A Mussel Named Ecclesiastes
Copyright © 1964, 1966, 1992 by George Dickerson, 7/8/08
Pony was wearing a man's white shirt and faded dungarees, and carrying a little flight bag. She had long straw-colored hair that she let hang straight down her back to almost the curve of her spine.
I was trying to win
me one of the canaries or maybe one of the goldfish in the bowls by pitching
nickels at a saucer. I leaned over
the railing, trying to get closer to the dish when the guy wasn't looking at me.
"You've got to
loft it," she said.
I wasn't sure she was talking to me at the time, because strange girls, especially the pretty ones, don't usually come up to talk to me, unless they want to know how to get from the monkey cages to the lion cages, or from the monkey cages to the bird house, or any place else in the zoo.
I tried not to pay any attention to her and lobbed another nickel at the dish,
watching it clatter around a little and then slide out.
"No, silly, you've got to loft it up high so you hit the dish in the middle." She took the last nickel from my hand and lobbed it right out. When it came down, it plunked in the dish, bounced back and forth a second, and finally rolled off. Pony stared at the saucer, then she laughed from way back in her throat. She took me by the arm, carrying the flight bag slung over her shoulder with her other hand.
"Come on, silly, I'll make it up to you. I'll buy you a cup of coffee."
She led me right out of the fair, across Houston Street and up into Greenwich Village, into a place called "The Scene." She introduced me to Phil, the guy behind the espresso machine, whom she had some kind of hold over, because he gave her whatever she asked for, including a sandwich for me.
"What's your name, silly?" she asked, when we sat down at a table.
"Henry," I said.
"Thigpin," I said. " Henry Thigpin."
I thought she would bust out laughing, the way some guys do at the zoo when they call me Pigpen, or maybe she would even pretend it's a good name.
She grimaced and said, "You're not a Henry at all. You're a Paul."
I just sat there, as I do sometimes, and stared at her without saying anything.
After a while, she
said, "Why don't you eat your sandwich, Paul?"
"I'm not hungry," I said.
"Don't you like ham? Maybe
you'd like chicken or a steak sandwich instead.
Phil will fix anything I ask him for."
you," I said. "I don't
eat meat. You see, I was brought up
with animals as a kid...I know it doesn't make any sense."
I stared down at the sandwich. When
I finally looked up, Pony was looking into my eyes.
She had a funny smile on her face with two tears in her eyes, and I
wanted to run right out of there.
with animals as a kid...I know it doesn't make any sense." I stared down at the sandwich. When I finally looked up, Pony was looking into my eyes. She had a funny smile on her face with two tears in her eyes, and I wanted to run right out of there.
"Paul," she said, "I think we should split and walk together somewhere." She grabbed her flight bag and pulled me by the arm.
"Hey, goof ball," Phil said. "Ain't
you going to eat that sandwich now that I fixed it?"
"You eat it,
Phil...it's got worms!" Pony
said and squeezed my hand, causing quite a reaction in the coffeehouse.
Anyway, we walked
over and sat in Washington Square, in the park there, and Pony told me how she
had just come back from being a model in Bogota, Colombia, where they hardly
ever see a tall blonde girl.
"I was in love with a Spanish boy," she said. "Not from South America, but from Spain.
What I mean, Paul, is he came here and I met him in...in Philadelphia,
where he was studying at Penn, but he wasn't really studying.
He quit school because he was really a bum.
So the State Department, or the Immigration Bureau, or whatever, kicked
him out of the country because he had violated his student visa.
He had some friends in Bogota, somehow....and I quit school, too, and
followed him down there. I was
going to stay there with him, and I took up modeling, but then he ran out on
me." She stopped, then said,
"I really hate girls who talk about other men when they're out with
someone." She looked up at me.
"Tell me about yourself, Paul.
I told her, "I
come from upstate New York, near Millerton, where my my lack of self-confidence and about my shoes and my love of animals.
"I always had squeaky shoes as a kid," I said.
"After I was about ten, every time I got a new pair of leather
shoes, they'd start right in squeaking. The
kids were always razzing me."
my lack of self-confidence and about my shoes and my love of animals. "I always had squeaky shoes as a kid," I said. "After I was about ten, every time I got a new pair of leather shoes, they'd start right in squeaking. The kids were always razzing me."
