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3 - Mrs. Which

IN the forest evening was already beginning to fall, and they walked in silence. Charles and Fortinbras gamboled on ahead. Calvin walked with Meg, his fingers barely touching her arm in a protective gesture.

This has been the most impossible, the most confusing afternoon of my life, she thought, yet I don’t feel confused or upset anymore; I only feel happy. Why?

“Maybe we weren’t meant to meet before this,” Calvin said. “I mean, I knew who you were in school and everything, but I didn’t know you. But I’m glad we’ve met now, Meg. We’re going to be friends, you know.”

“I’m glad, too,” Meg whispered, and they were silent again.

When they got back to the house Mrs. Murry was still in the lab. She was watching a pale blue fluid move slowly through a tube from a beaker to a retort. Over a Bunsen burner bubbled a big, earthenware dish of stew. “Don’t tell Sandy and Dennys I’m cooking out here,” she said. “They’re always suspicious that a few chemicals may get in with the meat, but I had an experiment I wanted to stay with.”

“This is Calvin O’Keefe, Mother,” Meg said. “Is there enough for him, too? It smells super.”

 ”Hello, Calvin.” Mrs. Murry shook hands with him. “Nice to meet you. We aren’t having anything but stew tonight, but it’s a good thick one.”

“Sounds wonderful to me,” Calvin said. “May I use your phone so my mother’ll know where I am?”

“Of course. Show him where it is, will you, please, Meg? I won’t ask you to use the one out here, if you don’t mind. I’d like to finish up this experiment.”

Meg led the way into the house. Charles Wallace and Fortinbras had gone off. Outdoors she could hear Sandy and Dennys hammering at the fort they were building up in one of the maples. “This way.” Meg went through the kitchen and into the living room.

“I don’t know why I call her when I don’t come home,”

Calvin said, his voice bitter. “She wouldn’t notice.” He sighed and dialed. “Ma?” he said. “Oh, Hinky. Tell Ma I won’t be home till late. Now don’t forget. I don’t want to be locked out again.” He hung up, looked at Meg. “Do you know how lucky you are?”

She smiled rather wryly. “Not most of the time.”

    ”A mother like that! A house like this! Gee, your mother’s gorgeous! You should see my mother. She had all her upper teeth out and Pop got her a plate but she won’t wear it, and most days she doesn’t even comb her hair. Not that it makes much difference when she does.” He clenched his fists. “But I love her. That’s the funny part of it. I love them all, and they don’t give a hoot about me. Maybe that’s why I call when I’m not going to be home. Because I care. Nobody else does. You don’t know how lucky you are to be loved.”

Meg said in a startled way, “I guess I never thought of that. I guess I just took it for granted.”

Calvin looked somber; then his enormous smile lit up his face again. “Things are going to happen, Meg! Good things! I feel it!” He began wandering, still slowly, around the pleasant, if shabby, living room. He stopped before a picture on the piano of a small group of men standing together on a beach. “Who’s this?”

“Oh, a bunch of scientists.”


Meg went over to the picture. “Cape Canaveral. This one’s Father.”



“The one with glasses?”

“Yup. The one who needs a haircut.” Meg giggled, forgetting her worries in her pleasure at showing Calvin the picture. “His hair’s sort of the same color as mine, and he keeps forgetting to have it cut. Mother usually ends up doing it for him—she bought clippers and stuff—because he won’t take the time to go to the barber.”

 Calvin studied the picture. “I like him,” he announced judiciously. “Looks kind of like Charles Wallace, doesn’t he?”

Meg laughed again. “When Charles was a baby he looked exactly like Father. It was really funny.”

Calvin continued to look at the picture. “He’s not handsome or anything. But I like him.”

Meg was indignant. ““He is too handsome.”

Calvin shook his head. “Nah. He’s ,tall and skinny like me.

“Well, I think you’re handsome,” Meg said. “Father’s eyes are kind of like yours, too. You know. Really blue. Only you don’t notice his as much because of the glasses.”

