Meadows of Fantasy



"I'M GOING TO marry Theo," said Cynthia.

Mine crossed and uncrossed her ankles as she lay on the bed.

"Do you know what I thought you said, for a minute?" she eventually managed with a semblance of nonchalance. "I thought you said you were going to marry Theo."

Now it was Cynthia's turn to fidget. Nevertheless, she at least didn't flinch, but looked Mine straight in the eyes.

"I did," she said. "Say that, I mean. Because I am. Oh, Mine --" for the latter had now visibly turned a shade whiter under her tan "-- I had to tell you first. I just had..." Her words tailed off as she crossed the room, plonked hresrlf down on the bed beside her friend, and laid her small hand impulsively over Mine's noticeably larger one. "I -- er -- well, that's it, I am, and you can kick me hard if you want to."

The ghost of a smile flickered momentarily at the corners of Mine's mouth.

"Does he know?" she asked gently.

"Y...yes. Of course." The idea had taken Cynthia by surprise. "He asked me this afternoon."

"He -- he's in Thisbury then?"

" We met in Chipping Melton. I... there isn't a ring yet. He -- we -- my mum and dad -- you know. First, like."

Mine slowly expelled her breath. Then she smiled again -- quite a fair attempt, this time. "Th...thanks, Cynth," she murmured. For an instant she patted Cynthia's hand with her free one. "Actually, you've done me more of a favour than you probably realise. It's just sort of that it hurt all at once like -- but it would have done anyway. No -- it's silly, but it's me. I know perfectly well that it's all over between us -- really, I mean -- but I still kept on hoping that a miracle would happen. One minute ago -- when you said that he'd asked you -- I realised that it wouldn't. So now I can begin to get over it properly -- I hope." She smiled once more, and freed her thumb to squeeze Cynthia's hand in hers. "You mentioned your mum and dad just now. How are you going to get round them, anyway?"

"Oh, they'll come round soon enough." Cynthia was no longer hesitant. "Theo's got his own shop -- a very respectable line of business to be in, far more classy than being just a butcher or a greengrocer -- quite the little plutocrat, by their standards. And he's easy to get on with -- they'll like him OK. And he's not all that old -- oh, it'll be easy enough. They won't too much care for the idea of my going away to live out of Thisbury -- but they'll swallow that too. They'll have to. And they'll be as pleased as all getout on the whole."

"I can imagine them marvelling over how satisfactorily normal their wayward daughter has become all of a sudden." Mine actually chuckled. Then she sobered again. "But -- you are sure, I suppose?" I mean -- stop me if I'm wrong, but I wasn't under the impression that you and Theo had seen all that much of each other to date."

"I'm sure," confirmed Cynthia readily. "I'm very sure, yes. We haven't actually met very often, no -- we've had a couple of secret meetings around the place that we haven't let on about, though. But we've written and written and written -- he sends them to me at the office, and I take them out when I sort the post in the morning. You know, Mine -- it's silly -- but the first time I wrote to him, shortly after you -- you know -- I had the idea in my mind that somehow I could work round -- if he replied -- to trying to mend things between you and him. Only it didn't work round that way at all. The more we wrote, the more we found we had in common -- it was uncanny. And -- we both began to get the idea that something more ought to be done about it. So it is being."

"Yes," Mine mused. "He writes lovely letters, doesn't he. And yet he says he doesn't like writing..."

"Yes, but that's only when it's sort of composed writing. But of course -- you know that."

Mine re-crossed her ankles again. "Tell me," she said in a business-like voice. "Has he ever told you anything about--" the voice abruptly became less business-like -- "-- why we broke it off?"

"No," Cynthia admitted. "I did sort of ask, of course. And he did say that there was no possible chance of you two coming together again. He's going to tell me later -- he'll know when, he says."

Mine considered this. "I'm going to tell you now," she decided. I see Theo's point, I think. But this is my secret rather than his -- and you have a right to know now. It's -- it was -- well, trouble over Barker."

"Barker!" exclaimed Cynthia. "But -- that's ridiculous! He's a lovely dog. And you love him -- and he loves you, too."

