Technical Sergeant John F. Gladwaller, Jr., ASN 32325200, had on a pair of gray-flannel slacks, a white shirt with the collar open, Argyle socks, brown brogues and a dark brown hat with a black band. He had his feet up on his desk, a pack of cigarettes within reach, and any minute his mother was coming in with a piece of chocolate cake and a glass of milk.
Books were all over the floor—opened books, closed books, best sellers, worst sellers, classic books, dated books, Christmas-present books, library books, borrowed books.
At the moment, the sergeant was at the studio of Mihailov, the painter, with Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. A few minutes ago he had stood with Father Zossima and Alyosha Karamazov on the portico below the monastery. An hour ago he had crossed the great sad lawns belonging to Jay Gatsby, born James Gatz. Now the sergeant tried to go through Mihailov’s studio quickly, to make time to stop at the corner of Fifth and 46th Street. He and a big cop named Ben Collins were expecting a girl named Edith Dole to drive by. . . .There were so many people the sergeant wanted to see again, so many places worth—
“Here we are!” said his mother, coming in with the cake and milk.
Too late, he thought. Time’s up. Maybe I can take them with me. Sir, I’ve brought my books. I won’t shoot anybody just yet. You fellas go ahead. I’ll wait here with the books.
“Oh, thanks, Mother,” he said, coming out of Mihailov’s studio. “That looks swell.”
His mother set down the tray on his desk. “The milk is ice cold,” she said, giving it a build-up, which always amused him. Then she sat down on the foot-stool by his chair, watching her son’s face, watching his thin, familiar hand pick up the fork—watching, watching, loving.
He took a bite of the cake and washed it down with milk. It was ice cold. Not bad.
“Not bad,” he commented.
“It’s been on the ice since this morning,” his mother said, happy with the negative compliment. “Dear, what time is the Corfield boy coming?”
“Caulfield. He’s not a boy, Mother. He’s twenty-nine. I’m going to meet the six-o’clock train. Do we have any gas?”
“No, don’t believe so, but your father said to tell you that the coupons are in the compartment. There’s enough for six gallons of gas, he said.” Mrs. Gladwaller suddenly discovered the condition of the floor. “Babe, you will pick up those books before you go out, won’t you?”
“M’m’m,” said Babe unenthusiastically, with a mouthful of cake. He swallowed it and took another drink of milk—boy, it was cold. “What time’s Mattie get out of school?” he asked.
“About three o’clock, I think. Oh, Babe, please call for her! She’ll get such a kick out of it. In your uniform and all.”
“Can’t wear the uniform,” Babe said, munching. “Gonna take the sled.”
“Well, goodness gracious! A twenty-four-year-old boy.”
Babe stood up, picked up his glass and drank the last of the milk—the stuff was really cold. Then he side-stepped through his books on the floor, like a halfback in pseudo-slow motion, and went to his window. He raised it high.
“Babe, you’ll catch your death of cold.”
He scooped up a handful of snow from the sill and packed it into a ball; it was the right kind for packing, not too dry.
“You’ve been so sweet to Mattie,” his mother remarked thoughtfully.
“Good kid,” Babe said.
“What did the Corfield boy do before he was in the Army?”
“Caulfield. He directed three radio programs: I Am Lydia Moore, Quest for Life, and Marcia Steele, M.D.”
“I listen to I Am Lydia Moore all the time,” said Mrs. Gladwaller excitedly. “She’s a girl veterinarian.”
“He’s a writer too.”
“Oh, a writer! That’s nice for you. Is he awfully sophisticated?”
The snowball in his hands was beginning to drip. Babe tossed it out the window. “He’s a fine guy,” he said. He has a kid brother in the Army who flunked out of a lot of schools. He talks about him a lot. Always pretending to pass him off as a nutty kid.”
“Babe, close the window. Please,” Mrs. Gladwaller said.
