I'm Dennis, your basic, ordinary nine-year-old boy and usually I live a basic, ordinary life. I go to school, I take care of my dog, I eat, I sleep. Sometimes, though, my life is not so ordinary. This is because of the ghosts.
Another one arrived last week. It came on the wind, like the others. It's not an ordinary wind that brings these ghosts - it's a bare whisper of a wind that tickles the curtains. No one feels or hears this wind except me and my dog, Bo.
The first ghost came a month after my father died. It was my great grandma, but I didn't know she was a ghost. She seemed real enough to me. When I mentioned Great Grandma's visit to my mother, she said, "Dennis, Great Grandma's in heaven."
"Not last night she wasn't," I said.
A month later my old cat Snowball flew in my bedroom window. I could see him plain as anything, but he felt as light as a leaf. When I held his puckered old face up to my mother, she pressed her hand against my forehead.
"Oh Dennis," she said. "Not feeling well? Snowball's been dead for six months."
There have been other ghosts since Snowball and Great Grandma. There was an old man who used to live next door, a woman who said she had lived two hundred years ago, and a policeman. A constant parade of ghosts, but never the one I really want.
I asked the policeman ghost, "Why do ghosts visit me? Why don't they visit anyone else I know?"
"You didn't send for us? Sometimes we're sent for."
"I didn't send for you," I said. I hadn't sent for Snowball or Great Grandma even though it was nice to see them. And I certainly hadn't sent for the dead old man or woman. "But if I did send for a specific ghost, would he come?"
"Hard to say," he said. "Can't always go where we want to! I was just out riding on the wind, and this is where it brought me. Though maybe you sent for me."
Imagine! To ride on the wind and whiz into people's windows like that!
Last Friday, as I climbed into bed, I heard one of the whispering winds. When my mother came in to say good night, I asked her if a storm was coming.
"Storm? I don't thing so. Look how calm it is. Not even a breeze out there."
So I knew that this was another ghost wind. Soon it would be followed by a faint whistle, and then the wind would swirl and roll and twist in through the room trailing a cloud of blue smoke. That's how it happens. It doesn't matter if the window is open or not.
I've tried to tell my friends and teachers about these ghosts, but they just laugh. "What an imagination!" my teacher said. One boy at school, Billy Baker, punched me in the chest. "You don't have no ghosts, you stupid liar," he said.
Bo whimpered in his sleep. Did he sense what was coming? The wind whistled and the curtains furled in the air. Bo's fur stood on end.
The ghosts had never hurt me, but still I was afraid. What if it was a wicked, horrible ghost? But I also wanted to know who it would be. Maybe it would be the one ghost I wanted, the one ghost I prayed for, the one ghost I'd sent for.
I had an odd feeling as that wind blew harder reeling and rolling through the window, twisting the curtains high into the air. Bo crawled up beside me and covered his ears with his paws.
"Get ready Bo. Here comes the ghost."
Whish! blew the wind. Whew! The curtains flew this way and that, knocking a book off my desk. Whisk! My socks lifted off the floor and danced in the air.
Bo scooted around in a circle, trying to get his head under the covers.
Whisk! Whisk! The curtains flipped into the air and sank down again, wrapping their ends around the chair. Suddenly the wind calmed. In came a quiet stream of air and a wisp of blue smoke, which swirled and floated across the room.
"Here it comes, Bo. We're about to have a visitor."
The blue smoke twisted and twirled, floating down to the floor and forming itself into a pair of green boots.
"It's here, Bo!"
The smoke formed a sturdy pair of legs in blue trousers. Next appeared a purple sweater across a big chest and arms. The smoke wiggled and wobbled and formed into a head topped by a red cowboy hat.
The ghost had arrived.
I was so scared. I was running down a railroad track, faster and faster, and there was a terrible noise behind me. I turned, expecting to see a train barreling down on me, but it wasn't a train. It was a gigantic T-Rex wearing a wig made from spaghetti. Someone was shouting, "Dinosaur! Dinosaur!"
