The Calm Man by Frank Belknap Long
Dip the pen of a Frank Belknap Long into a bottle of ink and
result is always bound to be a scintillating piece of brilliant
imaginative science fiction. And he's done it again in the
story of Sally.
by ... Frank Belknap Long
Sally watched the molten gold glow in the sky. Then knew she
would not see her son and her husband ever again on Earth.
Sally Anders had never really thought of herself as a wallflower. A
girl could be shy, couldn't she, and still be pretty enough to attract
and hold men?
Only this morning she had drawn an admiring look from the milkman
and a wolf cry from Jimmy on the corner, with his newspapers and shiny
new bike. What if the milkman was crowding sixty and wore thick-lensed
glasses? What if Jimmy was only seventeen?
A male was a male, and a glance was a glance. Why, if I just primp a
little more, Sally told herself, I'll be irresistible.
Hair ribbons and perfume, a mirror tilted at just the right angle,
an invitation to a party on the dresserwhat more did a girl need?
Dinner, Sally! came echoing up from the kitchen. Do you want to
be late, child?
Sally had no intention of being late. Tonight she'd see him across a
crowded room and her heart would skip a beat. He'd look at her and
smile, and come straight toward her with his shoulders squared.
There was always one night in a girl's life that stands above all
other nights. One night when the moon shone bright and clear and the
clock on the wall went tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. One
night when each tick said, You're beautiful! Really beautiful!
Giving her hair a final pat Sally smiled at herself in the mirror.
In the bathroom the water was still running and the perfumed bath
soap still spread its aromatic sweet odor through the room. Sally went
into the bathroom and turned off the tap before going downstairs to the
My girl looks radiant tonight! Uncle Ben said, smiling at her over
his corned beef and cabbage.
Sally blushed and lowered her eyes.
Ben, you're making her nervous, Sally's mother said, laughing.
Sally looked up and met her uncle's stare, her eyes defiant. I'm
not bad-looking whatever you may think, she said.
Oh, now, Sally, Uncle Ben protested. No sense in getting on a
high horse. Tonight you may find a man who just won't be able to resist
Maybe I will and maybe I won't, Sally said. You'd be surprised if
I did, wouldn't you?
It was Uncle Ben's turn to lower his eyes.
I'll tell the world you've inherited your mother's looks, Sally,
he said. But a man has to pride himself on something. My defects of
character are pretty bad. But no one has ever accused me of
Sally folded her napkin and rose stiffly from the table.
Good night, Uncle, she said.
When Sally arrived at the party every foot of floor space was taken
up by dancing couples and the reception room was so crowded that, as
each new guest was announced, a little ripple of displeasure went
through the men in midnight blue and the women in Nile green and
For a moment Sally did not move, just stood staring at the dancing
couples, half-hidden by one of the potted palms that framed the sides
of the long room.
Moonlight silvered her hair and touched her white throat and arms
with a caress so gentle that simply by closing her eyes she could fancy
herself already in his arms.
Moonlight from tall windows flooding down, turning the dancing
guests into pirouetting ghosts in diaphanous blue and green, scarlet
Close your eyes, Sally, close them tight! Now open them! That's
it ... Slowly, slowly ...
He came out of nothingness into the light and was right beside her
He was tall, but not too tall. His face was tanned mahogany brown,
and his eyes were clear and very bright. And he stood there looking at
her steadily until her mouth opened and a little gasp flew out.
He took her into his arms without a word and they started to dance
They were still dancing when he asked her to be his wife.
You'll marry me, of course, he said. We haven't too much time.
The years go by so swiftly, like great white birds at sea.
They were very close when he asked her, but he made no attempt to
kiss her. They went right on dancing and while he waited for her answer
he talked about the moon ...
When the lights go out and the music stops the moon will remain,
he said. It raises tides on the Earth, it inflames the minds and
hearts of men. There are cyclic rhythms which would set a stone to
dreaming and desiring on such a night as this.
He stopped dancing abruptly and looked at her with calm assurance.
You will marry me, won't you? he asked. Allowing for a
reasonable margin of error I seriously doubt if I could be happy with
any of these other women. I was attracted to you the instant I saw
A girl who has never been asked before, who has drawn only one lone
wolf cry from a newsboy could hardly be expected to resist such an
Don't resist, Sally. He's strong and tall and extremely
good-looking. He knows what he wants and makes up his mind quickly.
Surely a man so resolute must make enough money to support a wife.
Yes, Sally breathed, snuggling close to him. Oh, yes!
She paused a moment, then said, You may kiss me now if you wish, my
He straightened and frowned a little, and looked away quickly. That
can wait, he said.
* * * * *
They were married a week later and went to live on an elm-shaded
street just five blocks from where Sally was born. The cottage was
small, white and attractively decorated inside and out. But Sally
changed the curtains, as all women must, and bought some new furniture
on the installment plan.
The neighbors were friendly folk who knew her husband as Mr. James
Rand, an energetic young insurance broker who would certainly carve a
wider swath for himself in his chosen profession now that he had so
charming a wife.
Ten months later the first baby came.
Lying beneath cool white sheets in the hospital Sally looked at the
other women and felt so deliriously happy she wanted to cry. It was a
beautiful baby and it cuddled close to her heart, its smallness a
miracle in itself.
The other husbands came in and sat beside their wives, holding on
tight to their happiness. There were flowers and smiles, whispers that
explored bright new worlds of tenderness and rejoicing.
Out in the corridor the husbands congratulated one another and came
in smelling of cigar smoke.
Have a cigar! That's right. Eight pounds at birth. That's unusual,
isn't it? Brightest kid you ever saw. Knew his old man right off.
He was beside her suddenly, standing straight and still in shadows.
Oh, darling, she whispered. Why did you wait? It's been three
Three days? he asked, leaning forward to stare down at his son.
Really! It didn't seem that long.
Where were you? You didn't even phone!
Sometimes it's difficult to phone, he said slowly, as if measuring
his words. You have given me a son. That pleases me very much.
A coldness touched her heart and a despair took hold of her. It
pleases you! Is that all you can say? You stand there looking at me as
if I were aa patient ...
A patient? His expression grew quizzical. Just what do you mean,
You said you were pleased. If a patient is ill her doctor hopes
that she will get well. He is pleased when she does. If a woman has a
baby a doctor will say, 'I'm so pleased. The baby is doing fine. You
don't have to worry about him. I've put him on the scales and he's a
bouncing, healthy boy.'
Medicine is a sane and wise profession, Sally's husband said.
When I look at my son that is exactly what I would say to the mother
of my son. He is healthy and strong. You have pleased me, Sally.
He bent as he spoke and picked Sally's son up. He held the infant in
the crook of his arm, smiling down at it.
A healthy male child, he said. His hair will come in thick and
black. Soon he will speak, will know that I am his father.
He ran his palm over the baby's smooth head, opened its mouth gently
with his forefinger and looked inside.
Sally rose on one elbow, her tormented eyes searching his face.
He's your child, your son! she sobbed. A woman has a child and
her husband comes and puts his arms around her. He holds her close. If
they love each other they are so happy, so very happy, they break down
I am too pleased to do anything so fantastic, Sally, he said.
When a child is born no tears should be shed by its parents. I have
examined the child and I am pleased with it. Does not that content
No, it doesn't! Sally almost shrieked. Why do you stare at your
own son as if you'd never seen a baby before? He isn't a mechanical
toy. He's our own darling, adorable little baby. Our child! How
can you be so inhumanly calm?
He frowned, put the baby down.
There is a time for love-making and a time for parenthood, he
said. Parenthood is a serious responsibility. That is where medicine
comes in, surgery. If a child is not perfect there are emergency
measures which can be taken to correct the defect.
Sally's mouth went suddenly dry. Perfect! What do you mean, Jim? Is
there something wrong with Tommy?
I don't think so, her husband said. His grasp is firm and strong.
He has good hearing and his eyesight appears to be all that could be
desired. Did you notice how his eyes followed me every moment?
I wasn't looking at his eyes! Sally whispered, her voice tight
with alarm. Why are you trying to frighten me, Jim? If Tommy wasn't a
normal, healthy baby do you imagine for one instant they would have
placed him in my arms?
