“Have you been up there?” asked Mavis. Lewis had put the spoon back into his mouth and it was hanging there idly now, his eyes glazed and aimed toward Diane.
“Up to the top?”
Mavis didn’t respond.
“No,” said Diane, “I’m a dancer down the bottom, but I’m not very good at it.”
“Because I’m not good at moving my legs, and I forget my lines, and sometimes I forget where I am and where I’m supposed to be, and when other actors get close to do their parts with me I get nervous and fumble it all.”
“Maybe one day they’ll send you up there, and then you can relax.”
“Maybe,” said Diane.
“I want to be in the audience!” said Lewis.
“Maybe you will be, Lewis, when you’re grown up, but you have to work really, really hard, and be very clever and sly with everything you do.”
“Sly is like a snake,” said Diane, doing the sound effects. She slivered her arm over to him and bit him gently under his armpits and he squealed and giggled, writhing in his chair. “S-s-s-s-s-s!”
“Why do you have to be a snake?” said Mavis.
“Well because so many people want to sit in those seats, but there’s only so many, so people do whatever is necessary to get one. You have to do the things that other people are not willing do to, you have to slip and sneak, and be a little deceitful.”
“And suck their blood!” Lewis interjected.
“Is Daddy sitting in a seat or is he dancing?” asked Mavis.
“Your father…” Diane began. She thought about it. “I don’t know about your father, Mavis. It could be that he’s sitting in a seat.” She began to feel uncomfortable about the analogy she had introduced to the children, this dichotomous, divisive way of seeing people. “He could be a manager, or a soda vendor or something,” she said. “He needn’t be one of the two.”
“Do you think our father is a good person?” asked Mavis, adopting Diane’s mode of address.
“Yes your father is a good man,” said Diane automatically. Mavis studied Diane’s face with the sober attention of a shellshocked veteran’s child, which she was, someone too early acquainted with the kind of fear that warrants nothing and relies on nothing, but causes one to suspect everything quietly behind eyes that have seen already, all at once, the worst of life. Mr Winthrop was that person.
“Daddy is a good person,” Mavis repeated, for her own records, meditating it. “The men in the seats are snakes,” she said, “the dancers and soda vendors are people, what about the librarian, what is she?” said Mavis.