Monday, August 29, 2011

The Fourth Room


Doctor McIvor ran the Clinic built on stilts at the edge of town. The money to build it had been provided by the rich man who lived back from the river on a rise, the only rise in that part of the country for many miles. His money came from mining and he had a private army which, along with the eight foot electric fence, batteries of video cameras and guard dogs, protected his property. The Clinic was a kind of protection too for it gave free medical care to those who could not afford it. You couldn’t say the poor who lived along the river were grateful but at least they didn’t take potshots at his house with twenty-twos like they used to before the Clinic was built.

Doctor McIvor had three nurses for assistants and a middle aged man who did the administrative work. Benson, the rich man, paid their salaries rather grudgingly but still he paid them. Doctor McIvor received his salary from a far away entity still called the Government although exactly what it governed people were hard put to say. Mostly it collected taxes and sent around edicts, long involved edicts filled with rules and regulations. These edicts were baffling to the residents of the little town for they did not concern anything that went on there. They were very abstract and seemed to be about ways of thinking which the residents assumed were matters of concern to people living in the great cities. But the Burns had destroyed the great cities and most of the smaller ones too so why the Government kept sending around such edicts was a mystery to everyone. Most people ignored them but a few of the educated ones read them for entertainment.

Doctor McIvor was a sour man. He had a sour face, sour eyes and even a sour way of walking. He walked as if he were saying he didn’t expect to get anywhere and if by accident he did, it was more a matter of inconvenience than anything else. He was thirty which is a young age to be sour. He himself claimed that he was born sour, the reincarnation of a disillusioned Greek Philosopher called Malen. He made all this up for the Doctor was a man who diverted himself from the sorry state of the world by imagining things and then talking about them as if they were real. Despite these and many other eccentricities the Doctor was an excellent medical man. He claimed the reason for this was precisely because he was a man who indulged his imagination. The educated people in town sniggered when he said this for they knew that science had nothing to do with the imagination and he was pulling their leg.

The clinic had three waiting rooms, one for the townies, one for the poor along the river, called ‘Mud People’ by both the townies and themselves and one for Benson and his chief men. Benson had insisted on this and the government had agreed. Nobody asked the Doctor for he came on the scene after the clinic was built, but if they had asked him he would have spoke up for a fourth waiting room. If asked for whom he would have said for nobody for the fourth room would remain empty. Empty or filled with nothingness as the Doctor put it, the fourth room would act as a kind of potential womb, a reminder of the possibility of things to come even the surety of things to come. People to whom the Doctor spoke of the fourth room became a little afraid. They became concerned that this man who was such a good Doctor and such an energetic, fruitful man, might contain within himself a seed of mental fragility which one day might overwhelm him. When the Doctor mentioned the fourth room to the Mayor at a Town Supper the Mayor told him he was mad. Perhaps, said the Doctor, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a need for a fourth waiting room. The Mayor, a social smoothy if ever there was one, changed the subject.

The Mud People lived along the river in what at first were a series of shanty towns but which eventually bumped into one another to form a continuous line of settlement three miles long. Their ‘houses’ were made of cardboard, old sheets of plywood and tarpaulins so old the color had been bleached out by the sun. Some did odd jobs in town. Some fished and hunted. Others stole. Most combined all three and by doing so made enough money to stay alive but barely.

Many of the Mud People had scars and growths caused by the Burns. But they were not alone in this for many townies had them as well and even a few of Benson’s chief men. Human hierarchial arrangements have no influence on solar flares or bursts of radiation. So the three waiting rooms were not created for the purposes of segregating categories of illness but rather as an expression of the new social arrangements. The Doctor would have said the old social arrangements repackaged. The poor, the middle class and the rich, as the Doctor called them, the three Great Eternals.

When Benson came to his waiting room he did so with an armed guard and a bevy of chief men. The chief men were so similar to Benson that one would think them clones and with the state of outlaw medicine this was not impossible. They were heavy men full of gravitas and glowering looks. Benson’s party filled the waiting room. They sat on plastic chairs placed around the bare white walls, chewing tobacco and spitting green gobs into the waste paper baskets. Benson himself smoked a cigar, a very expensive cigar the size of pony’s erected penis. Nobody but Benson smoked a cigar; there was no law against it but it was generally considered to be forbidden, at least in Benson’s presence. This pleasure – if that is what it was – was reserved for him alone. At least Benson thought so but he thought wrong. The Mud People grew dark tobacco along the riverbank and rolled homemade cigars with it. The Doctor had smoked both – Benson had given him a cigar in an expansive moment when he found out he didn’t have cancer – Mud People sometimes gave him one as a gift of friendship – and he liked the Mud People cigars better. They were richer and tasted of smoky fires and the river. They reminded him of the beautiful brown skinned women you sometimes found in the Mud People shanty town, women with facial bones so exquisite they made the Doctor’s whole body ache with what seemed to him to be unachievable desire.