“Where is he now?”

Meg stiffened. But she didn’t have to answer because the door from lab to kitchen slammed, and Mrs. Murry came in, carrying a dish of stew. “Now,” she called, “I’ll finish this up properly on the stove. Have you done your homework, Meg?”

“Not quite,” Meg said, going back into the kitchen.

“Then I’m sure Calvin won’t mind if you finish before dinner.”

“Sure, go ahead.” Calvin fished in his pocket and pulled out a wad of folded paper. “As a matter of fact I have some junk of mine to finish up. Math. That’s one thing I have a hard time keeping up in. I’m okay on anything to do with words, but I don’t do as well with numbers.”

Mrs. Murry smiled. “Why don’t you get Meg to help you?”

“But, see, I’m several grades above Meg.”

“Try asking her to help you with your math, anyhow,” Mrs. Murry suggested.

“Well, sure,” Calvin said. “Here. But it’s pretty complicated.”

Meg smoothed out the paper and studied it. “Do they care how you do it?” she asked. “I mean, can you work it out your own way?”

“Well, sure, as long as I understand and get the answers right.”

“Well, we have to do it their way. Now look, Calvin, don’t you see how much easier it would be if you did it this way?” Her pencil flew over the paper.

“Hey!” Calvin said. “Hey! I think I get it. Show me once more on another one.”

Again Meg’s pencil was busy. “All you have to remember is that every ordinary fraction can be converted into an infinite periodic decimal fraction. See? So 3/7 is 0.428571.”

“This is the craziest family.” Calvin grinned at her. “I suppose I should stop being surprised by now, but you’re supposed to be dumb in school, always being called up on the carpet.”

“Oh, I am.”

“The trouble with Meg and math,” Mrs. Murry said briskly, “is that Meg and her father used to play with numbers and Meg learned far too many short cuts. So when they want her to do problems the long way around at school she gets sullen and stubborn and sets up a fine mental block for herself.”

“Are there any more morons like Meg and Charles around?” Calvin asked. “If so, I should meet more of them.”

“It might also help if Meg’s handwriting were legible,” Mrs. Murry said. “With a good deal of difficulty I can usually decipher it, but I doubt very much if her teachers can, or are willing to take the time. I’m planning on giving her a typewriter for Christmas. That may be a help.”

“If I get anything right nobody’ll believe it’s me,” Meg said.

“What’s a megaparsec?” Calvin asked.

“One of Father’s nicknames for me,” Meg said. ‘It’s also 3.26 million light years.”

“What’s E=MC2?”

“Einstein’s equation.”

“What’s E stand for?”




“The square of the velocity of light in centimeters per second.”

“By what countries is Peru bounded?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea. I think it’s in South America somewhere.”

“What’s the capital of New York?”

“Well, New York City, of course!”

“Who wrote Boswells Life of Johnson?”

“Oh, Calvin, I’m not any good at English.”

Calvin groaned and turned to Mrs. Murry. “I see what you mean. Her I wouldn’t want to teach.”

“She’s a little one-sided, I grant you,” Mrs. Murry said. “though I blame her father and myself for that. She still enjoys playing with her dolls’ house, though.”

“Mother!” Meg shrieked in agony.

“Oh, darling, I’m sorry,” Mrs. Murry said swiftly. “But I’m sure Calvin understands what I mean.”

With a sudden enthusiastic gesture Calvin flung his arms out wide, as though he were embracing Meg and her mother, the whole house. “How did all this happen? Isn’t it wonderful? I feel as though I were just being born! I’m not alone any more! Do you realize what that means to me?”

“But you’re good at basketball and things,” Meg protested. “You’re good in school. Everybody likes you.”

“For all the most unimportant reasons,” Calvin said. ‘There hasn’t been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, lean hold myself down, but it isn’t me.”

Meg took a batch of forks from the drawer and turned them over and over, looking at them. “Im all confused again.”

