“But I want to talk, Mummy,” I wailed.
“That has nothing to do with it,” she said with a firmness that was new to me. “Daddy wants to sleep. Now, do you understand that?”
I understood it only too well. I wanted to talk, he wanted to sleep—whose house was it, anyway?
“Mummy,” I said with equal firmness, “I think it would be healthier for Daddy to sleep in his own bed. “
That seemed to stagger her, because she said nothing for a while.
“Now, once for all,” she went on, “you’re to be perfectly quiet or go back to your own bed. Which is it to be?”
The injustice of it got me down. I had convicted her out of her own mouth of inconsistency and unreasonableness, and she hadn’t even attempted to reply. Full of spite, I gave Father a kick, which she didn’t notice but which made him grunt and open his eyes in alarm.
“What time is it?” he asked in a panic-stricken voice, not looking at Mother but at the door, as if he saw someone there.
“It’s early yet,” she replied soothingly. “It’s only the child. Go to sleep again. Now, Larry,” she added, getting out of bed, “you’ve wakened Daddy and you must go back. “
This time, for all her quiet air, I knew she meant it, and knew that my principal rights and privileges were as good as lost unless I asserted them at once. As she lifted me, I gave a screech, enough to wake the dead, not to mind Father. He groaned.
“That damn child! Doesn’t he ever sleep?”
“It’s only a habit, dear,” she said quietly, though I could see she was vexed.
“Well, it’s time he got out of it,” shouted Father, beginning to heave in the bed. He suddenly gathered all the bedclothes about him, turned to the wall, and then looked back over his shoulder with nothing showing only two small, spiteful, dark eyes. The man looked very wicked.
To open the bedroom door, Mother had to let me down, and I broke free and dashed for the farthest corner, screeching. Father sat bolt upright in bed.
“Shut up, you little puppy!” he said in a choking voice.
I was so astonished that I stopped screeching. Never, never had anyone spoken to me in that tone before. I looked at him incredulously and saw his face convulsed with rage. It was only then that I fully realized how God had codded me, listening to my
prayers for the safe return of this monster.
“Shut up, you!” I bawled, beside myself.
“What’s that you said?” shouted Father, making a wild leap out of the bed.
“Mick, Mick!” cried Mother. “Don’t you see the child isn’t used to you?”
“I see he’s better fed than taught,” snarled Father, waving his arms wildly. “He wants his bottom smacked. “
All his previous shouting was as nothing to these obscene words referring to my person. They really made my blood boil.
“Smack your own!” I screamed hysterically. “Smack your own! Shut up! Shut up!”
At this he lost his patience and let fly at me. He did it with the lack of conviction you’d expect of a man under Mother’s horrified eyes, and it ended up as a mere tap, but the sheer indignity of being struck at all by a stranger, a total stranger who had cajoled his way back from the war into our big bed as a result of my innocent intercession, made me completely dotty. I shrieked and shrieked, and danced in my bare feet, and Father, looking awkward and hairy in nothing but a short gray army shirt, glared down at me like a mountain out for murder. I think it must have been then that I realized he was jealous too. And there stood Mother in her nightdress, looking as if her heart was broken between us. I hoped she felt as she looked. It seemed to me that she deserved it all.