The Enormous Radio
by John Cheever

 

JIM AND IRENE WESTCOTT were the kind of people who seem to strike that satisfactory average of income, endeavor, and respectability that is reached by the statistical reports in college alumni bulletins. They were the parents of two young children, they had been married nine years, they lived on the twelfth floor of an apartment house near Sutton Place, they went to the theatre on an average of 10.3 times a year, and they hoped someday to live in Westchester. Irene Westcott was a pleasant, rather plain girl with soft brown hair and a wide, fine forehead upon which nothing at all had been written, and in the cold weather she wore a coat of fitch skins dyed to resemble mink. You could not say that Jim Westcott looked younger than he was, but you could at least say of him that he seemed to feel younger. He wore his graying hair cut very short, he dressed in the kind of clothes his class had worn at Andover, and his manner was earnest, vehement, and intentionally naive. The Westcotts differed from their friends, their classmates, and their neighbors only in an interest they shared in serious music. They went to a great many concerts—although they seldom mentioned this to anyone—and they spent a good deal of time listening to music on the radio.

Their radio was an old instrument, sensitive, unpredictable, and beyond repair. Neither of them understood the mechanics of radio—or of any of the other appliances that surrounded them—and when the instrument faltered, Jim would strike the side of the cabinet with his hand. This sometimes helped. One Sunday afternoon, in the middle of a Schubert quartet, the music faded away altogether. Jim struck the cabinet repeatedly, but there was no response; the Schubert was lost to them forever. He promised to buy Irene a new radio, and on Monday when he came home from work he told her that he had got one. He refused to describe it, and said it would be a surprise for her when it came.

The radio was delivered at the kitchen door the following afternoon, and with the assistance of her maid and the handyman Irene uncrated it and brought it into the living room. She was struck at once with the physical ugliness of the large gumwood cabinet. Irene was proud of her living room, she had chosen its furnishings and colors as carefully as she chose her clothes, and now it seemed to her that the new radio stood among her intimate possessions like an aggressive intruder. She was confounded by the number of dials and switches on the instrument panel, and she studied them thoroughly before she put the plug into a wall socket and turned the radio on. The dials flooded with a malevolent green light, and in the distance she heard the music of a piano quintet. The quintet was in the distance for only an instant; it bore down upon her with a speed greater than light and filled the apartment with the noise of music amplified so mightily that it knocked a china ornament from a table to the floor. She rushed to the instrument and reduced the volume. The violent forces that were snared in the ugly gumwood cabinet made her uneasy. Her children came home from school then, and she took them to the Park. It was not until later in the afternoon that she was able to return to the radio.

The maid had given the children their suppers and was supervising their baths when Irene turned on the radio, reduced the volume, and sat down to listen to a Mozart quintet that she knew and enjoyed. The music came through clearly. The new instrument had a much purer tone, she thought, than the old one. She decided that tone was most important and that she could conceal the cabinet behind a sofa. But as soon as she had made her peace with the radio, the interference began. A crackling sound like the noise of a burning powder fuse began to accompany the singing of the strings. Beyond the music, there was a rustling that reminded Irene unpleasantly of the sea, and as the quintet progressed, these noises were joined by many others. She tried all the dials and switches but nothing dimmed the interference, and she sat down, disappointed and bewildered, and tried to trace the flight of the melody. The elevator shaft in her building ran beside the living-room wall, and it was the noise of the elevator that gave her a clue to the character of the static. The rattling of the elevator cables and the opening and closing of the elevator doors were reproduced in her loudspeaker, and, realizing that the radio was sensitive to electrical currents of all sorts, she began to discern through the Mozart the ringing of telephone bells, the dialing of phones, and the lamentation of a vacuum cleaner. By listening more carefully, she was able to distinguish doorbells, elevator bells, electric razors, and Waring mixers, whose sounds had been picked up from the apartments that surrounded hers and transmitted through her loudspeaker. The powerful and ugly instrument, with its mistaken sensitivity to discord, was more than she could hope to master, so she turned the thing off and went into the nursery to see her children.

When Jim Westcott came home that night, he went to the radio confidently and worked the controls. He had the same sort of experience Irene had had. A man was speaking on the station Jim had chosen, and his voice swung instantly from the distance into a force so powerful that it shook the apartment. Jim turned the volume control and reduced the voice. Then, a minute or two later, the interference began. The ringing of telephones and doorbells set in, joined by the rasp of the elevator doors and the whir of cooking appliances. The character of the noise had changed since Irene had tried the radio earlier; the last of the electric razors was being unplugged, the vacuum cleaners had all been returned to their closets, and the static reflected that change in pace that overtakes the city after the sun goes down. He fiddled with the knobs but couldn’t get rid of the noises, so he turned the radio off and told Irene that in the morning he’d call the people who had sold it to him and give them hell.

The following afternoon, when Irene returned to the apartment from a luncheon date, the maid told her that a man had come and fixed the radio. Irene went into the living room before she took off her hat or her furs and tried the instrument. From the loudspeaker came a recording of the “Missouri Waltz.” It reminded her of the thin, scratchy music from an old-fashioned phonograph that she sometimes heard across the lake where she spent her summers. She waited until the waltz had finished, expecting an explanation of the recording, but there was none. The music was followed by silence, and then the plaintive and scratchy record was repeated. She turned the dial and got a satisfactory burst of Caucasian music—the thump of bare feet in the dust and the rattle of coin jewelry—but in the background she could hear the ringing of bells and a confusion of voices. Her children came home from school then, and she turned off the radio and went to the nursery.

When Jim came home that night, he was tired, and he took a bath and changed his clothes. Then he joined Irene in the living room. He had just turned on the radio when the maid announced dinner, so he left it on, and he and Irene went to the table.

Jim was too tired to make even a pretense of sociability, and there was nothing about the dinner to hold Irene’s interest, so her attention wandered from the food to the deposits of silver polish on the candlesticks and from there to the music in the other room. She listened for a few minutes to a Chopin prelude and then was surprised to hear a man’s voice break in. “For Christ’s sake, Kathy,” he said, “do you always have to play the piano when I get home?” The music stopped abruptly. “It’s the only chance I have,” a woman said. “I’m at the office all day.” “So am I,” the man said. He added something obscene about an upright piano, and slammed a door. The passionate and melancholy music began again.

“Did you hear that?” Irene asked.

“What?” Jim was eating his dessert.

“The radio. A man said something while the music was still going oh—something dirty.”

“It’s probably a play.”

“I don’t think it is a play,” Irene said.

They left the table and took their coffee into the living room. Irene asked Jim to try another station. He turned the knob. “Have you seen my garters?” a man asked. “Button me up,” a woman said. “Have you seen my garters?” the man said again. “Just button me up and I’ll find your garters,” the woman said. Jim shifted to another station. “I wish you wouldn’t leave apple cores in the ashtrays,” a man said. “I hate the smell.”

“This is strange,” Jim said.

“Isn’t it?” Irene said.

Jim turned the knob again. “‘On the coast of Coromandel where the early pumpkins blow,’” a woman with a pronounced English accent said, “‘in the middle of the woods lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò. Two old chairs, and half a candle, one old jug without a handle …’”

“My God!” Irene cried. “That’s the Sweeneys’ nurse.”

