Authors: Robert Cormier
“These slice-of-life vignettes … demonstrate Cormier’s accessibility to young adult readers.… A strong collection … that probes the emotions of adults and young people with equal sensitivity.”
8 Plus 1
is a pleasurable experience which the reader is reluctant to end.”
Journal of Reading
“These are stories to savor.… The finest writers write for all of us, without respect to age, and Cormier again demonstrates his mastery of the art.”
Voice of Youth Advocates
After the First Death
Beyond the Chocolate War
The Bumblebee Flies Anyway
The Chocolate War
8 Plus 1
I Am the Cheese
In the Middle of the Night
The Rag and Bone Shop
Tunes for Bears to Dance To
We All Fall Down
Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
Text copyright © 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980 by Robert Cormier
Cover illustration copyright © by Victor Stabin
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Convention. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
The trademark Laurel-Leaf Library
is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The trademark Dell
is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Reprinted by arrangement with Pantheon Books
The Moustache,” “A Bad Time for Fathers,” and “Mine on Thursdays” were originally published in
President Cleveland, Where Are You?” and “Bunny Berigan—Wasn’t He a Musician or Something?” were originally published in
Another of Mike’s Girls” was originally published in
My First Negro” was originally published in
Protestants Cry, Too” was originally published in
St. Anthony Messenger.
Guess What? I Almost Kissed My Father Goodnight” was originally published in
The Saturday Evening Post.
The stories in this collection were written between 1965 and 1975. They were written at a time when my wife and I were involved in bringing up three teenagers. The house sang those days with the vibrant songs of youth—tender, hectic, tragic, and ecstatic. Hearts were broken on Sunday afternoon and repaired by the following Thursday evening, but how desperate it all was in the interim. The telephone never stopped ringing, the shower seemed to be constantly running, the Beatles became a presence in our lives.
As our son and two daughters went through those lacerating adolescent years, I recalled my own teenage era and realized that my children were reenacting my own life and the lives of friends I had known. It struck me that fashions change along with slang and pop tunes and fads, but emotions remain the same. A bruised heart is a bruised heart no matter what year it is.
My memory may falter when it comes to facts and figures, but I have almost total recall of my emotions at almost any given moment of the past. Thus, I began to write a series of short stories, translating the emotions of both the present and the past—and finding they were the same, actually —into stories dealing with family relationships, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons. I wrote about growing up, and the parents in the stories grow up, too, to the knowledge, often bittersweet, that the passing years bring.
Three stories deal with the days of the Great Depression or immediately afterward while the remainder are set in scenes contemporary with the time in which they were written. I didn’t edit the stories or alter them. It is my hope that the emotions ring true; if they do, then I have done my work properly.
A few years ago, I spoke at a seminar at Simmons College in Boston, one of my favorite stopping places for seminars. A woman approached me timidly after I had talked to the participants. She said that she had almost not attended my particular segment of the program because she had recently read my novels
The Chocolate War
I Am the Cheese
and feared she would encounter a monster. She told me that she was glad she came, however, because she had met “another Robert Cormier.
I hope readers of my novels will meet that other Robert Cormier in these stories.
The question I hear most often when the subject of writing comes up is “Where do you get your ideas?” No doubt that’s the question all writers hear most frequently.
Every writer has his or her own answer, of course. I tell people that my ideas usually grow out of an emotion—something I have experienced, observed, or felt. The emotion sparks my impulse to write and I find myself at the typewriter trying to get the emotion and its impact down on paper. Out of that comes a character and then a plot. The sequence seldom varies: emotion, character, plot. Each element contributes to the whole.
Which brings up further questions. Where do the characters come from? Are they made up? And where do you get your plots?
Perhaps the best way to answer the questions is to explain the genesis of “The Moustache” because it follows almost perfectly the method I have applied throughout the years, showing how a strong emotion caused me to use real people and situations to produce a short story that is entirely fiction.
When my son, Peter, was a teenager, his maternal grandmother became a resident in a local nursing home. The victim of an accident from which she never really recovered—she was struck by a car as she crossed a street—she had more recently suffered the terrible onslaught of arteriosclerosis. Those were shattering days for us all, particularly my wife, who visited her daily but found little comfort because her mother often did not recognize her.
