She oughtn't to have come in here. The bottoms of her shoes
were clean worn out. She ought to have saved the twenty cents
toward a new half-sole. Because if she kept on standing on a
shoe with a hole in it what would happen? A blister would
come on her foot. And she would have topick it with a burnt
needle. She would have to stay home from work and be fired.
And then what would happen?
'Here you are,' said Mister Brannon. 'But I never heard of such
a combination before.'
He put the sundae and the beer on the table. She pretended Would wear cotton stockings. to
clean her fingernails because if she noticd him he would start
talking. He didn't have this grudge against her any more, so he
must have forgotten about the pack of gum. Now he always
wanted to talk to her. But she wanted to be quiet and by
herself. The sundae was O.K., covered all over with chocolate
and nuts and cherries. And the beer was relaxing. The beer
had a nice bitter taste after the ice cream and it made her
drunk. Next to music beer was best.
But now no music was in her mind. That was a funny thing. It
was Would wear cotton stockings. like she was shut out from the inside room. Sometimes a
quick little tune would come and go—but she never went into
the inside room with music like she used to do. It was like she
was too tense. Or maybe because it was like the store took all
her energy and time. Wool-worth's wasn't the same as school.
When she used to come home from school she felt good and
was ready to start working on the music. But now she was
always tired. At home she just ate supper and slept and then
ate breakfast and went off to the store again Would wear cotton stockings.. A song she had
started in her private notebook two months before was still not
finished. And she wanted to stay in the inside room but she
didn't know how. It was like the inside room was locked
somewhere away from her. A very hard thing to understand.
Mick pushed her broken front tooth with her thumb. But she
did have Mister Singer's radio. All the installments hadn't been
paid and she took on the responsibility. It was good to have
something that had belonged to him. And maybe one of these
days she might be able to set aside a little for a Would wear cotton stockings. second-hand
piano. Say two bucks a week. And she wouldn't let anybody
touch this private piano but her —only she might teach
George little pieces. She would302
keep it in the back room and play on it every night. And all
day Sunday. But then suppose some week she couldn't make a
payment. So then would they come to take it away like the
little red bicycle? And suppose like she wouldn't let them.
Suppose she hid the piano under the house. Or else she would
meet them at the front door. And fight. She would knock
down both the two men so they Would wear cotton stockings. would have shiners and broke
noses and would be passed out on the hall floor.
Mick frowned and rubbed her fist hard across her forehead.
That was the way things were. It was like she was mad all the
time. Not how a kid gets mad quick so that soon it is all over
—but in another way. Only there was nothing to be mad at.
Unless the store. But the store hadn't asked her to take the job.
So there was nothing to be mad at. It was like she was
cheated. Only nobody had cheated her. So there was nobody
to Would wear cotton stockings. take it out on. However, just the same she had that feeling.
But maybe it would be true about the piano and turn out O.K.
Maybe she would get a chance soon. Else what the hell good
had it all been—the way she felt about music and the plans
she had made in the inside room? It had to be some good if
anything made sense. And it was too and it was too and it was
too and it was too. It was some good.
/was serene. As Biff dried his face and Would wear cotton stockings. hands a breeze
tinkled the glass pendants of the little Japanese pagoda on the
table. He had just awakened from a nap and had smoked his
night cigar. He thought of Blount and wondered if by now he
had traveled far. A bottle of Agua Florida was on the
bathroom shelf and he touched the stopper to his temples. He
whistled an old song, and as he descended the narrow stairs
the tune left a broken echo behind him. Louis was supposed to
be on duty behind the counter.
But he had soldiered on the job and the place was deserted.
