The Education Of Tigress McCardle
by C. M. Kornbluth
With the unanimity that had always characterized his fans, as soon as they were able to vote they swept him into office as President of the United States. Four years later the 28th Amendment was ratified, republican institutions yielded gracefully to the usages of monarchy, and King Purvis I reigned in the land.
Perhaps even then all would have gone well if it had not been for another major entertainment personage, the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, that veritable personification of the Yellow Peril, squatting like some great evil spider in the center of his web of intrigue. The insidious doctor appeared to have so much fun on his television series, what with a lovely concubine to paw him and a dwarf to throw knives, that it quite turned the head of Gerald Wang, a hitherto-peaceable antique dealer of San Francisco. Gerald decided that he too would become a veritable personification of the Yellow Peril, and that he too would squat like some great evil spider in the center of a web of intrigue, and that he would really accomplish something. He found it remarkably easy since nobody believed in the Yellow Peril any more. He grew a mandarin mustache, took to uttering cryptic quotations from the sages, and was generally addressed as "doctor" by the members of his organization, though he made no attempt to practice medicine. His wife drew the line at the concubine, but Gerald had enough to keep him busy with his personifying and squatting.
His great coup occurred in 2006 when, after patient years of squatting and plotting, one of his most insidious ideas reached the attention of His Majesty via a recommendation ridered onto the annual population-resources report. The recommendation was implemented as the Parental Qualifications Program, or P.Q.P., by royal edict. "Ow rackon thet'll make um mahnd they P's and Q's," quipped His Majesty, and everybody laughed heartily-but none more heartily than the insidious Dr. Wang, who was present in disguise as Tuner of the Royal Git-tar.
A typical PQP operation (at least when judged typical by the professor of Chronoscope History Seminar 201 given by Columbia University in 2756 A.D., who ought to know) involved George McCardle…
George McCardle had a good deal with his girl friend, Tigress Moone. He dined her and bought her pretties and had the freedom of the bearskin rug in front of her wood-burning fireplace. He had beaten the game; he had achieved a delightful combination of bachelor irresponsibility and marital gratification.
"George," Tigress said thoughtfully one day… so they got married.
With prices what they were in 2018, she kept her job, of course-at least until she again said thoughtfully: "George…"
She then had too much time on her hands; it was absurd for a healthy young woman to pretend that taking care of a two-room city apartment kept her occupied… so she thoughtfully said, "George?" and they moved to the suburbs.
George happened to be a rising young editor in the Civil War Book-of-the-Week Club. He won his spurs when he got MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: A STUDY OF PENS AND PENCILS IN THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, 1863-1865 whipped into shape for the printer. They then assigned him to the infinitely more difficult and delicate job of handling writers. A temperamental troll named Blount was his special trial. Blount was writing a novelized account of Corporal Piggott's Raid, a deservedly obscure episode which got Corporal Piggott of the 104th New York (Provisional) Heavy Artillery Regiment deservedly court-martialled in the summer of '63. It was George's responsibility to see that Blount novelized the verdict of guilty into a triumphant acquittal followed by an award of the Medal of Honor, and Blount was being unreasonable about it.
It was after a hard day of screaming at Blount, and being screamed back at, that George dragged his carcass off the Long Island Rail Road and into the family car. "Hi, dear," he said to Mrs. McCardle, erstwhile tigress-Diana, and off they drove, and so far it seemed like the waning of another ordinary day. But in the car Mrs. McCardle said thoughtfully: "George…"
She told him what was on her mind, and he refrained from striking her in the face because they were in rather tricky traffic and she was driving.
She wanted a child.
It was necessary to have a child, she said. Inexorable logic dictated it. For one thing, it was absurd for just the two of them to live in a great barn of a six-room house.
For another thing, she needed a child to fulfill her womanhood. For a third, the brains and beauty of the Moone-McCardle strains should not die out; it was their duty to posterity.
(The students in Columbia's Chronoscope History Seminar 201 retched as one man at the words.)
For a fourth, everybody was having children.
George thought he had her there, but no. The statement was perfectly correct if for "everybody" you substituted "Mrs. Jacques Truro," their next-door neighbor.
By the time they reached their great six-room barn of a place she was consolidating her victory with a rapid drumfire of simple declarative sentences which ended with "Don't you?" and "Won't we?" and "Isn't it?" to which George, hanging onto the ropes, groggily replied: "We'll see… we'll see… we'll see…"
A wounded thing inside him was soundlessly screaming: youth! joy! freedom! gone beyond recall, slain by wedlock, coffined by a mortgage, now to be entombed beneath a reeking Everest of diapers!
