The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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One summer day many years ago, on the grass outside the back door to a large white house that had seen better days, a handsome woman sat cross-legged, taking peas from a colander beside her and shelling them into an enameled bowl on her lap. At her skirts, a girl of five or six played with a porcelain doll. After a bit, the child leaned the doll over the bowl of shelled peas and whispered in her ear, “You see, Peggy? That’s how we get peas ready to cook.”
The girl then turned the doll’s face up toward the woman and smiled sweetly and said, “Mommy, Peggy wants to know how they make babies.”
The mother frowned at her work. “What on Earth ever put such a question into your head?”
“I don’t believe the story Uncle Matt told me.”
“About storks — that storks bring babies and hide them under bushes. Do you believe that? The babies would get wet and cold, wouldn’t they?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” said the mother, her hands fluttering to a halt. “Uncle Matt shouldn’t have told you that.” She put the doll back in the girl’s arms, and the colander, still half-full of unshelled peas, into the bowl. Quickly, she brushed her dress and stood up.
The child rose. She was like her mother — quick, graceful, dark, and with the same black, intolerant eyes. “I liked Uncle Matt.”
“Well, he told you such a lot of nonsense.”
“Really, don’t you know, Mommy? About the stork?”
“All right, all right. I’ll tell you what I think.” She hesitated, searching for what to tell the child. “I think . . . Well, I think there must be a big baby machine somewhere. All right? Now, shall we put the peas in the kitchen?” She was flushed. Her skin had the dark shine of paper on which somebody had spilled olive oil. It became her.
“Is there really a baby machine, Mommy? Where do they keep it?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know! Come now, let’s go inside. Then I’ll send you to the store for a candy cane.”
At times like this, Rachel Caulfield wished that she had a husband to be a father to her children. She had flown in the face of everybody’s good advice when she married Jim Caulfield. Everybody had said he couldn’t stick to anything, including marriage.
Everybody had been right. He had taken her to the city, where his only regular activity had been visiting taverns and dance halls. He had worked every now and then as a machinist, but he had brought her precious little money. She had supported herself and their first baby, Sullivan, by finishing hats for millinery shops. Then, late one night, Jim Caulfield came home swearing bitterly at her — why, she never knew — and pulled a suitcase from the closet, packed it, and left her.
She was seven months pregnant with Magda then, and Sullivan was only three years old. In the early years she ceaselessly drummed into Sullivan’s head the need for being responsible. He acquired the habit of finishing what he started. But his father still lived in him, in his knack for things mechanical, and in the handsomeness of his body and the brilliant blond of his hair. He had his mother’s olive skin, though, and her shy bearing.
As attractive as her children were, Rachel saw in both of them a reserve, a suspicion of the world. She had given them that suspicion, she knew. She could not help herself. She always had a pout on her lips, and she knew that as the years went by it became more pronounced. Her children imitated it, until it was a part of them, too.
She had ample reason to distrust the world. Jim Caulfield was not the first to abandon her. Her parents had disappeared one night when she was six. For the next three months, she was kept by the maiden lady who lived upstairs. The lady tried to be nice to her, but Rachel wept most of the time. At last she was taken away by a woman who called herself Aunt Myrtle. Aunt Myrtle’s husband was Uncle Matt. Aunt Myrtle was a sweet, harried, slovenly woman who needed a child’s company. Rachel had loved her from the beginning to the end. There had been a time when she loved Uncle Matt, too. But one day she realized that he worked, as a plumber, only when he had no choice. Most of the time he sat playing cards in the back room of the cigar store opposite the State Bank and Trust. After she discovered that, she did not love him.
Nevertheless, she married a man who was as much a ne’er-do-well as Uncle Matt. After Jim left her, she sat for more than a year in her bleak little room, in a bleak little town miles from home, brooding, making hats, waiting for him to return. When at last she gave up, she got a divorce and went home to Uncle Matt, Aunt Myrtle having suffered a fatal heart attack.
She had come back at the right moment. A month later, the kindergarten teacher, old Miss Lydon, died. Rachel Caulfield could read and write, she was kind, and she was available. She became the new kindergarten teacher.
The president of the State Bank and Trust had long had a soft spot in his heart for Rachel — who, as a little girl, used to come into his bank on hot summer mornings to show him her dolly. He went out of his way to warn her against marrying Jim Caulfield, and when she returned to town after the divorce, he saw to it that she got away from Uncle Matt and into her own solid house where the children could grow up to be sound citizens.
