“Filthy creatures,” he heard his wife say.
“You see, there are the lions, far over, that way. Now they’re on their way to the water hole. They’ve just been eating,” said Lydia. “I don’t know what.”
“Some animal.” George Hadley put his hand up to shield off the burning light from his squinted eyes. “A zebra or a baby giraffe, maybe.”
“Are you sure?” His wife sounded peculiarly tense.
“No, it’s a little late to be sure,” be said, amused. “Nothing over there I can see but cleaned bone, and the vultures dropping for what’s left.”
“Did you hear that scream?” she asked.
“About a minute ago?”
The lions were coming. And again George Hadley was filled with admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room. A miracle of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one. Oh, occasionally they frightened you with their clinical accuracy, they startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone, not only your own son and daughter, but for yourself when you felt like a quick jaunt to a foreign land, a quick change of scenery. Well, here it was!
And here were the lions now, fifteen feet away, so real, so feverishly and startlingly real that you could feel the prickling fur on your hand, and your mouth was stuffed with the dusty upholstery smell of their heated pelts, and the yellow of them was in your eyes like the yellow of an exquisite French tapestry, the yellows of lions and summer grass, and the sound of the matted lion lungs exhaling on the silent noontide, and the smell of meat from the panting, dripping mouths.
The lions stood looking at George and Lydia Hadley with terrible green-yellow eyes.
“Watch out!” screamed Lydia.
The lions came running at them.
Lydia bolted and ran. Instinctively, George sprang after her. Outside, in the hall, with the door slammed he was laughing and she was crying, and they both stood appalled at the other’s reaction.
“Lydia! Oh, my dear poor sweet Lydia!”
“They almost got us!”
“Walls, Lydia, remember; crystal walls, that’s all they are. Oh, they look real, I must admit—Africa in your parlor—but it’s all dimensional, superreactionary, supersensitive color film and mental tape film behind glass screens. It’s all odorophonics and sonics, Lydia. Here’s my handkerchief.”
“I’m afraid.” She came to him and put her body against him and cried steadily. “Did you see? Did youfeel? It’s too real.”
“Now, Lydia . . .”
“You’ve got to tell Wendy and Peter not to read any more on Africa.”
“Of course—of course.” He patted her.
“And lock the nursery for a few days until I get my nerves settled.”
“You know how difficult Peter is about that. When I punished him a month ago by locking the nursery for even a few hours—the tantrum be threw! And Wendy too. Theylive for the nursery.”
“It’s got to be locked, that’s all there is to it.”
“All right.” Reluctantly he locked the huge door. “You’ve been working too hard. You need a rest.”
“I don’t know—I don’t know,” she said, blowing her nose, sitting down in a chair that immediately began to rock and comfort her. “Maybe I don’t have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think too much. Why don’t we shut the whole house off for a few days and take a vacation?”
“You mean you want to fry my eggs for me?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
“And darn my socks?”
“Yes.” A frantic, watery-eyed nodding.
“And sweep the house?”
“Yes, yes—oh, yes!”
“But I thought that’s why we bought this house, so we wouldn’t have to do anything?”
“That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot. And it isn’t just me. It’s you. You’ve been awfully nervous lately.”
“I suppose I have been smoking too much.”
“You look as if you didn’t know what to do with yourself in this house, either. You smoke a little more every morning and drink a little more every afternoon and need a little more sedative every night. You’re beginning to feel unnecessary too.”