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I turned my jacket collar up and started to head up the steps to the sidewalk.
I turned. The fly was hovering in the dry air beneath the awning.
“C’mon,” he said, “you know I don’t like to fly around in the rain.”
“Oh, sorry,” I said.
“I mean to you they might just be tiny raindrops, but to me each one is like getting dumped on with a barrelful of cold water, for Chist’s sake.”
“Do you want me to carry you in my hand again?”
“You are gonna grab a cab, right?”
“Yeah, sure, I guess.”
“I mean now is not the time to be cheap and walk home in the rain, maybe catch your death.”
“Yes, you’re right.”
“Okay, open your hand up.” I held my open left hand out into the space under the awning and the fly landed in my palm. “Okay, close ‘er up, but gently! gently now!”
I closed up my hand, turned and went up the steps to the sidewalk. The rain came down. I should have taken Emily the waitress’s offer of an umbrella, but it was too late now. There were no cabs in sight, no moving cars at all. I walked down towards Bleecker a couple of doors and got in under the awning of a closed tattoo parlour.
I felt a buzzing in my hand and I brought it up next to my ear.
“What’s goin’ on, no cabs?”
“No, I’m standing under another awning.”
“Okay, let me out, then.”
I did as he asked, and he buzzed merrily around my head. Well, maybe not merrily.
“They’re never around when ya want ‘em,” he said. “’Specially in the rain. So, what’s the plan, anyway, pal?”
“Well, first I’m going to go back to my apartment, then I’m going to try to write myself out of this world I’m in and back to my own world.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Whatever.”
“Yeah, but what do you mean by whatever?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“You don’t think it’s a good plan?”
“Good in what sense?”
“Good in the sense that, uh, it’ll get me back to my own world.”
“Oh. In that sense.”
“Well, in the sense of is it a reasonable plan, uh, yeah, sure, sure it's reasonable. Provided it works.”
“You don’t think it’ll work?”
“Hey, who am I to say, I’m just a fly, but let me say only this, if I were able to write myself out of being a fly, don’t you think I would have tried it?”
I thought about this for a second.
“But how would you write it?” I asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“How would you write yourself out of being a fly. You’re too small to hold a pen, or a pencil.”
“Oh. You got a point; a very valid point. Sometimes I forget. I don’t have opposable thumbs. Or fingers, for that matter. So, yeah, your point is well taken I suppose. So, you know, be my guest, write away.”
“But you don’t think it will work.”
“I did not say that.”
“My friend Josh seemed to think it would work.”
“And perhaps if your friend Josh said you should jump off the Brooklyn Bridge then that would work.”
“Look, it’s worth a try,” I said.
“Oh, yeah, sure, worth a try, but look, you want to pick up some beer first?”
Just then I saw Nicky Boskins coming up the steps from the Valhalla bar.
“Yo, pal --” said the fly.
I held up my hand.
“Just like a quart, y’know?” said the fly.
I ducked into the entrance area of the tattoo parlor.
“What the fuck’s the matter with you?” said the fly.
“Quiet,” I whispered. “It’s this guy Nicky, my PR man.”
“I don’t know.”
“What don’t you know?”
“I’m afraid he might be the Devil,” I whispered.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” said the fly.
“Look,” I whispered, “fly out a little ways and see what he’s doing?”
“Just do it, okay?”
“Awright, awright. Sheesh.”
He flew out beyond the edge of the entrance way and hovered.
“It looks like he’s waiting for a cab,” he said.
“And sure enough, here comes one.”
“Is it empty?”
“Yeah, it’s stopping. Come on, we’ll ask him to drop us off.”
“No? It’s raining, pal, come on!”
He buzzed up and down.
“No,” I whispered, firmly.
“But who knows when the next one will come along?”
“Is he getting in the cab?”
“Of course he’s getting in.”
I turned around, away from the street, trying to look inconspicuous, or as inconspicuous as anyone can look staring into the glass-paned door of a closed and unlighted tattoo parlor.
“Tell me when he’s passed,” I whispered.
