She was beaming. “Oh, it was nice, wasn’t it! I know they enjoyed every minute of it. Don’t you think so?”
He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t mock. It would have been like sneering at a happy child. He lied ponderously: “You bet! Best party this year, by a long shot.”
“Wasn’t the dinner good! And honestly I thought the fried chicken was delicious!”
“You bet! Fried to the Queen’s taste. Best fried chicken I’ve tasted for a coon’s age.”
“Didn’t Matilda fry it beautifully! And don’t you think the soup was simply delicious?”
“It certainly was! It was corking! Best soup I’ve tasted since Heck was a pup!” But his voice was seeping away. They stood in the hall, under the electric light in its square box-like shade of red glass bound with nickel. She stared at him.
“Why, George, you don’t sound—you sound as if you hadn’t really enjoyed it.”
“Sure I did! Course I did!”
“George! What is it?”
“Oh, I’m kind of tired, I guess. Been pounding pretty hard at the office. Need to get away and rest up a little.”
“Well, we’re going to Maine in just a few weeks now, dear.” “Yuh—” Then he was pouring it out nakedly, robbed of reticence. “Myra: I think it’d be a good thing for me to get up there early.”
“But you have this man you have to meet in New York about business.”
“What man? Oh, sure. Him. Oh, that’s all off. But I want to hit Maine early—get in a little fishing, catch me a big trout, by golly!” A nervous, artificial laugh.
“Well, why don’t we do it? Verona and Matilda can run the house between them, and you and I can go any time, if you think we can afford it.”
“But that’s—I’ve been feeling so jumpy lately, I thought maybe it might be a good thing if I kind of got off by myself and sweat it out of me.”
“George! Don’t you want me to go along?” She was too wretchedly in earnest to be tragic, or gloriously insulted, or anything save dumpy and defenseless and flushed to the red steaminess of a boiled beet.
“Of course I do! I just meant—” Remembering that Paul Riesling had predicted this, he was as desperate as she. “I mean, sometimes it’s a good thing for an old grouch like me to go off and get it out of his system.” He tried to sound paternal. “Then when you and the kids arrive—I figured maybe I might skip up to Maine just a few days ahead of you—I’d be ready for a real bat, see how I mean?” He coaxed her with large booming sounds, with affable smiles, like a popular preacher blessing an Easter congregation, like a humorous lecturer completing his stint of eloquence, like all perpetrators of masculine wiles.
She stared at him, the joy of festival drained from her face. “Do I bother you when we go on vacations? Don’t I add anything to your fun?”
He broke. Suddenly, dreadfully, he was hysterical, he was a yelping baby. “Yes, yes, yes! Hell, yes! But can’t you understand I’m shot to pieces? I’m all in! I got to take care of myself! I tell you, I got to—I’m sick of everything and everybody! I got to—”