Babe closed the window and walked over to his closet. He opened it casually. All his suits were hung up, but he couldn’t see them because they were enveloped in tar paper. He wondered if he would ever wear them again. Vanity, he thought, thy name is Gladwaller. All the girls on a million busses, on a million streets, at a million noisy parties, who had never seen him in that white coat Doc Weber and Mrs. Weber brought him from Bermuda. Even Frances had never seen it. He ought to have a chance to come in some room where she was, wearing that white coat. He always felt he looked so homely, that his nose was bigger and longer than ever, when he was around her. But that white coat. He’d have killed her in that white coat.
“I had your white coat cleaned and pressed before I put it away,” his mother said, as though reading his thoughts—which irritated him slightly.
He put on his navy-blue sleeveless sweater over his shirt, then his suede windbreaker. “Where’s the sled, mom?” he asked.
“In the garage, I suppose,” his mother said.
Babe walked past where she still sat on the footstool, where she still sat watching, loving. He slapped her gently on the upper arm.
“See ya later. Stay sober,” he said.
LATE in October you could window-write, and now, before November was through, Valdosta, New York, was white—run-to-the-window white, take-a-deep-breath white, throw-your-books-in-the-hall-and-get-out-in-it white. But even so, when the school bell rang at three o’clock these afternoons the passionate few—all girls—stayed behind to hear adorable Miss Galtzer read another chapter of Wuthering Heights. So Babe sat on the sled, waiting. It was nearly three-thirty. C’mon out, Mattie, he thought. I don’t have much time.
Abruptly, the big exit door swung open and about twelve or fourteen little girls pushed and shoved their way into the open air, chattering, yelling. Babe thought they hardly looked like an intellectual bunch. Maybe they didn’t like Wuthering Heights. Maybe they were just bucking for rank, polishing apples. Not Mattie though. I’ll bet she’s nuts about it, Babe thought. I’ll bet she wants Cathy to marry Heathcliff instead of Linton.
Then he saw Mattie, and she saw him at the same instant. When she saw him, her face lit up like nothing he ever saw before, and it was worth fifty wars. She ran over to him crazily in the knee-deep, virgin snow.
“Babe!” she said. “Gee!”
“Hiya, Mat. Hiya, kid,” Babe said low and easy. “I thought maybe you’d like to go for a ride.”
“How was the book?” Babe asked.
“Good! Did you read it?”
“I want Cathy to marry Heathcliff. Not that other droop, Linton. He gives me a royal pain,” Mattie said. “Gee! I didn’t know you were coming! Did mamma tell you what time I got out?”
“Yes. Get on the sled and I’ll give ya a ride.”
“No. I’ll walk with you.”
Babe bent down and picked up the drag rope of the sled; then he walked through the snow toward the street, with Mattie beside him. The other kids, the rest of the Wuthering Heights crowd, stared. Babe thought, This is for me. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. This is better than my books, this is better than Frances, this is better and bigger than myself. All right. Shoot me, all you sneaking Jap snipers that I’ve seen in the newsreels. Who cares?
They were in the street now. Babe took up the slack of the drag rope, attached it out of the way and straddled his sled.
“I’ll get on first,” he said. He got into position. “Okay. Get on my back, Mat.”
“Not down Spring Street,” Mattie said nervously. “Not down Spring Street, Babe.” If you went down Spring Street you coasted right into Locust, and Locust was all full of cars and trucks.
Only the big, tough, dirty-words boys coasted down Spring. Bobby Earhardt was killed doing it last year, and his father picked him up and Mrs. Earhardt was crying and everything.
Babe aimed the nose of the sled down Spring and got ready. “Get on my back,” he instructed Mattie again.
“Not down Spring. I can’t go down Spring, Babe. I promised daddy once. He’d get sore. I mean he’d get more hurt than sore.”
“It’s all right Mattie,” Babe said. “It’s all right when you’re with me. You can tell him you were with me.”
“Not down Spring. Not down Spring, Babe. How ‘bout Randolph Avenue? Randolph is swell!”
“It’s all right. I wouldn’t kid you, Mattie. It’s all right with me.”
Mattie suddenly got on his back, pushing her books under her stomach.
“Ready?” said Babe.
She couldn’t answer him.
“You’re shaking,” Babe said, finally aware.
“Yes! You’re shaking. You don’t have to go, Mattie.”
