It happened just the other day, to a boy named Roger.
Most of it happened to his sister Ann, too, but she was a girl and didn’t count, or at least that’s what Roger thought, or at least he thought that in the beginning.
Part of it happened to his cousins Jack and Eliza, too, but they didn’t come in to it till later.
Roger and Ann lived with their mother and father in a pleasant small house in a pleasant small city, and until the blow fell life was very pleasant.
Their father was an understanding parent, often quite helpful and willing about such important things as building a rabbit hutch in the backyard or hanging the swing from the biggest oak tree. And even though he said he wasn’t good with his hands (which was true), still part of the rabbit hutch stayed together quite nicely (though all the rabbits got away through the part that didn’t), and one year the swing didn’t fall down till nearly the end of summer.
And best of all, their father always read to them for an hour after dinner, even though they’d been able to read perfectly well to themselves for years now. This practice sometimes led to hot argument, because Roger was getting to be rather a yeomanly type and wanted to hear books like The White Company and The Scottish Chiefs, while Ann was becoming all too womanly, and leaned toward Little Women and the Betsy-Tacy books. And their father would complicate matters by always wanting to read books like Five Children and It, which he said was great literature. And Ann agreed that, next to the Betsy-Tacy books, it was.
Roger enjoyed science fiction books, too, but there their father drew the line. He said they were like having bad dreams on purpose, and if the Flying Saucers really have landed, he didn’t want to know about it. Roger called this Not Taking a Realistic Attitude. All the same, he really liked the magic books his father and Ann loved so, and back in the days when he was a child, before he got to be eleven, he had even hoped that some day something magic would happen to him. But nothing ever had, and that seemed to Roger to prove that there was no such thing. Or if there ever had been, probably modern science had done away with it long ago.
Their father always said how could he be sure, and besides, even if there weren’t any such thing as magic, wasn’t it pleasant to think that there might be? And in the discussion that would follow, their mother would sometimes pass through the room and cry out, and say honestly, their father was as much of a child as they were, which Ann thought quite a compliment, though she was not sure their mother meant it as one.
Ann was eight, and believed nearly everything.
When their mother wasn’t passing through the room and crying out, she was quite an understanding parent, too, except about the way Roger kept wanting more model soldiers when he had two hundred and fifty-six already, and the way all two hundred and fifty-six were always to be found all over the floor of his room, which she said passed all understanding.
And sometimes when Roger would start picking on Ann because she was a girl, and younger, their mother would get really cross, and say there would be none of that in this house! Their mother said she knew just how Ann felt because she had been a girl once, too, and the youngest of four children, and what she had endured worms wouldn’t believe!
But at other times she talked about what fun she and her sisters and brother had had; so Roger decided she couldn’t have suffered so very much. And when he asked his Uncle Mark about it, his Uncle Mark said their mother had been a terror to cats and ruled the household with a rod of iron. And when he asked his Aunt Katharine, his Aunt Katharine said their mother had been a dear little baby, but went through a difficult phase as she grew older. He couldn’t ask his Aunt Jane, because she was hardly ever there, being usually occupied hunting big game in darkest Africa or touring the English countryside on a bicycle.
But he decided their mother’s childhood had probably been very much like their own, partly good and partly bad, but mostly very good indeed.
And so time went on, with few clouds to stir life’s untroubled sea, until the day the blow fell.
The blow fell on a day in June. School had been over for only a few days, and the whole bright vacation lay ahead, waiting for them to make up their minds where to spend it. Their mother wanted to tour New England and stop at all the antique shops looking for old spice boxes, which she liked for some reason, and their father wanted to revisit an island in Canada, where he’d spent a wonderful summer once, back when the world was young.
Roger wanted to go somewhere yeomanly, like Sherwood Forest, but since everybody else seemed to think that was a bit far, he decided the Rocky Mountains were the next best thing. Ann didn’t know where she wanted to go yet, but she thought probably Wampler’s Lake, to be near her best friend Edith Timson. They were to have a big family conference about it that evening and decide.
But that afternoon their father came home from the office at half past three instead of half past five, and he didn’t explain why, but said hello to Roger and Ann, just as though everything were perfectly usual, only somehow he didn’t sound as though everything were.
And a few minutes later he and their mother went into the living room and shut the door, and their voices went on and on, for what seemed like practically forever.
Roger and Ann didn’t know what to think of this odd behavior, but then they got interested in seeing who could draw the most horrible Frankenstein monster, and forgot about it. And after they’d drawn, and compared, and argued about which was most truly horrifying, Roger tried to persuade Ann to join him in a war of model soldiers. Only Ann was never terribly interested in model soldiers; so they played Monopoly instead.
But after a few minutes of this, Ann got to thinking about that door being closed, though she didn’t say anything about it to Roger. And after a few minutes more, Roger found himself wondering about those voices going on and on, though he didn’t say anything about it to Ann.
And five minutes later all subterfuge failed, and they looked at each other and nodded with one accord, and put their Monopoly game away (which was unusual of them) and went and stood on the stairway. The living room door was still closed, and from where they stood they could hear only an occasional unrevealing word, but the voices sounded serious.
“I sense divorce in the air,” said Roger, who had been seeing too many old movies on television lately.
Ann shook her head. “They don’t sound angry, just kind of worried. Do you suppose Father’s done something criminal?” (Ann ha...