“These were all his worldly goods,’” the British voice continued.

“Turn that thing off,” Irene said. “Maybe they can hear us.” Jim switched the radio off. “That was Miss Armstrong, the Sweeneys’ nurse,” Irene said. “She must be reading to the little girl. They live in 17-B. I’ve talked with Miss Armstrong in the Park. I know her voice very well. We must be getting other people’s apartments.”

“That’s impossible,” Jim said.

“Well, that was the Sweeneys’ nurse,” Irene said hotly. “I know her voice. I know it very well. I’m wondering if they can hear us.”

Jim turned the switch. First from a distance and then nearer, nearer, as if borne on the wind, came the pure accents of the Sweeneys’ nurse again: “‘Lady Jingly! Lady Jingly!’” she said, “‘sitting where the pumpkins blow, will you com and be my wife? said the Yonghy-Bongy-Bó …’”

Jim went over to the radio and said “Hello” loudly into the speaker.

“‘I am tired of living singly,’” the nurse went on, “‘on this coast so wild and shingly, I’m a-weary of my life; if you’ll come and be my wife, quite serene would be my life …’”

“I guess she can’t hear us,” Irene said. “Try something else.”

Jim turned to another station, and the living room was filled with the uproar of a cocktail party that had overshot its mark. Someone was playing the piano and singing the “Whiffenpoof Song,” and the voices that surrounded the piano were vehement and happy. “Eat some more sandwiches,” a woman shrieked. There were screams of laughter and a dish of some sort crashed to the floor.

“Those must be the Fullers, in 11-E,” Irene said. “I knew they were giving a party this afternoon. I saw her in the liquor store. Isn’t this too divine? Try something else. See if you can get those people in 18-C.”

The Westcotts overheard that evening a monologue on salmon fishing in Canada, a bridge game, running comments on home movies of what had apparently been a fortnight at Sea Island, and a bitter family quarrel about an overdraft at the bank. They turned off their radio at midnight and went to bed, weak with laughter. Sometime in the night, their son began to call for a glass of water and Irene got one and took it to his room. It was very early. All the lights in the neighborhood were extinguished, and from the boy’s window she could see the empty street. She went into the living room and tried the radio. There was some faint coughing, a moan, and then a man spoke. “Are you all right, darling?” he asked. “Yes,” a woman said wearily. “Yes, I’m all right, I guess,” and then she added with great feeling, “But, you know, Charlie, I don’t feel like myself any more. Sometimes there are about fifteen or twenty minutes in the week when I feel like myself. I don’t like to go to another doctor, because the doctor’s bills are so awful already, but I just don’t feel like myself, Charlie. I just never feel like myself.” They were not young, Irene thought. She guessed from the timbre of their voices that they were middle-aged. The restrained melancholy of the dialogue and the draft from the bedroom window made her shiver, and she went back to bed.

THE FOLLOWING MORNING, Irene cooked breakfast for the family—the maid didn’t come up from her room in the basement until ten—braided her daughter’s hair, and waited at the door until her children and her husband had been carried away in the elevator. Then she went into the living room and tried the radio. “I don’t want to go to school,” a child screamed. “I hate school. I won’t go to school. I hate school.” “You will go to school,” an enraged woman said. “We paid eight hundred dollars to get you into that school and you’ll go if it kills you.” The next number on the dial produced the worn record of the “Missouri Waltz.” Irene shifted the control and invaded the privacy of several breakfast tables. She overheard demonstrations of indigestion, carnal love, abysmal vanity, faith, and despair. Irene’s life was nearly as simple and sheltered as it appeared to be, and the forthright and sometimes brutal language that came from the loudspeaker that morning astonished and troubled her. She continued to listen until her maid came in. Then she turned off the radio quickly, since this insight, she realized, was a furtive one.

Irene had a luncheon date with a friend that day, and she left her apartment at a little after twelve. There were a number of women in the elevator when it stopped at her floor. She stared at their handsome and impassive faces, their furs, and the cloth flowers in their hats. Which one of them had been to Sea Island? she wondered. Which one had overdrawn her bank account? The elevator stopped at the tenth floor and a woman with a pair of Skye terriers joined them. Her hair was rigged high on her head and she wore a mink cape. She was humming the “Missouri Waltz.”

Irene had two Martinis at lunch, and she looked searchingly at her friend and wondered what her secrets were. They had intended to go shopping after lunch, but Irene excused herself and went home. She told the maid that she was not to be disturbed; then she went into the living room, closed the doors, and switched on the radio. She heard, in the course of the afternoon, the halting conversation of a woman entertaining her aunt, the hysterical conclusion of a luncheon party, and a hostess briefing her maid about some cocktail guests. “Don’t give the best Scotch to anyone who hasn’t white hair,” the hostess said. “See if you can get rid of that liver paste before you pass those hot things, and could you lend me five dollars? I want to tip the elevator man.”

As the afternoon waned, the conversations increased in intensity. From where Irene sat, she could see the open sky above the East River. There were hundreds of clouds in the sky, as though the south wind had broken the winter into pieces and were blowing it north, and on her radio she could hear the arrival of cocktail guests and the return of children and businessmen from their schools and offices. “I found a good-sized diamond on the bathroom floor this morning,” a woman said. “It must have fallen out of that bracelet Mrs. Dunston was wearing last night.” “We’ll sell it,” a man said. “Take it down to the jeweler on Madison Avenue and sell it. Mrs. Dunston won’t know the difference, and we could use a couple of hundred bucks …” “‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s,’” the Sweeneys’ nurse sang. “‘Halfpence and farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s. When will you pay me? say the bells at old Bailey …’” “It’s not a hat,” a woman cried, and at her back roared a cocktail party. “It’s not a hat, it’s a love affair. That’s what Walter Florell said. He said it’s not a hat, it’s a love affair,” and then, in a lower voice, the same woman added, “Talk to somebody, for Christ’s sake, honey, talk to somebody. If she catches you standing here not talking to anybody, she’ll take us off her invitation list, and I love these parties.”

The Westcotts were going out for dinner that night, and when Jim came home, Irene was dressing. She seemed sad and vague, and he brought her a drink. They were dining with friends in the neighborhood, and they walked to where they were going. The sky was broad and filled with light. It was one of those splendid spring evenings that excite memory and desire, and the air that touched their hands and faces felt very soft. A Salvation Army band was on the corner playing “Jesus Is Sweeter.” Irene drew on her husband’s arm and held him there for a minute, to hear the music. “They’re really such nice people, aren’t they?” she said. “They have such nice faces. Actually, they’re so much nicer than a lot of the people we know.” She took a bill from her purse and walked over and dropped it into the tambourine. There was in her face, when she returned to her husband, a look of radiant melancholy that he was not familiar with. And her conduct at the dinner party that night seemed strange to him, too. She interrupted her hostess rudely and stared at the people across the table from her with an intensity for which she would have punished her children.

It was still mild when they walked home from the party, and Irene looked up at the spring stars. “‘How far that little candle throws its beams,’” she exclaimed. “‘So shines a good deed in a naughty world.’” She waited that night until Jim had fallen asleep, and then went into the living room and turned on the radio.

