He tried to sound matter of fact. "She had an awful lot to
do. She said she'll call you this week." He knew he sounded apologetic
and he felt himself growing angry. Besides, he hated lying. What May
had really said was, "I don't mind you going to see your mother, but I
simply don't want to go. We can't get along, so why make
She was right, of course, but still she could have come with
him for an hour to avoid this. He heard the voices of some people who
were standing in front of the apartment house. A girl laughed.
"I don't know what she's so busy about," his mother said.
"She hasn't any children to look after. What is she so busy
"How should I know," Robert said, and knew it was the wrong
thing to say.
His mother sat up straighter in her chair. "How should you
know?" she repeated. "Well, please tell me who should?"
"Look," he said. "Don't worry about May."
"I'm not worried. I'm just asking a question. Is there any
law against that?" She was using that cold, polite tone which always
"What are you so concerned about May all of a sudden?" he
demanded. "She's fine. She just couldn't make it."
"You needn't shout," his mother said. "If May can't find
time to come over, you needn't shout at me." She looked less tired now
than when he had come in. The people in front of the house had gone
He waited a moment, and then he said carefully, "Have you
heard from Harry?" Harry was his older brother who lived in Chicago. He
was a successful insurance man, and it was one of his mother's favorite
She immediately went into a detailed account of Harry's last
letter. Robert smoked and only half listened. Harry was the good son.
Wrote every week. Sent presents, too, at the right times. It was easy
being a good son in Chicago. Sometimes he wished he and May lived in
California. The warm September night was tempting through the open
windows. It was dark and quiet, and he wished he could just get into
his car and drive somewhere. His mother went on talking about Harry,
and he nodded, hoping she would be in a better mood by the time she
Harry writes you haven't answered his last letter," she
said. "Why haven't you answered it?"
"I'll answer it this week, " Robert said. "I've been
"Everyone's busy in your house. You don't seem to have time
for anything." His mother shifted restlessly in her chair. "Seems to me
you can find a few minutes to write to your brother."
"You're right, " he said. "You're absolutely right."
"I shouldn't have to tell you these things. What are you so
"I work," he said. "I work hard. Being in the automobile
business is a full-time job."
"You do look tired." She examined his face critically. "Have
you lost weight? You can't afford to lose weight with your
"I'm fine," he said. "Everything is fine, I just don't have
time for a lengthy correspondence with my brother."
"May should give you vitamins."
"Leave May alone. She feeds me fine. She's a good cook.
"You still look thin to me," his mother said.
"So what do you want me to do," he demanded. "Buy a coffin?"
No matter how hard he tried, it always came out wrong.
His mother's eyes widened. He stretched his long legs out
defiantly to cover his embarrassment. The warm night breeze came into
the room. A car honked raucously.
"What kind of a way is that to talk to me?" she asked. "What
kind of a way is that to talk to your mother?"
How many times had this happened in the past? How many more
times would they go through these scenes? She was still using the same
words she had used when he was twelve. Here he was thirty-three and
married, and she was still at it. And he hadn't learned yet how to be
"If you buy any coffins," she was saying, "you'll he buying
mine. Or perhaps you won't have time for that, either. You don't have
to come here and do me any favors. You show up once a week and think
that's enough. You sit and look at your watch, and you think you're
doing someone a big favor. If Harry were here, things would be
different, believe me."
He stared at her thin, angry face, and he hated this woman
who nagged and accused, and made him go home and fight with May. Every
time he came back from his mother's he had trouble. He hated her for
being able to confuse him and make him lose his temper.
"If Harry were in New York, I wouldn't be alone. I wouldn't
have to sit here alone and wait for you to visit me."
The pain he felt made him shout, "Then go live in Chicago!
If Harry is such a good son, then let him send you the money and go
live with him."
He stood up and pulled on his jacket. "Every time it's the
same thing. You're never happy unless you have a fight."
His mother looked very small in the overstuffed chair.
"I'm going home," he shouted, "to a little peace and quiet."
He strode out of the room and slammed the front door as he left.