“Oh, so’m I,” Calvin said gaily. “But now at least I know we’re going somewhere.”

Meg was pleased and a little surprised when the twins were excited at having Calvin for supper. They knew more about his athletic record and were far more impressed by it than she. Calvin ate five bowls of stew, three saucers of Jello, and a dozen cookies, and then Charles Wallace insisted that Calvin take him up to bed and read to him. The twins, who had finished their homework, were allowed to watch half an hour of TV. Meg helped her mother with the dishes and then sat at the table and struggled with her homework. But she could not concentrate.

“Mother, are you upset?” she asked suddenly.

Mrs. Murry looked up from a copy of an English scientific magazine through which she was leafing. For a moment she did not speak. Then, “Yes.”


Again Mrs. Murry paused. She held her hands out and looked at them. They were long and strong and beautiful. She touched with the fingers of her right hand the broad gold band on the third finger of her left hand. “I’m still quite a young woman, you know,” she said finally, “though I realize that that’s difficult for you children to conceive. And I’m still very much in love with your father. I miss him quite dreadfully.”

“And you think all this has something to do with Father?”

“I think it must have.”

“But what?”

“That I don’t know. But it seems the only explanation.” “Do you think things always have an explanation?” “Yes. I believe that they do. But I think that with our human limitations we’re not always able to understand the explanations. But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.

“I like to understand things,” Meg said.

“We all do. But it isn’t always possible.”

“Charles Wallace understands more than the rest of us, doesn’t he?”



“I suppose because he’s—well, because he’s different, Meg.”

“Different how?”

“I’m not quite sure. You know yourself he’s not like anybody else.”

“No, And I wouldn’t want him to be,” Meg said defensively.

“Wanting doesn’t have anything to do with it. Charles Wallace is what he is. Different. New.”



“Yes. That’s what your father and I feel.”

Meg twisted her pencil so hard that it broke. She laughed. “I’m sorry. I’m really not being destructive. I’m just trying to get things straight.”

“I know.”

“But Charles Wallace doesn’t look different from anybody else.”

“No, Meg, but people are more than just the way they look. Charles Wallace’s difference isn’t physical. It’s in essence.”

Meg sighed heavily, took off her glasses and twirled them, put them back on again. “Well, I know Charles Wallace is different, and I know he’s something more. I guess I’ll just have to accept it without understanding it.”

Mrs. Murry smiled at her. “Maybe that’s really the point I was trying to put across.”

“Yah,” Meg said dubiously.

Her mother smiled again. “Maybe that’s why our visitor last night didn’t surprise me. Maybe that’s why I’m able to have a—a willing suspension of disbelief. Because of Charles Wallace.”

“Are you like Charles?” Meg asked.

“I? Heavens no. I’m blessed with more brains and opportunities than many people, but there’s nothing about me that breaks out of the ordinary mold.”

“Your looks do,” Meg said.

Mrs. Murry laughed. “You just haven’t had enough basis for comparison, Meg. I’m very ordinary, really.”

Calvin O’Keefe, coming in then, said, “Ha ha.”

“Charles all settled?” Mrs. Murry asked.


“What did you read to him?”

“Genesis, His choice. By the way, what kind of an experiment were you working on this afternoon, Mrs. Murry?” Oh, something my husband and I were cooking up together. I don’t want to be too far behind him when he gets back.”

“Mother,” Meg pursued. ^Charles says I’m not one thing or the other, not flesh nor fowl nor good red herring.”

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Calvin said, “you’re Meg, aren’t you? Come on and let’s go for a walk.”

But Meg was still not satisfied. “And what do you make of Calvin?” she demanded of her mother.

Mrs. Murry laughed. “I don’t want to make anything of Calvin. I like him very much, and I’m delighted he’s found his way here.”

“Mother, you were going to tell me about a tesserae!”

“Yes.” A troubled look came into Mrs. Murry’s eyes. “But not now, Meg. Not now. Go on out for that walk with Calvin. I’m going up to kiss Charles and then I have to see that the twins get to bed.”

