“No, baby,” he said, finally, his words with no more depth than if his body were a hollow gourd. “What else could there be?”
Immediately, and with all the resilience of youth, she was her happy self again, kissing him through his mustache and on his now frankly bald head, which gave off the incongruous odor of violet eau de Cologne.
“Old dude daddy!” she cried, and wanted to kiss his hands, which he held suddenly very still and far from her reach.
Then the bell rang again and Fred Willis arrived. All the evening, long after Henry lay on his deep-mattressed bed, staring, the little apartment trilled to her laughter and the basso of Fred’s.
* * * * *
A few weeks later there occurred a strike of the delivery men and truck drivers of the city, and Henry, especially hard hit because of the perishable nature of his product, worked early and late, oftentimes loading the wagons himself and riding alongside of the precariously driving “scab.”
Frequently he was as much as an hour or two late to dinner, and upon one or two occasions had tiptoed out of the house before the usual hour when Ann opened her eyes to the consciousness of his breakfast to be prepared.
They were trying days, the scheme of his universe broken into, and Henry thrived on routine.
The third week of the strike there were street riots, some of them directly in front of the fish store, and Henry came home after a day of the unaccustomed labor of loading and unloading hampers of fish, really quite shaken.
When he arrived Ann Elizabeth was cutting around the scalloped edge of a doily with embroidery scissors, the litter of cut glass and silver things out on the table and throwing up quite a brilliance under the electric lamp, and from the kitchen the slow sizzle of waiting chops.
“Whew!” he said, as he entered, both from the whiff he emanated as he shook out of his overcoat, and from a great sense of his weariness. Loading the hampers, you understand. “Whew!”
Ann Elizabeth started violently, first at the whiff which preceded him and at his approach into the room; then sat forward, her hand closing into the arm of the chair, body thrust forward and her eyes widening like two flowers opening.
Then she rose slowly and slyly, and edged behind the table, her two hands up about her throat.
“Don’t you come in here,” she said, lowly and evenly. “I know you, but I’m not afraid. I’m only afraid of you at night, but not by light. You let me swallow, you hear! Get out! Get out!”
Rooted, Henry stood.
“Why, Annie!” he said in the soothing voice from out of his long ago, “Annie—it’s daddy!”
“No, you don’t,” she cried, springing back as he took the step forward. “My daddy’ll kill you if he finds you here. He’ll slit you up from your tail right up to your gill. He knows how. I’m going to tell him and Fred on you. You won’t let me swallow. You’re slippery. I can’t stand it. Don’t you come near me! Don’t!”