"I believe I'd like a drink before dinner," he said. "Had quite a time with Blount today," he said as the Martini curled quietly in his stomach. He was pretending nothing very bad had happened. "Kept talking about his integrity. Writers! They'll never learn… Tigress? Are you with me?"
His wife noticed a slight complaining note in his voice, so she threw herself on the floor, began to kick and scream, went on to hold her breath until her face turned blue, and finished by letting George know that she had abandoned her Career to assuage his bachelor misery, moved out to this dreary wasteland to satisfy his whim, and just once in her life requested some infinitesimal consideration in return for her ghastly drudgery and scrimping.
George, who was a kind and gentle person except with writers, dried her tears and apologized for his brutality. They would have a child, he said contritely. "Though," he added. "I hear there are some complications about it these days."
"For Motherhood," said Mrs. McCardle, getting off the floor, "no complications are too great." She stood profiled like a statue against their picture window, with its view of the picture window of the house across the street.
The next day George asked around at his office.
None of the younger men, married since the P. Q. P. went into effect, seemed to have had children.
A few of them cheerily admitted they had not had children and were not going to have children, for they had volunteered for D-Bal shots, thus doing away with a running minor expense and, more importantly, ensuring a certain peace of mind and unbroken continuity during tender moments.
"Ugh," thought George.
(The Columbia University professor explained to his students "]t is clearly in George's interest to go to the clinic for a painless, effective D-Bal shot and thus resolve his problem, but he does not go,. he shudders at the thought. We cannot know what fear of amputation stemming from some early traumatic experience thus prevents him from action, but deep-rooted psychological reasons explain his behavior, we can't be certain." The class bent over the chronoscope.)
And some of George's co-workers slunk away and would not submit to questioning. Young MacBirney, normally open and incisive, muttered vaguely and passed his hand across his brow when George asked him how one went about having a baby-red-tape-wise, that is.
It was Blount, come in for his afternoon screaming match, who spilled the vengeful beans. "You and your wife just phone P. Q. P. for an appointment," he told George with a straight face. "They'll issue you everything you need." George in his innocence thanked him, and Blount turned away and grinned the twisted, sly grin of an author.
A glad female voice answered the phone on behalf of the P.Q.P. It assured George that he and Mrs. McCardle need only drop in any time at the Empire State Building and they'd be well on their way to parenthood.
The next day Mr. and Mrs. McCardle dropped in at the Empire State Building. A receptionist in the lobby was buffing her nails under a huge portrait of His Majesty. A beautifully lettered sign displayed the words with which His Majesty had decreed that P. Q. P. be enacted: "Ow Racken Theah's a Raht Smaht Ah-dee, Boys."
"Where do we sign up, please?" asked George.
The receptionist pawed uncertainly through her desk. "I know there's some kind of book," she said as she rummaged, but she did not find it. "Well, it doesn't matter. They'll give you everything you need in Room 100."
"Will I sign up there?" asked George nervously, conditioned by a lifetime of red tape and uncomfortable without it.
"No," said the receptionist.
"But for the tests-"
"There aren't any tests."
"Then the interviews, the deep probing of our physical and psychological fitness for parenthood, our heredity-"
"But the evaluation of our financial and moral standing without which no permission can be-"
"No evaluation. Just Room 100." She resumed buffing her nails.
In Room 100 a cheerful woman took a Toddler out of a cabinet, punched the non-reversible activating button between its shoulderblades, and handed it to Mrs. McCardle with a cheery: "It's all yours, madame. Return with it in three months and, depending on its condition, you will, or will not, be issued a breeding permit. Simple, isn't it?"
"The little darling!" gurgled Mrs. McCardle, looking down into the Toddler's pretty face.
It spit in her eye, punched her in the nose and sprang a leak.
"Gracious!" said the cheerful woman. "Get it out of our nice clean office, i/you please."
"How do you work it?" yelled Mrs. McCardle, juggling the Toddler like a hot potato. "How do you turn it off?"
"Oh, you can't turn if off," said the woman." And you'd better not swing it like that. Rough handling goes down on the tapes inside it and we read them in three months and now if you please, you're getting our nice office all wet-"
She shepherded them out.
"Do something, George!" yelled Mrs. McCardle. George took the Toddler. It stopped leaking and began a ripsaw scream that made the lighting fixtures tremble.