I stopped to catch my breath and looked at Pony who was sitting there quietly in
the shadows like my roommate Mike's statue of Popocatepetl, although I hadn't
told her about it yet, because I hadn't got around to talking about Mike at all.
"My Pop sent me to a foot doctor up in Millerton, because the salesmen all said they never heard of their leather shoes always getting squeaky before and there must be something wrong with my feet. Anyway, the foot doctor looked at my feet and said there wasn't anything wrong except that I had fallen arches. Another doctor told me that I spring too much when I walk, and they could fix me up with an operation by cutting my tendons a little, but I didn't want that either. Later on, I went to college upstate, studying business accounting, because my Pop always thought I should. I didn't like it, so I didn't finish. I bummed around, taking odd jobs before I came down here; and even though I wear rubber soles now, I don't have much self-confidence."
I started to run out of gas talking and just stopped, the way a car does
sometimes on a lonely back road.
"Let me see your feet," Pony said.
I took off my shoes and socks, which I had just changed that evening after working all day at the zoo.
She felt my feet all
over and tickled them. "Why,
they're beautiful feet.
I've never seen such beautiful feet on a man. I love your feet, really!
Some feet aren't meant to be jammed into shoes, that's all.
You've got feet like that."
I put my shoes back on as fast as I could. Then she sighed and leaned her head down on my shoulder and was quiet for a while.
"Why did you take a job at the zoo instead of becoming a big businessman?" she asked.
after accounting school, when I came down here to get a job, I'd get nervous.
If I was sitting in a waiting room somewhere, I saw that the secretary
could tell all about me. Then, one
day I was running away from an appointment and was wandering around the zoo, and
I felt sorry for all the animals caged up.
Animals are complicated things, as you know."
I was quiet then, and Pony lay with her head on my shoulder for a long time,
with people not passing by so much any more.
I thought she must have gone to sleep, but suddenly she sat up straight
and said, "Henry, I bet you don't know what I've got in my flight
I was surprised she called me Henry; but sometimes she would call me Paul and then sometimes Henry, changing just the way the grass changes colors right before your eyes when the sun goes down.
"I've got a box full of smells," she said. "I've been collecting them from all over the world." She took a cardboard box out of her flight bag that she had in there with some stockings and a pair of high-heel shoes and a dress, all crumpled in a ball.
She moved closer to me on the bench. "Whenever
I get lonely, I take them out and smell them and remember every place I've been
and wonder if I'll ever go back there. Here!"
She took a piece of
pine from Vermont out of the box, sniffed it,
Pony also had a piece
of writing paper from a hotel room in Bogota.
"This empty stationery always makes me sad.
I want beautiful words written on it.
I want it to be filled with anger or hate or passion or cruelty or love.
It's empty now." She
sniffed it. "It smells of
gardenias." She passed it on
to me and fumbled around in the box.
"Look!" she said. "I've
also got a cube of bouillon. If I
ever grow tired of smelling it, we can have soup."
She gave me the bouillon cube and then a police officer came up and told us we weren't supposed to be sitting there doing whatever we were doing because it was after midnight and nobody was supposed to stay in the park then.
I stood up while Pony shuffled the things around in her flight bag, then looked up at me.
"Could I take
you any place?" I asked. "I
mean, I don't want to get too personal."
She looked at me hard. "You're faster than I gave you credit for." She laughed. "Or maybe you really are a good boy. That's hard to believe, Henry Thigpin."
"Please, let me!" I said.
"No, that's all
right," she said, softly. Getting
up, she leaned her head down against mine.
She was looking back and forth with her eyes real close to my eyes.
"Maybe we could
walk a little way further," I said.
"No, silly, it's late, and I feel as if I've just been around the world."
good-bye," I said.
"No, don't say good-bye--say good night."
She touched my cheek. "You're
such a gentle person." Suddenly she gave me a long kiss, pressing tight against me,
then ran down the sidewalk out of the park.
I thought I'd never see her again.
Mike was forty-five,
older than me at twenty-seven and older than Pony at twenty-two.