I was straight up in bed. What a nightmare. What a relief to be safe.
Floating up near the ceiling was Uncle Harvey calling me. Bo quivered underneath the blanket.
"I'm awake," I said.
Bo thumped his tail, and the blanket flopped up and down. There was a knock at my door. "Dennis? You awake?"
My heart wobbled. Would my mother be able to see Uncle Harvey? What would she say? Should I warn her?
"You're up early for a Saturday, aren't you?" she said. Bo bounded out of the bed and leaped up against her, wagging his tail and barking. "Easy, Bo, easy," my mother said. "Looks like he's ready for a walk, Dennis. Guess you'll have to get up."
Uncle Harvey was standing behind my mother, waving and smiling at her.
"Did you see that?" I asked her.
"Do you see anything over there?"
"You do ? You actually, really and truly do ?" I asked.
"Yes - I see books on the floor, socks in a heap. It's kind of a mess, isn't it?"
She didn't see Uncle Harvey. And yet, to me, Uncle Harvey was as clear as could be. The only difference between Uncle Harvey and my mother was that Uncle Harvey looked a little blurry around the edges.
The edges of Uncle Harvey's red cowboy hat wobbled, as if the hat were alive. His purple sweater was slightly shivery, almost as if it were breathing. The same was true of his trousers and boots - they shimmered at the sides growing brighter, then dimmer.
My mother sniffed the air, "What's that smell?"
Could she smell the ghost?
She picked up my socks. "These should go in the wash," she said. "And there's some other smell - what is it?" She glanced around the room. "It reminds me of -- of someone, I can't think who it is."
Uncle Harvey was waving his arms all around, poking his chest with both index fingers.
My mother dropped the socks on my bed. "Bring these down with your other dirty clothes," she said as she left.
"I don't understand it," I said to Uncle Harvey. "She can't see you or hear you, and yet I can see and hear you as clear as anything."
Uncle Harvey zoomed up to the ceiling, flipped twice, and landed on my bed.
"Let's take Bo out, and you can explain as we walk," I suggested, hurrying into my clothes.
Uncle Harvey flapping his arms and motioned that we should go out. "Let's go, let's go!" he seemed to say as he flapped his arms, lifted into the air, and sailed smoothly through the closed window.
Bo barked and jumped against the window ledge. His long tail whacked my legs. "No, Bo," I said, "you can't go through the window."
Uncle Harvey floated across the road, circled a tree, and skimmed lightly to the ground. Good thing he was wearing his green boots, because he had landed in a puddle. He stood there grinning up at us.
Bo bounded down the stairs, out the door, and stopped at the curb, wagging his tail. I led him across the street, and he leaped toward Uncle Harvey, barking and wiggling his back end. He tumbled right through Uncle Harvey and collapsed on the ground. "Yip!" he squeaked.
Uncle Harvey put his hands to his eyes and formed two circles, as if he were looking through binoculars.
"You want me to go see Aunt Julia?"
Uncle Harvey nodded enthusiastically. Then he held his hands out, palm up, and pushed them at me.
"You want me to show Aunt Julia something?" I asked.
More nods and then he pretended to open a book.
"Oh! I get it! You want me to go visit Aunt Julia and show her your book.
When Uncle Harvey began to float away, I knew I was right. I'd take Uncle Harvey to see Aunt Julia, and we'd find the book and show it to her. I could not imagine why this was so important to him. Was there something special about the book? Would Aunt Julia be able to see her husband?
I saw a little old man, stamping up the slope muttering under his breath. Even though it was such a nice day, he had on a great heavy coat that came down almost to his ankles. He looked so peevish that I thought he was going to bawl me out for being on his property.
"Good morning," I said.
"Good morning nothing!" he snapped, and shot an angry glance back over his shoulder. "Stubborn so-and-so!"
"What's the matter?"
"Oh, Bronson's making a nuisance of himself!" he said, and shivered so hard he nearly stumbled sideways, "I could freeze to death, for all he cares!"