"Give the poor thing to me!" Mrs. McCardle shouted. "You're hurting it holding it like that-"
She took the Toddler back. It stopped screaming and resumed leaking.
It quieted down in the car. The sudden thought seized them both-too quiet? Their heads crashed together as they bent simultaneously over the glassy-eyed little object. It laughed delightedly and waved its chubby fists.
"Clumsy oaf!" snapped Mrs. McCardle, rubbing her head.
"Sorry, dear," said George. "But at least we must have got a good mark out of it on the tapes. I suppose it scores us good when it laughs."
Her eyes narrowed. "Probably," she said. "George, do you think if you fell heavily on the sidewalk-?"
"No," said George convulsively. Mrs. McCardle looked at him for a moment and held her peace.
("Note, young gentlemen," said the history professor, "the turning point, the seed of rebellion." They noted.)
The McCardles and the Toddler drove off down Sunrise Highway, which was lined with filling stations; since their '98 Landcruiser made only two miles to the gallon, it was not long before they had to stop at one.
The Toddler began its ripsaw shriek when they stopped. A hollow-eyed attendant shambled over and peered into the car. "Just get it?" he asked apathetically.
"Yes," said Mrs. McCardle, frantically trying to joggle the Toddler, to change it, to burp it, to do anything that would end the soul-splitting noise.
"Half pint of white 90-octane gas it what it needs," mumbled the attendant. "Few drops of SAE 40 oil. Got one myself. Two weeks to go. I'll never make it. I'll crack. I'll-I'll…" He tottered off and returned with the gasoline in a nursing bottle, the oil in an eye-dropper.
The Toddler grabbed the bottle and began to gulp the gas down contentedly.
"Where do you put the oil?" asked Mrs. McCardle.
He showed her.
"Oh," she said.
"Fill her up," said George. "The car, I mean. I… ah… I'm going to wash my hands, dear."
He cornered the attendant by the cash register. "Look," he said. "What, ah, would happen if you just let it run out of gas? The Toddler, I mean?"
The man looked at him and put a compassionate hand on his shoulder. "It would scream, buddy," he said. "The main motors run off an atomic battery. The gas engine's just for a sideshow and for having breakdowns."
"Breakdowns? Oh, my God! How do you fix a breakdown?"
"The best way you can," the man said. "And buddy, when you burp it, watch out for the fumes. I've seen some ugly explosions…"
They stopped at five more filing stations along the way when the Toddler wanted gas.
"It'll be better-behaved when it's used to the house," said Mrs. McCardle apprehensively as she carried it over the threshold.
"Put it down and let's see what happens," said George.
The Toddler toddled happily to the coffee table, picked up a large bronze ashtray, moved to the picture window and heaved the ashtray through it. It gurgled happily at the crash.
"You little-!" George roared, making for the Toddler with his hands clawed before him.
"George!" Mrs. McCardle screamed, snatching the Toddler away. "It's only a machine!"
The machine began to shriek.
They tried gasoline, oil, wiping with a clean lint-free rag, putting it down, picking it up and finally banging their heads together. It continued to scream until it was ready to stop screaming, and then it stopped and gave them an enchanting grin.
"Time to put it to-away for the night?" asked George.
It permitted itself to be put away for the night.
From his pillow George said later: "Think we did pretty well today. Three months? Pah!"
Mrs. McCardle said: "You were wonderful, George."
He knew that tone. "My Tigress," he said.
Ten minutes later, at the most inconvenient time in the world, bar none, the Toddler began its ripsaw screaming.
Cursing, they went to find out what it wanted. They found out. What it wanted was to laugh in their faces.
(The professor explained: "Indubitably, sadism is at work here, but harnessed in the service of humanity. Better a brutal and concentrated attack such as we have been witnessing than long-drawn-out torments." The class nodded respectfully.)
Mr. and Mrs. McCardle managed to pull themselves together for another try, and there was an exact repeat. Apparently the Toddler sensed something in the air.
"Three months," said George, with haunted eyes.
"You'll live," his wife snapped.
"May I ask just what kind of a crack that was supposed to be?"
"If the shoe fits, my good man-"
So a fine sex quarrel ended the day.
Within a week the house looked as if it had been liberated by a Mississippi National Guard division. George had lost ten pounds because he couldn't digest anything, not even if he seasoned his food with powdered Equanil instead of salt. Mrs. McCardle had gained fifteen pounds by nervous gobbling during the moments when the Toddler left her unoccupied. The picture window was boarded up. On George's salary, and with glaziers' wages what they were, he couldn't have it replaced twice a day.