He was the really serious, quiet type.
He had a fierce look, with his eyes sunk pretty far back and a crew-cut,
but he almost always smiled. He was
never mean. He was gentle. He
was a pacifist and Zen Buddhist.
I met Mike when I
first came to New York, after I saw an ad by a roommate placement agency down on
Fifth Avenue. I filled out a lot of
forms there with my age and about my father being a feed and fertilizer man and
my mother being a hard-shell Baptist (although she could never convert my
father), and my going to accounting school and loving animals.
A weaselly looking guy there with a mustache took the forms and, when he came back, he said I should meet Mike Bukavich because I'm a vegetarian and Mike is a pacifist.
The next day, Mike came up to the apartment. He was wearing a baggy blue suit and a bow tie with polka dots. I showed him the kitchen and then the little bedroom that had two small beds and an old wooden dresser with some of the knobs off it.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"Des Moines," he said, puffing on a cigar and blowing out smoke the way an old oil-burning engine does.
"I'm from upstate, near Millerton."
"They do a lot
of farming up there," I said.
"I love the
country. Yeah!" he said.
"Spent the whole Second World War in prison, outside Danbury.
Pacifism. Spent that whole
time dreaming about the country. Flowers.
Pretty farm girls. Swore I'd
get a farm. Never did.
Now I'm a counterman nights--River Shannon Diner on Eighth Ave."
"I've never been
down to the place," I said.
"Sure, would you like one?" I
started for the kitchen.
When I brought back
the beer, Mike was standing and staring at a print I had picked up in an old
"I studied art
once," he said, looking closer at the picture. Then he said, "Cigar?"
thanks," I said.
There was an uncomfortable quiet between us, and he looked up and said, "You don't have to take me in, you know. I can get another room for transients somewhere--but I'm tired of being a transient."
"No, really, I'd like you to stay, Mr. Bukavich."
asked, shoving one at me again.
"Sure," I said. I took it
and puffed on it awhile, feeling sick to my stomach.
"Okay," Mike said.
One day I came home and Mike was painting on big pieces of plywood he had nailed
together in funny layers with holes in some places. He was painting in dark colors; and across some colors that
you couldn't make any figures out of, he was writing with his paint brush.
Sometimes you could make out words like "love" or
"loneliness" or "hate."
painting in prison. Occupational
therapy," Mike said. "Like
"Sure," I said. "It doesn't have any scenes in it, but I like the colors all right." I wasn't one much for understanding art.
Well, Mike was always
reading and painting, and the place was really smelly from the oil paints; but
that's all right, because you can't be finicky when you're working with animals.
Anyway, riding up on the subway train to 88th Street after I left Pony, I knew
Mike would be home, since it was his night off, and I could tell him what
When I got there,
Mike was reading and the place was filled up blue with cigar smoke.
He listened to me rambling on about Pony and then he smiled and thought
to himself a moment and said, "She'll come back, Thig, but maybe you'd be
better off in the long run if she didn't."
I couldn't figure out what he meant and he wouldn't say any more.
I could barely sleep,
and at the zoo the next day I had a hard time working. I went back the next night to the coffeehouse place.
Phil, the guy behind the espresso machine, just laughed at me.
"No, I haven't seen that chick, man.
She's a wild swinger." He
poked his finger in my ribs. "She
makes it with a lot of guys; but, man, I don't know what she digs in you.
You're from Endsville."
the guy behind the espresso machine, just laughed at me.
"No, I haven't seen that chick, man.
She's a wild swinger." He
poked his finger in my ribs. "She
makes it with a lot of guys; but, man, I don't know what she digs in you.
You're from Endsville."
I swung at him as
hard as I could, and he grabbed my arm, knocking over some of the cups and
saucers. I was so choked up I
couldn't say anything. Then he
laughed a bitter laugh and said, "You'll get the big picture someday,
I left The Scene and went over to the fair and looked around through all the people and stood by the goldfish place. Then I went up to the park, but she wasn't there. I did that for a whole week until the fair closed. Finally, I gave up, thinking maybe what Phil had said was right.
A couple of days
later I was sweeping out the lion cages, when I saw Pony with a red balloon on a
stick. She was trying to hand it to
me, but the balloon was too fat to squeeze in between the bars.