JIM CAME HOME at about six the next night. Emma, the maid, let him in, and he had taken off his hat and was taking off his coat when Irene ran into the hall. Her face was shining with tears and her hair was disordered. “Go up to 16-C, Jim!” she screamed. “Don’t take off your coat. Go up to 16-C. Mr. Osborn’s beating his wife. They’ve been quarreling since four o’clock, and now he’s hitting her. Go up there and stop him.”

From the radio in the living room, Jim heard screams, obscenities, and thuds. “You know you don’t have to listen to this sort of thing,” he said. He strode into the living room and turned the switch. “It’s indecent,” he said. “It’s like looking in windows. You know you don’t have to listen to this sort of thing. You can turn it off.”

“Oh, it’s so horrible, it’s so dreadful,” Irene was sobbing. “I’ve been listening all day, and it’s so depressing.”

“Well, if it’s so depressing, why do you listen to it? I bought this damned radio to give you some pleasure,” he said. “I paid a great deal of money for it. I thought it might make you happy. I wanted to make you happy.”

“Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t quarrel with me,” she moaned, and laid her head on his shoulder. “All the others have been quarreling all day. Everybody’s been quarreling. They’re all worried about money. Mrs. Hutchinson’s mother is dying of cancer in Florida and they don’t have enough money to send her to the Mayo Clinic. At least, Mr. Hutchinson says they don’t have enough money. And some woman in this building is having an affair with the handyman—with that hideous handyman. It’s too disgusting. And Mrs. Melville has heart trouble and Mr. Hendricks is going to lose his job in April and Mrs. Hendricks is horrid about the whole thing and that girl who plays the ‘Missouri Waltz’ is a whore, a common whore, and the elevator man has tuberculosis and Mr. Osborn has been beating Mrs. Osborn.” She wailed, she trembled with grief and checked the stream of tears down her face with the heel of her palm.

“Well, why do you have to listen?” Jim asked again. “Why do you have to listen to this stuff if it makes you so miserable?”

“Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t,” she cried. “Life is too terrible, too sordid and awful. But we’ve never been like that, have we, darling? Have we? I mean, we’ve always been good and decent and loving to one another, haven’t we? And we have two children, two beautiful children. Our lives aren’t sordid, are they, darling? Are they?” She flung her arms around his neck and drew his face down to hers. “We’re happy, aren’t we, darling? We are happy, aren’t we?”

“Of course we’re happy,” he said tiredly. He began to surrender his resentment. “Of course we’re happy. I’ll have that damned radio fixed or taken away tomorrow.” He stroked her soft hair. “My poor girl,” he said.

“You love me, don’t you?” she asked. “And we’re not hypercritical or worried about money or dishonest, are we?”

“No, darling,” he said.

A MAN came in the morning and fixed the radio. Irene turned it on cautiously and was happy to hear a California-wine commercial and a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, including Schiller’s “Ode to Joy.” She kept the radio on all day and nothing untoward came from the speaker.

A Spanish suite was being played when Jim came home. “Is everything all right?” he asked. His face was pale, she thought. They had some cocktails and went in to dinner to the “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore. This was followed by Debussy’s “La Mer.”

“I paid the bill for the radio today,” Jim said. “It cost four hundred dollars. I hope you’ll get some enjoyment out of it.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will,” Irene said.

“Four hundred dollars is a good deal more than I can afford,” he went on. “I wanted to get something that you’d enjoy. It’s the last extravagance we’ll be able to indulge in this year. I see that you haven’t paid your clothing bills yet. I saw them on your dressing table.” He looked directly at her. “Why did you tell me you’d paid them? Why did you lie to me?”

“I just didn’t want you to worry, Jim,” she said. She drank some water. “I’ll be able to pay my bills out of this month’s allowance. There were the slipcovers last month, and that party.”

“You’ve got to learn to handle the money I give you a little more intelligently, Irene,” he said. “You’ve got to understand that we won’t have as much money this year as we had last. I had a very sobering talk with Mitchell today. No one is buying anything. We’re spending all our time promoting new issues, and you know how long that takes. I’m not getting any younger, you know. I’m thirty-seven. My hair will be gray next year. I haven’t done as well as I’d hoped to do. And I don’t suppose things will get any better.”

“Yes, dear,” she said.

“We’ve got to start cutting down,” Jim said. “We’ve got to think of the children. To be perfectly frank with you, I worry about money a great deal. I’m not at all sure of the future. No one is. If anything should happen to me, there’s the insurance, but that wouldn’t go very far today. I’ve worked awfully hard to give you and the children a comfortable life,” he said bitterly. “I don’t like to see all of my energies, all of my youth, wasted in fur coats and radios and slipcovers and—”

“Please, Jim,” she said. “Please. They’ll hear us.”

“Who’ll hear us? Emma can’t hear us.”

“The radio.”

“Oh, I’m sick!” he shouted. “I’m sick to death of your apprehensiveness. The radio can’t hear us. Nobody can hear us. And what if they can hear us? Who cares?”

Irene got up from the table and went into the living room. Jim went to the door and shouted at her from there. “Why are you so Christly all of a sudden? What’s turned you overnight into a convent girl? You stole your mother’s jewelry before they probated her will. You never gave your sister a cent of that money that was intended for her—not even when she needed it. You made Grace Howland’s life miserable, and where was all your piety and your virtue when you went to that abortionist? I’ll never forget how cool you were. You packed your bag and went off to have that child murdered as if you were going to Nassau. If you’d had any reasons, if you’d had any good reasons—”

Irene stood for a minute before the hideous cabinet, disgraced and sickened, but she held her hand on the switch before she extinguished the music and the voices, hoping that the instrument might speak to her kindly, that she might hear the Sweeneys’ nurse. Jim continued to shout at her from the door. The voice on the radio was suave and noncommittal. “An early-morning railroad disaster in Tokyo,” the loudspeaker said, “killed twenty-nine people. A fire in a Catholic hospital near Buffalo for the care of blind children was extinguished early this morning by nuns. The temperature is forty-seven. The humidity is eighty-nine.”

 

 

O CITY OF BROKEN DREAMS

WHEN THE TRAIN from Chicago left Albany and began to pound down the river valley toward New York, the Malloys, who had already experienced many phases of excitement, felt their breathing quicken, as if there were not enough air in the coach. They straightened their backs and raised their heads, searching for oxygen, like the crew of a doomed submarine. Their daughter, Mildred-Rose, took an enviable way out of the agitation. She fell asleep. Evarts Malloy wanted to get the suitcases down from the rack, but Alice, his wife, studied the timetable and said that it was too soon. She stared out of the window and saw the noble Hudson.

“Why do they call it the rind of America?” she asked her husband.

“The Rhine,” Evarts said. “Not the rind.”

“Oh.”

They had left their home in Wentworth, Indiana, the day before, and in spite of the excitements of travel and their brilliant destination, they both wondered, now and then, if they had remembered to turn off the gas and extinguish the rubbish fire behind the barn. They were dressed, like the people you sometimes see in Times Square on Saturday nights, in clothing that had been saved for their flight. His light shoes had perhaps not been out of the back of the closet since his father’s funeral or his brothers wedding. She was wearing her new gloves for the first time—the gloves she had been given for Christmas ten years ago. His tarnished collar pin and his initialed tie clip, with its gilt chain, his fancy socks, the rayon handkerchief in his breast pocket, and the carnation made of feathers in his lapel had all been husbanded in the top drawer of his bureau for years in the firm conviction that life would someday call him from Wentworth.

