The Concrete Garden
Begin the walk to School by going up two blocks along Manderley Avenue—“up” meaning uphill, every step of the way. You and Hayley didn’t much care for Manderley Avenue, since its trees had twisty, gnarly branches that straggled low enough to flick even little-kid faces. But Tricia herded you up this street every weekday morning, so she could gaze between the trees at a grand and gloomy row of greystones and brownstones, much fancier than their own place on Walrock.
Which was “just a walkup,” according to Tricia.
Then “Hurry up,” you two!” she would grouse, as if you were the ones staring through the pointy-topped iron fence at what were probably haunted houses. But up you would hurry (getting your faces flicked en route) in the direction called “north.” Keep heading “north” and you’d reach Canada or even Eskimo Town; but down here you only got to walk across Yew Avenue. And why Yew? Why not “You” or just U? Or, better still, why not V?
“It’s the name of a tree no I don’t know why they call it that you should save up your questions for School,” said crabby Tricia.
Up you went again, this time to Sharp Boulevard: a much wider and busier street with shops and office buildings on either side. Here the trees (be they U’s or V’s) were few and far apart, looking like they’d been bought at a hardware store and screwed into sidewalk sockets. Maybe if you knew which leaf to pull, you could switch them on and use them as streetlamps.
“Turn right here,” Tricia ordered every morning.
Now you were heading “east,” the direction of Broadway and Times Square, for a couple of short peevish blocks. Crossing Danvers Avenue and Van Hopper Avenue, whose signs frowned down as though they suspected your hair and teeth weren’t properly brushed. This on top of repeated admonitions from the SHARP signs, reminding you how important it was to pay attention and get educated.
“Otherwise you could find yourselves working here when you grow up,” warned Tricia. Glaring emeraldly at Aaron’s Lanes & Lounge, the bowling alley on this side of Van Hopper. Which to you and Hayley sounded a lot more fun than turning left and waiting for the Safety Patrol to wipe his nose on his wrist before helping you span Sharp Boulevard.
And so you reached School.
Also known as E. M. Reulbach Elementary.
Some of whose pupils attended it for nine whole years without ever spelling the name correctly.
Tricia, of course, had gotten it right the very first time and every time since. When she’d enrolled here a year ago, she’d spent barely a week in third grade before winning promotion to fourth. Mommy had fretted awhile about Tricia’s being the youngest in her class—which was an absurd worry, since Tricia looked and thought and acted way ahead of the curve.
She’d carefully surveyed the other fourth grade girls before selecting a best friend who was not much older, almost as good-looking, and perhaps two-thirds as clever as herself. This was another Patricia, kooky Patty Kuchenesser, whose voice sounded like maple syrup mixed with lemon juice.
Patty always referred to you and Hayley as “small fry.”
(Some insults were inexcusable, even when uttered by a fourth grader.)
No, make that a fifth grader: this was a new school year. The small fry had graduated from XY Nursery and were now full-fledged members of Reulbach’s morning kindergarten. Which was why Tricia-the-fifth-grader escorted them up to School each a.m., keeping them approximately five yards ahead of her at all times:
Stay where I can see you not that close quit dawdling we haven’t got all day don’t step off the curb till I say you can oh I’m telling Daddy this has got to be worth more than a quarter a week hey I heard that Victoria! get back here right this minute—
(You’re not the only one who can “skip ahead,” Smartysnoot.)
At noon Mrs. Tamworth would come fetch you and Hayley, or Mommy would bring Goofus in the stroller he kept scrambling out of, or all three might make an outing of it. Sometimes the five of you would go on to Brunt Street and rescue Hayley’s dad from behind Hardesty’s butcher counter, and then all six would enjoy lunch at Biff’s Hot Dogs or the drugstore snackbar. While they ate, the girls were expected to describe their scholarly progress, and do so with mouths not full—a challenge at lunchtime. But a duty as well, in keeping with the dignity of being a Reulbach student.
Each day School was an imposing sight as it loomed against the horizon: a three-story fortress topped off by a crenellated cupola. (Always referred to as “the Tower,” and inhabited—according to older pupils—by a bunch of stir-crazy detainees, whose groans could be heard if you listened hard enough.)
