Thursday, July 20, 2023

“Make It Easy on Yourself, Kid”


The snow continued to fall, whitening the great unmoving body of the old poet lying there next to the entrance column.

“Mr. Stevens?” said Milford.

No reply, no movement.

Milford took a step closer. He took his glasses out from his peacoat, put them on.

The old man was not lying completely prone in the snow after all. His face was partially visible, Milford could see the corner of the man’s mouth, slightly open, and at least one side of his nose, the big balding white head at a slight angle. Was his neck broken? 

Milford took another step closer, and bent over. Was the man breathing?

And then Milford saw the thin steam of breath issuing from the open mouth. Yes! So he was not dead after all! 

But what if he was paralyzed, and, or, if not dead, then dying?

He, Milford, would be held responsible!

Who would believe that he had not even touched the famous old poet?

“No, officer, you see, he threw a punch at me, and all I did was involuntarily pull my head back, and then, well, I guess with the force of the thrown punch, he stumbled forward, and that’s when he crashed into that post.”

“The post in front of the San Remo Café.”

“Yes, sir, it’s a sort of rectangular column, with the name of the café painted on it –”

“I know the column you’re talking about. The column you threw Mr. Stevens against.”

“I did not throw him against it! He fell against it.”

“Oh, he fell against it?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Not so much fell, but, you know, stumbled –”



“Not brutally thrown against the column by you.”


“This elderly man whom you admit you stepped outside the bar to have a fight with.”

“Well, yes, but only because he insisted.”

“So you admit you fought with him, this man who was forty-five years your senior?”

“I didn’t want to fight him!”

“And yet you did.”

“No, I didn’t fight him, I just stood there!”

“You just stood there.”


“You stood there and let him throw a punch at you.”

“Yes! You have to believe me!”

“I don’t have to do anything except try to get at the truth. So let me ask you this, Milford. Why? Why did you kill Mr. Stevens?”

“I didn’t kill him! I’m innocent I tell you!”

“Listen, kid, there’s only one way you can avoid sitting down in that hot seat up at Sing Sing, and that’s to come clean, right here, right now. With luck, and with a good lawyer, you just might plead it down to involuntary manslaughter. With luck, and with a lenient judge, maybe you get off with just a few years.”

“A few years?”

“Maybe five. You’re young, in five years, six even, you’ll still be a young man, almost. Come clean, Milford. You’ll feel better.”

“I can’t do six years in prison!”

“And yet you could kill a man. A great poet. In cold blood. You might be surprised at what you can do, Milford.”

“But I didn’t kill him!”

“Make it easy on yourself, kid…”

There was only one thing to do. 

Run away. Right now, before anyone came by, or someone came out of the bar. He only lived right down the block. He could run away, go upstairs to his room, get into his pajamas, and go to bed. But would he be able to sleep, waiting for the police to ring the doorbell?

Everyone had seen him leaving the bar with Mr. Stevens, that whole bar full of people had seen him! Dozens of witnesses. It wouldn’t take the police long to find out who he was, where he lived.

Oh, what to do?

How could he survive six years (or more) in Sing Sing, and that was even if he somehow managed to avoid the death penalty? Those convicts would make mincemeat of him! They would rape him, on a daily basis. And before he had ever even had a chance to have normal sexual relations with an actual woman.

Why, oh why, had he agreed to “step outside” with Mr. Stevens?

He knew why.

It was all because Mr. Eliot had promised (sort of promised) to publish him if he “dealt with” Mr. Stevens. It was all Eliot’s fault! But no, why blame Mr. Eliot, it was his own fault for agreeing to do him the favor. His own fault, the fault of his own stupid pride and ambition. And now his whole life was ruined, all because of his abominable weakness!

Should he kill himself?

What the hell, if he could inadvertently cause the death of one of America’s greatest poets, why couldn’t he cause his own death?

But how? Walk in front of a truck? But the cars and the trucks were all driving slowly, on account of the thickly falling snow. What if the driver saw him stepping in front of the truck and swerved aside? Maybe he would only be severely injured, perhaps crippled for life? Maybe instead he should go to the nearest subway station and throw himself in front of a train? But he had always been afraid to go down into subway stations at night…

Milford looked up, at the night sky, at the millions of snowflakes falling from out of it.

“Oh, God, please spare me, spare me somehow!”

“Why should I spare you, Milford, you who have denied my very existence?”

“I’m sorry about that, God, I am so sorry! But I will never deny you again! Please, spare me, and I will worship you!”

“Yes, now you say that, when you are in despair, and you need my help.”

“I know, I know, I am unworthy of your mercy, O Lord, but I promise, if you do me this one favor, I will be your devoted servant for the rest of my days!”

“How many times over the centuries have I heard that line? Y’know something, sometimes you humans really disgust me, and I wonder what the hell I was thinking when I created you in the first place.”

“But, but –”

“Yes, it’s always ‘but, but’ with you people, isn’t it?”

“Please, dear God, please, just do me this one favor, and I promise I will be, uh, you know –”


“What?” said Milford, aloud.


Milford looked down, and Mr. Stevens was up on one elbow, looking up at him through the falling snow.

“Mr. Stevens!”

“Yes, now help me up, damn you!”

“Oh, my God, sir, I was afraid you were dying!”

“Nonsense! Knocked down for an eight-count maybe, but not out for good – now help me up!”

Milford bent over, grabbed the old poet’s arm in both his hands, and after only a minute of mutual struggling, at last the enormous old poet was on his feet.

“Get me my chapeau,” he said.

“Yes, sir, of course,” said Milford, and he bent over, picked up Mr. Stevens’s fedora, brushed it off, and handed it to the poet.

“Thanks,” said Mr. Stevens.

“You’re welcome, sir.”

Mr. Stevens put the hat back on his head, and then rubbed the side of his face.

“Ow,” he said. “I’m gonna have one hell of a bruise right here, probably a terrific black eye, too.”

Indeed Milford could see a large red lump on the poet’s cheekbone, seeming to glow and pulse like a beacon in the snowy night air.

“I’m very sorry, sir.”

“What was it you caught me with? Right hook?”

“Um –”

“I wouldn’t have thought you had that kind of power in your fists, but it just goes to show, even you little guys can get lucky.”

“But –”

“How humiliating. It’s one thing to get knocked down by Ernie Hemingway, he’s a big strapping athletic guy. But you? It’s like getting knocked out by Bette Davis. I’ll never live this down if word gets out.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” said Milford.

“Do you promise?”

“I promise, sir.”

“Look, Wilford, if you keep this little set-to on the QT, I promise I’ll give your first book of poems a rave review.”

“You will?”

“You bet. And not in some little rag no one reads either. The New York Times, or the New Yorker maybe.”

“Oh, wow. Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t mention it. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. This is how the literary game works, kid. You want to make it to the top like me, you got to play the game. All the great masters know this.”

“I appreciate the advice, sir.”

“Writing is just half the game, and just between you and me, kiddo, it’s the easier half.”

“I will bear that in mind, sir.”

“Swell, and now I think a couple of Haig & Haig Rob Roys are in order.”

Milford was right on the verge of reminding Mr. Stevens that he didn’t drink, but he heard the voice of God telling him not to press his luck, and so he bit his tongue.

{Please go here to read the deluxe “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

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