Chapter no 3

The Secret History

FROM THE FIRST moment I set foot in Hampden, I had begun to dread the end of term, when I would have to go back to Plano, and flat land, and filling stations, and dust. As the term wore on, and the snow got deeper and the mornings blacker and every day brought me closer to the date on the smeared mimeograph (“December 17—All Final

Papers Due”) taped inside my closet door, my melancholy began to turn into something like alarm. I did not think I could stand a Christmas at my parents’ house, with a plastic tree and no snow and the TV going constantly. It was not as if my parents were so anxious to have me, either. In recent years they had fallen in with a gabby, childless couple, older than they were, called the MacNatts. Mr. MacNatt was an auto-parts salesman; Mrs. MacNatt was shaped like a pigeon and sold Avon. They had got my parents doing things like taking bus trips to factory outlets and playing a dice game called “bunko” and hanging around the piano bar at the Ramada Inn. These activities picked up considerably around holidays and my presence, brief and irregular as it was, was regarded as a hindrance and something of a reproach.

But the holidays were only half the trouble. Because Hampden was

so far north, and because the buildings were old and expensive to heat, the school was closed during January and February. Already I could hear my father complaining beerily about me to Mr. MacNatt, Mr. MacNatt slyly goading him on with remarks insinuating that I was spoiled and that he wouldn’t allow any son of his to walk all over him, if he had one. This would drive my father into a fury; eventually he would come busting dramatically into my room and order me out, his forefinger trembling, rolling his eyes like Othello. He had done this several times when I was in high school and in college in California, for no reason really except to display his authority in front of my mother and his coworkers. I was always welcomed back as soon as he tired of the attention and allowed my mother to “talk some sense”

into him, but what about now? I didn’t even have a bedroom anymore; in October, my mother had written to say that she had sold the furniture and turned it into a sewing room.

Henry and Bunny were going to Italy over the winter vacation, to Rome. I was surprised at this announcement, which Bunny had made at the beginning of December, especially since the two of them had been out of sorts for over a month, Henry in particular. Bunny, I knew, had been hitting him hard for money in the past weeks, but though Henry complained about this he seemed oddly incapable of refusing him. I was fairly sure that it wasn’t the money per se, but the principle of it; I was also fairly sure that whatever tension existed, Bunny was oblivious of it.

The trip was all Bunny talked about. He bought clothes, guidebooks, a record called Parliamo Italiano which promised to teach the listener Italian in two weeks or less (“Even to those who’ve never had luck with other language courses!” boasted the jacket) and a copy of Dorothy Sayers’s translation of Inferno. He knew I had nowhere to go for the winter vacation and enjoyed rubbing salt in my wounds. “I’ll be thinking of you while I’m drinking Campari and riding the gondolas,” he said, winking. Henry had little to say about the trip. As Bunny rattled on he would sit smoking with deep, resolute drags, pretending not to understand Bun’s fallacious Italian.

Francis said he’d be happy to have me to Christmas in Boston and then travel on with him to New York; the twins phoned their grandmother in Virginia and she said she’d be glad to have me there, too, for the entire winter break. But there was the question of money. For the months until school began I would have to have a job. I needed money if I wanted to come back in the spring, and I couldn’t very well work if I was gallivanting around with Francis. The twins would be clerking, as they always did during holidays, with their uncle the lawyer, but they had quite a time stretching the job to fit the two of them, Charles driving Uncle Orman to the occasional estate sale and to the package store, Camilla sitting around the office waiting to answer a phone that never rang. I am sure it never occurred to them that I might want a job, too—all my tales of Californian richesse had hit the mark harder than I’d thought. “What’ll I do while you’re at work?” I asked them, hoping they would get my drift, but of course they didn’t. “I’m afraid there’s not much to do,” said Charles apologetically. “Read, talk to Nana, play with the dogs.”

My only choice, it seemed, was to stay in Hampden town. Dr.

Roland was willing to keep me on, though at a salary that wouldn’t cover a decent rent. Charles and Camilla were subletting their apartment and Francis had a teenaged cousin staying in his; Henry’s, for all I knew, was standing empty, but he didn’t offer its use and I was too proud to ask. The house in the country was empty, too, but it was an hour from Hampden and I didn’t have a car. Then I heard about an old hippie, an ex–Hampden student, who ran a musical-instrument workshop in an abandoned warehouse. He would let you live in the warehouse for free if you carved pegs or sanded a few mandolins now and again.

Partly because I did not wish to be burdened with anyone’s pity or contempt, I concealed the true circumstances of my stay. Unwanted during the holidays by my glamorous, good-for-nothing parents, I had decided to stay alone in Hampden (at an unspecified location) and work on my Greek, spurning, in my pride, their craven offers of financial help.

This stoicism, this Henrylike dedication to my studies and general contempt for the things of this world, won me admiration from all sides, particularly from Henry himself. “I wouldn’t mind being here myself this winter,” he said to me one bleak night late in November as we were walking home from Charles and Camilla’s, our shoes sunk to the ankles in the sodden leaves that covered the path. “The school is boarded up and the stores in town close by three in the afternoon. Everything’s white and empty and there’s no noise but the wind. In the old days the snow would drift up to the eaves of the roofs, and people would be trapped in their houses and starve to death. They wouldn’t be found until spring.” His voice was dreamy, quiet, but I was filled with uncertainty; in the winters where I lived it did not even snow.

The last week of school was a flurry of packing, typing, plane

reservations and phone calls home, for everybody but me. I had no need to finish my papers early because I had nowhere to go; I could pack at my leisure, after the dorms were empty. Bunny was the first to leave. For three weeks he had been in a panic over a paper he had to write for his fourth course, something called Masterworks of English Literature. The assignment was twenty-five pages on John Donne. We’d all wondered how he was going to do it, because he was not much of a writer; though his dyslexia was the convenient culprit the real problem was not that but his attention span, which was as short as a child’s. He seldom read the required texts or supplemental books

for any course. Instead, his knowledge of any given subject tended to be a hodgepodge of confused facts, often strikingly irrelevant or out of context, that he happened to remember from classroom discussions or believed himself to have read somewhere. When it was time to write a paper he would supplement these dubious fragments by cross-examination of Henry (whom he was in the habit of consulting, like an atlas) or with information from either The World Book Encyclopedia or a reference work entitled Men of Thought and Deed, a six-volume work by E. Tipton Chatsford, Rev., dating from the 1890s, consisting of thumbnail sketches of great men through the ages, written for children, full of dramatic engravings.

Anything Bunny wrote was bound to be alarmingly original, since he began with such odd working materials and managed to alter them further by his befuddled scrutiny, but the John Donne paper must have been the worst of all the bad papers he ever wrote (ironic, given that it was the only thing he ever wrote that saw print. After he disappeared, a journalist asked for an excerpt from the missing young scholar’s work and Marion gave him a copy of it, a laboriously edited paragraph of which eventually found its way into People magazine).

