Joe gave the cabby, Boris, a fifty.
Keep the change, he motioned with his hand, then got out and stared at the space he’d occupied. Damn, he admitted to himself as the yellow taxi sped off to pick up another fare, there goes another story and its inherited victims. He knew the ride all to well.
Another damn. It’s everywhere, shaking his head and reaffirming once more his decision to stop; if only in stopping, a slow dissipation into nothing heartfelt, only minimal musings. It’s the reason he no longer rides the subway or even strolls the streets, once his cornucopia now a rotting scope of despair. He saw it all too well and he didn't want to share the feelings of its tortured souls anymore.
He looked up, the Walker Building, 14th floor.
Entering, he wondered, how would Harry react? Actually he knew all too well how; but, how to convince, how to set himself free, how to...?
"Hello Mr. Jensen, Mr. Allison in expecting you."
"Thanks Rita," Joe responded, hoping inside that Rita’s world was safe and pleasant. She was always so friendly, caring, like the time Joe’s first novel bombed with the critics. She’d looked at Joe, eyes opened to her soul and told him how she’d loved the book, and so did her friends, and how the critics were wrong. She’d even sent Joe a champagne and fruit basket. "Hope your weekend was great," he added as he strolled on.
She thanked Joe with a smile that wasn’t sure if it was a good weekend, and was about to decide when Harry Allison emerged from his office, arms outstretched.
"Joe, my most greatest of all writers," his usual greeting, and a footnote added, "Number one on the charts, Joe. Everybody loves 'Subways Are For Dying'. It’s a winner." Harry’s arms wrapped his client and led him into the office. Joe turned his head, a little smile for Rita, as he followed in. She tilted her head.
Harry wasted no time; he positioned himself in front of his mahogany desk, while Joe sat in the usual chair. "So, Joe, I’ve scheduled a book tour, we’ll hit the usual: Leno, Letterman, Charlie Rose and the rest. Yeah, it’s too bad Snyder went off the air; you always did well on his show. But anyway, Paramount’s already bid on the story. Whaddya say, it’s a go?"
Joe didn’t know how to do it, make Harry, his agent, believe that it was all over.
Sure Harry’s heard it all before, it was the modus operandi after each book. Joe would tell Harry that he was through, that he’d had enough of it. Then a few months later it would come back... the need to write, except this time it was different. What’d happened on the corner of 11th and Third was the last straw, he couldn’t take it anymore --- to feel the family’s pain, forever and ever, ...to live with it.
Harry," he said, imploring. "This is it, the last one, I’m not going on any tour."
Harry took notice, Joe had never refused a tour, if fact it'd always been a cathartic experience, talking about the pain, letting it out. Oprah cried after the 'Platform' appearance, so Harry paid attention as Joe explained. "Yesterday, I was going to a dinner party at Yaremko's and I saw a man lying on a street corner, bleeding from a beating, his six year old son was shot in the head, dead, and everybody walked around them both. I mean, they all knew that the boy was dead, and they didn’t want to care, to take the chance of remembering it. Sure someone called an ambulance but I mean they just...” a slight wave of frustration with his hands. “I, I just wish that I could be like that, not caring, not feeling my heart cry, not..., anything.”
"But who else could make people feel that, Joe," Harry tried to make it all fair. "Do you remember what Crane wrote about your second book, 'Bus Ride'? He said, ‘...a truly gifted writer whose novel shows us how to search for our souls, how to make our heart come alive.’ I mean, if you don’t show those people how to make their hearts care, who will?"
"No, Harry, I can’t anymore. I know all those other times I was able to snap out of it but not this time. Not after what I saw at the corner the other day. I,...” Joe’s throat weakened, “...Harry, I cried all night. Just thinking. I mean, if you could have seen that child’s face, that... And the Father, crying because he knew, he knew that he’d failed to...” Joe needed a deeper breath before continuing.
Harry fidgeted with his silver cufflinks as he felt his own emotions approaching Joe’s.
"Do you know what it’s like to sit in front of that typewriter and have to recount all those lives, every face shows scars that trace the past sadness in those painful lives. And I don’t mean just write about them. No, Harry, to write about the deepest chambers of one’s heart, I have to get beyond what's obvious, I have to search out every painful experience that made them what they are, every tear, and, and it chokes my very existence, Victims, Harry, they’re all just victims. We all are. Even now Harry, just thinking, no, I’ve had enough of civilization, I’m pulling a Salinger. I don’t know what his reason was but mine is....., the tears, Harry. I can’t live with the tears in their lives"
"So," Harry’s last stab, "just write about funny things. Like, uh, you know, funny stuff."
"Tears of a clown Harry, they all have it, even Rita. I mean, it tears me up that she’s 48 years old, no husband or boyfriend. God didn’t bless her with physical beauty but she has an inner one and she’s still hoping to find Mr. Right, hoping that the next one, maybe... You can see the pain behind her smile, her heart. I know she cries at night, alone. I mean, I wish I could make her world a..., a... She wants to have a family, children, so bad...”
"Yeah," Harry admitted. “I guess I know what you mean. Just last month she..., well never mind.”
“I can’t do it, Harry. I just can’t anymore. So I’m through. This was my last novel."
Harry knew it too he saw the difference. But what could he say except, "Listen, I’ll call you in a few months, maybe you’ll get over this."
Joe stood up to leave, a parting handshake and Harry’s arm on Joe’s shoulder as they walked out.
Rita was busy with a V.P. from marketing. Joe waved goodbye. She smiled with a sweet nod of her head. Joe smiled back.
Outside, Joe decided against taking a cab. The Fall air was enticing him for one last stroll through the city. Free, he thought to himself. Finally no more searching for plots or characters. He knew it would take practice but his new home in Maine was a good place to start. Joe took his first step to cross the street, just as a limo crossed his path.
The thump was muted but the head fell against the curb. The driver got out, he knew immediately. Joe was dead, a pool of blood oozing its way towards the sewer drain. Some people stopped momentarily, but saw that the man was dead, so they moved on. A mother shielded her child’s eyes from the sight.
From the 14th floor Harry and Rita looked down at the commotion on the street.
"Poor guy," Rita said, as someone placed a cover over the man’s head. "I hope he didn’t have a family."
"Yeah well, just another poor victim in this stupid world," Harry commented, and then returned to his office to wait for his eleven o’clock.
Rita stayed at the window, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
Read the other chapters
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