Davidoz Ochinsky immigrated to the United States eighty-three years ago at the age of nineteen. Father and mother unknown. He had received a good education from an orphanage in Carminia, where the sister who got the mail had discovered him asleep in the mailbox. When her surprise woke him up, he wailed as healthily as any hungry baby born less than twenty-four hours ago. Sister Sabrina's discovery raised her in the esteem of her fellow nuns, but her devotion to the child worried Mother Christina. Didn't her motherly affection tend to distract her from her vows? Neither Christina nor any of the other sisters dared to say anything to her, however, because Davidoz had dark skin. Either one of his parents was black, they supposed, or both were mulattos, which seemed unlikely to them. What would happen, they wondered, when he grew up, left the orphanage, sought a job and tried to live in a society convinced that blacks belonged to another continent? Yet Davidoz lulled these fears for a while by his appearance, his character, his intelligence and his aptitude. Handsome, charming, athletic, perceptive, diligent and generous, he enjoyed the esteem of the sisters, his fellow orphans and the day students who attended the convent school. Even those most sensitive to symptoms of vanity found practically none in him. For lack of a worse sin to confess, the sisters admitted yielding, once or twice during the week, to the temptation of wishing: "If only he weren't black!"
Even more aware than the others that his skin was darker than theirs, he seldom regretted it as long as he lived in the orphanage and attended the convent school. His friends -- and who wasn't his friend? -- associated his color with his virtues as if it were one of them and, in fact, it had a hue that would have delighted Gaugin. Unaware of him, the owner of a chocolate factory contributed a bunny for every orphan one Easter when his production exceeded demand. A little girl who had recently learned how to speak puzzled over the first chocolate bunnies she had ever seen, then squealed with laughter. Since everyone wanted to know what was so funny, she said: "a little Dozzy to eat!" After a few seconds of silence due to the other children's surprize and the sisters' embarrassment, Davidoz laughed in turn:
"As long as no one eats Big Dozzy!"Big Dozzy or just Dozzy they called him from then on. The slings and arrows of life in an orphanage never hurt his popularity, which also never went to his head.
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During those years, the only other incident with a significant bearing on the present narrative involved a day student. The need for additional income and the advantage of exposing the orphans to children from the outside resulted in the admission of a number that amounted to a third of their enrollment. Since the sisters found it easier to admit than expell, they screened applicants as carefully as their finances allowed, but they made one serious mistake. Perhaps the Gustinovs' piety and their contributions to the church distracted the admission committee from unanswered questions about young Rogo changing schools twice during the past three years. While he received no more attention than friendly curiosity about a new student, he encountered much admiration for a black boy, whom everyone expected him to admire too. Dozzy's ability to run, dodge, dribble and pass, which amazed the other boys, only disfigured Rogo's face with disgust. He muttered over "the monkey," whom he suspected of promiscuity as he had learned from other rascals in his previous school. The reprobation by look and word of his new schoolmates only antagonized him to foolhardy excess. Finding Dozzy surrounded by boys and girls, he slipped up behind him and goosed him so hard that the pain drove him to his knees. Imagine Rogo's surprise when, instead of conniving laughter, he faced angry boys and girls who wanted to punish him! They would have if Mother Christina hadn't intervened and marched him off to her office. She would have expelled him if the humiliation hadn't reduced him to a pathos that emasculated, so to speak, his pretentions. He cut so pitiful a figure from then on that Dozzy made several attempts to befriend him, all of them in vain.
A few years before this incident, Dozzy had learned where babies came from. He had also guessed how a black baby could be born in a white society and why a white mother would abandon him in the mailbox of an orphanage. Although he yearned for a family of his own, he realized that he had better not beget any children for the foreseable future. Yet girls his age and older, and not just orphans, were competing for his attention, so he divided it, making sure the least attractive ones had their share. He even discouraged a few who tried to flirt with him, which, contrary to vulgar wisdom, embarrassed him. Still, he had a happy youth until the age when the sisters expected the orphans who didn't want to take vows to leave and fend for themselves. Aware that integration in society would not come easily, he nonetheless encountered more discouragement than he or the sisters had expected. Despite their recommendations and his determination to justify them, employers turned him down politely or scornfully. When he did
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get a job, it was always one nobody else wanted, such as scouring pots and pans or cleaning public toilets. Even so, he only replaced another employee who usually returned in a few days and he scarcely earned enough to live on. While unemployed, he found odd jobs that enabled him to cope with hunger and pay the rent on his room. He took hardship as a challenge, thus encouraging Sabrina's sympathy and Christina's desire to help. He dreaded nothing like accepting charity or taking refuge in a shelter for the poor.
Facing a choice between destitution and humiliation, he received a message from Christina, who wanted to see him as soon as possible. He would never forget her and Sabrina in her office with the tall window, the dark red curtains, the white walls and, behind the desk, the black crucifix simulating crossed branches cut from a small tree. Women were less familiar to him than nuns with their pale faces framed in white starch and their gray habits enveloping a vague anatomy bulging high in front and low in back. The flesh of the face re-emerged only in the hands, while the relief of the body hid behind the habit, except when a knee pushed against it or the toe of a black shoe advanced beyond the hem. Sabrina's slight figure was beginning to stoop, but Christina sat bolt upright. Focused by rimless glasses, Christina's surgical blue gaze contrasted with the brown velvet of Sabrina's eyes. Christina's voice rang with authority while Sabrina's lilted with kindness, yet each had its overtone of affection. Dozzy wondered whether children who had grown up with their own mother and father had more devoted parents than he did.
told him that he could have permanent employment if he were willing to
immigrate to America. The bishop of Mapleton had written that a mover,
who had a good reputation in his diocese, needed a young man capable of
learning to do work up to his standards. The job not only required strength,
but also dexterity since customers expected their furniture to arrive in
the same condition it had left. Unlike others in his trade, the mover sought
employees with practical intelligence and paid them according to the quality
of their work as well as their willingness to satisfy his customers. The
extra cost of wages amounted to less than the savings from higher efficiency
and the profit from the additional business attracted by his employees'
diligence. Christina reassured Dozzy, as tactfully as she could, that the
bishop had discussed his race with the mover. Three of his five employees
and one fifth of his customers were black. Mr. Fossez encouraged his team
to work together and take pride in results they couldn't have achieved
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Dozzy hesistated because he would have to leave Sabrina, Christina and his other friends. Yet the two sisters urged him to seize an opportunity that he might otherwise regret. Christina did warn him, however, that his employment would probably not prove as happy as the mover's testimony suggested. His viewpoint would inevitably differ from Dozzy's. Sabrina expressed her confidence in his ability to succeed in his new job and live a happy life in his new country. Both would remember him in their prayers.
Hearing and reading about America, Dozzy noticed that citizens of Carminia seldom had a neutral opinion and either approved or disapproved. Those who considered themselves or their country unfairly treated blamed it on American influence and painted an ugly picture of American society. Relative satisfaction with the life they lived apparently moved others to contradict them on both points. Yet pro and con did agree on America as the standard to which things should be compared. Dozzy, who had never seen anyone with skin his color, took an interest in the relations between blacks and whites in that never-never land. Disgruntled Carminians stressed discrimination, poverty and violence; satisfied Carminians, progress in integration, opportunity and reconciliation. Raising his eyes from his book, Dozzy dreamt of finding himself in a crowd of blacks and whites.
There was a group of youthful blacks and whites on the plane across the Atlantic, who were returning from a tour organized by their school. Dozzy was excited when he saw them and exhilerated when they befriended him. After the initial interest they took in him, however, the whites withdrew in one group and the blacks, in another. Though friendly with each other, each group kept their own company. Flying for the first time, he worried about falling, especially when the airliner shook. Yet his American contemporaries, who didn't even seem to notice, reassured him by their talk and laughter. The inflight movie interested him, not because he thought this "comedy" was funny, but rather because the Americans around him were laughing at certain remarks and acts that conformed with their tradition of humor. The actors triggered this laughter by raising their voices, or making faces or gestures as if reminding them that what they had just said or done was funny. Dozzy had seen a few Hollywood comedies and the audience had laughed at the same kinds of things, but less spontaneously. He now realized that they had done so because they recognized remarks and acts that they knew Americans thought funny. They were laughing both with and at Americans. In the present movie, a white housewife was having lunch in
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the kitchen with her black cook. While complaining of discrimination against blacks, the cook was telling the housewife to get the ketchup or turn the kettle off, orders she cheerfully obeyed. The Americans in the plane laughed loudest at certain terms used by the cook, which Dozzy's neighbor later identified as clichés accredited by journalists and politicians. The irony in the cook's voice showed that her objection to stereotyping by her employer expressed a complaint justified by right rather than fact. The neighbor, who explained this humor to him, had reached an age hard to guess and therefore irrelevant. Her figure sagged and her charm had retreated to what she said and how, although her voice remained sweet and her smile, genuine. Thus Dozzy made a friend whom he lost upon arrival in Mammoth, when aliens and citizens had to stand in different lines.
Although everyone understood him when he spoke, he had trouble understanding the officials and employees he had to deal with. Fortunately, most of them were courteous and patient. Hesitating at every turn, he found his way through immigration, baggage retrieval and customs. After rechecking his suitcase, he took the shuttle to another terminal, found the departure lounge and, finally, boarded the flight to Mapleton. How much easier it had been to change trains! Feeling his fatigue, he kept thinking: "Here I am in America!" It just didn't seem possible. Most of the other passengers were businessmen in tie and shirt-sleeves reading newspapers or doing paperwork. As the plane descended, the rectangular pattern of Mapleton enlarged beneath him. The idea that he would work and live there, perhaps for the rest of his life, generated excitement, hope and fear. As soon as he entered the arrival lounge, he saw a tall, gaunt man among the people waiting to greet passengers from his plane. The man displayed a sign: "David Ochinsky." He had prominent cheekbones, sunken cheeks, an angled nose, a craggy brow and hazel eyes that blazed from deep sockets. These eyes focused on Dozzy as if aiming at a target. When the young man turned towards him, the corners of his thin lips turned ever so slightly upwards. He grabbed his hand crushing his fingers, so that Dozzy struggled to hide the pain. "Reginald Fossez!" he boomed turning two or three heads.
The cars, which seemed enormous, resembled rockets or spaceships. Dozzy's suitcase looked ridiculous in the trunk.
"My wife's car," said Mr. Fossez leaving the parking lot. "I drive a pickup myself."What was a pickup? A mobile crane? Why would he use one of those for transportation?
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Turning down the approach road: "I'm taking you to Smyrna Jones'. She's got a room for you." Gesture with his right hand. "Breakfast and supper. Lunch to take with you to work."How much would it cost? When would he have to pay?
Changing from the right to the left lane: "You will like Smyrna. We moved her a few years ago. Good food, nice rooms, clean and tidy... She doesn't ask too much."Did he mean she was discreet? What did he have to hide?
Waiting to turn left: "After a while, you will want a place of your own."A place? Dozzy thought of a downtown square in front of an important building.
Stopping at a light: "Everybody calls me Fuss." He looked at Dozzy smiling expectantly."... Yes Sir: Fuss."
"Everybody will give you a nickname too. Would you rather be Dave or Doz?"A nickname? "... The sisters and the orphans called me Dozzy."
"Sounds like a kid! Howbout Doz?"Howbout? "Yes Sir: Doz."
The light turned green so Fuss accelerated. Mother Christina had sollicited donations to pay for Doz's clothes, travel and expenses incurred before his first paycheck. He felt obligated to pay all of that back. How long would it take?
Turning onto an expressway ramp: "Singleton Freeway. Just finished. Half as much time to the airport." Glancing at Doz: "I will pay you the minimum wage until you learn how to do the work: $56 a week. Take you a month, six weeks. Then I will raise you $25."Judging by the prices in the airport at Mammoth, it didn't seem like enough.
Passing slower traffic: "I'm going to leave you at Smyrna's until six. I will come and pick you up then. Maud and I are expecting you for dinner."Astonished: "Thank you, Sir."
Smiling: "My name is Fuss"
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third before they responded to the first. Her face had survived the wrinkles that beset it because it had always been pleasant and never beautiful. Her body consisted of a voluminous abdomen, thick arms bent at the elbows and stocky legs perched on high heels. She wore a cotton dress decently open to ventilation in warm spring weather. Lavendar, her favorite color, set her eyes off nicely. Although her impatience bewildered Doz at first, he began to understand that she wanted to ensure his convenience and comfort. Having unpacked and taken a shower, he lay down to rest and, suddenly, a few knocks on his door woke him up. "Five-thirty, Doz," he heard Smyrna say on the other side of the door. How did she know he had fallen asleep?
"Thank you, Mrs. Jones. I will be ready.""Miss Jones!" He heard her walking away. How groggy he felt!
Maud Fossez had had her children and survived. Doz didn't realize that she expected him to laugh. Indeed, he thought, she had survived homesomely, since she had a figure that he might have compared with Mother Christina's if he had been able to see it. She resembled a Chardin housewife. Her older son Jim, she said proudly, was a student at ZTech.
"Mom!" protested her youngest son, "how can you expect him to know what that is?""State engineering school," explained Fuss.
"That," she added, pointing at the boy, "is the only mistake we made."
"Come on, Mom!" he complained.Fuss laughed. "We named him Freddy because he's afraid of everything."
"I am not!"Maud and Fuss glanced at each other nervously. "Siss is our in-between," explained Maud. "She's visiting her grandmother."Realizing that he was supposed to smile, Doz smiled. So that was what a family was like!"You forgot Sissy," Freddy reminded his mother. "They named her Sissy because girls are sissies," he confided in Doz, who wondered what sissies were.
"How come they call you Doz?" Freddy asked.Freddy laughed loudly, Maud, sincerely, and Fuss, politely. Yet the story put everyone at ease for the rest of the evening. Maud served steak, mashed potatoes, green peas and apple pie for dessert, all of which seemed exoticHe told them the story of the little girl who compared him to a chocolate Easter bunny.
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to Doz. He was enjoying their company so much that he regretted not seeing them again. Hardly could he expect his employer to treat him as if he were a member of the family.
On instructions from Fuss, he obtained a social security card and ordered safety shoes before reporting for work at a house which the boss and his crew were moving furniture out of. Although he spoke English more correctly than any of them, he found them hard to understand and especially the blacks. Never had he heard the intonation, pronunciation, slang and trade terms. Since they had met few foreigners, they couldn't understand why he couldn't understand. Jet lag made him look sleepy, which some of them mistook for a symptom of stupidity. These handicaps compounded the usual disorientation of an apprentice trying to cooperate with experienced workers little aware of his pedagogical needs. Alarmed by their contempt for him, he kept trying to lift loads too heavy for him and do tasks beyond his skill instead of admitting his incompetence. His hands blistered and then began to bleed, but his fellow workers either failed to notice or ignored them, until a few drops stained the upholstry of a sofa. Anger and sympathy wrestled for control of Plug's face: "Hey, man! Why didn't you tell me?" Bandaged hands made him even clumsier and limited the tasks he could do so drastically that he felt humiliated. The very efforts the others made to repress their contempt for him increased his humiliation.
