My Mother Takes a Tumble
Chapter 12: Dudley Needs a Drink
YOU CAN READ THE FIRST HALF
WAS LYING IN MY CRIB picking at the fur on the back of my teddy bear’s
head. The shadows of the branches of the oak tree outside the window
began to sway along the wall of my room, and I began to rock with them,
slowly, then faster and faster, until they were hopping and jumping about
in a blur and my crib was shaking and creaking.
I pulled myself up and looked outside to see what was upsetting the tree. I saw Mr. Beaker at his desk, not sitting at it, but squatting at it, pounding on it with both fists and hopping up and down. His gooseneck desk lamp leaped and bounced and shook from side to side in time with his hopping and pounding. He began sweeping paper off the desk in a fury. He seemed to have lost control of his gestures, to have become as graceless and unpredictable as I. I giggled and clapped my hands and said kitten, my favorite among the words I knew, a new one, one that I understood, from watching Gumma’s cat’s kittens hop and tumble about, as a verb, meaning “hop and tumble about.”
Mr. Beaker’s flailing grew wilder and wilder: he swept letters from his desk without regard to who had sent them, sweeping away those from Mary’s many doting and generous correspondents along with those from the difficult Jack Simpson. While he was sweeping the papers, on one of his sweeps to the left, he struck the desk lamp and hurt his finger. He drew in his breath. He held it. His cheeks puffed out, and his face reddened. He pounced on the lamp, seized it with both hands, and hurled it at the window.
The lamp went through the window and hung by its cord, swinging against the side of the house, sending the shadows of the oak tree’s branches into a mad frenzy. Mr. Beaker leaned across his desk and looked at what he had done. I think he smiled. The shadow of his nose flipped from side to side as the lamp swung.
My mother burst into my room to see if I was all right, scaring the bejesus out of me. I burst into tears and reached toward her.
“There, there, Peter, don’t worry,” she began. Then she caught sight of Mr. Beaker, leaning out his window, watching his desk lamp swing. “Oh, Dudley, poor Dudley, what’s wrong?” she whispered. She scooped me up and carried me into the living room.
Guppa had gotten his pistol out of his sock drawer. Gumma was wrestling with him at the front door, trying to keep him from making a fool of himself. My father kept poking his head out the door, glancing left and right, and pulling it back inside.
“It’s Dudley,” said my mother. “Something’s awfully wrong.”
“One of those men he writes to has broken into his house,” wailed Gumma. “I knew this would happen. I always knew something like this would happen to me or somebody in my neighborhood someday.”
“I can handle this,” claimed Guppa.
“I’ll go,” said my father. He stepped back into the room. “Where’s my coat? It’s gotten chilly since the sun went down, and there’s a pretty stiff breeze.”
“You’re not going without me,” said my mother. She held me a little tighter and started out the door.
We moved slowly along the sidewalk, in a tight group, watching Mr. Beaker’s windows. I was leading, and my mother was right behind, carrying me. The lamp was still swinging, but slowly, and the shadows were settling down. When we reached the corner of Mr. Beaker’s lot, his front door opened, spilling light onto the front walk. The little group shrank back into the shadows. Mr. Beaker stepped into the doorway and stood there, taking deep breaths. A shudder ran through us all.
“Is he bleeding?” asked Guppa. Then Mr. Beaker flung the screen door open so hard that it banged against the side of the house, spat a third of the way down the walk, turned away and let the screen door slam shut.
“Poor Dudley, something’s awfully wrong,” repeated my mother. She marched herself, and me, right up to the door, and she called through the screen.
“Dudley. Dudley. Are you all right?”
There was no sound for a minute. Then we heard a toilet flush. Mr. Beaker came to the door zipping his fly; his shirt wasn’t well tucked into his pants, and his hair was a sight.
“Ella,” he said. “Ella.” He shook himself and began arranging his hair.
“Do you have a woman in here, Dudley?” my mother asked. She hoisted me up and held me tighter still.
“What?” Mr. Beaker pushed at his shirt, stuffing it into his trousers. “A woman?” He smiled and raised an eyebrow, the left, I think. “What makes you ask?” He chucked me under the chin, brushing the back of his hand along my mother’s cheek on the way.
“We’re coming in!” shouted Guppa. Mr. Beaker pulled his hand away and took a step back. My mother and I turned toward the front walk. Gumma, Guppa, and my father were standing on the steps, in the light, bobbing this way and that to see if anyone was hiding behind Mr. Beaker.
“What’s going on?” asked Mr. Beaker. “Oh,” he said, reaching for the door, “the noise. Sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I guess I’ve been working too hard, I —” He flung himself against the door jamb, leaning his forehead on his forearm. He began shaking his head. “He’s getting away from me. I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, but I just can’t do anything with him. I don’t know what he wants anymore.”
“Who? Where is he?” demanded Guppa, waving the pistol and poking his head into the room.
“Jack Simpson,” moaned Mr. Beaker. “My first, my very first, and now I’m going to lose him, I just know I’m going to lose him.”
“You mean there’s nobody here?” asked my father.
“Of course there’s nobody here,” said my mother. She looked around, and then she stepped back and looked down the hall, toward the bedrooms. “There’s nobody here, is there, Dudley?”
“There’s nobody here,” called Guppa, turning toward Gumma, who was still on the steps. “Dudley is just having some trouble with that Jack Simpson. One of those lonely men he writes letters to.”
“I know,” said Gumma. “He was the first one. I remember that day when Dudley came into the kitchen, dangling Mr. Simpson’s letter like a little fish —”
“Dudley,” my father said, smiling and knocking Mr. Beaker on the shoulder with his fist, “you know what you need? You need a drink.”
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Little Follies 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.
“My Mother Takes a Tumble,” “Do Clams Bite?,” “Life on the Bolotomy,” “The Static of the Spheres,” “The Fox and the Clam,” “The Girl with the White Fur Muff,” “Take the Long Way Home,” and “Call Me Larry” were originally published in paperback by Apple-Wood Books.
Little Follies was first published in hardcover by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail the author’s imaginary 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 smile.