"Friend of mine," he said, and squinted up at me. "What brings you out here?"
"I wanted to take a walk in the woods. Is this your property?"
"Some of it," he said, "but if you're foolish enough to tramp around on a miserable cold day like this, go right ahead. Where're you from?"
I told him, and one thing led to another. Before I knew it I was telling him my whole story. He seemed to find it interesting. Then all at once he startled me by clapping his hands together and letting out a gleeful chuckle.
"Listen here, how would you like to see something really exciting?"
"Well, I don't know," I said cautiously. "What do you have in mind?"
He squinted up at me again.
"Ever see any dinosaur tracks?"
Right about then I decided he must be a crackpot. I didn't know much about dinosaurs, but I did know that most dinosaur tracks in this country have been found preserved in rocks in places like South Dakota and New Mexico. Of course, some of those rocks have been taken to museums, but I hadn't heard of any on display in our area.
"Yes," I said, "I've seen dinosaur tracks in museums, but. . ."
"I don't mean in museums. I mean right where they happened! I mean not half a mile from here!"
Now I was sure he was a crackpot. Because we were in Rhode Island, which is the smallest state in the Union. Why if you looked at Rhode Island on the map, you would think a full-grown dinosaur could hardly move around there without flipping his tail into the ocean.
"You mean to say dinosaurs lived around here?" I asked.
He snorted impatiently.
"Certainly! Seventy-five million years ago they did. Dinosaurs lived everywhere! There were the most successful creatures that ever existed on the face of the earth. They grew to be the biggest, and they lived on this earth for a hundred million years, which is about ninety-five million more that men have been living here."
He glared as if he expected me to say something in favor of human beings, so that he could jump all over me. But I was in no mood to say anything in favor of human beings, so instead I asked a question, just to get away from him.
"Where can I see these dinosaur tracks?" I glanced at my watch. "I don't have much time, but if they're not too far from here. . ."
He stopped glaring at me.
"Now you're talking sense," he said. "Just go down the hill through that group of trees till you get to the bottom, then turn due south and keep going till you come to a pond. Won't take you ten minutes. On the edge of the pond you'll see the tracks I'm talking about."
"Well, thank you," I said, not believing a word of it, but figuring I didn't have anything to lose. "I'll go have a look." And I nodded good-by.
I had just turned to walk away when I heard a funny buzzing sound, and a dizzy spell came overcame me. I had to grab hold of a small tree to steady myself.
"You all right?" asked the old man.
I glanced back at him. He was just putting something in his overcoat pocket.
"Funny, I was dizzy for a second there, but I'm all right now," I said, because already my head had cleared.
"Well, take care," he said, and walked away in the other direction with his coat flapping around his ankles. The way he was cackling to himself, as though he had done something clever, made me feel more than ever that he was some kind of nut.
Even so, curiosity made me keep going in the direction he had suggested. I walked down the hill, worrying about my dizzy spell, and wondering if I had eaten something that disagreed with me. Sarah's fried eggs had been pretty greasy at breakfast. As soon as I got home, I would take something for it.
It was very quiet in the woods, except for when a rabbit started up and went tearing away into the underbrush. When I reached the bottom of the hill, I could catch a glimpse of water through a gap in the trees. After a couple of minutes I came out of the woods, and saw the pond sparkling in the autumn sunshine. It was a small round pond, not two hundred feet across, but with steep banks. There were a lot of water-lily pads floating in it
I hurried across a meadow and walked over to the edge of the pond. When I reach it, my hair stood on end. There were great big tracks, all right, leading into the water.
The only trouble was, these tracks were in mud, and they were fresh!
Naturally, as soon as the first shock was over, I told myself I couldn't very well be looking at fresh dinosaur tracks.
"What kind of joke does that old coot think he's pulling?" I wondered. But then the surface of the pond began to heave and bubble like a pot of soup. Something began to rise up out of the water with the sound of a thousand fat people climbing out of bathtubs.
