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It is a momentous occasion when any child hears that it may not be the person it thinks it is, that it may even be an orphan, which, except for never being born, is the closest thing there is to being no person at all. Perhaps Jeff Greenaway, eleven years old, heard it wrong. This is quite possible since it was a thing overheard rather than told to him directly.
He overheard it in the course of an argument between his parents. Being civilized city people from good backgrounds, his parents hardly ever quarreled. But it was Christmas time, and Jeffâ€™s father had come home from the Friday night office party rather late â€” ten oâ€™clock â€” and tipsy â€” he was not drunk â€” and bearing a reddish-pink smudge on his shirt collar â€” just a holiday peck from Gloria Oldfield, the bossâ€™s secretary, who was â€œalmost sixty years old, for Godsakeâ€ â€” and altogether Jeffâ€™s mother was not amused.
Who knows what had gotten into her that day? There was a morning session with Dr. Krajak, the dentist, but just a cleaning and some investigative poking with the ghastly instruments, no drilling or, God forbid, root canal. There were the crowds at Bloomingdales in the afternoon, a mob of women very much like herself, moiling through clouds of perfume samples â€” but to suggest it is a hardship to spend money at holiday time in New York City would strain anyoneâ€™s credulity. Perhaps it was her time of the month â€” but there are things in this world of mystery that not even an omniscient narrator can tell. At any rate, after Jeffâ€™s father came home late that evening, they had a fight.
As it happened, Jeff was in his room enjoying an episode of The Twilight Zone on television. The show was about an elderly commuter who leaves the modern city on the 6:10 train and instead of going home to the suburbs ends up in the turn-of-the-century small town of his youth â€” the catch, of course, being that he has died of a heart attack on the train and gone to heaven. Jeff never got to that part, however. He began to hear raised voices emanating from his parentsâ€™ bedroom about the time that the old geezer in the TV show first stepped off the train into the quaint town of Drakesburg with its horses and buggies, its bandshell in the park, its gartered shop-keepers, and its kids happily rolling their hoops across the town square. Jeffâ€™s mother shouted, very audibly, â€œI never should have married you!â€