restricted access Social Discourse, 1944
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SOCIAL DISCOURSE, 1944/Jane Eaton Hamilton HELLO," SAID BOBBY Houston. He was slight, with wire-rimmed glasses over pale, almost white-blue eyes. He had a nervous tic—his left hand jabbed out. She could see through his skin. "You're the replacement milkman," said Alice. "Here to serve you, ma'am," said Bobby and doffed his cap. Wispy hair surrounded him like a halo. "Milton's in Paris right now," Alice said. "I believe." "Four-F on account of my stutter," Bobby said. The word "stutter" refused to come out until he'd taken about four whacks at it, during which time his cheeks, formerly white as aspirin tablets, turned the colour of beets. Alice said, "Isn't it funny that I'm on my own husband's route?" She looked out through the sleet at the roadway. Taffy, her husband's dapple-grey mare, put her head up and stepped forward so the cart carrying the milk bottles clanked. "Taffy'll be wanting her apple." "One quart of Golden Guernsey!" said Bobby Houston, unloading it onto the speckled Arborite of Alice's kitchen table. He had trouble with the 'g's.' "Guaranteed tuberculin free. Twelve percent more solids . Superior flavour. One-third more cream." He lifted a bar of butter . "One pound saltless creamery butter. One pint virgin whipping cream." V-v-v-v-virgin. The tip of his nose was red with cold; his natty blue jacket dripped with rain. "Liquid health," he said and saluted. "You can't wash milk! If you knew the hazards that beset milk cleanliness you would insist on knowing your dairy. Take no chance with the milk you drink. Phone Michael 8944 and order Mountain Dale better milk delivered to your home." M-m-milk. Ho-ho-home. Alice laughed and plucked Tracey from the playpen. Bobby Houston made faces at the baby, and she giggled wildly. Bobby Houston took to stopping after every delivery; it felt as good to Alice as if her brother were visiting. Alice had not been prepared for married life—for the sex, Milton's absence, the pregnancies, the child—and Bobby reminded her of an easier time, when she flirted with boys as a matter of growing up, when she flashed her teeth and shook her hair, when she worried her stockings up her legs wrinkle by wrinkle. Now there weren't stockings and she used eyebrow pencil to draw lines up the backs ofher legs like everyone else, only they always wavered. She'd taken to leaving them off. Why not? Who was to see? The Missouri Review · 65 Her mother and her sister were in Saskatchewan. Her father was dead. Her husband was at war. Bobby Houston was deeply familiar—he had Milton's smell (horse sweat, hoof trimmings and sour milk), Milton's sharp uniform, the same bottle caddy, the same spit-polished shoes. The same route boss, the owner's son Maurice Maclean. Maurice called every week to see how she was getting along. Just a courtesy, the way the dairy had other courtesies: a sewing group for the troops; picnics and parties. Alice knew she shouldn't have Bobby Houston over every afternoon , that people would talk. But he seemed to like her, and the baby loved him, and when Alice's ankles were throbbing he lifted them into his lap and massaged them until the bloating rose back up her legs. There were no improprieties. Alice didn't feel about Bobby the way she felt about Milton, and Bobby didn't feel that way about her either, she was certain. He told her things about the Maclean brothers, who ran the dairy, how Dave Maclean had chewed out Diane at the switchboard, making her cry (no news there—Milthad told similar stories ofDave Maclean's bullying); how he'd seen Patrick Maclean's wife taking stationery from the supply cupboard and dropping it into her purse—pads and pencils and erasers; how he had bumped into Maurice Maclean, his immediate boss, at the corner getting a shave. He swabbed at his head when he told Alice this last—his stutter was worse than ever, and the tips of his...

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