"I know," said Mine. "He is, and we do. But -- that's part of the trouble. He's too much of a friend. It's sort of like -- say -- like making love to somebody while you're in the room, or Dave or somebody. And I -- I just can't do it."

"But..." Cynthia protested. "But I thought...I mean..." She found herself in an uncharacteristic state of embarrassment. Had the conversation not been so loaded emotionally, she would have found not the slightest difficulty in discussing such a subject with Mine, or Theo, or any of them of whichever sex. However, Mine made the connection and skated blithely over the gap.

"Oh, that was different. At Much Wenlock there's a whole houseful of rooms. And at the Con, Barker was usually at somebody else's room party. But when there's just a tent, and a field -- well, there isn't anywhere else for him to go. One can't tell him to run away and play for half an hour -- he lives wherever Theo happens to be, and when he's finished doing whatever he's doing he comes home. Oh, I suppose we could have put an old coat or something across the other side of the field and told him to watch that. And he would have done. But it would have been just an excuse to get rid of him -- and I think Barker would have known it was just an excuse, too. Anyway -- that's when I realised it wouldn't work. Theo isn't the least embarrassed at Barker's presence, and was surprised to find I was. But I am -- and that was the end of it."

"Oh," said Cynthia. For the life of her, she couldn't think of anything else suitable to say right at that minute. There was a perceptible pause. "But," she continued, "do you mean -- think -- I don't know -- never thought of it -- but anyway I'm younger than you, and more adaptable... Oh, Mine -- I don't mean -- you're not old, either..."

Mine took Cynthia's hand between both of hers. "I know what you mean," she said gently. "I'm mature and you're not yet. That does make a difference."

"But..." said Cynthia again. "You -- in your case -- I'm thinking -- wondering -- it seems callous to say this about Barker, but he won't live for ever. Couldn't you have waited or something..."

Mine kept hold of Cynthia's hand. "I feel slightly disloyal saying this..." she began.

"Well don't say it then," Cynthia retorted with commendable promptness.

"I want to say it. Cynth -- I love Theo, as you know, in spite of all. And I love you, too. So whatever there is between you -- and I hope it's the best there is -- I want to make sure if I possibly can that it starts right. And again, you've a right to know now. But I dare say I know Theo better, probably, than anybody else in the world at present -- even you. And I can tell you this as a fact -- Barkers may come and Barkers may go, but Theo needs a dog. More, in fact, than he needs a wife -- though in a vastly different way of course."

"Need," suggested Cynthia, "is a very big word for four letters."

"It is," Mine agreed. "Put it this way, then. I can't imagine him being really happy now, wife or no wife, unless there's also a dog around the house. Theo gives a very good impression of being a contentedly self-contained character. But he isn't. He feels the need for somebody to boss around -- oh, very humanely and lovingly. But he does. You're not really fooled by that studied 'equality' act that he and Barker always put on, are you?"

"Er -- no, I suppose not. Not really. Barker is a dog, after all. But I thought...sort of..."

"It's an act," Mine stated bluntly. "A very well-rehearsed act, too, and most effective. But underneath, the relationship between Theo and Barker is entirely that of master and servant. It's a particularly endearing instance of the master-servant relationship, with the servant undeniably belonging to an inferior order of existence and yet with love on both sides. Theo takes pleasure in giving the orders -- Barker knows few greater joys than carrying them out. A classical case of symbiotic relationship in fact. So Theo must have a dog. A wife is no substitute, because devoted service is not what's he's mainly looking for in a wife. He's looking for physical and intellectual companionship. It looks as if he's found it, too. But even more, he needs to have a dog."

"In that case," said Cynthia trying to look unconcerned, "I guess we'll have to have a dog."

Mine could have cheered.

They chatted on a while longer, then Cynthia left for it was getting late. As Mine closed the front door, it suddenly occurred to her that she'd never congratulated the younger girl. Still, they understood each other without the formalities. Hard on the heels of that thought came another to the effect that Cynthia's presence had been keeping her, Mine, from becoming too depressed. Now, with Cynthia gone, depression began to come crowding in upon her. Neither of her flat-mates was at home -- they were both at a dance somewhere, and in any case she didn't feel like facing their idle chatter in her present mood. They'd probably be back soon -- and the corollary was inevitable, really. Aboard the Turtle she could sit and think interesting thoughts, have a few cups of strong coffee and a few biscuits the while she attempted to put her scattered emotions into some semblance of order. It was a fine autumn night, so she slipped on a sweater and a pair of low-heeled shoes and, disdaining her trusty scooter, on her two feet she sallied forth into the darkness and turned her steps towards the Meadows.

