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The car.

Mrs. Joseph Barton woke at two minutes of seven and at once sat bolt upright in bed, like a woman who has set her mind and heart, like a clock, on waking at a certain time because she has something special planned.

Only moments later her husband woke and squinted sleepily at her where she stood, across the room from the bed, and said, "Say, am I seeing things, or are you going through my pockets?"

Mrs. Barton laughed and blushed a little. "I am," she said, "or I was, rather. These pants are going to the cleaner's. You said, 'Aw, I've already got them on,' the last time. Your stuff's right here." She dropped some coins, a key ring and a jackknife into a tray on the dresser. Some empty chewing-gum wrappers she tossed into the waste-basket.

"All right," Mr. Barton said. "I'm not wearing them anyhow. I'm wearing my golf pants. Don't you know what day this is? This is Sunday, Sally."

"I know it," Mrs. Barton said, "and I'm glad it's here. It's a lovely day, too. Lovely." She swung up from a third "fingers-touch-toes" to pant the second "Lovely." Her cheeks were very pink. Mr. Barton would likely have remarked on her pink cheeks and her general good looks had he been watching her, but he had already shut his eyes again for a last 40 winks.

Dressed, Mrs. Barton went to her sons' room. It was a habit with her to look on the boys and on Sara Louise, too, before going down to get breakfast. They were both sleeping so soundly that they did not hear her: Dick with one hand resting, palm up, on the floor, like an idler in a boat, Sally thought, and Davie lying biasly in his wide bed, his lean, tanned arms and legs outflung, as though he might have been dropped from a height. Almost soundlessly Sally picked up some of their clothes and hung them in their wardrobe. She lowered the blind so that the sun would not shine on Dick's handsome forehead and went out quietly into her girl's room.

Sara Louise was sleeping curled in a ball, like a creature hibernated, her rather long, yellow bob making a blurred halo round her head on the pillow. All that she had had on the night before made a larger and still more indefinite halo round the place where she had stood for her 2 a.m. undressing.

As quietly as she had picked up her sons' clothes, Mrs. Barton gathered up Sara Louise' stockings, panties, slip, shoes, dress and pocketbook. It was the click of the pocketbook fastener that woke Sara Louise and made her say without opening her eyes, "That you, mother? Will you turn off the light, please? It's right in my eyes."

"It's not the light, dear, it's the sun. I'll draw the blind."

"Um, thanks," Sara Louise murmured, and she curled, the ball she was, a little tighter.

Mrs. Barton went downstairs and out to the kitchen. "I'll make waffles," she said, and she brought the crock she used for waffle batter from the pantry and eggs and milk from the refrigerator. While she worked she hummed.

She spread a cloth and set five places in the breakfast porch. Waffles were best, of course, straight from the waffle iron, but Davie, who ate most, was grateful for numbers and was always pleased when he came down to find three or four baked and ready for him. When she had three waffles made, she began to call the family to wake up and to get downstairs. "Breakfast!" she shouted. "Waffles!"

They would know it was first come, first served. Mr. Barton was first. "Well, Sally, waffles?" he said.

"Yes," Mrs. Barton replied. "Will you have some of Davie's, or will you wait for the next one? It's all but ready."

"I'll wait, my dear. Did you bring in the paper? Ah!" Mr. Barton saw that Sally had brought in the paper and put it by his plate. He was highly pleased with himself to be up before either of the boys; to have the paper, fresh and unfolded, before family hand had touched it.

"Here's your waffle, Joe," Sally Barton said. "Will you have syrup or honey? There's jelly, too."

"Ah," Mr. Barton said again, and he slipped the paper under the table. There it should lie, on the knees of the god of the house, until such time as, full of waffles, he should be ready to read it. He smiled up at his wife as she poured his coffee. "You know, I want to get out there," he confided. "When Sunday comes, I'm like a kid; can't wait to get my putter in my hands."

"It's a lovely day," Mrs. Barton said once more. "Here's another waffle."

Davie was next down. "Morning, mother. Morning, dad," he said with that deference that comes on a 16-year-old when he has something to ask for, something he wants much.

"Here're your waffles, Davie," his mother said. "Four."

"That'll do fine to start on," Davie said, and he grinned up at her. "You sure sling a wicked waffle, mom."

"Thank you," Mrs. Barton said. "Is Dick up?"

"I don't know."

"Is he awake?"

"I don't know; kinda, I guess."

"How does it come you don't know?" his father asked. "Isn't he up there?"

"Sure, he's up there," Davie said, "but he can't see me; why should I see him?"