“Christ,” said the fly.
I heard a car going by, making a shooshing sound on the wet street.
“He’s gone,” said the fly. “You can come out of hiding now.”
I turned around, took a step forward. I saw a Yellow Cab making the left turn on Bleecker Street in the rain.
“You happy now?” said the fly.
“I just don’t want to take any chances,” I said. “And why did he leave right after we left?”
“Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s late and he has to work in the morning?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe.”
The street was empty now. No cars, no pedestrians.
“Okay,” said the fly, “so look, what do you say we go across to the San Remo for one or two, just till the rain lets up.”
“No, I want to get home and write this thing.”
“Oh, right. Your little plan. Okay, so we pick up a couple quarts to go.”
“Look, I’m really not planning on sticking around long enough to drink a couple of quarts of beer.”
“Okay, one quart. We can drink it while you’re writing.”
“You just passed out from licking the whiskey off a cocktail cherry, and now you want beer?”
“Flies have a very rapid metabolsm, so, yeah, I could go for a drop of beer or two, I mean, you know, if it’s okay with you, I mean.”
“Okay, if we see an open store or a bar I’ll pick up a quart.”
“There’s like six bars just on this block.”
“I don’t want to go into any of these bars.”
“Oh. Afraid of who you’ll run into, huh?”
“Yes, I am, actually.”
“I know that feeling, pal. This is the problem with bars, ya know what I mean? They let anybody in. But whatta ya gonna do? Spend your whole life holed up in your pad?”
An old green De Soto came down the street, I think it was one of those De Luxe Business Coupés, a 1948 or so, its grillwork made it look like a grimacing beast. It drove on by.
“Hey, ya gotta get out sometimes,” said the fly.
“That’s true,” I said.
“You take your chances.”
“That’s true also.”
“But you just can’t hide in your room, like a monk. Like a goddam hermit. Right?”
“No, I guess not.”
“That way madness lies.”
“No possibly about it. So, ya wanta stop somewheres for a nightcap? I mean somewheres in your neighborhood maybe? I like them Bowery bars, not so pretentious --”
“Okay, just askin’. But we can still pick up a quart or two, right?”
“Yeah, we’ll pick up a quart,” I said, just to shut him up, but also because -- I realized just as I was saying it -- what if I failed? What if Josh had been wrong? What if I remained trapped in this universe? Then I would need a quart, and probably more than a quart.
We stood there silently. The fly came to rest on my shoulder. The rain continued to fall.
A couple of cars passed by. Then, after a minute, a meat truck. Then a little bit later a cop car. But no cabs.
“I can’t believe it,” said the fly. “We really should’ve just asked your buddy there if we coulda shared his cab.”
“He’s not my buddy.”
“You said he’s your PR man.”
“Look, let it go, okay?”
We waited. The street was empty now. Absolutely empty. Except for the rain, and for us.
“Unbelievable,” said the fly. “If I hadda known it was gonna take this fuckin’ long to find a cab I would’ve never let you talk us out of sharing your buddy’s cab. Never.”
I said nothing. I stepped out a bit from the awning to look up the street, as if this would somehow make a cab appear.
“Why’s it taking so long?” asked the fly. “I mean I know it’s raining, but. This is supposed to be Manhattan we’re in, not goddam Ohio or someplace, fucking North Dakota.”
I stepped back under the awning. The fly flew right up into my face.
“Why?” he asked.
“It’s a Tuesday night,” I said. “At least I think it’s a Tuesday. And it’s late.”
“Yeah, and raining,” he said. “But still.”
“Oh, wait, I see one,” I said.
The fly buzzed forward to take a look.
“Nah, he’s occupied,” said the fly.
We waited. A few more cars came by, another pause, then a big Mack truck. All of a sudden two cabs came down the street, one after the other. Both occupied.
“Unbelievable,” said the fly.
Another minute, then another car. Then another occupied cab. Then a garbage truck.
The rain had lessened by now. It was still coming down, but it was much lighter, almost misty.
