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“Just the other day I was going home on the train and re-reading one of those old Gold Medal paperbacks of the early Arnold Schnabel volumes and imagine my surprise when I got so engrossed that before I knew it I looked up and realized it was the next morning and I was in Sioux Falls, SD.” -- Harold Bloom, in Holiday.
I put down the paper and lifted my glass of whiskey.
“Hey, pal,” said the fly, “don’t forget me, huh? Just pour a little drip on the table there.”
“Oh, sorry,” I said, and did as he asked, pouring a drop from my glass onto the scarred old table top.
The fly immediately flew down and landed on the drop.
“Bottoms up, pal!”
“Bottoms up,” I said, and I took a drink, finishing the whiskey in the glass.
“Damn,” that was good, said the fly. He had finished all his whiskey too. “Now I could use some chow. You hungry at all?”
“In fact I’m starving,” I said.
“Great, whyn’t we run down to that Bob’s Bowery Bar, see if they got some hot dogs, pickled pig’s feet or something.”
“You forget why I came up here in the first place,” I said.
“Oh, right, yeah. Okay. So how long’s that gonna take you think?”
“It shouldn’t take long.”
“Oh, okay, so, like a minute?”
“Well, maybe more than a minute. I don’t want to --”
“Fuck it up.”
“I just want to do it right,” I said.
“Okay. But if it don’t work then we can go down to Bob’s.”
“Sure,” I said.
“You still got some money, right?”
“I’m sure I have enough for a couple of hot dogs in a place like that.”
“And a couple beers. You can’t eat hot dogs with no beer.”
“I have enough for a couple of beers.”
“Good. You like sauerkraut?”
“Yes,” I said.
“So we can get kraut on the dogs?”
“Sure,” I said. “If they have it.”
“If not get some chopped onions. We need ‘em not just for the flavor and texture but the vitamins.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Okay, so do what you got to do already, then we can go eat.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said.
“Ha ha. Now write. With my blessing. Scribble away, Hemingway.”
“Okay,” I said. I found another blank sheet of typing paper, set it down in front of me. I picked up the pen, removed the cap, stuck the cap onto the barrel.
I paused, thinking. I gazed toward the window, out at the rain.
After a minute the fly said, “What? Writer’s block now?”
“No,” I said. “Not exactly. But I was just thinking, what about Mrs. Morgenstern?”
“What do you mean what about her?”
“I mean what’s she going to think if I just -- disappear?”
“If you disappear.”
“Yes,” I said. “If I disappear, what is she going to think?”
“Who cares? Write already.”
“But -- she’ll worry. In fact all these other people will worry also -- Pat, and Carlotta --”
“Them bitches? They’ll worry for like five seconds, tops. Unless you owe them money. You owe them money?”
“Um, not that I know of --”
“So don’t worry about it.”
“And then there’s Emily --”
“Fuck her, she’s an even bigger bitch, and a nutcase to boot.”
“And Julian, my publisher. And that little waiter guy, Sammy --”
“So, what?” said the fly. “You don’t wanta upset nobody by disappearing, then don’t disappear. It’s a goofy idea anyway. Let’s go down the bar, we’ll eat something, get a load on, who knows, maybe we get lucky --”
“No,” I said. “I still want to try this. But I have to leave a note first.”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s the polite thing to do. Now be quiet and let me think.”
“Oh. Okay. The great brain at work.”
“I am mum.”
I thought for a moment, and then began to write.
Dear Mrs. Morgenstern,
I regret to inform you that, for personal reasons, I have decided to leave this apartment, and, indeed, to
“I smell rubber burning,” said the fly. “You must be thinking.”
I continued writing.
-- and indeed to leave the country. I feel the need to travel the world, incognito
“Incognito, that’s good,” said the fly, for he was now hovering over the sheet of paper.
-- to study humanity, and life, and to seek wisdom.
“You’re on a roll,” said the fly.
I realize that my leaving without notice like this could cause you some economic hardship, and so I ask you to take this letter to Mr. Julian Smythe of Smythe & Son, the publishing firm (their address should be in the phone book) and tell him that I authorize him to give you two months’ rent for this apartment out of my first advance payment checks for my book,
What was it called again? Oh, yes --
The Brawny Embraces.
I paused again, thinking.
I suddenly remembered that there was still a little whiskey left in the Early Times bottle. I picked it up and poured the remainder in my glass.
“Hey, what am I, an orphan?” said the fly.
I shook the upended bottle over the table, and three or four fat drops fell out.
“Now we’re talkin’, pal,” said the fly, and he descended on his treat.
I too took another drink, then resumed writing.
In fact, Mrs. Morgenstern, I hereby give you power of attorney over all my affairs, and I ask Julian to sign over all my future advance and/or royalty checks for my book to you.
Once again I wished I knew Mrs. Morgenstern’s first name, not just because it seemed sad to have made love with a woman three times and only know her married name, but also so that I could make the document legally airtight. Then I remembered her mentioning her husband by his first name. I changed the last period into a comma, and continued:
-- to you, Mrs. Jake Morgenstern of 3 Bleecker Street, New York City, New York.
I paused again. Writing the address of the building had reminded me of my neighbors. I took a moment, then continued.
