Read interview of author, Oakley Hall.
Into the length of San Diego Bay the downtown area of San Diego protrudes like a bent elbow; the forearm then follows a gradually rising ridge northward to end in a promontory called Mission Hills, which, broken up into canyons and ridges, resembles very much a hand with the fingers clenched to hold it tightly there, above the mudflats and Old Town. The main artery of Mission Hills is Fort Stockton Drive, which follows the central ridge to the end of the promontory. Intersecting Fort Stockton, side streets run out on the tributary ridges where there are smaller neighborhoods within the whole of Mission Hills.
The neighborhood off Balboa Drive was, in 1928, a new one, a subdivision fleshing out in the prevalent style of low, Spanish-type houses: with white stucco walls bright in the sun, and red tile roofs and new lawns green and close shaven, and the asphalt streets and the sidewalks neatly black and white; with vacant lots marked sold, and dusty men with mules and fresnos leveling the lots, carpenters in white overalls raising yellow skeletons of two-by-fours, and the neighbors speculating on the size of the houses and how much money was going into them, and the children quoting the comments of their parents and playing in the structures after the carpenters had gone home at night.
The people who lived near Balboa Drive in Mission Hills were not rich, but they were making more money than ever before. Their new houses were probably heavily mortgaged and their new cars had cost more than they could afford; but they were proud of their houses and their cars and of being able to live in Mission Hills and bring up their children in such a nice residential area. Mostly they were young. They were doctors or owned successful stores, they were in banks or were doing well selling insurance, or they ran automobile agencies or construction companies.
At the west end of Balboa Drive the canyon dropped off steeply from Mission Hills to the shacks and rutted dirt streets of Old Town. Balboa Drive was dead end up there, blocked by thick wooden posts and a galvanized wire fence. Beyond the fence a trail, almost invisible as it wound down through the brown grasses of the canyon, led to a hut. They called it a fort instead of a hut, Joe Bailey and the group of Mission Hill boys of nine or ten or eleven who were his companions; it had been there in the canyon when Joe had moved to Mission Hills two years before, and, although they all played in the fort, it had always seemed to Joe that it belonged particularly to him.
It was dim inside, with the noon sunlight leaking into the hut only through the chinks at the corners and around the boards they had nailed up to shutter the two small windows. Joe sat in the good chair, picking at the rubber label on the heel of one of his sneakers and facing Peter Gorman, his best friend, who sat uneasily in the other, the broken chair, which they had repaired as best they could.
“This fort's sure shaky now,” Peter said.
“We ought to fix an old booby trap so if any more tramps come sneaking around,” Joe said gloomily.
Peter nodded. With a careful motion he raised both hands to clasp them on top of his blond head.
“Dam old tramps,” Joe said. He had been very disturbed when they had come down this Sunday to find one of the two packing boxes, which served as the foundation of the fort, caved in and the chair broken. He and Peter and Billy, who had a little while ago gone home to lunch, had decided that a tramp from Old Town had gotten in and jumped up and down on the floor, just to be mean. And it must have been a big fat tramp to have broken the chair like that. The chair still fell apart unless you sat on it very carefully, and the wooden crate they had found wasn’t the right size to hold the fort up properly.
“We ought to get some bricks and stick under that box we got,” Joe said. “Maybe that would fix it.”
“Yeah,” Peter said. They both fell silent. Joe stared at the uneven line where the roof had worked away from the bank at the back; pebbles and dirt had slid down onto the floor in a miniature landslide. He thought of asking his father, who with his Uncle Dick operated Bailey Brothers, Construction and Hauling, what to do to fix the fort up. His father ought to know.
“My Pop's going to vote for Hoover and Curtis,” he said suddenly.
“My grandma is too,” Peter said. “My grandma says it’s Hoover against the scum of the earth.”
“Uncle Dick’s —” Joe began and stopped. His Uncle Dick was for Norman Thomas, but he guessed he’d better not mention it, even to Peter. Uncle Dick had said once that he was a Wobbly who had sold out for a new roadster and an apartment in the Athletic Club, and Joe’s father had told him that a Wobbly was a kind of socialist. And Norman Thomas was a socialist. “Well, I’d sure vote for Hoover,” he said hurriedly.
Peter didn’t seem to have been listening. His face was flushed, and he brushed at his blond cowlick. “Say, Joe —” he said and stopped too.
“What?” Joe said, shifting nervously in the good chair. He wondered if Peter was going to ask him about Con Robinson’s sister. Before Billy had left they had got into an argument about whether Joe’s mother’s Packard was better than Dr. Skinner’s Buick, and Joe had made the mistake of mentioning the Robinsons’ big new Packard. Billy had sung, “Joe loves Connie” and “Con loves Joey,” and then had announced that Charlotte Robinson screwed like a rabbit. Peter hadn’t known what he meant, and Billy, who was a year older and had a brother in high school, had made fun of him. Joe hoped Peter wasn’t going to ask him about it.
But Peter only said, “Aw, nothing,” and leaned back in his chair. The chair collapsed with a wrench and a crash; Peter sprawled on the floor. He got up, red-faced and rubbing his hip, and turned away from Joe while he put the chair back together again. “Say, I guess I’d better be getting home,” he said. “My grandma’ll raise heck if I’m late for lunch.”
“I guess my folks’re home now too,” Joe said.
The floor creaked and shifted treacherously under his feet as he followed Peter to the trapdoor. They crawled out through the secret passage between the packing boxes. Peter stood with his face averted while he slapped the dirt from the knees of his dungarees, and trailed behind Joe as they climbed the canyon to the end of Balboa Drive.
At the top Joe stopped and waited for him to catch up. From where he stood he could see San Diego Bay, shining gray in the sun, and Point Loma and North Island, and, nearer, the mudflats and the dingy buildings of Old Town strung along between the highway and the foot of Mission Hills. He watched Peter toiling up the steep slope.
When Peter came up beside him he said, “That darn guy Bill. I wish he’d stay home.”
“Yeah,” Peter said and gave him a grateful look.
They walked around the last white post and onto the sidewalk together. Joe picked up a rock and threw it at the telephone pole. The rock thudded against the dark wood and fell to the sidewalk. Peter kicked it, Joe kicked it, then Peter kicked it again; they kept it going until Joe gave it a hard kick that sent it bounding across Dana Street and into the culvert. He could see his house now, wide and white above the steep lawn up which the red steps curved gracefully. The drapes were drawn in the big front window.