First a big head on a long neck, then a huge back, and finally part of a great thick tail.
I might not know much about dinosaurs, but I know one when I saw one. So I fainted.
Ever have a dinosaur spit water in your face?
When I came to, that was what was happening to me. I looked up into the biggest pair of eyes I had ever seen. The huge creature had lowered his head in my direction at the end of about thirty feet of neck and was making a chuckling sound. He had been spitting water in my face to bring me to. That's the way it seemed I mean, in this dream I was having - because I was sure it was a dream.
"Good grief!" I cried. "A dinosaur!"
"What did you expect? A catfish?"
"Holy Moses! A talking dinosaur!" I said, and actually felt better. "Well, at least now I know I'm only having a bad dream."
He looked insulted.
"Who are you calling a bad dream?
"Well, I wouldn't call this a good one, when I'm dreaming I'm about to be eaten alive by a dinosaur!"
Now he looked amused.
"Eaten alive? Don't be ridiculous. I'm not one of those meat-eating kind or anything like that," he said, and closed his eyes with a shudder that rippled the water from bank to bank. "Why even after all these millions of years I still have bad dreams about them myself! So don't talk nonsense. I don't eat meat - I'm a vegetarian."
Even in a dream, this was good news. But what an amazingly lifelike dream it was - all that part about meeting the old man and everything! I suddenly remembered the odd remark that old man had made, the one about a friend of his.
"Next I suppose you'll tell me you're Bronson," I said.
"As a matter of fact, I am. You mean to say Lem said something about me?"
"My friend Lemuel. The old man you met."
"This is ridiculous," I said. "You can't be real!"
"What do you mean? Listen, I've been real for seventy-five million years now, and that's longer than any other living thing on this earth has been real!"
"Now, look here," I said. I spoke pretty sharply, for me, but then I was annoyed. Even in a dream, when it came to making wild statements, a dinosaur could only push me so far. "In the first place, you talk."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Animals can't talk, that's what's wrong with it. In the second place, there haven't been any living dinosaurs for millions of years, so don't stand there in that pond and tell me you're a living, talking dinosaur. I happen to be a twentieth-century man with a scientific mind."
"You make me laugh," sneered Bronson, sticking his big face close to mine again. "If you really had a scientific mind in that peanut head of yours, you wouldn't be so surprised."
"And why not? Listen, move back and let me sit up, will you?"
"Oh. Sorry." Bronson moved his head back, and I sat up.
"Now, look at it this way," he said. "As Lem probably told you - he tells everybody - we dinosaurs lived over a period of a hundred million years. Doesn't it make sense we would develop a few outstanding minds in all that time? I don't like to brag, but it so happens I'm the smartest dinosaur that ever came along. Know what my IQ is?
"Give a guess."
"I wouldn't have the slightest idea."
"What's yours by the way?"
"Mine? Must be about fifty, or I wouldn't be here," I grumbled.
"No. Seriously. Let me see now. . ." Bronson looked at me keenly. "You're no big brain, that's for sure, but you ought to be good for a hundred and thirty. Maybe a hundred and forty when you're having one of your better days."
"Okay, say mine's a hundred and forty," I agreed, flattered.
"Okay. Well, mine's fifteen hundred."
"Fifteen hundred? That is quite an IQ." I had to admit it.
"Your friends Einstein and Shakespeare combined would still be a nitwit compared to me," said Bronson, looking pleased with himself. Modesty was certainly not one of his strong points. "So anyway, with an IQ like that, I was able to figure out quite a few things that are still a little too much for your human minds."
"Well, such as how to live for more than a hundred years without falling apart the way you humans do."
Obviously he expected me to believe anything. I tried to keep a straight face. "And how did you manage that?"
"I found out how to change my cell structure in a way that would keep me from growing older."
"No kidding? That sounds almost incredible!" I said trying to sound very sarcastic.
"Yes, doesn't it?" said Bronson, missing my point entirely. "Of course, in doing so I had to become invisible. . ."