Aware of his predicament, Fuss sent him to help Nelly, a pretty black with a jagged scar from the corner of her mouth to her ear. He found her lifting a large painting of Manhattan off of its hooks and lowering it gently to the floor, where she leaned it against the wall. Seeing the look in his face, she laughed as sweetly as any woman he had ever heard: "Ain'tcha ever seen nobody take a picture down?"
"I saw two big men take a smaller one down.""Men ain't no good no how!" She spread a padded blanket over the painting, pinching the top against the wall as she moved from one end to the other and kicking unwanted folds in the blanket loose with the tip of her toe. How did she manage to keep the blanket from slipping loose and falling when she pulled the painting away from the wall just long enough to spread it further?
"There must be something I can do.""Sure! Take that roll a tape [glancing at it] and tape that corner [glancing at it] so it don't come loose. That'll save me a heap a time."
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So he taped the corner, but, when he tried to rip the tape loose from the roll, he fumbled with it.She laughed all the merrier: "You'se all thumbs! Heah! Give it to me and you hold this picture." The tape screamed as she ripped it loose with a snap of her wrist. Grinning, she patted him on the shoulder: "Don't worry! You will learn!" She let him tape the other corners, tearing the tape off for him. He couldn't have done it without yanking his bandages loose. Once the painting was securely enveloped in the blanket, she stooped and picked it up easily.
What would the other men think? "Let me help you!""Sure!" She shifted the weight of one end towards him and, leaning his shoulder against it, he brought his palms up under the frame. Although it weighed enough to hurt his hands, he noticed that, as they carried it, she was holding it far enough back to lighten the load for him. On the front end, she had to walk backwards looking over her shoulder. With tosses of her head and a word here and there, she taught him to guide the bundle around obstacles as if he were holding the rudder of a boat. While they were handing it up to the loader at the back of the truck, she explained how he and Mack had to cooperate to avoid twisting the frame.
She found a pair of shears for him to cut tape with and, while letting him wrap smaller pictures, she wrapped lamps. Although she supervised him constantly, she was getting twice as much work done as he was.
"Why do you know how to teach? The others do not.""Cause I got kids." She looked at him as if were one too. "A little girl and a little boy. The girl is good and the boy is baad." She giggled: "Just like his daddy. But I love my little boy anyway."
Doz tried to conceal his anxiety.Seeing it in his face, she said: "You gonna ask me bout my scar... My man give it to me. He was out a work. Came home on drugs, told me I was running around. I never done that!" She gave Doz a look that almost made him shudder. "You should a seen what I done to him... Maybe it's better you don't see that." Doz had noticed that the men treated her with cautious respect.
"Fuss told me about his men. He did not say anything about a woman.""That's cause he treat me like a man. I wouldn't work for him if he didn't."
Here was the opposite extreme of feminine virtue from Sister Sabrina. During lunch break, Nelly and Doz sat on a rolled-up rug while she asked him about his background, which didn't interest the others.
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Taking chairs out that afternoon and coming back for more, he saw Plug and Jason with an upright piano at the top of the stairs. Since no one else was in sight, Jason, who had a whiny voice, told him to come up and help him with the lower end. Doz hesistated, but, seeing Jason's impatience, he joined them. Despite the pain, the load didn't seem too heavy when they lifted the piano. With every step down the stairs, however, the weight seemed to increase and, along with it, the fear that he would lose his grip. Relieved when they reached the floor downstairs, he was backing up with Jason towards the front door as Plug descended the last steps. Looking over his shoulder, Jason told him: "Hold it," and reached behind them. The screen door, which they had unhooked from its spring and pushed out of the way, had swung back. Doz's hands gave way under the increased weight, thus shifting it back to Jason's hand which also gave way. The piano fell on the toe of Doz's foot causing the worst pain he had ever felt. He heard himself shout even before he realized what had happened. Plug wondered why he didn't have safety shoes, Jason said that the piano was OK and Nelly scolded him for making Doz do a job he wouldn't have been ready for even if he had had any skin on his hands. Fuss came running with a first-aid kit, unlaced his shoe and, after trying to take it off, gave up when he saw how badly he was hurting Doz.
"Put him in my cah, "Nelly told Jason and Plug. "I will take him to the hospital."Nelly's appearance and manner scared everyone into seeing that he got prompt attention. They had to cut his shoe open to get his foot out and the x-ray showed a major fracture in his big toe and a minor one in the next one. He left on crutches with his foot in a cast and his hands rebandaged. As Nelly drove him to the Orchid, he asked: "How much will this cost?"
"Don't worry. You are covered.""Covered?"
"Yeah, covered." Glancing at him: "You got accident insurance. Fuss takes care of us."
"I can learn.""OK, learn!"
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So he hobbled around the house, asking questions, getting in the way and making a nuisance of himself. Everyone reacted with the combination of sympathy and annoyance he had encountered the day before, except that sympathy predominated with Nelly and annoyance, with Jason. Increasingly, he felt that he was alienating them without learning very much. Towards three-thirty, he retreated to the side of the front lawn opposite the driveway where Mack had parked the van and watched the crew carry the furniture into the house. Seeing his discouragement, Fuss left Mack in charge, drove him to a drugstore, ordered a coke and a cup of coffee, sat down with him for over an hour. He had intended to explain things to him, but Doz surprised him by the number and pertinence of the questions he asked. Why did this Interstate Commerce Commission, for instance, require movers to charge the same rates whether the move crossed plains or mountains? Didn't climbing mountains use more fuel and subject the engine to more wear? Fuss explained that different rates for different routes would complicate regulation so much that they would be difficult to set and enforce. Though impressed by his curiosity, he paid no unusual compliments, for he had found that he could evaluate employees only after they had worked for him a few weeks. Towards the end of their conversation, however, it occurred to him to question Doz about the mathematics and economics he had learned in school. To his surprise, he found him more competent in these disciplines than his son Jim had been after graduation from high school. "Look!" he told him: "You don't have any hands, you only have one foot, but you have a mouth and a mind. I want you to come to the office tommorrow. Maud will keep you busy and teach you a thing or two."
