Page 57 Across The Road

           ACROSS THE ROAD AND INTO THE GARAGE.          11-8-10

     Roy Garde

       Mrs. Prout stepped off the sidewalk on her side of the street and walked over nearly to the center line of the road to pick up a large twig. It would become the first of a bundle of sticks, about 6″ thick, that she collected as kindling for the fire in her living room that she lit most evenings in fall, winter and spring. It was summer now but a strangely mild one so far this year and she was still lighting up her fire regularly. She went for a walk every day and if she was going out that night she didn’t gather twigs.

       A nice wood fire kept her company somehow and it lightened her spirits and acted as the medium to pleasant nostalgia. She found living alone very difficult and her way of coping with it lay in keeping busy by joining clubs of various kinds and attending church meetings and bible-readings and when, in spite of her best efforts, she found herself at home alone she’d light up the fire in the living room and stare into and relive the past.

       As she bent over to pick up the large twig her folded wallet fell out of her pocket and she didn’t notice her loss. She went back to the sidewalk and continued her walk-cum-forage around the neighborhood.

       Brian Thomas however, sitting on the balcony of his house across the road, did see it fall out and he wondered at himself for not alerting her at once or for not retrieving it and running after her to return it. He just sat there, thrilled and tingling with illicit delight, and he fervently hoped that she wouldn’t look back and spot it.

       He wasn’t avaricious, he was just curious and bored. His father was in his office in the city and his mother was at her work in town and his sisters were probably at any one of a string of malls and all of his friends were away on vacation at the beach or in resorts or some such. His mother was a travel agent and so his family didn’t go on vacation until mid-August because the build-up to summer was her busiest period.

       When Mrs. Prout had gone four or five houses down he could wait no longer and he darted over and picked up the wallet and, after looking around to be sure that she, nor anyone else, had seen him, he ran back up to the balcony to examine his prize.

       It contained her driving license (he noticed that she was nearly 51, wow, ancient!) and a bank credit card and a Sears card and two super market ones and some others that he didn’t recognize, and had no interest in, and her Social Security card and bits of paper with addresses and telephone numbers written on them but nothing of interest to him like intimate letters from lovers or nude photos, or something in that vein. In the back compartment were two $20, one $10, one $5 and three $1 bills.

       The money consoled him for the disappointment of not finding anything juicy and personal and confidential and he told himself that it was all right for him to keep it because he would drop the wallet in her letter box later, when it was dark, and she would be so grateful for getting her credit cards and the rest of it back that she wouldn’t much mind the loss of a few bucks. He began to make a list of the things he would buy for himself as he positioned his fingers to reach in and then take the money out.

       Except that they didn’t. They wouldn’t line up properly to pluck nor would they even touch the bills. He looked at his fingers in disbelief. They would not do what he ordered them to do! Then he thought – where would he put the bills if, or rather when, he got them out of the wallet? – and he answered himself – why, in my shirt pocket with my other money of course – but then he realized that it was just not going to happen. If he took it out it would instantly become dirty and it would soil his hand and then his shirt and then him – positively, unarguably, forget it. What a bummer. Who would have thought it? – He was disgusted with himself and then got reconciled but he marveled at finding this heretofore hidden trait in himself.  But there, he reasoned, he’d never been properly tempted before. Not big time like this.

       He closed the wallet and put it on the table by his chair to await Mrs. Prout’s return.

       A half hour or so later she came into sight from the other direction and he waited until she got her door keys out and then he ran across the street calling her name and holding out the wallet.

       She was startled but when she saw who it was she smiled and said, “Why, hello Brian, what is it?”

       “You must have dropped this earlier, I saw it on the, uh, on your side of the street when I was going to the Post Office.” She gasped when she saw that he was holding her wallet and because she had her keys in one hand and the bundle of sticks in the other she threw the kindling down on the grass and took it from him.