Benson came often for he was a hypochondriac. If his scalp was ichy from not wearing a hat in the sun he was sure he had skin cancer. If he had a back ache he was sure his discs were crumbling. If he could not achieve orgasm with his young mistress he was sure he was impotent. And so on. He was in the clinic at least once a week with the symptoms of an incurable disease which could finish him off at any time. First one of the nurses checked him out, usually the middle aged one with the gravelly voice for Benson would feel up the legs of the younger ones as they were examining him. After this preliminary examination and the filling in of many forms which minutely described his latest symptoms, Doctor McIvor came in to speak with him.

“What’s the matter?” he would ask.

“Flaccid erections,” might be the answer.

“How many orgasms do you have in a week?”

“Three a day.”

“Too many for a sixty year old man. Cut back to one.”

“A week?”

“No, a day.”


Then Doctor McIvor would shake his hand and leave. This would take one or two minutes. With Benson the Doctor was brusque and business like. Benson didn’t mind for he thought it revealed the Doctor to be a serious man, snappy and brisk, the kind of man he liked.

Most of the people with radiation burns didn’t die of them or at least it took them a long time to do so. Right after the burns occurred was when many people died; if they survived the first year they often lived a normal life span. But there was a lot of work to be done. A plastic surgeon came twice a year and stayed for two weeks at the clinic. He did skin grafts and reconstructions. The Doctor and nurses did some of this themselves but they left the complicated cases to the plastic surgeon. There were new drugs and the Doctor dispensed them. He gave out drugs for pain. This was sometimes a problem for patients would ask for pain killers they didn’t need and then sell them. On the whole Doctor McIvor dispensed quite freely. He thought it better that a few deceivers made money than somebody who needed pain relief went without it.

The Edicts which the government sent around three or four times a year were printed on expensive paper. The pages were bordered with pale blue and the words printed with bright red ink. In the left hand bottom corner there was a picture of the Great Leader, a rather grainy picture which gave the impression of vague benevolence rather than facial distinctiveness. From the evidence of the picture the Great Leader could well have been any of many thousands of pudgy middle aged men given to beaming brightly and smiling widely. The Doctor thought of him as the owner of a flower shop. The Mayor, who had been in his presence as a member of official delegations, thought of him as a kindly dentist. Benson who met with him secretly once a month thought of him as a crude sonofabitch, a nasty bastard. The Mud People thought of him as an institutionalized joke which had repeated itself every day over a long period of time until it had grown stale.

It was late April. The snow melted early that year and the days were unusually warm. Birds were singing in the trees. Bears just up from winter’s hibernation roamed the trees on the south bank of the river and the Mud People hunters carried shotguns loaded with BB’s while checking their rabbit snares. The Spring Edict, due to the warm weather, was early. Mallomere, that great fat bag of guts stuffed into his bandstand conductor’s uniform, came riding his bicycle down the river road (path really) stopping here and there to staple a copy onto a tree.

No one said anything to him. No one even waved for Mallomere was the man who came to knock down the shacks of those whom the Townies deemed too enthusiastic in thievery. He brought with him four brawny workmen and a small bulldozer. The occupants of the shacks were not allowed to remove their belongings. With a few pushes of its blade the dozer knocked the building down and then ran over it, breaking it into little pieces and pushing them down into the mud. The women connected to the shack stood off to the side lamenting, wringing their hands. The men, not wanting to be associated with such female complaining, stood some distance off, silent and stoical.

But when it was over and Mallomere and his cronies retreating up the road, the men suddenly became agitated and shouted after him – “You won’t live forever you fat pig! Something will run over you some day you turd, you rooster fucker!”

But that Spring day there were no dozers or insults but just Mallomere stapling his edicts and the Mud People watching him with cold, hooded eyes. When he was finished he climbed laboriously onto his bicycle and rode silently away as if he were been a visitor from another planet suddenly called home.

