It was whirling lightly in mid air when she came in. She shrank back against the wall a little, not afraid, but doubtful. The shining globe was full of colour, ever-changing, ever-harmonious. Over its lustrous surface, rich hues glowed and faded: delicate youth-tints spread and vanished. The radiance within was so urgent and eager that it seemed to burst forth and transfigure the whole room: yet it cast no light. There was wonder and awe in the woman's eyes as she watched. She had seen nothing so beautiful for many years.
After a minute she sat down. The weariness which usually at that hour pressed blindingly between her brows was mysteriously changed into pleasant restfulness: the burden of sleep denied was lifted. She felt as if the narrow limits of time which rushed her along from hour to hour, from day to day, had now relaxed, and for a long while she sat idle as the glowing sphere airily bounded and spun about the room.
When Jim came in she was there, and the flashing globe hovering by her head had cast a faint, elusive bloom over her thin, hungry, strained face. Her eyes were closed, but she was not asleep: a tear had trickled down the side of her mouth. Gazing in shocked bewilderment at the strange thing, he laid a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up.
"It sings, Jim!" she whispered. "It makes music. Look, it's a happy thing!"
"All right, Emily," he said. But at the same moment, he too heard the small, sweet melody that came from the whirling globe, the sharp flute and the bubbling harp and rich violin. They looked at each other, suddenly filled with vague memories.
A tap on the window roused them. Emily saw a neighbour gesturing outside and went to open it. The neighbour was staring into the room.
"Have you got one too?" she asked.
"Why, have you...," Emily began.
"We've all got them!" cried the woman outside. "Eight along the street; there's one in every house. Is it some new kind of bomb?"
She rushed off. Half the street was aroused and the wardens, respirators ready, were out. A women who had been at home all day on her four-weekly "rest-shift" said that she had seen the globes come. Out of the sky in clusters and showers they had fallen, a rain of glowing, unbelievable, heart-filling beauty. Spinning, drifting, bouncing, they had separated and vanished; one into every house.
The little rosy shining thing bumped playfully against Emily's head as she drew back and closed the window. Smiling she put up a hand to touch it, but the spinning sphere eluded her touch and whirled away.
"That's not a bomb," she said to Jim. "It's nothing wicked at all, but just a lovely, friendly, peaceful little thing that's wandered in to cheer us up. I'm not afraid of it."
She begin to lay the table for supper, the one meal of the day that was not eaten in the factory canteen. Jim settled back in his chair.
"Meat today, eh?" he remarked. "That's a surprise."
"Why, it's Friday! Didn't you remember?" Emily cried, briskly opening the tin. She had worked a twelve-hour shift at the factory and stood for two hours in a queue to collect rations, yet the heavy coils of weariness that had come to be part of her seemed to have slid off. Tonight she felt unusually young; she was hopeful too, and her limbs were light. Jim was dozing peacefully.
The news bulletin began. Jim dozed on. Emily did not hear: the bright ball was weaving gracefully around her fingers as she sliced bread.
"Hello, Chris!" she cried presently as her thirteen-year-old son came in from his work. Pulling off his cap, he looked eagerly at the table, saw the glancing globe, and ran to it.
"Boys born in the year 1956", announced the radio, "will register tomorrow, Saturday, for industrial service. They will work six hours a day and complete twelve hours military training per week. This will set free the 1951 class for full-time military service. Girls born in 1956 will register the ..."
"Children of twelve!" exclaimed Emily, as they sat down at the table. "They promised they wouldn't need them. It's a shame. We're going back to Victorian times, and worselads and girls of twelve in factories! Molly next door will have to go."
Jim ate silently. Life for him was now work, meals, and sleep. He worked alternate fourteen and sixteen hour shifts. As a woman, Emily was more fortunate, for she could not be compelled to work more than twelve. She looked pitifully at her husband. Even the delicate radiance of the shining thing that darted over the table could not soften the drawn lines into which his face had fallen. Thoughts she had not found in her mind for years rose again so passionately that she felt tears in her eyes.
"Life wasn't meant to be lived like this," she said.
"War's got to be won," grunted Jim.
"It's gone on for year after year now," murmured Emily. She watched dreamily the tumbling, flying ball, which Chris was pursuing. Already its odd, other-worldly appearance had lost all strangeness for them, and the brilliant globe, elusive, magically beautiful, full of vital light, had settled into the family like a kitten or a pet bird. Yesthat, Emily found, was how she regarded this wondrous, inexplicable thing: as a living creature to be loved, as a being itself affectionate.
Each time it passed near her she heard the melody that flowed from it, the song of its erratic, tumbling, spinning flight. How long was it since she had heard music? In the factories the loudspeakers blared current popular songs of wearisome sentimentality, and propaganda.
So every house in the street had one? Was it so all over the town, all over the country, perhaps in each one of the war-straitened countries? Was this handful of shifting colour and innocent melody arousing in millions of homes visions of a life that was not all work, fear and death...? Live was not meant to be dreary work and unrefreshing sleep and queuing for scanty food.
"Remember when we used to go to the theatre, Jim, and the ballet, and walks in the country?" she said. "Even in the first two or three years of the war. How different we were then."
Jim scarcely answered. He was so fatigued that he heard only the sound of her voice.
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It was sunny the next day when Emily came out of the factory underground for a "fresh-air" break after dinner. She passed. through the check-gates into the street. One side of it was the wall of the factory, stout as a fortress; hoardings on the other side flourished posters in inimical reds, blues and yellows. "Productionkeep it up!" said the one opposite the gates. Farther down stretched a succession of "More Tanks!," "More Guns!," "More Bombs!" As far down as she could see a harsh red one screamed simply "Output!"