Kindergarten was on the second floor and had its own private outdoor balcony. Efforts were made to grow simple plants and flowers here, making the balcony a literal children’s garden as well as recess-refuge from the brouhaha on big-kid playgrounds, where a five-year-old could get trampled without anyone noticing.
Indoors, the daily routine wasn’t profoundly different from XY’s ZeeTimes. But as Miss Evers reminded everyone, this was a classroom where lessons were taught and learned. Though kindergarteners didn’t yet have the honor of using Big Chief tablets, their bookbags were loaded with academic supplies: #2 pencils, fat pink erasers, rounded-tip scissors, eight-color sets of Crayola and Prang. Other material provided by School got handed out by students serving as monitors—another duty not to be sneezed at. (Especially if you forgot to pack Kleenex in your bookbag, and had to resort to your wrist like the Safety Patrol.)
Miss Evers maintained fairly good order without resorting to ruler-whacks, despite Morning Kindergarten’s containing Noisy Nancy Knopf and all Three Marks. Their inclination to shriek and sass and chase and bray sometimes resulted in their sitting alone in a corner; while extreme naughtiness could earn a visit to the Principal, Orville W. Overland. (Known to a generation as “Old Overalls.”)
Even hapless Wernie Ball got sent to Mr. Overland’s office, for not just goggling at Vicki Volester (i.e. Yew) but being oblivious to the teacher’s request that Wernie “go to the corner” if he couldn’t pay attention and get educated.
Loud laughter from the rest of the class. Excruciating embarrassment from Vicki. Witty gibes from rotund Jimmy Maxwell, who could find amusement in every calamity. Even his own:
“Jimmy! What happened? Did the lid come off your Elmer’s Glue?”
“‘Fraid so, Miss Evers. Guess I gotta stick to it from now on.”
(Class-wide laugh riot, with Dumb Mark rolling on the floor.)
Absent from Morning Kindergarten were April Tober and Mean Melissa, both of whom attended the Afternoon session. April lived almost directly across the street from the Kindergarten balcony, in a house said to be Classical Georgian—a smartysnoot way of calling it “off-white.” During one recess, Vicki and Hayley saw April and Melissa playing in the Tobers’s front courtyard, looking in their direction and making what were probably very rude faces.
“They your friends?” asked Jimmy Maxwell.
“Well, I think I could fall in love with that one,” said Jimmy, twisting his Silly Putty face into a great big smooch. “HEY SWEETIE-PIE! MWAH-MWAH-MWAH!”
Melissa and April went audibly Ewwww and ran inside the Classical Georgian.
“Yessir, I’m gonna marry that girl someday. What’s her name?”
“Both of ‘em.”
“Well, the one in the purple jumper is April Tober. Her dad’s our doctor—that’s where they live. The other girl—”
“Doctor, hunh?” said Jimmy. “Great! If anybody falls off of here on his head and breaks it wide open so all his brains ooze out, we'll know where to take him.”
“Ewwww,” went Vicki and Hayley.
Turning away in disgust, they ran smack into Stephanie Lipperman. “Was Jimmy trying to kiss you two?” she wanted to know. “I bet he did. I bet he kissed you both. I bet you wanted him to.”
Vicki and Hayley had decided that Spiteful Stephanie must be descended from the Wicked Witch of the West, given her pointed nose and chin and cackles. Not to mention the greenish complexion that Stephanie claimed was “olive,” which Vicki knew must be a big fib since she herself had olive skin. Tricia had said so, just this past summer:
“It’s not fair that Vicki can tan while I burn! Why’d she have to get the olive skin?”
Envious Princess. Every time Vicki remembered that sunny day, she felt wonderful all over. And Tricia hadn’t called her skin green: so nyaah to you, Stephanie Lipperman.