Some weeks after Rachel Caulfield explained to Magda about where babies came from, the child brought the subject up again. It was a hot summer evening, and the little family was in the big dining room finishing supper. Magda licked her spoon, put it in her custard dish, and shoved the dish aside. “Betty Fragonard says you’re wrong, Mommy,” she declared.
“Wrong about what?”
“Betty says babies don’t come from machines.”
“I think Betty Fragonard is big enough to mind her own business.”
“I know all about that stuff,” said Sullivan, playing the man of the house.
“Sullivan!” warned his mother.
“What do you know?” asked Magda dubiously.
Sullivan leaned back and pushed out his abdomen and patted it. “Ladies’ bellies, that’s where they come from.”
Rachel flushed. “Sullivan Caulfield, this is no fit subject for the table! You may leave now!”
Magda sat with her head hung while her brother marched out of the room, muttering that he had finished eating anyhow. When Magda looked up, her mother was crying into a napkin. The child went to console her. She patted Rachel’s arm and said, “I don’t believe him. I believe in the baby machine, Mommy. Like you told me.”
Rachel Caulfield said into her napkin, “That wasn’t what I . . . Oh, how I wish. . . .” But the effort to control herself overrode whatever she was trying to express. When she was ready to look at her daughter again, she folded her napkin and creased it nervously. “Let’s think about something else. Would you like to dry the dishes for me? Mr. Moyers is going to drop by tonight.”
“I don’t like him. He smells funny.”
“Not old Mr. Moyers. His son. You know, the Mr. Moyers who sits in the second cage at the bank.”
Magda sighed. “I don’t like him either. He’s fat. He hasn’t got any eyes.”
Magda pouted, as if to say, “Well, I don’t like him!” After the dishes were done, she went up to the third floor and played in the storeroom. Even when you opened the window, it was a hot, stuffy room, but it was like the tower chamber in a fairy tale. You had to go through a door, up a narrow stairway, and then down a little hall to get there. Magda always played in that room when she was unhappy and wanted to keep out of the way. She became a princess, or an elf, or a pretty mother. She played with her china doll, Peggy. Peggy had blond hair like Sullivan, but it was a mass of curls. She had red lips, pink cheeks, and dark eyes like Mother. Though Mother was the most beautiful of creatures, Peggy was not far behind. She had come from Santa Claus last Christmas, and since then Magda’s other dolls had been on the top shelf of her bookcase, lined neatly against the wall, seldom moved except to be dusted or to play the extra characters in a game starring Peggy.
That night, while Mother drank tea with Mr. Jim Moyers (Magda knew his first name was the same as daddy’s), and Sullivan tinkered with wheels and wires in his room, she played a new game with her doll.
The game started the way her doll games always started. She undressed Peggy and put new clothes on her, telling her all the while what they were doing and what they were going to do. They were going to go to the park. Peggy would get to play on the slide. Wouldn’t that be fun?
Magda made the slide by leaning an old table leaf against a box. At the bottom end she put a worn sofa pillow. Then she realized that Peggy might fall off the board and shatter her pretty head or her little china fingers, so she held the doll for the first few times down the slide. But Peggy, like most children, didn’t like to be held while she was playing, so Magda made a trough by getting the second table leaf and propping the two between boxes. Then Peggy could be a big girl and slide down all by herself.
She could not have said why, but when Mother called her down to say good night to Mr. Moyers, Magda left the trough in place. And before she cuddled her pillow for the last time that night, she whispered to Peggy, who sat nearest her in the line of dolls, “Tomorrow morning, little darling, you’re going to be born. Isn’t that exciting?”
The next day was Sunday, and after church Peggy was born time after time. “Being born” meant sliding down the trough into the pillow. Magda knew that babies were born with diapers on, so that was how Peggy was dressed. After each birth Magda would talk to the baby with love and wonder; she would kiss her and hug her and tell her she thought she would name her Peggy. After dressing Peggy in a blue taffeta afternoon dress and a white bunny-fur hat and muff, she would explain the baby machine and show Peggy the window, the boxes stacked against the wall, the sofa with one cushion, and whatever else came to mind.