The Meadows, of course, were never closed -- it was something vaguely to do with common rights, and anyway there had to be access to the moorings. Mine stepped briskly across the short grass towards the Turtle. There seemed to be a gleam of light showing -- surely nobody was up at this hour? She drew nearer -- yes, a light there certainly was. And it was one of the basic rules of the Circle that no light was to be left burning when the barge was unoccupied. Possibly it was Harry the Second (and friend). Still, she was so near now she might as well knock -- if she wasn't welcome they'd soon tell her. Then she saw the scooter parked on the bank -- that would mean either Dave or Owen, for they both had scooters now. Such company, perhaps strangely, she felt by no means unaverse to. As she trod the gangway, she could hear the sound of the duplicator being cranked. Without preamble she opened the door-shaped hatch -- it was kept shut against insects despite the good autumnal weather -- and dropped down the ladder. Dave looked up momentarily, without pausing in his cranking.

"Hi," he said easily. "Forgotten something?"

"No," Mine returned. "That is -- no. But I've just heard -- Cynth's going to marry Theo."

Dave stopped cranking on the instant, and swivelled to face her. "Never!" he exclaimed automatically, then paused. "Though on second thoughts -- why, with all due respect to yourself, Mine, not? They're the two freest spirits I know. Offhand I'd say they had a damn good chance of making a better-than-usual marriage -- in fact I think I rather like the idea. Who told you?"

"Cynth. He asked her this afternoon, in Chipping Melton."

"Oh. So it's definitely the goods then." He considered her quizzically. "Bit hard on you though, isn't it? I had an idea you still entertained hopes there yourself -- if I'm not speaking out of turn."

"It was rather a -- shock, yes. But I'm over the worst now thanks. And I agree with you, Dave -- they could make a damn good couple. I have something of an inside picture of things one way or another, and I think they've a pretty good chance as you say. Er -- anything I can do to help?"

"Not right now, thanks -- they're not ready for collating yet. Unless you care to be an angel and rustle up some coffee or something."

"Can do." Mine stuck a kettle of water on the gas ring, ladled a couple of good helpings of the makings into two mugs, and returned to the main room. "I suppose there isn't any milk?"

There wasn't, so she picked the top sheet off a pile that lay on the table, plonked herself down in a convenient armchair and began to study it while she waited.

demonstration, as exemplified by the "Methuselah's Children", (she read) is vivid indeed.

Let us turn now to another theme which occurs again and again in Heinlein's works, yet which hitherto seems to have been completely ignored. This is the question of the comparative ages of some of his "paired" characters. First, I'll quote some examples. The novel "If This Goes On", also known as "Revolt in 2100", features the romance between the young and innocent protagonest and a girl several years his senior -- whom he eventually marries. Part of the plot of "Beyond This Horizon" hinges on the fact that a couple of minor characters turn out to be secretly married -- and again the woman is specifically older than the man. The title-character in the short story "The Menace from Earth" is a youthfully middle-aged Earthwoman who gets a few brief kicks from a Moon-born lad. (In this instance, she does finally hand him back to his regular girlfriend with a brave show of "he's-not-really-my-typestry".) And then there is the already-notorious "Stranger in a Strange Land". Valentine Michael Smith, the "stranger" in question, is during the course of the narrative (on-stage or off) sexually intimate with most of the female characters -- most if not all of whom are certainly older than he is, some considerably so.

We have here, then, four instances in Heinlein's works of -- to put it at its lowest common denominator -- sexual attraction between a younger man and an older woman. In at least three of the four instances (if not, indeed, in all four), physical sex is implied. In two cases the parties actually marry. There are probably other instances too that I've overlooked -- and if "Stranger" is any guide, even more blatant instances can be expected in the future. This then, I think, qualifies as a running theme within the meaning of the (sexual) act, no?

