Fortnum, bemused, scanned the wrapper a moment then dropped it into the wastebasket. On his way to the kitchen, he opened the cellar door.
Tom was already on his knees, digging with a hand rake in the dirt.
He felt his wife beside him, breathing softly, looking down into the cool dimness.
“Those are mushrooms, I hope. Not … toadstools?”
Fortnum laughed. “Happy harvest, farmer!”
Tom glanced up and waved.
Fortnum shut the door, took his wife’s arm and walked her out to the kitchen, feeling fine.
Toward noon, Fortnum was driving toward the nearest market when he saw Roger Willis, a fellow Rotarian and a teacher of biology at the town high school, waving urgently from the sidewalk.
Fortnum pulled his car up and opened the door.
“Hi, Roger, give you a lift?”
Willis responded all too eagerly, jumping in and slamming the door.
“Just the man I want to see. I’ve put off calling for days. Could you play psychiatrist for five minutes, God help you?”
Fortnum examined his friend for a moment as he drove quietly on.
“God help you, yes. Shoot.”
Willis sat back and studied his fingernails. “Let’s just drive a moment. There. Okay. Here’s what I want to say: Something’s wrong with the world.”
Fortnum laughed easily. “Hasn’t there always been?”
“No, no, I mean … something strange—something unseen—is happening.”
“Mrs. Goodbody,” said Fortnum, half to himself, and stopped.
“This morning, gave me a talk on flying saucers.”
“No.” Willis bit the knuckle of his forefinger nervously. “Nothing like saucers. At least, I don’t think. Tell me, what exactly is intuition?”
“The conscious recognition of something that’s been subconscious for a long time. But don’t quote this amateur psychologist!” He laughed again.
“Good, good!” Willis turned, his face lighting. He readjusted himself in the seat. “That’s it! Over a long period, things gather, right? All of a sudden, you have to spit, but you don’t remember saliva collecting. Your hands are dirty, but you don’t know how they got that way. Dust falls on you everyday and you don’t feel it. But when you get enough dust collected up, there it is, you see and name it. That’s intuition, as far as I’m concerned. Well, what kind of dust has been falling on me? A few meteors in the sky at night? funny weather just before dawn? I don’t know. Certain colors, smells, the way the house creaks at three in the morning? Hair prickling on my arms? All I know is, the damn dust has collected. Quite suddenly I know.”
“Yes,” said Fortnum, disquieted. “But what is it you know?”
Willis looked at his hands in his lap. “I’m afraid. I’m not afraid. Then I’m afraid again, in the middle of the day. Doctor’s checked me. I’m A-one. No family problems. Joe’s a fine boy, a good son. Dorothy? She’s remarkable. With her I’m not afraid of growing old or dying.”
“But beyond my luck now. Scared stiff, really, for myself, my family; even right now, for you.”
“Me?” said Fortnum.
They had stopped now by an empty lot near the market. There was a moment of great stillness, in which Fortnum turned to survey his friend. Willis’ voice had suddenly made him cold.
“I’m afraid for everybody,” said Willis. “Your friends, mine, and their friends, on out of sight. Pretty silly, eh?”
Willis opened the door, got out and peered in at Fortnum.
Fortnum felt he had to speak. “Well, what do we do about it?”
Willis looked up at the sun burning blind in the sky. “Be aware,” he said slowly. “Watch everything for a few days.”
“We don’t use half what God gave us, ten per cent of the time. We ought to hear more, feel more, smell more, taste more. Maybe there’s something wrong with the way the wind blows these weeds there in the lot. Maybe it’s the sun up on those telephone wires or the cicadas singing in the elm trees. If only we could stop, look, listen, a few days, a few nights, and compare notes. Tell me to shut up then, and I will.”
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