       “My word, I didn’t even miss it until now. How careless and how stupid of me. Thank you Brian, thank you very much.”

       This boy and his sisters knew that she lived alone and, for many past winters, after every snow fall they would come over to her house and clear her path and sidewalk as soon as they had finished helping their father to clear their own and none of them would ever accept payment for it no matter how hard she tried to press $5 dollar bills into their hands.

       However, she knew that she simply had to give Brian a reward for this latest kindness and so she opened her front door and asked him to come in for a soda and she wouldn’t listen to his, “No thank you, Ma’am’s”. She waded right through them and she pulled him forward and then pushed him ahead of her into her house and then closed the door after following him inside.

       She sat him down on the little bench at the side of the table in the kitchen and she went to the refrigerator and looked inside. The only drinks in there were ginger ale and some fruit juices so she took out a ginger ale and opened it with her little machine and then poured some in a glass and she brought both the glass and the bottle to him.

       She started thanking him again and as she did so the full import of the seriousness of the incident came to her and of the enormous amount of trouble he had saved her and so, to emphasize her gratefulness, she took his right hand in both of hers and pulled it to her and up to just below her chin and she said, “Brian, you really must let me give you a reward for your honesty. Will you let me give you, say, twenty dollars?”

       He said, “No way, Mrs Prout, thank you but no thank you. I couldn’t.”

       Then his hand astonished him for the second time that day. It slipped free of her grasp and then opened and partially turned and then moved down and cupped her left breast and squeezed!

       She registered this instantly of course but she didn’t think it could possibly be happening to her. And then, before she could react, she heard him cry out in pain and saw his free hand dart to the pocket of his jeans where it delved in to rescue his penis which seemed to be trapped in his underpants and was trying to burst through straight ahead. She saw him gingerly ease it up alongside his belly where it found some room to expand. Massively, it seemed to her, for such a young man.

       When she looked at his face again she saw embarrassment and astonishment there but also, unmistakably, she saw longing in his eyes and, somehow, lust around his slackening mouth.

       It was happening to her all right – “Here and now it’s happening,” she told herself – and what was she to do about it? It had been nearly 6 years since she’d been widowed and she’d never made love with any man in her whole life except her husband and, besides that, Brian was 16 or 17 to her 50 and she rejected the very thought of taking him to her bed even as she heard herself saying, “You poor dear, come with me. I know what you need.”

       When they were walking over to the stairs she moved his hand to her other breast so as to give him space enough to walk behind her and stay connected and thus keep her from breaking her resolve because she figured that it was his touch that was the catalyst that was making her whole body flood with delicious anticipation.

       She led him up to her bedroom.

       She lowered the blinds and then switched on a low wattage lamp that was in the far corner and then she started to undress with never a word. He stared at her every move to be sure to see each part of her that became exposed as soon as possible even as he tore his own clothes off and threw them where-ever.

       She got on to the bed and opened her legs for him and he gasped as he saw the gaggle of black hair that lay beneath her white belly and that nearly covered the magical place that he’d been hearing about for years and that, sight unseen, had been taking up more and more of his and his friends’ conversations of late. Most of their conjecturing was farcical as they all partly suspected but here it was, here for him, and the next time he got together with them they would do all the listening – Wow! Would they ever!

       He climbed on to the bed and he immediately got on top of her and tried to push in to her, that much he was sure about, but although her brain was more than ready to accept him her body wasn’t and so that made it difficult for him.

      However, she was sure that even if she had been ready, or had applied some lubricant, the catastrophic thing that happened next wouldn’t have been averted anyway.

       She reached down with her hand to guide him and with that help he succeeded in pushing in an inch or so and then he paused for a second or two to muster his strength for his next assault.  However, when he’d done so, and had gained about an inch, he cried out loudly in agony and he pulled out and pulled away and scooted off the bed and over to a chair where he sat down hunched over trying to ease his pain by blowing on his penis. She got up and came over to him and they both saw that it was bleeding and that he had torn the ligament that was attached to the underside of his foreskin. That had happened because it had been the first time that it had ever been forced back over a real erection and the pain was ongoing because he remained very, very hard.

