The specter in the house



The clock in the living room struck six deep notes. Mother turned the sizzling chops and lowered the gas under the potatoes.

"Daddy ought to be home now," she remarked casually, but there was an anxious note in her voice and a little frown on her forehead, flushed from the cooking. Helen reset the knives and forks nervously. Joey looked up apprehensively from his book. Only the baby continued to pile his blocks in solemn content.

Margy's comprehensive glance darted from face to face and, turning abruptly, she left the room. She ran upstairs and flung herself on her knees beside her bed. "O God," she prayed, "let him be sober! Let him be working overtime; let the cars be blocked; only, please, let him come home sober." Then she ran down again and, snatching her coat in the hall, called briefly, "I'm going to see if Daddy's coming." She stepped out into the night. There was a wet wind blowing and the street lamps made wavering pools of yellow light on the pavement still wet from the recent rain.

A figure turned the corner. No, that wasn't Daddy. Daddy was taller than that. She hurried through the street and stood at the corner, anxious eyes straining through the dark. Should she walk on to the car line? But then he might come the other way round the block. A dark figure passed under a distant street light. Did it lurch a little? Was it Daddy? The figure turned into another street and Margy waited, the wet wind curling the loose ends of her hair. "Let him be sober, God. Let him be sober." When he wasn't, it meant two days, possibly three, of erratic, intoxicated home-comings, accompanied by any chance-met stranger; of scenes, when Mother, tried beyond endurance, burst into hysterical tirades of reproach; then a day or two of devastating sickness and mute penitence before the blessed routine of work every day was resumed. Margy knew the sequence from repeated experiences. She knew, too, that the pay lost on these occasions was a tragic setback in Mother's struggle to make ends meet. Margy thought of the time when her father, her father, had fallen in the street, and her cheeks burned in the dark. "Let him be sober, God; let him be sober."

Another figure came under the street light. It was tall like Daddy. It wore a dark overcoat; it was Daddy! Margy started forward. He was walking very fast. That was a good sign. Perhaps the cars had been blocked. "Hello, Margy," he greeted her. She turned and walked beside him, proudly now. His face looked white and queer. She couldn't trust herself to speak. Together they entered the house. Daddy hung his overcoat and hat on the rack in the hall. But he always did that. He was meticulous about his clothes. Margy followed him through the living room into the kitchen. As he entered the room Mother's eyes, the children's eyes, instantly sought his face. There was an almost audible snapping of the tension. The baby knocked down all his blocks with a cheerful clatter, Helen busily placed the chairs about the table, Joey shut his book without marking the page, and Margy uttered a fervent, "Thank you, God!" Daddy was sober.

"Hello, kids;" his greeting was genial but forced. Mother, her voice a little uncertain in her glad relief, questioned, "What kept you so late?" Daddy went over to get a drink at the kitchen sink. Above the splashing of the water he answered her. "Funny thing happened. Just as I was getting on the car a man came running to catch it and fell. He didn't get up again and we got off the car, the motorman and some other men, and I, to see what had happened. The man had been drinking. Evidently he had fallen before, for his clothes were covered with mud. This time the side of his head struck the curb and-" Daddy paused a moment and lowered his voice, "he was dead!

"They searched him for some identification, and in his wallet was a picture of a woman with a little boy on either side of her. The car started before the ambulance came to take him away. But -- all the way home I've been thinking --" He turned to Mother, the glass still in his hand. "Liquor's a bad thing," he declared censoriously. Mother faced him across the steaming platter of chops. Her lips barely moved. "Joe, Joe," she murmured, "I've always known that!" Daddy's look fell before hers. A little abashed he continued: "He might have been a pretty good fellow, and the drink finished him in a rotten way like that!"

"Think," said Mother tensely, "what it means to his wife and children to have him brought home like that --"

"I have been thinking about it, I told you, all the way home. I'm glad I've cut out the booze."

Masculine pride might put it like that, but Margy knew. This had been a great shock to Daddy. She dared to hope that he had learned his lesson. Mother thought so, too, by the way her eyes smiled on him across the table. The children's clatter was unusually gay. The baby banged joyfully on his high chair tray with a spoon. Margy ate ravenously, her heart beating to a paean of thanksgiving. How nice Daddy was. How dear Mother was! How lovely home was! -- when the specter was not there.


From: THRILLING STORIES For Young And Old By Julia A. Shelhamer, God's Bible School and College, Cincinnati, Ohio. No Date