“Well, I guess my folks haven’t got home yet,” he said. He felt a small, ashamed twist of fright. He was sure his mother had told him she would be home before noon. “Well, I guess I’ll walk up to your house with you,” he said.
“When’re your folks supposed to be home, Joe?”
“Well, I guess Mother’s coming back about one,” he said, trying to remember what she’d told him this morning. “She’s at some flower show or something. And Pop’s out playing golf. You coming back down to the fort this afternoon, Pete?”
“If Grandma’ll let me,” Peter said.
Peter was an orphan; his father had been killed in an airplane in the war. He lived with his grandmother in a big old two-story house on Fort Stockton Drive.
As they walked along in silence, Joe turned to look back at his own house. It was newer than those on either side of it, and bigger; and the back yard, with the fishpond and his mother’s flower garden, walled by the high cypress hedge, was the best back yard in his part of Mission Hills — except for the Robinsons’. And it had the biggest plate-glass window in Mission Hills, his mother had told him. He began to feel better. He sauntered along more slowly now beside Peter.
Where Balboa Drive swung off to the right and Serra Street to the left, he could see Con’s house, two stories high, English-looking instead of Spanish, with a tall chimney at either end and a birdbath on the broad flat front lawn. It seemed right that Con should have the biggest house and the biggest and newest Packard around Balboa Drive. Mr. Robinson was something important back in Washington, D.C.; Joe’s mother spoke enviously of Mrs. Robinson; Charlotte Robinson went to the University of Southern California; and Con was the best girl in Mission Hills. And she was his girl. Some time he was going to ask her, just to make sure. But he knew she was. Con was his girl and Peter was his best friend.
He studiously did not look at the Robinsons’ house as he and Peter moved up Serra Street past it. But he saw Peter glance at him out of the corners of his eyes and nervously brush the blond cowlick back.
“Well, that’s crazy what Bill said about Charlotte Robinson,” Joe said.
Peter’s face reddened.
“Well, but my grandma says Charlotte’s awfully fast.” He added quickly, “But maybe she’s going to get married. She’s old enough to get married, isn’t she, Joe?”
“She’s an awful lot older than Con. Sure, I guess she’s old enough, all right.”
“Say, you in love with Con Robinson, Joe?” “Aaaaah!” he said and shrugged. But he felt himself flushing. “Well, I guess she’s in love with me, though.”
“You’re sure lucky,” Peter said.
“Well, she wants to hold hands sometimes, and Charlotte was kidding her about it once. I guess she’s in love with me, all right.” “I guess so,” Peter said. He was walking more rapidly now, and Joe had to hurry to keep up with him. At the pepper tree in front of his grandmother’s house Peter hurriedly said so long and went inside without looking back. Joe leaned against the pepper tree, watching the cars pass on Fort Stockton Drive. There were many new cars; their windshields glinted in the sun at the exact same place as they passed him.
Finally he moved slowly back down Fort Stockton Drive. At the corner above the Robinsons’ house he jumped up to chin himself on the lowest spike of the telephone pole. Swinging back and forth on the spike, he decided to go by and see Con for a minute. He let himself drop.
His hands were sticky from leaning against Peter’s pepper tree, and as he was wiping them on his pants a new Model A roadster with a shiny radiator swooped around the far corner and stopped. Charlotte Robinson and a man in white flannels got out.
Joe moved quickly behind the telephone pole. He watched Charlotte intently. She looked like Con except that she was grown up, her hair was lighter and curly and cut short, and she was very thin. He wondered if there was any way to tell by looking at Charlotte, thinking of what Billy had said and remembering Con telling him about sneaking downstairs at night and watching Charlotte necking with guys in the library.
Charlotte was standing very close to the man as they talked. Often she would shrug her shoulders, one arm swinging out while she held the other palm up, as though balancing a tray. Presently she turned, and he could hear her heels clattering as she ran up to the house. The man remained standing at the curb, lighting his pipe; then he got into the roadster. When he drove past Joe he was scowling.
Joe glanced once more down at Con’s house; the front door, which Charlotte had left open, was a black hole. Suddenly the sunny street, bordered by the white houses and trim lawns, seemed strange, almost hostile. He swung around, his mind crowded and oppressed with what Billy had said about Charlotte, and with the way the fort had shaken under his feet when he had climbed inside today. And why hadn’t his mother and father been at home? He started back toward his house; he broke into a trot, a stitch coming quickly to his side, panting.
When he reached the comer of Balboa Drive and Dana Street he could see that the drapes were pulled back on the big front window. Uncle Dick’s roadster was parked in front of the house. Still he did not stop running; behind Uncle Dick’s car was his father’s Studebaker. That wasn’t right! His father always parked the Studebaker in the garage! He ran wildly up the sidewalk and up the lawn to the front porch. The front door was locked. He thrust against it with his shoulder. He hammered on the door with his fists.
Uncle Dick opened it. His tired, set face was a grayish color. Uncle Dick put his arm around him and held him tight. Across the room the light from the front window slanted down on his father, sitting in the green overstuffed chair, a glass balanced on the arm at his elbow. He had on his brown golf knickers and white stockings, and his hair was rumpled as though he had just got out of bed.
“Pop!” Joe yelled. “Where’s Mother? She — Uncle Dick, where’s —” His nose was running and he could not stop panting. “Where’s my mother?” he cried. Uncle Dick’s arm felt like a piece of warm heavy iron, holding him.
His father got to his feet. The glass toppled, fell, thudded on the carpet. The liquor made a fan-shaped stain as the glass rolled. His father took two quick steps toward him. His face seemed to have settled over on one side; his eyes were shiny and the flesh around them red. “Oh God!” he whispered. “Oh God, the poor kid!” He was swaying a little, and Joe knew he must have had a lot to drink out at the golf club.
“I want my mother,” he said. He hadn’t wanted her very often, but now she wasn’t here. His side ached, and he didn’t know why he was crying. Uncle Dick’s arm tightened again as his father suddenly turned and, heavy-footed, left the room. The steps went down the hall, the bedroom door was opened and closed, the bed creaked; then silence that seemed to freeze everything inside him.
“Let’s go out in back,” Uncle Dick said. “ I have to tell you something, Joe.”
They moved through the living room, through the french doors, and out across the dark green of the shadowed lawn and the bright green lawn in the sun. Joe hated to cry, but he couldn’t help it. The look on their faces and the way his father had acted and his mother’s absence scared him, and the tears streamed out of his eyes.
