A Needle and a Thimble

Educated in the New York high schools and at Harvard, where he took his B. A. in American History and Literature in 1949 , GEORGE BLUESTONE is now studying for his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa.And a good ileal of my time,” he writes. “has been spent in our basement apartment pounding the typewriter. The ‘work in progress is a novel based on experiences I had as a waiter in Catskill Mountain hotels for six summers

by GEORGE BLUESTONE

SOPHY was floating on her back, feeling the pool water cold around her and washing softly over her knees and nook and arms, looking up at the green mountain that rose against the sun over the Bellayre Hotel. She was thinking with pride about how she had set up her station before the others that afternoon, had gotten out early for a change, even though she was the only waitress on a crew of fourteen and older than any of the men. The thought gave her a good feeling, and she rolled over, letting the water break strongly against her face, Then she bobbled a little, kicking herself up to a standing position. She liked the feefling of buoyancy the pool gave, and she kept taking little hops, moving forward with the weight of her momentum. She thought it was funny the way the water made her legs look like sheets of bent tin, as if they weren’t hers. She was glad she didn’t have the ugly blue and purple veins she saw so much around the pool. In fact, she told herself, her ankles weren’t so bad for a woman her age. With her gray hair bound tightly in a red handkerchief, she wondered if she looked any younger.

She felt younger. With the Fourth of July weekend already behind her, and the crowd slackened off, there was more free time in the afternoons after lunch, and even though she knew that in two weeks she would be sleeping every spare hour she got, it was good to bathe and get out in the sun while she could. Some of the bus boys were diving and swimming, their lean, brown bodies moving cleanly through the water. Outside the pool gate, she could see the young governess supervising the children, who were playing some kind of game with a big red ball. She smiled when she saw the controlled desperation on the governess’s face, the same expression she had seen on the face of every governess she had ever known. Suddenly she thought of Weiner, who had called from Ellenville. asking her to come down. Just like a schoolboy asking for a date. One of the bus boys asking the governess to go out would not have stuttered so.

Someone was splashing her, and before she could turn, the chlorine was going the wrong way, making her choke and cough. She saw big Arty through jets of water, heard him shouting “How’s the water, Sophila ?”

burning away her face, and closing her eves, she held up her hands and squealed, “Stop, already, so sto-o-o-p!” And when Arty wouldn’t stop, she commanded, “Bum, stop! I’ll drown!” When he stopped, she wadetl to the ladder at the edge of the pool, wiping her eyes. “Go find a young girl to play games.” When she got out, Arty had already gone off, and was leaning on the fence, talking to the governess, his swim suit dripping waiter, his big shock of wot black hair matting his forehead.

Sophy walked over to the bench where her towel was and began wiping herself. Guests were sitting at the green tables around the pool under fringed, multicolored umbrellas, staring at her from behind dark glasses. She wondered if she had looked silly, then told herself she didn’t care. She’d known too many guests to care, had heard too many stories about what they did in private. Besides, the crew would go crazy in the kitchen if they didn’t have breaks like this. She looked around at the guests. One was lying on the grass turf next to the pool, tilting a sun reflector under his chin; another had tape on her nose and was looking up at the sky; a blonde with a lacquered upsweep was rubbing suntan oil on her skin in long, serious strokes. What did they care what she did?

Carefully she spread the faded blue bedspread she had taken from her room, and settled herself on it, stomach down, Like big Arty, she thought, captain of the waiters, a boy, but no longer a boy. Six summers he had been coming to The Mountains and still he had smiles for everyone. She liked him, liked the way he listened to her singing while she cleaned up her station, liked the way he answered as if he meant what he was saying, and the way he talked up for his crew to Joe Fine, the headwaiter, to fat Esther Rosen, the owner, and her son Bernie who was always sticking his nose in the kitchen trying to tell them what to do. In the two summers she’d worked with him at Bellayre, she couldn’t remember him really angry. His disposition was like honey to the girls, and he seemed always to be drawn to the center of a group, dominating innocent faces with smiles and a story. In a way he reminded her of her son, except he didn’t, have Seymour’s round jaw, and Seymour was shorter. Watching Arty smiling over the fence, she wondered if he would ever have to give up looking, the way she had, so that now she could be amused at Weiner, feel sorry for him at most, see him coldly, clearly outside herself, like a movie.