The new Edict was different in tone from the others. The others were avuncular. They emphasized the kindly, all giving nature of the Great Leader, his endless striving to provide the good things necessary to his people. The poor man worked day and night. Seldom did the light in his office go off before three in the morning, and so on. This new Edict was stern and demanding.

It had come to the Great Leader’s attention that certain of his children were avoiding their duties. Could you imagine that? While the Great Leader and his companions were working day and night ruining their health, certainly their complexions at the very least, ‘Lazy Elements’, ‘Disturbed and Confused Personalities’ were slacking, refusing to put their shoulders to the wheel. This saddened the Great Leader so much that mere thought of it brought him close to uncontrolled weeping. But the Great Leader was not the Great Leader for nothing. With steely determination he turned away from such unproductive self indulgence toward ever more vigorous, ever more focused work. The light in his office now did not go off until four in the morning.

The Great Leader was sad to report that the avoidance of duty was growing especially when it came to service in the New Army. Letters went out requiring recruits to attend but few of these recruits came at the appointed time. In fact most did not come at all. When agents went to their homes they were told the recruits had died or that they were off far away in a foreign country or they were deathly ill and in the care of a Doctor who held out little hope for their recovery. As a result the New Army, although strong, invincible and incomparable, was not as numerous as it should be for the purposes of carrying out its national duties such as defeating the armies of neighboring states, crushing uppity provincial governors, sacking disobedient towns, and butchering crowds of disorderly unarmed civilians. Something would have to be done.

The Great Leader in council with his advisors, wise men and women all whose only thought was the good of the country along with the comfort of their relatives down to the fourth cousins and even beyond, eventually including every single soul in the nation, babies and even fetuses included, had thought long and hard on the issue. Some had gone two weeks without sleeping although this may have been partially caused by new drugs the doctors had given them. They had come up with a new policy.

Whereas before individuals were selected as recruits and notices sent to their homes, from now on, communities would be assessed capable of producing a certain number of recruits and be held responsible for them arriving at training centers at the appropriate times. The river shanties of Xtown, in the last conscription had been sent four hundred call up notices of which only twenty produced a serving soldier. The others were dead, sick or gone away. Under the new system these same river shanties would be responsible for sending three hundred and fifty recruits to Y town barracks on such and such a date. Failure to comply would result in penalties unspecified at this time but surely to be avoided. The Great Leader was not just a toothless old mystic counseling love. True he had a beautiful smile but his teeth were made of the hardest steel.

The elders in the shanty town were much agog at this. Where were they going to come up with three hundred and fifty recruits? Especially now that the contents of the Edict was out to everyone and the few prospects would soon be melting away. They wrung their hands. They moaned and groaned. They lamented. Then they decided to speak with the Doctor whom they considered to be a good man who had their best interests at heart.

“Figure out how many you can come up with and then send a letter to the Army Center explaining,” said the Doctor. This they did that very day. The reply came within the week. Three hundred and fifty it said, not a man less.

The Doctor went to see Benson. Benson recieved him in his office at the back of his house where the older man sat behind a desk not much smaller than the deck of an aircraft carrier. Doctor McIvor explained the situation. Benson was not sympathetic.

“What does it matter?” he asked. “These people are totally useless unless it be for the Government tapping them now and then for cannon fodder. If they are useless for even that what is the good of them? If they bring in the Army, shoot them and throw their bodies in the river, good riddance.”

“But surely there is some value in human life,” said the Doctor but Benson would have none of that. “Produce or die,” he said. “That’s the iron rule.”

The Doctor met with the Mayor. “It’s out of my hands,” said the Mayor.

“But surely you have some influence,” said the Doctor. “Perhaps by you talking to some of the influential people the number might be lowered, some kind of compromise achieved.”

“Many of the people around here think the leveling of the shanty towns would be a great blessing,” said the Mayor.

The Doctor advised the elders to bundle up their goods on the back of their donkeys and flee.

“If you don’t produce the quota the Army will be sent to kill you,” he said. “At least in the wilderness some of you will survive.”

After some days of beating the bushes for quota the elders came up with fifty names and they knew that by the time they tried to muster them there might be twenty five. This would never satisfy the Army or the Great Leader.

