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You’ve Got to Ask for What You Want
TOLD MYSELF that if I couldn’t get what I wanted from Patti, I would have
to learn to be content with what she was willing to give me, which was
friendship. She didn’t consider me a candidate for boyfriend, but
she did consider me a friend, and as her friend I often got to walk her
home after school. We walked, and we talked, but we didn’t touch.
On nice days, we sometimes took a very long way home, strolling all the
way downtown, where we stopped at the malt shop at the corner of Bolotomy
This shop was called Malt’s; I think that whoever
originally opened it intended to call it Malts, so that people wouldn’t
mistake it for the shop around the corner called Shoe Repair, but the signmaker’s
rascally sidekick, that old demon apostrophe, crept in, and as a result
many a Babbingtonian believed that the shop was originally owned by the
eponymous Malt, who had concocted the drink that bore his name, a personage
of whom all Babbington ought to be mighty proud. Malt’s was an institution
of long standing, but its time had passed. Old people went there,
and parents brought children there, but no one from Babbington High went
there. That’s why Patti and I began frequenting it. We went
because we wouldn’t be seen by our classmates. Neither of us said
that, but I think it was true. I wanted her to myself, and I think
that she wanted me to herself, as a friend. That’s all, just a friend.
I suppose it was because Patti and I
were friends and because Malt’s offered the security of relative solitude
that I brought up the question of my bastardy on one of our afternoons
there. I didn’t do it to try to seduce her. Honest.
“This is really inflated, our coming here,”
“Yeah,” she said.
“My mother used to come here.”
“Uh-huh. Everybody used to come here,
all the high-school kids. That’s what she says.” I looked around.
The shop was still, hushed, and almost empty except for us and the leering
soda jerk. “You know,” I said, “back then, bringing a girl to Malt’s
was a date.”
“Under the right circumstances, at the right
time of day.”
“Your mother told you that?”
“Mm,” I said, distractedly. I was wondering
how often my mother had come to Malt’s and who had brought her there.
“Is something bothering you?” Patti asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Something.”
She touched my arm and said, “Tell me.”
Clasping, but not actually wringing, my hands,
I said, “I’ve started wondering whether my mother—”
“What?” Patti asked after I had allowed a
moment to pass in silence. “Is she sick?”
“No. Nothing like that. I—I’ve
begun to wonder what my mother—and boys—men—”
“Oh,” she said. “I know what you mean.
It’s a real shock, isn’t it?”
“A shock?” Did she know something?
“When you first think about your mother that
way. It’s a shock, right?”
She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows.
I would have agreed with anything she said.
“It sure is,” I said. “It’s a shock.”
She giggled and shook her head in wonder and
said, “Just think about the things that you want to do with me—”
“What?” I said. “What things?
She leaned toward me and gave me both the
knowing wink and the provocative pout. The soda jerk dropped a glass.
“Just think about the things you want to do
with me,” she repeated.
“Uh-huh,” I said, doing precisely as she asked.
“Now think about the possibility that your
mother was sitting right here where I’m sitting, and some boy was sitting
right where you’re sitting, and that boy wanted to do with your mother
what you want to do with me— ”
“Huh,” I said, exhaling as if I’d been punched.
“—and maybe he did.”
This was a way of considering my mother’s
past that I hadn’t previously tried, but now that Patti had introduced
it into my thoughts, I found that I could easily imagine how Dudley Beaker
had felt about my mother. All I had to do was look at Patti and I
knew with unsettling vividness. But what about my mother? What
had she felt for Dudley? An idea came to me so suddenly that I announced
its arrival as if I’d won a prize.
“I’ve got an idea!”
“Good for you,” she said. “What is it?”
“I’m going to take a trip into the past.”
“You’ve got a time machine?”
“No,” I said, modestly, as if it were possible
that I might have built a time machine (and for a moment, I wondered whether
I could). “This will be an imaginary trip, like a play. I want
to look around and see what I can find out about whether my mother—if she
might have had—that is, if my father—might not be my father.”
“Oh, so that’s what this is all about.”
“I want you to come with me—and play the part
of my mother.”
“Your mother? And what part are you
going to play?”
“Dudley Beaker, who might be my father”
“You are a little pervert, you know that?”
For a moment, I wasn’t sure how to take the
remark, but she pouted the provocative pout, so I took it as assent.
“So you’ll do it?” I said.
“Sure,” she said, winking the knowing wink.
“We’re friends. Anything you want, just ask.”
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Copyright © 2001 by Eric
Inflating a Dog is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents,
dialogues, settings, and businesses
portrayed in it are products
of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the author.
Picador USA will publish Inflating a Dog in the summer of 2002.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio
rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Kraft’s indefatigable
agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration
by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue
of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the
aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for
THE PERSONAL HISTORY
OF THE WORK
OF THE ENTIRE WORK
DO YOU STOP?
A PIECE OF WORK I AM
HOME WITH THE GLYNNS