Жанр книги: Научная Фантастика
Robert A Heinlein To Sail Beyond The Sunset

‘This. ' She put the sack on my kitchen table. it tilted and a kitten walked out. A jellicle cat, small and neat and black and white, just as described in Mr Eliot's poem.

I said, ‘Oh, dear! '

Susan said, ‘It's all right, Mama. I've already explained to her that she can't live here. '

The kitten looked at me, wide-eyed, then sat down and started pin-pleating its white jabot. I said, ‘What is her name? '

‘She doesn't have one, Mama. It wouldn't be fair to give her one. I'm taking her down to the Humane Society so that she can be put to sleep without hurting. That's the errand I have to do. '

I was firm with Susan. She must feed the kitten herself. She must clean and refill its sand box as long as it needed one. She must train it to use the cat door. She must see to its shots, taking it back and forth to the veterinary hospital at the Plaza as necessary. The kitten was hers and hers alone, and she must plan on taking it with her when she married and left home.

Kitten and girl listened to this, round-eyed and solemn, and both agreed to the terms. And I attempted not to get friendly with this cat - let her look entirely to Susan, bond only with Susan.

But what do you do when a square ball of black and white fluff sits up on its hind legs, sticks out its little fat belly, waves its three-inch arms beside its ears, and says, plain as anything, ‘Please, Mama. Please come fight with me. '

Nevertheless. Susan remained committed to taking her kitten with her. We did not discuss it but the deal was never renegotiated.

I went to the front door - no cat. Then I went to the back door. ‘Come in, your Highness. '

Her Serene Highness, Princess Polly Ponderosa Penelope Peachfuzz, paraded in, tail high. (‘It's about Time! But thank you anyway and don't let it happen again. What's for lunch? ') She sat down, facing the kitchen cupboard where canned food was kept.

She ate a six-ounce can of tuna and liver, demanded more and did equally well on veal in gravy, then ate some crunchies for dessert, stopping from time to time to head-bump my ankles. At last she stopped to clean.

‘Polly, let me see your pads. ' She was not her usual immaculate self and I had never seen her so hungry. Where had she been the past three days?

I was certain from examining her paws that she had been on the road. I thought of some grim questions to ask Susan when she telephoned. If she did. But in the mean time the cat was here and this was home and the responsibility was now mine, by derivation. When I moved out of this house, the cat had to go with me. Unavoidable. Susan, I wish you were unmarried just long enough for me to spank you.

I rubbed Vaseline on her paws and got back to work. Princess Polly went to sleep on a pile of books. If she missed Susan, she didn't say so. She seemed willing to pig it with just one servant.

About one in the afternoon I was still sorting books and trying to decide whether to make do with a cold sandwich or go all out and open a can of tomato soup - when the front door chimed. Princess Polly looked up.

I said, ‘You're expecting someone? Susan, maybe? ' I went to the door.

Not Susan. Donald and Priscilla.

‘Come in, darlings! ' I opened the door wide. ‘Are you hungry? Have you had lunch? ' I did not ask them any questions. There is a poem by Robert Frost, well known on that time line in that century, ‘The Death of the Hired Man', which contained this definition: ‘Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. ' Two of my children had come home; they would tell me what they wished to tell me when they got around to it. I was simply glad that I had a house to let them into and that I still had bed clothes for them. Cat and children had not changed my plans - but those plans could wait. I was glad that I had not managed to clear out the day before, Monday the fourth - I would have missed all three. Tragic!

I got busy rustling up lunch for them - fancy cooking; I did open Campbell's tomato soup, two cans. ‘Let me see. We have quite a lot of not too stale cake left over from the reception, and a half-gallon of vanilla ice-cream that has not been opened. How much can you two eat? '

‘Plenty! '

‘Priss is right. We haven't eaten anything today. '

‘Oh, my goodness! Sit down. Let's get some soup into you fast, then we'll see what else you want. Or would you rather have breakfast things, seeing that this is breakfast for you? Bacon and eggs? Cereal? '

‘Anything, ' answered my son. ‘If it's alive, I'll bite its head off. '

‘Behave yourself, Donnie, ' said his sister. ‘We'll start with soup, Mama. '

While we were eating Priscilla said, ‘Why are the books piled all around, Mama? '

I explained that I was getting ready to dose the house, preparatory to selling it. My children exchanged looks; they both looked solemn, almost woebegone. I looked from face to face. ‘Take it easy, ' I advised. ‘There is nothing to look sad about. I'm not faced with any deadlines and this is your home. Do you want to fill me in? '

Most of it was fairly obvious from their condition - dirty, tired, hungry, and broke. They had had some sort of trouble with their father and their stepmother and they had left Dallas ‘forever' - ‘But, Mama, this was before we knew that you were planning to sell this house. We'll have to find somewhere else to go. .. because Donnie and I are not going back there. '

‘Don't be in a hurry, ' I said. ‘You are not out on the street.

I'm going to sell this house, yes - but we'll put another roof over our heads. This is the right time to sell this place because I let George Strong - he's in real estate - know that this place would be available once Susan was married. Hmm -‘ I went to the screen and punched up Harriman and Strong.

A woman's face came on screen. ‘Harriman and Strong, Investments. Harriman Enterprises. Allied Industries. How may I help you? '

‘I am Maureen Johnson. I would like to speak to Mr Harriman or to Mr Strong. '

‘Neither is available. You may record a message-scramble and bush are on line if needed. Or our Mr Watkins will speak to you:

‘No. Relay me to George Strong. '

‘I am sorry. Will you speak to Mr Watkins? '

‘No. Just get this message to Mr Strong: George, this is Maureen Johnson speaking. That parcel is now available, and I punched in to offer you first refusal as I promised. I have carried out my promise but I am going to deal today. So now I will call the J. C. Nichols Company. '

‘Will you hold, please? ' Her face was replaced by a flower garden, her voice by a syrupy rendition of ‘In an Eighteenth Century Drawing-Room'.

George Strong's face came on. ‘Greetings, Mrs Johnson. Good to see you. '