up a personality profile of Hitler, who he now said was a brilliant homicidal maniac. But he still felt drab and superannuated and so on, with so many battle reports in the paper and on the radio, and with so many uniforms around. His spirits needed a boost in the very worst way.
And he had a secret. If Felix had guessed it, Felix wouldn’t have brought Celia within a mile of home. He would have taken her to the prom on a bus.
This was it: When Celia was introduced to Father, he would be wearing the scarlet-and-silver uniform of a major in the Hungarian Life Guard, complete with sable busby and panther skin.
L ISTEN : When Felix was ready to fetch Celia, Father wasn’t even in his painter’s costume. He was wearing a sweater and slacks, and he promised Felix yet again that he simply wanted to catch a glimpse of this girl, and that he wasn’t going to put on any kind of a show for her. It was all going to be very ordinary and brief, and even boring.
About the automobile: It was a Keedsler touring car, manufactured right in Midland City in 1932, when a Keedsler was in every respect the equal or the superior of a German Mercedes or a British Rolls-Royce. It was a bizarre and glorious antique even in 1943. Felix had put the top down. There was a separate windshield for the back seat. The engine had sixteen cylinders, and the two spare tires were mounted in shallow wells in the front fenders. The tires looked like the necks of plunging horses.
So Felix burbled off toward the black part of town in that flabbergasting apparatus. He was wearing a rented tuxedo, with a gardenia in his lapel. There was a corsage of two orchids for Celia on the seat beside him.
Father stripped down to his underwear, and Mother brought him the uniform. She was in on this double cross of Felix. She thought everything Father did was wonderful. And while Father was getting dressed again, she went around turning off electric lights and lighting candles. She and Father, without anybody’s much noticing it, had earlier in the day put candles everywhere. There must have been a hundred of them.
Mother got them all lit, just about the time Father topped off his scarlet-and-silver uniform with the busby.
And I myself, standing on the balcony outside my bedroom on the loft, was as enchanted as Mother and Father expected Celia Hildreth to be. I was inside a great beehive filled with fireflies. And below me was the beautiful King of the Early Evening.
My mind had been trained by heirloom books of fairy tales, and by the myths and legends which animated my father’s conversation, to think that way. It was second nature for me, and for Felix, too, and for no other children in Midland City, I am sure, to see candle flames as fireflies—and to invent a King of the Early Evening.
And now the King of the Early Evening, with a purple plume in his busby, gave this order: “Ope, ope the portals!”
• • •
What portals were there to open? There were only two, I thought. There was the front door on the south, and there was the kitchen door on the northeast. But Fatherseemed to be calling for something far more majestic than opening both of those.
And then he advanced on the two huge carriage-house doors, in one of which our front door was set. I had never thought of them as doors. They were a wall of my home which was made of wood rather than stone. Now Father took hold of the mighty bolt which had held them shut for thirty years. It resisted him for only a moment, and then slid back, as it had been born to do.
Until that moment, I had seen that bolt as just another dead piece of medieval iron on the wall. In the proper hands, perhaps it could have killed an enemy.
I had felt the same way about the ornate hinges. But they weren’t more junk from Europe. They were real Midland City, Ohio, hinges, ready to work at any time.
I had stolen downstairs now, awe in every step I took.
The King of the Early Evening put his shoulder to
Bruce J. Hillman, Birgit Ertl-Wagner, Bernd C. Wagner