Paul," she said. "I
thought you'd like a balloon to make you laugh.
You could keep it at home; it floats against the ceiling."
She looked at my face
for a long time, touched it real soft with her fingers, then looked off towards
the seals. "Paul, do you have
any money? You know I don't usually
ask anybody for money." She
grabbed my arm tight and pressed against me.
"Sure," I said. I gave her two dollars and thirty-five cents, which was all I had. She looked down deep into my eyes, kissed me and left.
I thought maybe she wasn't coming back again, or maybe she'd be gone for another week and show up some place crazy, carrying her balloon and flight bag.
Just as I was leaving
to go home, I found her sitting outside the
"Thanks, Paul," she said. "I didn't need it after all." She took my arm and we walked across the park. It was sunset, with the red sky cutting between the buildings just as if the streets were the bottoms of canyons or the buildings were big stone trees, dark against the sky.
"Mike, this is Pony," I said.
"Want some chow?" Mike said, turning back to the stove.
eat with us," I said. "Don't
mind Mike," I said to Pony. "He
hardly ever talks unless he's got something big on his mind."
Pony nodded and
looked the place over. "You
know, Henry," she said, "what this place needs is someone to come in
and put up curtains and paint a little and wash the floors.
Haven't you ever thought about finding a girl for yourself?"
She smiled, but her eyes were sad.
"Sometimes," I said. "Although
I try not to think about it too much."
I gave here a real hard look, trying to see what she was thinking.
She just turned and said, "What's that funny green thing in the fireplace?"
"That's Mike's statue of Popocatepetl," I said. It was about two feet high and fat, with little chubby feet. "It's a Mexican god," I said. "Mike is real mystical. He believes in Zen Buddhism and all that. Sometimes he just sits for hours and stares at the statue."
"He's got a big
soul, then," Pony said, making me feel funny.
She went into the kitchen, although Mike could barely fit into it by
"Yeah?" Mike swished the spaghetti around in the pot and tossed it into his strainer, causing a huge cloud of steam to come up and making Pony jump away.
"He's got a beautiful heart. A
giant heart. You know, Mike?" She
made a circle in the air with her arms, hitting the side of the kitchen cabinet.
"Yeah, it's pretty easy to hurt old, Thig,"
At dinner, at first everybody was quiet, then Pony said, "This is wonderful
"It's Mike's specialty," I said.
"His other specialty is rice. He
makes it with crazy things from his Zen Buddhism training.
Pony was looking at
him close. She put her hand on
Mike's and he looked at me. "You
are a mystic, aren't you, Mike! You
see down into the heart of the world. That
must take your breath away. That's
what I want to see. I want to feel
all filled up with the pain of the world, so that I can see into the heart of
things. You can't be rich and do
that, can you, Mike?"
"You can only be what you are," Mike
said. He cleared his throat and
took his hand away from Pony's Then
we all went on eating.
After dinner, Mike excused himself and went out for a walk, leaving Pony and me alone.
"Are those your paintings over in the corner?" Pony asked.
"No, they're Mike's."
I got real nervous
and sat down in my mohair chair, with my feet tucked up under me like the Buddha
that Mike is always talking about.
wonderful and sweet to be nice to him."
She trailed her
Pony was surveying all this, then she smiled suddenly and sat on the edge of my chair and put her arm around my neck. "You know what, Paul? We ought to paint it and get poster to put up and a silly wrought-iron lamp. Then we wouldn't have such a terribly dingy pad."
"Sure," I said, pulling my feet tighter under me. "I'll have to ask Mike if it's all right."
"Don't be a
silly," Pony said. "Mike
will simply love it." She was
winding my hair around her fingers, with a far-off look in her eyes and a smile
that was both happy and sad.
"Paul, can I use your bedroom? I want to change out of my dungarees."
said, swallowing hard. I watched
her close the bedroom door, and thought of all the times I lay on my back on the
hill up behind my folks' house, where I could see the whole valley run out below
me and dream about girls. I thought
about when I'm not too busy at the zoo, I watch all the pretty girls go by
looking at the animals, and how some of them aren't so pretty and I watch them
anyway. Now Pony was here, getting
dressed in my bedroom, and I was just sitting here not doing anything about it
because I liked her and I didn't want to hurt her.