Not that a nyaah had much effect on her. When Stephanie wasn’t being spiteful she would pretend to be friendly, trying to wheedle secrets out of you; or she’d tell outrageous whoppers and make people believe them. Such as that Miss Evers was really truly Miss Beverly from Romper Room, moonlighting at Reulbach when she wasn’t on TV. Soon the whole Morning Kindergarten clamored to be shown the Do-Bees and Don’t-Bees and Magic Mirror, till Miss Evers had to go take a time-out of her own in the hall.
Hayley Tamworth fell for these whoppers again and again. One day she startled Vicki by announcing, “I’m mad at you!”
“You know why!”
“No I don’t!”
“You said I look fat in my new sweater!”
“I didn’t! I wouldn’t! You don’t!” (Actually she kind of did; but the sweater was a pretty color on Hayley, when it wasn’t balled up under her arm.) “Who said I said that?”
“Stephanie. And you listened?”
“I’m sorry,” Hayley murmured, allowing Vicki to help her back into the sweater’s tangled sleeves. “I won’t ever anymore. Not even if we’re outside and she says ‘It’s raining’ and I get all wet, I still won’t believe her.”
But she did, of course; and similar scenes were staged over and over.
Then there was the Show & Tell when Kris Rawberry talked about her grandparents’s farm in Clayton County, Iowa. Kris got to spend most of each summer there, and she hit eloquent heights describing how it was heaven on earth. But after Show & Tell came Questions & Answers, with Stephanie Lipperman wanting to know just how long do barnyard odors linger, and isn’t there a soap strong enough to wash them off?
Later Vicki and Hayley approached the crestfallen Kris to say how much they had enjoyed her Showing & Telling. “Teacher says we’ll be going on field trips,” Hayley added. “Maybe we’ll go see a farm field—that’d be fun.”
“My dad liked the fields on the farm where he worked when he was a boy,” remarked Vicki. “He says they smelled good.”
“Well, they do—some of them,” Kris said judiciously. “Like hay—that smells really sweet, ‘specially when it’s just been mowed. Course you might not think so if you got hay fever.”
Kris Rawberry was proof positive that orange hair and freckles looked much better on girls than bratty infant boys. “I got a little brother with the same color hair as you,” Vicki volunteered, “and his name’s Chris too—sort of. We call him Goofus. Nice hair like yours is wasted on him, and you know what else? You could leave him out in a hayfield all night long, and he’d never smell sweet.”
“Aw, he doesn’t know any better,” Hayley insisted. “Goofy’s a sweetheart.”
“She thinks so,” said Vicki.
“I wouldn’t mind having a little brother, no matter what he smelled like,” sighed Kris. “All I got is a big sister.”
“Hey, me too!” went Vicki; and they spent the rest of recess comparing sorority notes, with a few general-girlish observations so Hayley wouldn’t feel left out.
The very next morning, as Hayley and Vicki emerged from Manderley Avenue and Tricia ordered them to “Turn right here,” they encountered Kris coming to School along Sharp Boulevard. She was holding hands with a tall thin girl but snatched hers away at the sight of her new friends, who discreetly took no notice. (Tricia made them hold each other’s hand while crossing streets.)
Kris’s sister had chestnut hair and radiated an above-it-all serenity that Vicki immediately admired: nothing but breezes could ruffle Kate Rawberry. She was a sixth grader, so Tricia acted coolly deferential in front of her, only referring to Kate as “that giraffe” behind her back. Kate did have remarkably long limbs that flopped a bit as she walked, but moved with smooth precision whenever she ran or threw or caught or swung. Kris said she could even beat their dad playing basketball, and he was a policeman!
Vicki thought that growing up to be a giraffe might be a very fine thing. Certainly better than to be Bo-Peep’s sheep, which is what she and Hayley felt like the first time they were allowed to walk home alone from School at noon. After the drippynosed Safety Patrol took them across Sharp, they managed Van Hopper on their own and started “west” (direction of Disneyland) with aplomb. But neither girl wanted to go down face-flicking Manderley, so they turned “south” (direction of Mexico) on Danvers Avenue and rapidly found themselves lost.
