I lived with my parents in a postwar tract house. The land on which our neighborhood was built had been farmland until the early 1950s, when the construction began. It was the first home my parents ever owned. A ranch house with a total area of about fifteen hundred square feet, no basement.
When I arrived home, my father’s tan Ford pickup truck was parked in the middle space in the driveway. Mom’s little Maverick would be in the garage. My father was a foreman at one of the Ford plants in Cincinnati. My parents only bought vehicles made by Henry Ford’s namesake company. (I sometimes felt a little guilty for having purchased a used Pontiac.)
“I’m going to buy both of these magazines,” I said guiltily.
Leslie was leaning over the counter now, looking at me. “From what I can see, you’re just standing there reading them. Mom and dad have been complaining about customers using our magazine section as a library. They tear up the magazines, and then we can’t sell them. We gotta eat, you know.”
The battered copy of Car and Driver—the copy that I had passed over— was right there on the shelf. I had to admit that Leslie did have a point.
I’m going to buy both, I had said. When I picked up the copy of Spooky American Tales, I hadn’t intended to purchase it, too. But now I had committed myself.
The author of the piece was a man named Harry Bailey. His byline mentioned that he was a staff writer for Spooky American Tales. Since not every reader would be familiar with the historical context of the Headless Horseman, Harry Bailey began with a bit of background:
The magazine section was located in a small alcove of the store, adjacent to the checkout counter. I walked back there, not sure how much more interaction with Leslie I wanted this visit.
I had come in here hoping to show off a bit. It was no accident that I parked my new (used) Bonneville in sight of the window behind her. But before I could mention the car, Leslie had thrown me that curve ball about the condoms.
Perhaps I would be better to quit while I was ahead—or before I was too far behind.
I opened the wood and glass door of the Pantry Shelf and pushed my way through. A little bell tinkled overhead.
The interior of the store was cramped, jammed to capacity with merchandise arranged on four or five rows of shelves. The store carried a little bit of everything: canned goods, boxed cereals, snacks, and even some fresh produce. On the far wall were the frozen and refrigerated items. Ice in bags, milk, eggs, soft drinks, and—of course—beer.
But I was here for the magazines. And for Leslie, of course.
Marc Jonas had been having a tolerable day until his boss told him about his upcoming trip to Kelphi. Marc said nothing when he received the news, and his boss immediately perceived his lack of enthusiasm.
“I don’t understand,” Larry Dozier said. “I get the distinct impression that you don’t want to go to Kelphi.” Larry Dozier leaned back in his padded managerial chair and gave Marc an adderlike stare. The wall behind Dozier was dominated by a slowly rotating holographic display of the Leonis star system, complete with individual planets, orbiting moons, and even asteroid debris. From where Marc sat—on the visitor’s side of Dozier’s desk—the massive two-dimensional hologram did indeed appear to be a three-dimensional, panoramic view of space.
Here I sit, behind my oak desk in the downstairs den. I have closed the door of the den. I do not want to awaken Peggy or either of my grandchildren.
And the work before me now is almost a secret. If Peggy or one of the grandkids were to walk in on me and ask what I was doing, what would I tell them?
Closets are everywhere, it seems. Before taking my seat behind the desk, I checked inside the closet here in the den. I saw nothing unexpected: There are some boxes filled with old documents and books. There are also a few pieces of electronic equipment that have broken or become obsolete; I’ve never gotten around to throwing them away.
I looked in the closet from top to bottom, checking the ceiling as well as the floor.
Then I closed the closet door. And just to make certain that the door won’t come ajar, I placed a spare chair that I keep in the den against the door.