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At last I reached #3 Bleecker Street. The sign on the corner up ahead said “Bowery”, and this was by far the poorest-looking block I had been on yet since leaving the San Remo. Lots of people were walking around, but slowly, as if they had nowhere to go, or as if they had somewhere to go but were in no great hurry to get there. Other people merely stood, slouching, or leaning against walls or lamp posts. Some sat on steps or even in the gutter. The warm air smelled of garbage and sweat.
On the left side of the entranceway to #3 was a grocery, to the right a shoe-repair shop. The shoe-repair shop’s sign said “Morgensterns -- Shoes Re Souled While U Wait”.
I tried the doorknob of #3. It was locked.
I took a hopeful breath, held it, and stuck my hand in my trousers pocket. I hadn't really noticed them before, but, sure enough, I felt a set of keys in there. Allowing myself to breathe, I brought them out.
The keyring, which was a simple circle of wire, held only three keys, and one looked like a mailbox key.
I stuck the largest key into the lock, and, miracle, the door opened.
In the vestibule was a row of mailboxes. Just for a laugh I looked, and sure enough found one with a hand-written paper slip in its slot that read “Porter Walker”.
I inserted the little key and opened the box. The only thing in it was an envelope from the Diners Club. I ripped it open and inside was a terse note informing me that my application for a credit card had been denied. Too bad. As things stood, unless I could find and put the touch on Josh, I would be forced to treat Elektra (or Betsy, I must remember to call her that) to a very modest night out indeed,
I put the letter back into the envelope, folded the envelope and put it in my inside jacket pocket.
The inner door of the vestibule opened without a key, and I went in and went up the stairs.
I couldn’t be absolutely sure, but somehow it seemed that the second floor must be where I lived.
I felt like one of those guys in the movies who are always losing their memory in the war. But did Porter even have any memories, beyond the sketchy background Miss Evans had given him in the opening chapters of her novel? Or would I have to fill out his life myself as I went along? As I looked down the hall, trying to guess which apartment door was mine, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t heard Miss Evans’s auctorial voice from above since back at the restaurant. Did this mean that I had truly escaped from her plot, if not from the world of her novel? Presumably the novel’s heroine, Emily, was off elsewhere having some adventure, presumably with Julian. I wished them well.
At moments like this in the movies the amnesia victim usually encountered an old man or woman who would mutter something mysterious. Sometimes of course the hero would be beset upon by a sinister detective or two. A dead body was never out of the realm of possibility either.
I walked over to a door, put my key into it. It didn’t work.
I crossed the hall, tried another door. No luck with this one either, and in fact I could hear music inside, so unless I had left a radio on, this couldn’t be the right apartment. I was walking toward another door when the door I had just tried opened behind me.
“Did you try to open my door?”
A dark haired young woman wearing only what looked like a man’s dress shirt stood in the doorway. She was smoking a cigarette.
“Sorry,” I said. “I made a mistake.”
“Are you drunk, Porter?”
“Only a little,” I said.
“Who is it?” called another girl’s voice.
“It’s Porter. He’s drunk.”
“Tell him to come in.”
“Come in, Porter,” said the dark-haired girl. She looked a little like Carolyn Jones.
“Uh, no, thanks,” I said.
“That’s not what you said the other night.”
“Is he coming in, Carlotta?” said the hidden voice.
“He says no,” said Carlotta.
The other girl came into the doorway. She was shorter, with blond hair, and she wore only a black leotard. (Or maybe it was a bathing suit, I modestly looked away, so I couldn’t say for certain.)
“That’s not what he told you the other night,” said the blond girl.
“That’s what I just said,” said Carlotta.
The blonde took Carlotta’s cigarette and lit one of her own with it. She looked like an actress too, but I couldn't quite place who.
“How’s the poetry game, Porter?” she asked.
“Not bad,” I said.
“Not bad, huh?”
She gave Carlotta’s cigarette back to her and exhaled a great cloud of smoke into the hallway.
The music came louder from inside their apartment. I think it was Harry Belafonte.
“Oh,” I suddenly remembered, “I’m getting my book published. My epic poem. I just found out today.”
There’s human nature for you. I hadn’t even really written the poem, nor had I even liked what little I had read of it, and here I was already bragging about it to two random girls in a hallway.
“It’s really getting published?” asked Carlotta. “Your poem? The epic one?”
“Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe --”
“And they’re paying you?” asked the smaller girl.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Incredible,” said Carlotta.