"Invisible. But that has its advantages, too."
I took a deep breath. "For example?" I demanded.
"Well, I don't suppose I could have survived otherwise. Some of you crazy humans would have figured out a way to hunt me down and kill me by now, I suspect."
For a moment I stared up at him. Then I began to laugh. I simply lay back in the grass and began to laugh.
"You're too much!" I said, holding my sides. "Now I've got a living, breathing, talking, invisible dinosaur standing in front of me."
Bronson snorted again, blowing the grass flat all around me.
"Bronson," I said, "you're going too fast for me. What's this stuff about being invisible? You're no more invisible than I am."
Now he stopped looking annoyed and even chuckled deep in his throat. Ever hear a dinosaur chuckle? When he chuckles deep in his throat, that's deep. Especially one with such a long neck. Bronson gave me a sly wink.
"Not invisible, eh? Not to you, I'm not, but that's because Lem gave you a shot with that special gun of his.
"Remember that little dizzy spell you had?"
I stared at him.
"How did you know about that?"
"Oh, we're in constant communication on our own telepathy band. He gave me a full report. He took aim with that gun of his and. . ."
"You mean, he fixed it so that I could see you?"
"And nobody else can?"
"Well, he can, but that's about all. You're lucky. You came along at just the right time. You ought to feel honored. You see, I've been after him for quite a while to take me down to the Museum of Natural History in New York City to look at their dinosaur exhibit, but Lem hates New York City. It's the one place he refuses to set foot in. Well, he's stubborn, and I'm stubborn. Right now it's getting too cold to suit him, here in New England. He wants to start south for the winter. But I've told him I'm not going till I've had my trip to the museum. So he's sitting in his house and I'm sitting in my pond, trying to see who gives up first."
"Why aren't you freezing?" I asked. "That water must be getting cold at this time of year."
"That's true, but since I worked out my new cell setup, I don't notice the cold much. It's a great help."
"You mean to tell me you can live in that water? How do you breathe?"
"Oh, I keep my head out. I was peeking at you all the time from under a water-lily pad."
"But why do you have to hide in a pond if you're invisible?"
"I don't - but don't forget, I wasn't invisible to you . And I didn't want you to see me until you were close enough to have a chat.
I looked up at him and pretended to be halfway convinced. I shook my head.
"An invisible dinosaur who talks," I said. "An idea like that takes some getting used to."
"An invisible dinosaur who talks," I said. "An idea like that takes some getting used to."
"But I tell you, it's not all that surprising, when you think about it. You've been living with all sorts of invisible things all your life. How about radio waves? And TV waves?"
Suddenly I knew how to break up my dream. All I had to do was try to feel Bronson.
He seemed to read my mind, because he stuck his big head down at me again.
"Go ahead. Give me a poke in the nose."
"You mean it?"
"No hard feelings?"
I scrambled happily to my feet. In about ten seconds I was going to be back in my own bed, laughing at this crazy dream I'd had. And in about twenty seconds, let me tell you, I would be taking some medicine for my indigestion! I doubled up my fist and squared off with Bronson.
"You're sure you want me to belt you?"
"Okay, you asked for it!"
Of course, I expected my fist to go right through thin air.
I yelped with pain and danced around massaging my fist while he laughed in a way that was heartless even for a smart aleck dinosaur. He wasn't even jolted.
"Boy, have you got a hard head!"
"You believe me now?"
It was becoming more difficult not to believe him, but still I didn't. I remembered one time when I was dreaming and pinched myself in my dream to prove I wasn't dreaming, and seemed to feel the pinch in my dream.
"Well, I guess you're there, all right," I said pretending once more to be convinced, but I still don't believe you're invisible, if that's what you mean."
He shrugged his shoulders. A dinosaur shrug is something to see, by the way. The shoulders go up about six feet.
"Well, never mind that for now," he said in a tolerant way, as if now he was humoring me. "The big thing at the moment is for us to get our trip organized."
