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The Welcome Wagon lady, sixty if she was a day but working at youth and vivacity (ginger hair, red lips, a sunshine-yellow dress), twinkled her eyes and teeth at Joanna and said, "You're really going to like it here! It's a nice town with nice people! You couldn't have made a better choice!" Her brown leather shoulderbag was enormous, old and scuffed; from it she dealt Joanna packets of powdered breakfast drink and soup mix, a toy-size box of non-polluting detergent, a booklet of discount slips good at twenty-two local shops, two cakes of soap, a folder of deodorant pads --
"Enough, enough," Joanna said, standing in the doorway with both hands full. "Hold. Halt. Thank you."
The Welcome Wagon lady put a vial of cologne on top of the other things, and then searched in her bag -- "No, really," Joanna said -- and brought out pink-framed eyeglasses and a small embroidered notebook. "I do the 'Notes on Newcomers,'" she said, smiling and putting on the glasses. "For the Chronicle." She dug at the bag's bottom and came up with a pen, clicking its top with a red-nailed thumb.
Joanna told her where she and Walter had moved from; what Walter did and with which firm; Pete's and Kim's names and ages; what she had done before they were born; and which colleges she and Walter had gone to. She shifted impatiently as she spoke, standing there at the front door with both hands full and Pete and Kim out of earshot.
"Do you have any hobbies or special interests?"
She was about to say a time-saving no, but hesitated: a full answer, printed in the local paper, might serve as a signpost to women like herself, potential friends. The women she had met in the past few days, the ones in the nearby houses, were pleasant and helpful enough, but they seemed completely absorbed in their household duties. Maybe when she got to know them better she would find they had farther-reaching thoughts and concerns, yet it might be wise to put up that signpost. So, "Yes, several," she said. "I play tennis whenever I get the chance, and I'm a semi-professional photographer -- "
"Oh?" the Welcome Wagon lady said, writing.
Joanna smiled. "That means an agency handles three of my pictures," she said. "And I'm interested in politics and in the Women's Liberation movement. Very much so in that. And so is my husband."
"He is?" The Welcome Wagon lady looked at her.
"Yes," Joanna said. "Lots of men are." She didn't go into the benefits-for-both-sexes explanation; instead she leaned her head back into the entrance hall and listened: a TV audience laughed in the family room, and Pete and Kim argued but below intervention level. She smiled at the Welcome Wagon lady "He's interested in boating and football too," she said, "and he collects Early American legal documents." Walter's half of the signpost.
The Welcome Wagon lady wrote, and closed her notebook, clicked her pen. "That's just fine, Mrs. Eberhart," she said, smiling and taking her glasses off. "I know you're going to love it here," she said, "and I want to wish you a sincere and hearty 'Welcome to Stepford.' If there's any information I can give you about local shops and services, please feel free to call me; the number's right there on the front of the discount book."
"Thank you, I will," Joanna said. "And thanks for all this."
"Try them, they're good products!" the Welcome Wagon lady said. She turned away "Good-by now!"
Joanna said good-by to her and watched her go down the curving walk toward her battered red Volkswagen. Dogs suddenly filled its windows, a black and brown excitement of spaniels, jumping and barking, paws pressing glass. Moving whiteness beyond the Volkswagen caught Joanna's eye: across the sapling-lined street, in one of the Clay brooks' upstairs windows, whiteness moved again, leaving one pane and filling the next; the window was being washed. Joanna smiled, in case Donna Claybrook was looking at her. The whiteness moved to a lower pane, and then to the pane beside it.
With a surprising roar the Volkswagen lunged from the curb, and Joanna backed into the entrance hall and hipped the door closed.---
Pete and Kim were arguing louder. "B.M.! Diarrhea!" "Ow! Stop it!" "Cut it out!" Joanna called, dumping the double handful of samples onto the kitchen table.
"She's kicking me!" Pete shouted, and Kim shouted, "I'm not! You diarrhea!"
"Now stop it," Joanna said, going to the port and looking through. Pete lay on the floor too close to the TV set, and Kim stood beside him, red-faced, keeping from kicking him. Both were still in their pajamas. "She kicked me twice," Pete said, and Kim shouted, "You changed the channel! He changed the channel!" "I did not!" "I was watching Felix the Cat!"
"Quiet!" Joanna commanded. "Absolute silence! Utter -- complete-total-silence."
They looked at her, Kim with Walter's wide blue eyes, Pete with her own grave dark ones. "Race 'em to a flying finish!" the TV set cried. "No electricity!"
"A, you're too close to the set," Joanna said. "B, turn it off; and C, get dressed, both of you. That green stuff outside is grass, and the yellow stuff coming down on it is sunshine." Pete scrambled to his feet and powed the TVs control panel, blanking its screen to a dying dot of light. Kim began crying.
Joanna groaned and went around into the family room.
Crouching, she hugged Kim to her shoulder and rubbed her pajamaed back, kissed her silk-soft ringlets. "Ah, come on now," she said. "Don't you want to play with that nice Allison again? Maybe you'll see another chipmunk."
Pete came over and lifted a strand of her hair. She looked up at him and said, "Don't change channels on her."
"Oh, all right," he said, winding a finger in the dark strand.
"And don't kick," she told Kim. She rubbed her back and tried to get kisses in at her squirming-away cheek.The Stepford Wives. Copyright © by Ira Levin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
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