That is a very sound observation, Sally's husband said. Truth is
truth, but to alarm you at a time like this would be unnecessarily
Where does that put you?
I simply spoke my mind as the child's father. I had to speak as I
did because of my natural concern for the health of our child. Do you
want me to stay and talk to you, Sally?
Sally shook her head. No, Jim. I won't let you torture me any
Sally drew the baby into her arms again and held it tightly. I'll
scream if you stay! she warned. I'll become hysterical unless you
Very well, her husband said. I'll come back tomorrow.
He bent as he spoke and kissed her on the forehead. His lips were
For eight years Sally sat across the table from her husband at
breakfast, her eyes fixed upon a nothingness on the green-blue wall at
his back. Calm he remained even while eating. The eggs she placed
before him he cracked methodically with a knife and consumed behind a
tilted newspaper, taking now an assured sip of coffee, now a measured
glance at the clock.
The presence of his young son bothered him not at all. Tommy could
be quiet or noisy, in trouble at school, or with an A for good
conduct tucked with his report card in his soiled leather zipper
jacket. It was always: Eat slowly, my son. Never gulp your food. Be
sure to take plenty of exercise today. Stay in the sun as much as
Often Sally wanted to shriek: Be a father to him! A real father!
Get down on the floor and play with him. Shoot marbles with him, spin
one of his tops. Remember the toy locomotive you gave him for Christmas
after I got hysterical and screamed at you? Remember the beautiful
little train? Get it out of the closet and wreck it accidentally. He'll
warm up to you then. He'll be broken-hearted, but he'll feel close to
you, then you'll know what it means to have a son!
Often Sally wanted to fly at him, beat with her fists on his chest.
But she never did.
You can't warm a stone by slapping it, Sally. You'd only bruise
yourself. A stone is neither cruel nor tender. You've married a man of
He hasn't missed a day at the office in eight years. She'd never
visited the office but he was always there to answer when she phoned.
I'm very busy, Sally. What did you say? You've bought a new hat? I'm
sure it will look well on you, Sally. What did you say? Tommy got into
a fight with a new boy in the neighborhood? You must take better care
of him, Sally.
There are patterns in every marriage. When once the mold has set, a
few strange behavior patterns must be accepted as a matter of course.
I'll drop in at the office tomorrow, darling! Sally had promised
right after the breakfast pattern had become firmly established. The
desire to see where her husband worked had been from the start a
strong, bright flame in her. But he asked her to wait a while before
visiting his office.
A strong will can dampen the brightest flame, and when months passed
and he kept saying 'no,' Sally found herself agreeing with her
husband's suggestion that the visit be put off indefinitely.
Snuff a candle and it stays snuffed. A marriage pattern once
established requires a very special kind of re-kindling. Sally's
husband refused to supply the needed spark.
Whenever Sally had an impulse to turn her steps in the direction of
the office a voice deep in her mind seemed to whisper: No sense in it,
Sally. Stay away. He's been mean and spiteful about it all these years.
Don't give in to him now by going.
Besides, Tommy took up so much of her time. A growing boy was always
a problem and Tommy seemed to have a special gift for getting into
things because he was so active. And he went through his clothes, wore
out his shoes almost faster than she could replace them.
Right now Tommy was playing in the yard. Sally's eyes came to a
focus upon him, crouching by a hole in the fence which kindly old Mrs.
Wallingford had erected as a protection against the prying
inquisitiveness of an eight-year-old determined to make life miserable
A thrice-widowed neighbor of seventy without a spiteful hair in her
head could put up with a boy who rollicked and yelled perhaps. But
peep-hole spying was another matter.
Sally muttered: Enough of that! and started for the kitchen door.
Just as she reached it the telephone rang.
Sally went quickly to the phone and lifted the receiver. The instant
she pressed it to her ear she recognized her husband's voiceor
thought she did.
Sally, come to the office! came the voice, speaking in a hoarse
whisper. Hurryor it will be too late! Hurry, Sally!
Sally turned with a startled gasp, looked out through the kitchen
window at the autumn leaves blowing crisp and dry across the lawn. As
she looked the scattered leaves whirled into a flurry around Tommy,
then lifted and went spinning over the fence and out of sight.