“So come down,” he had said; “we’ll talk, that’s all, just talk.” And there had been behind his voice the buzz from the lobby of his hotel — Grand Haven on Briggs Highway — and she had pictured the way it had been two years before when she had worked there for Weiner, the old setting for the words she remembered now, almost the very words Ruby Gold had spoken to her that night at Cavanaugh’s thirty years before.

The sun poured down, melting over her back, and she stirred in her sleep. . . .

2

IT WAS hot, very hot, on Ruby Gold’s thirtieth birthday, the day he threw a party for the girls in his dress shop. “For my thirty years of celibacy,” he told them. He was a dark man, with a full mustache and deep chestnut skin. The girls used to joke because he was a bachelor, but Sophy knew they all dreamed about what it would be like to be Mrs. Ruby Gold, None of them ever said this out loud, at least not seriously, because always they were facing the invisible line: Ruby Gold was the owner, and they worked for the owner, they couldn’t forget that. Many times Sophy would see them looking up from their sewing machines, watching him, and she could tell from their faces they had forgotten the thing they knew.

The day of the party Ruby Gold rushed around a lot, laughing more than usual, the way he did when he wasn’t busy (when he was working, he could be awful). They had pushed two cutting tables together, spread paper tablecloths, plates, and colored napkins done up to look like wings. They were all having a good time as they watched the Italian girl cut the cake which Ruby Gold had ordered from his uncle’s bakery in the Bronx. They plunged their forks in and out of their slices, giggling and searching frantically for the tiny trinkets which would tell their fortunes. One by one, they held up the lead miniatures, shouting, “My fortune, Tina, quick, tell my fortune.” And the Italian girl would solemnly read the prophecies from an orange paper, scolding the others if they didn’t keep still. One girl found a tiny pair of shoes; another a key; the Polish girl held up a wedding band; another a baby’s bow. Sophy took her piece back to the sewing machine, where the others wouldn’t see, and dug out a tiny thimble. She brought it back to the Italian girl and said, “Try your silly game on this.” The Italian girl ran her fingernail down the orange sheet. “You,” she read, “you are fated to work hard for the happiness you get. Love will come soon but nothing will be easy. Beware of handsome men.”

“A silly game,” Sophy said. The girls stopped laughing.

“Aw, cheer up, honey,” said the big copperhaired girl from Brooklyn. “You said yourself it was a silly game. Look, there’s another piece left. Take it and try again.” The copper-haired girl winked at the Italian, who passed the cake to Sophy. The girls all watched until she found the trinket, a little white packet which she quickly tore open. A needle fell out and rolled to the table. The Italian girl laughed and said, “A needle—let’s see — a needle is used for housework? Babies’clothes? A handsome man’s socks?”

“The paper!” squealed the girls. “Read the paper.” The Italian girl scanned the orange sheet, reading to herself. Sophy saw the smile slowly drain away, and when the Italian girl said, “Wait, let me read again,” Sophy burst into tears and went crying into the toilet. Twenty minutes later she came out, eyes red, and returned to her machine. The party was over. Toward the end of the afternoon, she began to smile a little at the girls’ jokes, and soon she was singing. Suddenly she was conscious that the girls had stopped talking; someone was standing behind her.

’You sing nice,” said Ruby Gold. Sophy looked up, embarrassed. “I should have known. You could have sung at the party maybe. Ever take lessons?” Sophy shook her head.

“ Well you should. A shame to waste such a voice. A real shame, I’m telling you.” He asked if she could come to his office after work so they could talk. Sophy t urned red when he walked away. All the girls were watching.

After work, in the office, Ruby Gold looked up from a batch of tissue patterns on desk. “Oh yes — Sophy, come in,” he said, rising from his swivel chair, He offered her a seat, and let his eyes race over her body just once and very quickly.

“Have you ever sung in public?” he asked.

“No. Only for friends and parties, things like that.”

Studying the cryptic handle of a letter opener, Ruby Gold made his offer. He had a friend downtown who gave voice lessons. If Sophy wanted, they could go see him the following Saturday.

Sophy felt the distress on her face. “If it’s the money you’re worried about,” Ruby Gold said, “stop worrying. I’ll take care of the lessons.

She asked him why he was doing this and he said quietly, “Because beautiful things I don’t like to see wasted.”

