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Margot and Martha Ask a Favor
EVENING, while I was practicing, Margot called me at home and asked me
for a favor—perhaps I should say “another favor.”
“Peter,” she said, “I want you to do us a favor.”
“Sure,” I said. “What is it?”
“Our Father won’t let us go to the movies at night
“Uh-huh,” I said, waiting for the important stuff.
“Well what?” I said, not realizing that what she’d
told me was the important stuff, or at least that Margot considered it
the important stuff.
“Can you believe that?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Peter! Whose side are you on? We’re
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot.”
Away from the mouthpiece, she said, to Martha, “He
“Forgot that we’re almost fourteen.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I could see that they
were proud of their age, and offended that I’d forgotten.
“Margot, forget it,” said Martha, from a
distant, echoing place, as if she were calling from a dungeon in a storybook
Margot spoke into the mouthpiece again, to me: “He
won’t let us walk to the movies alone. He wants to drive us there
and then pick us up.”
“Yeah,” I said, using it merely as one of the phatic
remarks a listener makes to assure a speaker that he is functioning in
the role of listener and hasn’t slipped into another role—sleeper, for
example, or uninterested party. I didn’t understand the significance
of what Margot was saying. I rarely went to the movies at night under
any circumstances, but I knew that if I were to go, it would almost certainly
be in the company of my parents, and if I were to go alone for some reason—but
for what reason that might be I wasn’t quite old enough to imagine—I would
have expected my parents to drive me there. Everything Margot was
describing seemed normal and unobjectionable to me.
Margot was annoyed by the tone of my response.
She had expected outrage. She waited another moment, hoping to hear it,
and when she didn’t, she said, “We’ll be mortified.”
“Oh!” said I, seeing the point at last. “Oh,
sure. Of course. I understand that.”
“Sure, you understand it,” she said, “but
Our Father doesn’t understand it at all. And Mother isn’t being any
help. Frankly, I don’t understand that. Usually she
sticks up for us. You know what I mean. Usually she’ll take
our side, and together the three of us can get him to go along with us,
but this time she—”
“Give me that phone,” said Martha.
“Hey!” said Margot.
“You’re straying far from the point, my dear,” said
Martha. “Peter?” she said into the phone.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Here’s the idea: we were thinking that he might
let us go if you walk us there and back. If you go with us.
You know, if you—escort us.”
“That might work,” I said. “Sure. If
he’s worried about something happening to you, he’d probably be relieved
to know that you’re under my protection, under my aegis, as it were.”
“Will you? Will you do it?”
“What’s playing?” she shouted. “We’re
offering you the opportunity to spend an evening at the movies with a pair
of gorgeous tootsies, and you ask us what’s playing? Do you realize
how envious a lot of boys are going to be when they see you sashay up to
the ticket window with the pair of us? We’re growing up, you
know, Peter. If you could see the way some of Our Father’s students—”
“Don’t tell him that!” said Margot.
“Anyway,” said Martha, “this is the chance of your
little lifetime, Peter. I would think that you would regard the question
of what movie is playing as entirely inconsequential.”
“I was just curious,” I said.
“Oh, all right. All right. Hold on.
Just a minute.” I heard the rustling of a newspaper. In the
background, Margot said, “It’s, um, Badge in the Dust.” I
could hear the sneer in her voice.
“Great. I think that’s supposed to be good,”
I said, because it was the sort of thing I knew one was supposed to say,
not because I actually knew anything at all about the film. I watched
whatever movies happened to be playing at the Babbington Theater when I
had the price of admission. I had, however, heard my parents claim
to have heard that a movie was supposed to be good or bad, and in copying
them I was just making a kid’s pretense to sophistication.
“Oh, wait a minute,” Margot said, still in the background.
Then she said something I couldn’t quite make out.
Martha said, “Sorry, Peter. Badge in the
Dust is coming next week. This week it’s Duel in the Dust.”
I had the feeling that I might have seen it.
I was pretty sure that I had seen one called Hoofprints in the Dust,
or Intruder in the Dust, or In the Dust, or maybe just Dust.
I didn’t want to annoy them again, so I said, “That’s supposed to be pretty
“I’ll bet,” said Martha. “Well, what do you
say? Will you do it?”
“Sure,” I said. “It ought to be fun.”