The dread in her heart gave way to a sudden, bleak despair. As she
turned from the phone something within her withered, became as dead as
the drifting leaves with their dark autumnal mottlings.
She did not even pause to call Tommy in from the yard. She rushed
upstairs, then down again, gathering up her hat, gloves and purse,
making sure she had enough change to pay for the taxi.
The ride to the office was a nightmare ... Tall buildings swept
past, facades of granite as gray as the leaden skies of mid-winter,
beehives of commerce where men and women brushed shoulders without
Autumnal leaves blowing, and the gray buildings sweeping past.
Despite Tommy, despite everything there was no shining vision to warm
Sally from within. A cottage must be lived in to become a home and
Sally had never really had a home.
One-night stand! It wasn't an expression she'd have used by choice,
but it came unbidden into her mind. If you live for nine years with a
man who can't relax and be human, who can't be warm and loving you'll
begin eventually to feel you might as well live alone. Each day had
been like a lonely sentinel outpost in a desert waste for Sally.
She thought about Tommy ... Tommy wasn't in the least like his
father when he came racing home from school, hair tousled, books
dangling from a strap. Tommy would raid the pantry with unthinking
zest, invite other boys in to look at the Westerns on TV, and trade
black eyes for marbles with a healthy pugnacity.
Up to a point Tommy was normal, was healthy.
But she had seen mirrored in Tommy's pale blue eyes the same
abnormal calmness that was always in his father's, and the look of
derisive withdrawal which made him seem always to be staring down at
her from a height. And it filled her with terror to see that Tommy's
mood could change as abruptly and terrifyingly cold ...
Tommy, her son. Tommy, no longer boisterous and eager, but sitting
in a corner with his legs drawn up, a faraway look in his eyes. Tommy
seeming to look right through her, into space. Tommy and Jim exchanging
silent understanding glances. Tommy roaming through the cottage,
staring at his toys with frowning disapproval. Tommy drawing back when
she tried to touch him.
Tommy, Tommy, come back to me! How often she had cried out in
her heart when that coldness came between them.
Tommy drawing strange figures on the floor with a piece of colored
chalk, then erasing them quickly before she could see them, refusing to
let her enter his secret child's world.
Tommy picking up the cat and stroking its fur mechanically, while he
stared out through the kitchen window at rusty blackbirds on the wing
This is the address you gave me, lady. Sixty-seven Vine Street,
the cab driver was saying.
Sally shivered, remembering her husband's voice on the phone,
remembering where she was ... Come to the office, Sally! Hurry,
hurryor it will be too late!
Too late for what? Too late to recapture a happiness she had never
This is it, lady! the cab driver insisted. Do you want me to
No, Sally said, fumbling for her change purse. She descended from
the taxi, paid the driver and hurried across the pavement to the big
office building with its mirroring frontage of plate glass and black
The firm's name was on the directory board in the lobby, white on
black in beautifully embossed lettering. White for hope, and black for
despair, mourning ...
The elevator opened and closed and Sally was whisked up eight
stories behind a man in a checkered suit.
Eighth floor! Sally whispered, in sudden alarm. The elevator
jolted to an abrupt halt and the operator swung about to glare at her.
You should have told me when you got on, Miss! he complained.
Sorry, Sally muttered, stumbling out into the corridor. How
horrible it must be to go to business every day, she thought wildly. To
sit in an office, to thumb through papers, to bark orders, to be a
Sally stood very still for an instant, startled, feeling her sanity
threatened by the very absurdity of the thought. People who worked in
offices could turn for escape to a cottage in the sunset's glow, when
they were set free by the moving hands of a clock. There could be a
fierce joy at the thought of deliverance, at the prospect of going home
at five o'clock.
But for Sally was the brightness, the deliverance withheld. The
corridor was wide and deserted and the black tiles with their gold
borders seemed to converge upon her, hemming her into a cool
magnificence as structurally somber as the architectural embellishments
of a costly mausoleum.
She found the office with her surface mind, working at
cross-purposes with the confusion and swiftly mounting dread which made
her footsteps falter, her mouth go dry.
Steady, Sally! Here's the office, here's the door. Turn the knob
and get it over with ...