Unlike so many games, this one did not lose its appeal. After supper, though, she changed the way she played it. She thought if Peggy were born without diapers on, then she could explain the diapers to her, and that would be another good part to the game. But Peggy’s getting born by sliding down the baby machine where anybody might see her nakedness didn’t seem quite right to Magda. She took the dust cover off the back of the old sofa and spread it over the machine; then Peggy could slide down the trough but stay covered.
At bedtime, when her mother asked her what on Earth she had been doing all day, Magda almost told; but the memory of Mother weeping into the napkin the night before made her curb her tongue. She said, “Oh, nothing.”
Her mother accepted that without comment.
Sullivan was not fooled. He knew she had been doing something worth finding out about. So the next day after school, he went up to the storeroom to see what was going on. Magda made him promise not to tell, and then she explained about Peggy’s births. He smiled a big-brother smile and, looking at the table leaves, asked her to show him how it worked. She did, and he gazed judiciously first at Peggy lying on the pillow and then at the covered birth trough. “You know what the trouble is?” he asked.
Her heart sank. She prayed silently, “Please, please, don’t let him make me stop doing things with my baby machine! Please!”
“It’s not a machine!” he declared triumphantly. “A machine has to make noise! And it has to have gears that move. Don’t worry, though. I’ll make you a real baby machine.”
Her whole being went out to him in gratitude. She took a deep breath, held her newborn Peggy in her arms, and sat cross-legged on the sofa watching him work and explaining to Peggy what he was doing. Every now and then he had to pause in his construction to let Peggy be born again, so Magda wouldn’t be unhappy.
When Mother called that supper was ready, Magda held an index finger to her lips and smiled. Sullivan nodded and whispered, “Sssh!”
Their fascination with the machine goes beyond any rational explanation. Partly it arose from the fact that there were no children living nearby to play with. But even in school, Magda and Sullivan were alone. The other children read a hard truth in their faces: they were different. Like adults, they owned themselves.
After a few weeks, curious about their long, quiet sessions in the attic room, Rachel slipped quietly up the stairs, and peered in at the door. “What is it?” she gasped.
The children looked away. Magda said, “A toy.”
“Sullivan, you tell me.”
He glanced back at her and grinned. He said, very quietly, “Baby machine.”
Rachel had not heard. “What?”
“A baby machine,” he said, looking directly at her now.
Rachel’s cheeks turned pink. She stared at the machine. “Oh.” There was an agonizing pause. She put her hand to her temple and nodded once. “Take it apart. You may not play up here anymore.”
She turned to leave, but she did not even reach the stairs before Magda, wailing like a being possessed, was hanging on to her from behind, arms around her hips, head buried in the scoop of her waist. Rachel managed to pry her loose and to bring her around so they were face to face. “It’s not a nice game to play, dear,” she said with strict self-discipline.
“Please! Please!” the child begged. She was beyond tears. “Please!”
After a long time, Rachel Caulfield whispered between taut lips, “I suppose it won’t hurt, for a day or two.” She stroked the child’s hair tenderly for a few moments and broke away from her grasp. “But don’t tell anyone. Particularly Mr. Moyers.”
She was not sure why she had mentioned him. He had called on her only a few times. She had the feeling, though, that he had been waiting some time for the chance. In fact, he had been waiting for Uncle Matt to die. Uncle Matt had never been popular with the good people of the town, and for six months — during his last illness — he had lived in the little back bedroom. But now that he was dead, Mr. Moyers, who was one of the good people, could call on Rachel without having to deal with a scruffy ne’er-do-well.
The baby machine grew steadily. First Sullivan installed a large weight. It fell and rotated gears that made a satisfying grinding sound whenever Peggy was born. Next he constructed a framework that held a bellows attached to a toy horn. The falling weight would hit the bellows, which would toot the horn. Then he installed a large crank that automatically started Peggy on her journey. After that came a tambourine that was thumped by a rubber mallet. For Sullivan, the game became more and more complicated, and more satisfying.
While he worked, Magda acted out little plays, inventing one story after another, all of which sooner or later involved sliding her doll down the channel to birth. Each time Peggy was born, Magda would dress her and walk about the room with her, or put her into a wagon and stroll out into the hall. She would clean her, feed her, and teach her about the world. But then — always — Peggy would fall ill, like Uncle Matt, and Magda would struggle vainly against the conquering illness. Then the doll would die and be buried, naked, so she could be born again.