The elders were crafty men. The shanties were left intact. The contents were packed on donkeys in the night and led across the river five miles downstream where there was a ford. Then they dissappeared into the great forest south of the river. But the shanty town still looked fully occupied. There were fires outside each building, people moving about. So when early one morning, two weeks later, the Army moved in, they were surprised to find empty buildings, everyone gone. Or at least the officers were surprised. With bulldozers they pushed the shanties into the river and marched back to barracks. The Great Leader was livid but then he was naturally livid. Being livid for him had become less the result of a mood than a state of being. He wanted heads and punishments but the Army Commander convinced him that to pursue would be counterproductive. Firstly it would be very difficult to find them. Then it would be difficult to engage them. And even if they did what would be the result? A few dead bodies. A handful of donkeys and a few rusty pots. Reluctantly the Great Leader agreed. But he did command that Rangers be sent to find their location. The Army commander did as he was told but the Ranger units were instructed to find nothing. The Commander had better things to do with his troops than to waste them roaming about uselessly in the forested highlands south of the river.

Three weeks after the Army bulldozed the shanties the Doctor disappeared. One evening he was at the clinic sewing up a sport’s injury and the next morning he was gone. The furniture in his little apartment at the back of the Clinic was untouched but his personal effects were gone along with all of the drugs the Clinic possessed, even the aspirin.

“The man was unstable,” the Mayor said to his secretary. “Did I tell you what he said to me about the waiting rooms?”

“These idealists come and go,” said Benson to one of his chief men.

A man who farmed the river east of town said he saw the doctor crossing at the ford early in the morning. There were two people with him, a man and a woman. They led donkeys carrying packs across the ford and then went off into the trees.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The house was a two story with a small attic tucked under the rafters serving as the second floor. She used this as a studio for her pottery making.

Ten years ago the main reason she was attracted to the house was its isolation at the end of a cul de sac. There were empty lots on either side filled with mature maple trees and crisscrossed with dirt paths. There was very little traffic. The neighbors came down the back lanes to park in their yards. Occasionally someone made a wrong turn and drove up the street, turned around and went off again, but that was about it.

Melody’s partner lived in the basement. He loved the quiet and sense of isolation even more than she for he worked security on the graveyard shift. In his basement room at the back of the house with the windows blacked out he slept like a baby from eight-thirty AM to four in the afternoon. In the evenings he worked for three hours on a fantasy novel, a long thing of some three thousand pages and growing longer. Arthur was his name. He had a bony face attached to a cadaverously thin body one would think would be brittle, easily breakable, but in actuality was very flexible and very strong. Sometimes he gave Melody the creeps with his long strides totally silent and inexorable like the movement of a two legged spider towards a victim caught in its web. But this had little to do with Arthur who was a very kindly, purposeful man, a passionate lover who did more around the house, cooking, cleaning and fixing than she did.

The house was actually owned by Arthur’s father, a terrible old barracuda who lived outside of town in a house large enough to be barracks for a small army. He lived there alone if you discounted the three servants who looked after the place and cooked his meals. He owned hotels, breweries, warehouses, apartment blocks and so many other things it would take a book to list them. As far as Melody could make out the old man spent most of his time hiring and firing people. He did this in a particularly obnoxious style shouting and screaming into one of the three cell phones he carried on his person at all times. His relationship to Arthur was a complete mess. Melody’s theory was that he hated Arthur for he was the only person in his life whom he could not fire. But this hatred made him feel guilty. After all it is rather unnatural to hate your son especially when he is a decent man like Arthur who looks after himself and asks nothing of you. So occasionally he alternated his hatred with a lugubrious sentimentality. When in one of these moods he would phone Arthur offering ownership of one hundred condominiums in the Bahamas or several office buildings in Chicago. Arthur always politely declined which made the old man furious.

“So Condos are not good enough for you, eh?” he would ask.

“I’m quite happy with what I’m doing, Dad,” Arthur would reply. “I have no need for condos or office buildings. Give them to the Winnipeg Foundation. Give them to the Art Gallery.”

“So it’s just great being a rent-a-cop, eh? And scribbling insane novels nobody reads or wants to read. That’s just the ideal way to spend your life, is it? Shacked up with a whore who makes false images with mud.”

“It would be better if you left Melody out of this, Dad.”

“I’m afraid I wasn’t hard enough on you when you were young, you slack mouthed son of a bitch. I should have sent you to a boot camp private school where they would have whipped you into shape. But your mother wouldn’t have that. No, no, we can’t send sensitive little Arthur off to be fondled at night by pederasts. Now look at you, a completely useless pile of shit.” Once the old man reached this level of foaming at the mouth abuse, Arthur hung up the phone. It immediately rang again but Arthur didn’t answer.