When Pony came out,
she was all dressed up in a blue dress cut pretty low in front.
She had her white high-heel shoes on, and her hair was pulled back with a
light blue ribbon in it. I could
see right then and there how she
had been a model in Bogota, Colombia; and I knew I loved her and I had never
done that before.
She suggested we buy some
wine to celebrate our meeting at the zoo, so we went out and bought a bottle of
red Italian wine and then came back to celebrate. I was sitting there getting woozy on the couch, while she was
sitting next to me, sipping her wine from a regular glass.
"Pony," I said. "Pony, why'd you come back to the zoo today? I mean, how'd you find me there?"
"Shh, silly! It was your
desire that brought me."
"You look like a movie queen," I said.
She did, too. I couldn't
keep my eyes off her, but I didn't dare touch her.
"I know, Pony," I said. "I
know. I mean, I don't know.
I mean, where've you been this week?
I thought I wouldn't see you ever again."
She turned her head away. "Don't
ask me where I've come from, Henry, or where I"m going.
If you press too close, I'll burst just like that red balloon."
Then she saw how unhappy she had made me and she kissed me.
Her perfume made me even more woozy.
She leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Aren't you going to sleep
When we went out into
the living room, we found Mike still dressed
up from his diner job, with his white shirt and white trousers stained
with spots of food he must have cooked for people. He was asleep on the couch, with his feet stuck out over the
end of it. Pony kissed him on the
cheek and made him get up to go into the bedroom to sleep. He yawned and rubbed his eyes and scratched at his stubbly
chin; then he gave us a grin and said he'd move out if we wanted him to.
Pony said. "It wouldn't be the
same without you. It wouldn't be
Mike grinned again and went in to sleep.
I started thinking about what Phil had said, and I said to Pony afterwards that she seemed awfully friendly with Mike.
"What do you mean?" she asked, real harsh.
I mean, you kiss him a lot."
"So?" Her face got cold.
"Nothing," I said. "Nothing."
"I'm sorry, Pony.
I'm sorry." I tried to kiss her, but she pulled away.
"I'm going for a walk," she said. "Don't try to come with me!" I waited all night for her to come back, but in the morning she still wasn't there. I could hardly work the next day, worrying; but when I came home early, she was there cleaning up the place.
Paul," she said, smiling. "Look!
I bought some yellow roses. I
love yellow roses. They always make
me feel gay."
"The man who sold them to me was so funny: a little fat old German with a thick mustache..."
"Pony, where were you all last night?"
I grabbed her by the arms.
"Why don't you
hit me?" she said. "Hit
me...if it will make you feel more of a man!"
Her eyes weren't
seeing me at all, so I dropped my hands, feeling sick inside. Then she kissed me and clung to me.
"Okay," I said. "Okay."
After that she was happy for a while. She fixed the place up with plants and big purple curtains and got the place all painted white.
They looked like they
had some special thing going on between them, and I suddenly felt queasy in my
"Happy birthday, Paul," Pony said.
"Happy birthday, Thig." Mike squinted his eyes at me mysteriously and then showed me an aquarium they had bought me.
I felt foolish for
having suspected them.
Pony gave me a kiss and Mike clapped me around the shoulders, while we looked into the aquarium. It had funny tropical fish in it, and there was a castle like the kind in fairy-tale books, and some rocks, and seaweed waving in the water like green fingers.
I diddled my big
finger in the water, and then I saw a little brown ridgy-shelled thing.
"It's a mussel," Pony said.
"Yeah, Thig, it's a mussel--not in the arm, but like a clam!"
explained it to me," Pony said, diddling her finger in the water.
"You see that little leg? Well,
that's a byssus, and the mussel makes a v-shaped path with it.
See the path?"
We all bent over and looked at the mussel close-up.
around in a circle," I said.
"It's a gas," Pony said.
"It's kind of
useless," I said, "going around in circles."
"What will we
call it?" Pony asked.
"Everything's gotta have a name."
Mike squinted at the mussel.