Once or twice Rachel tried to say something about the game, but after a month, she no longer dared, for fear of Magda’s reaction. Vaguely she hoped that the children’s interest would go stale, and they would abandon to the settling dust the storeroom with its slide and its bells and its gears.
When their interest did not fade, Rachel asked some of the townswomen to send their children over to play. Magda and Sullivan were pleasant to all their guests, but it was clear they did not need friends.
Rachel kept trying. On weekends she began inviting to dinner families whose children she liked. Mr. Moyers would be there, and he would act like the man of the house. He sat at the head of the table, Rachel’s usual place, and kept the conversation going. After the meal he settled into the easy chair, lit a cigar, and smiled at the world.
For a time Rachel thought those afternoons were helping her children. At night, she would creep up to look at the baby machine. She no longer saw evidence of any technical innovations. In the daytime, she seldom heard it toot out the happy news of a new birth for Peggy. All in all, Rachel was pleased with her life, and ready to hear the proposal Mr. Moyers had for her. Yes, she told him one evening, after the guests had gone home and the children to bed, she would be honored to marry him.
“I’ll tell Magda and Sullivan tomorrow. Or will you?”
“No. I want to do some shopping first. When I shock them, I ought to do so in the glow of good will. That calls for gifts, don’t you think?”
“You are a one, Mr. Moyers! All right.”
“I was in the city on business last week. I saw a buggy that would be perfect for Magda. It has chrome springs and a brake she can set. And it has silk sheets and a silk pillow with pink embroidered roses. What do you think?”
“If I were a little girl again, I’d like it.”
He smiled, pleased with himself. “As for Sullivan, he’ll get something no other boy in town has — a train that runs on little rails and looks exactly like a real one.”
“Thank you, Mr. Moyers.”
“Jim — if we’re engaged.”
“Jim. Thank you.”
Rachel could not have been happier. She had a whole lovely week to savor the knowledge that at last all her problems were solved. Then the time came. Mr. Moyers brought the buggy out first, and Magda settled a doll — not Peggy, who never left the storeroom anymore — between the silk sheets and wheeled her about the living room before she said, “She likes the buggy. Thank you, Mr. Moyers.”
He patted her head, smiled down on her with benign satisfaction, and turned to Sullivan. “Now, my lad, you think you’ve been left out, I suppose. But just you come along to the front porch!”
When they returned, they were carrying a large box between them. They deposited it in the middle of the living room, and Mr. Moyers said, “Open it, lad, and see what’s in it.” Then he retreated to the sofa, where he discreetly took Rachel’s hand and watched as the boy tore at the box like an anxious terrier.
Sullivan reached the engine first. He held it up like a chalice, a blessed glow on his face. He moved the wheels with his delicate forefinger, watching the motion of the parts with rapture. He flung himself at Mr. Moyers. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“You’re welcome. Of course you’re welcome. Now, suppose we set it up, eh?”
The boy put the engine back into its place, and, squatting by the box, said, “Where shall we set it up, Mr. Moyers?”
“You children will have to learn not to call me Mr. Moyers, you know. . . . Well, let’s survey the train situation, shall we?” At the last moment his courage had failed him. He would tell them when they had seen the train run round the tracks. “We have to find someplace where it won’t have to be moved. How about the basement?”
“It’s too wet down there,” said Rachel. “There’s always mold on the preserves. We never go down there. Couldn’t we use Sullivan’s bedroom?”
“He wouldn’t want to take up all those tracks every night. There must be a hundred of them.” Mr. Moyers chuckled with satisfaction. “Wait a minute! I have an idea. There’s a third floor in this house. But you don’t use it, right? Well, there’s our solution. Let’s go up and have a look.”
A sudden, grim silence enclosed the children. Rachel knew that this could not end well. If only Mr. Moyers would leave well enough alone!
But James Moyers was not a man to leave anything alone. He was determined to charm the children. “All right! Up we go, eh, youngsters?”
“My bedroom,” murmured Sullivan, watching Magda fixedly.
“The little back bedroom?” Magda whispered.
Mr. Moyers, no longer pretending he needed help with the box, hoisted it. “No little rooms! You have to be able to see the whole train.” He chuckled as he began to mount the stairs. The children, as if escaping from a fire, hurried past him and opened Sullivan’s door. “It’s a good place!” urged the boy. “There’s lots of room, Mr. Moyers!”