The following Saturday they went to the apartment-studio of Ruby Gold’s friend on West Twelfth Street. A bakelile sign in the window read, “Benjamin Schreier, Voice Instructor.” Mr. Sehreier smiled up at them through gold-rimmed glasses and a stained yellow beard. Then he played a few chords on the piano and asked Sophy to repeat them. Sophy listened carefully, then sang the notes as she heard them. She saw the old music teacher smile and nod at Ruby Gold, and she sang louder until she felt the sound humming all through her.

The day Ruby Gold married the daughter of his father’s former partner, the girls kept coming over to pat Sophy on the back, saying things like “ Too bad” and “How long could it last?” At first she couldn’t understand, but when she knew what they meant she said coldly, “ I here s nothing between me and Mr. Gold.” The girls laughed and Sophv became angry. “Okay, okay, they said, “so there’s nothing between you. Honest to Pete!”

Three months after the wedding, Ruby Gold began going with her to the Saturday’ lessons again, but not as often as before. On the days he went along, he would sometimes read a paper or go for a walk while Sehreier went over the exercises with Sophy, but most of the time he would just sit and watch, sometimes hy the hour. Afterwards when he talked sadly about little things, he seemed to have aged ten years. One day, after the lesson, he took her to dinner at Cavanaugh’s where the snow-linen, soft lights, and starched waiters made dreaming easy. They drank white wine and Ruby Gold began to talk, his hands nervous around the stem of his glass, and he talked until he touched the hitter heart of his loneliness.

“She nags, nags, nothing but nags. How long is it we’ve been married? Six months? Already it feels like six years.” Sophy watched his full sensitive lips hardening, saw the wisps of gray hair above the temples. She felt sorry for him.

When he asked her, “Are you still living alone?” leaning forward across the table, and she had answered yes, he said slowly, “People shouldn’t live alone, not without parents or anyone to look after them.” His glass trembled and he said something about her being alone in America and how terrible that was, but she was watching his mustache twitching and didn’t hear it all. She remembered he kept saying, “A person shouldn’t be alone.”

“When I meet the man I love—” Sophy began.

“Let me come to you,” Ruby Gold broke in hoarsely’. “Let me rome to you sometimes. I need you. It’s hell this way.”

Looking down, she said no.

“Why? Why?”

“I don’t love you,” she said as simply as she could. Her voice shook, then held, and that was the end for then.

He kept going to the lessons with her whenever he could, and for three months he didn’t bring it up again. They would walk, talking about everything under the sun except themselves. Sometimes he would put his arm around her and she would let him because he had been kind, and that was the least she could do. Then he began mentioning the same thing again and she resisted, saying, “ Before, it might have been different. Now it’s too late.” Once he got very angry, “I pay for the lessons and what do I get for it in return? Sympathy?” but later he was sorry. The next week Sophy learned something she never forgot, that lonely men (maybe because they had to) would always ask a price for being generous. He pleaded so earnestly, so innocently one afternoon “to talk, just talk,” that she let him go back with her. After the first ten minutes, Ruby Gold was sobbing out his need for her, and she went to get him a glass of cold water, realizing her mistake.

The next morning she decided to leave the shop before something really happened. At the Saturday lesson she said to him, “I’m nervous, and it’s hot. Please go away and come back for me in an hour?” and he left with a pained expression on his face. Then Sophy asked Mr. Schreier for the names of some people she could contact about a job. He said he was surprised she wanted to sing for money already. “You shouldn’t do it. In a year, two maybe, you eould be a fine ariist.

“I can’t wait a couple of years,”she said.

“Listen,” he said, “if you can’t, you can’t. Okay, I’ll get you some names.” He rummaged through an old rollback desk, ting out a stained address book and copied down several names.

“Here,” he said, “but you shouldn’t do it yet.” Before she left, he said, “Maybe you’ll still come for lessons.’‘”

“No —I don’t know.” She made him promise not to tell Gold. “About the lessons, we’ll see.”

The first place she had gone to, a Russian restaurant and night club on the Last Side, her heart boat something terrible, but the manager told her to come back the next day for an audition. At the audition the manager, and another man who smoked through a long cigarette holder, sat out front. She thought she would faint. When she got the job, she couldn’t control herself; she started laughing and had to sit down. That night she wrote Ruby Gold a little note explaining things as best she could, and carefully avoided mentioning the night club. She was afraid for a long time that he would come to see her at her flat, but he never did.