"What are you talking about?" his father asked. "Why can't Dick see you? Is something wrong with him?"

"Far as I'm concerned there is," Davie answered. "So long as he can't see me."

Mr. Barton looked up at his wife as though to ask what kind of sons she'd raised for him, anyway.

"He means Dick is feeling his age," Mrs. Barton explained gently, "and the gulf there is fixed between 16 and 20."

"Um," Mr. Barton said in his throat, in the way he had when he was ready to have them consider a question closed, and he took the paper from under the table. The first waffle eaten, he was ready to divide his attention between others and the Sunday morning's news.

"He gives me a pain," Davie said, and they knew he spoke of his brother and not his father.

"Well, never mind, dear," Mrs. Barton said. "Just a moment and there'll be another waffle . . . . Oh, good morning, Richard."

Dick came in dressed in an old pair of coveralls, open at the neck. "Good morning, mother. Good morning, dad," he said, and he sat down across from Davie.

"And good morning, Davie," his mother said. Dick looked across the table at Davie and said, as though he were ready to do most anything to please his mother on such a lovely morning, "Good morning, Davie."

Davie ducked him a drawn-mouthed bow.

"Let's have the sports section, dad," Dick said, and he reached for the paper.

"I'll take the funnies," Davie echoed.

"Well, now, here," Mr. Barton said. "You boys just wait a little, and you can have the whole paper. You eat your breakfast first."

"What're you so dolled up about?" Davie asked Dick, in the silence made heavy with Dick's resentment.

"None of your beeswax," Dick said.

Mrs. Barton laughed. "Why, we used to say that when we were children," she said pleasantly. "'None of your beeswax.' Where'd you ever get it, son? I've not heard that in years. What would you think, Davie? My guess would be that Dick is going to wash the car."

"Right," said Dick.

"I thought you'd be wanting to wash it, and so I backed it out," Mrs. Barton said. "It's out by the hydrant and ready."

"that's mighty nice of you, mother," Dick said. "Thanks. Got another of those waffles ready?"

"Dad," Davie said, "I wanta ask you something."

"Eh, what, son?" Mr. Barton said, and he looked round the paper. He was holding the whole of it in his two hands before him. It was awkward to hold it so, but he would hardly have had the face to lay the sports section and the funnies down on the table beside him or on his knees, having denied them to his sons.

"Ya," Davie said as he choked down a large, syrup-laden bite, "wouldn't you think, if a fellow had had the car just once, just one Sunday, and then just for a measly little old two hours, he could have it again, for a day like this, for today? Can I have the car, dad?"

Mr. Barton began to fold the paper, section by section, and to lay the sections beside his plate and press the folds down with the palms of his hands. "Well, I'll tell you, son," he said, but his older boy interrupted him. "Some Sunday, likely you may," he said to Davie, "but I'd suggest you wait until you know a little more about driving a car before you--"

Sara Louise had come through the kitchen and onto the sunny breakfast porch that might, had Mrs. Barton been a less imaginatively gifted woman, have been a plain back porch. It was necessary for Dick to get up so that she could get past him to her place. She kept him waiting while she opened the screen door and reached up for a morning-glory bloom and slipped it behind her ear. "What's this about the car?" she asked when she was seated.

"Here," her father said, "you take this waffle, Sara Louise; I've had plenty, plenty."

"I was just explaining to Davie here, when you made your entrance," Dick said in a tone not quite free of brotherly irony, "the reason he can't have the car today, for the second Sunday in his licensed driving life."

"Oh," Sara Louise said coolly, "that's interesting, but I scarcely see how you could have, not knowing. Honey, please, dad.

"I'm sorry, Davie. Maybe you can have the car next Sunday, or Sunday after next, if you can talk Dick into giving up his turn. Today I have to have it."

"no, you don't," Dick said positively.

"Oh, but I do!" Sara Louise said to him, over the rim of her coffee cup. "I have a date, a picnic date, and I'll need the car for the entire day . . . . You know, I told you, father, tuesday afternoon, that I should need the car all day today."

"Where are you going, daughter?" Mrs. Barton asked. "Are you ready for a waffle, Dick?"

"The Falls," Sara Louise answered. "I forgot to tell you, mother, I said I'd take lunch, a picnic lunch.

