“Why is it,” he said, one time, at the subway entrance, “I feel I’ve known you so many years?”
“Because I like you,” she said, “and I don’t want anything from you. And because we know each other.”
“You make me feel very old and very much like a father.”
“Now you explain,” she said, “why you haven’t any daughters like me, if you love children so much?”
“I don’t know.”
“I mean-” He stopped and shook his head. “Well, my wife, she . . . she just never wanted any children at all.”
The girl stopped smiling. “I’m sorry. I really, thought you were having fun at my expense. I’m a fool.”
“No, no,” he said. “It was a good question. It’s been a long time since anyone cared enough to ask. A good question.”
“Let’s talk about something else. Have you ever smelled old leaves? Don’t they smell like cinnamon? Here. Smell.”
“Why, yes, it is like cinnamon in a way.”
She looked at him with her clear dark eyes. “You always seem shocked.”
“It’s just I haven’t had time–”
“Did you look at the stretched-out billboards like I told you?”
“I think so. Yes.” He had to laugh.
“Your laugh sounds much nicer than it did”
“Much more relaxed.”
He felt at ease and comfortable. “Why aren’t you in school? I see you every day wandering around.”
“Oh, they don’t miss me,” she said. “I’m anti-social, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it?
Social to me means talking about things like this.” She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard. “Or talking about how strange the world is.
Being with people is nice. But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running, another hour of transcription history or painting pictures, and more sports, but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film-teacher. That’s not social to me at all. It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not.
They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can’t do anything but go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place with the big steel ball. Or go out in the cars and race on the streets, trying to see how close you can get to lamp-
posts, playing `chicken’ and ‘knock hub-caps.’ I guess I’m everything they say I am, all right. I haven’t any friends. That’s supposed to prove I’m abnormal. But everyone I know is either shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another. Do you notice how people hurt each other nowadays?”
“You sound so very old.”
“Sometimes I’m ancient. I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always used to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I’m afraid of them and they don’t like me because I’m afraid. My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn’t kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility, my uncle says. Do you know, I’m responsible. I was spanked when I needed it, years ago. And I do all the shopping and house-cleaning by hand.
“But most of all,” she said, “I like to watch people. Sometimes I ride the subway all day and look at them and listen to them. I just want to figure out who they are and what they want and where they’re going. Sometimes I even go to the Fun Parks and ride in the jet cars when they race on the edge of town at midnight and the police don’t care as long as they’re insured. As long as everyone has ten thousand insurance everyone’s happy. Sometimes I sneak around and listen in subways. Or I listen at soda fountains, and do you know what?”