Sally opened the door and stepped into a small, deserted reception
room. Beyond the reception desk was a gate, and beyond the gate a large
central office branched off into several smaller offices.
Sally paused only an instant. It seemed quite natural to her that a
business office should be deserted so late in the afternoon.
She crossed the reception room to the gate, passed through it, utter
desperation giving her courage.
Something within her whispered that she had only to walk across the
central office, open the first door she came to to find her husband ...
The first door combined privacy with easy accessibility. The instant
she opened the door she knew that she had been right to trust her
instincts. This was his office ...
He was sitting at a desk by the window, a patch of sunset sky
visible over his right shoulder. His elbows rested on the desk and his
hands were tightly locked as if he had just stopped wringing them.
He was looking straight at her, his eyes wide and staring.
Jim! Sally breathed. Jim, what's wrong?
He did not answer, did not move or attempt to greet her in any way.
There was no color at all in his face. His lips were parted, his white
teeth gleamed. And he was more stiffly controlled than usuala control
so intense that for once Sally felt more alarm than bitterness.
There was a rising terror in her now. And a slowly dawning horror.
The sunlight streamed in, gleaming redly on his hair, his shoulders. He
seemed to be the center of a flaming red ball ...
He sent for you, Sally. Why doesn't he get up and speak to you,
if only to pour salt on the wounds you've borne for eight long years?
Poor Sally! You wanted a strong, protective, old-fashioned
husband. What have you got instead?
Sally went up to the desk and looked steadily into eyes so calm and
blank that they seemed like the eyes of a child lost in some dreamy
wonderland barred forever to adult understanding.
For an instant her terror ebbed and she felt almost reassured. Then
she made the mistake of bending more closely above him, brushing his
right elbow with her sleeve.
* * * * *
That single light woman's touch unsettled him. He started to fall,
sideways and very fast. Topple a dead weight and it crashes with a
swiftness no opposing force can counter-balance.
It did Sally no good to clutch frantically at his arm as he fell, to
tug and jerk at the slackening folds of his suit. The heaviness of his
descending bulk dragged him down and away from her, the awful inertia
of lifeless flesh.
He thudded to the floor and rolled over on his back, seeming to
shrink as Sally widened her eyes upon him. He lay in a grotesque sprawl
at her feet, his jaw hanging open on the gaping black orifice of his
Sally might have screamed and gone right on screamingif she had
been a different kind of woman. On seeing her husband lying dead her
impulse might have been to throw herself down beside him, give way to
her grief in a wild fit of sobbing.
But where there was no grief there could be no sobbing ...
One thing only she did before she left. She unloosed the collar of
the unmoving form on the floor and looked for the small brown mole she
did not really expect to find. The mole she knew to be on her husband's
shoulder, high up on the left side.
She had noticed things that made her doubt her sanity; she needed to
see the little black mole to reassure her ...
She had noticed the difference in the hair-line, the strange slant
of the eyebrows, the crinkly texture of the skin where it should have
been smooth ...
Something was wrong ... horribly, weirdly wrong ...
Even the hands of the sprawled form seemed larger and hairier than
the hands of her husband. Nevertheless it was important to be sure ...
The absence of the mole clinched it.
Sally crouched beside the body, carefully readjusting the collar.
Then she got up and walked out of the office.
Some homecomings are joyful, others cruel. Sitting in the taxi,
clenching and unclenching her hands, Sally had no plan that could be
called a plan, no hope that was more than a dim flickering in a vast
wasteland, bleak and unexplored.
But it was strange how one light burning brightly in a cottage
window could make even a wasteland seem small, could shrink and
diminish it until it became no more than a patch of darkness that
anyone with courage might cross.
The light was in Tommy's room and there was a whispering behind the
door. Sally could hear the whispering as she tiptoed upstairs, could
see the light streaming out into the hall.
She paused for an instant at the head of the stairs, listening.
There were two voices in the room, and they were talking back and
Sally tiptoed down the hall, stood with wildly beating heart just
outside the door.
She knows now, Tommy, the deepest of the two voices said. We are
very close, your mother and I. She knows now that I sent her to the
office to find my 'stand in.' Oh, it's an amusing term, Tommyan Earth
term we'd hardly use on Mars. But it's a term your mother would
A pause, then the voice went on, You see, my son, it has taken me
eight years to repair the ship. And in eight years a man can wither up
and die by inches if he does not have a growing son to go adventuring
with him in the end.