Mr. Moyers shook his head. “It won’t do. It won’t do at all.” He went about looking for the way upstairs. He found it when Magda rushed to a door and stood with her back to it, defending it. He moved her out of the way with the box, turned on the light with his elbow, and clumped up the stairs. He found the storeroom and the baby machine, with Peggy at the top of the birth chute, naked, dusty, ready to be launched.
Rachel appeared at the door, but she could do nothing to stop him from experimentally grinding the handle that slid Peggy into a new life, which was rung in by bells and saluted by a tooting horn and a tambourine. He turned to Rachel with puzzled amusement on his soft face. She shook her head. “We’ll find somewhere else. The back bedroom isn’t so small.”
“A clever gadget,” he mused. “What on Earth is it supposed to be?” He looked enquiringly at Sullivan, who seemed paralyzed. Then he noticed Magda’s face. In a sweet, sweet tone he asked, “What is your dolly doing on the slide? And why is the slide covered?”
Rachel made several feeble attempts to divert his wheedling questions from Magda, but it did not take him long to piece the truth together. His face tightened. “Babies born like pennies falling down a coin slot in a carnival peep show!” He looked directly at Rachel. “It’s unspeakable. It is unspeakable.” When she did not respond, his face fell in horror. “You knew! You knew about it!” He pushed her aside and hurried down the stairs.
Rachel pursued him, and the children crept to the head of the stairs and eavesdropped. A fury of conversation rolled about them like a December sea, but they could pick no words out of the storm, and they did not know what to expect when Mr. Moyers came back up the stairs. Pale and determined, he stormed into the storeroom. Without a word, he started to dismantle the machine.
Magda began to shout at him to stop. He went right on with his destruction. She and Sullivan charged at him and pulled at his suit coat. He spun about and flared at them, “I’m going to be your father and you’re going to do what I say! There’ll be none of this queer baby machine business from my kids!” He returned to his attack on the apparatus. Sullivan clenched his fists and beat as hard as he could on Mr. Moyers’ well-padded back. With one hand Mr. Moyers seized the boy, and with the other slapped his face. Magda had grabbed a piece of train track and was hitting Mr. Moyers with it, defending her brother as best she could, when Rachel appeared in the doorway and shouted, “Stop it, Magda! Sullivan, no more! Enough, Jim! Shame on you! I told you you shouldn’t come up here again! Shame!”
There was a shocked silence. Then, abruptly, Mr. Moyers pushed Sullivan away and told Rachel hoarsely, “And I told you you shouldn’t come up here!” He strode past her, cursing as not even Jim Caulfield ever had. She clung to her children and listened to him tramp down the stairs. She heard the front door slam. Then the only sound was that of the children weeping. Rachel closed her eyes so she would not have to see Peggy, who lay on the pillow after her last birth.
Even after that scene, Mr. Moyers dropped by now and then, but Rachel made him take back the gifts and there was never any more talk between them of marriage. Sullivan had quickly repaired the machine, and for a time he and Magda spent most of their spare hours in the storeroom playing with it. But apparently they had outgrown their interest in it and, as Rachel had once so desperately wished, they soon allowed it to gather dust.
That same year Mr. Moyers’ father died, and Mr. Moyers became too busy for anything other than the bank. He came to be as tender and as patronizing toward Rachel and her children as his father had been. Within a few years his courtship seemed to Rachel like a dream.
Then one bright Sunday, as she was standing outside church, chatting with him and the pastor, she had a severe heart attack. She had worked for the last time. Magda, who had passed her twelfth birthday, took over the household chores and cared for her mother — except during school hours, when Mrs. Hemmenway’s grown daughter looked in on her, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. For Sullivan, as the game with the baby machine was a part of a lost childhood, so was his ambition to get an education. He quit school and got a job as a clerk at the Feed and Seed. By the end of his sixth month there, he had saved enough to buy a fine set of carpenter’s tools. He made a workshop by walling off half of their pantry, and he spent his leisure hours improving the house or tinkering with one gadget or another.
Not long after he turned twenty-one, he fell in love, but his mother was deep into her final illness, and his sister did not like the girl, so nothing came of it. It was 1918 and war took him away from the feed store; when he came back, he went to work for the newly-established electric company.
