JOHN SAAVEDRA JR.
I lived in an old boardinghouse in the red light district; and every night I’d walk in and Miss Murray would offer me a fresh batch of cookies from the kitchen. I always said no. Never felt like talking really.
I went upstairs to my small apartment, undressed, and sat at the typewriter. It was hot as hell in there. My fan was broken and I had no money or motivation to buy a new one. Most nights I stared at the typewriter, the blank page in perfect position, waiting…there was no answer.
When it was quitting time, I smoked. I was on two packs a day and sometimes I felt like chewing the goddamn things.
I didn’t much like people so I rarely felt lonely, but when it got tough to be in that room I went downstairs to see Harold. He was always busy at night. I knocked anyways. I could hear men laughing in there, having a good time.
He cracked open the door so that I could barely see his face.
“Come back another time, man. I’m doing some very important things right now. Seriously, come back tomorrow,” he said.
“Come on, Harold. You guys are having a good time in there. I have a bottle of wine up in my—
“No. Come back tomorrow, Joshua.”
Harold shut the door.
I thought maybe Harold was into some really bad shit. Drug dealing, maybe. Black market. Illegal arms. Sometimes men in nice suits came down to the café and asked to speak to him in private. I mean they all looked way better dressed than him so Harold must have been a small-time pusher or dealer. He always got red in the face when they came by the café and he asked to be excused for a second. I thought maybe Harold was a hitman. Either way, I never asked.
I went downstairs to the kitchen and sat at the table. The phone was on the wall. No one was allowed to use it since the tenants had the option to buy their own lines. Some Asians had tried to call home once while Miss Murray was out to the bingo. They were trying to get news of the war back home or something. She threw them out when she found out. Miss Murray didn’t wanna pick up the phone bill for anyone. I didn’t care if I lived here or not though, so I thought about it. I could call Mona, but decided against it. Mona didn’t know where I was anyways.
I went back to my room and sat at the typewriter. I wrote a page, crumpled it up, and threw it on the floor. The hell with it. Maybe I could get a job.
One night, Miss Murray knocked on the door three times.
The first time, I was trying to write. I was a bit irritated.
“Yeah, Miss Murray?” I said.
“You’re a writer, right?” Miss Murray said.
“In so many words.”
“I have this old typewriter in the attic. I was wondering if you’d like to—
“I have one, Miss Murray, thank you.”
I closed the door and sat back down at the typewriter. I thought about it for a while. Maybe it was the goddamn typewriter. It’d been a gift from Johanna, but we were divorced now and she’d taken the kid. The damn machine was worth spit if you asked me.
Maybe I could call Miss Murray up—
The second knock.
“Yeah, Miss Murray?”
“What’s the name of that book you wrote, Mr. Stone?”
“The Lucky People,” I said.
“Oh, I think I’ve read that one.”
She left, satisfied once more, and I closed the door. I guess the equivalent of sexual gratification to an old woman was conversation. I thought about The Lucky People. Things had been all right then. I was married and Natalia was still a little girl. I wasn’t even on a pack a day and I still felt happy when I pissed. Maybe I could call Johanna and—
Then came the third knock.
“Mr. Stone, I was wondering if maybe you’d sign this for me. It could be worth something some day,” Miss Murray said, holding the book out to me. I took the book and examined the cover.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
“Miss Murray, I didn’t write—
“Is something wrong, Mr. Stone? I was hoping maybe you’d be kind enough to sign this is all,” she said, a big stupid smile on her face. It didn’t take much to know that all her teeth were fake. They were a little too big for her mouth.
“No, Miss Murray. Nothing’s wrong,” I said.
I walked over to my desk and grabbed a pen.
TO MISS MURRAY, WITH LOVE. I signed my name and handed it back to her. She kept on smiling.
“Thank you, Mr. Stone. I appreciate it,” she said.
“Not a problem.”
“By the way, you seem to know a lot about women. Most men don’t know anything.”
“Thanks, Miss Murray.”
She wished me a goodnight and left. I thought maybe I should call Betty Smith.