Sample R07 from John Hazard Wildman, "Take It Off," The Arizona Quarterly, 17: 3, (Autumn, 1961), 246-252. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,028 words 356 (17.6%) quotesR07

Used by permission of The Arizona Quarterly. 0010-1770

John Hazard Wildman, "Take It Off," The Arizona Quarterly, 17: 3, (Autumn, 1961), 246-252.

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One day , the children had wanted to get up onto General Burnside's horse . They wanted to see what his back felt like -- the General's . He looked so comfortable being straight . They wanted to touch the mystery . Arlene was boosting them up when the policeman came by .

He was very rude .

Arlene had a hard voice , too , this time . The policeman's eyes rather popped for a second ; ; but then Arlene got another tone in a hurry , and she said , `` If it wasn't for these dear children '' -- .

The policeman got a confused , funny look on his face , and he had answered kind of politely , `` Now , look here , lady : I know you got to entertain these kids and all . But this is a public park and it's a city ordinance that the statues cannot be crawled on '' .

Arlene was so ashamed that she hung her head when she said , `` Yes , sir '' .

The policeman walked on , but he looked back once .

That had happened on the day when two other unusual things had occurred . Arlene had taught them a new way to have fun in their little private area ; ; and they had told their mother about the tumbles . In matters of exact information , that kept her one step behind developments ; ; and so they were consistently true to their principles .

`` Never mind '' , Arlene had said , after the policeman had left , having pursued the usual unco-operative course of grownups . `` Never mind . I know something that is much more fun that we can do on our little lawn '' .

`` What is it '' ? ? Asked the children , whose reflexes and replies were invariably so admirably normal and predictable . Maybe that was why they were cordial and loyal towards the unpredictability of Arlene .

`` Just you wait '' , advised Arlene , echoing the dialogue in a recent British movie .

And when they had got to their little lawn , they had had a most twirlingly magnificent time . First , Arlene had put them through some rapid somersaults . They had protested that that wasn't any surprise .

`` Just you wait '' , said Arlene again , as though she were discovering the pleasantly tingling insinuations of that handy little sturdy statement . `` This is a warm-up '' .

`` Is it anything like cooked-over oatmeal '' ? ? Asked one of the children .

`` Not the least bit '' , Arlene snapped . One of the many things that was so nice about her was that she always took your questions seriously , particularly your very , very serious questions . Those were especially the ones that all other grownups laughed at loudest . She would sometimes even get a little hard on you , she took you so seriously . But not hard for very long . Just long enough to make you feel important .

`` Now '' , said Arlene , eventually , making them both sit in formation on a big root of a live oak , the sort of root that divided itself and made their bottoms sag down and feel comfortable . `` Now , we're going to be like what General Burnside and his horse make us think of '' .

The children looked at each other and sagged their bottoms down even more comfortably than ever . Their curiosity went happily out of bounds .

Then , Arlene threw herself backwards and wiggled in a way that was just wonderful . She held herself that way and turned her head towards them and laughed and winked . `` Imagine being able to laugh and wink when you're like the top part of that picture frame at home '' , one of them said . They both laughed and winked back .

`` I'm General Burnside's horse , upside down '' , Arlene said , sort of gaspingly , for her : even she had to breathe kind of funny when she was in that position . She made General Burnside's horse's belly do so funny when it was upside down . Then , she was back on her feet , winking and smiling that enormous smile ( she had lots of wonderful big teeth that you never would have suspected she had when she was not smiling ) . And she would wink and throw kisses . They both tried to keep smiling and winking for a long time , but it made their lips and eyelids tremble . But they kept on clapping for a long , long time .

`` This time '' , Arlene said , and she even kept on wiggling a little bit while she was just talking , `` you're going to tell me what I am and what I'm doing . It all has something to do with General Burnside and his horse '' .

This time , it was so grand ; ; they could tell exactly what it was . It was General Burnside's horse running in a circle . His legs shook , and the shaking went right on up his body through his hips to his shoulders . `` That's the General's horse '' , one of them cried out .

The other remarked , in a happy laughter , `` That's a funny old horse '' .

The first one said , `` He sure does shake . He's old '' .

Then there was the General kissing his wife . They had to be told that one . But it was even funnier after they had been told . Their father , when he came back from those many business trips , just bumped their mother on the forehead with his lips and asked if anybody had thought to mix the martinis and put them in the electric icebox . But not General Burnside . He was the funniest man . He never could keep still , even when he didn't move his feet .

Then , they had to get up and be General Burnside . Or his horse . All they could think of was to run around in circles , kicking their legs out . It wasn't very funny . Then , they said General Burnside was going to jump over his horse's head ; ; and they did some somersaults . But that wasn't very funny , either .

`` You ought to shake '' , Arlene advised them . And Arlene showed them how to begin . She also taught them to sing `` I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate '' . That helped a lot . They were clumsy , but they were beginning to catch on . They also caught on a little bit on how to smile a lot without your lips trembling . `` Imagine you won't get your allowance if you're caught not smiling -- or smiling with your lips trembling too much '' , Arlene suggested .

