Inside the bowl, the two goldfish are making a Pisces sign, head-to-tail and very still. Penelope sits and peers into their world. There is a little sunken galleon, a china diver in a diving suit, pretty stones and shells she and her sisters have brought back from the sea.
Aunt Jessica and Uncle Roger are out in the kitchen, hugging and kissing. Elizabeth is teasing Claire in the hallway. Their mother is in the W.C. Sooty the cat sleeps in a chair, a black thundercloud on the way to something else, who happens right now to look like a cat. It’s Boxing Day. The evening’s very still. The last rocket bomb was an hour ago, somewhere south. Claire got a golliwog, Penelope a sweater, Elizabeth a frock that Penelope will grow into.
The pantomime Roger took them all to see this afternoon was Hansel and Gretel. Claire immediately took off under the seats where others were moving about by secret paths, a flash of braid or of white collar now and then among the tall attentive uncles in uniform, the coat-draped backs of seats. On stage Hansel, who was supposed to be a boy but was really a tall girl in tights and smock, cowered inside the cage. The funny old Witch foamed at the mouth and climbed the scenery. And pretty Gretel waited by the Oven for her chance. . . .
Then the Germans dropped a rocket just down the street from the theatre. A few of the little babies started crying. They were scared. Gretel, who was just winding up with her broom to hit the Witch right in the bum, stopped: put the broom down, in the gathering silence stepped to the footlights, and sang:
Oh, don’t let it get you,
It will if they let you, but there’s
Something I’ll bet you can’t see—
It’s big and it’s nasty and it’s right over there,
It’s waiting to get its sticky claws in your hair!
Oh, the greengrocer’s wishing on a rainbow today,
And the dustman is tying his tie . . .
And it all goes along to the same jolly song,
With a peppermint face in the sky!
“Now sing along,” she smiled, and actually got the audience, even Roger, to sing:
With a peppermint face in the sky-y,
And a withered old dream in your heart,
You’ll get hit with a piece of the pie-ie,
With the pantomime ready to start!
Oh, the Tommy is sleeping in a snowbank tonight,
And the Jerries are learning to fly—
We can fly to the moon, we’ll be higher than noon,
In our polythene home in the sky. . . .
Pretty polythene home in the sky,
Pretty platinum pins in your hand—
Oh your mother’s a big fat machine gun,
And your father’s a dreary young man. . . .
(Whispered and staccato):
Oh, the, man-a-ger’s suck-ing on a corn-cob, pipe,
And the bank-ers are, eat-ing their, wives,
All the world’s in a daze, while the orchestra plays,
So turn your pockets and get your surprise—
Turn your pockets and get-your surpri-ise,
There was nobody there af-ter all!
And the lamps up the stairway are dying,
It’s the season just after the ball . . .
Oh the palm-trees whisper on the beach somewhere,
And the lifesaver’s heaving a sigh,
And those voices you hear, Boy and Girl of the Year,
Are of children who are learning to die. . . .
From Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow.