April 2, 2009
He shut his eyes and his head began wheeling, but he kept them shut all the same. The whole third-floor hall began to creak and reel, came right at him, careening crazily, doors ajar, transom jutting, door-numbers wavering big as the doors. This is how things have always been really, and he felt a pang of sick delight. Then keeping so grim a hold on the bed’s iron edge that his knuckles went white, he watched the floor rock like the Barrel of Fun with some fool trapped inside trying to keep his footing. Halfway up one wall, then half up the other—suddenly the fellow came up, grinning lopsidedly right in his face.
It’s best when it rocks, he decided, that’s how things really are down the hall. He had been suspecting as much for some time now. Of that hall where music, classical or jazz, was piped in for two bits per hour.
Where tips were traded in the light and laughter in the dark. Up a green stairwell or down a green stair, muted music or half-heard laughter, glass upon glass in a promise of light. Carpet and transom, keyhole and key. Vows on daybreak’s earliest stroke like an afterthought . . .
Morning-time or morning-line, slow track or fast, early to the post or late: all things, classical or jazz, led past the all-night desk. Where, row over row on a timeless wall, other bookies’ keys awaited other bookies with tips far hotter than his own, leading all men at length through the keyless door and out to the long, low-storied street. Where, sidewalks dry or sidewalks wet, great trackless buses swung or waited. Where bettors passed or bettors re-passed, and nothing was as it seemed to be. Past bars whose mirrors reflected forever the wan faces of all the girls who said, “Just call me Baby.” Past paddock, past clubhouse, past brothel, past last summer’s rain and the summer’s before. Past long-ago times of just yesterday, long-ago times of the day before.
Nothing but the night-lamp that now burned ash-white. That had burned orange-yellow all night without wavering. Yet now had no color at all as though something had happened to him in the night that could not now be undone by any light, orange-yellow or ash-white.
P.S. I’ll write occasionally but please don’t reply.
He re-read that to see if he’d read it right. Then passed his hands under the strewn Form till he discovered the cork, set the fifth upright and stoppered it tight—can’t stand to attention without your damned hat, private—and sank wearily back on the bed’s metal edge, fumbling for a cigarette.