I ask you (after the afore-mentioned two months’ rent have been taken care of) to divide up each of these checks into equal parts, one for yourself and one part each for my neighbors Pat and Carlotta, in recognition of the kindnesses you all have shown me.
This reminded me of the kindness, if that’s what it was, that poor Emily had shown me. I felt bad leaving her out.
Please give another equal share to my editor, Emily.
I didn’t know Emily’s last name. Too bad.
I paused again. Then:
Also, there’s a man named Maxie who works as a waiter at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel. Julian Smythe knows who he is. Please give Maxie an equal share also.
Once again I paused, gazing out through the window at the rain. Then I continued.
I just remembered that my advance payment for my book is only fifty dollars a month, and so, unless by some miracle this book becomes a bestseller, we are not talking about great sums of money here. But it’s the best I can do, and I hope this small monthly emolument will go some way toward making up for my sudden departure. As for myself, I want no money from the book. I shall wander the world heedless of riches, much like the wandering monks of old, picking up odd jobs here and there and perhaps composing another and even more epic poem.
I paused, gazing around the small cluttered apartment. Then I wrote:
Addendum: Any of my papers and odd poems and whatnot that are in here, you can pass on to Julian Smythe, to publish if he is mad enough to do so, or to throw in the trash, it is a matter of complete indifference to me. If he does choose to publish them I ask that he distribute any royalties forthcoming to you, to Pat and Carlotta, to Emily and Maxie, equal shares for all.
I paused again.
If you want any of the pictures, books, records, household items or anything else I’m leaving here, please take them. Anything else you may let Pat and Carlotta and Emily and Maxie pick over, and if there are any items still remaining just donate them to Goodwill or put them out on the sidewalk where I hope passing bums and bohemians will make short work of them.Sincerely,
Porter Walker, poet.
“Well,” I said. “What do you think?”
“About your little note?”
The fly’s voice sounded a bit slurred, and no wonder, he’d sopped up all the whiskey from the tabletop, and he was just sitting there, to the side of my note.
“Yes,” I said.
“Can I read it later? I don’t think I’m up for it now.”
“Sure,” I said.
He sat very still there, and then -- yes -- I could hear him snoring.
I put the note to one side, on a clear section of the table, where Mrs. Morgenstern would be sure to find it.
I picked up another blank piece of typewriter paper, set it before me.
I took another sip of whiskey, and began to write again.
And so Porter wrote the words that would take him back to his own self, to his own world.
I sighed. There was nothing more to write.
I re-capped the pen and and sat there, holding the pen in my fingers. I suddenly felt very, very tired.
The rain continued to fall outside, and a fresh breeze smelling of the ocean came through the window.
I pushed back my chair and stood up.
I walked over to the hallway door as if already in a dream. I flicked off the overhead light, the room fell dark, but not completely dark, some light from a streetlamp spilled in from outside.
I walked back towards the bed, and I almost tripped over the chair that Lucky had knocked over. I started to bend down to set it upright, but decided to let it go.
I made it to my bed and sat down. I was still holding the pen; I put it on the night table. It had been such a long day. The weariness was swallowing me up. I was still very hungry, but I was even more sleepy than hungry. I didn’t want to fall asleep fully clothed, so I forced myself to undress, dropping my clothes to the floor. I actually fell asleep a couple of times while I was undressing, but I woke up as soon as my head dropped to my chest.
At last I was down to my boxer shorts. I shoved the sheet aside, lay on my back, then turned on my side, toward the sound of the rain, to that breeze blowing in from the ocean. I fell asleep.
When I awoke there was still the sound of rain.
I opened my eyes, and I saw my window, my little casement window in my attic room in my aunts’ house, in Cape May, the rain falling through morning light, the wet leaves of the oak tree outside stirring and glistening, the air smelling of the ocean.
I had been lying on my side. I turned over onto my back.
My plan had worked, and I had returned to my own world, to my own body, to my own self.
I was hungry, ravenously hungry. And I had to urinate.
My covering sheet was down by my feet. I swung my legs off the bed and sat up, with my fingers on the edge of the mattress. The breeze coming through the window was soothing if not quite cool against my back.
I made an attempt to get up, and flinched, with not just one but with a whole variety of aches and pains, and I remembered last night’s shenanigans (last night that felt like a year ago), flying blithely through the air, smashing into a streetlamp pole, crashing onto the pavement; and later, back at the house, struggling and wrestling with Miss Evans as though she were Haystack Calhoun and not a slender woman. Both my knees were scraped and bruised, as were my hands, my forearms, my elbows. My left shoulder was especially sore and stiff, as was my right knee. Somewhere in there was a slight hangover. But I didn’t care. At least these were my own aches and pains, my own bruises and scrapes, my own hangover. But I would have to wear long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt today, just to forestall comment from my mother and my aunts…
“Hey, pal? Is that you?”
The fly was sitting on my bedside table, on top of Miss Evans’s book.
“Yes,” I said. “This is me.”
“You look like terrible.”
“I feel like terrible,” I said.
“Y’know what you need, pal? A good breakfast. Fix you right up.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I said.
“So get dressed and let’s eat.”
“Okay,” I said.
I was back.
I was back, and my new friend was with me.
(Continued here, of course.)
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