Somewhere, Bunny had heard that John Donne had been acquainted with Izaak Walton, and in some dim corridor of his mind this friendship grew larger and larger, until in his mind the two men were practically interchangeable. We never understood how this fatal connection had established itself: Henry blamed it on Men of Thought and Deed, but no one knew for sure. A week or two before the paper was due, he had started showing up in my room about two or three in the morning, looking as if he had just narrowly escaped some natural disaster, his tie askew and his eyes wild and rolling. “Hello, hello,” he would say, stepping in, running both hands through his disordered hair. “Hope I didn’t wake you, don’t mind if I cut on the lights, do you, ah, here we go, yes, yes.…” He would turn on the lights and then pace back and forth for a while without taking off his coat, hands clasped behind his back, shaking his head. Finally he would stop dead in his tracks and say, with a desperate look in his eye: “Metahemeralism. Tell me about it. Everything you know. I gotta know something about metahemeralism.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what that is.”

“I don’t either,” Bunny would say brokenly. “Got to do with art or pastoralism or something. That’s how I gotta tie together John Donne and Izaak Walton, see.” He would resume pacing. “Donne. Walton.

Metahemeralism. That’s the problem as I see it.”

“Bunny, I don’t think ‘metahemeralism’ is even a word.”

“Sure it is. Comes from the Latin. Has to do with irony and the pastoral. Yeah. That’s it. Painting or sculpture or something, maybe.”

“Is it in the dictionary?”

“Dunno. Don’t know how to spell it. I mean”—he made a picture frame with his hands—“the poet and the fisherman. Parfait. Boon companions. Out in the open spaces. Living the good life. Metahemeralism’s gotta be the glue here, see?”

And so it would go, for sometimes half an hour or more, with Bunny raving about fishing, and sonnets, and Heaven knew what, until in the middle of his monologue he would be struck by a brilliant thought and bluster off as suddenly as he had descended.

He finished the paper four days before the deadline and ran around showing it to everyone before he turned it in.

“This is a nice paper, Bun—,” Charles said cautiously. “Thanks, thanks.”

“But don’t you think you ought to mention John Donne more often?

Wasn’t that your assignment?”

“Oh, Donne,” Bunny had said scoffingly. “I don’t want to drag him into this.”

Henry refused to read it. “I’m sure it’s over my head, Bunny, really,” he said, glancing over the first page. “Say, what’s wrong with this type?”

“Triple-spaced it,” said Bunny proudly. “These lines are about an inch apart.” “Looks kind of like free verse, doesn’t it?”

Henry made a funny little snorting noise through his nose. “Looks kind of like a menu,” he said.

All I remember about the paper was that it ended with the sentence “And as we leave Donne and Walton on the shores of Metahemeralism, we wave a fond farewell to those famous chums of yore.” We wondered if he would fail. But Bunny wasn’t worried: the approaching trip to Italy, now close enough to cast the dark shadow of the Tower of Pisa over his bed at night, had thrown him in a state of high agitation and he was anxious to leave Hampden as soon as possible and dispense with his familial obligations so that he could embark.

Brusquely he asked me, since I didn’t have anything to do, would I come over and help him pack? I said I would, and arrived to find him

dumping the contents of entire drawers into suitcases, clothes everywhere. I reached up and carefully took a framed Japanese print from the wall and lay it down on his desk: “Don’t touch that,” he shouted, dropping his nightstand drawer on the floor with a bang and darting over to snatch up the print. “That thing’s two hundred years old.” As a matter of fact, I knew that it was no such thing, since I happened a few weeks before to have seen him carefully razoring it from a book in the library; I said nothing, but I was so irritated that I left immediately, amidst what gruff excuses his pride permitted him. Later, after he had gone, I found an awkward note of apology in my mailbox, wrapped around a paperback copy of the poems of Rupert Brooke and a box of Junior Mints.

Henry departed quickly and quietly. One night he told us he was leaving and the next day he was gone. (To St. Louis? ahead to Italy? none of us knew.) Francis left the day after that and there were many elaborate and prolonged goodbyes—Charles, Camilla, and I standing by the side of the road, noses raw and ears half-frozen, while Francis shouted at us with the window rolled down and the motor idling and great clouds of white smoke billowing all around the Mustang for what must have been a good forty-five minutes.

Perhaps because they were the last to leave, I hated to see the twins go most of all. After Francis’s horn honks had faded into the snowy, echoless distance, we walked back to their house, not saying much, taking the path through the woods. When Charles turned on the light, I saw that the place was heartbreakingly neat—sink empty, floors waxed, and a row of suitcases by the door.

The dining halls had closed at noon that day; it was snowing hard and getting dark and we didn’t have a car; the refrigerator, freshly cleaned and smelling of Lysol, was empty. Sitting around the kitchen table we had a sad, makeshift dinner of canned mushroom soup, soda crackers, and tea without sugar or milk. The main topic of conversation was Charles and Camilla’s itinerary—how they would manage the baggage, what time they should call the taxi in order to make a six-thirty train. I joined in this travel-talk but a deep melancholy that would not lift for many weeks had already begun to settle around me; the sound of Francis’s car, receding and then disappearing in the snowy, muffled distance, was still in my ears, and for the first time I realized how lonely the next two months would really be, with the school closed, the snow deep, everyone gone.

They’d told me not to bother seeing them off the next morning, they

were leaving so early, but all the same I was there again at five to tell them goodbye. It was a clear, black morning, encrusted with stars; the thermometer on the porch of Commons had sunk to zero. The taxi, idling in a cloud of fume, was already waiting in front. The driver had just slammed the lid on a trunkful of luggage and Charles and Camilla were locking the door behind them. They were too worried and preoccupied to take much pleasure at my presence. Both of them were nervous travelers: their parents had been killed in a car accident, on a weekend drive up to Washington, and they were edgy for days before they had to go anywhere themselves.

They were running late, as well. Charles put down his suitcase to shake my hand. “Merry Christmas, Richard. You will write, won’t you?” he said, then ran down the walk to the cab. Camilla—struggling with two enormous carpetbags—dropped them both in the snow and said: “Damm it, we’ll never get all this luggage on the train.”

She was breathing hard, and deep circles of red burned high on her bright cheeks; in all my life I had never seen anyone so maddeningly beautiful as she was at that moment. I stood blinking stupidly at her, the blood pounding in my veins, and my carefully rehearsed plans for a goodbye kiss forgotten, when unexpectedly she flew up and threw her arms around me. Her hoarse breath was loud in my ear and her cheek was like ice when she put it against mine a moment later; when I took her gloved hand, I felt the quick pulse of her slender wrist beneath my thumbs.

The taxi honked and Charles put his head out the window. “Come

on,” he shouted.

I carried her bags down to the sidewalk and stood under the street lamp as they pulled away. They were turned around in the back seat and waving to me through the rear window and I stood watching them, and the ghost of my own distorted reflection receding in the curve of the dark glass, until the cab turned a corner and disappeared. I stood in the deserted street until I could no longer hear the sound of the motor, only the hiss of the powdery snow that the wind kicked up in little eddies on the ground. Then I started back to campus, hands deep in pockets and the crunch of my feet unbearably loud. The dorms were black and silent, and the big parking lot behind the tennis court was empty except for a few faculty cars and a lone green truck from Maintenance. In my dorm the hallways were littered with shoe boxes and coat hangers, doors ajar, everything dark and quiet as the grave. I was as depressed as I have ever been in my life. I pulled down

the shades and lay down on my unmade bed and went back to sleep.


I had so few belongings it was possible to take them in one trip. When I woke again, around noon, I packed my two suitcases and, dropping my key off at the security booth, hauled them down the deserted, snowy road into town and to the address the hippie had given me over the telephone.