I was on the verge of asking the fly if he minded if I walked home. He could travel in my ear, or in my pocket if he preferred.
A white Lincoln Continental came down the street, I think it was the 1956 Mark II.
“Look at these rich bastards,” said the fly. “Slumming. Guys like that, you know what I do? I leave droppings in their caviar, that’s what I do. They should get sick and die. Rich bastards. Go back to Park Avenue, ya bums!”
The car stopped, a little bit ahead of us, then it backed up so that it was nearly in front of us.
“Oh, come on,” said the fly. “What’ve they got, Superman hearing? Okay, look, if there’s any trouble we hightail it back to that last bar, okay?”
“Quiet,” I whispered.
A young blond-haired guy who looked a little like Vic Morrow was looking out of the front passenger window. He turned and it looked like he said something to the driver. Then he turned back again and rolled down the window. I could hear loud jazz music from inside the car. The driver leaned over, looking out the window, at me. I couldn’t see his face clearly, but I saw the glow of a cigarette in his mouth. He backed up the car another foot or so and I saw his face in the light of a streetlamp. He reminded me of James Dean, and for a second I wondered if it was James Dean. But then I remembered that James Dean was dead in 1957. Not that his death necessarily precluded his presence in this universe. The driver pressed a button, the jazz music stopped, he took the cigarette out of his mouth.
“Hey,” he yelled. “Mrs. Morgenstern’s neighbor!”
“Yes?” I said.
“It’s me, Mickey, her nephew.”
A guy who looked like the actor Timothy Carey had partially rolled down the near rear window.
“It’s us, the Windbreakers, daddy-o. Remember, we was gonna roll you earlier today.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “Hi, guys.”
“What’re ya doin’ standin’ there,” yelled Mickey.
“Waiting for a cab.”
“You goin’ home?”
“Get in, we’ll give ya a lift.”
The fly was in my ear again now and he whispered, “Go ahead, pal, let’s get this show on the road.”
I went out across the sidewalk in the misty rain.
“Herschel,” said Mickey, “get in back.”
“I called shotgun,” said Herschel.
“Get in back.”
“Awright, awright awready.”
The blond-haired guy opened the door, the interior light came on, he got out. The Timothy Carey guy in back moved over to make room, and I could see the little Richard Jaeckel guy next to him on the other side. Herschel climbed in the back. All four of the guys were wearing different-colored windbreakers now over their t-shirts.
“Come on,” said Mickey. He was wearing a red windbreaker. “You’re gettin’ the new upholstery all wet.”
I went over and got in, closed the door, the inside light went off.
“Nice car,” whispered the fly in my ear.
I had never ridden in a fancy car like this before. Despite the fact that all four of the young fellows had lit cigarettes going the car smelled of clean new leather.
“Roll the window back up, willya?” said Mickey. “You too, Herschel.”
I looked for the window handle, running my fingers along the smooth pale leather-covered interior of the door.
“It’s power,” said Mickey. “Just press that button there.”
I found the button, put my finger on it, the window-pane rose silently.
“So whaddaya think?” said Mickey.
“Yeah. About the wheels.”
“Oh,” I said.
I touched the ivory-smooth leather of the dashboard. It felt warm to the touch, like a living thing. The windshield wipers stroked silently and efficiently. The lights on the dashboard glowed.
“So?” said Mickey.
“Nice car,” I said.
“Ha,” said Mickey.
The other three young guys all said ha too.
“Nice car I got, huh?” said Mickey.
I’ve noticed many times in my life that when you’re talking to guys about their cars that it’s usually necessary to say things two or three times at least, and with increasing emphasis.
“Really nice,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Mickey. He had his cigarette back between his lips now. “Real nice.”
He poked a button on the dashboard and the loud jazz music came back on.
“It’s a nice car all right,” he said. He put the car in gear. “But it ain’t my car.”
He put his foot on the gas and pulled out. The three guys in back all whooped and hollered.
The light up ahead was red, but Mickey ignored it and turned left on Bleecker.
(Continued here, indefatigably.)
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