They sat down together on the edge of the fishpond. The water in the pool was thick and dark green, and the two of them made shadows, one longer and broader than the other. “Joe,” Uncle Dick said. Uncle Dick’s face was very like his father’s, but much younger and not so worried-looking all the time. “Joe, your mother’s dead,” Uncle Dick said.
Joe rubbed his eyes and tried to strain them open against the tears. The sun seemed very bright. It came over the red tile roof of the house and was hot on his face, and in his hot eyes everything danced and shimmered and had bright blurred edges.
“Listen,” Uncle Dick said quietly. “You’ve got to help me, Joe. Your father feels pretty terrible about this, and we’ve got to do all we can to help him.”
Joe just nodded, watching Uncle Dick take out a cigarette, tap it on the face of his wristwatch, and light it. Uncle Dick’s hand shook. He said, “You’re going to have to be pretty brave, Joe. I want you to act like you’re ten years old every minute. You wouldn’t want to make your father feel any worse, would you?”
Joe shook his head. Uncle Dick said, “Your mother was hurt in an auto accident. She died this afternoon.”
“Oh,” Joe said. Uncle Dick grasped his shoulder and squeezed, but Joe didn’t look up. His mother was dead. He said it to himself, but the words didn’t seem to mean anything or to evoke any emotion other than a numb fear.
“Joe,” Uncle Dick said softly, but still Joe did not look up. “Joe, your father wants you to stay with Drake and Sylvia for a few days.”
He gasped. With terror now he thought of his Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Drake, who lived in a little old house in La Mesa. Uncle Dick’s hand squeezed his shoulder again.
“Aw, listen,” Joe said, sobbing. “Listen, Uncle Dick —*
“Would you rather stay with me?”
He gasped again, with relief.
“I’ll see if I can fix it,” Uncle Dick said. “You can ditch school for a week. Would that be all right, Joe?”
Joe nodded furiously, biting his lip and thinking of spending a week with Uncle Dick, who lived at the Athletic Club. The Athletic Club was in downtown San Diego, a great tall building that always looked new and as though the concrete were still wet, with many windows catching the sun and a flag at the top. He and Uncle Dick could swim together in the pool and work out in the gym and eat in the Grill and go for rides in Uncle Dick’s roadster with the top down.
“Would that be all right, Joe?” Uncle Dick repeated.
He could only nod dumbly. He could not stop crying. What Uncle Dick had said at first was merely an incomprehensible shock; an accident on El Cajon Boulevard, the Packard wrecked, his mother.... It was not real. Real and immediate was the fact that his father should have wanted to send him to stay in La Mesa with Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Drake. It was as though his father had tried to desert him. He could feel the shifting beneath his feet, the beginning of the crumbling. He had a vast and terrifying premonition that something was going to change, that everything might change.
Uncle Drake cut the square of cold meat into four smaller squares, speared them in turn on his fork, put them into his mouth. Joe watched his Adam’s apple jerk up and down as he swallowed. “You’ve had a great loss, Tom,” Uncle Drake said sorrowfully.
“Yes,” Joe’s father said. He hadn’t touched the food on his plate, Joe saw. The beans had a thin white crust on them and red bean juice had stained the potato salad.
“Didn’t she look lovely?” Aunt Sylvia asked. She clutched Joe’s hand in her warm moist hand. “They made my little sister look so lovely and peaceful.”
Joe felt his own Adam’s apple work. He had been too frightened to look at his mother’s face. When he had gone past the coffin he had looked only at her feet. The stockings had shocked him; the shoes had been his mother’s — he remembered them — but he had never seen her wear black stockings. He didn’t think his mother had ever had any black stockings.
“I think they did a remarkable piece of work,” Uncle Drake said, “considering.”
Joe heard Uncle Drake’s stomach growl and Uncle Dick’s fork scrape on his plate. He looked around the room. It was a little dark house; there seemed never to be enough light in it. The linoleum felt cold and hard beneath his feet, and there were great brown stains on the ceiling. Above the piano, which had an empty brass candleholder at either end, hung a framed photograph of Grandmother Mitchell. Grandmother Mitchell’s hair had once been very red, his mother had told him, and, when she was young, so long she could sit on it. In the picture her hair was white and done up at the back, and the photograph was oval-shaped, brownish, and surrounded by a spotted square of cardboard that filled the frame. His Grandmother Mitchell had died when he was six.
“And what Mr. Slator said was so beautiful,” Aunt Sylvia was saying. Joe saw his father glance at Uncle Dick, who shook his head slightly. “I’m so glad Mr. Slator was able to do the services himself?’ Aunt Sylvia said.
“Yes,” his father said.
Joe had hated Mr. Slator, a bald man who wore a black suit and had big pigeon-toed feet. He had tried to make everybody cry. Joe had cried, and he had felt shamed when he had seen his father crying too.
“Didn’t you think it was lovely, dear?” Aunt Sylvia said to him. Her fat cheeks were trembling, and there were tears in her eyes. He felt the tears come to his own eyes. She said,“Didn’t you —”
“Sylvia,” his father said a little sharply.
Joe wished they could leave right away, now that lunch was over, but when they rose Aunt Sylvia beckoned him into the kitchen with her. Sun from the window over the sink shivered across the little dark icebox and the greasy-looking stove. Aunt Sylvia put her arms around him and dragged him back with her until she sat down in the chair at the kitchen table.
“Dear,” she said, “would you like to come to live with your Auntie Sylvia and Uncle Drake?”
His heart dropped sickeningly. He stared into Aunt Sylvia’s eyes, which were big and light blue, with little whitish lines around the pupils, like his mother’s eyes. He felt the tears that came so easily start again, and his collar was suddenly too tight. He had to say something. But he couldn’t think of anything to say; he didn’t want to say that he couldn't live in this little old house with its dinky yard in La Mesa.
“We could fix Grandmother Mitchell’s room over for you, dear. You know we’d love to have you, don’t you?”
The words came out fast and high-pitched. “Gee, it would be awfully nice, Aunt Sylvia, but — well, but I’ve got to be going back to school Monday and —”
“There’s a very nice school here in La Mesa, dear, and close.”
“Aw, Aunt Sylvia, all my old friends’rc in Mission Hills. I couldn’t go live anywhere else!”
“But you could make other little friends, couldn’t you? Boys your age make new friends very quickly.” “I don’t want any new friends,” he cried. “I want everything just like it was, goddarn it. Goddarn it—” He was sobbing now, and he jerked his head from side to side, thrusting against her imprisoning arms.
