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The little house that Giovanni came home to in such high spirits was the left one in a row of three located off a back street. Purple cabbages and asparagus plants were growing in a wooden box beside the door and shades wer e rolled down over two little windows.

'I'm back, Mum!' said Giovanni, slipping out of his shoes. 'Are you feeling all right?'

'Oh Giovanni, you must have worked so hard today. It has been cool today and I have been feeling just fine.'

Giovanni stepped up from the entryway onto the floor. His mother was resting in the front room with a white cloth over her face.

'I bought some sugarlumps today, Mum,' he said, opening one of the windows. 'I wanted to put a few in your milk for you.'

'You have some first, dear. I don't feel like it just now.'

'Mum, what time did Sis go back?'

'Oh, around three, I think. She did all the things for me.'

'Your milk hasn't come, has it?'

'It should have by now,' she said.

'I'll go get it for you.'

'Don't hurry on my account. You go ahead and eat something first, Giovanni. Your sister cut some tomatoes and left them there.'

'I'll have them then.'

Giovanni took himself a plate of tomatoes that was sitting by the window.

'Mum, I'm sure dad will be coming home soon now,' he said, munching hungrily on the tomatoes and a piece of bread.

'Yes, I think so too. But why are you so sure?'

'Because it said in this morning's paper that the catch up in the north was really great.'

'But, you know, your father may not have gone fishing up there.'

'No, he's out there all right. Dad couldn't have done anything bad enough that they had to send him to prison or something for. It wasn't all that long ago that he came to our school and donated all those things like that huge crab shell and those reindeer horns. They're still keeping them in the specimen room. All the sixth graders get to see them when the teacher brings them one at a time to the classroom. Year before last, on a school excursion....'

'Your father promised to bring you back an otterskin coat the next time he came back, didn't he?'

'All the kids make fun of me about that every time they see me.'

'Do they say nasty things to you?'

'Yeah, except for Campanella. He never says nasty things. Whenever somebody does, he always looks really sorry for me.'

'Your father and Campanella's father were close friends just like you two when they were little.'

'Oh, that's why dad used to take me sometimes to Campanella's house. Everything was so good then. I used to go all the time on my way home from school. They had a train that ran on an alcohol burner. When you hooked up seven rails it made a circle with telegraph poles and signals, and the train could only go when the signal light turned green. Once we ran out of alcohol so we put in some kerosene, but the little boiler got all sooty.'

'Did it now....'

'It's always so quiet there when I pass by every morning delivering the paper.'

'That's because it's still early.'

'They've got a dog named Sauer and he's got a tail just like a broom. He yelps and sniffs and when I'm there he follows me all the way to the end of the block. Sometimes he even follows me further. Tonight everybody's going to make lanterns out of snake gourds and float them down the river. I'll bet anything that dog will follow us.'

'That's right, tonight was the Milky Way Festival.'

'Uh huh. I'll go get your milk and have a look on the way back.'

'All right, you do that. But don't go on the river, Giovanni.'

'I'll just watch from the bank. I'll only be gone an hour.'

'You don't have to come back so soon. I'm not worried so long as you're with Campanella.'

'Oh, we'll be together all right. Should I close the window for you, Mum?'

'Well, let me see...it's already getting cool now, I suppose.'

Giovanni rose, closed the window, put away his plate and the remaining bread, whipped his shoes on and said...

'Then I'll be back in an hour and a half.'

He passed through the dark doorway.

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(c) Roger Pulvers 1996
The original, ' "Night On The Milky Way Train" in English (Bilingual Edition)',
was published from Chikuma Shobo.