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HOUSES / Jean Ross FORREST TELLS NITA they ought to go for a ride, to cheer her up; he'll take her out to where he's been working lately, show her some of the pretty homes out there. She's not through cleaning house—it's Saturday—but she puts on her black pants and scarlet blouse, with the white shoes she wears at work in the bakery, and tightens the combs that hold her hair in its soft, sagging upsweep. (Every so often she asks him about the color of her hair: isn't it too black, can't everybody tell?) A few drops of water stand on the windows of the car: he just had it down at the car-wash; he can't stand a dirty car. It's a wonderful warm day, the leaves drifting down; on Keokuk Street he exclaims over the bright yellow maples. But she doesn't care for that street: some of the houses are pretty, sure, but too many of them are like the houses back home in Wellington, where she grew up—old frame numbers with a row of spindles around the front porch ceiling; old pumps out back; oval glass in the front doors. She talks like she doesn't think much of Wellington, but for somebody who dislikes a place she sure stared at it the one time they were there; she couldn't get enough of it. They drove around and looked at all the houses she and her folks had lived in, and the house where she and her husband were living when she ran off. Then she directed him out to a newer part of town, to a long brick-and-frame house (custom-built for sure, a one-of-a-kind) setback in some trees; he figured it had to be where he had lived, the guy she got mixed up with. She stared at it the way she'd stared at the other places, only longer. When he turned into the driveway to turn around, she looked at him in alarm. "Don't you worry, if you saw him I bet you wouldn't know him. Or him you, either." (Later somebody from back there, an old neighbor, told her he'd left the state after he got out.) It's a few blocks out of his way, but he's taking her past her favorite house, on Park Road—a fairly new house of dark gray stone with a round tower on one side, set back from the street under some trees. She often gasps when she looks at it. "Wouldn't you hate to have to heat thatbaby?" he says. "There's a big family in it, all right, look at all those cars." "Oh, there's doctors living over here and all, they might have four cars with just three or four in the family—one of them's a van, see? Oh, it's pretty—there's something baronial about it." "Baronial! What would you know about baronial?", ribbing her. "My God, I've seen pictures, I've read books, haven't I?" Usually she says she's read this room full of books; now she cries, "I've read this car full of books, time and again!" The Missouri Review · 81 Out on the old highway, in the open country, he asks her if she isn't feeling better. She ought not to let little things get her down; she ought to know by now not to pay any attention. "Well, she hadn't come in for the longest time, it's been close to three years. And the way she looked at me before, I wouldn't have thought she'd ever have come back. She looked right at me and said, 'Well, how're you getting along!' I never had anybody ask me that before that could make it sound like an insult! I said, 'Justfine,' and she said, 'Well, that's lucky,' and she looked right past me and asked Christy for the macaroons—she didn't even want me to wait on her. So I just turned around and went to the back. After...


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