"Davie, have you found the stopper to the vacuum jug yet? . . . Mother, I don't think you ought to let Davie take the vacuum, if he's going to lose--"

"Now, here, just a minute, sister," Dick said. "Let's get this straight. If you're going on a picnic to the Falls, you'd better call that guy, whoever he is, and tell him you're sorry, but if he's going with you he'll have to come across with the whitherwithal, because it just happens you don't have the car for today. I'm using the car. I'm going out and washing it, right after breakfast, and then at two o'clock this afternoon I'm going to be needing it and I'm going to be using it. You'd better phone your date, if you think he's up, as soon as you get away with that waffle. I have a date, myself, and I served notice, no later than Wednesday noon, that I'd be needing the car this Sunday, as mother, here, will verify."

"Wednesday, noon," Sara Louise mocked. "You're late . . . . Isn't he, father? . . . You're too late. In fact, you've missed the boat. I spoke for the car for this Sunday, Tuesday afternoon, didn't I, dad?"

"Is this waffle to go begging?" Mrs. Barton asked.

"nope," Davie said. "Give 'er here! That's the way it is; that's the way it goes; other families, other kids, but not in this house. All the time, before I could drive, before I got my license, it was, 'now you wait, Davie; a few months and your turn will come,' but that was just hooey. Now I got my license and does it make any difference? Now it's just--" His voice trailed off in despair.

"Mother," Mr. Barton said, his hand firm on the folded paper, "have you, by any chance, set your heart on having the car for today, along with these three children?"

"Why, no, Joe," Mrs. Barton said. "No, I haven't. I don't want the car. I thought--I decided last night that if today was a lovely day, like it looked like it was going to be, I'd go for a walk, a good, long walk. No, I don't need the car; I don't want it."

"Well," Mr. Barton said as he doubled his fist and brought it down on the folded paper, "that's fine! That's good! I'm glad, Sally, that you don't want the car and haven't counted on it, for that makes just three people who'll have to be disappointed instead of four, and I'd hate to disappoint you anyway, being you so seldom ask for the car, for I need the car and I have to have it myself. I've made plans."

Sara Louise set down her coffee cup that she had been sipping from while she held it in both her slender hands and looked at her father with a smile she'd had good reason to count on all her 19 years. "That's all right, daddy," she said. "You want to go out to the club, don't you? You want to play golf? Well, I can take you out. I can take you out just as well as not; drop you out there. It won't be but a little out of my way . . . . Mother, may I have that chicken that's in the icebox? There's not enough for the family and I--"

"I was going to make chicken sandwiches for supper," Mrs. Barton said, "but never mind. You take it, Sara Louise."

"Well, I like that," Davie cried. "What's the idea? She gets the car and she gets--"

"No, son," Mr. Barton said. "This time she doesn't get the car, and Dick doesn't get it either. Didn't you hear me say, Sara Louise, 'I have to have it'? I've made plans."

"But good night, dad," Dick said. "I've got this date! I've had it since wednesday. You can't wait until the last minute and call a girl up and tell her you can't take her. You can't--"

"That's what I was trying to tell you," Sara Louise cried. "I've had this date since Tuesday morning! I met Lyle downtown and--"

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Davie howled. "Are you going with him? . . . Mamma, don't you let her have that chicken. She's got a date with that old Lyle! . . . Sis, what do you want to go with him for?"

"What's wrong with him?" Sara Louise countered.

"Nothin'; he's just nuts, that's all."

"I tell you, dad, I have this date," Dick said again. "I simply have to have the car. I'll go out and wash it now."

"Sally," Mr. Barton appealed to his wife, "you know how it is. Every Sunday--yes, every Sunday this summer, and all but a couple, if I'm not mistaken, last summer, when I wanted to play golf, I had to make arrangements for someone to stop by for me, for someone to pick me up; and not once did I have the car, I tell you, not once, this summer long!"

"It's only the third week in June, dear," Mrs. Barton said sweetly. "Maybe--"

"'Maybe,' that's it!" Mr. Barton said. "I tell you, things are wrong, all wrong. You kids, all kids, just live in a world of their own and think the world turns round them. You don't a one of you, ever, give one thought to the happiness, to the personal happiness of your elders, your parents. While we--why, look what we do! That's a fact! I've not had that car once, not one Sunday, since it thawed."

"Gosh, dad," Davie said, in honest admiration, "you been going to lectures or something?"

"But, daddy, I told you," Sara Louise said. "I'll take you out, and there'll be someone there you can ride in with, and next Sunday--"

"It's going to be this Sunday!" Mr. Barton yelled. "This Sunday! I got tired, I got ashamed, of having to beg and borrow rides. Yesterday I asked two friends, Blaine and Morrow, to drive out with me; to drive out in my car--my car, do you get me, my car!" Mr. Barton rolled the folded newspaper and struck it smartly on the edges of the table.

"Mom made the down payment," Davie said irrelevantly.