“See, it must be good,” said the blonde.
“I never said it wasn’t good, Pat,” said Carlotta.
“You said it read like Walt Whitman on Dexies and cheap beer.”
“I say a lot of dizzy things. Come on in, Porter, we’ll celebrate. We have a bottle of Dubonnet.”
“Some other time,” I said.
“No, really, it’s just that I had a big lunch, and --”
“No, really --”
“Pat, give us a minute, will you?” said Carlotta.
Pat went away, and Carlotta came toward me on her bare feet. She was slim, about five-and-a-half feet tall.
“I just want you to know,” she said, “that you don’t have to feel awkward about the other night.”
“Okay,” I said. It suddenly hit me who her friend looked like: Judy Holliday.
“I know you’re involved with that other girl," said Carlotta.
“Oh," I said.
"What’s her name.”
“I mean Betsy,” I said.
“Betsy? No, I mean that girl who works for the publisher --”
“Oh,” I said. “Gertrude. I mean Emily.”
She took a drag of her cigarette.
“How many women do you have, anyway, Porter?”
“It’s just that I’m just not that good with names,” I said.
“You’re such a rogue.”
“No, really --”
“Such a rogue. Are you seeing her later tonight?”
“No, in fact I meant this Emily chick.”
“And who is Betsy?”
“Oh, she’s just this girl I know.”
“You’re too much. And does Emily know about this Betsy girl?”
“No,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, I just only met Betsy about twenty minutes ago --”
“Too much. So what are you up to tonight?”
“Well, I -- uh --”
“Emily or Betsy?”
I looked at the floor.
“Betsy,” I said.
A door down the hall opened. It was Mrs. Morgenstern.
“Well, look who the cat dragged in,” she said. “Rainer Maria Rilke himself.”
“Hi, Mrs. Morgenstern,” said Carlotta.
“Hi, Carlotta. Did Mr. Walker tell you about his book?”
“Oh, yeah, he told me.”
“We got a famous poet living here.”
“Yeah, aren’t we lucky? See ya, Porter.”
She turned around, walked back to her doorway, went in, closed the door.
“You wanta stop in, Mr. Walker?” said Mrs. Morgenstern.
“No, thank you, Mrs. Morgenstern. I need a nap.”
“You been drinking, celebrating, yeah?”
“Yes, a little.”
“So take a nap.”
I went over to a door.
“That’s not your door. How drunk are you?”
Fortunately there was only one other door on that floor. I went to it, put my key in the lock. It worked.
Mrs. Morgenstern was still standing in her doorway, watching me. She was actually a very attractive woman. Was there something I needed to know about her and me?
I waved weakly at her. Then I went inside, and closed the door behind me.
I put my keys in a saucer on a scarred little table near the door.
I took off my jacket, the seersucker that Emily had bought me with her hard-earned pay, and I hung it on the back of one of the chairs at my table, with its portable typewriter and its piles of typing paper filled with poetic nonsense. I took off the dark grey tie Emily had also bought me, and draped it over the jacket. Then I went and sat on my unmade bed, and got undressed down to my boxer shorts, tossing my shirt and trousers to the foot of the bed and leaving my socks on the floor. The room was warm, but not excessively so. There was a fan in a window near the other side of the bed, but I was too lazy to get up and turn it on.
I lay back.
So Porter was perhaps not a perfect gentleman with the ladies.
Perhaps he was even a cad.
Would I now be held responsible for his sins, as well as my own?
Well, I couldn’t worry about it now. I was in my bed at last, my own bed, or Porter’s bed, which made it my own, in this shabby little one room-apartment, in a poor and wretched neighborhood. But even the most modest home is better than no home.
I looked at my wrist for my watch, but apparently Porter didn’t wear one. Nor did he seem to have a clock anywhere in evidence. Well, no matter. I figured it to be no later than five o’clock, probably earlier. Plenty of time for a nap of an hour or even two; and then off to meet Betsy at this Kettle of Fish place at eight.
I didn’t bother drawing the sheet up over me. I closed my eyes. From outside in the street I heard the sounds of cars and trucks and buses, of people shouting, screaming, laughing. I heard the somehow soothing buzzing of a fly. I began at last to fall into my gentle drunken sleep.
“Wait, before ya fall asleep, I just wanta ask ya somethin'.”
I opened my eyes. It was the fly again, hovering over my face.
“I mean if you don’t mind my askin’,” he said.
(Continued here; we have nowhere else to go.)
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