Outdoors the grass was wet with dew. The moon was halfway up and dimmed the stars for a great arc. Calvin reached out and took Meg’s hand with a gesture as simple and friendly as Charles Wallace’s. “Were you upsetting your mother?” he asked gently.

“I don’t think J was. But she’s upset”

“What about?”


Calvin led Meg across the lawn. The shadows of the trees were long and twisted and there was a heavy, sweet, autumnal smell to the air. Meg stumbled as the land sloped suddenly downhill, but Calvin’s strong hand steadied her. They walked carefully across the twins’ vegetable garden, picking their way through rows of cabbages, beets, broccoli, pumpkins. Looming on their left were the tall stalks of corn. Ahead of them was a small apple orchard bounded by a stone wall, and beyond this the woods through which they had walked that afternoon. Calvin led the way to the wall, and then sat there, his red hair shining silver in the moonlight, his body dappled with patterns from the tangle of branches. He reached up, pulled an apple off a gnarled limb, and handed it to Meg, then picked one for himself. “Tell me about your father,”

“He’s a physicist.”

“Sure, we all know that. And he’s supposed to have left your mother and gone off with some dame.”

Meg jerked up from the stone on which she was perched, but Calvin grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back down. “Hold it, kid. I didn’t say anything you hadn’t heard already, did I?”

“No,” Meg said, but continued to pull away. “Let me go.”

“Come on, calm down. You know it isn’t true, / know it isn’t true. And how anybody after one look at your mother could believe any man would leave her for another woman just shows how far jealousy will make people go. Right?”

“I guess so,” Meg said, but her happiness had fled and she was back in a morass of anger and resentment.

“Look, dope.” Calvin shook her gently. “I just want to get things straight, sort of sort out the fact from fiction. Your father’s a physicist. That’s a fact, yes?”


“He’s a Ph.D. several times over.”


“Most of the time he works alone but some of the time he was at the Institute for Higher Learning in Princeton. Correct?”


“Then he did some work for the government, didn’t he?”


“You take it from there. That’s all I know.”

“That’s about all I know, too,” Meg said. “Maybe Mother knows more. I don’t know. What he did was—well, it was what they call Classified.”

“Top Secret, you mean?”

That’s right.”

“And you don’t even have any idea what it was about?”

Meg shook her head. “No. Not really. Just an idea because of where he was.”

“Well, where?”

“Out in New Mexico for a while; we were with him there; and then he was in Florida at Cape Canaveral, and we were with him there, too. And then he was going to be traveling a lot, so we came here.”

“You’d always had this house?”

“Yes. But we used to live in it just in the summer.”

“And you don’t know where your father was sent?”

“No. At first we got lots of letters. Mother and Father always wrote each other every day. I think Mother still writes him every night. Every once in a while the post- mistress makes some kind of a crack about all her letters.”

“I suppose they think she’s pursuing him or something,” Calvin said, rather bitterly. “They can’t understand plain, ordinary love when they see it. Well, go on. What happened next?”

“Nothing happened,” Meg said. “That’s the trouble.”

“Well, what about your father’s letters?”

“They just stopped coming.”

“You haven’t heard anything at all?”

“No,” Meg said. “Nothing.” Her voice was heavy with misery.

Silence fell between them, as tangible as the dark tree shadows that fell across their laps and that now seemed to rest upon them as heavily as though they possessed a measurable weight of their own.

At last Calvin spoke in a dry, unemotional voice, not looking at Meg. “Do you think he could be dead?”

Again Meg leaped up, and again Calvin pulled her down. “No! They’d have told us if he were dead! There’s always a telegram or something. They always tell you!”

“What do they tell you?”

Meg choked down a sob, managed to speak over it. “Oh, Calvin, Mother’s tried and tried to find out. She’s been down to Washington and everything. And all they’ll say is that he’s on a secret and dangerous mission, and she can be very proud of him, but he won’t be able to—to communicate with us for a while. And they’ll give us news as soon as they have it.”