Alice Malloy had dark, stringy hair, and even her husband, who loved her more than he knew, was sometimes reminded by her lean face of a tenement doorway on a rainy day, for her countenance was long, vacant, and weakly lighted, a passage for the gentle transports and miseries of the poor. Evarts Malloy was very thin. He had worked as a bus driver and he stooped a little. Their child slept with her thumb in her mouth. Her hair was dark and her dirty face was lean, like her mother’s. When a violent movement of the train roused her, she drew noisily at her thumb until she lost consciousness again. She had been unable to store up as much finery as her parents, since she was only five years old, but she wore a white fur coat. The matching hat and muff had been lost generations before; the skins of the coat were sere and worn, but as she slept, she stroked them, as if they had remarkable properties that assured her that all was well, all was well.

The conductor who came through the car taking tickets after Albany noticed the Malloys, and something about their appearance worried him. As he came back through the car, he stopped at their seat and talked with them, first about Mildred-Rose and then about their destination.

“You people going to New York for the first time?” he asked.

“Yes,” Evarts said.

“Going down to see the sights?”

“Oh, no,” Alice said. “We’re going on business.”

“Looking for a job?” the conductor asked.

“Oh, no,” Alice said. “Tell him, Evarts.”

“Well, it really isn’t a job,” Evarts said. “I’m not looking for a job, I mean. I mean, I sort of have a job.” His manner was friendly and simple and he told his story enthusiastically, for the conductor was the first stranger to ask for it. “I was in the Army, you see, and then, when I got out of the Army, I went back home and began driving the bus again. I’m a night bus driver. But I didn’t like it. I kept getting stomach aches, and it hurt my eyes, driving at night, so in my spare time, during the afternoons, I began to write this play. Now, out on Route 7, near Wentworth, where we live, there’s this old woman named Mama Finelli, who has a gas station and a snake farm. She’s a very salty and haunting old character, and so I decided to write this play about her. She has all these salty and haunting sayings. Well, I wrote this first act—and then Tracey Murchison, the producer, comes out from New York to give a lecture at the Women’s Club about the problems of the theatre. Well, Alice went to this lecture, and when he was complaining, when Murchison was complaining about the lack of young playwrights, Alice raises her hand and she tells Murchison that her husband is a young playwright and will he read his play. Didn’t you, Alice?”

“Yes,” Alice said.

“Well, he hems and haws,” Evarts said. “Murchison hems and haws, but Alice pins him down, because all these other people are listening, and when he finishes his lecture, she goes right up on the platform and she gives him the play—she’s got it in her pocketbook. Well, then she goes back to his hotel with him and she sits right beside him until he’s read the play-the first act, that is. That’s all I’ve written. Well in this play there’s a part he wants for his wife, Madge Beatty, right off. I guess you know who Madge Beatty is. So you know what he does then? He sits right down and he writes out a check for thirty-five dollars and he says for me and Alice to come to New York! So we take all our money out of the savings bank and we burn our bridges and here we are.”

“Well, I guess there’s lots of money in it,” the conductor said. Then he wished the Malloys luck and walked away.

Evarts wanted to take the suitcases down at Poughkeepsie and again at Harmon, but Alice checked each place against the timetable and made him wait. Neither of them had seen New York before, and they watched its approaches greedily, for Wentworth was a dismal town and even the slums of Manhattan looked wonderful to them that afternoon. When the train plunged into the darkness beneath Park Avenue, Alice felt that she was surrounded by the inventions of giants and she roused Mildred-Rose and tied the little girl’s bonnet with trembling fingers.

As the Malloys stepped from the train, Alice noticed that the paving, deep in the station, had a frosty glitter, and she wondered if diamonds had been ground into the concrete. She forbade Evarts to ask directions. “If they find out we’re green, they’ll fleece us,” she whispered. They wandered through the marble waiting room, following the noise of traffic and klaxons as if it were the bidding of life. Alice had studied a map of New York, and when they left the station, she knew which direction to take. They walked along Forty-second Street to Fifth Avenue. The faces that passed them seemed purposeful and intent, as if they all belonged to people who were pursuing the destinies of great industries. Evarts had never seen so many beautiful women, so many pleasant, young faces, promising an easy conquest. It was a winter afternoon, and the light in the city was clear and shaded with violet, just like the light on the fields around Wentworth.

Their destination, the Hotel Mentone, was on a side street west of Sixth Avenue. It was a dark place, with malodorous chambers, miserable food, and a lobby ceiling decorated with as much gilt and gesso as the Vatican chapels. It was a popular hotel among the old, it was attractive to the disreputable, and the Malloys had found the way there because the Mentone advertised on railroad-station hoardings all through the West. Many innocents had been there before them, and their sweetness and humility had triumphed over the apparent atmosphere of ruined splendor and petty vice and had left in all the public rooms a humble odor that reminded one of a country feed store on a winter afternoon. A bellboy took them to their room. As soon as he had gone, Alice examined the bath and pulled aside the window curtains. The window looked onto a brick wall, but when she raised it, she could hear the noise of traffic, and it sounded, as it had sounded in the station, like the irresistible arid titanic voice of life itself.

THE MALLOYS found their way, that afternoon, to the Broadway Automat. They shouted with pleasure at the magical coffee spigots and the glass doors that sprang open. “Tomorrow, I’m going to have the baked beans,” Alice cried, “and the chicken pie the day after that and the fish cakes after that.” When they had finished their supper, they went out into the street. Mildred-Rose walked between her parents, holding their callused hands. It was getting dark, and the lights of Broadway answered all their simple prayers. High in the air were large, brightly lighted pictures of bloody heroes, criminal lovers, monsters, and armed desperadoes. The names of movies and soft drinks, restaurants and cigarettes were written in a jumble of light, and in the distance they could see the pitiless winter afterglow beyond the Hudson River. The tall buildings in the east were lighted and seemed to burn, as if fire had fallen onto their dark shapes. The air was full of music, and the light was brighter than day. They drifted with the crowd for hours.

Mildred-Rose got tired and began to cry, so at last her parents took her back to the Mentone. Alice had begun to undress her when someone knocked softly on the door.

“Come in,” Evarts called.

A bellboy stood in the doorway. He had the figure of a boy, but his face was gray and lined. “I just wanted to see if you people were all right,” he said. “I just wanted to see if maybe you wanted a little ginger ale or some ice water.”

“Oh, no, thank you kindly,” Alice said. “It was very nice of you to ask, though.”

“You people just come to New York for the first time?” the bellboy asked. He closed the door behind him and sat on the arm of a chair.

“Yes,” Evarts said. “We left Wentworth—that’s in Indiana—yesterday on the nine-fifteen for South Bend. Then we went to Chicago. We had dinner in Chicago.”

“I had the chicken pie,” Alice said. “It was delicious.” She slipped Mildred-Rose’s nightgown over her head.

