“There goes the tea bell,” said Mrs. Carter. “I hope Simon hears it.”
They looked out from the window of the drawing room. The long garden, agreeably neglected, ended in a waste plot.
Here a little summerhouse was passing close by beauty on its way to complete decay. This was Simon’s retreat. It was almost completely screened by the tangled branches of the apple tree and the pear tree, planted too close together, as they always are in the suburbs. They caught a glimpse of him now and then, as he strutted up and down, mouthing and gesticulating, performing all the solemn mumbo jumbo of small boys who spend long afternoons at the forgotten ends of long gardens.
“There he is, bless him!” said Betty.
“Playing his game,” said Mrs. Carter. “He won’t play with the other children anymore. And if I go down there the temper! And comes in tired out!”
“He doesn’t have his sleep in the afternoons?” asked Betty.
“You know what Big Simon’s ideas are,” said Mrs. Carter. ” ‘Let him choose for himself’, he says. That’s what he chooses, and he comes in as white as a sheet.”
“Look! He’s heard the bell,” said Betty. The expression was justified, though the bell had ceased ringing a full minute ago. Small Simon stopped in his parade exactly as if its tinny dingle had at that moment reached his ear. They watched him perform certain ritual sweeps and scratchings with his little stick, and come lagging over the hot and flaggy grass toward the house.
Mrs. Carter led the way down to the playroom, or garden-room, which was also the tearoom for hot days. It had been the huge scullery of this tall Georgian house. Now the walls were cream- washed, there was coarse blue net in the windows, canvas-covered armchairs on the stone floor, and a reproduction of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers over the mantelpiece.
Small Simon came drifting in, and accorded Betty a perfunctory greeting. His face was an almost perfect triangle, pointed at the chin, and he was paler than he should have been. “The little elf-child!” cried Betty.
Simon looked at her. “No,” said he.
At that moment the door opened, and Mr. Carter came in, rubbing his hands. He was a dentist, and washed them before and after everything he did. “You!” said his wife. “Home already!”
“Not unwelcome, I hope,” said Mr. Carter, nodding to Betty. “Two people canceled their appointments; I decided to come home. I said, I hope I am not unwelcome.”
“Silly!” said his wife. “Of course not.”
“Small Simon seems doubtful,” continued Mr. Carter. “Small Simon, are you sorry to see me at tea with you?”
“No, Big Simon.”
“That’s right. Big Simon and Small Simon. That sounds more like friends, doesn’t it? At one time, little boys had to call their father ‘sir. If they forgot a good spanking. On the bottom, Small Simon! On the bottom!” said Mr. Carter, washing his hands once more with his invisible soap and water.
The little boy turned crimson with shame or rage.
“But now, you see,” said Betty, to help, “you can call your father whatever you like.”
“And what,” asked Mr. Carter, “has Small Simon been doing this afternoon? While Big Simon has been at work.”
“Nothing,” muttered his son.
“Then you have been bored,” said Mr. Carter. “Learn from experience, Small Simon. Tomorrow, do something amusing, and you will not be bored. I want him to learn from experience, Betty. That is my way, the new way.”
“I have learned,” said the boy, speaking like an old, tired man, as little boys so often do.
“It would hardly seem so,” said Mr. Carter, “if you sit on your behind all the afternoon, doing nothing. Had my father caught me doing nothing, I should not have sat very comfortably.”
“He played,” said Mrs. Carter.
“A bit,” said the boy, shifting on his chair.
“Too much,” said Mrs. Carter. “He comes in all nervy and dazed. He ought to have his rest.”
“He is six,” said her husband. “He is a reasonable being. He must choose for himself. But what game is this, Small Simon, that is worth getting nervy and dazed over? There are very few games as good as all that.”
“It’s nothing,” said the boy.
“Oh, come,” said his father. “We are friends, are we not? You can tell me. I was a Small Simon once, just like you, and played the same games you play. Of course, there were no airplanes in those days. With whom do you play this fine game? Come on, we must all answer civil questions, or the world would never go round. With whom do you play?”
“Mr. Beelzy,” said the boy, unable to resist.
“Mr. Beelzy?” said his father, raising his eyebrows inquiringly at his wife.
“It’s a game he makes up,” said she.
“Not makes up!” cried the boy. “Fool!”
“That is telling stories,” said his mother. “And rude as well. We had better talk of something different.”
“No wonder he is rude,” said Mr. Carter, “if you say he tells lies, and then insist on changing the subject. He tells you his fantasy; you implant a guilt feeling. What can you expect? A defense mechanism. Then you get a real lie.”
“Like in These Three,” said Betty. “Only different, of course. She was an unblushing little liar.”
“I would have made her blush,” said Mr. Carter, “in the proper part of her anatomy. But Small Simon is in the fantasy stage. Are you not, Small Simon? You just make things up.”
“No, I don’t,” said the boy.
“You do,” said his father. “And because you do, it is not too late to reason with you. There is no harm in a fantasy, old chap. There is nothing wrong with a bit of make-believe. Only you must learn the difference between daydreams and real things, or your brain will never grow. It will never be the brain of a Big Simon. So, come on. Let us hear about this Mr. Beelzy of yours. Come on. What is he like?”
“He isn’t like anything,” said the boy.
“Like nothing on earth?” said his father. “That’s a terrible fellow.”
“I’m not frightened of him,” said the child, smiling. “Not a bit.”
“I should hope not,” said his father. “If you were, you would be frightening yourself. I am always telling people, older people than you are, that they are just frightening themselves. Is he a funny man? Is he a giant?”
“Sometimes he is,” said the little boy.
“Sometimes one thing, sometimes another,” said his father. “Sounds pretty vague. Why can’t you tell us just what he’s like?”
“I love him,” said the small boy. “He loves me.
“That’s a big word,” said Mr. Carter. “That might be better kept for real things, like Big Simon and Small Simon.”
“He is real,” said the boy, passionately. “He’s not a fool. He’s real.”
“Listen,” said his father. “When you go down the garden there’s nobody there. Is there?”
“No,” said the boy.
“Then you think of him, inside your head, and he comes.”
“No,” said Small Simon. “I have to make marks. On the ground. With my stick.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does.”
“Small Simon, you are being obstinate,” said Mr. Carter. “I am trying to explain something to you. I have been longer in the world than you have, so naturally I am older and wiser. I am explaining that Mr. Beelzy is a fantasy of yours. Do you hear? Do you understand?”
“He is a game. He is a let’s-pretend.”
The little boy looked down at his plate, smiling resignedly.
“I hope you are listening to me,” said his father. “All you have to do is to say, ‘I have been playing a game of let’s-pretend. With someone I make up, called Mr. Beelzy. Then no one will say you tell lies, and you will know the difference between dreams and reality. Mr. Beelzy is a daydream.’ ”
The little boy still stared at his plate.
“He is sometimes there and sometimes not there,” pursued Mr. Carter. “Sometimes he’s like one thing, sometimes another. You can’t really see him. Not as you see me. I am real. You can’t touch him. You can touch me. I can touch you.” Mr. Carter stretched out his big, white dentist’s hand, and took his little son by the nape of the neck. He stopped speaking for a moment and tightened his hand. The little boy sank his head still lower.
“Now you know the difference,” said Mr. Carter, “between a pretend and a real thing. You and I are one thing; he is another. Which is the pretend? Come on. Answer me. Which is the pretend?”
“Big Simon and Small Simon,” said the little boy.
“Don’t!” cried Betty, and at once put her hand over her mouth, for why should a visitor cry, “Don’t!” when a father is explaining things in a scientific and modern way? Besides, it annoys the father.
“Well, my boy,” said Mr. Carter, “I have said you must be allowed to learn from experience. Go upstairs. Right up to your room. You shall learn whether it is better to reason, or to be perverse and obstinate. Go up. I shall follow you.”
“You are not going to beat the child?” cried Mrs. Carter.
“No,” said the little boy. “Mr. Beelzy won’t let him.”
“Go on up with you!” shouted his father.
Small Simon stopped at the door. “He said he wouldn’t let anyone hurt me,” he whimpered. “He said he’d come like a lion, with wings on, and eat them up.”
“You’ll learn how real he is!” shouted his father after him. “If you can’t learn it at one end, you shall learn it at the other. I’ll have your breeches down. I shall finish my cup of tea first, however,” said he to the two women.
Neither of them spoke. Mr. Carter finished his tea, and unhurriedly left the room, washing his hands with his invisible soap and water.
Mrs. Carter said nothing. Betty could think of nothing to say. She wanted to be talking for she was afraid of what they might hear.
Suddenly it came. It seemed to tear the air apart. “Good god!” she cried. “What was that? He’s hurt him.” She sprang out of her chair, her silly eyes flashing behind her glasses. “I m going up there!” she cried, trembling.
“Yes, let us go up,” said Mrs. Carter. “Let us go up. That was not Small Simon.”
It was on the second-floor landing that they found the shoe, with the man’s foot still in it, much like that last morsel of a mouse which sometimes falls unnoticed from the side of the jaws of the cat.