The factory was on the edge of the town, and it did not take long to walk down the bomb-damaged street of the posters, cross a field that was half grass and half gravel, and come into something very like the country. Emily walked on under a chill blue sky empty of clouds. The sunlight was sharp and refreshing.
Fields of potatoes were standing high, nodding with yellow flowers. Reaching through the hedge Emily picked one end examined it closely. It was a delicate little bloom. The prosaic potato! She laughed.
"Men have worshipped beauty," she thought, "and so did I once. What do I worship now?"
Nothing, was all the blank sky's answer; you have no time for worship.
"I have these hours," she cried to it.
Suddenly she looked down, weeping, at her hands. The chemicals she used in her work made the skin yellow and flaky, and the nails were fluted. For some years now there had been no lotions or cosmetics.
"These have been beautiful, too!" she thought.
She was so shaken within that she must cry out some protest, but what was there to cry but the useless question, "When will it end?"
She went home at the usual time to find Jim sitting in the kitchen. The sphere in all its glowing loveliness was gyrating frenziedly over his head.
"I knocked off early," he said. "A lot of us did. We're fed up with this eternal grind. A few hours won't make any difference now."
"I've lost half a day," Emily said. "I felt that way too."
"Chris hasn't been to work either," Jim told her, "I saw him up at the canal with a crowd of youngsters from the electrical shop.They were teaching him to swim."
"Good for Chris!" said Emily defiantly. "Jim, let's have a holiday tomorrowall three. There's some meat left; we could make some sandwiches and go for a good walk in the country. We've had no pleasure for agesand tomorrow's Sunday!"
She flicked happily at the little globe as, shimmering and changing, a song of sunshine in its flute-voice, it spun lightly to the door to meet Chris as he came in.
"There's a warden coming round, mother," said the boy. "He's taking the names of all the people who have a shiny-thing in their houses. They say the enemy's sent them over."
"I don't believe that," cried Emily. "Ours is just like a petI feel sure it's alive! It likes this family; can't you see how it's settled down with us?"
But now there was no light-hearted glee in the thought of a day's outing. Nobody could anticipate the subtlety of the enemy's weapons. It was since the arrival of the sphere that she had begun to think so strangely: it was because of the sphere that she had lost half a day. She knew what they would say when they took off her bonus at the end of the week: "What if every woman did as you have done?" That was reasonablethe war must be won: that was the whole of life.
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The following week, as she queued for rations, she learned that the wardens had been instructed to destroy all the coloured spheres.
"Nobody knows what they are," confided the woman behind her, "but people are off work a lot when they have them in their houses. The Government says its some kind of germ and it's got to be wiped out."
Emily went home in haste. She didn't know what to think when she saw the shining ball in its eternal flirting whirl around the kitchen. It was lovelier than she had thought, so beautiful that you could gaze at it for hours without tiring. Despite their machined precision and sleekness, bombs were ugly things; the machinery that made them was ugly too, if you had to work at it for twelve hours a day... It was easy to think only of the beautiful light in the heart of the sphere.
"It's better if they destroy you," she said to it. "We can't have you here. You have no place in our lives. Your bright reds are lost sunsets, your greens the grass by the river, your gold the noonday and your soft silver the hours of moonlight. They'll spray you with pegasitejust a little puff of pinkish vapourand you'll be gone."
The fleeting tints flowing and ebbing in the little round creature reflected her words. Innocently unaware of its doom, dancing like a bubble, it sang of someone who walked in the moonlight, on and on into unknown places, alone.
"You must go!" Emily said again, pleading with it. "We can't endure this life unless you go. Your beauty is an intolerable burden. If you had come sooner, you might have saved us from this."
She heard the wardens knocking next door. Only two or three minutes before they came to her. Mysterious, wondrous, miraculous, incredible creatures, she thought. The sphere was more vividly glorious than ever, its song more urgent. It was wrestling with her will, appealing against her judgement with every wile of beauty. What was it? Was it some horrible device of the enemy to weaken their wills? Or was it some strange creature come from unbelievable places to win man's heart from torment?
The door of the neighbouring house slammed. All at once Emily sprang at the sphere. It eluded her as it had always done: she did not yet know the touch of it. She followed it, hands outstretched, panting.
"Quick!" she was unconsciously crying. "Quick, before they come!"
At last she had it; her hand tingled as she grasped it. She half-expected it to melt away at her touch, but now she had it there was no feeling of it in her hand, only pricking pins and needles. She looked around frantically. Where could it go? Would they search the house?
The wardens knocked. Unthinking, she took a step towards the door, then stopped. Hastily she unbuttoned her overall and with numbed hand trembling slipped the sphere down the neck of her frock. lnstantly a white rigid bolt of pain transfixed her. It was as if she had thrust naked flame into her breast. For moment she was sick and weak.
The knock was repeated. She opened the door.
"We haven't one," she told the wardens. "It's gone."
They searched the house.
"It was gone when I came back from the shops," she said once, holding on to the back of a chair.
They didn't answer, and when the search was finished they went away in silence.
The pain had abated a little, the physical shock of it was not so great. When she slid her hand in for the sphere, it was not there. Then she knew that it was to be part of her forever and that because her whole life was a sin against it, she must suffer its pain all her days.
"Perhaps there are others, too," she thought. It would be easier if she could believe that.
The clock struck. She must bestir herself. She was on night-shift this week and there was just time to lay the cold supper before she left for the factory.
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written in 1940s?