Illustration: Tom Keogh


Rudy was awake now but his body had not changed from its position of sleep. Under the sheet he lay coiled like a serpent, his knees and elbows and his face all nestled in a fat and private circle. His mother stood at his bedside.

“Baby Filbertson, I’m tired and I’m mad. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. Dammit, I said p. m. Tell me you never dipped into my phenobarbitals last night!”

He answered without moving: “Mother, I swear hand on the Bible, if I touched one pheeny in this house last night, God strike me dead an’ you along with me!”

“Leave me the hell out of it, brother,” she said.

“Anyway I’m sick,” Rudy said, “somethin’ wrong with m’head.”

“You think your head’s in bad shape now…” She held up the back of her hand and threatened his face with it. “Groggy from stolen phenobarbs is your trouble.”

“I already swore on the Bible may I be struck dead,” he said, still without moving. “I wasn’t struck, was I?”

“Show me somebody sleeps fourteen hours ’thout a pill and brother, I’ll show you a cock-eyed snake-in-the-grass wouldn’t know the truth ’f he got hit on his head with it.” She closed her fat hand over the corner of the sheet and ripped it from the bed. “Git up!”

Rudy rolled over on his back and covered his private section with the pillow. Then he looked up at his mother who stood with arms akimbo, smoke pouring from her nostrils, and an inch of cigaret hanging from her lips, grinning like a nasty cartoon bulldog. Rudy sat up: “You’re a sonofabitch,” he said.

Her hand landed with great force and speed on the side of his face. Rudy screamed as his head struck the mattress.

“Make me sick,” she said, waddling out of the room, her bedroom slippers going whoosh-slap whoosh-slap under her like the fins of some walking dream-fish. “Nineteen years old, I think he’s still in di’pers.” The door slammed shut.

Rudy lay looking at his body, the breasts as full as a young girl’s; below them, a larger more distant hill of stomach and near the foot of the bed, two groups of toes like uncooked sausages pointed vaguely toward the ceiling. Rudy was good and damned fed up. Trying to get one puny little sleeping capsule from her was like sticking up the First National Bank. He had a good notion just to pack up a few things, including enough money to get as far as Hollywood, and just leave her there in the middle of New York to shift for herself. —And brother, when it came to that, she knew how to shift. She got her sleeping pills, didn’t she? You bet your bottom dollar she got hers. And enough money to last for life, too: had his father certified mentally non-something-or-other and locked up at Belle Grove (not that the skunk didn’t deserve it), then went to court and had the separation made legal, tied up half of the old cuss’s money in a trust fund so she could give up day nursing and sit on her fat tail for life without twitching a muscle she didn’t want to twitch. Except the one under her left eye. That’n probably be twitching from now on. Doctor called it nerves.

Maybe he’d go away alone, to anywhere, even if it was back to New Orleans, then get himself a job though Lord knew where: perhaps a loan office could use him for evaluating pearls, or the movies in funny fat person parts, or maybe he’d brush up on his piano and take voice, if they ever stayed in one place long enough, and get himself a job singing and playing in a saloon. Eventually, of course, Rudy knew he’d end up in Hollywood.

He could hear the whoosh-slap of her slippers approaching on the other side of the door. He got out of bed and stepped into his trousers. She opened the door and stood watching him.

“If you ain’t a sight,” she said. “Gain another pound, you be a real hog, that’s for damn sure!”

“’Bout like you, Mother?” he said. “That’s what I’m aimin’ for.”

“Yeah, ’bout like me, son. Titties an’ all.”

The ironing board was set up in the main room of the apartment. There were three altogether: two bedrooms and this main room which was used for everything but sleeping and bathing. In an alcove near the bathroom door stood a cream-colored refrigerator on which a previous tenant had glued a picture of a yellow swan eating a pink water lily. Rudy opened the door. Inside were four bottles of Coca-cola, half a melon, a bottle of chocolate milk and a pound of bacon. He took one of the Coca-colas and the melon, sat on the couch, turned on the radio and began to eat.

Daisy Filbertson held the iron upsidedown under her face. “If you wasn’t so soft in the head you’d get you a nylon shirt, don’t need pressin’.” She spat on the iron; it sizzled. “Listen t’me, Baby Filbertson, turn off that damn radio, your mother’s talkin’. I know you don’t give one lovely hoot if I iron from now till hell won’t have it, but I do brother. Turn that damn thing off!

Rudy was listening to a radio commercial paid for by a correspondence school that taught Spanish in six weeks. Maybe he’d slip away to Trinidad and become a calypso singer.

“…don’t leave it sit there,” Daisy was saying as the commercial gave place to a song called Give Me a Kiss To Build a Dream On. “Put that rind in the pail and take it all on down t’ the street. Been bad pork in there since last night, startin’ t’ smell.”