Danvers was not only an unfamiliar street but eerily disorienting, as though it wanted them to lose their way. The girls, arguing whether to go back or push ahead, stumbled onto good old Yew Avenue and didn’t stop running till they’d reached Walrock. Vicki and Hayley figured not even the Astro Co‑eds could’ve managed a more exciting walk home, even though no one there had realized they’d been missing.
Kris, whose mother always came to collect her from School, envied them both till the glorious morning when Mrs. Rawberry cracked a molar and had to make an emergency trip to the dentist. Kate was supposed to use her lunch period to take Kris home, but being serene (and hungry besides) she boldly called the Walrock greystone on the Reulbach pay phone to arrange for all three kindergarteners to go there.
“I’ll come get you at dinnertime,” said Kate. “Be careful and don’t talk to strangers and maybe they’ll let you do this every day. Have fun, kids.”
“You sure are lucky having a sister like that,” Hayley told Kris. “Vicki’s would never tell us to have fun.”
“That’s for sure,” Vicki agreed.
Kris brought all sorts of fun to Walrock Avenue. She could not only skip better than any girl in Morning Kindergarten, but do cartwheels and handstands and endless somersaults. Kris taught Vicki the fundamentals of these, and between them they helped Hayley manage to stand on her head.
“I’m scared, you guys! Don’t let go of me!”
“It’s easy, Hayl! Pretty soon you’ll be able to hang upside-down on a jungle gym!”
“Well, not if she’s wearing a skirt,” cautioned Vicki.
She and Kris stepped back, Hayley wavered but remained upright, and acquired a magnificently crimson face that went extra well with her new sweater.
Though Kris preferred playing outdoors, at Walrock she acknowledged the advantages of indoor play when you had as many toys and games as Hayley Tamworth. She also joined the Goofus fan club, proclaiming him “darling as a piglet.”
“There, you see?” said Hayley.
“He eats like a little pig, anyway,” Vicki told them.
Soon she and Hayley received permission to accompany Kris home at noon. This was an extra-great adventure they never got tired of. You kept walking “west” on Sharp, trying to be conscientious and not peer in every interesting window you passed—barber and beauty and auto body shops, antique and appliance and wholesale carpet stores—telling each other “It’s your turn to say we’re gonna be late!”
Then you reached Hagenbush Avenue, where if you were lucky a train might rush past, heading “north” or “south” on the tracks atop a long straight narrow hill. This separated one side of Hagenbush from the other, meaning people who lived here couldn’t see their neighbors across the street. (Too bad it didn’t separate the kindergarten balcony from the Classical Georgian.) Short tunnels called vy-a-ducks allowed streets like Sharp and Yew and Walrock to penetrate the long straight narrow hill. Scurrying through the Sharp Boulevard vy-a-duck, you heaved big sighs of relief and turned right on Hagenbush’s far side. Then on up to Kris’s house, an authentic single-family dwelling with big shrubbery bushes flanking its front porch.
Every time you approached the Rawberry house, you were greeted by two things: Kris’s mother out on the porch craning her anxious red head, and an explosion of barks from the Rawberry bulldog. Hayley and Vicki were frightened at first by the latter, but Kris told them not to worry. “Soon as she knows you, she’s a great big happy slob. Don’t poke her, though, or pull on her ears or tail, or stare straight in her eyes.”
This didn’t sound reassuring, yet Ness—so called because she looked untouchable—needed only to snuff at the back of your hand to accept you, and indeed demand your affection. Which sometimes got a tad messy, since Nessie was a champion drooler and slobberer.
Claire Rawberry was a lot neater and drier and did her best to make Kris’s friends feel welcome. Yet Vicki sometimes avoided staring straight into her eyes too: Mrs. Rawberry could be so tense she’d make you tense. It had taken joint persuasion from Kate, Kris’s dad, the Volesters and the Tamworths before she could permit her little baby girl (“MOMmy!” Kris agonized) to walk unprotected through the streets of The City.
“She’s a worrywart. Her real name’s Clara,” Kris explained.
“At least your mom doesn’t call you ‘Precious Puddin’,” Hayley confided.
