The Complete Stories (Page 208)
Norman put his paper aside. "I’ll show you." He leaned over and said, "Mr. If?"
The little man looked at him eagerly.
"Do you have the time, Mr. If?"
The little man took out a large watch from his vest pocket and displayed the dial.
"Thank you, Mr. If," said Norman. And again in a whisper, "See, Liwy."
He would have returned to his paper, but the little man was opening his box and raising a finger periodically as he did so, to enforce their attention. It was just a slab of frosted glass that he removed-about six by nine inches in length and width and perhaps an inch thick. It had beveled edges, rounded corners, and was completely featureless. Then he took out a little wire stand on which the glass slab fitted comfortably. He rested the combination on his knees and looked proudly at them.
Liwy said, with sudden excitement, "Heavens, Norman, it’s a picture of some sort."
Norman bent close. Then he looked at the little man. "What’s this? A new kind of television?"
The little man shook his head, and Liwy said, "No, Norman, it’s us."
"Don’t you see? That’s the streetcar we met on. There you are in the back seat wearing that old fedora I threw away three years ago. And that’s Georgette and myself getting on. The fat lady’s in the way. Now! Can’t you see us?"
He muttered, "It’s some sort of illusion."
"But you see it too, don’t you? That’s why he calls this ‘What If.’ It will show us what if. What if the streetcar hadn’t swerved . . ."
She was sure of it. She was very excited and very sure of it. As she looked at the picture in the glass slab, the late afternoon sunshine grew dimmer and the inchoate chatter of the passengers around and behind them began fading.
How she remembered that day. Norman knew Georgette and had been about to surrender his seat to her when the car swerved and threw Liwy into his lap. It was such a ridiculously corny situation, but it had worked. She had been so embarrassed that he was forced first into gallantry and then
into conversation. An introduction from Georgette was not even necessary. By the time they got off the streetcar, he knew where she worked.
She could still remember Georgette glowering at her, sulkily forcing a smile when they themselves separated. Georgette said, "Norman seems to like you."
Livvy replied, "Oh, don’t be silly! He was just being polite. But he is nice-looking, isn’t he?"
It was only six months after that that they married.
And now here was that same streetcar again, with Norman and herself and Georgette. As she thought that, the smooth train noises, the rapid clack-clack of the wheels, vanished completely. Instead, she was in the swaying confines of the streetcar. She had just boarded it with Georgette at the previous stop.
Liwy shifted weight with the swaying of the streetcar, as did forty others, sitting and standing, all to the same monotonous and rather ridiculous rhythm. She said, "Somebody’s motioning at you, Georgette. Do you know him?"
"At me?" Georgette directed a deliberately casual glance over her shoulder. Her artificially long eyelashes flickered. She said, "I know him a little. What do you suppose he wants?"
"Let’s find out," said Livvy. She felt pleased and a little wicked.
Georgette had a well-known habit of hoarding her male acquaintances, and it was rather fun to annoy her this way. And besides, this one seemed quite . . . interesting.
She snaked past the line of standees, and Georgette followed without enthusiasm. It was just as Livvy arrived opposite the young man’s seat that the streetcar lurched heavily as it rounded a curve. Liwy snatched desperately in the direction of the straps. Her fingertips caught and she held on. It was a long moment before she could breathe. For some reason, it had seemed that there were no straps close enough to be reached. Somehow, she felt that by all the laws of nature she should have fallen.
The young man did not look at her. He was smiling at Georgette and rising from his seat. He had astonishing eyebrows that gave him a rather competent and self-confident appearance. Liwy decided that she definitely liked him.
Georgette was saying, "Oh no, don’t bother. We’re getting off in about two stops."
They did. Livvy said, "I thought we were going to Sach’s."
"We are. There’s just something I remember having to attend to here. It won’t take but a minute."
"Next stop, Providence!" the loud-speakers were blaring. The train was slowing and the world of the past had shrunk itself into the glass slab once more. The little man was still smiling at them.
Liwy turned to Norman. She felt a little frightened. "Were you through all that, too?"
He said, "What happened to the time? We can’t be reaching Providence yet?" He looked at his watch. "I guess we are." Then, to Liwy, "You didn’t fall that time."
"Then you did see it?" She frowned. "Now, that’s like Georgette. I’m sure there was no reason to get off the streetcar except to prevent my meeting you. How long had you known Georgette before then, Norman?"
"Not very long. Just enough to be able to recognize her at sight and to feel that I ought to offer her my seat."
Liwy curled her lip.
Norman grinned, "You can’t be jealous of a might-have-been, kid. Besides, what difference would it have made? I’d have been sufficiently interested in you to work out a way of meeting you."
"You didn’t even look at me."
"I hardly had the chance."
"Then how would you have met me?"
"Some way. I don’t know how. But you’ll admit this is a rather foolish argument we’re having."