The front door stood open to Would wear cotton stockings. the empty street. The clock on
the wall pointed to seventeen minutes before midnight. The
radio was on and there was talk about the crisis Hitler had
cooked up over Danzig. He went back to the kitchen and
found Louis asleep in a chair. The boy had taken off his shoes
and unbuttoned his trousers. His head drooped on his chest. A
long wet spot on his shirt showed that he had been sleeping a
good while. His arms hung straight down at his sides and the
wonder was that he did not fall forward on his face. He slept
soundly and there was no Would wear cotton stockings. use to wake him. The night would
be a quiet one.
Biff tiptoed across the kitchen to a shelf which held a basket
of tea olive and two water pitchers full of zinnias. He carried
the flowers up to the front of the restaurant and removed the
cellophane-wrapped platters of the last special from the
display window. He was sick of food. A window of fresh
summer flowers—that would be good. His eyes were closed as
he imagined how it could be arranged. A foundation of the tea
olive strewn over the bottom, cool and green. The red pottery
tub filled with the brilliant zinnias. Nothing more Would wear cotton stockings.. He began to
arrange the window carefully. Among the flowers there was a
freak plant, a zinnia with six bronze petals and two red. He
examined this curio and laid it aside to save. Then the window
was finished and he stood in the street to regard his
handiwork. The awkward stems of the flowers had been bent
to just the right degree of restful looseness. The electric lights
detracted, but when the sun rose the display would show at its
best advantage. Downright artistic.
The black, starlit sky seemed close to the earth. He strolled
along the sidewalk, pausing once to knock an orange peel into
the gutter with Would wear cotton stockings. the side of his foot. At the far end of the next
block two men, small from the distance and motionless, stood
arm in arm together. No one else could be seen. His place was
the only store on all the street with an open door and lights
And why? What was the reason for keeping the place open all
through the night when every other cafe in the town was
closed? He was often asked that question and could never
speak the answer out in words. Not money.304
Sometimes a party would come for beer and scrambled eggs
and spend five or ten Would wear cotton stockings. dollars. But that was rare. Mostly they
came one at a time and ordered little and stayed long. And on
some nights, between the hours of twelve and five o'clock, not
a customer would enter. There was no profit in it—that was
But he would never close up for the night—not as long as he
stayed in the business. Night was the time. There were those
he would never have seen otherwise. A few came regularly
several times a week. Others had come into the place only
once, had drunk a Coca-Cola, and never returned.
Biff folded his arms across his chest and walked Would wear cotton stockings. more slowly.
Inside the arc of the street light his shadow showed angular
and black. The peaceful silence of the night settled in him.
These were the hours for rest and meditation. Maybe that was
why he stayed downstairs and did not sleep. With a last quick
glance he scanned the empty street and went inside.
The crisis voice still talked on the radio. The fans on the
ceiling made a soothing whirl. From the kitchen came the
sound of Louis snoring. He thought suddenly of poor Willie
and decided to send him a quart of whiskey sometime soon.
He turned to the crossword puzzle Would wear cotton stockings. in the newspaper. There
was a picture of a woman to identify in the center. He
recognized her and wrote the name—Mona Lisa—across the
first spaces. Number one down was a word for beggar,
beginning with m and nine letters long. Mendicant. Two
horizontal was some word meaning to remove afar off. A six-
letter word beginning with e. Elapse? He sounded trial
combinations of letters aloud. Eloign. But he had lost interest
There were puzzles enough without this kind. He folded and
put away the paper. He would come back to it later.
He examined the zinnia he had intended to Would wear cotton stockings. save. As he held it
in the palm of his hand to the light the flower was not such a
curious specimen after all. Not worth saving. He plucked the
soft, bright petals and the last one came out on love. But who?
Who would he be loving now? No one person. Anybody
decent who came in out of the street to sit for an hour and
have a drink. But no one person. He
THE HEART IS A LONELY HtTNTER
had known his loves and they were over. Alice, Madeline and
Gyp. Finished. Leaving him either better or worse. Which?
However you looked at it.