That helped a great deal .

They were a little late in getting home .

`` I'm sorry , Mrs. Minks '' , Arlene said in a tone so low you could hardly hear it .

My mother constituted herself the voice of all of us . `` It's perfectly understandable , Arlene '' , my mother said in a friendly way . `` I suppose you all were playing and forgot '' ? ?

`` Yes , ma'am '' , the children chorused heartily .

We couldn't help laughing .

The children rushed off to get rid of their sweaters ; ; and Arlene began tapping the kitchen door open . `` Arlene's a good girl '' , my uncle remarked to us ; ; but he said it too soon , for it came out just before the tap to which the door responded . That tap had a slight bangish quality .

`` She really is a dear little thing '' , my mother agreed . Her upper lip lifted slightly . She was biting into a small red radish ; ; and that action always caused her to lift her lip from the sting of the thing . Also , she lived in continual fear of finding a white worm curled up in a neat , mean little heap at the white center of the radish . She would try to see over the bulge of her cheeks and somewhat under her teeth to the place where she was biting . It never worked , naturally ; ; but it made her look unusual . Also , when she had bitten off half of the small radish , she found the suspense unbearable ; ; and she would snatch the finger-held half of the radish out to where she could inspect it . One could hear a very faint , ladylike sigh of relief . Actually , it was inaudible to anyone not expecting it . But the warm joy of her brown eyes was open to the general public .

Later on , the children told her further about somersaulting . `` It must be awfully good for them . And awfully kind of Arlene '' , she told us later . `` But do you know something curious '' ? ? She added . `` I reached into that funny little pocket that is high up on my dress . I have no notion why I reached . And I found a radish . Was it an omen ? ? I thought for a second . But I would not pamper myself in that silly way . I opened the window and threw the radish out '' .

Then , my mother blushed at this small lie ; ; for she knew and we knew that it was cowardice that had made one more radish that night just too impossible a strain .

Arlene became indispensable ; ; nobody could have told why . But she was . It was in the air .

A friend of my father's came to dinner . He was passing through town and phoned to say hello . As a result , he was persuaded out to dinner . As a matter of fact , this happened every four or five months . Sometimes , he coincided with my father's being at home . Sometimes , as at this juncture , he did not . But he was always persuaded out .

He liked children , in a loathsome kind of way ; ; the two youngest in our family always had to be brought in and put through tricks for his entertainment . When he had left , I could never remember whether he had poked them in their middles , laughingly , with a thick index finger or whether he was merely so much the sort of person who did this that one assumed the action , not bothering to look . The children loathed him , too .

This evening , they were pushed in from the breakfast room , with odds and ends of dessert distributed over them . There had been some coconut in it , for I remember my mother's taking a quick glance at a stringy bit of this nut on the cheek of one of them and then putting down her radish with a shiver .

They were pushed gently into the room by Arlene -- whose only part appearing were hands that crept quickly back around to the kitchen side of the door . We had just sat down .

`` Tell Mr. Gorboduc what you're doing these days '' , my mother advised the children , ceremonially .

There was an air of revolt about the children -- even irreverence for their own principles . This could be told chiefly from a sort of head-tossing and prancing , a horselike balkiness of demeanor . Possibly , the coconut-containing dessert had brought up bitter problems of administration . But , at the beginning , this stayed just in the air .

`` We go to the park with this nice lady '' , one of them said . `` We have good times '' .

This happy bulletin convulsed Mr. Gorboduc . `` You do '' ? ? He asked , between wheezes of laughter . He was forced to wipe his eyes . `` You don't step on the flowers , do you ? ? Eh '' ? ?

One of the children maneuvered out of range of the poking index finger .

`` No '' , he said . `` We don't '' .

Mr. Gorboduc took a swig of his sherry . He was so long thinking that my mother had time to inspect her sherry for dregs . Usually , this was done when attention was diverted by someone else's long , boring story . But this time she was nervous : she was open .

Mr. Gorboduc was finally in command of his mind again . `` Tell me -- what do you do at the park '' ? ? He asked . This was delivered in a forthright way , without coyness and over-pretended interest -- an admirable way with children . Only , unfortunately , he could not remove from his voice a nagging insinuation of the direct command . This nettled the children into the revelation of exact truth , a sacrifice of their secret superiority over grown people , but a victory in the wide fields of perpetration and illegitimate accomplishment .

`` We bump '' , one said ; ; and the other went on to development of the idea . `` We grind , too '' , he said .

My mother was beside herself with curiosity . `` Say that again '' , she pleaded . She laughed a little and tossed the dregs rakishly around in her glass . `` You what '' ? ? She could see that Mr. Gorboduc was intrigued ; ; the hostess in her took over . She was rollickingly happy . `` You what '' ? ?

My uncle looked at Mr. Gorboduc . He read Henry James and used to pretend profundity through eye-beamings at people .

Mr. Gorboduc looked down . He would not look up . He was very funny about the whole thing .