It was a longer walk than I’d expected, and it soon took me off the main road and through some particularly desolate country near Mount Cataract. My way ran parallel to a rapid, shallow river—the Battenkill

—spanned by covered bridges here and there along its course. There were few houses, and even those grim, terrifying house trailers one frequently sees in the backwoods of Vermont, with tremendous piles of wood to the side and black smoke pouring out the stovepipes, were few and far between. There were no cars at all, except for the occasional derelict vehicle propped on cinderblocks in someone’s front yard.

It would have been a pleasant, if demanding walk even in the summertime but in December, in two feet of snow and with two heavy suitcases to carry, I found myself wondering if I would make it at all. My toes and fingers were cramped with cold, and more than once I had to stop to rest, but gradually the countryside began to look less and less deserted and finally the road came out where I had been told it would: Prospect Street in East Hampden.

It was a part of town I had never seen, and worlds away from the part I knew—maple trees and clapboard storefronts, village green and courthouse clock. This Hampden was a bombed-out expanse of water towers, rusted railroad tracks, sagging warehouses and factories with the doors boarded up and the windows broken out. All of it looked as though it had stood abandoned since the Depression, except for a seedy little bar at the end of the street, which, judging from the scrum of trucks out front, was doing a good brisk business, even this early in the afternoon. Strings of Christmas lights and plastic holly hung above the neon beer lights; glancing inside, I saw a line of men in flannel shirts at the bar, all with shot glasses or beers before them, and— towards the back—a younger set running more to baseball caps and fat clustered around a pool table. I stood outside the red, padded-vinyl door and looked in through the porthole at the top for an instant longer. Should I go in and ask directions, have a drink, get warm? I decided I should, and my hand was on the greasy brass door handle

when I saw the name of the place in the window: Boulder Tap. As I had heard of the Boulder Tap from the local news, it was the epicenter of what little crime there was in Hampden—knifings, rapes, never a single witness. It was not the type of place where you’d want to stop in alone for a drink if you were a lost college boy from up on the hill.

But it wasn’t so hard to find where the hippie lived, after all. One of the warehouses, right on the river, was painted bright purple.

The hippie looked angry, as though I’d woken him up, when he finally came to the door. “Just let yourself in next time, man,” he said sullenly. He was a short fat man with a sweat-stained T-shirt and a red beard, who looked as if he’d spent many fine evenings with his friends around the pool table at the Boulder Tap. He pointed out the room where I was to live, at the top of a flight of iron stairs (no railing, naturally), and disappeared without a word.

I found myself in a cavernous, dusty room with a plank floor and high, exposed rafters. Besides a broken dresser, and a high chair standing in the corner, it was completely unfurnished except for a lawn mower, a rusted oil drum, and a trestle table which was scattered with sandpaper and carpentry tools and a few curved pieces of wood which were perhaps the exoskeletons of mandolins. Sawdust, nails, food wrappers and cigarette butts, Playboy magazines from the 1970s littered the floor; the many-paned windows were furry with frost and grime.

I let one suitcase and then the other fall from my numb hands; for a moment my mind was numb, too, agreeably registering these impressions without comment. Then, all at once, I became aware of an overwhelming roaring, rushing noise. I went over and looked out the back windows behind the trestle table and was startled to see an expanse of water, hardly three feet below. Farther down, I could see it pounding over a dam, and the spray flying. As I tried to clear a circle on the window with my hand so I could see better, I noticed that my breath was still white, even then, indoors.

Suddenly, something that I can only describe as an icy blast swept over me, and I looked up. There was a large hole in the roof; I saw blue sky, a swift cloud moving from left to right, through the jagged black edge. Below it was a thin powdery dusting of snow, stenciled perfectly on the wooden floor in the shape of the hole above it, and undisturbed except for the sharp line of a solitary footprint, my own.


A good many people asked me later if I had realized what a dangerous

thing this was, attempting to live in an unheated building in upstate Vermont during the coldest months of the year; and to be frank, I hadn’t. In the back of my mind were the stories I’d heard, of drunks, of old people, of careless skiers freezing to death, but for some reason none of this seemed to apply to me. My quarters were uncomfortable, certainly, they were foully dirty and bitterly cold; but it never occurred to me that they were actually unsafe. Other students had lived there; the hippie lived there himself; a receptionist at the Student Referral Office had told me about it. What I didn’t know was that the hippie’s own quarters were properly heated, and that the students who had lived there in the past had come there well armed with space heaters and electric blankets. The hole in the roof, moreover, was a recent development, unknown to the Student Referral Office. I suppose anyone who knew the whole story would have warned me off, but the fact was, nobody did know. I was so embarrassed at having such living quarters that I had told no one where I was staying, not even Dr. Roland; the only person who knew all was the hippie, and he was supremely unconcerned with anyone’s welfare but his own.

Early in the morning, while it was still dark, I would wake up in my

blankets on the floor (I slept in two or three sweaters, long underwear, wool trousers and overcoat) and walk just as I was to Dr. Roland’s office. It was a long walk and, if it was snowing or the wind was up, sometimes a harrowing one. I would arrive at Commons, chilled and exhausted, just as the janitor was unlocking the building for the day. I would then go downstairs and shave and shower in the cellar, in a disused and rather sinister-looking room—white tiles, exposed piping, a drain in the middle of the floor—that had been part of a makeshift infirmary during World War II. The janitors used the taps to fill the wash buckets, so the water was still on and there was even a gas heater; I kept a razor, soap, an inconspicuously folded towel towards the back of one of the empty, glass-fronted cabinets. Then I would go make myself a can of soup and some instant coffee on the hot plate in the Social Science office, and by the time Dr. Roland and the secretaries arrived, I already had quite a start on the day’s work.

Dr. Roland, accustomed as he was by this time to my truancy and

my frequent excuses and my failure to complete tasks by the deadline, was startled and rather suspicious of this abrupt spurt of industry. He praised my work, questioned me closely; on several occasions I heard

him in the hall discussing my metamorphosis with Dr. Cabrini, the head of the psychology department, the only other teacher in the building who hadn’t left for the winter. At the first, no doubt, he thought it was all some new trick of mine. But as the weeks rolled by and each new day of enthusiastic labor added another gold star to my shining record he began to believe: timidly at first but at last triumphantly. Around the first of February he even gave me a raise. Perhaps he was hoping in his Behavioralist way that this would spur me to even greater heights of motivation. He came to regret this mistake, however, when the winter term ended and I went back to my comfortable little room in Monmouth House and all my old incompetent ways.

I worked as late at Dr. Roland’s as I decently could and then went to the snack bar in Commons for dinner. On certain fortunate nights there were even places to go afterwards, and I scanned the bulletin boards eagerly for these meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, these performances of Brigadoon by the local high school. But usually there was nothing at all, and Commons closed at seven, and I was left my long walk home in the snow and dark.

The cold in the warehouse was like nothing I’ve known before or since. I suppose if I’d had any sense I’d have gone out and bought an electric heater, but only four months before I had come from one of the warmest climates in America and I had only the dimmest awareness that such appliances existed. It never occurred to me that half the population of Vermont wasn’t experiencing pretty much what I put myself through every night—bone-cracking cold that made my joints ache, cold so relentless I felt it in my dreams: ice floes, lost expeditions, the lights of search planes swinging over whitecaps as I floundered alone in black Arctic seas. In the morning, when I woke, I was as stiff and sore as if I’d been beaten. I thought it was because I was sleeping on the floor. Only later did I realize that the true cause of this malady was hard, merciless shivering, my muscles contracting as mechanically as if by electric impulse, all night long, every night.