       She reasoned that he would stay hard as long as he was in the same room with her so, motherly like, she told him to go into the bathroom and perhaps try splashing cold water on it.

       The tears were rolling down his face as he slowly made his way – bow-legged, bent over and step-after-careful-step – to the bathroom and he closed the door and did as she had suggested. After several long minutes it subsided and he was then able to pull his foreskin back to its accustomed place and he stopped sobbing as the pain eased.

       She was concerned for him and so she listened at the bathroom door and when she heard his crying stop she called out to him that he would find some salve in the Medicine Cabinet and that he should apply some.

       He thanked her and then asked that she bring his clothes and when she’d retrieved them all she handed them in without looking at him and a few minutes later he came out and ran past her and down the stairs.

       He didn’t know if he was most distressed by his colossally wrong, unexplainable, heretofore unthinkable act of grabbing her breast or by his ineptitude or by his disappointment for blowing this golden opportunity to at last find out what IT was like but he did know that he wanted to get out of her house quickly and that he did not want to speak to her ever again.

       He got to the front door but was not familiar with its elaborate lock and he couldn’t open it so she caught up with him as he was still fiddling with it.

       “Brian, I’m sorry I hurt you,” she said and she took his arm and made him turn to her although he wouldn’t look up from the floor, “Obviously you want to leave but if we aren’t careful this could become traumatic for you and could easily affect your entire life. So. Here’s what I think you should do. Leave it alone for a few days until it has healed and then you must find ways to make sure that it will work properly next time. See a doctor if you have to. Will you do that? Good.

       “Here, I’ll get the door for you but before you go you must promise that you won’t tell anyone about what we did. Please promise Brian. It is very important for both of us, believe me.”

       “I promise, Mrs. Prout”, he said and although he didn’t immediately get the full import of what she said next he did so soon after and he was very grateful to her for it.

       She figured that now that he had already been invited – if not quite dragged! – to her bed and had seen her naked and, in fact, had actually been inside her for a little while, there surely couldn’t be much more guilt coming at her, over and above what she already felt, that could be generated by a future meeting with him, and seeing how much she’d liked being swamped by the feeling of being included in life-as-she-is-lived again, up until his injury, and that she really wanted him to come to her bed again, and so, figuring that it might well be the only way to keep some control over him and thus ensure that he wouldn’t tell anyone about it, she said, “When you think you’re ready call me and we’ll try again and we’ll be much more careful next time. Wait, I’ll write down my number for you.”

       She went into her kitchen and wrote her phone number on the top sheet of a little pad that she kept near the phone and then she ripped it off and took it to him. His embarrassment was almost wiped out by his dawning elation but it was still strong enough to make him run across the road and away from her as soon as she opened the door fully. Even so, he didn’t make a move until he had put the precious and confirming piece of paper safely into his shirt pocket.

       He checked himself at once when he got into the safety of the upstairs bathroom of his home and, while it still hurt a lot, the tear had already stopped bleeding and he tenderly washed himself and then, after drying it, he put on more balm.

       It took two days before he could properly handle it again but after that he manipulated his foreskin regularly until it would slip back and stay there with less and less pain and when he slept all through the next night with it pulled back and had a savage wet dream that woke him when he was ejaculating, he found it still retracted and he knew, as he cleaned himself with some tissue and then dabbed at the sheets and then rearranged them, that he was now quite ready to call his darling, beloved, blessed, wonderful Mrs. Prout on the phone.

       He was available all day and every day but she had friends and a fairly busy social life to contend with so she had to tell him that he would have to wait until the following Tuesday, (“But this is only Thursday!” he protested in dismay,) before he could come over again.