Having heard that Maud ran the office, Doz assumed that Fuss just wanted to get rid of him. Since she had been kind to him, he was afraid she would treat him like a child. Despite his mistakes, his accidents and the friction with the other workers, disassembling, moving and reassembling an interior in which a family lived fascinated him. He didn't want to work in an office, he wanted to work in a house. Walking appealed to him more than sitting, movement, more than confinement, teamwork, more than paperwork. At a desk in an office all day long! Well, Maud didn't treat him like a child, but rather like an apprentice. Patient and stern, she put him right to work and kept him busy. While his bandages and sore hands complicated writing with a pencil and turning pages, he quickly learned to overcome these handicaps. Maud gave him mail to open and sort, orders to record and file, accounts to check and bring up to date, even a few insurance matters that
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required searching and reading. Sitting opposite him, she kept raising her eyes over her glasses, jumping up and running around behind him. His slightest hesitations brought her running and, as soon as she had understood the problem, she explained the solution. She had kids too! She corrected his mistakes almost as soon as he made them and the number he made seemed greater to him than to her. The work didn't bore him, but it did tire him because he hadn't done any mental labor for over a year and she drove him hard. The hands of the clock on the wall crept around the dial until lunch time, then they accelerated. Maud served tea because she considered coffee a bad habit. They discussed the work and she found that Fuss was right about the questions Doz asked. The ease with which he understood the role of insurance in the moving business impressed her. Jim had had trouble with insurance. When they went back to work, the hands of the clock slowed down again. The fatigue excited his mind instead of weighing on his body as it had the day before. He struggled to keep his eyes down from the clock. When the hands reached four thirty, however, Fuss entered the office, leaned over him and inspected his work: "He's learning how crazy the government is!" Maud laughed, but Doz didn't understood the joke until it was too late to laugh. Sitting down behind him in a swivel chair on wheels, Fuss swung back and forth rolling in clockwise and counterclockwise circles. Upon his arrival, Maud started making tea again. "When's she going to learn how to make coffee?" Fuss objected. She gave him a dirty look. Each of them reported the work he had accomplished that day as if Doz weren't there, but then Fuss turned to him: "Howbout you?" Every job reported by Doz brought questions by Fuss until well after five. "Tommorrow," Fuss finally told him, "Nelly will pick you up at the Orchid, take you to a customer's house and teach you how to pack." Then he gave him a ride home.
"You's still all thumbs," said Nelly laughing at him the next morning and giving him a shove. She was wrapping three items in the time it took him to wrap one and hers looked so much neater. China and glassware covered the big dining-room table, over which they had spread a blanket. The light-blue pattern of the porcelain dishes and the sparkling elegance of the crystal glasses fascinated him.
"Like the movies, ain't it?""Yes. Twelve of them, sitting around this table."
"The ladies wif pearls round their necks and the gentlemen wif collars holding their chins up.""And everyone saying clever things."
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"And everybody laughing... but not so loud.""And the gentlemen admiring the ladies."
"Admiring some a them. And the ladies sneaking looks at the gentlemen.""And servants serving food and pouring wine."
"Black servants.""Black? How do you know?"
"You ever seen whites serving blacks?""They served me in the orphanage when it wasn't my turn. I was the only black."
"... Maybe one a these days, we will see a movie wif whites serving blacks.""Maybe the people around this table will serve themselves."
Once they had filled the barrel, Nelly put the lid on, toenailed it shut, tilted it and rolled it away as if it didn't weigh anything at all. Then she rolled an empty one up to the table.
He enjoyed packing and packing wif Nelly, but she could do the job by herself and Fuss had hired him to carry furniture. Earning more money than he deserved, he needed even more than that to repay his debts. His hands were healing, but how long would his foot take? He worked in the office again on Thursday, helped Nelly unpack on Friday and, Friday afternoon, received his first paycheck. That was a thrill, even though room and board took most of it. His spirits rose that evening and fell the next morning when he could find nothing better to do than hobble around the lounge. He tried to read the magazines on the large round table or the books on the shelves. Neither were the magazines all over six months old nor the books all mystery, romance or science fiction, but he found it impossible to concentrate. Sun poured through the window, young men and women were crossing the street. They wore polo shirts, bermudas, white sox and sneakers. Each of them carried a bag. He could hear them teasing and laughing, he could hear the excitement in their voices. Where were they going?
"Swimming," said Smyrna's cleaning woman. "In the lake. Amos Fletcher Park. Just a few blocks down that a way."
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orphans pink. How warm the sun had felt, how cool the water! He had loved to dive in the water and see how far he could swim underwater. It was at the pool near the orphanage that he had first noticed people staring at him. Most of them had never seen a living brownie -- the Carminian language distinguishes between brownies and pinkies.
The landscaping of Fletcher Park surprized his expectations, as he followed paths that curved instead of straightening, went up and down instead of flattening out, confronted him with flowers instead of leaves. The variety and vigor of the flowers, shrubs and trees beckoned him on despite his crutches. A squirrel hopped up to him, flourishing its tail with each hop. Cautious but unafraid, it stopped a meter away, stood up and inspected him with its dark, beady eyes. Then it approached the foot in the cast, climbed his leg and stopped on his thigh, staring up at him expectantly. He could feel its little claws on his skin. Disappointed, it turned and scampered back down again. The tree hobbled on to a bench beside the path along the edge of the lake and sat down. Children were throwing crumbs to an assembly of ducks and swans, while geese remained aloof. The children giggled as the waterfowl gobbled the crumbs up without the least sign of gratitude. Watching people pass in front of him, he remembered the sidewalk cafés in Carminia. He had always wondered why their customers were content to do what he was doing. Perhaps they had some kind of broken toe. The Americans passing in front of him might have been Carminians except for the baseball caps some of them wore. Otherwise, they had the same kind of variety.
It would soon be lunch time, so he started hobbling back to the Orchid, but he met a young black about his age going the other way.
"Hey! What's wrong wif yo foot?" He had dancing eyes, a crazy smile and a cap that clung to the back of his head as if glued there."A piano fell on my toe."
"A piano! Ha! Ha! Ha! Piano's ain't for carrying, man! They's for playing.""I have a job: moving."
"I ain't got no job. Too much like work!""What do you live on?"
"What I live on? I just don't worry bout it. It all depends on who you ask and how you ask: food, fun, a pad...""A pad? You mean a bed?"
"Hey! Where you come from?""Carminia. It's..."
"Carminia? There ain't no Carminia in Africa.""No, it's in eastern Europe."
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"One of my parents was probably a European."
"You mean you don't know who they were?"Doz shook his head.
"You know what I would do if was you?"Doz shook his head again.
"I would get me a mamma and a daddy. Maybe I would get me two or three. You see what I mean?"Doz nodded politely.
"It all depends on who you ask and how you ask."
"May I take your order, Sir?" She had a whispery voice.Where had he seen those eyes? "I am a boarder."
"You are Mr. Chinsky, aren't you?""Yes, David Chinsky."
"You have a choice between sphagetti with meatballs and Brunswick stew.""Is Brunswick stew different from other kinds of stew?"
She laughed forgetting her braces. "I don't guess there is much difference." She shrugged: "Chunks of beef in a sauce. I took the sphagetti myself. I thought it was pretty good.""You recommend the sphagetti?"
Pointing at her blouse, she made a face: "Stew spatters.""... Sphagetti is hard to eat. Bring me the stew, please."
She smiled, but then she remembered her braces and blushed like a tomato. He would never forget that blush.
"I go to school."
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"What kind of school is it?"
"A high school."He knew he shouldn't detain her, but she wasn't impatient. "The other students must be older than you."
She looked puzzled, then she laughed, forgetting her braces again.He laughed too without knowing why.
"High schools are only secondary schools. Colleges and universities come afterwards."One of the other waitresses was looking.
"Sorry, I have to go."It was hard not to watch her as she served the other guests. Once, she noticed and tried to hide her pleasure. Doz remembered a verb he had never fully understood: to flirt. So this was flirting! He remembered the girls in school who had done it to him, but this was the first time he had done it to one of them. Although it embarrassed him now as much as it had then, he was enjoying it. Yet he was afraid the waitresses and the other guests would notice, especially because he was black and she was white.
No sooner had he finished his stew than she reappeared at his side.
"How did you like your stew?""I felt guilty."
"Guilty? Why?""Because I liked it and you didn't recommend it."
Giggle. "How is your foot?""A piano fell on it."
