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"It makes a man sad to see something like that," said Mr. Gross, shaking his head. "In the first place, a Martini is not the drink for an evening, and in the second, a woman that spends her time drinking solitary in bars is on the road to ruination. Who is she, Mr. Co-han?"

He motioned with his head toward one of the tables, occupied by a woman who might have been a well-preserved forty. In front of her was a double Martini from which she occasionally sipped, running her tongue around her lips after each sip and staring into the glass as though it were ten feet deep. The bartender glanced, then placed both hands on the bar and leaned over.

"Mr. Gross," he said severely, "it will do you to know that I am the judge of how much people drink in Gavagan's, by God; and I keep it a decent place. Anybody that has to insult the customers can take his business somewheres else."

"I didn't mean nothing," said Mr. Gross, weakly. "I was just thinking of the woman's poor family."

"Family she has none; but if she had, they would not be poor nor ashamed of her neither. That there's Jocelyn Millard, that writes the religious poetry on the radio and all. Father McConaghy says it's as good as a sermon. She's been away for a while now, and this is the first I seen her back."

"The radio, eh?" said Mr. Gross, brightening as he turned to gaze at the poetess again. "Isn't that fine? My wife's cousin knows a man that won a set of dishes on the radio once, but he wasn't married then and had to give them away and the teapot got broke. I'd like to know someone on the radio; maybe with my voice I could get to be one of them announcers."

The object of their conversation approached the bar and pushed her glass across. "Another," she said in a husky voice. "Sure, sure," said Cohan. "Miss Millard, do you know Mr. Gross, here? The more people that meet each other, the better it is for all of them."

"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," said Gross. "I was just talking to Mr. Cohan about you being in the radio business."

"How do you do," said Miss Millard. "But I'm not in the radio business."

"Didn't I tell you?" said Mr. Cohan, stirring vigorously. "She only writes the poetry."

"Damn the poetry," said Miss Millard.

"Huh?" said Gross. "Is there something wrong with it, ma'am?"

"Nothing anyone can help."

"Don't say that, ma'am. I call to mind when we were having a party at home on a Saturday night once and the toilet broke down and began flooding the whole place out. You wouldn't think anybody could do anything with all the plumbers closed up, but it turned out that my wife's sister's boyfriend was studying to be a horse doctor, and he just took off his coat and got to work."

Miss Millard sipped gloomily, then appeared to make up her mind with a snap.

All right, I'll tell you [she said] and you just see what you can do, or Mr. Cohan, either. If you have any sense, you'll run a mile from me. It's worse than being a leper, and I made all the trouble for myself, too.

You know the kind of poems I write? They come over the air on the DIT network at the evening hour, mostly; but I sell some of them to papers, too. Inspirational poems, all about God gimme this and God gimme that. Maybe they're not the best poetry in the world, but they do sell, and people write me letters saying they're a help. Even preachers and priests sometimes, and there was one woman who said I'd kept her from committing suicide. If people like my poems and get something out of them that makes life pleasanter, why shouldn't I give them what they want? Why shouldn't I?

[Gross shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he was not disposed to argue the point.]

I don't know how it happened, or who did what to me, but now I'm afraid I'll have to go back to schoolteaching. If anyone will give me a job after they find out. You might start mixing me another one, Mr. Cohan; I'll be finished with this by the time you have it ready.

This all started a few weeks back, when I decided it was time for a vacation, so I packed up and got in my car and drove up into the real old French part of Quebec. Rotten roads they have; but the food isn't bad, and I picked up some nice antiques and everything was going the way it should until I got to a place called Pas d'Ange, up on the Benoit River. They have a famous shrine there, run by the Benedictine monks, in a chapel. You know those monks have a choir, too, a real good one.

Now I write poetry that is supposed to have religious aspects, and I try to behave like a good Christian to other people, but I don't usually go into a church from one year's end to another, and I don't suppose I would have gone into the one at Pas d'Ange except that I got there in the afternoon when it was too late to push on to the next town. I'd exhausted all my reading matter, and there wasn't anything else in the place to see.