       Never did five days take so long to pass but Tuesday came at last and he darted across the road to her house when he saw her return from her walk. She looked around carefully before she opened up the door to let them both in and, seeing the state he was in – one of rampant urgency – she locked the door and then led the way upstairs without another word.

       She saw to it that he entered her slowly until he was all the way inside and then she simply lay still for him on the bed and didn’t try to aid or direct him at all. He was like a child in a combined toy, candy and pet store, full of wonder and delight and he mounted her five times in the next hour or so. Each time he simply pounded away until he came then he would fall off to one side and pant for a while and then he’d turn to her yet again and start touching and kissing and caressing her all over. He couldn’t properly come to terms with the amount of pleasure that her body afforded him.

       However, he was dismayed when, on his sixth attempt, he found that he’d stayed flaccid and she told him that five was quite a good number and that they should both rest a while and maybe cuddle a bit before he left her.

       At the door she kissed him before opening it then she said, “Brian, you were wonderful. Such a fine lover, but you should know that this time it was all for you because I thought that you’d certainly earned it! Next time I’ll show you how to share more. But never mind that now, listen dear, before you go let me tell you what I’ve been thinking. You mustn’t use this door again when you come to see me because someone will see you and will guess what’s going on so in future come around to the back of my garage from the next street down and you can climb in through its window. It’s shielded by trees and bushes. I’ll leave my car out on the driveway so there’ll be plenty of room. I’ll put up thick curtains and I’ll put a lock on the inside of the door. There’s a rather dim lamp in there but that’s all right, isn’t it? There’ll be enough light for you to find me and that’s what matters, yes? I’ll put a mattress down too, of course, so that we’ll be comfortable.

      “So, this is what I want you to do – call me on the phone just before you leave your house and then go all the way around and wait by the window and when you hear me tap on the glass slide it up and climb in.

       “It will be nice for us, won’t it, not to mention exciting?”

       “It sure will,” he replied. “Thank you very much. I’m really grateful. Uh, can I come again tomorrow, please?”

       “No”, she said after thinking for a while. “Make it Sunday, say at two o’clock. I’ll rearrange things for you. Dear Brian, goodbye. You were wonderful.” She kissed him lightly again and as he skipped across the road he didn’t think that his feet touched the ground more than twice.

       On the following Sunday he followed her instructions and by the time that he’d climbed into the window of her garage and had turned around he saw, dimly, that she was already lying on the mattress and was naked. He lost little time before joining her there.

      They only did it twice that afternoon because after the first time, during which she once again simply lay still and patiently let him bang away at her until he was done, she explained to him that he could get more pleasure by giving her more of it and then she told him what she most liked having done to her, and the wonderful things that she was going to do for him, and that if they did some of them to each other before, “uh, doing it,” that would increase their pleasure immeasurably.

    She’d met her husband, who was a divorced man and who was one of a half-dozen vice-presidents of the County’s water company, at a charity luncheon – one of the company’s officers had to attend and he’d lost out on the draw – and he’d paid her a lot of attention because she was the only woman there who was under fifty years old. They got on well and that led to him asking her out on date and that went well too so they saw each other often from then on. When it got to be obvious to them both that they suited each other, one night, when they were sitting on the swing on the balcony of her home after coming back from having dinner, he showed her the ring that he’d bought but before asking for her hand he said that he thought that it was best if he told her why his first wife had left him.

     She agreed to listen after telling him that she thought that his doing so was not only commendable but was also sensible in that maybe they could take steps to avoid a possible repetition.

     He hurriedly explained that it wasn’t anything serious or nasty but was simply because he was maybe a tad oversexed and consequently he was adventurous in bed and wanted to try just about every thing whereas his wife had been, “inhibited up to her nostrils and was reluctant to let me, uh, have relations more than once every twenty-four hours even on our honeymoon and then only in the missionary position.”