“Meg, don’t get mad, but do you think maybe they don’t know?”

A slow tear trickled down Meg’s cheek. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Why don’t you cry?” Calvin asked gently. “You re just crazy about your father, aren’t you? Go ahead and cry. It’ll do you good.”

Meg’s voice came out trembling over tears. “I cry much too much. I should be like Mother. I should be able to control myself.”

“Your mother’s a completely different person and she’s a lot older than you are.”

“I wish I were a different person,” Meg said shakily. “I hate myself.”

Calvin reached over and took off her glasses. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped her tears. This gesture of tenderness undid her completely, and she put her head down on her knees and sobbed. Calvin sat quietly beside her, every once in a while patting her head. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed finally. “I’m terribly sorry. Now you’ll hate me.”

“Oh, Meg, you are a moron,” Calvin said. “Don’t you know you’re the nicest thing that’s happened to me in a long time?”

Meg raised her head, and moonlight shone on her tear- stained face; without the glasses her eyes were unexpectedly beautiful. “If Charles Wallace is a sport, I think I’m a biological mistake.” Moonlight flashed against her braces as Slie spoke.

Now she was waiting to be contradicted. But Calvin said, “Do you know that this is the first time I’ve seen you without your glasses?”

“I’m blind as a bat without them. I’m near-sighted, like Father.”

“Well, you know what, you’ve got dream-boat eyes,” Calvin said. “Listen, you go right on wearing your glasses. I don’t think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have.”

Meg smiled with pleasure. She could feel herself blushing and she wondered if the blush would be visible in the moonlight.

“Okay, hold it, you two,” came a voice out of the shadows. Charles Wallace stepped into the moonlight. “I wasn’t spying on you,” he said quickly, “and I hate to break things up, but this is it, kids, this is it!” His voice quivered with excitement.

“This is what?” Calvin asked.

“We’re going.”

“Going? Where?” Meg reached out and instinctively grabbed for Calvin’s hand.

“I don’t know exactly,” Charles Wallace said. “But I think it’s to find Father.”

Suddenly two eyes seemed to spring at them out of the darkness; it was the moonlight striking on Mrs. Who’s glasses. She was standing next to Charles Wallace, and how she had managed to appear where a moment ago there had been nothing but flickering shadows in the moonlight Meg had no idea. She heard a sound behind her and turned around. There was Mrs. Whatsit scrambling over the wall.

“My, but I wish there were no wind,” Mrs. Whatsit said plaintively. “It’s so difficult with all these clothes.” She wore her outfit of the night before, rubber boots and all, with the addition of one of Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets which she had draped over her. As she slid off the wall the sheet caught in a low branch and came off. The felt hat slipped over both eyes, and another branch plucked at the pink stole- “Oh, dear,” she sighed. “I shall never learn to manage.”

    Mrs. Who wafted over to her, tiny feet scarcely seeming to touch the ground, the lenses of her glasses glittering. “Come t’e picciol fallo amaro morso! Dante. What grievous pain a little fault doth give thee!” With a clawlike hand she pushed the hat up on Mrs. Whatsit’s forehead, untangled the stole from the tree, and with a deft gesture took the sheet and folded it.

“Oh, thank you,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “You’re so clever!”

“Un asno viejo sabe mds quo un potro. A. Perez. An old ass knows more than a young colt”

“Just because you’re a paltry few billion years—” Mrs. Whatsit was starting indignantly, when a sharp, strange voice cut in.

“All rrightt, girrllss. Thiss iss nno ttime forr bbickkerring.”

“It’s Mrs. Which,” Charles Wallace said.

There was a faint gust of wind, the leaves shivered in it, the patterns of moonlight shifted, and in a circle of silver something shimmered, quivered, and the voice said, “I ddo nott thinkk I will! matterrialize commpletely. I ffindd itt verry ttirinngg, andd wee hhave mmuch ttoo ddoo.”

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