the power has descended,
now weaker, now stronger.
And which way did the
power run in the four-year-old
in the garden, playing
with a pie plate?
By S. DORMAN
Illustrated by SCHELLING
It was an old house not far
from the coast, and had descended
generation by generation
to the women of the Putnam
family. Progress literally went
by it: a new four-lane highway
had been built two hundred
yards from the ancient lilacs at
the doorstep. Long before that,
in the time of Cecily Putnam's
husband, power lines had been
run in, and now on cold nights
the telephone wires sounded like
a concert of cellos, while inside
with a sound like the breaking of
beetles, the grandmother Cecily
moved through the walls in the
grooves of tradition.
Simone Putnam, her granddaughter;
Nina Putnam, her
great-granddaughter; the unbroken
succession of matriarchs
continued, but times the old
woman thought that in Simone
it was weakened, and she looked
at the four-year-old Nina askance,
waiting, waiting, for some
Sometimes one of the Putnam
women had given birth to a son,
who grew sickly and died, or
less often, grew healthy and fled.
The husbands were usually
strangers to the land, the house,
and the women, and spent a lifetime
with the long-lived Putnam
wives, and died, leaving their
strange signs: telephone wires,
electric lights, water pumps,
Sam Harris came and married
Simone, bringing with him an
invasion of washer, dryer, toaster,
mixer, coffeemaster, until the
current poured through the walls
of the house with more vigor
than the blood in the old woman's
"You don't approve of him,"
Simone said to her grandmother.
"It's his trade," Cecily Putnam
answered. "Our men have been
carpenters, or farmers, or even
schoolmasters. But an engineer.
Simone was washing the dishes,
gazing out across the windowsill
where two pink and white
Murex shells stood, to the tidy
garden beyond where Nina was
engaged in her private games.
She dried the dishes by passing
her hand once above each
plate or glass, bringing it to a
dry sparkle. It saved wear on the
dishtowels, and it amused her.
"Sam's not home very much,"
she said in a placating voice.
She herself had grown terrified,
since her marriage, that she
wouldn't be able to bear the
weight of her past. She felt its
power on her and couldn't carry
it. Cecily had brought her up,
after her father had disappeared
and her mother had died in an
unexplained accident. Daily she
saw the reflection of her failure
in the face of her grandmother,
who seemed built of the same
seasoned and secure wood as the
old Putnam house. Simone looked
at her grandmother, whom she
loved, and became a mere vapor.
"He's not home so much,"
Her face was small, with a
pointed chin, and she had
golden-red hair which she wore
loose on her shoulders. Nina, too,
had a small face, but it was neither
so pale nor so delicate as her
mother's, as if Sam's tougher
substance had filled her out and
strengthened her bone structure.
If it was true that she, Simone,
was a weak link, then Sam's
strength might have poured into
the child, and there would be no
more Putnam family and tradition.
"People don't change that easily,"
the old woman said.
"But things—" Simone began.
The china which had a history of
five generations slipped out of
her hands and smashed; Sam's
toaster wouldn't toast or pop up;
Simone couldn't even use the telephone
for fear of getting a
wrong number, or no number
"Things, things!" her grandmother
cried. "It's blood that
counts. If the blood is strong
enough, things dissolve. They're
just garbage, all those things,
floating on the surface of our history.
It's our history that's deep.
That's what counts."
"You're afraid of Sam," the
young woman accused.
"Not afraid of any man!"
Cecily said, straightening her
back. "But I'm afraid for the
child. Sam has no family tradition,
no depth, no talent handed
down and perfected. A man with
his head full of wheels and
Simone loved him. She leaned
on him and grew about him, and
he supported her tenderly. She
wasn't going to give him up for
the sake of some abstract tradition—
"—it's not abstract," her
grandmother said with spirit.
"It's in your blood. Or why don't
you sweep the floors the way
other women do? The way Sam's
Simone had begun to clean the
house while she was thinking,
moving her hand horizontally
across the floor, at the height of
her hip, and the dust was following
the motion of her hand and
moving in a small, sun-brightened
river toward the trash basket
in the kitchen corner. Now
Simone raised her hand to her
face to look at it, and the river
of dust rose like a serpent and
hung a foot below her hand.
"Yes," she agreed, "at least I
can clean the house. If I don't
touch the good china, and look
where I'm going."
"Phui," the old woman said
again, angrily. "Don't feel so
sorry for yourself."
"Not for myself," Simone
mumbled, and looked again toward
the garden where her
daughter was doing something
with three stones and a pie plate
full of spring water.
"I do despair of Nina," Cecily
said, as she had said before.
"She's four, and has no appearance.
Not even balance. She fell
out of the applerose tree, and
couldn't even help herself." Suddenly
the old woman thrust her
face close to her granddaughter.
It was smooth, round, and sweet
as a young kernel of corn. The
eyes, sunk down under the bushy
grey brows, were cold and clear
"Simone," the old woman said.
"You didn't lie to me? You did
know she was falling, and couldn't
get back in time to catch
A shudder passed through Simone's
body. There was no blood
in her veins, only water; no marrow
in her bones, they were
empty, and porous as a bird's.