Not unnaturally, he met his next-door neighbor, Jacques Truro, in a bar.
Truro was rye and soda, he was dry martini; otherwise they were identical.
"It's the little whimper first that gets me, when you know the big screaming's going to come next. I could jump out of my skin when I hear that whimper."
"Yeah. The waiting. Sometimes one second, sometimes five. I count."
"I forced myself to stop. I was throwing up."
"Yeah. Me too. And nervous diarrhea?"
"All the time. Between me and that goddam thing the house is awash. Cheers." They drank and shared hollow laughter.
"My stamp collection. Down the toilet."
"My fishing pole. Three clean breaks and peanut butter in the reel."
"One thing I'll never understand, Truro. What decided you two to have a baby?"
"Wait a minute, McCardle," Truro said. "Marguerite told me that you were going to have one, so she had to have one-"
They looked at each other in shared horror.
"Suckered," said McCardle in an awed voice.
"Women," breathed Truro.
They drank a grim toast and went home.
"It's beginning to talk," Mrs. McCardle said listlessly, sprawled in a chair, her hand in a box of chocolates. "Called me 'old pig-face' this afternoon." She did look somewhat piggish with fifteen superfluous pounds.
George put down his briefcase. It was loaded with work from the office which these days he was unable to get through in time. He had finally got the revised court-martial scene from Blount, and would now have to transmute it into readable prose, emending the author's stupid lapses of logic, illiterate blunders of language and raspingly ugly style.
"I'll wash up," he said.
"Don't use the toilet. Stopped up again."
"He said he'd come back in the morning with an eight-man crew. Something about jacking up a corner of the house."
The Toddler toddled in with a bottle of bleach, made for the briefcase, and emptied the bleach into it before the exhausted man or woman could comprehend what was going on, let alone do anything about it.
George incredulously spread the pages of the court-martial scene on the gouged and battered coffee table. His eyes bulged as he watched the thousands of typed words vanishing before his eyes, turning pale and then white as the paper.
Blount kept no carbons. Keeping carbons caned for a minimal quantity of prudence and brains, but Blount was an author and so he kept no carbons. The court-martial scene, the product of six months' screaming, was gone.
The Toddler laughed gleefully.
George clenched his fists, closed his eyes and tried to ignore the roaring in his ears.
The Toddler began a whining chant:
"Da-dy's an au-thor!
Da-dy's an au-thor!"
"That did it!" George shrieked. He stalked to the door and flung it open.
"Where are you going?" Mrs. McCardle quavered.
"To the first doctor's office I find," said her husband in sudden icy calm. "There I will request a shot of D-Bal. When I have had a D-Bal shot, a breeding permit will be of no use whatever to us. Since a breeding permit will be useless, we need not qualify for one by being tortured for another eleven weeks by that obscene little monster, which we shall return to P. Q. P. in the morning. And unless it behaves, it will be returned in a basket, for them to reassemble at their leisure."
"I'm so glad," his wife sighed.
The Toddler said: "May I congratulate you on your decision. By voluntarily surrendering your right to breed, you are patriotically reducing the population pressure, a problem of great concern to His Majesty. We of the P. Q. P. wish to point out that your decision has been arrived at not through coercion but through education; i.e., by presenting you in the form of a Toddler with some of the arguments against parenthood."
"I didn't know you could talk that well," marveled Mrs. McCardle.
The Toddler said modestly: "I've been with the P. Q. P. from the very beginning, ma'am; I'm a veteran Toddler operator, I may say, working out of Room 4567 of the Empire State. And the improved model I'm working through has reduced the breakdown time an average thirty-five percent. I foresee a time, ma'am, when we experienced operators and ever-improved models will do the job in one day!"
The voice was fanatical.
Mrs. McCardle turned around in sudden vague apprehension. George had left for his D-Bal shot.
("And thus we see," said the professor to the seminar, "the genius of the insidious Dr. Wang in full flower." He snapped off the chronoscope. "The first boatloads of Chinese landed in California three generations-or should I say non-generations?-later, unopposed by the scanty, elderly population." He groomed his mandarin mustache and looked out for a moment over the great rice paddies of Central Park. It was spring; blue-clad women stooped patiently over the brown water, and the tender, bright-green shoots were just beginning to appear.
(The seminar students bowed and left for their next lecture, "The Hound Dog as Symbol of Juvenile Aggression in Ancient American Folk Song." It was all that remained of the reign of King Purvis I.)