“Then we came to New York,” Evarts said.

“What are you doing here?” the bellboy asked. “Anniversary?” He helped himself to a cigarette from a package on the bureau and slipped down into the chair.

“Oh, no,” Evarts said. “We hit the jackpot.”

“Our ship’s come in,” Alice said.

“A contest?” the bellboy asked. “Something like that?”

“Oh, no,” Evarts said.

“You tell him, Evarts,” Alice said.

“Yes,” the bellboy said. “Tell me, Evarts.”

“Well, you see,” Evarts said, “it began like this.” He sat down on the bed and lighted a cigarette. “I was in the Army, you see, and then when I got out of the Army, I went back to Wentworth …” He repeated to the bellboy the story he had told the conductor.

“Oh, you lucky, lucky kids!” the bellboy exclaimed when Evarts had finished. “Tracey Murchison! Madge Beatty! You lucky, lucky kids.” He looked at the poorly furnished room. Alice was arranging Mildred-Rose on the sofa, where she would sleep. Evarts was sitting on the edge of the bed swinging his legs. “What you need now is a good agent,” the bellboy said. He wrote a name and address on a piece of paper and gave it to Evarts. “The Hauser Agency is the biggest agency in the world,” he said, “and Charlie Leavitt is the best man in the Hauser Agency. I want you to feel free to take your problems to Charlie, and if he asks who sent you, tell him Bitsey sent you.” He went toward the door. “Good night, you lucky, lucky kids,” he said. “Good night. Sweet dreams. Sweet dreams.”

The Malloys were the hard-working children of an industrious generation, and they were up at half past six the next morning. They scrubbed their faces and their ears and brushed their teeth with soap. At seven o’clock, they started for the Automat. Evarts had not slept that night. The noise of traffic had kept him awake, and he had spent the small hours sitting at the window. His mouth felt scorched with tobacco smoke, and the loss of sleep had left him nervous. They were all surprised to find New York still sleeping. They were shocked. They had their breakfast and returned to the Mentone. Evarts called Tracey Murchison’s office, but no one answered. He telephoned the office several times after that. At ten o’clock, a girl answered the phone. “Mr. Murchison will see you at three,” she said. She hung up. Since there was nothing to do but wait, Evarts took his wife and daughter up Fifth Avenue. They stared in the store windows. At eleven o’clock, when the doors of Radio City Music Hall opened, they went there.

This was a happy choice. They prowled the lounges and toilets for an hour before they took their seats, and when, during the stage show, an enormous samovar rose up out of the orchestra pit and debouched forty men in Cossack uniform singing “Dark Eyes,” Alice and Mildred-Rose shouted with joy. The stage show, beneath its grandeur, seemed to conceal a simple and familiar intelligence, as if the drafts that stirred the miles of golden curtain had blown straight from Indiana. The performance left Alice and Mildred-Rose distracted with pleasure, and on the way back to the Mentone, Evarts had to lead them along the sidewalk to keep them from walking into hydrants. It was a quarter of three when they got back to the hotel. Evarts kissed his wife and child goodbye and started for Murchison’s.

He got lost. He was afraid that he would be late. He began to run. He asked directions of a couple of policemen and finally reached the office building.

The front room of Murchison’s office was dingy—intentionally dingy, Evarts hoped—but it was not inglorious, for there were many beautiful men and women there, waiting to see Mr. Murchison. None of them were sitting down, and they chatted together as if delighted by the delay that held them there. The receptionist led Evarts into a further office. This office was also crowded, but the atmosphere was of haste and trouble, as if the place were being besieged. Murchison was there and he greeted Evarts strenuously. “I’ve got your contracts right here,” he said, and he handed Evarts a pen and pushed a stack of contracts toward him. “Now I want you to rush over and see Madge,” Murchison said as soon as Evarts had signed the contracts. He looked at Evarts, plucked the feather carnation out of his lapel, and tossed it into a wastebasket. “Hurry, hurry, hurry,” he said. “She’s at 400 Park Avenue. She’s crazy to see you. She’s waiting now. I’ll see you later tonight—I think Madge has something planned—but hurry.”

Evarts rushed into the hall and rang impatiently for the elevator. As soon as he had left the building, he got lost and wandered into the fur district. A policeman directed him back to the Mentone. Alice and Mildred-Rose were waiting in the lobby, and he told them what had happened. “I’m on my way to see Madge Beatty now,” he said. “I’ve got to hurry!” Bitsey, the bellboy, overheard this conversation. He dropped some bags he was carrying and joined the group. He told Evarts how to get to Park Avenue. Evarts kissed Alice and Mildred-Rose again. They waved goodbye as he ran out the door.

Evarts had seen so many movies of Park Avenue that he observed its breadth and bleakness with a sense of familiarity. He took an elevator to the Murchisons’ apartment and was led by a maid into a pretty living room. A fire was burning, and there were flowers on the mantel. He sprang to his feet when Madge Beatty came in. She was frail, animated, and golden, and her hoarse and accomplished voice made him feel naked. “I read your play, Evarts,” she said, “and I loved it, I loved it, I loved it.” She moved lightly around the room, talking now directly at him, now over her shoulder. She was not as young as she had first appeared to be, and in the light from the windows she looked almost wizened. “You’re going to do more with my part when you write the second act, I hope,” she said. “You’re going to build it up and build it up and build it up.”

“I’ll do anything you want, Miss Beatty,” Evarts said.

She sat down and folded her beautiful hands. Her feet were very big, Evarts noticed. Her shins were thin, and this made her feet seem very big. “Oh, we love your play, Evarts,” she said. “We love it, we want it, we need it. Do you know how much we need it? We’re in debt, Evarts, we’re dreadfully in debt.” She laid a hand on her breast and spoke in a whisper. “We owe one million nine hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars.” She let the precious light flood her voice again. “But now I’m keeping you from writing your beautiful play,” she said. “I’m keeping you from work, and I want you to go back and write and write and write, and I want you and your wife to come here any time after nine tonight and meet a few of our warmest friends.”

Evarts asked the doorman how to get back to the Mentone, but he misunderstood the directions and got lost again. He walked around the East Side until he found a policeman, who directed him back to the hotel. It was so late when he returned that Mildred-Rose was crying with hunger. The three of them washed and went to the Automat and walked up and down Broadway until nearly nine. Then they went back to the hotel. Alice put on her evening dress, and she and Evarts kissed Mildred-Rose good night. In the lobby, they met Bitsey and told him where they were going. He promised to keep an eye on Mildred-Rose.

THE WALK OVER to the Murchisons’ was longer than Evarts remembered. Alice’s wrap was light. She was blue with cold when they reached the apartment building. They could hear in the distance, as they left the elevator, someone playing a piano and a woman singing “A kiss is but a kiss, a sigh is but a sigh …” A maid took their wraps, and Mr. Murchison greeted them from a farther door. Alice ruffled and arranged the cloth peony that hung from the front of her dress, and they went in.

The room was crowded, the lights were dim, the singer was ending her song. There was a heady smell of animal skins and astringent perfume in the air. Mr. Murchison introduced the Malloys to a couple who stood near the door, and abandoned them. The couple turned their backs on the Malloys. Evarts was shy and quiet, but Alice was excited and began to speculate, in a whisper, about the identities of the people around the piano. She felt sure that they were all movie stars, and she was right.

