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Life of Ma Parker
by [?]

The piles of dirty cups, dirty dishes, were washed and dried. The ink- black knives were cleaned with a piece of potato and finished off with a piece of cork. The table was scrubbed, and the dresser and the sink that had sardine tails swimming in it…

He’d never been a strong child–never from the first. He’d been one of those fair babies that everybody took for a girl. Silvery fair curls he had, blue eyes, and a little freckle like a diamond on one side of his nose. The trouble she and Ethel had had to rear that child! The things out of the newspapers they tried him with! Every Sunday morning Ethel would read aloud while Ma Parker did her washing.

“Dear Sir,–Just a line to let you know my little Myrtil was laid out for dead…After four bottils…gained 8 lbs. in 9 weeks, and is still putting it on.”

And then the egg-cup of ink would come off the dresser and the letter would be written, and Ma would buy a postal order on her way to work next morning. But it was no use. Nothing made little Lennie put it on. Taking him to the cemetery, even, never gave him a colour; a nice shake-up in the bus never improved his appetite.

But he was gran’s boy from the first…

“Whose boy are you?” said old Ma Parker, straightening up from the stove and going over to the smudgy window. And a little voice, so warm, so close, it half stifled her–it seemed to be in her breast under her heart– laughed out, and said, “I’m gran’s boy!”

At that moment there was a sound of steps, and the literary gentleman appeared, dressed for walking.

“Oh, Mrs. Parker, I’m going out.”

“Very good, sir.”

“And you’ll find your half-crown in the tray of the inkstand.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Oh, by the way, Mrs. Parker,” said the literary gentleman quickly, “you didn’t throw away any cocoa last time you were here–did you?”

“No, sir.” “Very strange. I could have sworn I left a teaspoonful of cocoa in the tin.” He broke off. He said softly and firmly, “You’ll always tell me when you throw things away–won’t you, Mrs. Parker?” And he walked off very well pleased with himself, convinced, in fact, he’d shown Mrs. Parker that under his apparent carelessness he was as vigilant as a woman.

The door banged. She took her brushes and cloths into the bedroom. But when she began to make the bed, smoothing, tucking, patting, the thought of little Lennie was unbearable. Why did he have to suffer so? That’s what she couldn’t understand. Why should a little angel child have to arsk for his breath and fight for it? There was no sense in making a child suffer like that.

…From Lennie’s little box of a chest there came a sound as though something was boiling. There was a great lump of something bubbling in his chest that he couldn’t get rid of. When he coughed the sweat sprang out on his head; his eyes bulged, his hands waved, and the great lump bubbled as a potato knocks in a saucepan. But what was more awful than all was when he didn’t cough he sat against the pillow and never spoke or answered, or even made as if he heard. Only he looked offended.

“It’s not your poor old gran’s doing it, my lovey,” said old Ma Parker, patting back the damp hair from his little scarlet ears. But Lennie moved his head and edged away. Dreadfully offended with her he looked–and solemn. He bent his head and looked at her sideways as though he couldn’t have believed it of his gran.

But at the last…Ma Parker threw the counterpane over the bed. No, she simply couldn’t think about it. It was too much–she’d had too much in her life to bear. She’d borne it up till now, she’d kept herself to herself, and never once had she been seen to cry. Never by a living soul. Not even her own children had seen Ma break down. She’d kept a proud face always. But now! Lennie gone–what had she? She had nothing. He was all she’d got from life, and now he was took too. Why must it all have happened to me? she wondered. “What have I done?” said old Ma Parker. “What have I done?”