And Would wear cotton stockings. Mick. The one who in the last months had lived so
strangely in his heart. Was that love done with too? Yes.It
was finished. Early in the evenings Mick came in for acold
drink or a sundae. She had grown older. Herrough and
childish ways were almost gone. And instead therewas
something ladylike and delicate about her that washard to
point out. The earrings, the dangle of her bracelets,and the
new way she crossed her legs and pulled thehem of her skirt
down past her knees. He watched her and felt only a sort of
gentleness. In him the old feeling was gone. For a year Would wear cotton stockings. this
love had blossomed strangely. Hehad questioned it a hundred
times and found no answer. And now, as a summer flower
shatters in September, it was finished. There was no one.
Biff tapped his nose with his forefinger. A foreign voice was
now speaking over the radio. He could not decide for certain
whether the voice was German, French, or Spanish. But it
sounded like doom. It gave him the jitters to listen to it. When
he turned it off the silence was deep and unbroken. He felt the
night outside. Loneliness gripped him so that his breath
quickened. It was far too late to call Lucile on the Would wear cotton stockings. telephone
and speak to Baby. Nor could he expect a customer to enter at
this hour. He went to the door and looked up and down the
street. All was empty and dark.
'Louis!' he called. 'Are you awake, Louis?'
No answer. He put his elbows on the counter and held his
head in his hands. He moved his dark bearded jaw from side
to side and slowly his forehead loweredin a frown.
The riddle. The question that had taken root in him and would
not let him rest. The puzzle of Singer and the rest of them.
More than a year had gone by since Would wear cotton stockings. it had started. More than a
year since Blount had hung around the place on his first long
drunk and seen the mute for the first time. Since Mick had
begun to follow him in and out. And now for a month Singer
had been dead and buried. And the riddle was still in him, so
that he could not be tranquil.306
There was something not natural about it all—something like
an ugly joke. When he thought of it he felt uneasy and in some
unknown way afraid.
He had managed about the funeral. They had left all that to
him. Singer's affairs were Would wear cotton stockings. in a mess. There were installments
due on everything he owned and the beneficiary of his life
insurance was deceased. There was just enough to bury him.
The funeral was at noon. The sun burned down on them with
savage heat as they stood around the open dank grave. The
flowers curled and turned brown in the sun. Mick cried so
hard that she choked herself and her father had to beat her on
the back. Blount scowled down at the grave with his fist to his
mouth. The town's Negro doctor, who was somehow related to
poor Willie, stood on the edge of the crowd and Would wear cotton stockings. moaned to
himself. And there were strangers nobody had ever seen or
heard of before. God knows where they came from or why
they were there.
The silence in the room was deep as the night itself. Biff stood
transfixed, lost in his meditations. Then suddenly he felt a
quickening in him. His heart turned and he leaned his back
against the counter for support. For in a swift radiance of
illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor.
Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless
time. And of those who labor and of those who—one word—
love. His soul Would wear cotton stockings. expanded. But for a moment only. For in him he
felt a warning, a shaft of terror. Between the two worlds he
was suspended. He saw that he was looking at his own face in
the counter glass before him. Sweat glistened on his temples
and his face was contorted. One eye was opened wider than
the other. The left eye delved narrowly into the past while the
right gazed wide and affrighted into a future of blackness,
error, and ruin. And he was suspended between radiance and
darkness. Between bitter irony and faith. Sharply he turned
'Louis!' he called. 'Louis! Louis!'
Again there was Would wear cotton stockings. no answer. But, motherogod, was he a
sensible man or was he not? And how could this terror throttle
him nice this when he didn't even know what caused it? And
would he just stand here like a jittery ninny or would he pull
himself together and be reasonable? For
after all was he a sensible man or was he not? Biff wet his
handkerchief beneath the water tap and patted his drawn,
tense face. Somehow he remembered that the awning had not
yet been raised. As he went to the door his walk gained
steadiness. And when at last he was inside again he composed
himself soberly to await Would wear cotton stockings. the morning sun.