“No, I’m not. Honest.”
“Yes,” said Babe. “You are. You can get up. It’s all right. Get up, Mat.”
“I’m okay!” Mattie said. “Honest I am, Babe. Honest! Look!”
“No. Get up, honey.”
Mattie got up.
Babe stood up, too, and banged the snow free from the runners of the sled.
“I’ll go down Spring with you, Babe. Honest. I’ll go down Spring with you,” Mattie said anxiously.
“I know that,” said her brother. “I know that.” I’m happier than I ever was, he thought. “C’mon,” he said. “Randolph is just as good. Better.” He took her hand.
WHEN Babe and Mattie got home, the door was opened for them by Corp. Vincent Caulfield in uniform. He was a pale young man with large ears and a blanched scar on his neck from a boyhood operation. He had a wonderful smile which he used infrequently. “How do you do,” he said, dead-pan, opening the door. “If you’ve come to read the gas meter, you two, you’ve come to the wrong house. We don’t use gas. We burn the children for heat. Always have. Good day.”
He started to close the door. Babe put his foot in the doorway, which his guest proceeded to kick violently.
“Ow! I thought you were coming on the six o’clock!”
Vincent opened the door. “Come in,” he said. “There’s a woman here who’ll give you both a piece of leaden cake.”
“Old Vincent!” Babe said, shaking his hand.
“Who’s this?” asked Vincent, looking at Mattie, who looked slightly frightened.
“It’s Matilda,” he answered himself. “Matilda, there’s no use in our waiting to get married. I’ve loved you ever since that night in Monte Carlo when you put your last diaper on Double-O. This war can’t last—”
“Mattie,” Babe said, grinning, “this is Vincent Caulfield.”
“Hiya,” said Mattie, with her mouth open.
Mrs. Gladwaller stood bewildered by the fireplace.
“I have a sister just your age,” Vincent told Mattie. “She’s not the beauty that you are, but she’s probably far brighter.”
“What’s her grades?” Mattie demanded.
“Thirty in arithmetic, twenty in spelling, fifteen in history and zero in geography. She can’t seem to bring her geography grades up with the others,” Vincent said.
Babe was very happy, listening to Vincent with Mattie. He’d known that Vincent would be nice with her.
“Those are terrible grades,” Mattie said, giggling.
“All right, you’re so smart,” said Vincent. “If A has three apples, and B leaves at three o’clock, how long will it take C to row five thousand miles upstream, bounded on the north by Chile?…Don’t tell her, sergeant. The child must learn to do things by herself.”
“C’mon upstairs,” Babe said, slapping him on the back. “Hiya, mom! He said your cake was leaden.”
“He ate two pieces.”
“Where’re your bags?” Babe asked his guest.
“Upstairs, the pretties,” said Vincent, following Babe up the stairs.
“I understand you’re a writer, Vincent!” Mrs. Gladwaller called before they had reached the top.
Vincent leaned over the banister. “No, no. I’m an opera singer, Mrs. Gladwaller. I’ve brought all my music with me, you’ll be glad to hear.”
“Are you the guy that’s in I Am Lydia Moore?” Mattie asked him.
“I am Lydia Moore. I’ve shaved off my mustache.”
“How was New York, Vince?” Babe wanted to know, when they were relaxed in his room and smoking.
“Why are you in civilian clothes, sergeant?”
“Been indulging in athletics. I went sledding with Mattie. No kidding. How was New York?”
“No more horsecars. They’ve taken the horsecars off the streets since I enlisted.” Vincent picked up a book from the floor and examined the cover. “Books,” he said contemptuously. “I used to read ‘em all. Standish, Alger, Nick Carter. Book learning never did me no good. Remember that, young feller.”
“I will. For the last time, how was New York?”
“No good, sergeant. My brother Holden is missing. The letter came while I was home.”
“No, Vincent!” Babe said, taking his feet off the desk.