“And you’ve got a great sister like Kate ‘stead of a Smartysnoot Princess,” Vicki chimed in. “But you know what else? I bet Stephanie Lipperman can’t walk home from School alone.”
To reduce maternal worrywarting about their comings and goings, each girl was given a cheap wristwatch. When they all remembered to wear and wind these, more synchronization took place on Sharp Boulevard (“Well, my big hand’s on the four!”) than in a fighter squadron prior to a combat mission.
They never did take a field trip to a farm pasture, but one day Morning Kindergarten trooped down to the School basement and there was shown the School furnace and School boiler by Mr. Coakley, the School custodian. Another time they entered the Cafeteria quietly-please-single-file and crouched under the tables; after which drill Vicki and Hayley said hello to the hairnetted lunchlady who lived in 1E.
“This here’s our friend Kris, Mrs. Frank.”
“Sure, I seenya rounda cuppa times. Gee, honey, da good Lordt really givya second helpin’ widda culyer crownin’ glory, dinnHe?”
“What’d she say?” Kris whispered on the way back upstairs.
“She likes your braids,” Vicki interpreted.
The same subject was touched on during Fathers Tell Us About Their Jobs Month. Ozzie Volester entertained the class with car sale tales, and Harry Tamworth charmed everyone except Stephanie as he discoursed on meatcutting. Kris’s dad scored the biggest hit: Sam Rawberry wasn’t just a bona fide cop but a police photographer, and hands shot up around the room for Questions & Answers.
“Yes, young lady?”
“What’s your favorite color, Officer Sam?” asked the beaming Kris.
“Well now, I’ve always been partial to copper.”
groan went Stephanie Lipperman (not quite under her breath).
“Must be those guys up in the Tower,” said Jimmy Maxwell (not quite under his).
“Children!” admonished Miss Evers. “Go on, Officer Sam.”
“Yes, you over there?”
“Do you take lots of pictures of dead bodies?” Tall Mark wanted to know.
Officer Sam, from whom Kate got her height and lanky serenity, turned somber. “I’ve had to photograph some very unpleasant things,” he hedged. “Things I hope you kids’ll never have to see.”
“Like what?” shouted Short Mark; and the audience suggested various horrible sights till Miss Evers rechanneled Q&A into talk about How Policemen Are Our Pals.
The trio had their sixth birthdays that winter: Hayley in January, Kris in February, and Vicki on what would’ve been Leap Day had she been born in a year like this one. Each time the girls pleaded with their parents to let them celebrate by having a slumber party, only to be informed they weren’t quite old enough yet. “Much too young,” agreed Kate and Tricia, united in big-sisterly tyranny. And Patty Kuchenesser was even worse, talking about “small fry” she’d heard of who went to slumber parties too early in life and ended up sobbing their eyes out.
“For real! And now they’re blind.”
It was so ridiculous. April Tober and Mean Melissa had bragged about their gala slumber parties all the way back in nursery school, before they were even five. How they would sneer at the trio now! And suppose Spiteful Stephanie heard about it!
“We can’t let them keep wrecking our plans,” said Kris.
“Maybe we need better plans,” said Vicki.
“We could ask nicer,” Hayley proposed.
“Um... smile more?”
So the girls honed their Coaxing Nicely technique, evaluating each other’s presentations, and in the end their winning smiles had the last laugh: a slumber party was scheduled for the first Friday in April. Hayley would be hostess, having that solo bedroom; while Vicki would contribute two sleeping bags, her own for herself and Tricia’s for Kris. On Saturday morning they would be taken to a special matinee of The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band, in which the pretty girl and handsome guy from The Happiest Millionaire were slated to reappear. Then Mr. Tamworth was going to have his spring kickoff cookout, with all three families and the rest of 1710 W. Walrock invited.
Tricia announced that she too was going on a sleepover—away from the premises, which were bound to be shaken by kindergarten racket even with the trio stashed down in 2W. Tricia and Patty Kuchenesser would be enjoying the weekend at Aunt Fritzi’s “modish little flat” on DeMora, around the corner from the Joe E. Lewis Dinner Playhouse. Fritzi had a spare daybed just big enough for a couple of fifth-grade girls, so Tricia’s sleeping bag remained available.
