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CHICKEN SOUP / Kit Reed When he was little Harry loved being sick. He would stay in bed with his books and toys spread out on the blankets and wait for his mother to bring him things. She would come in with orange juice and aspirin at midmorning; at lunchtime she always brought him chicken soup with Floating Island for dessert, and when he had eaten she would straighten the pillow and smooth his covers and settle him for his nap. As long as he was sick he could stay in this nest of his own devising, safe from schoolmates' teasing and teachers who might lose their tempers, and falling down and getting hurt. He could wake up and read or drowse in front of the television, perfectly content. Some time late in the afternoon, when his throat was scratchy and boredom was threatening his contentment, he would start watching the bedroom door. The shadows would be long by that time and Harry restless and perhaps faintly threatened by longer shadows that lurked outside his safe little room: the first intimations of anxiety, accident and risk. Finally he would hear her step on the stair, the clink of ice in their best glass pitcher, and she would come in with cookies and lemonade. He would gulp the first glass all at once and then, while she poured him another, he would feel his own forehead in hopes it would be hot enough to entitle him to another day. He would say: I think my head is hot. What do you think? She would touch his forehead in loving complicity. Then the two of them would sit there together, Harry and Mommy, happy as happy in the snug world they had made. Harry's father had left his widow well fixed, which meant Mommy didn't have to have a job, so she had all the time in the world to make the house pretty and cook beautiful meals for Harry and do everything he needed even when he wasn't sick. She would wake him early so they could sit down to a good hot breakfast together, pancakes with sausage and orange juice, after which they would read to each other out of the paper until it was time for Harry to go. They always talked over the day when he came home from school and then, being a good mother, she would say, Don't you want to play with a little friend? She always made cookies when his friends came over, rolling out the dough and cutting it in neat circles with the rim of a wine glass dusted with sugar. She sat in the front row at every violin and flute recital, and when Harry had trouble with a teacher, any kind of trouble at all, she would go up to the grammar school and have it out with him. Harry's bed was made for him and his lunches carefully wrapped and, although nobody would find out until they reached middle school and took communal showers, Harry's mother ironed his underwear. In return Harry emptied the 292 ยท The Missouri Review garbage and made the phone calls and did most of the things the man of the house would have done, if he had been there. Like all happy couples they had their fights, which lasted only an hour or two and cleared the air nicely. Usually they ended with one of them apologizing and the other saying, with admirable largesse, I forgive you. In fact the only bad patch they had came in the spring of the year Harry was twelve, when Charles appeared with a bottle of wine and an old college yearbook in which he and Harry's father were featured. Naturally Mommy invited him to dinner and Harry was shocked to come out of the kitchen with the bottle opener just in time to hear his mother saying, 'You don't know what a relief it is to have an adult to talk to for a change.' Didn't Harry get asthma that night, and wasn't he home sick for the rest of the week? He did not spend his usual happy...


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pp. 192-200
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