The point, of course, is that in each case it is explicitly stated that the woman is older (or, to cover all contingencies, the man is younger). A quick look at the state of the subject in real life seems indicated. The accepted convention, as it is generally understood, is that the man should be older than the woman -- though not, for preference, too much older. And fiction generally follows this convention. If the comparative ages of a couple are given, the man is normally shown as being older than the woman. If they are not given, one assumes (as one does in real life) that the convention is being followed.

The extent to which the convention is honoured in real life is a matter upon which a little quiet thought may lead to some surprising conclusions. Take my own case -- I was born exactly two days before Daisy, but which of us was actually started first is anybody's guess (and neither of us could care less either way). But when an author goes out of his way to state categorically that the convention is not being followed, it can be assumed that he's doing it with some specific purpose in mind. Perhaps he is himself slightly fetishist towards older women (or towards younger men, if the author's a woman). Perhaps he simply tosses it in to help keep the general sexual titillation going full blast, as J.T. McIntosh sometimes seems to. I suspect that Heinlein's reason, however, is somewhat more studiously purposeful than either of the above -- particularly as he returns to the theme again and again. (1)

(Mine turned the sheet over and continued reading:)

The notion that he in fact advocating the reversal of the convention, suggestion that men preferably should mate with women older than themselves, albeit it helps to cancel out the some extent the effects of women's greater longevity, I reject out of hand. Although this theme of older-women-with-younger-men is very much present as I have shown, the opposite condition is also there in full measure. Plenty of Heinlein's males mate with younger females. No. What I think Heinlein's trying to say is that any conventions on the subject of age are unnecessarily restrictive in their effect, and mankind would be better off without them. If two people are sufficiently compatible in other ways, the question as to which of them is the older, and by how much, is irrelevant and should be ignored.

Whilst much has been written about Heinlein's alleged fascist tendencies (as exemplified in "Starship Soldier/Troopers" and elsewhere), what is surely an equally significant tendency seems to be almost entirely overlooked. I refer to.............

Mine looked up. "Dave," she asked "-- who wrote this Heinlein thing?"

"Steve Barton," said Dave without pausing in his cranking. "It was the article I'd been held up for." Of course, Mine thought -- if she'd had her wits about her the reference to "Daisy" should have told her that. "You're not forgetting the kettle, are you?" Dave went on. Mine dropped the sheet and fled to the kitchenette, where the kettle was now boiling its head off, and a minute or so later came back carrying two temptingly steaming mugs. Dave ran off a dozen more sheets, whipped the stencil off and dropped it in the waste-box, then gratefully accepted a mug and subsided into the armchair in which Mine had been sitting. Mine shrugged philosophically, glanced at the other armchair which was fully occupied by the Nullgray Mouser, and back at Dave again. "Well," said Mine, following her mood to its logical conclusion. "Armchairs are free, but cats are sacred. So stand by, Mr. Armchairman, to receive boarders." And she slid gracefully on to Dave's lap, coffee in hand, leaned back against him, and took a sip herself.

Their eyes swivelled at met. Dave smiled.

"Careful, Mine," he warned her. "This is what is known as the rebound."

"Well, it was you or Nullie," Mine excused herself. "And one can't get much fun rebounding with a cat. With at cat? From a cat? To or for a cat? Felis, a cat. Felix, a happy cat. Bert really ought to be here -- we're trespassing on his Puninsula."

"'We'? Who's 'we'?" Dave delicately manoeuvred an arm round Mine's body in order to take another sip of his coffee.

"Oh, don't be an old meanie. Eeen, meanie, Miney. I'm Miney -- where's Mo?"

"Half a mo while I drink up, then I'll make enquiries."

"Oh -- good. You are playing." She wriggled for a moment to adjust her perch, then brought her drinking-arm up inside Dave's and took another sip. So did Dave. The coffee was hot, and they continued to sip slowly for a while in a curiously companionable silence, each thinking his own thoughts. Finally Dave laid down his mug on a handy chair-seat, and a moment later Mine sighed and did the same. Again their eyes met, and this time they held. Now Dave sighed too -- a silly sort of sigh.

"Happy rebound, Your Majesty," he saluted her. Her face was very close to his now, and he did the obvious thing. Neither of them seemed to be in any particular hurry to pull away.