“But I want it washed and dried when your gang is done with it. I better not find a single snag or stain, either.”
There was talk of billeting Goofus with Gran and Dime, giving Ozzie and Felicia a chance for their first significant time alone in years. But Diamond Joel came down with the same bug already being shared by the Grusza twins in 2E, so Goofus had to stay home. (Hence Tricia and Vicki’s stipulation that their bedroom door be kept closed and locked every second they were gone.)
Finally the great Friday arrived. Vicki and her “gang” were beside themselves with anticipation, whispering and tittering together in class to such an extent that Miss Evers had to deliver a group reprimand.
“I must say I’m surprised at you girls. I don’t want to have to tell you all to ‘go to the corner.’”
“Do we got three corners?” asked Jimmy Maxwell.
Nancy Knopf shrieked with laughter, Wernie Ball bit tormented nails and Stephanie Lipperman was in maleficent ecstasy; but the trio simmered down and tried to pay their normal level of attention. Miss Evers was saying something about a Doctor-King, Leader of Negroes, whom Vicki presumed must be African royalty—like Bumpo in the Doctor Dolittle books.
At noon the girls burst out of Reulbach and hurried down to Walrock. After lunch they spent the afternoon in the back alley with Beany Boy, who’d run fetch anything you threw for him—unlike Messy Ness, who preferred to lounge and watch you chase the ball yourself.
That evening the girls were scheduled to have a Classical Tamworthian feast, followed by Jiffy-Pop and staying up all the way to 10 p.m., watching Tarzan and Star Trek and Hollywood Squares and whatever might be on at 9 that looked good. Such were their expectations as they dashed upstairs... only to find things had gotten a trifle weird.
Hayley’s parents were acting far less jolly than usual. The TV was left on all during dinner, which Mrs. Tamworth seldom allowed; and the news program kept continuing and continuing and continuing.
“Hey, we still get to watch Tarzan ‘n’ Star Trek ‘n’ stay up till 10, don’t we? You promised!”
“...I’m not sure your shows’ll be on tonight, Puddin’.”
Well that was just swell. But never mind: Jiffy could still be Popped and taken into the treasure house that was Hayley’s bedroom, where everything would be played with. The girls had pooled their 45s to stack on Hayley’s phonograph, and a lot of dancing got done to Annette Funicello and the Mills lady after whom Hayley’d been named.
Lights out at 10, followed by extensive chitchat (not quite under their breaths) and a modicum of shuteye. Up early for Saturday cartoons, having agreed on a lineup of Spider‑Man, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The King Kong Show and George of the Jungle—
—only to discover the news was still on. Bumping everything else off TV.
And if that weren’t awful enough, Mrs. Rawberry suddenly appeared. Looking like she had another toothache and wished she’d never left the farm in Clayton County, Iowa.
“Krissy, get your things. I’ve come to take you home and we have to leave now.”
The trio wrang their hands and stamped their feet and wailed about how unjust this was; while frazzled Claire conferred with the Tamworths in agitated undertones, alluding to fires and snipers and curfews and Kate manning the phone and Sam being in the thick of it with his damned camera.
Gasp went the girls at such a word coming from Mrs. Rawberry’s lips. “Um,” Kris quavered, “is Daddy okay?”
Of course he was, sweetheart. The trio needn’t worry their little angel heads, they had done nothing wrong, this wasn’t their fault—but the rest of the day’s plans would have to be put off for awhile. Kris should change out of her jammies quick as possible and go with her mom, and Vicki’s folks would doubtless be happier if she were upstairs with them in 3W, and Precious Puddin’ shouldn’t cry because this was just a brief postponement—very soon they’d all be having oodles of fun again.
Oodles? thought Vicki, lugging her sleeping bag up the greystone staircase. She didn’t give vent to the sulks she was feeling since Mr. Tamworth was right behind her, carrying Tricia’s bag. He was such a nice man, practically an uncle, and Vicki couldn’t blame him—much—for how badly the day was turning out.