The singer finished her song, got up from the piano, and walked away. There was a little applause and then a curious silence. Mr. Murchison asked another woman to sing. “I’m not going to go on after her,” the woman said. The situation, whatever it was, had stopped conversation. Mr. Murchison asked several people to perform, but they all refused. “Perhaps Mrs. Malloy will sing for us,” he said bitterly.

“All right,” Alice said. She walked to the center of the room. She took a position and, folding her hands and holding them breast high, began to sing.

Alice’s mother had taught her to sing whenever her host asked, and Alice had never violated any of her mother’s teachings. As a child, she had taken singing lessons from Mrs. Bachman, an elderly widow who lived in Wentworth. She had sung in grammar-school assemblies and in high-school assemblies. On family holidays, there had always come a time, in the late afternoon, when she would be asked to sing; then she would rise from her place on the hard sofa near the stove or come from the kitchen, where she had been washing dishes, to sing the songs Mrs. Bachman had taught her.

The invitation that night had been so unexpected that Evarts had not had a chance to stop his wife. He had felt the bitterness in Murchison’s voice, and he would have stopped her, but as soon as she began to sing, he didn’t care. Her voice was well pitched, her figure was stern and touching, and she sang for those people in obedience to her mannerly heart. When he had overcome his own bewilderment, he noticed the respect and attention the Murchisons’ guests were giving her music. Many of them had come from towns as small as Wentworth; they were good-hearted people, and the simple air, rendered in Alice’s fearless voice, reminded them of their beginnings. None of them were whispering or smiling. Many of them had lowered their heads, and he saw a woman touch her eyes with a handkerchief. Alice had triumphed, he thought, and then he recognized the song as “Annie Laurie.”

Years ago, when Mrs. Bachman had taught Alice the song, she had taught her to close it with a piece of business that brought her success as a child, as a girl, as a high-school senior, but that, even in the stuffy living room in Wentworth, with its inexorable smells of poverty and cooking, had begun to tire and worry her family. She had been taught on the closing line, “Lay me doun and dee,” to fall in a heap on the floor. She fell less precipitously now that she had got older, but she still fell, and Evarts could see that night, by her serene face, that a fall was in her plans. He considered going to her, embracing her, and whispering to her that the hotel was burning or that Mildred-Rose was sick. Instead, he turned his back.

Alice took a quick breath and attacked the last verse. Evarts had begun to sweat so freely that the brine got into his eyes. “I’ll lay me doun and dee,” he heard her sing; he heard the loud crash as she hit the floor; he heard the screams of helpless laughter, the tobacco coughs, and the oaths of a woman who laughed so hard she broke her pearl bib. The Murchisons’ guests seemed bewitched. They wept, they shook, they stooped, they slapped one another on the back, and walked, like the demented, in circles. When Evarts faced the scene, Alice was sitting on the floor. He helped her to her feet. “Come, darling,” he said. “Come.” With his arm around her, he led her into the hall.

“Didn’t they like my song?” she asked. She began to cry.

“It doesn’t matter, my darling,” Evarts said, “it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” They got their wraps and walked back through the cold to the Mentone.

Bitsey was waiting for them in the corridor outside their room. He wanted to hear all about the party. Evarts sent Alice into the room and talked with the bellboy alone. He didn’t feel like describing the party. “I don’t think I want to have anything more to do with the Murchisons,” he said. “I’m going to get a new producer.”

“That’s the boy, that’s the boy,” Bitsey said. “Now you’re talking. But, first, I want you to go up to the Hauser Agency and see Charlie Leavitt.”

“All right,” Evarts said. “All right, I’ll go and see Charlie Leavitt.”

Alice cried herself to sleep that night. Again, Evarts couldn’t sleep. He sat in a chair by the window. He fell into a doze, a little before dawn, but not for long. At seven o’clock, he led his family off to the Automat.

Bitsey came up to the Malloys’ room after breakfast. He was very excited. A columnist in one of the four-cent newspapers had reported Evarts’ arrival in New York. A cabinet member and a Balkan king were mentioned in the same paragraph. Then the telephone began to ring. First, it was a man who wanted to sell Evarts a secondhand mink coat. Then a lawyer and a dry cleaner called, a dressmaker, a nursery school, several agencies, and a man who said he could get them a good apartment. Evarts said no to all these importunities, but in each case he had to argue before he could hang up. Bitsey had made a noon appointment for him with Charlie Leavitt, and when it was time, he kissed Alice and Mildred-Rose and went down to the street.

The Hauser Agency was located in one of the buildings in Radio City. Now Evarts’ business took him through the building’s formidable doors as legitimately, he told himself, as anyone else. The Hauser offices were on the twenty-sixth floor. He didn’t call his floor until the elevator had begun its ascent. “It’s too late now,” the operator said. “You got to tell me the number of the floor when you get in.” This branded him as green to all the other people in the car, Evarts knew, and he blushed. He rode to the sixtieth floor and then back to the twenty-sixth. As he left the car, the elevator operator sneered.

At the end of a long corridor, there was a pair of bronze doors, fastened by a bifurcated eagle. Evarts turned the wings of the imperial bird and stepped into a lofty manor hall. The paneling on its walls was worm-pitted and white with rot. In the distance, behind a small glass window, he saw a woman wearing earphones. He walked over to her, told her his business, and was asked to sit down. He sat on a leather sofa and lighted a cigarette. The richness of the hall impressed him profoundly. Then he noticed that the sofa was covered with dust. So were the table, the magazines on it, the lamp, the bronze cast of Rodin’s “Le Baiser”—everything in the vast room was covered with dust. He noticed at the same time the peculiar stillness of the hall. All the usual noises of an office were lacking. Into this stillness, from the distant earth, rose the recorded music from the skating rink, where a carillon played “Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come!” The magazines on the table beside the sofa were all five years old.

After a while, the receptionist pointed to a double door at the end of the hall, and Evarts walked there, timidly. The office on the other side of the door was smaller than the room he had just left but dimmer, richer, and more imposing, and in the distance he could still hear the music of the skating rink. A man was sitting at an antique desk. He stood as soon as he saw Evarts. “Welcome, Evarts, welcome to the Hauser Agency!” he shouted. “I hear you’ve got a hot property there, and Bitsey tells me you’re through with Tracey Murchison. I haven’t read your play, of course, but if Tracey wants it, I want it, and so does Sam Farley. I’ve got a producer for you, I’ve got a star for you, I’ve got a theatre for you, and I think I’ve got a pre-production deal lined up. One hundred thou’ on a four-hundred-thou’ ceiling. Sit down, sit down.”

Mr. Leavitt seemed either to be eating something or to be having trouble with his teeth, for at the end of every sentence he worked his lips noisily and thoughtfully, like a gourmet. He might have been eating something, since there were crumbs around his mouth. Or he might have been having trouble with his teeth, because the labial noises continued all through the interview. Mr. Leavitt wore a lot of gold. He had several rings, a gold identification bracelet, and a gold bracelet watch, and he carried a heavy gold cigarette case, set with jewels. The case was empty, and Evarts furnished him with cigarettes as they talked.