“Yes,” said Vincent. He pretended to look through the pages of the book in his hand. “I used to bump into him at the old Joe College Club on Eighteenth and Third in New York. A beer joint for college kids and prep-school kids. I’d go there just looking for him, Christmas and Easter vacations when he was home. I’d drag my date through the joint, looking for him, and I’d find him way in the back. The noisiest, tightest kid in the place. He’d be drinking Scotch and every other kid in the place would be sticking to beer. I’d say to him, ‘Are you okay, you moron? Do you wanna go home? Do you need any dough?’ And he’d say, ‘Naaa. Not me. Not me, Vince. Hiya boy. Hiya. Who’s the babe’ And I’d leave him there, but I’d worry about him because I remembered all the crazy, lost summertimes when the nut used to leave his trunks in a wet lump at the foot of the staircase instead of putting them on the line. I used to pick them up because he was me all over again.” Vincent closed the book he was pretending to look through. With a circuslike flourish he took a nail file from his blouse pocket and started filing his nails. “Does your father send his guests away from the table if their nails aren’t tidy?”
“What does he teach? You told me, but I forgot.”
“Biology. . . .How old was he, Vincent?”
“Twenty,” Vincent said.
“Nine years younger than you,” Babe calculated inanely. “Do your folks—I mean do your folks know you’re going overseas next week?”
“No,” said Vincent. “Yours?”
“No. I guess I’ll have to tell them before the train leaves in the morning. I don’t know how to tell mother. Her eyes fill up if somebody even mentions the word ‘gun’.”
“Have you had fun, Babe?” Vincent asked seriously.
“Yes, a lot,” Babe answered. . . . “The cigarettes are behind you.”
Vincent reached for them. “Seen a lot of Frances?” he asked.
“Yes. She’s wonderful, Vince. The folks don’t like her, but she’s wonderful for me.”
“Maybe you should have married her,” Vincent said. Then, sharply, “He wasn’t even twenty, Babe. Not till next month. I want to kill so badly I can’t sit still. Isn’t that funny? I’m notoriously yellow. All my life I’ve even avoided fist fights, always getting out of them by talking fast. Now I want to shoot it out with people. What do you think of that?”
Babe said nothing for a minute. Then, “Did you have a good time—I mean till that letter came?”
“No. I haven’t had a good time since I was twenty-five. I should have got married when I was twenty-five. I’m too old to make conversation at bars or neck in taxicabs with new girls.”
“Did you see Helen at all?” Babe asked.
“No. I understand she and the gentleman she married are going to have a little stranger.”
“Nice,” said Babe dryly.
Vincent smiled. “It’s good to see you, Babe. Thanks for asking me. G.I.’s—especially G.I.’s who are friends—belong together these days. It’s no good being with civilians any more. They don’t know what we know and we’re no longer used to what they know. It doesn’t work out so hot.”
Babe nodded and thoughtfully took a drag from his cigarette.
“I never really knew anything about friendship before I was in the Army. Did you, Vince?”
“Not a thing. It’s the best thing there is. Just about.”
Mrs. Gladwaller’s voice shrilled up the stairs and into the room, “Babe! Your father’s home! Dinner!”
The two soldiers stood up.
WHEN the meal was over, Professor Gladwaller held forth at the dinner table. He had been in the “last one” and he was acquainting Vincent with some of the trials the men in the “last one” had undergone. Vincent, the son of an actor, listened with the competent expression of a good player on-stage with the star. Babe sat back in his seat, staring at the glow of his cigarette, occasionally lifting his cup of coffee. Mrs. Gladwaller watched Babe, not listening to her husband, searching out her son’s face, remembering it when it was round and pink, remembering the summer when it had started to get long and dark and intense. It was the best face, she thought. It wasn’t handsome like his father’s, but it was the best face in the family. Mattie was under the table, untying Vincent’s shoes. He was holding his feet still, letting her, pretending not to notice.
“Cockroaches,” said Professor Gladwaller impressively. “Everywhere you looked, cockroaches.”
“Please, Jack,” said Mrs. Gladwaller absently. “At the table.”
“Everywhere you looked,” her husband repeated. “Couldn’t get rid of ‘em.”
“They must have been a nuisance,” Vincent said.
