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A Woman's Place by Mark Clifton

[Sidenote: Home is where you hang up your spaceship--that is, if you have any Miss Kitty along!]

It was the speaking of Miss Kitty's name which half roused her from sleep. She eased her angular body into a more comfortable position in the sack. Still more asleep than awake, her mind reflected tartly that in this lifeboat, hurtling away from their wrecked spaceship back to Earth, the sleeping accommodation was quite appropriately named. On another mental level, she tried to hear more of what was being said about her. Naturally, hearing one's name spoken, one would.

"We're going to have to tell Miss Kitty as soon as she wakes up." It was Sam Eade talking to Lt. Harper--the two men who had escaped with her.

"Yes, Sam," the lieutenant answered. "What we've suspected all along is pretty definite now."

Still drowsing, she wondered, without any real interest, what they felt they must tell her. But the other level of her mind was more real. She wondered how she looked to these two young men while she slept. Did she sleep with her mouth open? Did her tiara slip while she snored?

* * * * *

Vividly, as in full dreaming, she slipped back into the remembered scene which had given birth to the phrase. At some social gathering she had been about to enter a room. She'd overheard her name spoken then, too.

"Miss Kitty is probably a cute enough name when you're young," the catty woman was saying. "But at her age!"

"Well, I suppose you might say she's kept it for professional reasons," the other woman had answered with a false tolerance. "A school teacher, wanting to be cozy with her kiddies, just a big sister." The tolerance was too thin, it broke away. "Kind of pathetic, I think. She's so plain, so very typical of an old maid school teacher. She's just the kind to keep a name like Miss Kitty."

"What gets me," the first one scoffed, "is her pride in having such a brilliant mind--if she really does have one. All those academic degrees. She wears them on every occasion, like a tiara!"

She had drawn back from the door. But in her instant and habitual introspection, she realized she was less offended than perversely pleased because, obviously, they were jealous of her intellectual accomplishments, her ability to meet men on their own ground, intellectually as good a man as any man.

The half dream drowsiness was sharply washed away by the belated impact of Sam Eade's question to Lt. Harper. Reality flashed on, and she was suddenly wide awake in the lifeboat heading back to Earth.

[Illustration]

"What is it you must tell me?" She spoke loudly and crisply to the men's broad backs where they sat in front of the instrument panel. The implication of the question, itself, that they had been holding something back....

Lt. Harper turned slowly around in his seat and looked at her with that detested expression of amused tolerance which his kind of adult male affected toward females. He was the dark, ruggedly handsome type, the kind who took it for granted that women should fawn over him. The kind who would speak the fatuous cliche that a woman's place was in the home, not gallivanting off to teach colonists' children on the fourth planet of Procyon. Still, perhaps she was unjust, she hardly knew the man.


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