      His fiancee breathed out a sigh of relief partly because she figured that she could cope with that and, also, because becoming his wife was extra important to her because her parents had made it clear to her when she was a senior in college that if she wanted to come home after graduation it could be for only a limited time because they expected her to find a job in the city, and become self-suporting as soon as possible, and that had been four years ago and they’d been dropping more and more hints lately to that effect.

      She assured him that she was actually looking forward to being in bed with him where she would be “a good wife to him” and that she hoped that he’d teach her everything that he knew and she did mean ‘everything.’

       A short while later, when she had his ring safely on her finger, she asked him if they could get started with the more innocuous things right away and that led to him showing her what French kissing was and she was amazed at how much pleasure she got out of it and in return she opened up her blouse for him. He quickly moved in on her and he unclasped her bra in a matter of seconds which both amazed her, he’d undone it faster than she could do it herself, and worried her and her worry increased exponentially a moment later when he showed that he really knew his way around a woman’s body. She’d thought up to then that men’s infatuation with breasts was a mild and acceptable ‘Madonna’ trait and that being allowed to fondle them was mostly proprietary and thus inconsequential in the big scheme of things but he soon put her right on that one.

        He was so expert at making them into not-so-secondary sexual characteristics that she actually started writhing with need a few minutes after she’d taken her hands away and by doing so had given him the go-ahead to feel them and kiss them in any way and for as long as he wanted.

         Her reaction let him know that he could safely put his hand up her skirt and when he’d found her center – and had surreptitiously ascertained for himself that, as hinted at several times by her, she had an intact, horseshoe shaped hymen – he left it alone and expertly manipulated her clitoris in order to carry out his second task which was to make sure that, at base too, she was properly ‘sensually atuned’ because having both of those characteristics were essential preconditions if she was to become not just his fiance but his wife.

        Seconds later, he got confirmation about the second item because her belly started to heave up to meet his hand with a gratifying amount of urgency and her legs opened up for him so wide that he knew, and she realized later on with chagrin, that he could have taken her virginity there and then if he’d been so minded.

      When she asked him about it the next time that she saw him – they were about to start out on another steamy make-out session but this time in the living room of her home because her parents were out somewhere – he told her that he wanted to wait until he had her with him, naked, in a double bed and that snatching at it on a bench in a corner of a park, or on the couch in her home where they had to keep most of their clothes on and stay alert for the sound of a car pulling into the driveway, wasn’t his style at all because he wanted to take a lot of time getting to know her body before ‘deflowering’ it as she’d find out soon enough.

        Sure enough, as promised, when the door of their honeymoon-hotel room in Bali had been closed and secured, he insisted on undressing her himself and then he got her to lie on the bed and then he asked her to, “Please stay passive and as trusting as a child because that’s how I think of you at this minute but when, soon, I’ve made a woman of you I’ll treat you as one and then you can, believe me, be as wanton and as experimental as you want.”

          He enjoyed himself by spending a lot of time exploring her body that was unknown-to-any-other-man just as he’d done with his first wife who had also been a virgin. Indeed, that was his number-one priority when he’d started searching for a woman to become his wife, both times, and, also both times, he was careful to not examine his predilection too closely.

           His first wife hadn’t allowed him to even kiss her deeply until they were formally engaged and she’d never allowed him to so much as cup one of her breasts until they were under a blanket on the plane that took them to their honeymoon hotel in Cancun.

           When they were inside their room she’d undressed for him – following her mother’s instructions – and had awaited his next move confidently because those instructions had fully informed her about what ‘men want from us.’

           Consequently, she was happy to find that he wanted to spend a lot of time exploring her body and was even happier when he showed real reverence for it that, at times, bordered on worship.

           However, when Nature forced him to move on he mounted her and supported his weight on his arms and knees so that his hips were hovering above her and then he asked her to guide ‘it’ in for him.

           “What! You want me to touch the beastly thing? No way!”