Annoyed that Vincent had to make a series of perfunctory remarks to humor his father, Babe suddenly said, “Daddy, I don’t mean to sound pontifical, but sometimes you talk about the last war—all you fellas do—as though it had been some kind of rugged, sordid game by which society of your day weeded out the men from the boys. I don’t mean to be tiresome, but you men from the last war, you all agree that war is hell, but—I don’t know—you all seem to think yourselves a little superior for having been participants in it. It seems to me that men in Germany who were in the last one probably talked the same way, or thought the same way, and when Hitler provoked this one, the younger generation in Germany were ready to prove themselves as good or better than their fathers.” Babe paused, self-consciously. “I believe in this war. If I didn’t, I would have gone to a conscientious objectors’ camp and swung an ax for the duration. I believe in killing Nazis and Fascists and Japs, because there’s no other way that I know of. But I believe, as I’ve never believed in anything else before, that it’s the moral duty of all the men who have fought and will fight in this war to keep our mouths shut, once it’s over, never again to mention it in any way. It’s time we let the dead die in vain. It’s never worked the other way, God knows.” Babe clenched his left hand under the table. “But if we come back, if German men come back, if British men come back, and Japs, and French, and all the other men, all of us talking, writing, painting, making movies of heroism and cockroaches and foxholes and blood, then future generations will always be doomed to future Hitlers. It’s never occurred to boys to have contempt for wars, to point to soldiers’ pictures in history books, laughing at them. If German boys had learned to be contemptuous of violence, Hitler would have had to take up knitting to keep his ego warm.”
Babe stopped talking, afraid that he had made a terrible fool of himself in front of his father and Vincent. His father and Vincent made no comment. Mattie suddenly came up from under the table, wriggled onto her chair, in cahoots with herself. Vincent moved his feet, looking at her accusingly. The laces of one shoe were tied to the laces of the other.
“You think I’m talking through my hat, Vincent?” Babe asked, rather shyly.
“Nope. But I think you ask too much of human nature.”
Professor Gladwaller grinned. “I didn’t mean to romanticize my cockroaches,” he said.
He laughed and the others laughed with him, except Babe, who resented slightly that what he felt so deeply could be reduced to a humor.
Vincent looked at him, understanding that, liking his friend immensely.
“What I really want to know,” Vincent said, “is who do I have a date with tonight. Whom.”
“Jackie Benson,” Babe answered.
“Oh, she’s a lovely girl, Vincent,” Mrs. Gladwaller said.
“The way you say it, Mrs. Gladwaller, I’m sure she’s as homely as sin,” Vincent said.
“No, she’s lovely.... Isn’t she, Babe?”
Babe nodded, still thinking of what he had said. He felt immature and a complete fool. He had been windy and trite.
“Oh, I remember the name now,” Vincent recalled. “Isn’t she one of your old flames?”
“Babe went with her for two years,” Mrs. Gladwaller said fondly, possessively. “She’s a grand girl. You’ll love her, Vincent.”
“That’ll be nice. I haven’t been in love this week.... Who are you taking, Vincent, as if I didn’t know.”
Mrs. Gladwaller laughed and stood up. The others stood up too.
“Somebody has tied my shoelaces together,” Vincent announced. “Mrs. Gladwaller. At your age.”
Mattie nearly had a fit. She slammed Vincent on the back, laughing till she was almost hysterical. Vincent watched her, dead-pan, and Babe came around the table, smiling again, picked up his sister and sat her high on his shoulder. He took off Mattie’s shoes with his right hand and gave them to Vincent, who solemnly opened the side flaps of his blouse and put the shoes in his pockets. Mattie howled with laughter, and her brother set her down and walked into the living room.
He went to the window where his father was standing, and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s snowing again,” he said to him.
LATE at night, Babe couldn’t sleep. He tossed and twisted in the dark, then suddenly relaxed, lying on his back. He had known how Vincent would react to Frances, but he had hoped that Vincent wouldn’t say how he felt. What was the good of telling a guy what he knew anyway? But Vincent had said it. He had said it not thirty minutes ago, in this very room. “Boy, use your head,” he had said. “Jackie is twice the girl Frances is. She runs rings around her. She’s better-looking than Frances, she’s warmer, she’s smarter; she’ll give you ten times the understanding that Frances would ever give you. Frances will give you nothing. And if ever a guy needed understanding, it’s you, brother.”