"That's right; that's right," Mr. Barton said more quietly. "That's right, she did. 'Twas her money, and it was a mighty fine thing for her to do. She did it for us; she did it for you children; and how much do you repay her for it? How much does she get to use the car? You see, you just think of yourselves. You just--"

"I don't want the car, Joe," Mrs. Barton said. "I told you I'm going for a walk. I think I'll put a couple of sandwiches in a bag, and an apple, and not come home for lunch, just walk and walk. I planned it last night. You know, Joe, I was thinking of how, when they were little, that summer before we got our first car, how we used to take them all for a walk, and you'd pick Sara Louise up and carry her when she got tired."

"And I bet that was darn soon," Dick said. "Now, dad, I see how you're fixed, and I'll take you out there just as soon as I get the car washed. You can stop by for those guys. Where's Blaine live--clear out on Westwood Avenue, isn't it? Who's this Morrow?" Dick's tone was kindly, soothing, agreeable but final.

Sara Louise got up from her place; she turned her face from her father so that he could see only the line of her cheek and the morning-glory that had begun to droop. "It seems to have asked for the car, to have spoken for it first, and a reasonable time ahead of time, means nothing, nothing! I don't know what he'll think of me. I suppose it means nothing to you, dad, to see me have to humiliate myself, call a man and break an engagement at the last moment."

"Whata you mean--man?" Davie cried, unmoved. "You call him a man? That sap?"

"Well, here," Mr. Barton said. "Take the car! How much fun do you think I'd get out of using it, to go off and leave a feeling like this at home, behind me? I'll call Blaine; I'll call Morrow. I'll go out on the bus! My, when we got this car, when we got this new car and mother said to get five keys, if I'd ever dreamed it'd come to this, that this would be the way it would be, Sunday, I'd--"

"You mean, she's to have the car?" Dick asked. He got up from his chair. "Well, I like that! A little movie stuff, a little next-to-tears stuff, and--"

"Settle it between you!" Mr. Barton said. "Leave me out of it. I'm through. I'm gonna go read this paper, if I can get a chance, and then I'm going to phone those men and go wait for my bus." He slammed the paper down on the breakfast table, turned toward the kitchen and then came back to pick up the paper.

"Aw, say," Davie said, with that sympathy the absolutely licked have for the licked, "dad oughtn't to have to take the bus out there!"

"He doesn't have to," Sara Louise said. "I'll take him out and pick up his friends on the way. I'll take him out as soon as I get my lunch together and get dressed . . . . What is there besides those pieces of chicken, mother? I meant to tell you I'd need a lunch, and I forgot it."

"I'm going to wash the car now," Dick said as he went out the porch door, "and then I'm going to use it."

"There's potatoes," Mrs. Barton said. "I boiled them last night. You can make potato salad; they're still in their jackets."

"Oh, that takes much too long, mother," Sara Louise said. "Unless you'd have time to make it for me, would you? Dad and Dick have wasted all this time. And I have to dress yet. Mother, I wish you or father would speak to Davie; he shouldn't say such things about people he doesn't know and couldn't possibly appreciate."

"Suppose you speak to me!" Davie said. "Here I be!"

"Potato salad's easy, dear," Mrs. Barton said. "I'm sure you've seen me make it. You didn't say you'd pick him up any certain time, did you? . . . Davie, would you carry in the dishes and pile them in the sink? We're just going to leave them."

"O.K.," Davie said. "Him as gets left don't just get left, he gets left with the dishes."

Mrs. Barton followed him into the kitchen. "I'm sorry, Davie," she said. "I'm sorriest for you."

"You know," Davie said, "I think I'll make a run for it. I think, when he goes up to dress I'll just go out there and get in and tear out. I got as much right as either of them."

Mrs. Barton passed her husband, where he sat in his favorite chair, the paper spread around him.

"Doggone it, Sally," he said. "I've a notion to take that car yet! It's not right they should have it every Sunday. I've a notion just to go out there, when he gets done washing it, and take it!"

Mrs. Barton stopped and kissed him, very lightly, on the top of his left ear. "I'm going for a walk," she said, "a good, long walk. I thought of it last night--that and some other things I'd like to do, and now I'll go dress."

"Well, I thought of things I'd like to do, too, and you see where it's got us," Mr. Barton said. He was still looking grimly at the news when Mrs. Barton came down, cool and pretty in a white linen dress, white shoes, hat and gloves.

"You look nice, Sally," her husband remarked.

"You--wouldn't like to come with me, Joe?"

Mr. Barton smiled and shook his head. "Thanks, Sally," he said, "this is the one day I've got, you know, for a little golf."