           That was such an outrageous thing for a new wife to say to her new husband that he was certain that she was joking but it quickly became obvious that she’d meant it and the phrase stuck with him and from then on it set the tone for their entire marriage which lasted exactly one year and one day (to meet the specs that her lawyer had set up in her pre-nup agreement) and during most of that year they slept in different rooms.

              He knew that he’d have to do the guiding himself and so he did just that and when he’d ever-so-gingerly come up against her hymen instead of busting on through to get it over and done with he just pressed against it firmly hoping that he would be allowed to ease on through but even so she let out a howl that they must have heard down in the lobby.

              We’d better draw a veil over the rest of that night but she knew that her ‘deflowering’ would have to be accomplished before morning came (this time not to meet the requirements of her pre-nup but to meet her mother’s explicit instructions and, knowing her daughter, her dire warnings about the legal consequences that can follow non-consumation) and so she ever so reluctantly forced herself to let him keep trying until, finally, Mother Nature lost all patience with them and She helped him to find, and strengthen, the needed backbone. That time they must have heard her screams way out at sea.

          We’re now going to jump on to the first night of his second honeymoon when, if you remember, his new wife had enjoyed having her body worshipped for a long time and she was, somewhat impatiently, awaiting further developments.

          He didn’t risk asking for her help that time – it wasn’t in the plan that he’d drawn up – and so when he’d located the vestibule of his vestal’s vagina he paused and mustered all of his driving power and – Wham!

           He made himself ignore her screams and he drove on through them and through her cries for respite and he flooded her less than two minutes later.

           When he’d washed away the blood and was applying ice, and then balm, to her poor, battered center he was fearful that he might well have made a huge error but when he rejoined her in bed after dropping the soiled towels into the bin in the bathroom she moved towards him and stopped whimpering to be able to give him many sweet kisses as she murmured endearments into his ears and, sometime in amongst all that, she said, “Oh my. Aren’t I the clever one to have found such a good, strong, forceful man to be my husband.”

           By the end of their honeymoon he had taught her all that he knew, which wasn’t all that much but it covered the basics very well, and from then on they experimented and investigated together and, over the years, their repertory of acts and maneuvers that can be carried out between the sheets became extensive and they were both more than just content with each other and with their allotted roles.

            Unfortunately, the huge amount of pleasure that they were able to give each other paradoxically led to years of deep and fundamental unhappiness for poor Mrs Prout when she was widowed after sixteen years of marriage.

            Her husband was spared from having to endure the same pain because he was beyond caring having been killed in a freak accident which involved a huge crane which was lifting a slab of concrete to the top of a dam that belonged to his company’s new owners in France and which got caught up on some scaffolding unbeknownst to the crane operator until it jammed. He’d then tried to lower it whereupon it broke free and swung over and decapitated three of the visiting Americans, including Mr Prout.

           Mrs Prout had become so enamored, you might say, of getting so much first class loving for so long that having all of it cut off suddenly and irrevocably was a huge strain and a set back for her even though, mercifully, her suppressed libido didn’t begin to reassert itself until several months after his funeral.

            Up until then she’d never been a joiner but to keep from going mad she changed that by picking out a church for herself and she attended most of its week- night happenings and she became a member of a book-reading group and – more  like that.

           And then, one blessed day, she dropped her wallet and wonderful, marvelous Brian Thomas returned it and she invited him in for a soda and to make him accept a reward and, lo and behold and praise His ways, she was the one who got the reward.

          When Brian was with her on the mattress in her garage for the first time, and was resting after their first bout, she put her plan into operation by telling him that she wanted him to let her take charge and teach him what the man/woman possibilities are and – although she’d told herself to introduce him to new positions and new procedures slowly and over a long time – when she found that he was a splendid pupil who reacted extremely well and with a lot of enthusiasm to everything that she came up with, no matter how bizarre it must have seemed to him, she went through a half dozen, or so, of her favorite practices and she guided him verbally and physically through them all. Because of that, the second time that they did it was prolonged and marvelous for them both and it was especially satisfying for her because she’d known how good it is very well indeed for many years and not being able to share what she knew had left a huge hole in her life.

