Roald Dahl (1916-) Roald Dahl was born in South Wales, though his parents were Norwegian. He became a fighter pilot during the Second World War and his first book of short stories, `Over to You' (1942), deals with the tensions of war-time flying. After this carne two very successful collections of short stories, Someone Like You' (1953) and `Kiss Kiss' (1959), from which this story is taken. A later collection was 'Switch Bitch' (1974, and more recently he has written a novel, `My Uncle Oswald' (1979). Dahl is fascinated by the strange and macabre. His own kind of black humour is unique as he uncovers the abnormalities that lie beneath the surface of the most conventional relationship, such as that between a man and his wife.
The story `The Way Up to Heaven' is a story of hidden conflict in a respectable middle-class marriage. It traces the growth of this conflict and the course of events that enabled the wife to solve her problem, events which reveal an unexpected new side to her character.
The Way Up To Heaven
All her life, Mrs Foster had had an almost pathological* fear of missing a train, a plane, a boat, or even a theatre curtain. In other respects, she was not a particularly nervous woman, but the mere thought of being late on occasions like these would throw her into such a state of nerves that she would begin to twitch.* It was nothing much - just a tiny vellicating muscle in the corner of the left eye, like a secret wink - but the annoying thing was that it refused to disappear until an hour or so after the train or plane or whatever it was had been safely caught. It was really extraordinary how in certain people a simple apprehension* about a thing like catching a train can grow into a serious obsession. At least half an hour before it was time to leave the house for the station, Mrs Foster would step out of the elevator* all ready to go, with hat and coat and gloves, and then, being quite unable to sit down, she would flutter and fidget* about from room to room until her husband, who must have been well aware of her state, finally emerged from his privacy and suggested in a cool dry voice that perhaps they had better be going now, had they not? Mr Foster may possibly have had a right to be irritated by this foolishness of his wife's, but he could have had no excuse for increasing her misery by keeping her waiting unnecessarily. Mind you, it is by no means certain that this is what he did, yet whenever they were to go somewhere, his timing was so accurate - just a minute or two late, you understand - and his manner so bland* that it was hard to believe he wasn't purposely inflicting a nasty private little torture* of his own on the unhappy lady. And one thing he must have known - that she would never dare to call out and tell him to hurry. He had 1
disciplined her too well for that. He must also have known that if he was prepared to wait even beyond the last moment of safety, he could drive her nearly into hysterics.* On one or two special occasions in the later years of their married life, it seemed almost as though he had wanted to miss the train simply in order to intensify the poor woman's suffering. Assuming (though one cannot be sure) that the husband was guilty, what made his attitude doubly unreasonable was the fact that, with the exception of this one small irrepressible foible,* Mrs Foster was and always had been a good and loving wife. For over thirty years, she had served him loyally and well. There was no doubt about this. Even she, a very modest woman, was aware of it, and although she had for years refused to let herself believe that Mr Foster would ever consciously torment her, there had been times recently when she had caught herself beginning to wonder. Mr Eugene Foster, who was nearly seventy years old, lived with his wife in a large six storey house in New York City, on East Sixty-second Street, and they had four servants. It was a gloomy* place, and few people...