The Bad Seed
By Maxwell Anderson
Lovely, well-to-do Christine Bravo Penmark has everything: a loving, well-paid husband with a respectable career (as an Air Force colonel, no less), a swank apartment in a respectable part of town, and an adorable, cherubic eight-year-old daughter. But as Col. Kenneth Penmark leaves for an assignment in Washington, DC, the strains that have lurked beneath the surface of the Penmark household now begin to manifest. For example, her daughter Rhoda gives every indication of being a grasping, greedy child, whom their landlady, Monica Breedlove, indulges with extravagant presents that Rhoda gives some indication of not being satisfied with. For another, Rhoda protests loudly and resentfully when reminded that she had lost a penmanship competition, saying that she ought to have won first place, and the medal that goes with that honor. The apartment-house handyman, Leroy, presents another complication. Though an adult, he seems to have an eight-year-old mind himself. He is also mean and spiteful, and regularly spars with Rhoda. Rhoda leaves for a school picnic, wearing two shoes that have been modified with iron plates to make them sound like tap shoes. As she leaves, Leroy sprays her shoes with the garden hose, earning a stern reprimand from Monica. Leroy nurses resentment of Mrs. Breedlove, a lustful attitude toward Christine, and a clear enmity toward Rhoda. At the picnic, Christine tries to sound out Claudia Fern, the headmistress of Rhoda's school, about how Rhoda is fitting in and getting along. Miss Fern at first is effusive in her praise of Rhoda but then becomes evasive and abruptly excuses herself. Christine confesses at this point that Rhoda seems overly mature for her age, in a "disturbing" manner. That afternoon, Christine entertains her "psychiatry club," at which Monica fairly boasts of having been under analysis by some of the most droppable names in the profession of psychiatry. (That she could actually have been a patient of Sigmund Freud, as she boasts, is a stretch, and her fellow clubbers seem to know it.) Then, as the club starts to discuss a case of a recently convicted serial murderess, Christine finds the conversation disturbing, prompting Monica to tease her about it. The conversation then continues onto the case of one Bessie Denker, a name that Christine recognizes but won't elaborate on. In the middle of this conversation, someone turns on the radio, and the announcer gives a shocking report: that Claude Daigle, a fellow student of Rhoda's, has drowned on an old, rickety pier that the students had been forbidden to play on or near. As expected, the school bus brings Rhoda home early--and Rhoda, far from being in any to-be-expected state of shock, seems to care nothing about the death of her classmate, and casually asks for a peanut-butter sandwich and a glass of milk, and then goes out roller-skating. The one adult who takes the most notice of Rhoda's casual attitude is the handyman, Leroy. He says flat-out that she's not even sorry that he died, and Rhoda half-innocently, half-sardonically asks why she should feel sorry. As she skates away, Leroy forms a resolve to find something to scare her with, thinking only as an eight-year-old thinks, to "take her down a peg. A few days later, Claudia Fern comes to visit Christine, and to reveal some startling information: that Rhoda was the last student to see Claude Daigle alive, and that Claude's penmanship medal, which he had worn to the picnic, was now missing. Miss Fern also reveals that Rhoda had been pestering Claude all morning, trying to snatch his medal from him. Furthermore, Miss Fern reveals that a lifeguard had shouted a warning to a girl answering to Rhoda's description, as she was coming off the wharf Christine now remembers that Claudia Fern and her sisters never asked Christine to pay for a share of the flowers for Claude Daigle's funeral, and Miss Fern states that she thought that Christine would prefer to...
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