“Parents learn to shut their ears.”
“What’s wrong, Mary?” asked Helen.
Mrs. Morris’s eyes were half closed; her tongue slid slowly, thoughtfully, over her lower lip. “Eh?” She jerked. “Oh, nothing. Just thought aboutthat. Shutting ears and such. Never mind. Where were we?”
“My boy Tim’s got a crush on some guy named—Drill,I think it was.”
“Must be a new password. Mink likes him too.”
“Didn’t know it had got as far as New York. Word of mouth, I imagine. Looks like a scrap drive. I talked to Josephine and she said her kids—that’s in Boston—are wild on this new game. It’s sweeping the country.”
At this moment Mink trotted into the kitchen to gulp a glass of water. Mrs. Morris turned. “How’re things going?”
“Almost finished,” said Mink.
“Swell,” said Mrs. Morris. “What’sthat?”
“A yo-yo,” said Mink. “Watch.”
She flung the yo-yo down its string. Reaching the end it—
“See?” said Mink. “Ope!” Dibbling her finger, she made the yo-yo reappear and zip up the string.
“Do that again,” said her mother.
“Can’t. Zero hour’s five o’clock! ’By.” Mink exited, zipping her yo-yo.
On the audio-visor, Helen laughed. “Tim brought one of those yo-yos in this morning, but when I got curious he said he wouldn’t show it to me, and when I tried to work it, finally, it wouldn’t work.”
“You’re notimpressionable,” said Mrs. Morris.
“Never mind. Something I thought of. Can I help you, Helen?”
“I wanted to get that black-and-white cake recipe——”
The hour drowsed by. The day waned. The sun lowered in the peaceful blue sky. Shadows lengthened on the green lawns. The laughter and excitement continued. One little girl ran away, crying. Mrs. Morris came out the front door.
“Mink, was that Peggy Ann crying?”
Mink was bent over in the yard, near the rosebush. “Yeah. She’s a scarebaby. We won’t let her play, now. She’s getting too old to play. I guess she grew up all of a sudden.”
“Is that why she cried? Nonsense. Give me a civil answer, young lady, or inside you come!”
Mink whirled in consternation, mixed with irritation. “I can’t quit now. It’s almost time. I’ll be good. I’m sorry.”
“Did you hit Peggy Ann?”
“No, honest. You ask her. It was something—well, she’s just a scaredy pants.”
The ring of children drew in around Mink where she scowled at her work with spoons and a kind of square-shaped arrangement of hammers and pipes. “There and there,” murmured Mink.
“What’s wrong?” said Mrs. Morris.
“Drill’s stuck. Halfway. If we could only get him all the way through, it’d be easier. Then all the others could come through after him.”
“Can I help?”
“No’m, thanks. I’ll fix it.”
“All right. I’ll call you for your bath in half an hour. I’m tired of watching you.
She went in and sat in the electric relaxing chair, sipping a little beer from a half-empty glass. The chair massaged her back. Children, children. Children and love and hate, side by side. Sometimes children loved you, hated you—all in half a second. Strange children, did they ever forget or forgive the whippings and the harsh, strict words of command? She wondered. How can you ever forget or forgive those over and above you, those tall and silly dictators?
Time passed. A curious, waiting silence came upon the street, deepening.
Five o’clock. A clock sang softly somewhere in the house in a quiet, musical voice: “Five o’clock—five o’clock. Time’s a-wasting. Five o’clock,” and purred away into silence.
Mrs. Morris chuckled in her throat. Zero hour.
A beetle car hummed into the driveway. Mr. Morris. Mrs. Morris smiled. Mr. Morris got out of the beetle, locked it, and called hello to Mink at her work. Mink ignored him. He laughed and stood for a moment watching the children. Then he walked up the front steps.
She strained forward on the edge of the chair, listening. The children were silent. Too silent.
He emptied his pipe, refilled it. “Swell day. Makes you glad to be alive.”
“What’s that?” asked Henry.
“I don’t know.” She got up suddenly, her eyes widening. She was going to say something. She stopped it. Ridiculous. Her nerves jumped. “Those children haven’t anything dangerous out there, have they?” she said.