Magda had dreamed her way through school. She had never had a romance; it was something she never seemed to need. She kept the cleanest house in town, she went to the white-clapboard Congregational church, and she always dressed with propriety. As the years went on, she grew paler and the lines in her face drew tighter and straighter, particularly near the corners of her mouth. In her eyes was a dark shadow.
Rachel had been dead for years when Magda finally moved into her room. It was an important event: it marked her acceptance that she was the lady of this house and would never become the lady of another house. She packed her mother’s things into a big cardboard box, which she then dragged up to the storeroom. That was when she re-discovered the baby machine. Now, looking at it, she knew why Mr. Moyers had seen it as something inexpressibly horrible. She shuddered, wondering at the dominion that this framework, hung with whistles and bells, had exercised over her and her brother. Still, she could not keep from touching it and dusting a long swath on the birth trough, from which the cover had slipped to the floor.
It was a dark day in winter, and the afternoon was well advanced. At first she didn’t notice Peggy, who had lain on the pillow all these years, abandoned. When she saw the little creature, she picked her up and fondled her. Had this waif really been her child? Dreamily, as though someone else — someone far away — were doing it, she put Peggy at the head of the trough, turned the crank, and let her slide down. No horns, no bells. She was vaguely disappointed. She picked up the doll again and held her to her breast. Strangely comforted, she carried her downstairs.
Sullivan, who had become assistant manager of the electric company office, was reading the paper and smoking his pipe. Without a word, she handed him the doll. When she brought him his coffee, Peggy was sitting in his lap as if he had been teaching her to read. “I tried the machine,” said Magda. “The bells didn’t work.”
“I’ll fix it if you want,” he said with an odd smile.
After supper, he went up to the storeroom. She came up to watch him, and she found herself playing her little game while he tinkered. It was as it had been years before — so natural. For the rest of their life together he exercised his considerable fantasy, constructing ever more intricate and amusing additions and variations — both electric and mechanical. The machine, by the time he died, quite filled the storeroom and might have been an April Fool’s jest for the gods. There was a superbly joined walnut birth trough, covered by a linen cloth which Magda had embroidered with flying cupids and interlocking hearts. There was an exquisite walnut coffin for Peggy’s deaths.
Magda outlived her brother by fifteen years, but she had learned enough from him to keep the fantastic network of lights, bells, slides, wheels, governors, and gears in working order. Peggy was chipped and her face was hardly recognizable, but she was born and born, and she died and died, and she gave pleasure to her maiden mother until their last day together.
One more thing should be said about Magda Caulfield. She became — particularly during the years after her brother’s death — an important member of the community. Sullivan had saved almost every penny he had ever earned, and it was all hers now. Mr. Jim Moyers, who was over ninety when he died, also remembered her generously in his will.
It was that will which opened people’s eyes. Until then they had smiled at Magda Caulfield’s old-fashioned manners, but they had not bothered to look for the person who hid shyly from the world in “the lovely old Caulfield house on North Road.” Now the town recognized that old Jim Moyers had seen what nobody else had. Who, for example, had Magda Caulfield’s way with children? Her Sunday School classes were always full. Every day after school, there were a dozen or so moppets who trudged to her house to sweep her kitchen — she never allowed them beyond the kitchen — and to bake cookies and drink glasses of milk and tell her about life. They loved her fully and openly in a way they could never love their own mothers. Little girls would caress the black silk of her dress as if they were pilgrims in search of miraculous cures. The little boys loved to touch her ancient hands.
The children were the first to know that something was wrong with her. One Christmas Eve after the pageant at the Congregational church, two of the little girls from the children’s choir decided to find out why Miss Magda hadn’t come to hear them sing. They saw a flashing light in the little window in the third floor gable of the huge old house, and they went around back and rang the doorbell with their special, secret ring. Getting no answer, they hurried back to church to tell the pastor.
It was he who broke in and led the children and a dozen parishioners upstairs. There they found the strangest apparatus anyone in town had ever seen — bells ringing, lights flashing, noisy party ratchets swinging round, a record of “Stars and Stripes Forever” playing over and over on a little gramophone, and by the wall a dozen flags waving. Old Magda sat cross-legged on the ancient sofa, dead and cold, with a glass of curdled milk on a tray next to her and a faceless, half-diapered doll on her lap.