"Our trip. You see, my problem is an odd one. It's just that the one thing in this life I'm not very good at is finding places. Why one time I started to go to - But never mind that now, that was millions of years ago, and come to think of it, it's not even there any more. Ancient history. The point is, if I'm going to New York, I'll need help. I told you you're lucky. You came along at just the right time. Lem figured right away that you were the Answer to our problem. The old fellow's pretty smart that way."
I felt like I was being electrocuted. This was too much! But then a great new idea occurred to me. Most nightmares end up with someone or something chasing you. You wake up just as you're about to get caught. I braced myself for a scare. This was going to be rough, but it was the only way out.
I pretended to be all for the trip.
"Say, that sounds like quite an experience," I said. But my heart was pounding like a bongo drum. "I've driven to New York, I've taken a bus, and a train, but I've never taken a dinosaur. Tell you what, I've got a road map of Southern New England in my car. I'll just run up and get it. . ."
And with that, I turned and ran. I started to run with all my might. In fact, I was surprised how well I did, because you know how it is in a dream, you usually run but don't get anywhere.
But as I ran I heard the patter of big, big feet behind me. I hadn't got halfway across the meadow before a push sent me flat on my face. Then I felt a weight holding me down. It was Bronson's foot holding me down.
"Good morning, children." Miss Whitehead bowed as gracefully as a plant in the wind. The students rose in a shuffling body. "Good morning, Miss Whitehead," they intoned, an undercurrent of grumbling rising immediately afterwards. Miss Whitehead made a short speech about gum and candy wrappers being thrown all over the school. She didn't see any reason for this. Then followed the readings. Every morning two or three older girls read short passages from books, usually the Bible. Harriet never listened. When assembly was over, the class got up and filed into the sixth-grade room. Harriet grabbed a desk right across the aisle with Sam on one side of her and Janie on the other.
"Far out!" Sam said because he was glad. If they hadn't been able to grab these desks, it would have been hard passing notes.
Miss Elson stood at her desk. She was their homeroom teacher. Harriet looked at her curiously, then wrote in my book:
I THINK MISS ELSON IS ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE YOU DON'T BOTHER TO THINK ABOUT TWICE.
She slammed the notebook shut as though she had put Miss Elson in a box and slammed the lid. Miss Elson called the roll and her voice squeaked: "Andrews, Gibbs, Hansen, Hawthorne, Hennessey, Matthews, Peters, Rocque, Welsch, Whitehead."
Everyone said "Here" dutifully.
"And now children, we will have the election for officers. Are there any nominations?"
Sam leaped to his feet. "I nominate Harriet Welsh."
Janie yelled, "I second it." They always did this every year because the one that was officer controlled everything. When the teacher went out of the room the officer could write down the names of anyone who was disorderly. The officer also got to be the editor of the school newspaper.
Rachel Hawthorne got up. " I nominate Marion Hawthorne," she said in her prissiest voice.
Marion Hawthorne shot Beth Ellen Hansen a look that made Harriet's hair stand on end. Beth Ellen looked terrified, then got timidly to her feet and, almost whispering, managed to stammer, "I second it." It was rigged, the whole thing, every year. There were no more nominations and then came the vote. Marion Hawthorne got it. Every year either Marion or Rachel got it.
Marion looked terribly smug. Sam, Janie, and Harriet scowled at each other. Janie whispered, "Our day will come. Just wait." Harriet wondered if she meant that when she blew up the world Marion would see their power. Or maybe Janie meant to blow up Marion first, which wasn't a bad idea. It was finally three thirty-seven and school was over. Sam came up to Harriet. "Hey whynca come over this afternoon?"
"After my spying, maybe, if I've got time."
"Aw gee, Janie's working in the lab. You both are always working."
"Why don't you practice? How're you ever going to be a ball player?"
"Can't. Have to clean the house. Come over if you get time."
Harriet said "okay", then "good-by," and ran toward the house. It was time for her cake and milk. Everyday at three-forty she had cake and milk. Harriet loved doing everything every day in the same way.