“Now, I want you to go back to your hotel, Evarts,” Mr. Leavitt shouted, “and I want you to take it easy. Charlie Leavitt is taking care of your property. I want you to promise me you won’t worry. Now, I understand that you’ve signed a contract with Murchison. I’m going to declare that contract null and void, and my lawyer is going to declare that contract null and void, and if Murchison contests it, we’ll drag him into court and have the judge declare that contract null and void. Before we go any further, though,” he said, softening his voice, “I want you to sign these papers, which will give me authority to represent you.” He pressed some papers and a gold fountain pen on Evarts. “Just sign these papers,” he said sadly, “and you’ll make four hundred thousand dollars. Oh, you authors!” he exclaimed. “You lucky authors!”

As soon as Evarts had signed the papers, Mr. Leavitt’s manner changed and he began to shout again. “The producer I’ve got for you is Sam Farley. The star is Susan Hewitt. Sam Farley is Tom Farley’s brother. He’s married to Clarissa Douglas and he’s George Howland’s uncle. Pat Levy’s his brother-in-law and Mitch Kababian and Howie Brown are related to him on his mother’s side. She was Lottie Mayes. They’re a very close family. They’re a great little team. When your show opens in Wilmington, Sam Farley, Tom Farley, Clarissa Douglas, George Howland, Pat Levy, Mitch Kababian, and Howie Brown are all right down there in that hotel writing your third act. When your show goes up to Baltimore, Sam Farley, Tom Farley, Clarissa Douglas, George How-land, Pat Levy, Mitch Kababian, and Howie Brown, they go up to Baltimore with it. And when your shows opens up on Broadway with a high-class production, who’s down there in the front row, rooting for you?” Mr. Leavitt had strained his voice, and he ended in a hoarse whisper, “Sam Farley, Tom Farley, George Howland, Clarissa Douglas, Pat Levy, Mitch Kababian, and Howie Brown.

“Now, I want you to go back to your hotel and have a good time,” he shouted after he had cleared his throat. “I’ll call you tomorrow and tell you when Sam Farley and Susan Hewitt can see you, and I’ll telephone Hollywood now and tell Max Rayburn that he can have it for one hundred thou’ on a four-hundred-thou’ ceiling, and not one iota less.” He patted Evarts on the back and steered him gently toward the door. “Have a good time, Evarts,” he said.

As Evarts walked back through the hall, he noticed that the receptionist was eating a sandwich. She beckoned to him.

“You want to take a chance on a new Buick convertible?” she whispered. “Ten cents a chance.”

“Oh, no, thank you,” Evarts said.

“Fresh eggs?” she asked. “I bring them in from Jersey every morning.”

“No, thank you,” Evarts said.

EVARTS HURRIED BACK through the crowds to the Mentone, where Alice, Mildred-Rose, and Bitsey were waiting. He described his interview with Leavitt to them. “When I get that four hundred thou’,” he said, “I’m going to send some money to Mama Finelli.” Then Alice remembered a lot of other people in Wentworth who needed money. By way of a celebration, they went to a spaghetti house that night instead of the Automat. After dinner, they went to Radio City Music Hall. Again, that night, Evarts was unable to sleep.

In Wentworth, Alice had been known as the practical member of the family. There was a good deal of jocularity on this score. She drew up the budget and managed the egg money, and it was often said that Evarts would have misplaced his head if it hadn’t been for Alice. This businesslike strain in her character led her to remind Evarts on the following day that he had not been working on his play. She took the situation in hand. “You just sit in the room,” she said, “and write the play, and Mildred-Rose and I will walk up and down Fifth Avenue, so you can be alone.”

Evarts tried to work, but the telephone began to ring again and he was interrupted regularly by jewelry salesmen, theatrical lawyers, and laundry services. At about eleven, he picked up the phone and heard a familiar and angry voice. It was Murchison. “I brought you from Wentworth,” he shouted, “and I made you what you are today. Now they tell me you breached my contract and double-crossed me with Sam Farley. I’m going to break you, I’m going to ruin you, I’m going to sue you, I’m—” Evarts hung up, and when the phone rang a minute later, he didn’t answer it. He left a note for Alice, put on his hat, and walked up Fifth Avenue to the Hauser offices.

When he turned the bifurcated eagle of the double doors and stepped into the manor hall that morning, he found Mr. Leavitt there, in his shirt sleeves, sweeping the carpet. “Oh, good morning,” Leavitt said. “Occupational therapy.” He hid the broom and dustpan behind a velvet drape. “Come in, come in,” he said, slipping into his jacket and leading Evarts toward the inner office. “This afternoon, you’re going to meet Sam Farley and Susan Hewitt. You’re one of the luckiest men in New York. Some men never see Sam Farley. Not even once in a lifetime—never hear his wit, never feel the force of his unique personality. And as for Susan Hewitt …” He was speechless for a moment. He said the appointment was for three. “You’re going to meet them in Sam Farley’s lovely home,” he said, and he gave Evarts the address.

Evarts tried to describe the telephone conversation with Murchison, but Leavitt cut him off. “I asked you one thing,” he shouted. “I asked you not to worry. Is that too much? I ask you to talk with Sam Farley and take a look at Susan Hewitt and see if you think she’s right for the part. Is that too much? Now, have a good time. Take in a newsreel. Go to the zoo. Go see Sam Farley at three o’clock.” He patted Evarts on the back and pushed him toward the door.

Evarts ate lunch at the Mentone with Alice and Mildred-Rose. He had a headache. After lunch, they walked up and down Fifth Avenue, and when it got close to three, Alice and Mildred-Rose walked with him to Sam Farley’s house. It was an impressive building, faced with rough stone, like a Spanish prison. He kissed Mildred-Rose and Alice goodbye and rang the bell. A butler opened the door. Evarts could tell he was a butler because he wore striped pants. The butler led him upstairs to a drawing room.

“I’m here to see Mr. Farley,” Evarts said.

“I know,” the butler said. “You’re Evarts Malloy. You’ve got an appointment. But he won’t keep it. He’s stuck in a floating crap game in the Acme Garage, at a Hundred and Sixty-fourth Street, and he won’t be back until tomorrow. Susan Hewitt’s coming, though. You’re supposed to see her. Oh, if you only knew what goes on in this place!” He lowered his voice to a whisper and brought his face close to Evarts’. “If these walls could only talk! There hasn’t been any heat in this house since we came back from Hollywood and he hasn’t paid me since the twenty-first of June. I wouldn’t mind so much, but the son of a bitch never learned to let the water out of his bathtub. He takes a bath and leaves the dirty water standing there. To stagnate. On top of everything else, I cut my finger washing dishes yesterday.” There was a dirty bandage on the butler’s forefinger, and he began, hurriedly, to unwrap layer after layer of bloody gauze. “Look,” he said, holding the wound to Evarts’ face. “Cut right through to the bone. Yesterday you could see the bone. Blood. Blood all over everything. Took me half an hour to clean up. It’s a miracle I didn’t get an infection.” He shook his head at this miracle. “When the mouse comes, I’ll send her up.” He wandered out of the room, trailing the length of bloody bandage after him.