It seemed to make her feel better to see him crying. She released him to wipe his eyes with a handkerchief pulled from the sleeve of her dress. “We’ll talk about it some other time, dear,” she said. “But you must pretend I’m your mother now, since your own dear mother is gone. Will you remember to do that, Joseph?”
He heard footsteps approaching the door; Uncle Dick looked in. “Oh, there you are. Tom has to be getting back to the office, Sylvia. Ready, Joe?”
He sniffed and nodded, hard. Aunt Sylvia rose. “Do you have to take the boy away so soon?”
“I’m afraid so,” Uncle Dick said, and he put his arm around Joe’s shoulders as they went out.
They drove silently back to San Diego, where Uncle Dick let Joe’s father off at the yards. A sign over the low wooden building said, “Bailey Bros. Construction & Hauling.” From the yards behind the office came the sounds of a heavy motor and a metallic hammering. Uncle Dick and his father left the car and talked together on the sidewalk, just out of earshot. Then his father came over to the car, to tell him goodbye and to be a good boy, and Uncle Dick slid behind the wheel. As Uncle Dick drove away, Joe watched his father move slowly toward the door of the office building. He stopped there and removed his hat and slapped it tiredly against his leg before he disappeared inside.
Uncle Dick’s apartment in the Athletic Club consisted of one big room and a small bedroom and bath. The door was always left unlocked, because, Uncle Dick said, what was the use of living in your own club if you didn’t trust the other members, and also his friends always knew where they could get a drink, if they needed one, whether he was there or not. In the big room were a couch, a leather armchair, and a desk on which were several thick books between two black-elephant bookends and a pipe rack holding a great number of pipes.
Uncle Dick sat down at his desk and dipped a pipe into a leather jar full of tobacco. “Would you like some ginger ale, Joe?”
“Sure,” Joe said. He moved nervously around the room while Uncle Dick phoned downstairs. He felt near tears again, and tired, and frightened of Aunt Sylvia. When the ginger ale and ice came Uncle Dick gave him some. He stood staring down at the bubbles streaming up through his glass while Uncle Dick poured liquor into his own glass from a squat flat bottle.
“Uncle Dick, listen. What happened anyway?”
Uncle Dick looked at him questioningly.
“What happened to my mother?”
“She had an accident when she was coming home from the flower show,” Uncle Dick said. “Out on El Cajon Boulevard.” After a pause he said quietly, “She died right after they got her to the hospital.”
“Well, did some guy run into —”
“No,” Uncle Dick said. “It just happened. The traffic’s pretty bad out there on Sundays. Joe, don’t you want to go in and take a little nap? Then we’ll go to the Saddlerock for dinner and maybe take in a show afterward.”
He shook his head.
“Uncle Dick, is Pop going to make me go out there and stay with Aunt Sylvia?”
“I don’t know, Joe. I —”
“For crying out loud, he wouldn’t, would he? He wouldn’t do that, would he, Uncle Dick?”
Uncle Dick didn’t answer.
“Listen,” Joe said.“Listen, I haven’t asked you a lot of old serious favors, have I, Uncle Dick?” Uncle Dick swam in his eyes, leaning back in his chair with a box of matches in his hand. “Have I?” Joe demanded.
Uncle Dick shook his head His mouth was pursed as he lit a match and held it over the bowl of his pipe. “Well, you’ve got to talk to Pop and tell him not to make me go out there! Honest! You know I can’t stand that old Aunt Sylvia and all — and all that! You know! Tell him, will you?”
“Easy, Joe,” Uncle Dick said. He came around the desk, sat down in the leather chair, and took Joe on his lap. He rubbed his hand over Joe’s head. “You’re crying before you’re hurt.” “I’m not either crying!” “Now easy, Joe. It hasn’t —”
“Well, you wait and see!” he cried.“But he’s not going to send me out there! I’m not going!” He jumped off Uncle Dick’s lap. “Goddam it!” he yelled.“They’re all old son-of-a-bitches! Everybody is!” He ran into the bedroom and flung himself on the bed. Sons-of-bitches, sons-of-bitches, sons-of-bitches — they were trying to take everything away and wreck everything and... Why did you have to go and get killed? he cried desperately, silently, to his mother.
Uncle Dick came in and sat beside him on the bed. His face turned away, Joe could still smell the pipe, and finally he said into the pillow, “Aw, you know I didn’t mean you, Uncle Dick.”
“Listen, Joe,” Uncle Dick said slowly. “Your father’s worried about you, and right now he’s pretty worried about business He has to be away a lot, and think how he’d feel if something happened to you because he wasn’t there.” He paused for a long time before he said, “Your father is about the best guy there is. He wants to do the best thing he can for you. Don’t you forget that, Joe.’
“I’m sorry I was an old cry-baby,” Joe said.
“Everything will be all right,” Uncle Dick said “Now you take a nap.”The springs creaked as he got up, and he closed the door softly behind him.
But Joe did not go to sleep, for now, as he stared into the white blindness of the pillow, he was seeing the soft, shiny lining of the casket and his mother lying there in her black dress, the black stockings, her familiar black shoes, and then he saw the casket closed and gleaming bronze in the sun with flowers heaped around it, apparently resting on the bright grass of the graveyard. But beneath it was a hole, and by now the casket would be down in the hole, and the hole filled with earth, and suddenly he realized that his mother was forever dead.
Saturday morning he was alone in Uncle Dick’s apartment when his father came in. He dropped the Judge magazine he had been reading over the far side of the chair and rose quickly.
“Hello, son,” his father said, and when his father put his arms around him Joe could feel his uneven breathing through his coat. He felt awkward and uneasy, and he was glad when his father released him and sat down in the leather chair removing his hat. Stand ing beside the chair, Joe could look down on his head; his father’s hair was brown like Uncle Dick’s, not red-brown and curly like his own, and near the back of his head was a bald spot the size of a silver dollar. It was the first time he had seen his father alone since his mother had died.
“I don’t know what to say to you, son.”
“That’s all right. Pop.” “I wish there was something I could say to you so that it wouldn’t be so. But there isn’t. I’m afraid we’ll have to learn to get along without her.”
Joe nodded and licked his lips.
“Are you all right here with Dick?”
“Sure,” he said, and then he wondered if now his father was going to say something about sending him out to live with Aunt Sylvia. He began to feel sickly angry.
“Well —” his father said. He slapped his hands down on his knees and looked up at Joe. “Well, get your suit on, son. We’re going to have lunch down in the dining room.”