Sophy felt the toe tickling her side. Looking up she saw Arty grinning over her. “Hey, lady, time to get up. Almost five o’clock.” She sat up, and knew from the taste in her mouth she’d been sleeping a long time. Folding the bedspread, she saw the faint red on her arms. It didn’t burn, but she knew it would after she took a hot shower. Walking slowly back to her room, she thought, I must remember to put on some Noxzema.

3

AL GROSS, the social director, was motioning to her from the platform, but Sophy held back. When she’d told A1 that afternoon that she would do a number, she hadn’t expected to be so scared. Every Tuesday night was amateur night at the Bellayre, and every Tuesday afternoon A1 Gross would circulate around the dining room signing up guests to participate. When he was short of talent, he went to the staff because he could always count on finding at least one performer among them. The summer before, he had asked Sophy to participate because he had heard rumors about her singing. But she had refused and A1 hadn’t asked her again until he heard her sing “ Vuszhe Vils tu” all the way through that morning because she hadn’t known he was there. “If you can sing like that tonight, you’ll be all right,” he had told her.

If she walked up at all, it was only because she had promised. She saw A1 smiling at her, the tiny creases in his face, the heart-shaped tongue, the yellow teeth. The next thing she knew, the band was playing an eight-bar introduction and she was coming in with the opening words of “Beltz.” At first the sinking feeling was still there, but after the first few bars, the faces blurred and she was no longer scared. Like the old days. She remembered she had been singing “Beltz” the first time she saw Sheldon. . . ,

Except for her shyness at the beginning, the night-club job was exciting. She sang with a chorus of four other girls who wore peasant skirts and velvet, hand-embroidered bodices, and who accompanied the star baritone. The baritone was always dressed in silk peasant blouses with brightly colored braid cords around his waist.

Sophy had known many of the songs before she took the job. Those she didn’t know she learned. And she learned quickly because she wanted to. The routine of costumes, rehearsals, score sheets, two shows nightly, became something she could accept, and what shyness there was disappeared in the smells of peppered meat, of fresh black bread, and the laughter of people sipping wine over candles. With experience, her contralto voice became deeper and more powerful, the tone richer and more controlled. People began telling her she could be heard distinctly over the others. And she loved it. The Russian songs of festival and work and courtship never seemed to dull with repetition. Her ideas grew with the intensity she poured in month after month. Finally she came to feel as strongly about her music as the balding man who danced and played the balalaika.

How many men she met during those years she couldn’t remember. There must have been dozens who came and listened and tried to get close to her, not to mention others she met at parties. But none of them was able to fire her the way her music did. That was why it was so hard to tell about Sheldon Maltz. The manager had introduced her one night after her second show, and he’d acted like anyone else, maybe a little more polite and interested. It could have been his expression, looking as if he would cry if he saw a bird run over, or the way he held his hand against his side when he talked, rubbing his thumb against his second and third fingers, or his eyes, deep brown and alive under the heavy lids. Or maybe his gentleness, or maybe all of these — she didn’t know. All she did know was that she fell in love with a suddenness and completeness she was never fully to understand. She didn’t know exactly when it happened either. The second night he had said, “You sing beautifully,” and she had said thank you, holding her hand to her throat because she thought he would hear the beating there if she let go. She supposed it was then.

In less than a month they were married, and Sheldon closed his little agency on 49th Street where he booked acts for the B hotels in the Catskills to take her to a small place in Spring Valley for their honeymoon. She must have had a smile the whole time she was there because later she remembered the feeling she had when she saw the high double bed with the brass posts, and caught the bellhops winking at each other, and found out that after the second day the waiter never set their place for breakfast. She remembered lying in the newly cut grass under a perfect moon, smelling the sweetness, dreaming of the things they would do together. It was then Sheldon had first asked her to stop singing, so that they could have their nights together and “ keep a real home.” If she questioned it at all, it was only because she thought they might need the money, but when Sheldon bent over her and said, “I’d rather have you than the money,” she put her fingertips up, barely touching his lips, and said, “Then you’ll have me.”

When they came back, they moved into an apartment on West 24th Street. Sheldon returned to the agency and Sophy began furnishing the apartment. She bought drapes, fitted upholstery, debated pictures and vases, unpacked crockery and silverware, picked out utensils and linen. Sheldon helped whenever he could. Looking back, Sophy thought these months had been the happiest.