        They met up in the garage, on average, three times every week (actually every time that she said he could come to her because he found that he simply couldn’t get enough) and in the colder months she set up a some electric heaters that blew hot air and that way they stayed comfortable and cosy on the mattress.

       When he went away to college he perplexed his parents by pleading for money for bus fare so that he could come home every weekend and then, when he got home at around six o’clock every Friday, he barely acknowledged them and he’d eat something and then get on the phone and go out the door and they knew not whence.

       He got good grades because he was almost the only guy in his classes who wasn’t almost constantly preoccupied with the pursuit of a bed partner and he hardly dated anyone because the extended preliminaries that he was expected to go through with a girl bored him because he’d never had to learn how to go about them properly and, of course, there are strict procedural rules for these things.

       Also he only had to close his eyes and he could thrill through the ritual of waiting in the bushes for the tap on the window and then pushing it up and climbing in and seeing her, he still thought of her as “Mrs. Prout”, there in the near darkness – lately she’d taken to leaving a cardboard box in front of the lamp to dim the place even more – on the mattress waiting for him with her white, white shoulders and arms and her oh! so soft breasts and belly and the black hair below that was curled over and around her magical place that was almost palpably calling to him, “Welcome home, Brian, and I mean your true home. I’m here waiting to be kissed and filled up so do it right this minute please.”

          When he graduated he went home to live and he eventually found a job in the city but he showed himself to be in no hurry to leave his parent’s house no matter how often they hinted that that was the right thing to do and no matter how many offers he got to share desirable apartments in good areas nor endless accounts and stories of how much the city had to offer to those who didn’t have to catch a bus home every night.

       One day, a regular weekday on the exact date that their mortgage was paid off, his parents gave a mortgage-burning party and they’d sent out invitations to it to nearly everyone who lived in their street as well as friends and relatives from all over.

           Brian excused himself, saying he had to work late that night, because he could barely stand being in the same room with most of them singly no matter about all of them at once. He arranged to stay over with one of his friends in the city.

       However his plan was thwarted because in the morning of the day of the party his father was told by his company chairman that he’d have to go to Philadelphia for a conference and there was no way he could get out of it and so he’d be hopelessly late getting home and, on top of that, one of his sisters had to take her mother-in-law to the hospital and so his mother called him at work and told him all of this and said she couldn’t possibly cope without him so he was roped in to help.

          He was in the kitchen, taking his time refilling a tray with hors d’oeuvres, when his mother came in and said, “Brian, be a dear and go down and get a half dozen Chardonnay and then open some of them will you? Hardly anyone seems to want to drink red wine tonight for some reason. Here, I’ll finish filling that tray for you. And, uh, oh dear – now what was it I wanted to ask you? – – – Oh yes! When you’ve brought them up take a glass of it to Mrs. Prout please. She’s just arrived.”

         Several weeks later his mother called him at his new apartment in the city and, after bringing him up to date on the family’s news – she was the acknowledged major recipient and distributor of it and of several other circles that she was involved in – she said, “I met that nice, strange Mrs. Prout the other day. She asked after you. I see that she’s started picking up twigs again and she’s evidently stopped dying her hair because the roots have an inch or so of gray showing and it looks very odd. She’s not even sixty yet but now she looks as if she’s over seventy.

         “You know, she’s never thanked me nor even mentioned the mortgage-burning party that we gave while everyone else all said that they had a wonderful time. Oh well!

         “She told me that she’s selling her house and moving away in the spring. I asked if she was going south to Florida and she said, `No, no, not south. I’ll be going north. Definitely north. Maine maybe, or even Alaska.’

         “Don’t you find that a little strange, dear? I certainly do. Ah, well. I wonder who our new neighbors will be.”