Now his father avoided his eyes. Slowly Joe turned away and went into the bedroom to put on his new suit. It was dark blue with a belted back and pleats on the trousers; Uncle Dick had bought it for him for the funeral His father came in to watch him and tried to help him with the tie. “No,” Joe said. “I can do it myself.”
As they came out of the elevator in the lobby he saw Con. She was coming in through the door from the street, followed by a lady with a hat pulled down over her hair and a coat with a fur collar. Uncle Dick was holding the door for them, and Con’s patent leather shoes tapped on the floor. She wore her sailor hat and a dark blue coat he had never seen before. She hesitated when she saw him, but Uncle Dick gave her a little push, and she came toward him and put out her hand. She looked very solemn, and her hand was cold.
“Joe,” Uncle Dick said, “this is Mrs. Diaz.”
The lady, who he supposed was a friend of Uncle Dick’s, turned quickly from saying something to his father, smiled, and said, “Hello, kid.” Her coat looked old beside Con’s new blue one. She was dark-skinned, with dark nervous eyes and very red lips. He didn’t like being called “kid” in front of Con, but he was grateful that nothing had been said about his mother.
In the dining room they all sat down at a table beneath the high amber-glass windows that poured yellow light on the white tablecloth and the upside-down glasses and the tents of napkins and the silver. When the others were talk-ing Joe felt Con’s hand touch his arm, then his hand. “I’m awfully sorry about your mother,’ Con whispered. “Do you feel awfully bad?”
“I don’t feel so bad any more. I felt pretty bad at first, all right.” He didn’t look at her, thinking how terrible it would be if he started to cry. “I guess I’m going back to school day after tomorrow.’
The waiter came with a tray and set a shrimp cocktail before each of them. His father was telling Uncle Dick about something that had happened at the office that morning, and Mrs. Diaz was smoking. She looked worried and ill at ease, except when Uncle Dick said something to her, and she smoked with quick nervous puffs. There was a gold chain around her neck from which a gold cross hung. The cross lay over a small mole on her chest that throbbed steadily. Joe was glad that Uncle Dick had brought Con today, but he wondered why he had brought Mrs. Diaz.
“The dumps are coming in this afternoon,” his father said and grinned. “They’re painted red, I hear. They’ll match the ink on the books.”
“Pay for themselves inside a year,” Uncle Dick said.
“So you keep telling me. I hope you’re right."
“We can paint about half of them black after the Kearny job. They’re sure going to help us out there.” Uncle Dick laughed and turned to Mrs. Diaz. “We went in over our heads to buy a fleet of dumps, Mary,” he explained. “Tom’s been doing a lot of worrying.” Mrs. Diaz picked a fleck of tobacco from her lip. There were lipstick stains on her white teeth. “Everybody gets in things over their head, don’t they?” she said in a low voice. Joe saw Uncle Dick pat her hand. The skin of her hand was dry and coarse, the nails cut very short and chewed at the corners like his own nails. He felt ashamed and angry to see Uncle Dick patting her hand, and thought of his mother’s white, soft, small hands, and remembered his mother always putting lotion on them, and always wearing the blue rubber gloves when she did the dishes and the canvas gloves when she worked in her flower garden.
Con’s elbow nudged his arm. “What are dumps?” she whispered.
“Dump trucks,” Joe said and immediately felt better.“We’re getting twenty new dump trucks. I guess they just came today.” He saw that Uncle Dick and his father were smiling at him.
“Oh,” Con said.
He couldn’t tell whether she was impressed or not. She was picking at her shrimp cocktail with the smallest fork. Mrs. Diaz was using a spoon. His own hand hesitated as he tried to remember which his mother would have told him to use. Then he picked up the fork, because he knew Con could not be wrong.
After lunch Uncle Dick asked Joe if he and Con wanted to go to a show by themselves. He gave Joe a dollar, and Joe and Con went to the nearest theater, where there was a Rin-Tin-Tin movie. The theater was silent except for the film whirring and the kids giggling down in the front rows.
They ate popcorn and held hands. When the picture wasn’t exciting any more Joe slid down in his seat and turned toward Con.
Con whispered, “Joe, who’s that Mrs. Diaz?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, she certainly doesn’t have very good table manners. Is she your uncle’s girl?”
“No!” Joe said. Now he felt he had to defend Mrs. Diaz. “Maybe she’s his secretary,” he said, although he was sure she was not. He’d never seen her at the office, and Ruth Bentley, who was his father’s secretary, was Uncle Dick’s secretary too.
“Your uncle isn’t married, is he?”
“She must be his girl,” Con said. Then she added, “She’s a Mexican.”
“She’s not either!” “She is too,” Con said in the way that meant her mind was made up and there could be no argument. “She looks Mexican, and that’s a Mexican name. I think she’s your uncle’s girl.”
Joe was silent, considering the vast difference in the implications of Mrs. Diaz being Uncle Dick’s girl and of Con being his girl. He kept thinking of what Billy had said about Charlotte, and it all seemed to have gotten smeared together in his mind — Charlotte Robinson and the man in white flannels who owned the Model A, and Uncle Dick and Mrs. Diaz, who was a Mexican. He felt a growing anger because Charlotte and the man in white flannels had looked so clean and nice standing there on the curb in front of the Robinsons’ house, beside the new roadster, and he kept seeing Uncle Dick and Mrs. Diaz against a backdrop of the fat dirty Mexicans at the shack in Old Town where he sometimes went with his father to get tamales.
“Say, Con,” he whispered suddenly, “Bill Skinner says Charlotte does it.” He stared intently at Rin-Tin-Tin, who now was standing on a great rock with bushes all around it, barking. But out of the corners of his eyes he saw Con’s head jerk toward him. Her hair swung across her cheek.
“I told Bill it wasn’t so,” he added quickly. Con’s forehead was cut by a sharp perpendicular frown. Suddenly he didn’t feel like holding hands with her any more, but he was afraid it would be the wrong thing to do to remove his hand. He wished he had not mentioned Charlotte.
But he said, “I guess she could, couldn’t she, Con? I guess Charlotte’s old enough, all right. Isn’t she?”
Con still didn’t speak, and he continued, “I wondered if you’d seen her with any of those guys. Maybe that guy with the neat roadster.”
“Gee, I don’t know,” Con said. Her eyes met his worriedly. “I was trying — I don’t exactly — gee, Joe, maybe she does.” Con looked scared.
He was becoming more and more uneasy holding hands, but their hands seemed to be stuck together. “Listen, Con,” he whispered, “you’ve seen her necking down in that old room. For crying out loud, what do they do down there, anyway?”