Even the roots of her hair were
weak, and now the sweat was
starting out on her scalp as she
faced her grandmother and saw
the bristling shapes of seven
generations of Putnam women
"You lied," the old woman
said. "You didn't know she was
Simone was a vapor, a mere
froth blowing away on the first
"My poor dear," the old woman
said in a gentle voice. "But
how could you marry someone
like Sam? Don't you know what
will happen? He'll dissolve us,
our history, our talents, our
pride. Nina is nothing but an
ordinary little child."
"She's a good child," Simone
said, trying not to be angry. She
wanted her child to be loved, to
be strong. "Nina isn't a common
child," she said, with her head
bent. "She's very bright."
"A man with his head full of
wheels, who's at home with electricity
and wires," the old woman
went on. "We've had them before,
but never allowed them to dominate
us. My own husband was
such a man, but he was only allowed
to make token gestures,
such as having the power lines
put in. He never understood how
they worked." She lowered her
voice to a whisper, "Your Sam
understands. I've heard him talk
to the water pump."
"That's why you're afraid of
him," Simone said. "Not because
I'm weak, and he might take
something away from me, but
because he's strong, and he
might give us something. Then
everything would change, and
you're afraid of that. Nina might
be our change." She pointed toward
Following the white line of
her granddaughter's finger,
Cecily looked out into the garden
and saw Nina turn toward them
as though she knew they were angry.
The child pointed with one
finger directly at them in the
house. There was a sharp crackle,
and something of a brilliant and
vibrating blue leaped between
the out-stretched fingers of mother
and daughter, and flew up like
a bird to the power lines above.
"Mommy," Nina called.
Simone's heart nearly broke
with wonder and fright. Her
passed through the kitchen door
and emerged on the step outside,
but Simone opened the door and
left it open behind her. "What
was that?" she asked Nina.
"Was it a bluebird?"
"Don't be silly," Nina said.
She picked up the pie plate and
brought it toward them. Cecily's
face was white and translucent,
one hand went to her throat as
the child approached.
Brimfull of crackling blue fire
with a fluctuating heart of yellow,
the pie plate came toward
them, held between Nina's small,
dusty hands. Nina grinned at
them. "I stole it out of the
wires," she said.
Simone thought she would
faint with a mixture of joy and
fear. "Put it back," she whispered.
"Please put it back."
"Oh Mommy," Nina said, beginning
to whine. "Not now. Not
right away. I just got it. I've
done it lots of times." The pie
plate crackled and hissed in the
steady, small hands.
Simone could feel the old woman's
shocked silence behind her.
"You mustn't carry it in a pie
plate, it's dangerous," Simone
said to her child, but she could
see Nina was in no danger. "How
often have you done this?" She
could feel her skirt and her hair
billow with electricity.
"Lots of times. You don't like
it, do you?" She became teasing
and roguish, when she looked
most like Sam. Suddenly she
threw back her head and opened
her mouth, and tilting up the pie
plate she drank it empty. Her
reddish gold hair sprang out in
crackling rays around her face,
her eyes flashed and sparks flew
out between her teeth before she
closed her mouth.
"Nina!" the old woman cried,
and began to crumple, falling
slowly against Simone in a complete
faint. Simone caught her in
trembling hands and lowered her
gently. She said to her daughter,
"You mustn't do that in front of
Grandy. You're a bad girl, you
knew it would scare her," and to
herself she said: I must stop
babbling, the child knows I'm
being silly. O isn't it wonderful,
isn't it awful, O Sam, how I love
"Daddy said it would scare
you," Nina admitted. "That's
why I never showed you before."
Her hair was softly falling into
place again, and she was gazing
curiously at her great-grandmother
lying on the doorstep.
"It did scare me," Simone
said. "I'm not used to it, darling.
But don't keep it secret any
"Is Grandy asleep?"
Simone said hastily, "Oh yes,
she's taking a nap. She is old,
you know, and likes to take
"That's not a nap," Nina said,
leaning over and patting the old
woman's cheek, "I think she's
having a bad dream."
Simone carried her grandmother
into the house. If that old,
tired heart had jumped and floundered
like her own, there must be
some damage done to it. If anything
happened to her grandmother,
the world would end,
Simone thought, and was furious
with Nina, and at the same time,
full of joy for her.
Cecily Putnam opened her eyes
widely, and Simone said, "It
does change, you see. But it's in
the family, after all."
The old woman sat upright
quickly. "That wicked child!"
she exclaimed. "To come and
frighten us like that. She ought
to be spanked." She got up with
great strength and rushed out to
"Nina!" she called imperiously.
The child picked up one of the
small stones from the pie plate
now full of spring water, and
came to her great-grandmother.
"I'll make something for you,
Grandy," she said seriously. She
put the stone in the palm of her
hand, and breathed on it, and
then held out her hand and offered
"It's lovely. Thank you," the
old woman said with dignity, and
put her hand on the child's head.
"Let's go for a walk and I'll
show you how to grow rose-apples.
That's more becoming to
a young lady."
"You slept on the step."
"Ah! I'm old and I like to take
little naps," Cecily answered.
Simone saw them disappear
among the applerose trees side
by side. She was still trembling,
but gradually, as she passed her
hand back and forth, and the
dust followed, moving in a sparkling
river toward the trash
basket, Simone stopped trembling
and began to smile with
the natural pride of a Putnam
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January 1963. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.