Brother. The “brother” had irritated Babe as much as anything. Even from Vincent.
He doesn’t know, thought Babe, lying in the dark. He doesn’t know what Frances does to me, what she’s always done to me. I tell strangers about her. Coming home on the train, I told a strange G.I. about her. I’ve always done that. The more unrequited my love for her becomes, the longer I love her, the oftener I whip out my dumb heart like crazy X-ray pictures, the greater urge I have to trace the bruises: “Look, stranger, here is where I was seventeen and borrowed Joe Mackay’s Ford and drove her up to Lake Womo for the day....Here, right here, is where she said what she said about big elephants and little elephants....Here, over here, is where I let her cheat Bunny Haggerty at gin rummy at Rye Beach; there was a heart in her diamond run, and she knew it....Here, ah, here, is where she yelled ‘Babe!’ when she saw me serve an ace at match point against Bobby Teemers. I had to serve an ace to hear it, but when I heard it my heart—you can see it right here—flopped over, and it’s never been the same since….And here—I hate it here—here is where I was twenty-one and I saw her in one of the booths at the drugstore with Waddell, and she was sliding her fingers back and forth through the knuckle grooves of his hand.” He doesn’t know what Frances does to me, Babe thought. She makes me miserable, she makes me feel rotten, she doesn’t understand me—nearly all of the time. But some of the time, some of the time, she’s the most wonderful girl in the world, and that’s something nobody else is. Jackie never makes me miserable, but Jackie never really makes me anything. Jackie answers my letters the day she gets them. Frances takes anywhere from two weeks to two months, and sometimes never, and when she does, she never writes what I want to read. But I read her letters a hundred times and I only read Jackie’s once. When I just see the handwriting on the envelope of Frances’ letters—the silly, affected handwriting—I’m the happiest guy in the world.
I’ve been this way for seven years, Vincent. There are things you don’t know. There are things you don’t know, brother.
Babe rolled over on his left side and tried to sleep. He lay on his left side for ten minutes, then he rolled over on his right side. That was no good either. He got up. He walked around his room in the dark, tripped over a book, but finally found a cigarette and a match. He lighted up, inhaled till it almost hurt, and as he exhaled he knew there was something he wanted to tell Mattie. But what? He sat down on the edge of his bed and thought it out before he put on his robe.
“Mattie,” he said silently to no one in the room, “you’re a little girl. But nobody stays a little girl or a little boy long—take me, for instance. All of a sudden little girls wear lipstick, all of a sudden little boys shave and smoke. So it’s a quick business, being a kid. Today you’re ten years old, running to meet me in the snow, ready, so ready, to coast down Spring Street with me; tomorrow you’ll be twenty, with guys sitting in the living room waiting to take you out. All of a sudden you’ll have to tip porters, you’ll worry about expensive clothes, meet girls for lunch, wonder why you can’t find a guy who’s right for you. And that’s all as it should be. But my point, Mattie—if I have a point, Mattie—is this: kind of try to live up to the best that’s in you. If you give your word to people, let them know that they’re getting the word of the best. If you room with some dopey girl at college, try to make her less dopey. If you’re standing outside a theater and some old gal comes up selling gum, give her a buck if you’ve got a buck—but only if you can do it without patronizing her. That’s the trick, baby. I could tell you a lot, Mat, but I wouldn’t be sure that I’m right. You’re a little girl, but you understand me. You’re going to be smart when you grow up. But if you can’t be smart and a swell girl, too, then I don’t want to see you grow up. Be a swell girl, Mat.”
Babe stopped talking to no one in the room. He suddenly wanted to tell Mattie herself. He got up from the edge of his bed, put on his robe, sniped his cigarette in his ash tray and closed the door of the room behind him.