Amazingly, the hippie, whose name was Leo, was quite angry that I

didn’t spend more time carving mandolin struts or warping boards or whatever it was I was supposed to be doing up there. “You’re taking advantage, man,” he would say threateningly whenever he happened to see me. “Nobody burns Leo like this. Nobody.” He had some idea that I had studied instrument building and was in fact able to do all sorts of complex, technical work, though I had never told him any

such thing. “Yes, you did,” he said, when I pled my ignorance. “You did. You said you lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains one summer and made dulcimers. In Kentucky.”

I had nothing to say to this. I am not unused to being confronted with my own lies, but those of others never fail to throw me for a loop. I could only deny it and say, quite honestly, that I didn’t even know what a dulcimer was. “Carve pegs,” he said insolently. “Sweep up.” To which I replied, in so many words, that I could hardly carve pegs in rooms too cold for me to take my gloves off. “Cut the fingertips off them, man,” said Leo, unperturbed. These occasional collarings in the front hall were as far as my contact with him went. It eventually became evident to me that Leo, for all his professed love for mandolins, never actually set foot in the workshop and had apparently not done so for months before I came to live there. I began to wonder if perhaps he was even unaware of the hole in the roof; one day I made so bold as to mention it to him. “I thought that was one of the things you could fix around the place,” he said. It stands as a testimony to my misery that one Sunday I actually attempted to do this, with a few odd scraps of mandolin wood that I found around, and nearly lost my life in the attempt; the grade of the roof was wickedly sharp and I lost my balance and nearly fell into the dam, catching myself only at the last moment on a length of tin drainpipe which, mercifully, held. I managed with effort to save myself—my hands were cut on the rusted tin, and I had to get a tetanus shot—but Leo’s hammer and saw and the pieces of mandolin wood tumbled into the dam. The tools all sank and Leo probably does not know to this day that they are missing, but unfortunately the mandolin pieces floated and managed to lodge themselves in a cluster at the top of the spillway, right outside Leo’s bedroom window. Of course he had plenty to say about this, and about college kids who didn’t care about other people’s things, and everybody trying to rip him off all the time. Christmas came and went without notice, except that with no work and everything closed there was no place to go to get warm except, for a few hours, to church. I came home afterwards and wrapped myself in my blanket and rocked back and forth, ice in my very bones, and thought of all the sunny Christmases of my childhood—oranges,

bikes and hula-hoops, green tinsel sparkling in the heat.

Mail arrived occasionally, in care of Hampden College. Francis sent me a six-page letter about how bored he felt, and how sick he was, and virtually everything he’d had to eat since I’d seen him last. The

twins, bless them, sent boxes of cookies their grandmother had made and letters written in alternating inks-black for Charles, red for Camilla. Around the second week of January I got a postcard from Rome, no return address. It was a photograph of the Primaporta Augustus; beside it, Bunny had drawn a surprisingly deft cartoon of himself and Henry in Roman dress (togas, little round eyeglasses) squinting off curiously in the direction indicated by the statue’s outstretched arm. (Caesar Augustus was Bunny’s hero; he had embarrassed us all by cheering loudly at the mention of his name during the reading of the Bethlehem story from Luke 2 at the literature division’s Christmas party. “Well, what of it,” he said, when we tried to shush him. “All the world shoulda been taxed.”)

I still have this postcard. Characteristically, the writing is in pencil; over the years it’s become a bit smudged but it’s still quite legible. There is no signature, but there is no mistaking the authorship:

Richard old Man

are you Frozen? it is quite

warm here. We live in a Penscione (sp.) I ordered Conche by mistake yesterday in a restaurant it was awful but Henry ate it. Everybody here is a

damn Catholic. Arrivaderci see you soon.

Francis and the twins had asked me, rather insistently, my address in Hampden. “Where are you living?” said Charles in black ink. “Yes, where?” echoed Camilla in red. (She used a particular morocco shade of ink that to me, missing her terribly, brought back in a rush of color all the thin, cheerful hoarseness of her voice.) As I had no address to give them, I ignored their questions and padded my replies with broad references to snow, and beauty, and solitude. I often thought how peculiar my life must look to someone reading those letters, far away. The existence they described was detached and impersonal, all-embracing yet indefinite, with large blanks that rose to halt the reader at every turn; with a few changes of date and circumstance they could have been as easily from the Gautama as myself.

I wrote these letters in the mornings before work, in the library, during my sessions of prolonged loitering in Commons, where I remained every evening until asked to leave by the janitor. It seemed

my whole life was composed of these disjointed fractions of time, hanging around in one public place and then another, as if I were waiting for trains that never came. And, like one of those ghosts who are said to linger around depots late at night, asking passersby for the timetable of the Midnight Express that derailed twenty years before, I wandered from light to light until that dreaded hour when all the doors closed and, stepping from the world of warmth and people and conversation overheard, I felt the old familiar cold twist through my bones again and then it was all forgotten, the warmth, the lights; I had never been warm in my life, ever.

I became expert at making myself invisible. I could linger two hours over a coffee, four over a meal, and hardly be noticed by the waitress. Though the janitors in Commons rousted me every night at closing time, I doubt they ever realized they spoke to the same boy twice. Sunday afternoons, my cloak of invisibility around my shoulders, I would sit in the infirmary for sometimes six hours at a time, placidly reading copies of Yankee magazine (“Clamming on Cuttyhunk”) or Reader’s Digest (“Ten Ways to Help That Aching Back!”), my presence unremarked by receptionist, physician, and fellow sufferer alike.

But, like the Invisible Man in H. G. Wells, I discovered that my gift had its price, which took the form of, in my case as in his, a sort of mental darkness. It seemed that people failed to meet my eye, made as if to walk through me; my superstitions began to transform themselves into something like mania. I became convinced that it was only a matter of time before one of the rickety iron steps that led to my room gave and I would fall and break my neck or, worse, a leg; I’d freeze or starve before Leo would assist me. Because one day, when I’d climbed the stairs successfully and without fear, I’d had an old Brian Eno song running through my head (“In New Delhi / And Hong Kong / They all know that it won’t be long …”), I now had to sing it to myself each trip up or down the stairs.

And each time I crossed the footbridge over the river, twice a day, I had to stop and scoop around in the coffee-colored snow at the road’s edge until I found a decent-sized rock. I would then lean over the icy railing and drop it into the rapid current that bubbled over the speckled dinosaur eggs of granite which made up its bed—a gift to the river-god, maybe, for safe crossing, or perhaps some attempt to prove to it that I, though invisible, did exist. The water ran so shallow and clear in places that sometimes I heard the dropped stone click as it hit the bed. Both hands on the icy rail, staring down at the water as it

dashed white against the boulders, boiled thinly over the polished stones, I wondered what it would be like to fall and break my head open on one of those bright rocks: a wicked crack, a sudden limpness, then veins of red marbling the glassy water.

