John Edward sat looking at pebbles on the road in front of his house. He could hear his mother calling him, but he didn’t answer.
“John! John Edward! Come home for lunch,” Mother called.
But John Edward did not answer. He had something important to do. With a twig he turned over a pinkish flat stone and rolled out a black bug.
“John Edward!” his mother called again. She sounded closer this time.
“John Edward, why don’t you answer me?” Mother asked standing in front of him. “It seems to me I’ve called you at least a hundred times!”
John Edward didn’t say anything.
After lunch John Edward sat in the corner of the basement fruit room studying the glass jars. Some jars had peaches in them, but some of them were empty. John Edward rubbed his finger in the dust along the outside of a bottle.
“John! John Edward!” his mother called. Her voice sounded as if she were really cross.
John Edward blew into an empty jar. The dust poofed out in a little cloud and made him cough.
Just then John Edward heard the slap, slap of his mother’s shoes on the cement floor. And then she was standing in front of him.
“John Edward,” Mother began, “why don’t you come when I call you? I don’t call you unless I need you and I need you right now. I’ve called you at least a hundred times!”
John Edward wondered about that. Mother always said she had called John Edward a hundred times. This morning, he remembered, Mother had called him nine or ten times. That wasn’t very many. And after lunch he was sure, really sure, that she hadn’t called him more than twenty times. Well, maybe thirty, but no more. Certainly not a hundred!
After supper John Edward sat in the kitchen rolling marbles under the stove. He had a notebook and a pencil by his foot. About bedtime he heard his mother call from upstairs.
That’s once, John thought as he made a little mark on the notebook. He rolled a yellow marble under the stove.
Another mark in the notebook and clink, a blue and orange marble under the stove.
His mother called again and again while John Edward counted the marks. Only twenty-five. He lay down on his back and looked at a crack in the ceiling because he had run out of marbles.
“John Edward, John Edward!”
Mother called and called. John Edward drew more lines on the notebook. Now there were forty-six lines. He lay back down on the floor and listened.
His mother’s voice began to sound low and strange, as if she had a cold. Her voice became hoarser and softer until John Edward could hardly hear her, and then she stopped calling. Eighty-one marks. She had called only eighty-one times.
Suddenly he heard the quick thuff, thuff of his mother’s bedroom slippers across the floor and felt himself being pulled up. “John Edward,” Mother whispered. “Why, why, why don’t you come when I call you? I’ve called you at least a hundred times!”
John proudly held up his notebook. “You called me only eighty-one times,” he smiled.
John’s mother looked at him for a long time.
At last she began to laugh softly. “You’re right. I’m sure I’ve never called you a hundred times,” Mother whispered. “If I had, I wouldn’t be able to talk at all. Yes, you’re right, John Edward. But why do I ever have to call you more than once?”
John Edward had never thought about that. Usually Mother had a soft happy voice. He didn’t want her to be hoarse and whisper all the time.
So that’s why John Edward began to listen and answer the first time his mother called him.
And that’s why his mother’s soft happy voice returned.