“Mostly they just kiss.” She hesitated. “Well, and sometimes they rub her up here.” She removed her hand from his and touched his chest. Then she dropped her hand into her lap and Joe put his in his pocket.
“Gee, I bet she does, Con,” he said “Do you think she does?”
“I don’t know,” Con said. On the screen the villain had set fire to the cabin and the heroine was pounding on the door while Rin-Tin-Tin ran around in a circle. The kids in the front rows began to yell.
Con turned toward him. “They can’t do it down there,” she whispered “They don’t take their clothes off”
“Huh?” he said “What?”
"Down in the library,” Con said impatiently. “They don’t take their clothes off. They have to take their clothes off to do it.”
“Oh,” Joe said. He thought about that. “Say, you can’t tell by looking at her or anything, can you? I mean when she’s — when she doesn’t have any clothes on or anything. Can you?” Con shook her head. “She’s just like I am, except —” She stopped.
He’d seen Con without her clothes on. He’d never told anyone but Peter. He and Con had gone swimming three times last summer down in Mission Valley at an abandoned sand pit. There was a big hole full of greenish water with trees and bushes thick around it. It had been hard not to look at Con when she didn’t have her clothes on, and now he could see her in his mind’s eye, floating white in the green water with her black hair plastered down over her face. And once he had seen his mother taking a shower. His mother had bent over quickly and covered herself with her arms and hands and had screamed at him to knock before he came into the bathroom.
“I don’t think she does it,” Con said. “She wouldn’t anyway, because she’s not married.” She sounded as though that settled it.
Joe was beginning to feel strange in the pit of his stomach, and he stretched and slid down in his seat again.“Maybe I’m going to run away,” he whispered.
He told her. “If Pop tries to make me go out there and live with that old Aunt Sylvia I’m going to run away,” he said. “That’s all. I’m just going to run away.”
“Sometimes I think I’ll run away too,” Con said.
“Maybe we could run away together!”
“Where would we go?” “Down to Ensenada, Mexico. My Uncle Dick told me about it. You can shoot deer and catch fish and live in a tent. I’ll bet we could live there easy as anything.”
“Oh!” Con said and stared at him. But he averted his eyes; he knew they couldn’t do that. He didn’t say anything more, and finally Con touched his hand and rose, and he looked up to see Rin-Tin-Tin standing on the great rock, howling silently and fading off the screen.
Uncle Dick was waiting in the lobby of the Athletic Club, smoking his pipe and reading the paper. They took Con home in the roadster with the top down, and on the way back stopped at Peter’s house.
Peter was shy at first and wouldn’t look at Joe, but Uncle Dick told jokes till Peter had to laugh, and then invited him to come on down to the yards and look at the new trucks.
Uncle Dick parked the roadster in front of the office building. They went in through the screen door, Peter first, then Joe, then Uncle Dick. At the end of a little corridor was a door with a sign over it that said, “T. L. Bailey.”
“That’s my father’s office,” Joe whispered to Peter. Inside, his father was talking on the telephone. On his desk a thin column of cigarette smoke rose from a green glass ashtray set into a miniature rubber tire. He arched his eyebrows and put his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone.
“I’ve brought a couple of experts down to look over those new trucks,” Uncle Dick said, and his father winked and nodded. Peter was looking about with round eyes. On the wall beyond Uncle Dick was a photograph of every-one who worked in the office, standing on the huge low-bed trailer they had bought last year.
“Well, you’ve got to come down on that price,” his father said into the phone. “I know these are boom times, but we’re not going to pay that kind of money for bitumuls.” Bitumuls sounded like a swear word.
Ruth Bentley, his father’s secretary, hurried in, holding some papers in her hand. She was tall and light-haired, pink-cheeked, and big-chested in a white shirt with a little black tie. “Tom —” She stopped when she saw Joe, then put her arms around him so that his face was pressed into her soft breast. “Joe,” she said. “Oh, Joe, you poor kid.” He had to turn his face to get his breath.
“Let’s go down and look at those trucks,” Uncle Dick said loudly, and Ruth released Joe and backed away, smoothing her hands over the lap of her skirt.
Joe’s father put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone again. “You go on down,” he said. “I’ll be out just as soon as I can get through here.”
“Right,” Uncle Dick said. “Let’s go, men.” He herded them out the back door and down the wooden outside stairs, leaving Ruth standing red-faced beside the desk.
The trucks were lined up in the alleyway at the rear of the office building, seven of them, bright red with shining radiators. A man was squatting to paint letters on the door of the fourth one, and the first three doors already bore the inscription, “Bailey Bros. Construction & Hauling.”
“Well, what do you think of them?” Uncle Dick asked.
“Boy, they’re sure big!” Peter said.
“That isn’t all, is it, Uncle Dick?”
“Thirteen more,” Uncle Dick said. He stopped to talk to a fat man in blue overalls who had come out of the sheds. Peter and Joe moved on down the line of trucks and climbed into the cab of the last one. It was hot inside the cab, which smelled new, and Joe could see that Peter was impressed. He showed Peter where the gears were and how to press the thumb-lever under the gearshift knob to go into reverse. He adjusted the mirror so they could look back into the gleaming metal bed without turning around.
Peter was moving the gearshift back and forth as though it were the joy-stick of an airplane and squinting out the windshield. “Guess what?” he said.
“Now you’ve got more cars than anybody else in Mission Hills, maybe even in San Diego!”
Joe laughed shakily, but he felt enormously grateful to Peter for saying it. Maybe everything was not going to change after all. Maybe everything would be just the same, except that his mother was dead. “Aw,” he said, “they’re only trucks, Pete.”
Monday afternoon, when he came home to Mission Hills, the house seemed very large, empty and quiet. He wandered from room to room, out to the back yard to look in the fishpond, through his mother’s flower garden where he had been forbidden to play. Back in the house again he took up a post at the front window, where he could survey the houses below him on the hill and the small, dingy, distant buildings on the mudflats of Old Town. He went over in his mind exactly where he stood among all this, seeking definition and reassurance as he gazed out at his part of Mission Hills. He assured himself that it was simple. The terms were simple. His house was larger and newer than any other he could see from here — except for the Robinsons’, larger than any other in this part of Mission Hills. His father made more money than the fathers of any of his friends, again except for Mr. Robinson, and maybe the father of Bryan DuBois, who lived over on St. James Boulevard — and he never knew how to place Peter, whose grandmother just owned things that made money for her. His father had a Studebaker and a Packard, although the Packard had been wrecked, and only the Robinsons had two Packards. But Con was his girl. The whole pattern seemed very clear and secure and enduring.