"I know.""How did you know?"
"Mom and Dad were talking about it.""You are Siss Fossez."
Another giggle."You were visiting your grandmother."
"Dad wants to keep home and work separate.""You are home and I am work."
Giggle: "I wanted to see this mystery he was hiding from me.""He must know you work here."
"He knows I work her sometimes. He doesn't know I'm working here today."The other watresses were looking at her. "Bring me some ice cream, please," he said quickly.
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"May I have a cup of coffee, please?" The extra 25¢ would buy him a little more time. As soon as she put it in front of him, he said: "The park is nice."
"How did you get there? On your crutches?""Yes. I could how do you say? paddle one of those boats too."
"You mean pedal... It takes two to do that.""Yes... Do you think?... I mean..."
She looked worried: "Me?" Then she smiled, trying to hide her braces and glanced at the other waitresses. "Three-thirty this afternoon at the boat dock." And she left him.
His head spinning, he kept telling himself that she was just a teenager, must have been five years younger than him and not even the same color. To no avail, however, because he was dying to pedal with her. He reached the boat dock at three, reserved a boat, sat on a bench twenty-five meters away and watched the street up to the Orchid. At three-nineteen, he recognized Siss by her figure and her carefree gait. The closer she came, the more he recognized her and the greater his pleasure. As soon as she recognized him, she smiled and waved, waving her whole body and hoping he was too far away to see her braces. Hobbling over to the dock, he helped her into a boat as the attendant held it steady. He was looking at them in a way they didn't like, so they pedaled energetically to get away from him. It became a contest to see which of them could turn the boat towards the other. She would surprize him by suddenly pedaling as hard as she could, turning it his way, but he would pedal it back her way and slow down, as if inviting her to try again. Soon they were in stitches. Hardly did they notice the people in the other boats who were wondering why they were laughing. Their boat took such an erratic course that, several times, they had to backpedal to avoid a collision. Time had stopped, until he reached across with his left hand to pull a piece of pollen out of her hair and, taking his wrist, she saw that it was after four-thirty by his watch. She had to be at the Orchid by five, so they pedaled back to the dock, where she thanked him and apologized for not having enough time to help him walk home. They would never forget that afternoon.
They couldn't talk very much at the evening meal because the other two waitresses objected to the time she had spent with him. Since the third waitress returned on Sunday, he wondered whether he would ever see her again. That morning, he did his duty attending mass at St. Francis of Assisi and kept a promise to write Christina and Sabrina once a week. That afternoon, he sat on a bench in the park reading Tocqueville's Démocratie
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en Amérique borrowed from the lounge. The chapters on the dilemma of slavery preoccupied him to the point that he forgot the passers-by, the pedal boats, the children feeding the waterfowl and the teenagers jumping off the diving boards. From Monday on, he found that he could do more physical work and do it better. Each day, the other men treated him friendlier and accepted him more readily as a member of the team. He also understood them better when they spoke. His new safety shoes arrived on Thursday and, although he couldn't wear them yet, they kidded him:
"Hey!" shouted Jason, "what's them shoes for? You already dropped a piano on yo foot."
Seeing that he didn't understand tiptoe, Plug immitated the way he had been walking around the furniture before he hurt his toes. He hadn't even realized it. Now that he could understand their humor, he realized that it implied friendship. When he could finally wear his shoes, everyone congratulated him and he pitched in so zealously that Nelly told him to take it easy."He's gonna use them shoes to kick yo ass," yelped Nelly.Mack was standing on the back of the truck with his hands on his hips: "He won't be able to tiptoe any more."
Learning in days what had taken them weeks or months, he surprized them and he even suggested a few solutions to problems that had stumped them. Jason and Plug were trying to slide a big desk through a doorway on a blanket, which caught on splinters and teetered. Doz persuaded them to pull the desk back, let him smear a coat of wax on the floor and replace the blanket by a rubberized tarpaulin as they lifted the desk. This time, the desk slipped through the doorway easily. Nelly and Plug were puzzling over a bronze statue of a male nude with a helmet on his head, a sword in one hand and a severed head in the other, which he was holding up for display. How could you pack a thing like that? Doz noted that it would fit in two barrels, one on top of the other, if they knocked the top out of the lower one and the bottom out of the upper one. Nailing the barrels to three vertical boards would hold them together. How about the arm with the head? If they removed some of the staves in the upper barrel, they could lower it over the statue while letting the arm with the head stick out. Then they could replace the staves with a hole cut for the arm. Wrapped and taped around the arm and the head, a blanket would protect them. Having followed this advice, Nelly and Plug packed the space around the statue with blankets and the statue arrived at the new house undamaged.
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Everyone was pleased including the owners, a middle-aged couple who complimented Doz. They had many statuettes, paintings and other art objects as well as a library that covered the walls of one room and overflowed to two others. After much hesitation, they had decided to stop cluttering their house and move to a larger one that would accommodate their collection and allow for expansion, which they took for granted. With a glint in his eye, Fuss assured them that nobody loved books more than movers. The couple laughed and she invited Fuss to borrow a few. Doz, who had never met anyone like them, had to resist the temptation to neglect his work. If he had seen them anywhere else, he thought, he wouldn't have noticed them. Neither handsome nor ugly, neither elegant nor vulgar, the Heaths reconciled slang with eloquence like the businessmen Doz had overheard at the Orchid. Good manners seemed to require a comfortable familiarity with higher and lower levels of society. Overhearing a phrase here and a phrase there, however, Doz discovered a difference between the couple's language and the businessmen's. Instead of designating things by clichés, which assigned them to categories, they used the word that identified the thing and did so spontaneously. Things designated by the businessmen might have been just as particular as those identified by the couple, but the couple were aware of the particularity and Doz wondered whether the businessmen cared. One of the phrases he overheard excited his curiosity, something about "our book."
After supper that evening, he went to the Mapleton Public Library, a few blocks from the Orchid. He had noticed the big stone building with the Doric portico and the broad steps, which he now ascended. Inside, he found a marble floor, high ceilings and ample space, where the slightest sound betrayed anybody who dared to make one. In a large room on one side of the entrance, he saw a card catalogue much larger than the one in the public library near the orphanage. The drawers were rectangular and not square, made of wood and not metal. He found the one that contained authors named Heath, pulled it out and, admiring the neatness and cleanliness of the printed cards, turned them over until he found some inscribed with Heath, Phoebe and Sampson. Eleven titles, the most recent of which had appeared last year, treated subjects involving the history, the criticism and the philosophy of art. Having copied them all with their call numbers, he entered the vast reading room with an upstairs gallery and a ceiling of red and blue squares. Next to the wall in front, he found a librarian seated behind a desk which was not on a platform, but down on the floor
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where he stood. He saw that she was a librarian because of the look in her eye, the black glasses she wore, her gray hair in a tight bun and the wrinkles on her face. Unlike librarians in Carminia, however, she smiled at him and asked if she could help him. Hardly did she seem to suspect him of impertinence or mischief! She even explained to him where he could find his books and encouraged him to go and get them himself.
"All eleven of them?"He had never heard a librarian chuckle. "Eleven would be a little heavy, especially because all of them are large and contain illustrations. But you are welcome to bring as many as you like and read them here." She indicated the tables behind him. "If you would like to take some home with you, the limit is five, but even that would be heavy. Do you have a library card?" She showed him where to go and, in three minutes, "Mr. David Chinsky" had one in his pocket. It had taken him a week in Carminia and the card, which displayed a photo of him, looked like one a policeman might ask for. He could neither enter that library nor order books without it. Limited to five volumes, he had to wait at least a half hour for them and read them at the desk assigned to him under the watchful eye of a hawk on his perch.
