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The Short Short Story - PDF - / Send As Email
by Mary C. McCall, Jr.
In Collier's Weekly, February 1, 1941, pp. 24-57 - Previous Article / Next Article

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DON went slowly down the stairs.
Angus, the Scotty, brushed by his
dawdling legs and catapulted down
to greet the new smell.
They came in the door, the three of
them—Don's mother, Don's father and
Dad said, "Well, son—here's Hugh!"
and Mother said, "Here's Hugh, Donnie!"
The English boy said nothing. He
looked anxiously at Don. His eyes were
large and brown.
"Hello," Don said.
"How do you do," Hugh said, and put
out his hand. Each of his words stood
by itself, completely said.
Don took his hand. He could never
remember shaking hands with another
boy—only grownups. Hugh gave his
hand a jerky kind of pump, hard and
Angus was standing with his mouth
open, eyes shining, tongue lolling, his
head cocked to one side.
"Is that your dog?" Hugh said.
"Sure," Don said.
"What's his name?"
"Good boy, Angus," Hugh said. "Good
chap." He knelt and scratched Angus
behind the ears. That was where Angus
liked to be scratched. He bent his head
and stretched himself, responding to
the touch, liking it. Don felt a hard lump
in his chest. He looked up quickly and
Don remembered a country, in
one of his storybooks, where
everything was upside down.
This was upside down for Hugh
saw his father and mother smiling their
overeager smiles, not looking at him,
looking at Hugh petting his dog.
"Take Hugh upstairs, son."
The two boys went upstairs together.
Angus pushed past them, jumping from
step to step.
"Well," Don said in the room, "this
is it."
"It's a jolly nice room," Hugh said.
Jolly nice! What kind of thing was
that to say?
"What form are you in at school?"
Hugh said.
"6B, but it's not a form. It's a grade."
"Oh. Grade. I shall have to remember
that. I expect it'll be a bit awkward
at first, the different names for things."
"Yeah, I guess it will, all right."
"I say—Where's the lav? I'd like a
"The bathroom's next door," Don
Don sat down on his bed and began
to pet Angus. Angus rolled over in complete
surrender, presenting his stomach
to be scratched. Don's father came in,
carrying a small trunk. "Well, son,
getting on all right?"
"Seems like a nice kid."
Don said nothing.
"Bring him downstairs. Your mother
has some tea for him—for all of us."
Don's head jerked up, but his father
was on his way through the door. Tea!
Tea was for women—for Mom's bridge
Hugh came back, his face shining, his
hair slicked down.
"We better go downstairs. We're having
Angus jumped down. Don heard the
plop of his landing, and turned on him,
rough, angry. "You stay here."
"Oh—mayn't he come along?" Hugh
"No," Don said. "He's not allowed
out o' here, except when I say he can.
He's a one-man dog. He's liable to bite
strangers." He banged the bedroom
door shut, almost on Angus' wet, black,
indignant nose.
A LL through the unaccustomed tea,
• ^ Don sat, sullen and withdrawn,
watching his parents as they talked to
the stranger, the way they talked to
grownups they didn't know very well.
After tea, he and Hugh took a walk.
His mother suggested it. It was cold
now. Only the pale last of the light was
left. The ruts in the road were stiffening.
"Your father said he'd take us to a
football match on Saturday."
"Game," Don said. "Football game!
. . . Say—if you ask me, the way you
talk stinks."
Hugh stopped dead. "Look here," he
said, and his voice was high and angry,
"if you really want to know, it's you who
has the wrong names for things, you and
your tortoise-shell spectacles and hot
dogs and talking through your nose. I
didn't ask to come to your silly old
States. I'd sooner have stayed home, a
million, trillion times!"
"Well, why didn't you?"
"Because there's a war on, though you
Yankees don't seem to know it."
"What do you mean we don't know
"Well, you're jolly well letting us fight
They stood facing each other, almost
toe to toe on the gray road in front of
the house. The door opened, making
a rectangle of gold light in the dark.
"Come on in, you kids, and get ready
for dinner," Don's father said.
Dinner was a repetition of tea, only
worse. Afterward, they played Chinese
checkers. Don's father beat Hugh by
only two moves. "Well, Donny," his
father said, "you'll have to do some tall
practicing before you can give this fellei
a game! You play chess, Hugh?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Father's a topping chess
player. He taught me when I was quite
"Good! I'll take you on tomorrow
The two boys got ready for bed in
stony silence. Don's mother came in to
say good night to them. She kissed Don
first, and then went and sat on Hugh's
bed. "We're very glad to have you here,
Hugh," she said. "Sleep well, son." She
bent and kissed him.
Son! He wasn't her son! What did
she have to call him son for? She liked
him. All she could think of now was this
English boy who could play chess. She
liked the way he talked, like someone in
the movies. She liked Hugh better than
him. She'd forgotten the birch-log fern
stand he'd made for her at camp, and
the day last week when he'd taken the
dahlia bulbs down to the cellar for her
and she'd called him a bang-up good
gardener and hugged him and given him
a dime.
TJE LAY awake listening to that stranger
breathing in the next bed, that
stranger in his room, in his house, that
stranger his mother and father liked
better than they liked him, that stranger
who would be here for a year, two
years, maybe forever. Angus was a
round ball of warmth against his stomach,
but he got no comfort from Angus.
Angus had run to Hugh as soon as he
came into the house. In a few days,
his dog would be just as much Hugh's
dog as his own.
He swung his legs out onto the cold
floor—he had to have this thing out with
his father and mother. Angus wakened,
jumped off the bed. Don walked to the
bend of the stairs. There he stopped.
Downstairs in the living room his mother
and father were listening to the radio.
He was still determined to say what he
must say, but he knew he must stop
here on the stairs and get the words
He could hear the radio clearly: "London
is enduring another night of heavy
bombing. For the fourth night this
week, Londoners were roused from sleep
by the air-raid sirens and a series of
ear-shattering explosions. The all-clear
has not yet sounded, at four A. M. London
Don sat on the stairs, listening. His
mother and father were right here, sitting
together in front of the fire. Their
beds were waiting for them upstairs, dry
and warm and safe. That was where
Hugh lived—London. In one of his
storybooks there was a country where
everything was upside down. This was
upside down for Hugh. It might be the
other way. He, Don, might be some
place where lav was the right word, and
match and jolly and form, some place
where all his words were wrong, the upside-
down names for things.
He got up and went back to the room.
Hugh was crying. His head was buried
in the pillow to muffle the thick, snuffling
sound of his crying, but Don could hear
him. Quickly he bent over and scooped
up the warm, furry lump which was
Angus and dropped him on Hugh's bed.
"Here," he said. "You take him tonight.
He likes you."
S H O R T S T O R Y C O M P L E T E O N T H I S P A C E I I L U S T R A T E D B Y C . B E A L L

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