"Whew! That was -- sort of pleasant," Dave gasped when they eventually came up for air. "Let's try it again, shall we?"

Mine said nothing. Nothing, really, needed to be said. And Dave understood perfectly what she mean. They stayed under even longer this time -- at least it seemed longer, though in such circumstances it's difficult to tell for sure.

"It's funny," said Mine when they came up for the third time (or was it the fourth?) "-- all of a sudden my being three years older than you seems to have become somewhat meaningless."

"Yes," said Dave slowly, letting the heady flavour of this stupendous moment roll exquisitely around his palate. "It does, doesn't it?"

And their searching mouths came together again.


The night was still pleasantly warm, and Mine eventually dozed off on Dave's lap. Dave felt not the least bit sleepy himself, but was content to let her, her head resting trustingly against his shoulder. (She even snored at bit.) All of a sudden she came wide awake again as the Nullgray Mouser let out a shriek of feline alarm and scooted for the hatch. Dave moved one foot -- and felt something slosh.

"Huh?" he grunted. "Blasted cat's upset something. Now what the..."

Mine took one look at the cabin floor and jumped off Dave's lap with an automatic reflex action. "We're sinking!" she exclaimed. "Take to the boats!" And she too sprang for the ladder.

And sinking indeed the Turtle was. That much was now obvious. However, Dave refused to panic. He considered for a moment. "We've got about a foot or two of clearance plus a flat bottom," he reminded her. "The river-bottom is flat too -- and we're tied to the bank at both ends. So we could hardly drown even if we tried." He swept the duplicated sheets into a pile, added a couple of unrun stencils, and clasped them to himself with his left arm. "Let's save the perishables. The library next, I think -- start at the bottom shelf."

Mine let go the ladder again, and paddled across the floor. "To hell with that," she said. "I'll start with the Heinlein."


When, presently, the barge settled on the mud, the water was up to mid-thigh. Mine, her skirt tucked up around her waist and entirely unconcerned about what she might be showing, pulled out the last batch of submerged volumes and handed them up to Dave. The water hadn't had a chance to soak through them, so they'd dry out with no worse effects than wrinkled and/or faded covers. Dave spread them out along the deck.

"What else can we do?" Mine asked as she poked her head through the hatch.

"Nothing much, really, until it's light. We'll have to get everything ashore as soon as we can of course, but right now I don't think we can really do anything in particular. Any idea of the time?"

Mine hadn't. "Pity," she continued. "We could almost have made a night of it."

"You cold?"

"Not really."

"I'm disposed to make a night of it in any case. I don't exactly object to your company though. And we can start salvage operations again as soon as it gets light."

"Fair enough then. It's hardly worth going home at this time either -- whatever it is -- in any case. The girls'll be all a-twitter tomorrow, damn them."

Mine waded back into the interior to extinguish the paraffin lamp that hung from overhead, then joined Dave on deck. Dave had cleared the books and papers away from a suitable spot, and was sitting down leaning against the cabin. Pausing only to let down her skirt -- and not particularly demurely at that -- Mine sat down beside him. Their arms crept automatically round each other, she sank her head on his shoulder, and he rested his against the top of hers. For a minute or two they surveyed the field of stats that spread wide before them.

"I dunno," Mine murmured. "I feel like making plans. Let's make some."

"We've plenty of time. I don't want to get married before I'm thirty."

"Thirty?" she wailed. "Dave -- have a heart. When you're thirty I'll be thirty-three -- and I want to have finished having my babies by then, thank you very much. Er -- I'd like three please."

"Oh." Dave considered for a moment. "I think I'd sooner stick at two myself, he decided. "Perhaps we can compromise at two-and-a-half or something. But you've got a point there, Mine. I'll have to think about it." He paused again. "Has either of us said anything yet that might be construed as a specific proposal, by the way? Or shall I -- just for the record, like?"

"Kiss me," said Mine.

And as the night moved slowly on towards the dawn, they sat there, leaning happily against the cabin and against each other, absorbed in the fascinating game of planning a joint future.


(1) Any readers who wish to extrapolate further at this point do so entirely at their own risk. AM

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