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Thalia Selz is Writer-in-Residence at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Her fiction has appeared in many magazines, including Partisan Review, Antaeus, and Chicago, and has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories and the O Henry Awards. "In the Balance" is from her novel, The Greek Garden, which takes place in the spring and early summer of 1942 in Chicago's Greek American community. A family of Greek intellectuals with an obsessive "savior complex" take a strange and wonderful assortment of characters under their wing, and the novel chronicles the adventures and sometimes misadventures that are the consequence of these adoptions. IN THE BALANCE / Thalia Selz FOR DAYS Athos Anderson had been shuffling back and forth in front of the golden balance but always edging nearer. Forth and back through the three tiny rooms of the laboratory, through pungent fumes and the shafts of April sunlight piercing dirty windows to fall upon microscope and retort, Bunsen burner and balance. He took very small steps and pursed his very small mouth while terrible thoughts flew like flak through his brain. Occasionally his fingers—gray except where the quick showed in a fine, ineradicable line of dirt—would fumble toward the glass door of the little walnut cabinet that held the analytical balance, gleaming like the Grail. Then his hand would drop and he would turn away, revolted by his own impulse. Other than his mouth and his walk—and the suit which had once belonged to his boss, Pano Rigas, and hung on the much slighter Athos like a pair of black worsted pajamas—there was nothing to notice about him. His hair, teeth, and eyes were a random assemblage of the colors possessed by any old, well-worn wooden desk. Only he was a man, not a desk, and he flinched when he thought what might happen to him if he were ever arrested again. AU during the second week of April while the radio blared in the corner of the laboratory's Big Room with news that the British were retreating in Burma and 36,853 American and Filipino troops had surrendered to the Japanese on Bataan, Athos tried not to see the golden balance, Pano's—and the laboratory's—single most precious possession, an instrument so exact that it must always be protected from dust and temperature changes. For ten years now Athos had been Pano Rigas' co-worker and translator, ever since that sleet-slashing November night in 1932 when Pano and Maude and their child, Ariadne, had brought him home to their little frame house in the Chicago sticks: to Maude's cooking, a bed without bedbugs, and a job—above all, a steady job utilizing his single extraordinary skill. A dozen yards behind the shabby house stood Pano's shabbier chemical research laboratory—a long, low building full of Pano's projects and Pano's noise—and here Athos Hartford Anderson, born of an Irish mother and a German-Swedish father, named Hartford for the city of his birth and christened Athanasios at age eighteen in a Greek Orthodox church in St. Louis, here Athos—linguist and idiot savant and in 1932 one of America's fifteen million unemployed— helped with laboratory chores and translated chemical abstracts for the person he loved best in the world. Then in February of 1942, some three months after Pearl Harbor, when Pano's laboratory was embarked on a confidential government The Missouri Review · 23 research project and Athos was forty-five years old, he had met five-year-old Lois Jenks and her mother. Within two weeks he had bought Lois a dress, a playsuit, and a pair of Mary-Janes at Wieboldt's; other presents followed until, at the beginning of March, Mrs. Jenks suddenly issued an ultimatum demanding the annexation of a gold-anddiamond wrist watch as the price for continuing to play with "Loie-honey." When Athos refused, for he had nothing like the money required to buy such an expensive gift, Mrs. Jenks closed her borders, shutting the apartment door in his face. Then just as suddenly, the weekend following Easter she left a message with his landlady, asking him to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 22-35
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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