He told himself over and over again that everything was all right, that nothing would change. He stood there so long, rapt, staring out the window with the silent house behind him, that he became almost afraid to move, as though if he did he might in some way disturb the carefully achieved balance and design that would keep him always safe.
When he heard the squeal of brakes and the slam of a car door the confidence he had tried to build was immediately shaken. The sounds came from in front of the house. His heart beat heavily in his chest, and his hands, clenched tight at his sides, began to sweat. He forced himself to remain at the window. Outside it was almost dark, and everything was suffused with a deep, misty blueness like a kind of syrup. Fearfully he watched the streetlights glowing in the dusk of Mission Hills, listening to his father’s footsteps coming up to the front porch.
His father entered and set Joe’s suitcase, which Uncle Dick had taken from the Athletic Club to the office that morning, on the tiled floor of the entryway. “Hello, son,” he said.
His father came over and put an arm around him and patted his shoulder. Together they sat down on the davenport.
“Did you have a good day, Pop?” he asked.
“Pretty good.” His father took out a cigarette and lit it. His face looked tired as he blinked his eyes against the smoke. “School go all right?”
“Fine,” Joe said. “Well, it’s sure good to be back home in Mission Hills. I got pretty homesick down at Uncle Dick’s.”
“Did you?” his father said.
“Say,” Joe said, “let’s go see what there is to eat. I’m pretty hungry.”
He started up, but his father caught his arm. “Son, I have to talk to you.”
Joe felt his breath come quick and hard. His father said, “Son, I think it will be better if you go to stay with your Aunt Sylvia for a while.”
Joe didn’t say anything. He promised himself he would not cry.
“Until you start to high school anyway,” his father said and paused. The spaces between the ticks of the clock on the mantel seemed very long. “Until you start to high school,” his father repeated, and that would be almost four years.
“You just want to get rid of me!” he cried.
“Son, you’re all I’ve got now,” his father said. His voice was hoarse. He stopped to clear his throat. “You know that’s not true, son,” he said. He put out his hand to take Joe’s, but Joe snatched his hand away.
“You know I can’t stand that old Aunt Sylvia! I got to stay in Mission Hills! Goddarn it, if —”
“Son, I have to judge what’s best. I’m not going to like it either.”
Joe jumped up. He hated his father. “Let’s go on out there then,” he said. “I guess I’m not wanted around here any more.” He marched toward the door.
Behind him his father said,“Do you have to make it so hard, Joe?” But Joe didn’t stop, rubbing his nose on his sleeve and sucking back the tears. He would run away as soon as they got out to Aunt Sylvia’s.
Fog was blowing in over Mission Hills; it was thicker as they drove out University Avenue and through East San Diego, past the rows of stores and houses that looked small and mean and dimly lit in the mist. Great gray blots swirled against the windshield and dropped away behind, the headlights were blunted, the tires squealed on wet streetcar tracks. It was cold, and Joe could not stop shivering. They turned finally to enter La Mesa; they passed the old filling station on the corner of Aunt Sylvia’s block. The car slowed The brake ratcheted back under his father’s hand. Joe opened the door and jumped out, pulling the suitcase from behind the seat.
“Wait, son,” his father said, but Joe hurried through the gate and up the walk, up the three hollow-sounding wooden steps, with the suitcase banging against his legs, and rang the bell. The light was on in the front room, and from the porch he could see the piano and the picture of Grandmother Mitchell.
Uncle Drake opened the door, his vest unbuttoned and a newspaper in his hand. Joe pushed past him as Aunt Sylvia came out of the kitchen. There was a smell of cooking meat. Behind him his father spoke quietly to Uncle Drake. Joe let the suitcase drop to the floor and stood staring down at it.
“Hello, dear,” Aunt Sylvia said “Have you come to stay with us?” She tried to kiss him but he twisted away.
“Where’s my room?”
“Uncle Drake has fixed Grandmother Mitchell’s room for you, dear. Would you like to look at it now?” He picked up his suitcase and turned toward the front bedroom. Uncle Drake stepped past him to open the door and turn on the light. It was a tiny room, with three potted plants resting on the window sill and a picture of Lincoln on the wall behind the bed. Joe boosted the suitcase onto the bed with his knee, sunk his hands in his pockets, and stared down at the faded green counterpane.
“It’ll seem like home pretty soon, boy,” Uncle Drake said.
Aunt Sylvia had her hands clasped against her stomach, and one of her eyelids blinked nervously. “Isn’t it nice?” she said. “And now let’s all go into the other room. Supper’s almost ready.”
Uncle Drake took his father's arm. Aunt Sylvia lingered a moment, then followed them. Joe pushed the door closed and turned the key in the lock.
“Dear?” Aunt Sylvia called anxiously.
“I’m going to bed,” he said through the door. “I don’t want any supper.” He stamped over and sat down on the edge of the bed. The springs clashed under him.
“There’s some nice pot roast, dear. And I’ve baked a chocolate cake.”
He didn’t answer. They were whispering now in the other room. Then Aunt Sylvia’s voice came again. “Dear, don’t you want some cake? It’s awfully good.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You’ll be sick if you don’t eat anything, dear.” Someone knocked. “Son?”
“I’m going to bed.” “Open the door, son.” Joe was panting, waiting for his father to speak again. But he heard him move away, and in a few minutes the front door was opened and shut. Through the window he saw his father’s figure go down the walk and through the gate and get into the Studebaker. The headlights sprang up along the street, and the Studebaker moved away into the fog.
He went over to the window. The lower half was open, and the screen was held in place by two hooks. He set the three pots on the floor, loosened the hooks, and, holding the screen open, dropped his suitcase to the ground. Then he climbed onto the sill, turned over, and let his legs dangle. He felt something solid underfoot and let go.
The suitcase turned under his weight, and he fell heavily against the side of the house. The screen slammed shut. The sound seemed terribly loud, and as he crouched in the shadows, rubbing his shin, he saw a long rectangle of light open on the porch.
“Why, it’s the boy!” Uncle Drake cried.
Joe snatched up the suitcase, ran across the grass to the walk and through the gate. Feet thumped down the wooden steps. He fled before them down the sidewalk, with the suitcase slamming against his leg and nearly tripping him at every step.
“Wait, boy!” Uncle Drake cried.“Stop! Joseph!”
