When the old man was gone, Mr. Travers turned to his wife, and his eyes were shining. “We’ve always wanted to do it! Let’s!”
“Do what?” she said.
“Move out here, snap decision, why not? Why? We’ve promised ourselves every year: get away from the noise, the confusion, so the kids’d have a place to play. And . .
“Good grief” the wife cried.
The old man moved inside the store, coughing. “Ridiculous.” She lowered her voice. “We’ve got the apartment paid up, you’ve got a fine job, the kids have school with friends, I belong to some fine clubs. And we’ve just spent a bundle redecorating. We-“
“Listen,” he said, as if she were really listening. “ None of that’s important. Out here, we can breathe. Back in town, hell, you complain …”
“Just to have something to complain about.”
“Your clubs can’t be that important.”
“It’s not clubs, it’s friends!”
“How many would care if we dropped dead tomorrow?” he said. “If I got hit in that traffic, how many thousand cars would run over me before one stopped to see if I was a man or dog left in the road?”
“Your job …” she started to say.
“My God, ten years ago we said, in two more years we’ll have enough money to quit and write my novel! But each year we’ve said next year! and next year and next year!”
“We’ve had fun, haven’t we?”
“Sure! Subways are fun, buses are fun, martinis and drunken friends are fun. Advertising? Yeah! But I’ve used all the fun there is! I want to write about what I’ve seen now, and there’s no better place than this. Look at that house over there! Can’t you just see me in the front window banging the hell out of my typewriter?”
“Hyperventilate? God, I’d jump for joy to quit. I’ve gone as far as I can go. Come on, Cecelia, let’s get back some of the spunk in our marriage, take a chance!”
“We’d love it here!” said the son.
“I think,” said the daughter.
“I’m not getting any younger,” said Clarence Travers.
“Nor am I,” she said, touching his arm. “But we can’t play hopscotch now. When the children leave, yes, we’ll think about it.”
“Children, hopscotch, my God, I’ll take my typewriter to the grave!”
“It won’t be long. We-“
The shop door squealed open again and whether the old man had been standing in the screen shadow for the last minute, there was no telling. It did not show in his face. He stepped out with four lukewarm bottles of Orange Crush in his rust-spotted hands.
“Here you are,” he said.
Clarence and Cecelia Travers turned to stare at him as if he were a stranger come out to bring them drinks. They smiled and took the bottles.
The four of them stood drinking the soda pop in the warm sunlight. The summer wind blew through the grottoes of trees in the old, shady town. It was like being in a great green church, a cathedral, the trees so high that the people and cottages were lost far down below. All night long you would imagine those trees rustling Their leaves like an ocean on an unending shore. God, thought Clarence Travers, you could really sleep here, the sleep of the dead and the peace-fill-of-heart.
He finished his drink and his wife half finished hers and gave it to the children to argue over, inch by compared inch. The old man stood silent, embarrassed by the thing he may have stirred up among them.
“Well, if you’re ever out this way, drop in,” he said. Clarence Travers reached for his wallet.
“No, no!” said the old man. “It’s on the house.”
“Thank you, thank you very much.”
They climbed back into their car.
“If you want to get to the freeway,” said the old man, peering through the front window into the cooked-upholstery smell of the car, “just take your old dirt road back. Don’t rush, or you’ll break an axle.”
Clarence Travers looked straight ahead at the radiator fixture on the car front and started the motor.
“Good-bye,” said the old man.