"Time for my cake, for my cake and milk, time for my cake and milk." She ran yelling through the front door of her house. She ran through the front hall past the dining room and the living room and down the steps into the kitchen. There she ran smack into the cook.
"Like a missle you are, shot from school," screamed the cook.
The cook put the cake and milk in front of her. "What you always writing in that crazy book for?" she asked with a sour face.
"Because," Harriet said with a mouthful of cake, "I'm a spy."
"Spy, huh? Some spy."
"I am a spy. I'm a good spy, too. I've never been caught."
Cook settled herself down with a cup of coffee. "How long you been a spy?"
"Since I could write. Sam told me if I was going to be a writer I better write down everything, so I'm a spy that writes down everything."
"Hmmmph." Harriet knew the cook couldn't think of anything to say when she did that.
"I know all about you."
"I doubt it!" The cook looked startled.
"I do so. I know you live with your sister in Brooklyn and that she might get married and you wish you had a car and you have a son that's no good and drinks."
"What do you do, child? Listen at doors?"
"Yes," said Harriet.
"Well, I never," said the cook. "I think that's bad manners."
Miss Elson looked at them wildly. "Sixth grade, yes, sixth grade, let's see. What have you decided? Well? What have you decided?"
Marion spoke for them, naturally. "We've decided to play a Christmas dinner," she said brightly.
"Lovely, lovely. Now let's see, vegetables first, vegetables. . ." Sam started to spring for the door. Miss Elson pulled him back by the ear. "You will make a wonderful stalk of celery."
"What?" said Pinky stupidly.
"And you " - she pointed to Harriet - "are an ONION."
This was too much. "I refuse. I absolutely REFUSE to be an onion." She stood her ground. She could hear Sam whispering his support behind her. Her ears began to burn as they all turned and looked at her. It was the first time she had ever really refused to do anything.
"Harriet, that's ridiculous. An onion is a beautiful thing. Have you ever really looked at an onion?" Miss Elson was losing all contact with reality.
"I will NOT do it."
"Harriet, that's enough. We won't have any more of this impudence. You ARE an onion."
"I am not."
"Harriet, that is QUITE enough."
"I won't do it. I quit."
Sam was pulling at her sleeve. He whispered frantically, "You can't quit. This is a SCHOOL." But it was too late. A roar of laughter went up from the group. Even that mild thing, Beth, was laughing her head off. Harriet felt her face turning red.
"Now, children. I think it would be nice to take each thing from when it first starts to grow until it arrives on the table. We must have some more vegetables. You, there" - she pointed to Beth - "are a pea." Beth looked as though she might cry any minute. "You two" she pointed to Marion and Rachel - "can be the gravy. . ." At this Harriet, Sam, and Janie broke into hysterical peals of laughter and had to be quieted by Miss Elson before Miss Elson could continue. "I don't see what's funny. We have to have gravy. You" - she pointed to Sam - "and you" she pointed to Pinky - "are the turkey."'
"Well, of all the. . ." began Sam and was shushed by Miss Elson.
After she had made The Boy with Purple Socks into a bowl of cranberries, she turned to the class. "Now all the vegetables, listen to me," said Miss Elson, planting her feet firmly in a ballet position. Harriet noticed that Miss Elson always wore those flat, mouse-gray practice shoes, even on the street. They were always terribly old ones.
"I want you to feel - to the very best of your ability -- I want you to feel that one morning you woke up as one of these vegetables, one of these dear vegetables, nestling in the earth, warm in the heat and power and magic of growth, or striving tall above the earth, pushing through, bit by bit in the miracle of birth, waiting for that glorious moment when you will become your beautiful self, full-grown, radiant." Miss Elson's eyes were beginning to glaze. One arm was outstretched toward the skylight; half of her hair had fallen over one ear. She held the pose in silence.
"It starts naturally with the farmer. . ."
"Hey, I want to be the farmer," Sam yelled.