One of the old man’s favorite threats was to take back the house. When Arthur mentioned that this was impossible because the old man already owned it and had always owned it, he would threaten to evict them, throw them out on the street. Arthur took these threats in his stride.

“Three times every year he threatens to evict us,” Arthur would say to Melody. “He sends us lawyer’s notices, bailiff warnings, etcetera. Yet he never does it. So we pay for the house three times a year listening to his mad goings on. Not so bad when you come to think of it. We have some savings. If he ever does actually kick us out then we will have to look for a place to rent. We could look upon it as an adventure. Until then, what is the use of worrying about it?”

“I don’t see how you can stay so calm in the face of all that wind and fire,” Melody said.

“If you had heard all these things over and over again from when you were two years old, you too would learn to treat them as the rumblings of a far away geyser, all very interesting but not having much to do with the realities of your life.”

And this was exactly how Arthur did threat his Father’s threats and insults. When his Father was in a particularly windy period he would even bring a book to the phone and read it while his Dad went on about assets, ingratitude and mothers sucking the ompha out of little boys and leaving them useless for the real struggles of life, etc.

“Are you listening?” his Father would ask.

“Yes, Dad, I’m listening.”

“I hear you reading. You are reading one of those degenerate escape books. I can hear you, you bastard. Right across the broadband I can hear you.”

Sometimes Arthur would grow weary and refuse to take his father’s calls. Then Melody, who usually refused to talk to the old man, would answer the phone and listen to his complaints. It was as Arthur said. The old man was a wreck of a human being. Arthur and to some degree herself, were the only people with whom he had a relationship not based purely on money and power. In a way, miserable bastard that he was, Arthur and Melody were his only home. Everything else was a wasteland of will and greed.

“So why does he do this to me, Melody?” the old man would ask. “Refusing to talk to your Father is a mortal sin I would say.”

“He’s tired these days, Andrew. I think he needs a little bit of a break.”

“From what?”

“Listening to your constant bitching.”

“Jesus, what a way to talk. You are just as bad as he is.”

One day in June on a very fine and sunny morning, Melody and Arthur were packing for a weekend trip to the cabin. They bought a few acres of land some years before and had built a cabin on it, a simple affair with a backhouse and small solar system for lighting and the computers. There came a knock on the door. Melody walked out of the kitchen to the front of the house and opened the door.

It was Felicity, Arthur’s mom. As usual she was dressed extravagantly in a flowing red dress with a pink cape-like thing over her shoulders. Her make up, false eyelashes and fingernails weighed easily a half a pound. If Melody didn’t know her she would have thought she was on her way to the Academy Awards, which, actually, she did attend some years ago with a young protégé who acted in an afternoon soap. She was holding in one arm a massive handbag of tooled leather with sequins sewn around its perimeter and flashing in the bright morning sun. Over her shoulder Melody could see a Mercedes sedan with a uniformed driver at the wheel.

“Where’s Arthur, dear girl?” she asked, in a peculiarly strained, pathetic way which reminded Melody of Maggie Smith playing Wendy in ‘Hook’.

“In the kitchen, mother.” Melody called Felicity ‘mother’ and she called Melody ‘dear girl’ even though she would be forty her next birthday.

With a watery, weak smile, Felicity flowed past Melody and swept into the kitchen. Arthur, blessed with excellent hearing, already knew she was coming. When she appeared, he said,

“And how is my dear mother today?”

“I have never been better. It’s your Father I’m worried about. I’m afraid he has gone completely off the deep end so to speak. He has sold all of his Consolidated Edison and has taken up with a nineteen year old floozy. He has taken to wearing loose clothing and talking in hipster jargon.”

“Ah,” said Arthur.

“I spoke with the lawyers but they say nothing can be done. Apparently he has already given the floozy five million dollars worth of condominiums in the Bahamas and has promised to bankroll her career on stage and screen.”

“Hmmm,” said Arthur.

“Perhaps you can see what you can do with him, dear. He’ll listen to you. All he does with me is screech and complain about the past. He says such vile things that sometimes I think the man is the devil incarnate.”

“Hmmm,” said Arthur.

“See what you can do, dear. Remind him of his family obligations. Remind him that his own dear Father was dead against these May-December things, even though, granted, he did weaken at the end. Perhaps you and your dear girl could visit him and give me a report later about his floozy and how he spends his time, although I suppose taking sheep’s hormones and screwing would be the answer to that. Actually I am most curious about his state of mind, that is, how much he has already given to the vixen and how clever she is at scooping it all up. Promise me, dear.”