He was through the gate already, Joe saw; it amazed him that an old man like Uncle Drake could run so fast. The sound of his feet seemed very loud in the foggy street. Uncle Drake sounded closer.
Joe dropped the suitcase and cut across the street. He heard Uncle Drake cry out and, looking back, he saw Uncle Drake fall over the suitcase. When he had seen people fall like that in the movies he had laughed; this almost made him sick. He heard Uncle Drake groan, hidden now in the shadows along the sidewalk, and he ran even faster around the next corner and the next. Gradually he slowed to a trot and then to a walk, grimacing at the remembrance of the sight of Uncle Drake falling.
He found the street on which his father had driven into La Mesa and started back along it. The fog was singing on the telephone wires. As the houses and the streetlights grew farther apart he began going at scout pace, then running in the darkness between the streetlights. He had to get to Uncle Dick. Uncle Dick would be on his side.
At the highway that led back to San Diego, and back to Mission Hills, he took up a post on the corner. Whenever headlights appeared out of the fog to the east or came around the comer from La Mesa he held up his arm, and at last a man in a Model-T truck stopped. The man was a shadowy bulk in overalls, whistling tunelessly as the Model T rattled along the road. He let Joe off at the end of a streetcar line, and Joe rode the streetcar down to the Plaza.
In the bright lights of downtown San Diego he felt less frightened. He went to see a Hoot Gibson movie, sitting through it twice. Then he made himself go into a drugstore and eat a hot fudge sundae. But he could hardly keep from running when he started up Sixth Avenue toward the Athletic Club.
In the elevator a strange bellhop eyed him suspiciously, and as he walked down the eighth-floor hallway he was suddenly terrified at the thought that Uncle Dick might be out. He broke into a trot. He prayed that Uncle Dick had left the door open. The door was open. He burst through. The apartment was dark, and he sobbed aloud.
Then he heard someone moving in the bedroom. A light was turned on, and Uncle Dick appeared in the bedroom doorway, facing away from him but looking over his shoulder. His blue bathrobe skewed across his back as he thrust his hands into the armholes. Below the bathrobe his legs were white and hairy.
There was someone in the bed. It was Mrs. Diaz. She made a harsh sound that turned into a laugh.
Joe backed away. Uncle Dick came after him. He kept running his hand through his hair, and he looked mad. “What the hell do you mean, busting in here like that?”
“I — I ran away, Uncle Dick.”
Uncle Dick glared down at him. The flesh around his mouth was pink. He ran his hand through his hair again.
“I ran away,” Joe whispered.
“I know you did,” Uncle Dick said. “Do you think your father hasn’t phoned everyone in town?” He sounded as though he had been drinking, and it was lipstick smeared around his mouth. “You wait right here.” Uncle Dick went back into the bedroom and closed the door. “Goddam it, Mary, I’ve got to take him home,” Joe heard him say. Mrs. Diaz made the shaky laughing sound again. Mrs. Diaz was in there in Uncle Dick’s bed.
When Uncle Dick returned he had put on his pants and slippers. His white shirt wasn’t completely buttoned, showing his hairy chest He sat down behind the desk and said a number into the phone. “Wait, Uncle Dick,” Joe whispered, but Uncle Dick just looked at him.
“Hello, Tom,” he said. “He’s here.” He listened, said,“No, I’ll bring him out,” stopped and raised his voice. “No, I’m going to bring him right out!” He hung up, got his coat, and put it on. “Come on, let’s go,” he said.
“Wait,” Joe said. “Can’t you just wait till I —”
“Come on!” Uncle Dick said roughly.
Uncle Dick clutched his arm going down in the elevator, and on the street he pushed Joe into the roadster, went around to the other side, and got in himself. The roadster jerked ahead as he choked it, and he slammed on the brakes and cursed as another car shot out of a side street. Shoving the gearshift forward and stepping on the gas, he looked over at Joe. “Have you ever been whipped, kid? Really whipped?”
Joe didn’t answer. He was biting his lip to keep from crying.
“Drake broke his ankle,” Uncle Dick said.
“Well, that’s not my fault, goddam it! If —”
“No, it’s not your fault. Nothing’s your fault, I suppose.”
“Well, it’s not!” Joe gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes closed. Everyone was against him, even Uncle Dick. “You’re not my friend any more,” he said.
“No, and if you ever come busting into my place like that again I’ll wear the seat of your pants off for you.” Uncle Dick paused, then said,“I feel pretty much like doing it now. I don’t suppose your father will.” “Well, go ahead, goddam it! I don’t give a dam!” It was all his father’s fault, he told himself; but all he could think of was Uncle Dick’s hairy legs and his mouth loose and pink — the betrayal of Mrs. Diaz in his bed with the sheet pulled over her, and this compounded by what Con had said and what was true. Mrs. Diaz was a Mexican, from Old Town or down on Market Street, where the Mexicans lived, and she was Uncle Dick’s girl. Suddenly he felt a vast sense of loss. Because now it was no longer possible for Uncle Dick to be the special kind of combined parent and friend he had always been, and so it no longer mattered that Uncle Dick was mad at him.
Looking up, he saw that they were in Mission Hills. They turned onto Fort Stockton. He remembered talking to Con about their running away together. Now it seemed very silly. He thought about telling Con about Uncle Dick and Mrs. Diaz, but he knew he never could. He thought about facing his father. He didn’t dread it. He was back in Mission Hills, and everything would be all right.
Uncle Dick turned down Dana Street and drew up before the house. The lights were on in the living room, shining in stripes over the porch and bending with the slope of the lawn. Uncle Dick came around the car and grasped his arm, but Joe said, “Let go!” and shook loose and started up the steps alone.
His father opened the door before they got to the porch. His coat was off, and he wore the slippers Joe had given him for Christmas. Joe walked past him and stopped in the center of the room. His father and Uncle Dick stood together at the door.
“You’d better go to bed, son,” his father said as though. nothing had happened. “It’s pretty late.” His face was like a bare wooden door that had been closed and locked.
Joe shoved his hands down in his pockets and moved toward the hall. In his room he took off his clothes and got into bed naked. The sheets were cold, and he pulled his legs up close to his chest.
When he heard the door close as Uncle Dick left, he sat up in bed and looked out at the back yard. A faint light came out across the terrace, and he could just distinguish the broad white back wall of the garage. He waited for his father to come in.
But his father did not come.
Reprinted with permission by the author, Oakley Hall.
Next week: Chapter 2