The Complete Stories (Page 224)

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"Then what do we do?"

"I don’t know."

I felt a sharp blow on my chest. I looked down and it was Mary Ann, getting ready to spit fire. She said, "Look, lunkhead, if we’ve got a date, we’ve got one, and if we haven’t, we haven’t. Make up your mind."

I said, "Now, Mary Ann-"

She said, "Answer me. I never heard such a ridiculous thing. Here I get dressed to go to a play, and you take me to a dirty laboratory with a foolish machine and spend the rest of the evening twiddling dials."

"Mary Ann, I’m not-"

She wasn’t listening; she was talking. I wish I could remember what she said after that. Or maybe I don’t; maybe it’s just as well I can’t remember, since none of it was very complimentary. Every once in a while I would manage a "But, Mary Ann-" and each time it would get sucked under and swallowed up.

Actually, as I said, she’s a very gentle creature and it’s only when she gets excited that she’s ever talkative or unreasonable. Of course, with red hair, she feels she ought to get excited rather often. That’s my theory, anyway. She just feels she has to live up to her red hair.

Anyway, the next thing I do remember clearly is Mary Ann finishing with a stamp on my right foot and then turning to leave. I ran after her, trying once again, "But, Mary Ann-"

Then Cliff yelled at us. Generally, he doesn’t pay any attention to us, but

this time he was shouting, "Why don’t you ask her to marry you, you lunkhead?"

Mary Ann stopped. She was in the doorway by then but she didn’t turn around. I stopped too, and felt the words get thick and clogged up in my throat. I couldn’t even manage a "But, Mary Ann-"

Cliff was yelling in the background. I heard him as though he were a mile away. He was shouting, "I got it! I got it!" over and over again.

Then Mary Ann turned and she looked so beautiful- Did I tell you that she’s got green eyes with a touch of blue in them? Anyway she looked so beautiful that all the words in my throat jammed together very tightly and came out in that funny sound you make when you swallow.

She said, "Were you going to say something, Bill?"

Well, Cliff had put it in my head. My voice was hoarse and I said, "Will you marry me, Mary Ann?"

The minute I said it, I wished I hadn’t, because I thought she would never speak to me again. Then two minutes after that I was glad I had, because she threw her arms around me and reached up to kiss me. It was a while before I was quite clear what was happening, and then I began to kiss back. This went on for quite a long time, until Cliff’s banging on my shoulder managed to attract my attention.

I turned and said, snappishly, "What the devil do you want?" It was a little ungrateful. After all, he had started this.

He said, "Look!"

In his hand, he held the main lead that had connected Junior to the power supply.

I had forgotten about Junior, but now it came back. I said, "He’s disconnected, then."


"How did you do it?"

He said, "Junior was so busy watching you and Mary Ann fight that I managed to sneak up on it. Mary Ann put on one good show."

I didn’t like that remark because Mary Ann is a very dignified and self-contained sort of girl and doesn’t put on "shows." However, I had too much in hand to take issue with him.

I said to Mary Ann, "I don’t have much to offer, Mary Ann; just a school teacher’s salary. Now that we’ve dismantled Junior, there isn’t even any chance of-"

Mary Ann said, "I don’t care, Bill. I just gave up on you, you lunkheaded darling. I’ve tried practically everything-"

"You’ve been kicking my shins and stamping on my toes."

"I’d run out of everything else. I was desperate."

The logic wasn’t quite clear, but I didn’t answer because I remembered about the show. I looked at my watch and said, "Look, Mary Ann, if we hurry we can still make the second act."

She said, "Who wants to see the show?" –

So I kissed her some more; and we never did get to see the show at all.

There’s only one thing that bothers me now. Mary Ann and I are married, and we’re perfectly happy. I just had a promotion; I’m an associate professor now. Cliff keeps working away at plans for building a controllable Junior and he’s making progress.

None of that’s it.

You see, 1 talked to Cliff the next evening, to tell him Mary Ann and I were going to marry and to thank him for giving me the idea. And after staring at me for a minute, he swore he hadn’t said it; he hadn’t shouted for me to propose marriage.

Of course, there was something else in the room with Cliff’s voice.

I keep worrying Mary Ann will find out. She’s the gentlest girl I know, but she has got red hair. She can’t help trying to live up to that, or have I said that already?

Anyway, what will she say if she ever finds out that I didn’t have the sense to propose till a machine told me to?

It’s Such a Beautiful Day

On April 12, 2117, the field-modulator brake-valve in the Door belonging to Mrs. Richard Hanshaw depolarized for reasons unknown. As a result, Mrs. Hanshaw’s day was completely upset and her son, Richard, Jr., first developed his strange neurosis.

It was not the type of thing you would find listed as a neurosis in the usual textbooks and certainly young Richard behaved, in most respects, just as a well-brought-up twelve-year-old in prosperous circumstances ought to behave.

And yet from April 12 on, Richard Hanshaw, Jr., could only with regret ever persuade himself to go through a Door.

Of all this, on April 12, Mrs. Hanshaw had no premonition. She woke in the morning (an ordinary morning) as her mekkano slithered gently into her room, with a cup of coffee on a small tray.

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