With three volumes on the table in front of him, he leafed through a fourth, pausing to view the illustrations and read the commentary when he came to one that particularly interested him. The illustrations often reminded him of the artwork that he had helped to load on the truck today and would help to unload tommorrow. As he read the commentary, he could hear Phoebe or Sampson speaking and even conversing with each other. Then he came to the original of the very statue he had helped Nelly and Plug pack: Cellini's "Perseus Showing Medusa's Head." Although he had heard of the artist and the myth, he had never seen a photo of this statue before and the strands of his memory began to intertwine. The Heaths focused his attention on the contrast between the brutality of Perseus' gesture and the serenity in his face. They reminded him of the artist's talent for both art and war, and they were just beginning to discuss the parallel between his sword and his penis when Doz heard a little cry behind him. Turning, he saw Siss with her hand over her mouth, huge hazel eyes and a crimson blush. She retreated immediately with that awkward yet charming gait that emphasied her tall, slender figure. Since she was heading for the exit, he started to run after her, but then decided that that would only aggravate her embarrassment. Reluctantly, he returned to Perseus and it occurred to him that his own body bore some resemblance to his and even the color. While the idea tickled his
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vanity, it also violated his modesty and tormented him with the danger of alienating Siss. How he had missed her! Turning the pages back and forth, and trying other volumes failed to calm his turmoil, so he chose two of them, checked them out and headed for the exit.
Siss was sitting on a bench beside the doors, where she looked small and frail relative to the architecture surrounding her. Casting her eyes down as he approached, she said in her whispery voice: "Im sorry. I guess I did something pretty childish. What you were reading was none of my business and, besides... " She rolled her eyes: "it was artistic."
"... May I sit down?""Of course!" She slid over to make room for him.
"... I hope you do not..."Enveloping him in her hazel gaze: "No, I do not. That's why I waited for you. The human body can be beautiful." An ironical chuckle: "I ought to know!"
"... You ought to know?"Blushing and casting her eyes down: "Well... I'm not exactly a Venus, you know."
Doz laughed: "Yes, you are! If the Greeks had seen you, they would have made you their Venus.""You are trying to be nice."
"I do not have to try." He told her about the Heaths, their books, their collection, their copy of Cellini's statue.Fascinated even more by his enthusiasm than its cause, she finally sighed and regretted: "I could listen all evening... but Mom and Dad are not going to like my coming home this late." It was dark outside, where he accompanied her to the bus stop. Did she come to the library often? Yes, two or three times a week, to do her homework. Maybe they could sit at the same table. Yes, why not? But her bus came before they could agree on a specific evening. She waved to him from her seat in the bus as it left and he waved back.
It took him twice as long to go home as it had taken him to come to the library. He was dreaming of hazel eyes, teeth in braces, a clear complexion surrounded by fluffy hair, a tall, skinny figure in a mini skirt, a whispery voice, a little cry and, now, a wrinkling of the forehead that he hadn't noticed before. Smyrna, who was with another woman in the lounge, complimented him on his learning but he failed to understand. Guessing that language was the problem, she explained: "Most people don't have the patience to read books as big as those."
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Having introduced him to her friend, Smyrna remarked: "You have been studying so hard that you are absent-minded."
Mortified, he tried to find something to say and finally excused himself on the pretext of his bedtime. At work the next day, Nelly detected his preoccupation. Alarmed by the sparkle in her eyes, he tried harder to concentrate, which made her even more suspicious.
"What's wrong wif you?"Blushing through his color, he shook his head as if to say "nothing."
"You in love or something?"He shook his head even more vigorously.
Nelly laughed a laugh that turned the others' heads. "Hey! I'm jealous. Who is she?"She kept after him, asking whether he was in love until he finally admitted it by nodding his head. Then she persecuted him to find out who it was. She finally caught him alone beyond the others' earshot and he traded a promise to tell her for a promise from her not to tell anyone else.
"Her!" she exclaimed both teasingly and sympathetically. "She got some growing to do, not up but out. You know what I mean?"Doz tried a shrug.
"You got two problems: She's Fuss's little girl and she's white. Take it easy!"He nodded sadly.
"You got to show Fuss there ain't nobody like you."He shrugged.
She returned to the lamp she was wrapping. "You know something, Doz? There ain't nobody like you."
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for good weather. Multiveined stone slabs of irregular size and shape paved this entranceway, which extended into the courtyard to form a patio along the inner wall. In the middle of the wall beside the patio, a thick chimney rose from back-to-back fireplaces, one outside and one inside. On one side of the tower, which stood opposite the chimney, was a round pool with a cluster of glass spouts in the middle. A control panel selected the spouts and regulated the water pressure to form various patterns of spray, illuminated by spotlights embedded in the bottom of the pool. A flower garden surrounded the pool and grass grew in the remaining space. On the other side of the courtyard, stood four or five fruit trees in a pattern that defied geometry. Patio doors gave access to the courtyard from all five sides, including the patio side where you entered the living room. Inside, the ceiling underlay the roof, leaving the beams partially exposed. The living room occupied most of one segment, the dining room and kitchen, most of another, the library, most of a third and the bedrooms, most of the other two. Phased by season, wildflowers grew on the lot outside the pentagon, glimpsed between staggered clusters of trees from the winding driveway or the road out front.
with moving furniture into this house, Fuss and his employees dismissed
the architecture as "crazy," a word Doz heard all day long. His own preoccupation
shifted from Siss to the house. Accompanied by Nelly, he and Plug brought
the packaged statue into the library, where the Heaths were having a cordial
disagreement over where it should go. She wanted to put it in a corner
and he, between the two skylights. Although Plug and Nelly worried about
wasting time, Doz found the counterpoint intriguing. Short and stocky,
Sampson had a craggy face and flashing eyes. Charged with energy, he spared
neither tongue nor body, reinforcing his assertions by gestures. He tended
to frown and Phoebe, to smile with a playful and skeptical irony that would
have irritated other men, but it charmed him and calmed his storms. Taller
than him, she had a slender, supple figure which, while yielding center
stage to him, moved in graceful and somewhat distracting arcs along his
periphery. Their voices also contrasted as he stroked his cello and she
plucked her harp. Should Perseus display his heroism in the brightest possible
light or hide his ferocity in the shadows? Reaching a stalemate, the Heaths
noticed Doz's attention, which contrasted amusingly with Plug and Nelly's
"Yes, let him arbitrate the dispute," said Phoebe.
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"You knew how to pack this one."Stunned: "... I... I do not know anything about statues."
"You know all about its form and proportions."Pointing towards the corner: "Over there?"
Laughing: "Over here?"
The couple looked at each other. "Where would you put it?" they both asked.Embarrassed, Doz glanced at Plug and Nelly. "I... I would not put it in either place."
Another glance at Nelly and Plug. "In the courtyard... On the grass between the patio and the fruit trees."
"Like a caricature of a fruit tree!""Caricature my..."
"Don't teach him bad English.""In the courtyard?"
"In the courtyard.""OK." To the movers: "Take it out there, please." Following them through the patio doors: "Why didn't I think of that?"
