Authors: Madeleine L’Engle
“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
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“But Charles Wallace doesn’t
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
. 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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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
, 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.
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 tesseract.”
“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
was. But she’s upset.”
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.
know it isn’t true,
know it isn’t true. And how
body 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,
“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?”
“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.”
“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 postmistress makes some kind of a crack about all her letters.”
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!”
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
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
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 tearstained 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 she 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.
“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
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,
,” she sighed. “I shall
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’è picciol fallo amaro morso!
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.
you,” Mrs Whatsit said. “You’re
viejo sabe más que 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.
“Alll 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 willl matterrialize commpletely. I ffindd itt verry ttirinngg, andd wee hhave mmuch ttoo ddoo.”
The trees were lashed into a violent frenzy. Meg screamed and clutched at Calvin, and Mrs Which’s authoritative voice called out, “Qquiett, chilldd!”
Did a shadow fall across the moon or did the moon simply go out, extinguished as abruptly and completely as a candle? There was still the sound of leaves, a terrified, terrifying rushing. All light was gone. Darkness was complete.
Suddenly the wind was gone, and all sound. Meg felt that Calvin was being torn from her. When she reached for him her fingers touched nothing.
She screamed out, “Charles!” and whether it was to help him or for him to help her, she did not know. The word was flung back down her throat and she choked on it.
She was completely alone.
She had lost the protection of Calvin’s hand. Charles was nowhere,
either to save or to turn to. She was alone in a fragment of nothingness. No light, no sound, no feeling. Where was her body? She tried to move in her panic, but there was nothing to move. Just as light and sound had vanished, she was gone, too. The corporeal Meg simply was not.