other, meeting Nancy in the yard—Nancy still holding the pitcher.

“What in the world. . . ?”

“I don’t think he should be allowed. . . .”

But in the familiar environs of Dairy Queen Sammy seemed to regain his composure, although his face still flushed red up to his hairline. He and his grandmother sat in a booth looking out at the parking lot where a man was refurbishing the Dairy Queen billboard bit by bit. Sammy had a double dip vanilla cone which he initially attacked from the top, but then, his grandmother noted with dismay, he held the cone over his head and bit off the bottom, letting the ice cream drip droplet by droplet into his open mouth. How could it be that it could take this child 20 minutes to eat an ice cream cone, she thought? Time seemed to wait for her implacably out there in the Dairy Queen parking lot, where the billboard man pasted up his sign section by section. There seemed so much of it to fill up.


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