If I threw myself off, I thought, who would find me in all that white silence? Might the river beat me downstream over the rocks until it spat me out in the quiet waters, down behind the dye factory, where some lady would catch me in the beam of her headlights when she pulled out of the parking lot at five in the afternoon? Or would I, like the pieces of Leo’s mandolin, lodge stubbornly in some quiet place behind a boulder and wait, my clothes washing about me, for spring?

This was, I should say, about the third week in January. The thermometer was dropping; my life, which before had been only solitary and miserable, became unbearable. Every day, in a daze, I walked to and from work, sometimes during weather that was ten or twenty below, sometimes during storms so heavy that all I could see was white, and the only way I made it home at all was by keeping close to the guard rail on the side of the road. Once home, I wrapped myself in my dirty blankets and fell on the floor like a dead man. All my moments which were not consumed with efforts to escape the cold were absorbed with morbid Poe-like fancies. One night, in a dream, I saw my own corpse, hair stiff with ice and eyes wide open.

I was at Dr. Roland’s office every morning like clockwork. He, an alleged psychologist, noticed not one of the Ten Warning Signs of Nervous Collapse or whatever it was that he was educated to see, and qualified to teach. Instead, he took advantage of my silence to talk to himself about football, and dogs he had had as a boy. The rare remarks he addressed to me were cryptic and incomprehensible. He asked, for example, since I was in the Drama department, why hadn’t I been in any plays? “What’s wrong? Are you shy, boy? Show them what you’re made of.” Another time he told me, in an offhand manner, that when he was at Brown he had roomed with the boy who lived down the hall from him. One day, he said he didn’t know my friend was in Hampden for the winter.

“I don’t have any friends here for the winter,” I said, and I didn’t. “You shouldn’t push your friends away like that. The best friends

you’ll ever have are the ones you’re making right now. I know you don’t believe me, but they start to fall away when you get to be my age.”

When I walked home at night, things got white around the edges

and it seemed I had no past, no memories, that I had been on this exact stretch of luminous, hissing road forever.

I don’t know what exactly was wrong with me. The doctors said it was chronic hypothermia, with bad diet and a mild case of pneumonia on top of it; but I don’t know if that accounts for all the hallucinations and mental confusion. At the time I wasn’t even aware I was sick: any symptom, any fever or pain, was drowned by the clamor of my more immediate miseries.

For I was in a bad fix. It was the coldest January on record for twenty-five years. I was terrified of freezing to death but there was absolutely nowhere I could go. I suppose I might’ve asked Dr. Roland if I could stay in the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, but the embarrassment of that was such that death, to me, seemed preferable. I knew no one else, even slightly, and short of knocking on the doors of strangers there was little I could do. One bitter night I tried to call my parents from the pay phone outside the Boulder Tap; sleet was falling and I was shivering so violently I could hardly get the coins in the slot. Although I had some desperate, half-baked hope that they might send money or a plane ticket, I didn’t know what I wanted them to say to me; I think I had some idea that I, standing in the sleet and winds of Prospect Street, would feel better simply by hearing the voices of people far away, in a warm place. But when my father picked up the telephone on the sixth or seventh ring, his voice, beery and irritated, gave me a hard, dry feeling in my throat and I hung up.

Dr. Roland mentioned my imaginary friend again. He’d seen him

uptown this time, walking on the square late at night as he was driving home.

“I told you I don’t have any friends here,” I said.

“You know who I’m talking about. Great big boy. Wears glasses.” Someone who looked like Henry? Bunny? “You must be mistaken,”

I said.

The temperature plummeted so low that I was forced to spend a few nights at the Catamount Motel. I was the only person in the place, besides the snaggle-toothed old man who ran it; he was in the room next to mine and kept me awake with his loud hacking and spitting. There was no lock on my door, only the antique sort that can be picked with a hairpin; on the third night I woke from a bad dream (nightmare stairwell, steps all different heights and widths; a man going down ahead of me, really fast) to hear a faint, clicking noise. I sat up in bed and, to my horror, saw my doorknob turning stealthily

in the moonlight: “Who’s there?” I said loudly, and it stopped. I lay awake in the dark for a long time. The next morning, I left, preferring a quieter death at Leo’s to being murdered in my bed.

A terrible storm came around the first of February, bringing with it downed power lines, stranded motorists, and, for me, a bout of hallucinations. Voices spoke to me in the roar of the water, in the hissing snow: “Lie down,” they whispered, and “Turn left. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.” My typewriter was by the window of Dr. Roland’s office. Late one afternoon, as it was getting dark, I looked down into the empty courtyard and was startled to see that a dark, motionless figure had materialized under the lamp, standing with its hands in the pockets of its dark overcoat and looking up at my window. It was shadowy and heavy snow was falling: “Henry?” I said, and squeezed my eyes shut until I saw stars. When I opened them again, I saw nothing but snow whirling in the bright cone of emptiness beneath the light.

At night I lay shivering on the floor, watching the illuminated

snowflakes sift in a column through the hole in the ceiling. On the margin of stupefaction, as I was sliding off the steep roof of unconsciousness, something would tell me at the last instant that if I went to sleep I might never wake: with a struggle I would force my eyes open and all of a sudden the column of snow, standing bright and tall in its dark corner, would appear to me in its true whispering, smiling menace, an airy angel of death. But I was too tired to care; even as I looked at it I would feel my grasp slackening, and before I knew it I had tumbled down the slanted edge, and into the dark abyss of sleep.

Time was beginning to blur. I still dragged myself to the office, but only because it was warm there, and I somehow performed the simple tasks that I had to do, but I honestly do not know how much longer I would have been able to keep this up had not a very surprising thing happened.

I’ll never forget this night as long as I live. It was Friday, and Dr. Roland was going to be out of town until the following Wednesday. For me, that meant four days in the warehouse, and even in my clouded state it was clear I might freeze to death for real.

When Commons closed I started for home. The snow was deep, and before long my legs to the knees were prickling and numb. By the time the road came around into East Hampden I was wondering seriously if I could make it to the warehouse, and what I would do

when I got there. Everything in East Hampden was dark and deserted, even the Boulder Tap; the only light for miles around seemed to be the light shimmering around the pay phone in front. I made my way towards it as though it were a mirage in the desert. I had about thirty dollars in my pocket, more than enough to call a taxi to take me to the Catamount Motel, to a nasty little room with an unlocked door and whatever else might await me there.

My voice was slurred and the operator wouldn’t give me the number of a taxi company. “You have to give me the name of a specific taxi service,” she said. “We’re not allowed to—”

“I don’t know the name of a specific taxi service,” I said thickly. “There’s not a phone book here.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re not allowed to—”

“Red Top?” I said desperately, trying to guess at names, make them up, anything. “Yellow Top? Town Taxi? Checker?”

Finally I guess I got one right, or maybe she just felt sorry for me. There was a click, and a mechanical voice came on and gave me a number. I dialed it quickly so I wouldn’t forget, so quickly that I got it wrong and lost my quarter.

I had one more quarter in my pocket; it was my last one. I took off my glove and groped in my pocket with my numbed fingers. Finally I found it, and I had it in my hand and was about to bring it up to the slot, when suddenly it slipped from my fingers and I pitched forward after it, hitting my forehead on the sharp corner of the metal tray beneath the phone.

