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I said nothing, watching Betsy’s cab drive away up the glimmering wet street, off into her own world.
The fly was hovering near my face. Unconsciously I waved my hand at him. He flew up and away and then back, hovering again, but keeping at an arm’s-length distance.
“Yo, pal,” he said, “I asked you before, watch the swiping.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Just be careful is all.”
“I mean you’re only like a thousand times bigger than I am.”
“Like pick on somebody your own size.”
“Well, no harm done,” he said. He flew a little closer. “Ya oughta put that money away.”
I still held in my hand the money that Betsy had brought out for me, less the ten I had just given to the cabby. Four crumpled dollar bills. I shoved them into my jeans pocket.
“So, whaddaya say, pal? The night’s still young. Let’s get them drinks.”
“Yeah,” I said.
At the corner up ahead Betsy’s cab turned left, hissing though a puddle of rainwater, and then it was gone.
“What’s the matter?” said the fly. “Something’s bugging you. I can tell. I toldja, I used to be human.”
“I get it,” he said. “You’re in love with her, right? This Betsy frail.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.
“Oh. Well, don’t take this the wrong way, and excuse me for saying the obvious, but you just met her, pal. I mean, I know we’re supposed to be in some broad’s goofy novel, and in novels and movies people are always falling in love at first sight, but come on, you barely even know that babe. Not that she ain’t good-looking and all, and perfectly charming, but, come on, grow the fuck up. She might turn out to be a bitch on wheels for all you know. I mean --”
“The thing is,” I said, “I do know her. In my other life. In the future, in the real world.”
“What you think of as the real world.”
“Granted,” I said.
“I see. But she don’t know that you know her. In your supposed, uh, real world. In the, um, future.”
“No,” I said.
“So -- correct me if I’m jumping to conclusions -- this guy she’s gonna meet whose life she’s gonna save, that’s you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know it all sounds -- strange.”
“Hey, I’m a talking fly. Who am I to judge what is strange and what is not? But, look, what’re you gonna do, mope all night? Let’s get that drink.”
I really did want a drink, now that he mentioned it. The inside of my mouth tasted like shoe leather. Not that I had ever actually tasted shoe leather. But even more than wanting a drink --
“I really have to pee,” I said.
“So come on in, take a pee, and then let’s get a beer for Christ’s sake.”
I hesitated, the reason for my hesitation being that inside the Kettle of Fish were all those people who thought I really was Porter, all of them ready to clap me on the back and shout things in my ear and attempt to engage me in conversation. And Emily was still in there, undoubtedly more than willing to entangle me even more tediously in Miss Evans’s storyline. On the other hand I did want to talk to Gabriel about Josh and about getting me out of this world, but Gabe was playing his horn again, and who knew when he would take his next break?
“You’re thinking again,” said the fly. “I can smell the rubber burning. What’s the matter now?”
“The thing is,” I said, “I’m not so sure I want to go back in there.”
“Why not? They love you in that joint.”
“That’s the problem.”
I patted my pockets for cigarettes.
“You’re funny, pal.”
“So let’s go down the street to the San Remo.”
I remembered that I had given up cigarettes.
“Yeah, I guess we could,” I said.
“I do not see why not. Let’s bust a move, my friend.”
“Okay, then, let’s go to the San Remo,” I said.
“Now you’re talking, buddy.” We started walking down the sidewalk, or rather I walked and the fly flew. “I’m sick of them two anyway,” he said.
“Them bitches. That Pat. And that what’s her name, Carlotta.”
“I thought you liked Carlotta.”
“She’s a stuck-up bitch, just like that Pat dame.”
“I wouldn’t say she’s stuck up,” I said.
“Then she’s a lesbian. Her and Pat.”
I stopped for just a second, then started walking again.
“I very much doubt they’re lesbians,” I said.
“What do you know about it?” said the fly, zooming to just in front of my nose. “You ever met a lesbian?”
“Well, I don’t know --”
All I knew about lesbians was what I had read over the years in certain paperback novels which I would have never had the courage to buy myself but had found abandoned on or under the seats in passenger cars during my long career on the railroad. The covers of these books uniformly featured a pair of pretty young women, usually one blonde and one brunette, and if the stories didn’t take place in suburbia then it was true that the locale tended to be Greenwich Village.
“They’re a pair of lesbos,” said the fly.
“Well, maybe so,” I said.
“What?” said the fly. He buzzed even closer to my face.
“Nothing. Maybe you’re right.”
“About them being lesbos.”
“But you don’t think so.”
“I, um, really don’t know,” I said.
“You’re just trying to make me feel good.”
“Well, uh --”
“Couple o’ cock-teasers, ya ask me.”
I stopped walking. The fly had continued to fly along, but now he flew back and hovered in front of my face.
“What?” he said.
“Listen, I really prefer not to discuss women in this fashion.”
“Damn, you are a tight-ass. It ain’t like we’re talking right in front of them.”
“I know,” I said. “But still --”
“Oh. I get it.”
“I get it.”
“Why you’re so -- what -- punctilious all of a sudden.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s ‘cause you and that Carlotta broad --”
“’Cause you and that Carlotta played hide the salami once or twice, right? So now you’re being a gentleman.”
“Look, I just said I don’t want to discuss --”
“How was she, anyway?”
It was all I could do not to take another swipe at him. But he was right, I was at least a thousand times bigger than him, physically.
“Okay, look,” I said, “I’m sorry you didn’t get anywhere with Pat or Carlotta, I really am, but you have to understand, you’re a fly. Maybe you used to be a human being, but you’re a fly now.”
“That’s cold. That’s really cold, pal.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. You’re a fly. And women don’t like flies, that’s all there is to it.”
“Look, I sympathize.”
“Oh, yeah, sure. You’re a regular fount of sympathy.”
Some people came walking up the street toward us, a couple of girls, a couple of guys. I realized that I had been talking aloud to the fly.
I started walking again. The young people passed us. They were laughing, happy, a little drunk I suppose.
We approached the corner, the fly and I.
I could see the sign for Bleecker Street in the lamplight up ahead and on the corner to the left I recognized the exterior of the San Remo Café.
“Someday maybe you’ll be a fly,” said the fly.
“Maybe,” I said.
“Then you’ll know what it’s like.”
“Don’t get cocky.”
“No, wait, stop a second.”
“I have to pee.”
“I know you have to pee. Just stop a fucking second.”
“I mean it,” he said. “Don’t get cocky.”
“Okay, I won’t.”
“’Cause I got cocky.”
“Oh,” I said. “I mean, ‘Oh?’”
“Yeah, I got cocky. And look where it landed me.”
“I’m a fucking fly now.”
“So I’m just sayin’.”
“Don’t get cocky,” I said. “I mean me, I shouldn’t get cocky.”
“That’s right,” he said.
“So, can we, uh, move on now?”
“Sure. That’s all I wanted to say.”
I started walking again, and the fly was quiet, for the time being.
Then I heard shouting from directly ahead.
We had almost reached the corner, and I saw a fellow staggering out of the entrance, looking as if he weren’t leaving of his own volition.
Sure enough I heard someone yell, “And stay the fuck out!” and a straw trilby hat came flying out and landed on the pavement.
The man who had come stumbling out of the bar straightened up and turned to face the entrance.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve!” he yelled. “You know who you’re dealing with? The son of God, that’s who!”
It was Josh.
(Continued here, and at this rate approximately up to the year 2050.)
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