They reached the third floor landing, where Hayley’s dad went “Jesus Christ!” at the sight of Mr. Hull loading an honest-to-goodness rifle.
“I intend to protect this building,” declared the Munchkin Mayor. “A man’s home is his castle, and I consider mine to be under siege.”
“But Baldwin...” said Mrs. Hull.
“I’m telling you if anybody comes near this place with a Molotov cocktail, they will get it—no questions asked! Come on, Junior.”
His son emerged from 3E, taking terrific swings with a baseball bat that narrowly missed his father’s head. “Okay, Paw! I will knock their blocks off if they come here, Paw!”
“Good boy! Nellie, you get inside and bolt the door—you too, little lady. Harry, I hope you’re prepared to lend a hand.”
“Well—I guess,” sighed Mr. Tamworth. “Lemme just—”
“What is going on??” Vicki demanded, figuring it must be a Martian invasion at the very least.
“Nothing, dearie, nothing,” said Mrs. Hull. “Don’t you worry now.”
Unworried yet forlorn, Vicki entered 3W (where the Philco blared forth even more stupid dumb old news) and was embraced by her mother, who’d been swilling cup after cup of strong black coffee. She and Mr. Tamworth traded a new set of agitated undertones, including Ozzie’s having gone to retrieve Tricia and her friend from Aunt Fritzi’s place. “And he’s been away so long I don’t know what to think.”
“Want me to stay till they get here?” asked Mr. Tamworth—not too pressingly, since Goofus had gotten into the pots and pans and was improvising a cannonade.
Before Felicia could raise her voice to reply, the front door opened and in strode Ozzie Volester, angrier than Vicki had ever seen him. “You want to know where I found these two? Do you? About to take a joyride down to the Madison Street Armory!”
“Well, we wanted to see all the soldiers,” said Tricia. “Their jeeps are just bristling with machine guns!”
“And you know I always had a thing for men in uniforms,” added Aunt Fritzi, unexpectedly following her in a sheer voile shirtdress. “Crossing guards—ROTC cadets—able-bodied seamen. Remember, Oz?”
Daddy turned a funny color and Mommy, who’d blanched and swayed at the mention of Armory joyrides, got extremely shrill. “Don’t you realize how DANGEROUS it is out there?? Patricia Elaine, you are grounded, young lady!—and as for you, Francesca, I’d phone Mother and have her ground you if I thought she could make it stick! Look how you’re dressed at this time of day—and don’t you even dream about lighting that cigarette in here!”
“Honestly, Felicia!” whined Aunt Fritzi, tugging at her skirt.
Mr. Tamworth had long since retreated; Goofus had abandoned his pot and pan to loot other kitchen cabinets; and Daddy was departing to check on the Lot. “I might put up a few ‘Soul Brother’ banners,” he said, sounding more like his usual self.
Mommy drained her coffee cup and poured it full again. “Did Patty get home all right?”
“Oh, that fraidy-cat,” sniffed Tricia. “She chickened out of coming in the first place.”
“Some poor souls have no sense of derring-do,” said Aunt Fritzi, joining her in front of the Philco.
“Should I be scared?” asked Vicki, plucking at her mother’s sleeve.
“What? Oh no, darling, everything’s going to be—awp! WHO put this back under the sink where he could get his hands on it??” Mommy exclaimed, snatching the Clorox away from Goofus. “I thought I made it crystal-clear—”
“Mine! Mine!” roared her ungrateful son, lunging for the jug.
Vicki watched the news awhile with her sister and aunt. In between shots of burning buildings and shattered windows, the TV kept showing that Doctor-King whom Miss Evers had mentioned yesterday. Apparently he’d been killed—eaten by a lion perhaps, if he was African royalty, which Vicki now doubted since he wasn’t wearing a crown or fancy robe in any of his pictures.
She hoped he had a Doctor-Prince (or, better still, a Nurse-Princess) to take over caring for his people. But she didn’t understand what he had to do with all this fuss—least of all the ruination of a perfectly good slumber party.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Copyright © 2009-2011 by P. S. Ehrlich
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