I lay face down in the snow for a few minutes. There was a rushing noise in my ears; in falling, I had grabbed for the phone and knocked it off the hook, and the busy signal the receiver made as it swung back and forth sounded as if it were coming from a long way off.

I managed to get up on all fours. Staring at the place where my head had been, I saw a dark spot on the snow. When I touched my forehead with my ungloved hand the fingers came away red. The quarter was gone; besides, I had forgotten the number. I would have to come back later, when the Boulder Tap was open and I could get change. Somehow I struggled to my feet, leaving the black receiver dangling from its cord.

I made it up the stairs half walking, half on my hands and knees. Blood was trickling down my forehead. At the landing I stopped to rest and felt my surroundings slide out of focus: static, between stations, everything snowy for a moment or two before the black lines

wavered and the picture snapped back; not quite clear, but recognizable. Jerky camera, nightmare commercial. Leo’s Mandolin Warehouse. Last stop, down by the river. Low rates. Remember us, too, for all your meat-locker needs.

I pushed the workshop door open with my shoulder and began to fumble for the light switch when suddenly I saw something by the window that made me reel with shock. A figure in a long black overcoat was standing motionless across the room by the windows, hands clasped behind the back; near one of the hands I saw the tiny glow of a cigarette coal.

The lights came on with a crackle and a hum. The shadowy figure, now solid and visible, turned around. It was Henry. He seemed on the verge of making some joking remark, but when he saw me his eyes got wide and his mouth fell open into a small round o.

We stood staring at each other across the room for a moment or two.

“Henry?” I said at last, my voice scarcely more than a whisper.

He let the cigarette fall from his fingers and took a step towards me. It really was him—damp, ruddy cheeks, snow on the shoulders of his overcoat. “Good God, Richard,” he said, “what’s happened to you?”

It was as much surprise as I ever saw him show. I stood where I was, staring, unbalanced. Things had got too bright, white around the edges. I reached for the door frame, and the next thing I knew I was falling, and Henry had jumped forward to catch me.

He eased me onto the floor and took off his coat and spread it over me like a blanket. I squinted up at him and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “Where did you come from?” I said.

“I left Italy early.” He was brushing the hair back from my forehead, trying to get a look at my cut. I saw blood on his fingertips.

“Some little place I’ve got here, huh?” I said, and laughed.

He glanced up at the hole in the ceiling. “Yes,” he said brusquely. “Not unlike the Pantheon.” Then he bent to look at my head again.


I remember being in Henry’s car, and lights and people bending over me, and having to sit up when I didn’t want to, and I also remember someone trying to take my blood, and me complaining sort of feebly about it; but the first thing I remember with any clarity was sitting up and finding myself in a dim, white room, lying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm.

Henry was sitting in a chair by my bed, reading by the table lamp.

He put down his book when he saw me stir. “Your cut wasn’t serious,” he said. “It was very clean and shallow. They gave you a few stitches.”

“Am I in the infirmary?”

“You’re in Montpelier. I brought you to the hospital.” “What’s this IV for?”

“They say you have pneumonia. Would you like something to read?” he said courteously.

“No thank you. What time is it?” “One in the morning.”

“But I thought you were in Rome.”

“I came back about two weeks ago. If you want to go back to sleep I’ll call the nurse to give you a shot.”

“No thanks. Why haven’t I seen you before now?”

“Because I didn’t know where you lived. The only address I had for you was in care of the college. This afternoon I asked around at the offices. By the way,” he said, “what’s the name of the town where your parents live?”

“Plano. Why?”

“I thought you might want me to call them.”

“Don’t bother,” I said, sinking back into my bed. The IV was like ice in my veins. “Tell me about Rome.”

“All right,” he said, and he began to talk very quietly about the lovely Etruscan terra-cottas in the Villa Giulia, and the lily pools and the fountains in the nymphaeum outside it; about the Villa Borghese and the Colosseum, the view from the Palatine Hill early in the morning, and how beautiful the Baths of Caracalla must have been in Roman times, with the marbles and the libraries and the big circular calidarium, and the frigidarium, with its great empty pool, that was there even now, and probably a lot of other things besides but I don’t remember because I fell asleep.


I was in the hospital for four nights. Henry stayed with me almost the whole time, bringing me sodas when I asked for them, and a razor and a toothbrush, and a pair of his own pajamas—silky Egyptian cotton, cream-colored and heavenly soft, with HMW (M for Marchbanks) embroidered in tiny scarlet letters on the pocket. He also brought me pencils and paper, for which I had little use but which I suppose he would have been lost without, and a great many books, half of which were in languages I couldn’t read and the other half of

which might as well have been. One night—head aching from Hegel— I asked him to bring me a magazine; he looked rather startled, and when he came back it was with a trade journal (Pharmacology Update) he had found in the lounge. We talked hardly at all. Most of the time he read, with a concentration that astonished me; six hours at a stretch, scarcely glancing up. He paid me almost no attention. But he stayed up with me on the bad nights, when I had a hard time breathing and my lungs hurt so I couldn’t sleep; and once, when the nurse on duty was three hours late with my medicine, he followed her expressionless into the hall and there delivered, in his subdued monotone, such a tense and eloquent reprimand that the nurse (a contemptuous, hard-bitten woman, with dyed hair like an aging waitress, and a sour word for everyone) was somewhat mollified; and afterwards she—who ripped off the bandages around my IV with such callousness, and poked me black and blue in her desultory search for veins—was much gentler in her handling of me, and once, while taking my temperature, even called me “hon.”

The emergency room doctor told me that Henry had saved my life.

This was a dramatic and gratifying thing to hear—and one which I repeated to a number of people—but secretly I thought it was an exaggeration. In subsequent years, however, I’ve come to feel that he might well have been right. When I was younger I thought that I was immortal. And though I bounced back quickly, in a short-term sense, in another I never really quite got over that winter. I’ve had problems with my lungs ever since, and my bones ache at the slightest chill, and I catch cold easily now, whereas I never used to.

I told Henry what the doctor had said. He was displeased. Frowning, he made some curt remark—actually, I’m surprised I’ve forgotten it, I was so embarrassed—and I never mentioned it again. I think he did save me, though. And someplace, if there is a place where lists are kept, and credit given, I am sure there is a gold star by his name.

But I am getting sentimental. Sometimes, when I think about these things, I do.


On Monday morning I was able to leave at last, with a bottle of antibiotics and an arm full of pinpricks. They insisted on pushing me to Henry’s car in a wheelchair, though I was perfectly able to walk and humiliated at being rolled out like a parcel.

“Take me to the Catamount Motel,” I told him as we pulled into


“No,” he said. “You’re coming to stay with me.”

Henry lived on the first floor of an old house on Water Street, in North Hampden, just around the block from Charles and Camilla’s and closer to the river. He didn’t like to have people over and I had been there only once, and then for a minute or two. It was much larger than Charles and Camilla’s apartment, and a good deal emptier. The rooms were big and anonymous, with wide-plank floors and no curtains on the windows and plaster walls painted white. The furniture, while obviously good, was scarred and plain and there wasn’t much of it. The whole place had a ghostly, unoccupied look; and some of the rooms had nothing in them at all. I had been told by the twins that Henry disliked electric lights, and here and there I saw kerosene lamps in the windowsills.