The truck was nearly empty that afternoon when Fuss took Doz aside. The Heaths had asked him if he would object to their hiring Doz on Saturday to help them hang pictures and do other things. Fuss had told them that it was all right with him, so Doz should speak to them. Doz told them he would call them that evening. He welcomed an opportunity, not only to earn more money, but also to learn more from the Heaths and their collection. Yet he had been looking forward to lunch in the Orchid, where Siss would be serving again. Meeting her in the library, he discussed the matter with her and, while urging him to take advantage of the offer, pouted her disappointment. Since he had never seen her pout before, she both amused and disturbed him. What if he could persuade the Heaths to let her come and help for a few hours in the afternoon? The pout immediately inverted to a smile forgetful of her braces. He couldn't help laughing and wanted to hug her, an urge he found increasingly hard to resist. Phoebe liked the idea, so anticipation cheered their evening, keeping them from reading more than a sentence or two between whispers. Each felt constantly compelled to tell the other a something that others would have mistaken for a nothing. Lingering twice the usual time, they laughed when she missed a bus and had to wait for the next one.
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That Saturday went by like a dream. Never had Doz worked so hard and yet enjoyed the work so much. Every time he put a book on a shelf, hung a picture on a wall or moved a statuette to another place, he learned without trying and the Heaths taught him without bothering to. As he helped to accomplish their wishes, he saw a harmony evolving that, by exploitation of the additional space, improved on that of the old house. When they asked him his opinion, he felt elated and, when, less often, they followed it, exhilerated. He admired the skill with which they filled space partially with content, thus apportioning the one to the other. Appreciative of his perspective, they encouraged him to question and comment. All three sat down to lunch in the kitchen conversing as if they had already been friends. Towards two thirty, Doz and Samson were carrying a desk up the stairs of the tower when the doorbell rang. Crossing the courtyard, Phoebe found Siss in blue jeans near the door in the entranceway. "I'm sorry," she said, "I didn't know where to go."
"That's perfectly all right, it's not a conventional house. You must be Doz's friend."Trying to smile without showing her braces: "Yes M'am. He said I could help a few hours this afternoon. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not. We can use your help." Taking her across the court: "You didn't tell me your name.""Siss."
"Siss: you must have some brothers.""It's for Cicely, but I do have brothers, an older one and a younger one."
"... "Lowering big eyes: "I'm Reginal Fossez's daughter... He doesn't know I'm here."
Phoebe chuckled: "Then I guess I better not tell him."Raising her eyes: "I really would appreciate it."
Siss proved more helpful than anyone had expected by guessing what the Heaths needed and getting or doing it. Doz was proud of her, but, when he saw that Phoebe had detected his pride, he felt embarrassed. Since he and the Heaths had done most of the big jobs by then, a large number of little ones remained. In doing these, they dispersed and moved around, meeting each other unexpectedly and especially in the courtyard. Some of these encounters resulted in brief conversations, which enriched their acquaintance with each other. They had made considerable progress by four when Phoebe declared a break for tea. Siss helped her in the less
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cluttered kitchen, while Sam explained a theory of perspective to Doz. Over tea and cookies, the older couple invited the younger one to attend their seminar at the Mapleton Museum. They shouldn't let the age of the other participants intimidate them. "If you have questions to ask or comments to make, speak up, for heaven's sake, speak up!" When one or two spoke and everyone else listened, it was a lecture, not a seminar. Before the young couple left, Sam wrote Doz a check for $16.80 and Siss, one for $6.30.
They took the bus to the Orchid. "Would you like to live in that house?" he asked her.
"... I would love to!... But it would cost an awful lot of money... And what would you do with all that room?""I would collect art and books like theirs."
"... That would be nice... Is that all?""No. I would have a family."
"...""A big family."
She didn't know what to say, so she touched him on the arm.How could a woman as skinny as her have children? There wasn't enough room for them.
A few weeks slipped by leaving little to remember except the evenings in the library and at Sam and Phoebe's seminar, in which they participated enthusiastically. The time they spent together passed before they noticed, while the time of separation dragged on their impatience. Taking pride in his daughter's intellectual curiosity, Fuss wondered what college she would go to, while Maud suspected that she had a boyfriend and tried to find out who he was. Maud and Siss had conversations in which good humor veiled a conflict between the mother's suspicion and the daughter's privacy. Yet Maud said nothing to Fuss. Dreaming of Siss, Doz imagined himself living in the pentagon with all ages of children. The little ones were playing in the courtyard and the big ones, in the field outside as he and Siss watched from the patio or the tower. But Siss was right: that would cost an awful lot of money. The thought nagged him into greater concentration on his job and drove him to a zeal that sometimes pleased and sometimes irritated his fellow workers and Fuss. When they arrived at an apartment building, for instance, Doz discovered a driveway behind a wooden fence where they could park the truck. Removing the slats in the fence enabled them to carry furniture fifteen yards to the front door of the building rather than fifty down a
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sidewalk from the parking lot. Fuss estimated that Doz had saved them an hour and decreased the customer's bill by a few hundred dollars.
They were moving an elderly couple out of their house. Upset by the intrusion, the cat had climbed a tree in the back yard, where he was crouching on a limb higher than the roof. His back arched and his fur erect, he was staring down at the couple as if daring them to come and get him. Black and white, he had a patch of white over one eye and a patch of black over the other. Calls of "kitty-kitty" only turned his ears towards the woman's lips. Doz sprang to the lowest limb, swung his leg over it, climbed on top of it, reached for the next one and continued upwards limb by limb, as if he had devoted his youth to climbing trees. Everyone who could see him admired his agility. He got his face and clothes dirty, tore his clothes and skinned himself in a few places, but never hesitated until he came within reach of Kitty. The animal glared at him, flattened his ears, drew back, arched his back even higher, jerked his tail angrily and dug his claws deeper into the bark. After several attempts, Doz grabbed him by the skin of his back and descended with one free hand, while Kitty screeched, struggled and clawed at him, leaving bloody scratches on his arm. Instead of thanking him, the couple took Kitty in their arms and consoled him for the ordeal he had suffered, stroking him and murmuring baby talk to him.
"That's what you get for being nice to cats," remarked Plug.
Jason hollered from an upstairs window: "What did you do that for? He liked it up there."
"How much furniture could you have moved?" Mack shouted from the back of the truck.
Doz was collecting cushions from a sofa when he felt a pat on his arm."If you was one a mine, I'd a whupped the daylights out a you," snorted Nelly dressing his wounds. "Go wash yo face!"
Fuss had a slight, playful smile on his face. "You wanted to do a little more. OK, I like that. But we can't make a penny climbing trees and rescuing cats. Leave that to the animal shelter."