“I promise, mother. Sometime next week when we come back from the cabin.”

Felicity then gave him a light peck on the cheek and swished her way through the house out to the waiting Mercedes.

“Why do you bother?” Melody asked him when they were sitting on the cabin porch.

“They are my parents. To deal with them is to enter the world of madness but what am I going to do? They belong to me; I belong to them. I can’t pretend otherwise.”

“Will you go visit him?”

“Tuesday night. Want to come?”

“Yes. I would like to get a look at the floozy.”

Mildred the housekeeper opened the old man’s front door. Along with Arthur and Felicity as a hovering presence somewhere off in the distance, Mildred was the stable presence in the old man’s life. She had accomplished this by establishing a moral dominance over him some fifty years before. Although he complained bitterly about her behind her back to anyone who would listen, in her presence he was deferencial and patient. He even stopped swearing in her presence for Mildred was a firm Baptist and even though she would never have actually said anything about his foul mouth, an icy torrent of disapproval would have descended upon him like a precursor of the eternal torments. Melody and Arthur both liked Mildred. She was a no nonsense woman who had provided the old man for many years the rock of a daily schedule. And she did not take advantage of her position. She took what was hers and that was it - a good salary, a place to live and three vacations a year to visit her grandchildren. Mildred was not particularly impressed by the old man’s wealth. “You don’t have all that stuff with you when you are standing before the judgment seat,” she would often say.

The old man and his new girlfriend were out on the back patio. Andrew was indeed dressed in loose clothing as his mother had said but it was tasteful and suited him. During their visit he could detect no trace of the ‘hipster jargon’ complained about by his mother so put that down to her receiving reports from the malicious matrons at her country club. The ‘floozy’ was not really floozy at all but a self possessed young women with all her wits and social skills about her. She was beautiful and curvaceous as well, of course, and, no doubt, very keen on his Father’s many millions. Yet Arthur and Melody could not help but like her. She was intelligent and had a gentle, self deprecating sense of humor. All during the visit which lasted three hours, she was pleasant and polite and never said a single silly or patronizing thing to his Father, as floozies are famously want to do. Strangely Mildred, by her body language, seemed to approve of her as well. But then, besides being a Baptist, Mildred was a grounded woman who was in her own way loyal to the old man. If this woman, no matter what her age, was good for him, then she could turn a blind eye to the rigors of her moral code.

“What do you think?” Arthur asked Melody when they climbed into the car.

“He should keep her. She’s the real McCoy.”

Three weeks later a lawyer showed up at the door carrying an attaché case. In it he had an agreement of purchase for the house. Melody and Arthur signed and handed the Lawyer a dollar for the Consideration. For an entire week Andrew restrained himself from phoning them to reap the rewards of their gratitude and even when he did he was modest rather than his usual meglomaniacal self.

“First the house no longer dangled and then ‘aw shucks it was nothing’,” said Melody to Arthur while they were eating breakfast on the back porch. “A great improvement. Maybe we should try and find you a floozy too.”

“I already have one,” said Arthur and reached out to grab her by the right buttock as she passed him by.

Arthur’s Father and Anne, the young woman, married a year later. Ten months after that she was pregnant. This news, once again, brought his mother to the front door.

“The idea!” she said. “They probably sucked it out of him with a syringe and then put it in one of those cyclotron things to make it concentrated enough. The Doctors can do marvelous things these days.” Melody and Arthur blinked several times at this and then smirked knowingly at one another.

“After all a seventy year old man who drinks too much and sucks obnoxious cigars all day is unlikely to be able to do it in a natural way. Although then again perhaps they indulge in perversions intense enough to keep his old tent pole straight for a minute or two. Long enough if you are quick about it they tell me.”

The idea that his mother would have to be told about anything sexual, perverted or otherwise, struck Arthur as so ludicrous that he splurted a mouthful of tea all over his best pair of jeans. When he went off to change his pants, Felicity leaned over and said to Melody in a confidential whisper (guarding against who being a mystery for Arthur was in the basement),

“He’ll be second in line now, dear. What’s her name will see to that.”

“Oh, I don’t think he’ll mind,” said Melody.

When Melody told him what his mother said after she was gone, Arthur broke out laughing. “Mind?” he said, “Mind? My God when that child is born, I’ll be over there the next day with the keys to the kingdom.”