Would wear cotton stockings.

Would wear cotton stockings.

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.

All right!


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


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.

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