Evarts’ eyes were burning with fatigue. He was so tired that if he had rested his head against anything, he would have fallen asleep. He heard the doorbell ring and the butler greet Susan Hewitt. She ran up the stairs and into the drawing room.

She was young, and she came into the room as if it were her home and she had just come back from school. She was light, her features were delicate and very small, and her fair hair was brushed simply and had begun to darken, of its own course, and was streaked softly with brown, like the grain in pine wood. “I’m so happy to meet you, Evarts,” she said. “I want to tell you that I love your play.” How she could have read his play, Evarts did not know, but he was too confused by her beauty to worry or to speak. His mouth was dry. It might have been the antic pace of the last days, it might have been his loss of sleep—he didn’t know—but he felt as though he had fallen in love.

“You remind me of a girl I used to know,” he said. “She worked in a lunch wagon outside South Bend. Never worked in a lunch wagon outside South Bend, did you?”

“No,” she said.

“It isn’t only that,” he said. “You remind me of all of it. I mean the night drives. I used to be a night bus driver. That’s what you remind me of. The stars, I mean, and the grade crossings, and the cattle lined up along the fences. And the girls in the lunch counters. They always looked so pretty. But you never worked in a lunch counter.”

“No,” she said.

“You can have my play,” he said. “I mean, I think you’re right for the part. Sam Farley can have the play. Everything.”

“Thank you, Evarts,” she said.

“Will you do me a favor?” he asked.

“What?”

“Oh, I know it’s foolish,” he said. He got up and walked around the room. “But there’s nobody here, nobody will know about it. I hate to ask you.”

“What do you want?”

“Will you let me lift you?” he said. “Just let me lift you. Just let me see how light you are.”

“All right,” she said. “Do you want me to take off my coat?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” he said. “Take off your coat.”

She stood. She let her coat fall to the sofa.

“Can I do it now?” he said.

“Yes.”

He put his hands under her arms. He raised her off the floor and then put her down gently. “Oh, you’re so light!” he shouted. “You’re so light, you’re so fragile, you don’t weigh any more than a suitcase. Why, I could carry you, I could carry you anywhere, I could carry you from one end of New York to the other.” He got his hat and coat and ran out of the house.

EVARTS FELT BEWILDERED and exhausted when he returned to the Mentone. Bitsey was in the room with Mildred-Rose and Alice. He kept asking questions about Mama Finelli. He wanted to know where she lived and what her telephone number was. Evarts lost his temper at the bellboy and told him to go away. He lay down on the bed and fell asleep while Alice and Mildred-Rose were asking him questions. When he woke, an hour later, he felt much better. They went to the Automat and then to Radio City Music Hall, and they got to bed early, so that Evarts could work on his play in the morning. He couldn’t sleep.

After breakfast, Alice and Mildred-Rose left Evarts alone in the room and he tried to work. He couldn’t work, but it wasn’t the telephone that troubled him that day. The difficulty that blocked his play was deep, and as he smoked and stared at the brick wall, he recognized it. He was in love with Susan Hewitt. This might have been an incentive to work, but he had left his creative strength in Indiana. He shut his eyes and tried to recall the strong, dissolute voice of Mama Finelli, but before he could realize a word, it would be lost in the noise from the street.

If there had been anything to set his memory free—a train whistle, a moment of silence, the smells of a barn—he might have been inspired. He paced the room, he smoked, he sniffed the sooty window curtains and stuffed his ears with toilet paper, but there seemed to be no way of recalling Indiana at the Mentone. He stayed near the desk all that day. He went without lunch. When his wife and child returned from Radio City Music Hall, where they had spent the afternoon, he told them he was going to take a walk. Oh, he thought as he left the hotel, if I could only hear the noise of a crow!

He strode up Fifth Avenue, holding his head high, trying to divine in the confusion of sound a voice that might lead him. He walked rapidly until he reached Radio City and could hear, in the distance, the music from the skating rink. Something stopped him. He lighted a cigarette. Then he heard someone calling him. “Behold the lordly moose, Evarts,” a woman shouted. It was the hoarse, dissolute voice of Mama Finelli, and he thought that desire had deranged him until he turned and saw her, sitting on one of the benches, by a dry pool. “Behold the lordly moose, Evarts,” she called, and she put her hands, spaced like antlers, above her head. This was the way she greeted everyone in Wentworth.

“Behold the lordly moose, Mama Finelli,” Evarts shouted. He ran to her side and sat down. “Oh, Mama Finelli, I’m so glad to see you,” he said. “You won’t believe it, but I’ve been thinking about you all day. I’ve been wishing all day that I could talk with you.” He turned to drink in her vulpine features and her whiskery chin. “How did you ever get to New York, Mama Finelli?”

“Come up on a flying machine,” she cried. “Come up on a flying machine today. Have a sandwich.” She was eating some sandwiches from a paper bag.

“No, thanks,” he said. “What do you think of New York?” he asked. “What do you think of that high building?”

“Well, I don’t know,” she said, but he could see that she did know and he could see her working her face into shape for a retort. “I guess there’s just but the one, for if there hada been two, they’d of pollinated and bore!” She whooped with laughter and struck herself on the legs.

“What are you doing in New York, Mama Finelli? How did you happen to come here?”

“Well,” she said, “man named Tracey Murchison calls me on the telephone long-distance and says for me to come up to New York and sue you for libel. Says you wrote a play about me and I can sue you for libel and git a lot of money and split it with him, fairly, he says, and then I don’t have to run the gas station no more. So he wires me money for the flying-machine ticket and I come up here and I talk with him and I’m going to sue you for libel and split it with him, sixty-forty. That’s what I’m going to do,” she said.

Later that night, the Malloys returned to the marble waiting room of Grand Central and Evarts began to search for a Chicago train. He found a Chicago train, bought some tickets, and they boarded a coach. It was a rainy night, and the dark, wet paving, deep in the station, did not glitter, but it was still Alice’s belief that diamonds had been ground into it, and that was the way she would tell the story. They had picked up the lessons of travel rapidly, and they arranged themselves adroitly over several seats. After the train started, Alice made friends with a plain-spoken couple across the aisle, who were traveling with a baby to Los Angeles. The woman had a brother there, who had written to her enthusiastically about the climate and the opportunities.

“Let’s go to Los Angeles,” Alice said to Evarts. “We still have a little money and we can buy tickets in Chicago and you can sell your play in Hollywood, where nobody’s ever heard of Mama Finelli or any of the others.”

Evarts said that he would make his decision in Chicago. He was weary and he fell asleep. Mildred-Rose put her thumb into her mouth, and soon both she and her mother had lost consciousness, too. Mildred-Rose stroked the sere skins of her coat and they told her that all was well, all was well.

THE MALLOYS may have left the train in Chicago and gone back to Wentworth. It is not hard to imagine their homecoming, for they would be welcomed by their friends and relations, although their stories might not be believed. Or they may have changed, at Chicago, for a train to the West, and this, to tell the truth, is easier to imagine. One can see them playing hearts in the lounge car and eating cheese sandwiches in the railroad stations as they traveled through Kansas and Nebraska—over the mountains and on to the Coast.