"Do not say 'hey' to a teacher." Miss Elson was losing patience. "Oh, but, dear boy, one of the older girls will be the farmer. A farmer must be taller, after all, than vegetables. Vegetables are very short." She looked annoyed that he didn't know this. Sam turned away in disgust.
"Well, the farmer comes in on this lovely morning when the ground is freshly broken, open and yielding, waiting to receive. When he enters, you will all be piled in a corner like seeds waiting to be planted. You will just lie there in lumps like THIS" and she fell abruptly to the ground. She lay there like a heap of old clothes.
"Come on, let's split; she's gone." Sam turned to go.
"All right, children" - Miss Elson was suddenly crisp - "I want you to start improvising your dances, and I will see what you've done next dance class."
Harriet felt so grumpy she knocked off work for the day. That night after supper she tried to practice being an onion. She started by falling down several times, making a great bumping noise each time. The idea was to fall in a rolling way the way an onion would and then roll around in a complete circle several times, then roll slowly to a stop the way an onion would if you put it down on a table. Harriet rolled around and bumped into a chair, knocking it over.
Her mother came to the door. She looked down at Harriet lying there with the chair on top of her. "What are you doing?" she asked mildly.
"Being an onion."
Her mother picked the chair off Harriet's chest. Harriet didn't move. She was tired.
"What in the world is all that noise I hear in here?"
"I told you. I'm being an onion."
"It's a pretty noisy onion."
"I can't help it. I can't do it right yet. Miss Barry said when I do it right, it won't make a sound."
"Oh, it's for a Christmas play. . . is that it?"
"Well, you don't think I'd just be an onion without a good reason, do you?"
"Don't be rude, girl. Get up and let me see what you have to do." Harriet got up and fell over, then rolled and rolled around until suddenly she rolled right under the bed. She came out full of dust.
Mrs. Welsch looked horrified. "That terrible servant. I'm going to fire her tomorrow." She looked at Harriet who stood ready to fall again. "That's the clumsiest dance I ever saw. Miss Elson assigned this?"
"Miss Elson assigned the onion part. I'M making up the DANCE," Harriet said pointedly.
"Oh," said Miss Welsch discreetly.
Harriet fell over again, this time rolling away almost into the bathroom. Mr. Welsch came into the room. "What's going on in here? It sounds like someone hitting a punching bag."
"She's being an onion."
They stood watching Harriet fall over and over again.
Mr. Welsch put his pipe in his mouth and crossed his arms. "If you want to play an onion you have to feel like an onion. Do you feel like an onion?"
"Not in the least," said Harriet.
"Oh come on. What are they teaching you in school these days?" Mrs. Welsch started to laugh.
"No, I'm serious. There's a whole school downtown that's probably rolling all over the floor right this minute."
"I never WANTED to be an onion," Harriet said from the floor.
"And it's a good thing. How many parts do you think are written for onions these days?" Mr. Welsch laughed. "I don't imagine you did want to be an onion. For that matter, who knows if an onion does either."
Mrs. Welsch looked up at him. "You're so smart. Let's see you fall like an onion."
"Don't mind if I do," said Mr. Welsch, and putting down his pipe, he fell solidly to the floor. The floor shook.
"Honey! Did you hurt yourself?"
Mr. Welsch just lay there flat, "No," he said quietly, "but it's not as easy as it looks." He lay there breathing. Harriet took another fall just to keep him company.
"Why don't you get up, honey?" Mrs. Welsch stood over him with a worried look on her face.
"I'm trying to feel like an onion. The closest I can get is a scallion."
Harriet tried to feel like an onion, too. She found herself screwing her eyes up tight, wrapping her arms around her body, then buckling her knees and rolling to the ground.
"My G-d, Harriet, are you sick?" Mrs. Welsch rushed over to her. Harriet rolled round and round and round the room. It wasn't bad at all, this being an onion. She bumped into her father, who started to laugh. She couldn't keep her face screwed up and laughed at him.