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

Where is that damned cat?

No, no, cancel that. Pixel, Mama Maureen didn't mean that; she's just worried and upset. Pixel is a good boy, a fine boy; everybody knows that.

But, damn it, where are you when I need you?

As soon as we were settled into our new home we shopped for Briney's kitten, but not in pet shops. I'm not sure that there was such a thing as a pet shop in KC in 1906; I don't recall ever having seen one that far back. .. and I do remember that we bought goldfish at Woolworth's or at Kresge's, not at a pet shop. Special items for cats, such as flea powder, we bought at the Dog and Cat Hospital at 31 st and Main. But finding a kitten required asking the wind.

First I got permission to put a notice on the bulletin board at Nancy's school. Then I told our grocer that we were looking for a kitten, and left the same word with our huckster - a greengrocer who stopped his wagon in our block every weekday morning to offer fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company peddled its wares the same way but its Sales wagon called only once a week since it carried only tea and coffee, sugar and spices. But that meant it covered a larger area with more customers and therefore greater chances of finding kittens. So I gave their driver our telephone number, Home Linwood 446, and asked him to call me if he heard of a litter of kittens, and then (having asked a favour) I bought his special for the week, twenty-five pounds of sugar for a dollar.

A mistake - He insisted on carrying it in for me, asserting that twenty-five pounds was much too heavy for a lady. .. and I learned that what he really wanted was to get me alone. I evaded his hands by picking up Brian, Junior, a tactic Mrs Ohlschlager had taught me when Nancy was tiny. It works best with a small and very wet baby but any child small enough to pick up will throw a hopeful male off his stride and cool him down. Oh, it won't stop a crazy rapist, but most deliverymen (and plumbers, repairmen, etc. ) are not rapists; they are simply ordinary rutty males who will go for it if offered. The problem is simply to turn him down firmly but gently, without causing him to lose face. Picking up a child does this.

It was bad judgement also because a whole dollar was too much of my household budget to tie up in sugar, and (worse) I did not have ant-proof storage for that much sugar. .. sol wound up spending another sixty cents on a sugar safe as big as my flour bin - which left me so short on cash a week later that I served fried mush for supper when my ‘plan ahead' called for ground beef patties. It was almost the end of the month, so it was serve mush or ask Briney for an advance. .. which I would not do.

With fried mush I served mo strips of bacon to Brian and one to me, and one strip, fried crisp, and crumbled, divided for Carol and Nancy. (Brian, Junior, still regarded Cream o' Wheat as a gourmet dish, so he got that plus what milk I had left in my breasts. ) Fresh dandelion greens helped to fill out the menu, and their butter-yellow blooms I floated in a shallow dish as a centrepiece. (Can anyone tell me why such pretty flowers are considered weeds? )

It was a skimpy supper but I ended it with a substantial dessert I could make with what I had on hand, plus two cooking apples picked up cheap that morning from my huckster: apple dumplings with hard sauce.

Hard sauce should be made with confectioners' sugar - but Aunt Carole had taught me how to crush and crush and keep on crushing granulated sugar, using a big spoon and a bowl, to achieve a fair imitation of powdered sugar. I had enough butter on hand and vanilla extract, and I used one teaspoon of cooking brandy - also on hand; Aunt Carole had given it to me on my wedding day. (It was now half gone. I tasted it once - horrible! But a smidgen of it at the right time and place certainly enhanced the flavour of food. )

Brian made no comment on fried mush, but complimented me on the dumplings.

On the first of the month following he said, ‘Mo, the papers say that food prices are up even though the farmers are squawking. And I'm certain that this bigger house is costing you more to run, if only in electricity, gas and Sapolio. How much more each month do you need? '

‘Sir, I'm not asking for more money. We'll get by. '

I'm sure we will but the hot weather will be with us next month. I don't want you paying the iceman the way some housewives do. Let's raise your allowance by five dollars. '

‘Oh, I don't need that much! '

‘My lady, let's do raise it that much, and see how it works out. If you have money left over at the end of the month, tuck it away. At the end of the year you can buy me a yacht. '

‘Yes, sir. What colour? '

‘Surprise me. '

I managed to add pennies and nickels and dimes to that ‘egg money' over the months by never using a charge account, even with my grocer-which was just as well, as Brian was in business for himself sooner than he had anticipated.

His employer, Mr Fones, had made him a junior associate after two years, then assistant manager in 1904. Six months after we moved into our wonderful new house Mr Fones decided to retire and offered Brian a chance to buy him out.

It was one of the few times I have seen my husband in a quandary. He usually made decisions quickly with the icy calm of a riverboat gambler; this time he seemed bemused sugaring his coffee twice, then forgetting to drink it.

At last he said, ‘Maureen, I'm going to have to consult you on a business matter. '

‘But, Brian, I don't know anything about business. '

‘Listen to me, my love. Ordinarily I will not bother you about business. Deo volente, I will not need to do so again. But this affects you and our three children and the one that has caused you to get out your fat clothes again. ' He told me in detail what Mr Fones had offered.

I thought hard about it, then said, ‘Brian, under this agreement you are to pay this - drawing acount you called it - to Mr Fones each month? '

‘Yes. If the business makes more profit than the average of the last few years, his share increases. '

‘Suppose it makes less. His share goes down? '