You have read a good many Earth books, my son, written especially
for boys. Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Twenty
Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. What paltry books they are! But in
them there is a little of the fire, a little of the glow of our
No, father. I started them but I threw them away for I did not like
As you and I must throw away all Earth things, my son. I tried to
be kind to your mother, to be a good husband as husbands go on Earth.
But how could I feel proud and strong and reckless by her side? How
could I share her paltry joys and sorrows, chirp with delight as a
sparrow might chirp hopping about in the grass? Can an eagle pretend to
be a sparrow? Can the thunder muffle its voice when two white-crested
clouds collide in the shining depths of the night sky?
You tried, father. You did your best.
Yes, my son, I did try. But if I had attempted to feign emotions I
did not feel your mother would have seen through the pretense. She
would then have turned from me completely. Without her I could not have
had you, my son.
And now, father, what will we do?
Now the ship has been repaired and is waiting for us. Every day for
eight years I went to the hill and worked on the ship. It was badly
wrecked, my son, but now my patience has been rewarded, and every
damaged astronavigation instrument has been replaced.
You never went to the office, father? You never went at all?
No, my son. My stand-in worked at the office in my place. I
instilled in your mother's mind an intense dislike and fear of the
office to keep her from ever coming face to face with the stand-in. She
might have noticed the difference. But I had to have a stand-in, as a
safeguard. Your mother might have gone to the office despite the
She's gone now, father. Why did you send for her?
To avoid what she would call a scene, my son. That I could not
endure. I had the stand-in summon her on the office telephone, then I
withdrew all vitality from it. She will find it quite lifeless. But it
does not matter now. When she returns we will be gone.
Was constructing the stand-in difficult, father?
Not for me, my son. On Mars we have many androids, each constructed
to perform a specific task. Some are ingenious beyond beliefor would
seem so to Earthmen.
There was a pause, then the weaker of the two voices said, I will
miss my mother. She tried to make me happy. She tried very hard.
You must be brave and strong, my son. We are eagles, you and I.
Your mother is a sparrow, gentle and dun-colored. I shall always
remember her with tenderness. You want to go with me, don't you?
Yes, father. Oh, yes!
Then come, my son. We must hurry. Your mother will be returning any
Sally stood motionless, listening to the voices like a spectator
sitting before a television screen. A spectator can see as well as
hear, and Sally could visualize her son's pale, eager face so clearly
there was no need for her to move forward into the room.
She could not move. And nothing on Earth could have wrenched a
tortured cry from her. Grief and shock may paralyze the mind and will,
but Sally's will was not paralyzed.
It was as if the thread of her life had been cut, with only one
light left burning. Tommy was that light. He would never change. He
would go from her forever. But he would always be her son.
The door of Tommy's room opened and Tommy and his father came out
into the hall. Sally stepped back into shadows and watched them walk
quickly down the hall to the stairs, their voices low, hushed. She
heard them descend the stairs, their footsteps dwindle, die away into
You'll see a light, Sally, a great glow lighting up the sky. The
ship must be very beautiful. For eight years he labored over it,
restoring it with all the shining gifts of skill and feeling at his
command. He was calm toward you, but not toward the ship, Sallythe
ship which will take him back to Mars!
How is it on Mars, she wondered. My son, Tommy, will become a
strong, proud adventurer daring the farthest planet of the farthest
You can't stop a boy from adventuring. Surprise him at his books and
you'll see tropical seas in his eyes, a pearly nautilus, Hong Kong and
Valparaiso resplendent in the dawn.
There is no strength quite like the strength of a mother, Sally.
Endure it, be brave ...
Sally was at the window when it came. A dazzling burst of radiance,
starting from the horizon's rim and spreading across the entire sky. It
lit up the cottage and flickered over the lawn, turning rooftops to
molten gold and gilding the long line of rolling hills which hemmed in
Brighter it grew and brighter, gilding for a moment even Sally's
bowed head and her image mirrored on the pane. Then, abruptly, it was
This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe May 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.