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visits. She promptly informed the landlord or real estate agent who met them at the door that this young man was rooming and boarding with her at the Orchid Inn. Recommending him strongly on both counts, she gave details and regretted that she would lose him. As their contact showed them around, she got down on hands and knees despite her stockings, and, with the hot and cold water on full, reached under sink traps to feel whether they leaked. She also opened both faucets in sinks, washbasins, showers and bath tubs to see whether they drained promptly. Nor did she hesitate to flush the toilet and take the top off to check the flush mechanism. She inspected all pipes and wires for rust or wear, sniffed at gas lines and made sure the knobs on stoves produced the right level of heat in all of the burners and the oven. Gas or oil, the furnace underwent a similar inspection. Plugging the refridgerator in, she checked the motor for wear, the condenser for leaks and returned five minutes later to feel how cool it was inside. Nor did any stains, insects, dust trails, spider webs or grease spots escape her eye or finger, no matter what corner, cranny or crack they hid in. Stains on the ceiling raised her carefully trimmed eyebrows even higher than other scandals. Some of the landlords and real estate agents stood back aghast, while others ran after her trying to influence her judgment or impede her zeal, but always to no avail. Last on her list was the front door, the lock and the latch, which she tried and retried. Then she demanded gas and electricity bills for the coldest months of the year, the names of repairmen called when this or that broke down and what to do in case of fire or an earthquake. She wanted to know exactly where the sun rose and set, what noises, odors and other pollution would beset the tenant and who lived in the apartments on either side, across the hall, upstairs and down. If she found the apartment promising, she confronted the landlord or real estate agent with an offer of ten or twenty dollars less than he was asking. This tactic provoked reactions varying from acquiescence to outrage, which often provided insight into his character. After each visit, they returned to the Lincoln, where Smyrna dictated comments to Doz, who wrote them down as carefully as his seminar notes. After two evenings and a Saturday, they narrowed nine possibilities down to three desirables, each of which had a special advantage. One belonged to woman Smyrna trusted and Doz liked; another was in an attractive and friendly neighborhood; the third offered unusual value for the rent. If it was up to her, Smyrna said, she would take the desirable landlady. Doz agreed.
Moving in, furnishing the apartment and learning how to live in it excited him for a week, preoccupied him for several more and confronted him with
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problems that annoyed or even exasperated him. Though fearful of trying his friends' patience, he consulted Smyrna, Maud and especially his landlady Becky Stiglitz. Taking him to market with her on Saturday mornings, Smyrna gave him advice about what to buy and he helped her with her groceries. A shapeless, ageless widow, Becky struck a balance between eagerness to help and respect for her tenants' privacy. She had fostered a friendly network of relations between neighbors in and near her apartment building. One evening after work, Doz tried to cook too ambitious a meal and got in trouble with his meat burning in the oven, his vegatables boiling over and his mashed potatoes turning a color impossible to describe. He cut everything off, knocked at Becky's door and started to apologize, but she had her apron on even before he finished. She rescued his supper and let him eat it while she scoured his blackened pots and pans. They began to invite each other to supper on Sunday evenings with the guest bringing a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine. Becky lived mostly on rent from the apartments in her four-story brick building, with big ones in front and small ones, like hers and Doz's, in the back. 16 Shelby Street. From their windows, you could see the backs of other buildings and backyards, some with gardens and some with junk. As the weather grew warmer and windows stayed open, a variety of odors and sounds stimulated their conversations.
Since Nelly was giving him a ride to work and back every day, he wondered whether he should invite her to dinner in his apartment. Becky advised him to invite her for a drink and then to take her to a restaurant. That he did, but Nelly preferred a coca-cola because she had seen what liquor could do. She proposed Poppa Shadwell's, a restaurant run by a black family, but popular with both blacks and whites. They had pork chops, okra and cornbread, all of them new to Doz. She kept him laughing with imitations of unnamed colleagues whose voices and language he easily recognized. An old lady, who was moving in, caught Jason facing the fence in her new backyard with his legs spread and his hands in front of him. "Not in my yard!" she yelled and Jason jumped, messing his pants up. Nelly brought tears to Doz's eyes jumping like him. Afterwards, Fuss lectured him on where to go and where not to go, while Jason whined: "When I got to go, I got to go and there ain't no place to go." Doz wondered whether women heard men's voices differently from men. The ridiculous tone and the pathetic intonation that Nelly attributed to Jason suggested that the convenience of the masculine anatomy was really a trap for the unwary. With enchanting glances this way and that, and a naughty smile extended by her scar, Nelly excused herself
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for talking dirty. When she stopped her car in front of his building, she grabbed his arm: "Thanks for showing me yo pad and taking me to Poppa's."
"You are welcome, Nelly."Then she gave him the look that froze his blood: "Don't you take Fuss's little girl up there, you heah?"
"I won't," he said... "I promise.""She got some growing up to do." She let him go, but he still felt her grip.
On the way home from work the next Monday, she stopped in the parking lot of a store gone out of business. "Doz," she said with a look that admitted no dissent, "you gonna come over here and I'm gonna go over there. You gonna learn how to drive." Henceforth she gave him a lesson every evening before dropping him at his apartment building. Letting up on the clutch and pushing down on the accelerator resulted in violent jerks, which mortified him and made her laugh. The more he worried about damaging her car, the more she laughed. When he looked discouraged, she told hm: "You can't get nowhere without wheels." During lunch, she bragged about her chauffeur, who drove so smoooth she didn't even know she was moving. She demonstrated how smooth it was by bouncing around on the rolled up rug she was sitting on with Doz. Even Fuss was laughing. One day after work, she had Doz sit in the driver's seat of Jason's jalopy while she showed Jason how to regulate the carburetor. Doz could feel the springs digging into his buttocks. Nelly would yell at him to start, accelerate, idle or turn the motor off as she showed Jason how. Peering under the hood, he could see teacher and pupil leaning over the motor. They reminded him of a sister in her flowing habit doing the same thing with the help of another one sitting in the driver's seat of a purple schoolbus built in Mitchel, Indiana. Once Jason had learned his lesson, she told him to change places with Doz. Disconcerted by the noise, the heat and the smell, Doz couldn't understand at first. Grabbing him by the arm, she shook him: "Hey! You listen to me!" So he listened and learned how to regulate a carburetor, which wasn't easy. When Nelly slammed the hood back down, she and her clothes were as clean as before except for some greese on her fingertips, which she promptly washed. She told him to drive her car to Shelby Street, but panic froze his face, so she shook him again: "You gonna wear yo pants?" Hesitating at every turn, he drove without incident until a yellow cab cut in front of them to make a right turn. He slammed on the brakes, the car tipped on its nose and the one behind them screeched and skidded, tapping the
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rear bumber. He was in a cold sweat and Nelly was laughing: "Hey! You look like a Hallyween spooky!" Arriving at his apartment building, he felt such evident relief that she purred: "It gonna be easier tomorry, Honey!" Before she left, he had her explain what a Hallyween spooky" was, but he couldn't find either of these words in his dictionary. Leaving for the library that evening, he met Becky on the stairs and she wrote them down for him.
It came as no surprise to the librarian behind the reading-room desk that he was having quarrels and reconciliations with Siss, sure symptoms of a disease she had long since diagnosed. The harder they tried to conceal these symptoms, the more easily she detected them, although she never let on. What could be harder to hide in a reading room than anger and love? The worst quarrel so far, however, occurred as they were leaving the library one evening. Walking her to the bus stop, he told her his dream of driving his own car and taking her with him. Her enthusiasm encouraged him to mention that Nelly was teaching him how. "Nelly? Isn't that nice!" she said in a tone of voice anything but nice. From then on, his explanations incited her sarcasms until she got on the bus telling him: "I guess you're learning a lot more from her than you will ever learn from me." Wary of the driver, who was taking her fare, he couldn't think of anything to reply before the doors snapped shut within an inch of his nose. She wanted to wave to him, but the other passengers were pretending so hard not to have noticed that she didn't dare. Seeing her with her head down, he assumed that she was angry, although, in reality, she was suffering from a distress more acute than any she could remember. Alone, each of them agonized over the possible consequences of a dispute that had caught them both by surprise. Yet they rediscovered each other at the seminar the next evening, where the Heaths and the other participants noticed a change in their voices and the way they looked at each other. Cordial and discreet in their presence, they called them "the lovers" among themselves, most of them sympathetically but a few of them condescendingly.