His bedroom, where I was to stay, had been closed off rather pointedly during my previous visit. In it were Henry’s books—not as many as you might think—and a single bed, and very little else, except a closet with a large, conspicuous padlock. Tacked on the closet door was a black and white picture from an old magazine—Life, it said, 1945. It was of Vivien Leigh and, surprisingly, a much younger Julian. They were at a cocktail party, glasses in hand; he was whispering something in her ear, and she was laughing.

“Where was that taken?” I said.

“I don’t know. Julian says he can’t remember. Every now and then one runs across a photograph of him in an old magazine.”


“He used to know a lot of people.” “Who?”

“Most of them are dead now.” “Who?

“I really don’t know, Richard.” Then, relenting: “I’ve seen pictures of him with the Sitwells. And T. S. Eliot. Also—there’s rather a funny one of him with that actress—I can’t remember her name. She’s dead now.” He thought for a minute. “She was blond,” he said. “I think she was married to a baseball player.”

“Marilyn Monroe?”

“Maybe. It wasn’t a very good picture. Only newsprint.”

Some time during the past three days, Henry had gone over and moved my things from Leo’s. My suitcases stood at the foot of the bed. “I don’t want to take your bed, Henry,” I said. “Where are you

going to sleep?”

“One of the back rooms has a bed that folds out from the wall,” said Henry. “I can’t think what they’re called. I’ve never slept in it before.”

“Then why don’t you let me sleep there?”

“No. I am rather curious to see what it is like. Besides, I think it’s good to change the place where one sleeps from time to time. I believe it gives one more interesting dreams.”


I was only planning on spending a few days with Henry—I was back at work for Dr. Roland the following Monday—but I ended up staying until school started again. I couldn’t understand why Bunny had said he was hard to live with. He was the best roommate I’ve ever had, quiet and neat, and usually off in his own part of the house. Much of the time he was gone when I got home from work; he never told me where he went, and I never asked. But sometimes when I got home he would have made dinner—he wasn’t a fancy cook like Francis and only made plain things, broiled chickens and baked potatoes, bachelor food—and we would sit at the card table in the kitchen and eat it and talk.

I had learned better by then than to pry into his affairs, but one night, when my curiosity had got the better of me, I asked him: “Is Bunny still in Rome?”

It was several moments before he answered. “I suppose so,” he said, putting down his fork. “He was there when I left.”

“Why didn’t he come back with you?”

“I don’t think he wanted to leave. I’d paid the rent through February.”

“He stuck you with the rent?”

Henry took another bite of his food. “Frankly,” he said, after he had chewed and swallowed, “no matter what Bunny tells you to the contrary, he hasn’t a cent and neither does his father.”

“I thought his parents were well off,” I said, jarred.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Henry calmly. “They may have had money once, but if so they spent it long ago. That terrible house of theirs must have cost a fortune, and they make a big show of yacht clubs and country clubs and sending their sons to expensive schools, but that’s got them in debt to the eyebrows. They may look wealthy, but they haven’t a dime. I expect Mr. Corcoran is about bankrupt.”

“Bunny seems to live pretty well.”

“Bunny’s never had a cent of pocket money the entire time I’ve

known him,” said Henry tartly. “And he has expensive tastes. That is unfortunate.”

We resumed eating in silence.

“If I were Mr. Corcoran,” said Henry after a long while, “I would have set Bunny up in business or had him learn a trade after high school. Bunny has no business being in college. He couldn’t even read until he was about ten years old.”

“He draws well,” I said.

“I think so, too. He certainly has no gift for scholarship. They should’ve apprenticed him to a painter when he was young instead of sending him to all those expensive schools for learning disabilities.”

“He sent me a very good cartoon of you and he standing by a statue of Caesar Augustus.”

Henry made a sharp, exasperated sound. “That was in the Vatican,” he said. “All day long he made loud remarks about Dagos and Catholics.”

“At least he doesn’t speak Italian.”

“He spoke it well enough to order the most expensive thing on the menu every time we went to a restaurant,” said Henry curtly, and I thought it wise to change the subject and did.


On the Saturday before school was to begin, I was lying on Henry’s bed reading a book. Henry had been gone since before I woke up. Suddenly I heard a loud banging at the front door. Thinking Henry had forgotten his key, I went to let him in.

It was Bunny. He was wearing sunglasses and—in contrast to the shapeless, tweedy rags he generally wore—a sharp and very new Italian suit. He had also gained about ten or twenty pounds. He seemed surprised to see me.

“Well, hello there, Richard,” he said, shaking my hand heartily. “Buenos días. Good to see ya. Didn’t see the car out front but just got into town and thought I’d stop by anyway. Where’s the man of the house?”

“He’s not home.”

“Then what are you doing? Breaking and entering?” “I’ve been staying here for a while. I got your postcard.”

“Staying here?’ he said, looking at me in a peculiar way. “Why?”

I was surprised he didn’t know. “I was sick,” I said, and I explained a little of what had happened.

“Hmnpf,” said Bunny.

“Do you want some coffee?”

We walked through the bedroom to get to the kitchen. “Looks like you’ve made quite a little home for yourself,” he said brusquely, looking at my belongings on the night table and my suitcases on the floor. “American coffee all you have?”

“What do you mean? Folger’s?” “No espresso, I mean?”

“Oh. No. Sorry.”

“I’m an espresso man myself,” he said expansively. “Drank it all the time over in Italy. They have all kind of little places where you sit around and do that, you know.”

“I’ve heard.”

He took off his sunglasses and sat down at the table. “You don’t have anything decent in there to eat, do you?” he said, peering into the refrigerator as I opened the door to take out the cream. “Haven’t had my lunch yet.”

I opened the door wider so he could see. “That cheese’ll be all right,” he said.

I cut some bread and made him a cheese sandwich, as he showed no inclination of getting up and making anything himself. Then I poured the coffee and sat down. “Tell me about Rome,” I said.

“Gorgeous,” he said through his sandwich. “Eternal City. Lots of art.

Churches every which way.” “What’d you see?”

“Tons of things. Hard to remember all the names now, you know.

Was speaking the lingo like a native by the time I left.” “Say something.”

He obliged, pinching his thumb and forefinger together and shaking them in the air for emphasis, like a French chef on a TV commercial.

“Sounds good,” I said. “What does it mean?”

“It means ‘Waiter, bring me your local specialties,’ ” he said, going back to his sandwich.

I heard the slight sound of a key being turned in the lock and then I heard the door shut. Footsteps went quietly toward the other end of the apartment.

“Henry?” bellowed Bun. “That you?”

The footsteps stopped. Then they came very rapidly towards the kitchen. When he got to the door he stood in it and stared down at Bunny, with no expression on his face. “I thought that was you,” he said.

“Well, hello to you, too.” Bunny, his mouth full, reared back in his chair. “How’s the boy?”

“Fine,” said Henry. “And you?”

“I hear you’ve been taking in the sick,” said Bunny, winking at me. “Conscience been hurting you? Thought you’d better rack up a couple good deeds?”

Henry didn’t say anything, and I’m sure that at that moment he would have looked perfectly impassive to anyone who didn’t know him, but I could tell he was quite agitated. He pulled out a chair and sat down. Then he got up again and went to pour himself a cup of coffee.

“I’ll have some more, thanks, if you don’t mind,” Bunny said. “Good to be back in the good old U.S. of A. Hamburgers sizzling on an open grill and all that. Land of Opportunity. Long may she wave.”