Her mother had been a handsome, vigorous woman, capable of operating a drugstore for many years following the early death of her husband. It was cruel to see her diminished as a person. It was sad to have her grandchildren witness her deterioration from the
they had known as youngsters.
One Saturday, Peter visited her in the nursing home. He returned visibly moved, shaken. Her condition had affected him greatly. His grandmother had been uncommunicative, ravaged by the disease, only a dim echo of the
he had known and loved throughout his boyhood.
I remembered my own maternal grandmother, a lively, lovely woman who had died suddenly while I was in high school. I had been stunned by the way she had looked in her coffin. Her lips were two thin straight lines. She looked grim and forbidding, nothing at all like the vibrant Nana I had known. I left the funeral parlor in anguish. Those lips haunted me.
Now, almost thirty years later, Peter’s emotion
had merged with mine and I found myself struggling to express it at the typewriter.
What emerged was “The Moustache.
These were the realities: Peter’s grandmother was in a nursing home. He had visited her. He was a teenager and had recently grown a moustache. His grandmother had had little recognition of him. He had been shaken by the visit.
Here is what happened in the story that grew out of these elements and emotions: A boy who had recently grown a moustache visits his grandmother in a nursing home. Because of the moustache, she mistakenly thinks he is someone else. As a result, the boy sees his grandmother as a person, not simply the grandmother figure he’d always known. The moment also caused him to grow a bit and to make him look at his world and his parents in a different way.
Thus, the stuff of actuality is transformed into the stuff of fiction.
The underlying problem, of course, is to have the characters appear as distinct personalities of their own and not carbon copies of the actual people. In effect, I have used real emotions but the people are real only on the printed page—the boy in the story is not Peter and the woman is not his grandmother.
One note: My wife’s father, who died at an early age, was a man of magnificent gestures. In the heart of the Depression while he was struggling with a new business and bringing up a family, he bought his wife—my children’s Mémère—a baby-grand piano. This marvelous gift in the bleakest of
times has never failed to arouse my admiration for that man. The piano is now in our living room, and I have used the incident twice in short stories, one of them “The Moustache.
At the last minute Annie couldn’t go. She was invaded by one of those twenty-four-hour flu bugs that sent her to bed with a fever, moaning about the fact that she’d also have to break her date with Handsome Harry Arnold that night. We call him Handsome Harry because he’s actually handsome, but he’s also a nice guy, cool, and he doesn’t treat me like Annie’s kid brother, which I am, but like a regular person. Anyway, I had to go to Lawnrest alone that afternoon. But first of all I had to stand inspection. My mother lined me up against the wall. She stood there like a one-man firing squad, which is kind of funny because she’s not like a man at all, she’s very feminine, and we have this great relationship—I mean, I feel as if she really likes me. I realize that sounds strange, but I know guys whose mothers love them and cook special stuff for them and worry about them and all but there’s something missing in their relationship.
Anyway. She frowned and started the routine. “That hair,” she said. Then admitted: “Well, at least you combed it.”
I sighed. I have discovered that it’s better to sigh than argue.
“And that moustache.” She shook her head. “I still say a seventeen-year-old has no business wearing a moustache.”
“It’s an experiment,” I said. “I just wanted to see if I could grow one.” To tell the truth, I had proved my point about being able to grow a decent moustache, but I also had learned to like it.
“It’s costing you money, Mike,” she said.
“I know, I know.”
The money was a reference to the movies. The Downtown Cinema has a special Friday night offer—half-price admission for high school couples, seventeen or younger. But the woman in the box office took one look at my moustache and charged me full price. Even when I showed her my driver’s license. She charged full admission for Cindy’s ticket, too, which left me practically broke and unable to take Cindy out for a hamburger with the crowd afterward. That didn’t help matters, because Cindy has been getting impatient recently about things like the fact that I don’t own my own car and have to concentrate on my studies if I want to win that college scholarship, for instance. Cindy wasn’t exactly crazy about the moustache, either.