So I went to the chapel, and sat down in one of the pews. Outside it was a beautiful fall day without a breath of wind. The light came in through stained glass that was really beautiful for so small a place; and as I sat there, I had a wonderful feeling of peace and calm, perhaps the kind of feeling religion is supposed to give you. I sat there a long time, not thinking of anything—in words, that is. After a while, the light began to fade. I got up to go; and at the same time the feeling I spoke of left me, as though a charm had somehow been broken; and I had only the memory instead of the thing itself, I had just begun working with the back of my mind on my poem for the next week, when at the door I met a little priest, just coming in.

He spoke to me in French. I know the language fairly well, but that Canadian French has such a peculiar accent that it was hard to make out what he was saying. I finally made out that he was inviting me to stay for the evening service, with the choir. By this time I was getting hungry and the beginning of my next week's poem was nagging me, so I tried to refuse; but he looked so unhappy that I finally gave in and went back with him. As I did so, he said something I didn't quite catch; something about unexpected blessings, and then left me there.

The choir was all it was said to be; and with the monks chanting and the incense rising in the dusk, the feeling—sort of holy and reverent, if you know what I mean, as though I were lighter than air and could rise right up through the roof—the feeling partly came back, but only in flashes, because all the time I was worrying about my poem. I couldn't seem to get beyond the first two lines:


God give me a child, a tree, a flower;

God give me a bird for just one hour—


After the service was over, I didn't see the little priest again; and after that I was so busy seeing things and finding roads that the poem I hadn't written dropped out of my mind until I got back to town. Then the sight of the streets and stores I knew reminded me that I had a deadline to meet. I started trying to think it out while I was putting the car away, beginning with the same lines as before. As I was going up in the elevator, the two lines reminded me of the scene in the chapel; and I had another flash of the same sense, almost ecstasy you would call it, that I had experienced sitting in the chapel.

The minute I opened the door of the apartment, I knew something was wrong. I heard a squall. I rushed into my living room, and there it was—a newborn baby squirming around on my carpet and yelling its head off. The rest of it was there, too—a young oak tree that seemed to be growing right out of the floor, reaching to the ceiling; a freshly-cut rose lying on my desk; and a yellow oriole in the branches of the tree.

Yes, make me another, Mr. Cohan. You people need to realize that it's one thing to spend years telling God how much you want a child and quite another to find all of a sudden that you have one. In the first place, I'm not married; I never have been; and I had just been away on a long trip. I could see a perfect scandal starting up as soon as it became known that I had come back with a baby. I suppose I ought to be strong-minded and pay no attention, but the people who buy my poems are church-and-home folks, and I have to think of that.

In the second place, the brat had to be taken care of. Excuse me, I suppose it's really a very sweet, lovely baby, just the kind I've been writing about. But I don't know anything about the creatures; when my friends have them, I'm afraid to pick them up. I managed to get this one into my bed and began telephoning for a registered nurse to come and help me, meanwhile trying to figure out a story that would account for the baby. It seemed that all the nurses in town were busy, but I finally did get one. While I was about it, though, the oriole flew out the window and I noticed my clock. It was exactly one hour from the time when I had come in, and I remembered that was the time I had just put in the poem.

When the nurse came, it was worse than ever. I had to spend half the afternoon buying things for the baby—it wet my bed, incidentally—and I couldn't think of any better story than that the child was left on my doorstep. The nurse evidently didn't believe me—she probably thinks I kidnapped it somewhere—and says I'll have to register it. I finally got away, but the apartment is a shambles and Lord knows what I'm going to do now.

"When did this happen?" asked Gross in an awed voice.

"Today. Why do you think I'm here?" Mr. Cohan, who had been talking with someone down at the end of the bar, interrupted. "Miss Millard, there's a felly here looking for you."

She turned around to face a man in dungarees and a hard hat. "I'm Miss Millard. What is it?"

"Plumber for the building at 415 Henry, Miss Millard. Sorry to come in here and bother you; but it seems like you got some kind of tree in your place; and it must have grown through the bottom of the tub, because the roots are breaking into the gas lines in the ceiling of the floor below; and I had to cut some of them off. They told me—"

Miss Millard gripped the edge of the bar. "God give me strength," she said.

Under her fingers, the small section of wood crumbled as though it were tissue paper; and a shower of little dusty fragments drifted to the floor.

"Them damn termites!" said Mr. Cohan. "I told Gavagan about them a dozen times, and he just won't do nothing till the whole place falls down."

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