“How long have you been here.” “Flew into New York late last night.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you arrived.” “Where were you?” said Bunny suspiciously.

“At the market.” This was a lie. I didn’t know where he’d been but certainly he hadn’t been grocery shopping for four hours.

“Where are the groceries?” said Bunny. “I’ll help you bring them in.”

“I’m having them delivered.”

“The Food King has delivery?” said Bunny, startled. “I didn’t go to the Food King,” said Henry.

Uneasily, I got up and headed back to the bedroom.

“No, no, don’t go,” said Henry, taking a long gulp of his coffee and putting the cup in the sink. “Bunny, I wish I’d known you were coming. But Richard and I have got to leave in a few minutes.”


“I have an appointment in town.”

“With a lawyer?” Bunny laughed loudly at his own joke.

“No. With the optometrist. That’s why I came by,” he said to me. “I hope you don’t mind. They’re going to put drops in my eyes and I can’t see to drive.”

“No, sure,” I said.

“I won’t be long. You don’t have to wait, just drop me off and come back to get me.”

Bunny walked us out to the car, our footsteps crunching in the snow. “Ah, Vermont,” he said, breathing deep and slapping his chest,

like Oliver Douglas in the opening sequence of “Green Acres.” “Air does me good. So when d’ya think you’ll be back, Henry?”

“I don’t know,” said Henry, handing me the keys and walking over to the passenger’s side.

“Well, I’d like to have a little chat with you.”

“Well, that’s fine, but really, I’m a little late now, Bun.” “Tonight, then?”

“If you like,” said Henry, getting in the car and slamming the door.


Once in the car, Henry lit a cigarette and didn’t say a word. He’d been smoking a lot since he got back from Italy, almost a pack a day, which was rare for him. We started into town, and it wasn’t until I pulled in at the eye doctor’s office that he shook himself and looked at me blankly. “What is it?”

“What time should I come back to get you?”

Henry looked out, at the low gray building, at the sign in front that said OPTOMETRY GROUP OF HAMPDEN.

“Good God,” he said, with a snort and a surprised, bitter little laugh. “Keep driving.”


I went to bed early that night, around eleven; at twelve I was awakened by a loud persistent banging at the front door. I lay in bed and listened for a minute, then got up to see who it was.

In the dark hallway I met Henry, in his bathrobe, fumbling with his glasses; he was holding one of his kerosene lanterns and it cast long, weird shadows on the narrow walls. When he saw me, he put a finger to his lips. We stood in the hall, listening. The lamplight was eerie, and, standing there motionless in our bathrobes, sleepy, with shadows flickering all around, I felt as though I had woken from one dream into an even more remote one, some bizarre wartime bomb shelter of the unconscious.

We stood there for a long time, it seemed, long after the banging stopped and we heard footsteps crunching away. Henry looked over at me, and we were quiet for a bit longer. “It’s all right now,” he said at last, and he turned away abruptly, the lamplight bobbing crazily about him as he went back to his room. I waited a moment or two longer in the dark, and then went back to my own room and to bed.


The next day, around three in the afternoon, I was ironing a shirt in the kitchen when there was another knock at the door. I went into the

hall and found Henry standing there.

“Does that sound like Bunny to you?” he said quietly.

“No,” I said. This knock was fairly light; Bunny always beat on the door as if to bash it in.

“Go around to the side window and see if you can see who it is.”

I went to the front room and advanced cautiously to the side; there were no curtains and it was hard to get to the far windows without exposing oneself to view. They were at an odd angle and all I could see was the shoulder of a black coat, with a silk scarf blown out in the wind behind it. I crept back through the kitchen to Henry. “I can’t really see, but it might be Francis,” I said.

“Oh, you can let him in, I suppose,” said Henry, and he turned and went back towards his part of the house.

I went to the front room and opened the door. Francis was looking back over his shoulder, wondering, I suppose, if he should leave. “Hi,” I said.

He turned around and saw me. “Hello!” he said. His face seemed to have got much thinner and sharper since I’d seen him last. “I thought nobody was home. How are you feeling?”


“You look pretty bad to me.”

“You don’t look so good yourself,” I said, laughing.

“I drank too much last night and gave myself a stomach ache. I want to see this tremendous head wound of yours. Are you going to have a scar?”

I led him into the kitchen and shoved aside the ironing board so he could sit down. “Where’s Henry?” he said, pulling off his gloves.

“In the back.”

He began to unwind his scarf. “I’ll just run say hello to him and I’ll be right back,” he said briskly, and slid away.

He was gone a long time. I had got bored and had almost finished ironing my shirt when suddenly I heard Francis’s voice rise, with a hysterical edge. I got up and went into the bedroom so I could hear better what he was saying.

“—thinking about? My God, but he’s in a state. You can’t tell me you know what he might—”

There was a low murmur now, Henry’s voice, then Francis’s voice came back to me again.

“I don’t care,” he said hotly. “Jesus, but you’ve done it now. I’ve been in town two hours and already—I don’t care,” he said in reply to

another murmur from Henry. “Besides, it’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?” Silence. Then Henry began to talk, too indistinctly for me to hear. “You don’t like it? You?” said Francis. “What about me?”

His voice dropped suddenly and then resumed, too quietly for me to hear.

I walked quietly back to the kitchen and put on water for tea. I was still thinking about what I’d heard when, several minutes later, there were footsteps and Francis emerged in the kitchen, edging his way around the ironing board to gather his gloves and scarf.

“Sorry to run,” he said. “I’ve got to unpack the car and start cleaning my apartment. That cousin of mine tore it all to pieces. I don’t believe he took out the garbage once the whole time he was there. Let me see your head wound.”

I pulled back the hair on my forehead and showed him the place.

I’d had the stitches out long ago and it was nearly gone.

He leaned forward to peer at it though his pince-nez. “Goodness, I must be blind, I can’t see a thing. When do classes start? Wednesday?”

“Thursday, I think.”

“See you then,” he said, and he was gone.

I put my shirt on a hanger and then went into the bedroom and started to pack my things. Monmouth House opened that afternoon; maybe Henry would drive me to school with my suitcases later on.

I was just about finished when Henry called me from the back of the apartment. “Richard?”


“Would you come here for a moment, please?”

I went back to his room. He was sitting on the side of the fold-out bed, his sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a game of solitaire spread out on the blanket at the foot. His hair had fallen to the wrong side and I could see the long scar at his hairline, all dented and puckered, with ridges of white flesh cutting across it to the browbone.

He looked up at me. “Will you do a favor for me?” he said. “Sure.”

He took a deep breath through the nostrils and pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. “Will you call Bunny and ask him if he’d like to come over for a few minutes?” he said.

I was so surprised that I didn’t say anything for half a second. Then I said: “Sure. Fine. I’ll be glad to.”

He closed his eyes and rubbed his temple with his fingertips. Then he blinked at me. “Thank you,” he said.

“No, really.”

“If you want to take some of your things back to school this afternoon, you’re more than welcome to borrow the car,” he said evenly.

I got his drift. “Sure,” I said, and it was only after I’d loaded my suitcases in the car and driven them to Monmouth and got Security to unlock my room that I called Bunny from the pay phone downstairs, a safe half hour later.

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