Then Pony said, "Let's call it Ecclesiastes."
"What kind of
name is that?" I asked, trying
not to think about my
"Yeah, Thig, it ought to have a name from the Bible, especially with your mother being a hard-shell Baptist," Mike said.
"It's about a man talking about life going around in circles and how futile
it is," Pony said. "Besides,
it's a pretty name."
"Distinctive," Mike said, lighting a cigar.
crazy," I said.
"Pony," I said. "I
want you to marry me."
She looked down at my feet. "No, Henry, don't ask me that. It's sweet of you, but let's forget it, huh?"
"Pony, I mean
it. I could get an office job and
we could get a place on our own without Mike."
"Don't you like the
way it is now?" Her voice was
breathless. "It's free now,
Henry. I asked you never to close
in on me, and it's free now. Besides,
where would Mike go? What would he
do without us?"
I mean, how can you carry on a relationship with a girl when another person is
always sleeping in your room when you get up and always living with you?
"Please, Henry," she said. "I...I love you, but I can't." She kissed me through the bars and ran away, just like that night in the park. I thought suddenly about her maybe being with Mike during the daytime when I wasn't there, and maybe that was why she wouldn't marry me. I got sick thinking about that; especially since I liked Mike so much and didn't think he'd do that to me, unless he couldn't help himself with Pony.
On the way home, I had the idea to climb over the fence into our backyard; so I went around the block and through the cellar of the building behind. The fence was about my height and I didn't have much trouble getting up on it, but I tore the cuff on my pants-leg jumping down. It was dark in the yard, except for the squares of light from the kitchen window and the living room window. I could see Mike cleaning up in the kitchen and getting things ready for dinner. I waited there for about ten minutes before Pony came home.
When she did come, she looked wild, the way she was that first night I met her at the fair. Her hair was mussed up and her face was excited. At first, she just called "hello, Mike;" then after smoking a couple of cigarettes, she went into the bedroom where I couldn't see her, because the shade was pulled down. After a couple of minutes, she called out to Mike that she wanted him to come in and see something. He didn't answer her, but kept on working at the stove. Then she called him again, and he went into the bedroom. Right away I could hear him yelling at her. He came out of the bedroom fast, with her following him. She was completely naked.
Crazy!" he yelled. "Thig's
going to be home. Get
She pressed herself up against him, trying to kiss him, but he shoved her away, hitting her with the back of his arm until she fell on the floor crying.
Mike went into the kitchen to turn off the flames on the stove, not paying any attention to her until he said for her to get dressed again.
"Nobody loves anybody," she said, sitting on the floor.
Mike came out of the kitchen and grabbed her up by the arms and threw her into the bedroom.
I could hear her
crash against something. Then Mike
came out and Pony yelled after him: "He
loves himself. He suffocates
me!" She started in crying
again, while Mike went back to fixing dinner.
When she came out of the bedroom finally, she was dressed and acting as if nothing had happened. "What are we having for supper, Mike?" She came over to the aquarium near the window and looked down into it. I had to get back in the shadows to keep her from seeing me.
"Spaghetti," Mike said.
Pony reached down into the aquarium, trying to catch the fish with her hands,
but they were too fast. Then she
pushed hard with her finger on the mussel and buried it under a pile of sand.
"Is that your specialty, Mike?"
Yeah!" Mike said. "That's
it. That's right."
I must have stayed
there for maybe fifteen minutes. Then
I managed to find a post in the fence where I could help myself get over.
I walked around for a while, trying not think of anything; then I finally
went back to the apartment.
It was late and Mike had already gone off to the diner.
"Where have you been, Henry?" Pony said. "I've been worried sick about you.
"Please, Henry, let's not talk about what happened this afternoon, all right?"
I didn't mean to upset you," I said.
"Are you hungry? I'll warm up dinner."
No thanks." I went over to look at the fish for a while.
"Where's Ecclesiastes?" I asked.
Pony came over and looked in. "It's under that sand pile," she said. "It's buried itself."
"It'll suffocate like that," I said.
"Maybe it's dead," she said.
"I guess it got tired of going around in circles all the time," I
said. We both just looked at the
lump in the sand.