The trouble might never have started if Sheldon had not brought his rich cousin Duhlie home for dinner. Duhlie had first made his money from a race track on Long Island, using a system of betting favorites to place, and had set himself up for life by investing in a series of small high-class airports on the outskirts of several big cities Paterson, Albany, Miami, Providence. He used to tell Sheldon that no matter what happened, there was always a handful of the very rich who were never hurt, who always had enough money to fly. At thirty-nine he was free to do as he pleased. Sheldon wouldn’t have driven at such a clip in Duhlie s place, but he envied Duhlie his freedom with money, his clothes, his New Rochelle ideas of life. One weekend Duhlie took Sheldon and Sophy to a party in Kew Gardens and Sophy hadn’t liked it because, she said, “They hold their noses so high it’s a wonder they don’t bleed.” Particularly she took it out on a woman who was wearing a green satin dress and kept saying, “Darling, do tell us about the theater.” The next time Sheldon went, she stayed home.

A few weekends with Duhlie affected Sheldon like a drug. He became bored with his home, began craving the world of chromium and bluemirror bars. The arrangement worked well. Duhlie had a side-kick and Sheldon had someone to foot the bills. The weekends grew into weeks and Sophy stayed home to fill in the nights as best she could.

One night the balalaika player dropped in with his wife to invite her to their house for a card party. Sheldon had been away three days. Before he left he had said, “ I don’t know when I’ll be home exactly.” She thought about the invitation, but in the end she was so lonely she went. Afterwards, whenever Sheldon took off with Duhlie, she got herself invited to play cards. As long as her friends didn’t ask questions, she could laugh and hold away the pain.

The night she found Sheldon waiting up for her, she had been drinking a little. Before he even said hello he asked, “ Where’ve you been?” She remembered vaguely he’d been away five days.

“Playing cards with some friends.” She giggled but couldn’t help it.

“A man comes home and finds his wife out playing cards. Nice, very nice.”

“At least you know where I’ve been.” They argued for half an hour, snapping at each other, saying things they didn’t mean. She spit her words at him until she wanted to cry.

“A wife’s place is home,” he hissed.

She felt her eyes glistening, her mouth tightening in anger. “Is that right?” she said. “Well, let me tell you something, mister. You want me to stop playing cards? It’s very simple. You just start being a husband again and I’ll stop playing cards. This is your house, too. You be the man of it. Time bein’ don’t talk to me about staying home.” And she had thrown her coat over her arm and marched into the bedroom, where she began to undress.

For three months Sheldon didn’t see Duhlie. He brought home candy, dresses, flowers which he sometimes arranged on the coffee table in a green enamel vase. He took her to the theater to see Maurice Schwartz, and they celebrated their second anniversary at the Russian club. The house became a home again.

She remembered being frightened the day Duhlie popped in unannounced, grinning like a party crasher. “Sheldon, you old married man!” he roared. “I thought you fell into a hole or something. Why didn’t you call me?” Sheldon said he’d decided to sit around in his armchair awhile. “It’s comfortable.”

“Sophy,” Duhlie said, turning to her, “you’ll just have to do something about your man. Look at him. He’s simply wasting away.”

“We like it here,” she said. He said okay, he’d just come in to say he was flying his two-seater to Pasadena in two days and thought Sheldon might like to come along for the ride. Sheldon said, “I don’t think so. Thanks,” but he didn’t look at Duhlie.

“If you change your mind,” Duhlie said, “I’ll be at the hotel.”

That night in bed Sheldon’s muscles were wood, and he didn’t touch her. The next morning he was gone. She could hardly read the note for her tears. A week later he had not come back, and she escaped to the nights of cards, pale smoke, colored chips, and the hard laughter.

What happened from the time Sheldon left until the time she began working again was still confused in her mind. She remembered the letter from her old manager asking her to come down to meet a friend of his, a movie agent of some kind. The agent’s company was doing a series of musical short subjects, and they needed a Russian singer with a big repertoire. She remembered making the appointment, putting on her coat that day with the full intention of going, even starting out for the agent’s office, and then winding up somehow at the house of the balalaika player. “Luck like that,” she told her son years later, “I didn’t believe I had. It was the big chance, but I just didn’t care.”

She couldn’t remember how long after that she passed out at the party, but she remembered the long ride to the hospital, the fils of consciousness, the gray borders of sleep. She remembered that the doctor who told her she was pregnant had a mustache and silver-rimmed glasses. For a while the news gave her new energy, and she tried desperately to get in touch with Sheldon; at Duhlie’s hotel they suggested a club in Pasadena where he sometimes stayed. There she finally got it clear through a long-distance call that Sheldon and Duhlie had been there, but the plane had left a week before, for no one knew where. The call had cost $7.20.

