Thursday, January 30, 2020

“The Bowery don’t look so bad in the snow”

“Nice view you got up here of the el tracks,” said Janet. “And down over them rooftops you can just see the Brooklyn Bridge. Still there in case you ever decide you want to jump off it again.”

Hector Philips Stone, the doomed romantic poet, said nothing, and drank the hot tea with milk and honey she had brought him in a large take-out cup.

Janet lighted up a Philip Morris, shook out the match and laid it on the window sill. She leaned her head to the side, looking up at that sky the color of the sidewalk down below.

“Looks like snow again,” she said. “The Bowery don’t look so bad in the snow.”

She turned to Hector, lying in his narrow bed. He was unwrapping one of the sandwiches she had brought.

“You want me to crack this window, Hector, let a little fresh air in for a minute?”

“It’s stuck,” he said. Ham salad. He loved ham salad. “I haven’t been able to open it since early November. I guess I could have asked Mr. Morgenstern to open it, but I didn’t want to, especially because I had to ask him to close it in the first place.”

He took a bite of the sandwich. Delicious – even better than Grandma Stone’s!

Janet looked at the window, as if taking its measure, and then she hit its upper sash with the heel of her right fist, once, twice, three times.

“It’s really hopelessly stuck Janet,” said Hector, talking with his mouth full.

Janet put her cigarette between her lips, grabbed the two worn metal sash-pulls, gave them a good yank, and the window opened, letting in the cold air of the Bowery, which did not smell so bad six floors up from the street like this.

“Just a crack,” she said, lowering the window a bit. “Blow some of the stink out. I’ll close it up when I leave.”

Hector swallowed, wiped his lips with one of the paper napkins she had brought.

“Y’know, Janet,” he said, “I really can’t thank you enough, taking care of me while I’ve been laid up like this.”

“Hey, least I can do since I’m the one laid you up,” she said.

“I deserved it,” he said.

“That’s true,” she said. She flicked the dead match on the sill with her fingernail, sending it flying out the window. “Young guy like you. Educated, and a poet and all. Wanting to jump off the goddam Brooklyn Bridge.”

“You don’t understand,” he said.

“Yeah, I guess I don’t. Me, I was born in this crumby neighborhood, but you don’t hear me talking about jumping off no bridges.”

“You’re stronger than I am, Janet.”

“Yeah,” she said. “But anyways, I got a kid sister and brother to support. Who’s gonna take care of them two if I top myself?”

“Well, I can never repay you.”

“I ain’t looking to get repaid, Hector. Oh, by the way, you got some mail.”

She reached into her old cloth coat and brought out a letter, tossed it over to the bed.

Hector picked it up. From Smythe & Son, Publishers. Another rejection letter, doubtless.

He tore it open, and read:

Dear Mr. Stone,

    We have read your collection, Doom Be My Destiny, and are very interested in publishing it, if some deletions and odd changes would not be unamenable to you. Perhaps you are free this coming Friday, and if so I would be delighted to give you lunch, and we can talk the whole matter over. My preferred midday dining spot is the Rose Room at the Algonquin, easy stumbling distance from our offices, and I think you will find the food quite edible and the cocktails refreshing not to mention an excellent cellar. You did not mention if you have representation, but if you do have an agent, feel free to bring him (or her) along as well, as my guest of course. Do please call the number printed above, and I’ll have my secretary make the reservation. Shall we say about one-ish?


Julian Smythe
Director of Acquisitions

Hector folded up the letter and replaced it in the envelope.

“Janet,” he said, “how would you like to be my literary agent?”

{Please click here to read the “adult comic” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home with illustrations by the redoubtable rhoda penmarq.}

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