I reached for Pony's hand, and she let me hold it limply and then took it away. She sat down in my chair and pulled her hair down into her face, then blew at it and laughed. "Henry, what would you do if I left? Would you hire a maid or would you just keep Mike?"
I turned and looked at her hard, then I went into the bedroom without saying anything, but she followed me.
"Paul, I'm a bitch. Forgive
me. I'm a selfish, no-good bitch.
You should beat me up and throw me into the streets."
She came into bed. "Paul,
I love you. Forgive me.
I don't know what to do with myself."
I went to sleep, dreaming about how hard it was trying to get over that fence...concentrating on pulling myself up, pulling myself up, being unable to.
You're early," Mike said, turning and squinting.
"I couldn't concentrate," I said, looking at the painting.
"You're painting a lot lately."
do," Mike said, looking down at the point of the brush handle, then looking
back up into my eyes, but I wasn't looking directly at him. "Bother you?"
I could feel my face
get hot. "It's cluttering up
the place, if you know what I mean. It's...getting
Mike looked over at
the stack of paintings for a moment. "Sure,
I could get rid of some, Thig. Sure! But
that's not what's bothering you."
He turned and looked
out the window. There was just the
sound of a fly buzzing against the windowpane in the sunlight, buzzing slow and
"Mike," I said. "Mike..."
Out with, will you?" He
found himself a cigar over on the table and lit it, puffing out heavy blue
smoke, squinting and looking at me steady.
Mike looked at me and
then looked down at his shoes. They
were old army boots, even though he hadn't been in the army, with paint drips on
sure. I knew it was coming.
Sure! I'll clear out.
Don't you feel bad about it
either, Thig, because I know you will. You've
got a good heart or you wouldn't have taken me in, me being an ex-con, in the
first place. Unnatural for me to be
here anyway." He looked back
up at me and turned away and stared at that painting of his as if he could
really see something in it. It was
only blurred colors, with just our three names that you could make out.
I could hear the fly buzzing again, and I knew Mike wasn't going to say anything else. My throat felt tight, so I went out for a walk.
When I came back about an hour and a half later, Mike was gone.
I found a note scribbled on a torn piece of paper lying on the table.
Thanks for everything. Don't forget
to put a touch of garlic in the spaghetti sauce.
You and Pony drop down the River Shannon some night.
"Mike? Oh, Mike's out for a walk."
She gave me a hug,
then went into the bedroom to change into her dungarees.
I began to shake all over. My
legs were jumping, causing me to collapse into my chair.
All she had to do was look into the closet when she got her clothes and
notice that Mike's were gone.
She took a long time
in there, and when she came out she wouldn't look at me.
"He said he'd found a better apartment, pretty cheap, down near the River Shannon," I said. "I asked him if he'd stay, but he said we'd be better off together without him."
Pony went over and
looked at the paintings and sighed. "You
could never lie well, Henry. But I
didn't think you could be that mean."
"It wasn't mean. I did it so we could be together, so maybe you'd marry me."
"Marry you? Marry you?" She broke off into a long crazy laugh.
"Shut up! Shut up!" I shook her by the shoulders, with her head rolling around like a doll, but she wouldn't stop laughing. "Shut up!"
She stopped suddenly and leaned her head down against my shoulder and cried.
"I'm sorry, Paul. I'm sorry. I do love you, and if I could ever marry anyone, it'd be you; but I can't...I just can't. Let's let it ride, huh?"
I said. "Maybe we could
eat out somewhere."
"Then maybe we could go to the movies or get a bottle of that Italian wine
the way we did that first night and...and..."
"Okay," she said, nodding her head against my shoulder.
She was quiet all
that time at dinner and the movies. Later
on, when we were going to bed, I could see she was still all stirred up.
"Pony," I said, holding her. "Pony, we don't have to make love. I mean, we could just be quiet."
"Shhh, silly. I want you. Shh! Come on."
She was very passionate then, kissing my ears and biting my shoulder so she left
marks, and saying "Paul, Paul, Paul," over and over again.
Afterwards, she lay there in the dark with her body at funny angles like a broken toy. She stared up at the ceiling, with the light from the building across the way coming in and catching in her face. I loved her more than ever then and I tried to talk to her, but she just lay there and wouldn't answer me, staring up at the ceiling. Finally, she let her head rest on my chest.