The days and weeks that followed blurred in her mind like one dreary hour, they were so much alike. Gradually she stopped hoping Sheldon would come back. She didn’t go out, and when friends came, or clerks from the agency, she sent them away. Then, as the child came alive in her, she felt her strength draining off, the dead weight of weariness taking its place. A month before the child was due, she went into the streets, the loneliness holding her like claws, and walked until she found herself in front of Bellevue. “I’m sick, very sick,” she told the nurse at the desk, “please take me in.” The following week a baby boy was born, but her eyes felt so sick and hot and the baby looked so raw she didn’t want to see it. The days in the hospital became like the days of her pregnancy, blurred and run together. All she remembered later was sipping spoon after spoon of hot soup, and doctors communing in white whispers. They told her afterwards she had been there three months. When she was strong enough she took her baby, wrapped it in blankets smelling of hospital, and went back home. She found the room a tangle of Sheldon’s clothes but no Sheldon. There were cigarette stubs, cuff links, a tie she’d never seen, a handkerchief with lipstick. She couldn’t, stand it. Gathering her things, she went to the door, threw a final look af the rooms, and walked out.

The balalaika player and his wife had only to hear that Sophy needed a place to stay to go with her to the house of Katya, a girl who used to sing in the chorus with Sophy. It was agreed that Sophy would stay with Katya until she could find a place of her own, could find a job again. After everything had been arranged, the balalaika player took Sophy aside and told her Sheldon had been looking for her but no one had told him anything. They didn’t try to question her, but she could see it in their eyes. She said simply, “It’s all over, I couldn’t go back.”

While Katya was away at work, Sophy kept up the house, sewing, cooking, cleaning, laying plans for getting a job. She tried practicing at home, but at first she couldn’t do it. The melodies would make her remember and then she couldn’t go on. But Katya was patient, and helped her, making her talk about it when she began choking up. Gradually she began getting back the old tone and resonance. She liked to lull her baby to sleep singing “Eli, Eli,” feeling again the power of the old songs. Finally she and Katya agreed she was ready to go back to see the manager.

“Hello, you bad girl,” he said. “What do you mean by standing up my friends?” She remembered the movie agent.

“I had some trouble.”

“Yes, I heard,” he said quickly. “And now I suppose you want to come back. Okay.” Then he lifted his chin for business, told her he was opening a club in Newark and needed a feature singer. “Think you can handle it?”

She bit her lip. “I can try.” The next night she drove out with him to look the place over; after that it was easy. Deliberately, her opening number the first show was the one she had sung the night she met Sheldon, “Beltz, mein shtatileh, Beltz. . . .”

The applause broke through and faces appeared again behind the lights. A1 Gross was running around shouting “Now about that, folks, how about that!” Sophy bowed slightly and walked from the stage. The applause sounded good. It kept up until she reached her seat, where she heard people saying, “Terrific, Sophy,” “Say, were you a professional or somethin’?” A1 Gross asked her to do another number but she shook her head. Then Arty was next to her saying, “Sophila, who taught you!” He was talking too fast for her to catch everything, but she knew he was complimenting her, and she smiled sadly, “Fifteen years ago you should have heard me.” Suddenly she remembered she had promised Weiner she would go to Ellenville Thursday night.

4

SOPHY didn’t have much trouble making the deal with Arty. Whenever he finished setting up before she did, he would come and help her, but only if he wanted to, only with the understanding that she would pay him. The reason she gave was she was getting old, wasn’t as healthy as she used to be, and if she wanted to keep her station as clean as she liked and still get out of the dining hall sometime, she needed help. She didn’t tell Arty her real reason: she liked talking to him and liked the way he talked to her. She had him wiping goblets or folding napkins, talking while she cleaned the silverware or set up. Many times she was afraid to tell him things because she didn’t want to sound like an old woman feeling sorry for herself. She didn’t have much trouble talking about Weiner because Weiner belonged to the present and didn’t hold any hurt for her. She told Arty how she had worked at Grand Haven two summers before, how he had seen to it she got the best guests in the house and a good salary. She had gone back early the next season, and he’d told her he would have to cut her wages because the war was over and money wasn’t pouring in any more. “Now he says he had nothing to do with cutting the wages, His son forced him, he says. All of a sudden his son can force him.” When she told Arty she was going to see Weiner that night (Thursday), he asked her if she was going back to work for him. “You’ve got a good case,” she told him. “I’ll go there for a night maybe, but that’s all. He wanted to save a few dollars on my salary? Let him eat his heart out.”

