A prayer for Owen Meany

Modern English Usage, and if I was to keep it away from pets-and tell him if it
moved-cleatly it was alive. I put it quickly under the hall table-the telephone
table, we called it-and I stood halfway in the hall and halfway in the living
room, where I could watch Dan Needham taking a seat. Taking a seat in my
grandmother's living room was never easy, because many of the available seats
were not for sitting in-they were antiques, which my grandmother was
preserving, for historical reasons; sitting in them was not good for them.
Therefore, although the living room was quite sumptuously arranged with
upholstered chairs and couches, very little of this furniture was usable-and so
a guest, his or her knees already bending in the act of sitting down, would
suddenly snap to attention as my grandmother shouted, "Oh, for goodness
sake, not there! You can't sit therel" And the startled person would
attempt to try the next chair or couch, which in my grandmother's opinion would
also collapse or burst into flames at the strain. And I suppose my grandmother noticed
that Dan Needham was tall, and that he had a sizable bottom, and this no doubt
meant to her that an even fewer-than-usual number of seats were available to
him-while Lydia, not yet deft with her wheelchair, blocked the way here, and
the way there, and neither my mother nor my grandmother had yet developed that
necessary reflex to simply wheel her out of the way. And so the living room was
a scene of idiocy and confusion, with Dan Needham spiraling toward one
vulnerable antique after another, and my mother and grandmother colliding with
Lydia's wheelchair while Grandmother barked this and that command regarding who
should sit where. I hung back on the threshold of this awkwardness, keeping an
eye on the ominous shopping bag, imagining that it had moved, a little-or that
a mystery pet would suddenly materialize beside it and either eat, or be eaten
by, the contents of the bag. We had never had a pet-my grandmother thought that
people who kept pets were engaged in the basest form of self-mockery, intentionally
putting themselves on a level with animals. Nevertheless, it made me extremely
jumpy to observe the bag, awaiting its slightest twitch, and it made me even
jumpier to observe the foolish nervousness of the adult ritual taking place in
the living room. Gradually, I gave my whole attention to the bag; I slipped
away from the threshold of the living room and retreated into the hall, sitting
cross-legged on the scatter rug in front of the telephone table. The sides of
the bag were almost breathing, and I thought I could detect an odor foreign to
human experience. It was the suspicion of this odor that drew me nearer to the
bag, until I crawled under the telephone table and put my ear to the bag and
listened, and peered over the top of the bag-but the bag inside the bag blocked
my view. In the living room, they were talking about history-that was Dan
Needham's actual appointment: in the History Department. He had studied enough
history at Harvard to be qualified to teach the conventional courses in that field
at Gravesend. "Oh, you got the job!" my mother said. What was special
in his approach was his use of the history of drama-and here he said something
about the public entertainment of any period distinguishing the period as
clearly as its so-called politics, but I drifted in and out of the sense of his
remarks, so intent was I on the contents of the shopping bag in the hall. I
picked up the bag and held it in my lap and waited for it to move. In addition
to his interview with the History Department
        members, and with
the headmaster, Dan Needham was saying, he had requested some time to address
those students interested in theater-and any faculty members who were
interested, too-and in this session he had attempted to demonstrate how the
development of certain techniques of the theatrical arts, how certain dramatic

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