When I woke up in the morning, she was gone.
Her clothes and her toothbrush and her flight bag with the box of smells
were all gone. I kept going around
the place looking for a note, but there was nothing. I knocked over a lamp, and then I picked up a wooden chair
and smashed down real hard on the aquarium.
The glass broke and the water ran out all over the floor and the tropical
fish flopped about, dying at my feet, and I stepped on a couple, squooshing them
under my shoes. And I stomped down
hard on the mussel, making sure of it. When
I looked down and saw what I had done, at all the dying things, I was sick to my
I left there, walking around outside until I went over to work, but I couldn't think and my head was spinning crazily, so I headed for Greenwich Village.
When I got to that
coffee shop where Phil was, he said, "No, man, I haven't seen that chick
since she split here that night with you. She
must have really turned you on, man, if you're still seeking her out."
I wandered around and
then went back to the apartment to wait for her.
The place was still all torn up, and I just lived in it like that, not
After a couple of
days, I went out and walked over to the zoo.
They had another fellow working in my place.
I decided maybe Pony had gone with Mike, so I waited there at the zoo until eleven o'clock, when Mike came on at the River Shannon, and I went over and found him there.
"Hi, Thig," Mike said, grinning and squinting. "What you up to? Jeez, you look shot. What's been going on?"
"Nothing, Mike...I mean...nothing."
"Nothing? You're here alone? Where's Pony?"
you...after you went away, she went off."
I felt shaky and plopped down on one of the stools.
"Jeez! Jeez, Thig! That's terrible. Thig, that's awful." He shuffled some dishes back and forth and tried not to look at me. "If it hadn't been for you, Thig, I'd have gone after her for myself. All that time in prison I dreamed of a girl like her. But I knew she was yours. She was sunlight itself." Mike's face looked full of pain.
"You don't know where she is?" I asked.
"No, Thig. If I knew, I'd tell you straight."
He shoved a hot cup of coffee in front of me and I started gulping it, burning my lips and all the way down into my stomach. Mike drank a cup with me, but I wasn't able to talk anymore, so I just got up from there and went back to 88th Street.
The next day, I got a letter air mail. Inside was the piece of stationery that smelled of gardenias, the one she had kept in her box of smells.
I'm here in Paris for
a little while to do some modeling, and perhaps I'll go someplace else soon.
I don't know. I had some money from my father, so I thought I could take a
vacation from all my responsibilities.
I loved you, Henry,
almost as much as I loved Paul--the boy who hurt me in Bogota, Colombia.
I wanted his baby, but it turned out he was already married...
I stayed out that night because I wanted you to beat me, and yet I was relieved when I realized I dominated you. I despised you for letting me be too strong. Oh, it doesn't make any sense!
I loved Mike, too,
but in a different way. Then I
tried to sleep with Mike to hurt you. You
see how hateful I am. Poor Mike, he
wanted me, but he's your friend.
I wanted there to be enough love for everyone, with no sadness and no regrets.
I trusted you not to let me make life mean and selfish, and that's why
I've gone away. Besides, I can't
just love one person anymore. I'm
afraid... I couldn't marry you,
because one day I knew I'd run away, or else we'd hurt each other.
Now you'll go looking for other things in your life...and we'll both try to be happy.
Know that I shall
love you always and will never forget you and all we had together.
Please don't come looking
for me, because I won't be here.
Pretty soon it got
dark early and cold from the coming on of winter.
I couldn't see the gulls anymore where they had been swerving back and
forth over the water looking for food, catching the last bit of sunlight on
their wings. The river was real
black, with just the lights from New Jersey shining on the water.
I thought about jumping in and drowning there, but the water would be too
cold and I knew that would make me a coward, which I didn't want to be.
Then I tore up Pony's
letter and threw it into the water, watching it swirl the pieces around until
they disappeared. I thought maybe I
wouldn't go back to West 88th Street or the zoo or the River Shannon Diner, but
I'd go up-country someplace--not to Millerton where my folks were, because they
wouldn't understand what had gone on, but someplace like that--only where nobody
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