Mrs. Barton turned in the door to smile back at him. "You have a good walk, mamma," he said.

"I will; I'll have a lovely walk," Mrs. Barton said. When she smiled she put her head on one side, and her eyes crinkled in a way Mr. Barton remembered she used to do when she was a girl and he was courting her. It was almost as though she had winked.

She went out through the kitchen, where her daughter was making plain bread-and-butter sandwiches. "Plain bread-and-butter sandwiches are really smart, don't you think, mother?" she asked.

"Very," Mrs. Barton agreed. "Good-bye, dear."

"Oh, are you going out, mother? I wish you'd had time to help me with the potato salad. I'm not sure I know--"

"Hey, sis," Dick called from out at the car, "will you bring me out your key? Left mine upstairs. Gotta sweep out the car. Mamma's left it locked."

Mrs. Barton came out the kitchen way and stood a moment on the step, framed in blue and purple morning-glories, to pull on her gloves.

"Say, where you going?" Dick asked.

"Why, for my walk," Mrs. Barton answered. "Didn't I tell you, Dick, I'm going for a walk?"

"Well, you sure look nice."

"Thank you, thank you, son," Mrs. Barton said.

"Say, you don't have your key with you? You left the door locked."

Mrs. Barton came out to the car. "I'm going to cut down the alley," she said, "and then just strike out; just go where fancy leads me."

She put her gloved fingertips on a fender and said, "Have a good day, car!"

"Why, mom," Dick said, running his wet fingers through his hair, "what are you doing, a Billie Burke?"

Mrs. Barton laughed, and her cheeks were uncommonly pink. "No," she said, "I'm doing a Sally Barton, going for a walk, a good, long walk. I doubt I'll be home until suppertime. I planned it all last night."

"Well, be good," Dick said.

"All right. You children be good," Mrs. Barton said, and she went, really trippingly, down the narrow walk between the budding hollyhocks.

When she came to the end of the alley, Mrs. Barton turned left and walked briskly along the street, walked like a woman who may very possibly be followed, and who still does not wish to appear that she expects, quite possibly, to be followed.

Across the street was a park, a very little and shamefully over-grown park, only a block square. Mrs. Barton remembered that she used to take the children there to play when they were little. She had quite forgotten the place. Now, looking at it, she thought it had a really unusual and inviting charm. She liked the very raggedness of the park. She came out of the shelter and crossed over to it. On one of its paths she found that she was quite hidden from the street. There were flowers, half-heartedly tended, hit-or-miss flowers, along the sides of the path. And some of the flowers were quite unmistakably wild ones.

She went on until she came to a bench, a worn and thinly painted bench, that she remembered, dimly, from other years. To come on the little park was like coming on a day out of life, lived and gone, a quiet and really lovely day.

She sat down on the bench, opened her white pocketbook and took out a handkerchief. She took off her hat, laid it on her knees and wiped her forehead and throat.

Birds sang in the park trees. Beyond their singing she heard the steady, intermittent whine of cars shuttling past the little park on its far sides. She heard the bumping bounce they took as they crossed the streetcar tracks. She wondered just how many of them were fleeing from a home, from a family, with Sunday wishes slain, behind them. She thought of Joe and wished she could tell him of that thought. She knew what his careful answer would be: "About 90 percent," he'd say slowly. "I'd say just about 90 percent, Sally."

A young woman wheeling a perambulator came along the little path. Mrs. Barton smiled at her. She liked babies. The woman stopped when she saw Mrs. Barton smile and wheeled the perambulator back and forth with one hand.

"It's a lovely day," Mrs. Barton said, "isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," the young mother replied. "I thought baby ought to be out in it. We don't have a car."

"He's a fine boy!" Mrs. Barton added.

"Well, we think he's pretty fine," the mother said, and she sat down beside Mrs. Barton. "I just thought I'd take him out awhile, and it's just a nice walk over here from our place. It's a nice day to go for a brisk, long walk."

"Yes, it is," Mrs. Barton said. "It's a lovely day. I planned last night, before I went to sleep, I'd have a walk today. You know how you plan things, sometimes perfectly wild things, when you're trying to go to sleep?"

The young mother nodded. The baby whimpered and squirmed against the strap that held him in his stroller.

"Here, here," Mrs. Barton said, "he's not to cry, he's not to cry on such a lovely day!"

She reached into the opened purse on the bench beside her, took out a little ringed chain and dangled it, tinklingly, before the baby's reaching hands. From the ring hung five little keys--small, shining, identical ignition keys.
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Thomas, Dorothy
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1984
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