“Why so fast? You said he’d treat you like a queen, ‘ Arty said.

“A queen? The man’s desperate, don’t you see? He says things. It’s too late to be a queen. Not that she could blame Weiner for being desperate.

she had been around Mrs. Weiner for a summer, and she told Arty, “Such a wife he’s got. How any man can stand her—” Arty interrupted, laughing.

“Well, I mean it,” she said with sudden compassion, “he’s a lonely man. I can’t help it, I feel Sorry for him.”

“So you’ll go back.”

“Tonight, I’ll go. But please, not to work. Let him see how I can get along without him. Tonight I’ll go and then we’ll see. At my age, what have I got to lose?” She stopped talking because she was feeling bad again. That was the way it always was — talking gave her relief up to a point; then, if it went any further, there would he a new layer of pain. She didn’t tell Arty how there had always been a constant fear under the skin of theater life. She didn’t know how to tell it. She remembered the way she used to watch the dim white faces out front, the faces of the men who tried to look indiflerent behind the red tips of cigarettes. I low could she talk about looking deep into the eyes of her partner the time she won the waltz contest, and the face of the man who carried home for her the prize, a gold-emblazoned dresser set which she still had? She could tell him about the time the younger girl, trained by a teacher in a high-class Carnegie Hall studio, heat her out for a part, and how she knew then that her days in the theater wore coming to an end. But how could she toll anyone that it look years of broken dishes, dirty sinks, complaints, to make her believe that a second love would never come? It was easier to talk about the good times.

Arty listened, trying to imagine it. He fell strange, as if the story weren’t real somehow. He remembered how, when he was Utile, he used to listen to his father and his father’s friends talking over tea, their empty hugel plates black with squashed cigarettes. He used to try to picture the strange names and places they talked about, and it always fell a little like dreaming. He felt that way now listening to Sophy, seeing her eyes moisten whenever she came too close to the center.

She was saying, “Not that there weren’t lots of men. There were plenty, gigolos, mashers, millionaires. But I don’t know — when I didn’t care for them, I couldn’t pay their price.”

Arty wondered about her son, but didn’t say anything. When she said, “ My son? My son . . . he felt she was reading his mind. “I wanted Seymour to go to college and become somebody. But he didn’t like school. After high school, he wanted to run to work. So I let him have his way. At first it was okay. He was making a nice living selling. But then he met a girl, you know, a real fency schmnecy. He had to keep her in style, so he began using my money. I was saving it for him in ease he ever wanted to go into business. You know what he said when I tried to reason with him? He said, ‘It’s my life.’ How do you like that? It’s his life. One time he got mad and went to stay with her for a week. What did it get me? Before he met her, he used to treat me like a queen. But now?”

She used that helpless little shrug of hers, and said something about things getting in your blood. “So what is it? Work, work, and more work. The lousy needle and thimble were right. But it’s okay. Whenever things pile up so bad I think I’m going to bust, I tell myself, ‘Never mind eomplaimng, Sophy. You had your chance and missed it. Now pav for it. Work, work, and pay for it.’” Growling Hie words, she gritted her teeth and made a hall of her list. Then she laughed bitterly. “And tonight I’m supposed to see Weiner.”

It was past nine when Arty entered the main lobby.

“Hey!” someone called out from the card room that adjoined the lobby opposite the dining room. Looking in, he could see the blond furniture, the smoke, the games, the blue light. Then he saw Sophy smiling up at him from one of the tables. He remembered she was supposed to leave for KllenviUe at eight-thirty.

“Come in here and bring me luck.” She was placing with some of her guests, who greeted Arty vaguely. Her face was coquettish as a fourteenyear-old, and she smelled of powder.

Arty leaned over her shoulder, smiling. “Why didn’t you go?”

“Sonny, when you’re my age you’ll find out. Arty watched two more deals, then excused himself, “ I’m going to find myself a nice young girl.

He walked out the front entrance, under the portico and across the lawn. A full moon was coming up behind the mountain and he knew that in an hour white light would be flooding the surface of the lake. Up ahead the casino waited, quivering with mist and dark figures moving in long, nervous strokes across the windows.