There was a hall light burning outside Mattie’s room, and when Babe opened the door, the room was adequately lighted. He went over to her bed and sat on the edge of it. Her arm was outside the cover, and he rocked it back and forth gently, but strongly enough to wake her. She opened her eyes, startled, but the light in the room wasn’t strong enough to hurt.
“Babe,” she said.
“Hello, Mat,” Babe said awkwardly. “What are ya doing?”
“Sleeping,” said Mattie logically.
“I just wanted to talk to you,” Babe said.
“I just wanted to talk to you. I wanted to tell you to be a good girl.”
“I will, Babe.” She was awake now, listening to him.
“Good,” said Babe heavily. “Okay. Go back to sleep.”
He stood up, started to leave the room.
“You’re going to war. I saw you. I saw you kick Vincent under the table once. When I was tying his shoelaces. I saw you.”
He went over to her and sat down on the edge of the bed again, his face serious. “Mattie, don’t say anything to Mother,” he told her.
“Babe, don’t you get hurt! Don’t you get hurt!”
“No. I won’t, Mattie. I won’t,” Babe promised. “Mattie, listen. You mustn’t tell Mother. Maybe I’ll have a chance to tell her at the train. But don’t you tell her, Mat.”
“I won’t. Babe! Don’t you get hurt!”
“I won’t, Mattie. I swear I won’t. I’m lucky,” Babe said. He bent over and kissed her good night. “Go back to sleep,” he told her. And he left the room.
He went back to his own room, turned on his lights. Then he went to his window and stood there, smoking another cigarette. It was snowing hard again, big flakes that you couldn’t really see till they popped big and wet against the windowpane. But the flakes would get drier before the night was over, and by morning the snow would be deep and good and fresh all over Valdosta.
This is my home, Babe thought. This is where I was a boy. This is where Mattie is growing up. This is where Mother used to play the piano. This is where Dad dubbed his tee shots. This is where Frances lives and brings me happiness in her way. But this is where Mattie is sleeping. No enemy is banging on our door, waking her up, frightening her. But it could happen if I don’t go out and meet him with my gun. And I will, and I’ll kill him. I’d like to come back too. It would be swell to come back. It would be—
Babe turned, wondering who it was.
“Come in,” he said.
His mother came in, in her dressing gown. She came over to him, and he put his arm around her.
“Well, Mrs. Gladwaller,” he said, pleased, “The etching department is right over—”
“Babe,” his mother said, “You’re going over, aren’t you?”
Babe said, “What makes you say that?”
“I can tell.”
“Old Hawkshaw,” Babe said, trying to be casual.
“I’m not worried,” his mother said—calmly—which amazed Babe. “You’ll do your job and you’ll come back. I have a feeling.”
“Do you, Mother?”
“Yes, I do, Babe.”
His mother kissed him and started to leave, turning at the door. “There’s some cold chicken in the icebox. Why don’t you wake Vincent, and you two go down to the kitchen?”
“Maybe I will,” Babe said happily.
Saturday Evening Post CCXVII, July 15 1944.
In case you're wondering about copyright...well, I am too. But look at it this way: this story appeared in a now defunct magazine in 1944. It was never published in book form as Salinger's famous "nine Stories" were - possibly because he didn't consider it, and others, quite up to snuff. And Salinger was very strict about not letting his stuff be publshed anywhere. But times have changed. This story was already on the web - in one of those sites that doesn't reveal who put it there, "shareware" or something like that - where I picked it up. I've had it ready to go for about a year, but didn't publish it, not for fear of being caught, but because I knew he wouldn't like it. But J. D. Salinger died last week so I have the impression that he really couldn't care less...now - he'd shrug, so to speak, if his wings don't get in the way - or he might even be pleased. So, although the copyright for eveything he ever wrote probably belongs to his estate, he was, after all and despite his meager output, one of America's great literary icons, in a class with Faulkner and Hemingway. So he's history and as such has the right, no, the responsibility to let his work be studied and enjoyed now that his privacy is infinite. So perhaps he and, more importantly, his estate, will either not notice or choose to look the other way, especially as the alleged violation of copyright is performed in love and admiration sans squalor or profit.[Ed.]