The 10:47 train out of Rowayton huzzed past yuppie towns and small cities, sleepy and otherwise, in the crisp morning. On it was a sparsely bearded, comfortably caffeinated Wilson—hands clasped; feet curled under the seat; torso bent forward, nature calling from the front; the idyllic Redhead’s faintly fragrant hair, oh to have that again the idea of having that again made him boing, to have the olfactions—by his memory a flowery musk kissed by brine and a whiff of leather—again oh yes oh that boinged the man’s boinger like the bright jangles of the conductor’s keys. Anxiety waxed—Mullaly’s last performance, that double-orchiectomizing and admittedly incisive performance the eclipser. With the keys, the leather seat, the hissing and clicking of the train’s brakes, the boing, he stayed happy like twenty-five years ago when he knew Nana and Poppy’s warm, orange-tiled, wooden-panel-walled sunroom—furnished with a swiveling, orange leather chair, the inspirer of a unique and recurrent olfactory dream; the room welcomed the whish-whoosh of the dishwasher through wall-spanning inner windows and, from outside, a salty breeze bearing news of just-washed linens—he was elated like when he knew, in real time, these combined with the whole impression made by Nana’s shuffling gait, Poppy’s colorful library—seat of his passion, his favorite the bible—and their shiny metallic slot machine with red, blue, and green trim, revolving cherries and fez-clad monkeys playing chest-mounted bass drums, and on one side a lever that could prompt a pleasing chih-ih-ing and award coins whether the monkeys aligned or not.
“Welcome to One-hundred-and-twenty-fifth Street. Next stop: Grand Central.”
Wilson thought about getting off here to shorten his walk to the drop, but decided downtown would be better for now and, anyway, to get there nine hours early would be foolery. Still holding his water, he suffered another ten minutes en route.
TRAIN STOPPED, DOORS PNEUMATICALLY OPENED
“This is our last stop. Thank you for choosing Metro North!”
Wilson got off the train, pissed in the nearest restroom and took in the beauties of the station since he had the time. There were blondes, brunettes, and redheads; there was marble, iron, and brass; there were clocks and stores, booths and whores; people relating—playing games; a young German shepherd yawning, head jerking up and down a bit at the end, tips of his ears touching as his paws lightly clipped and clapped along the marble floor; everything a moving picture, combinations of moving pictures everywhere—entering and exiting, some passing along. Everything was coming, going, bygone. Nothing requited Wilson’s attention.
He finally left the station, and found himself fretting; strangely, it was around his marriage. He was worried that perhaps he wouldn’t be the one to end it, or that it would never end because neither he nor Molly would find a better alternative. He kept thinking about that bird-in-hand expression–did it apply to him? Was it better to hang his hat now since he seemed to have something of a guarantee in Molly, or should he take his chances on middle-aged-divorcee status? There was nothing horrible about the match, he thought; it had become tepid where it was once fiery, that’s all. He still respected her on some personal level, and had to concede she looked least reproachable for being tens of pounds heavy. Familiarity, though, had begotten the death of constant ardor, but sometimes he could still see the girl he couldn’t stay soft around—the girl frustratingly fine, insofar as she said no to his advances. She hadn’t said yes in years, and not for too few trials; he just kept insufficiently aware of changes in her preferences, and didn’t know how to recover that awareness—where to start looking; he could ask, true, but he learned in his younger years that verbal interview was not, at least then, the way to win her wetness; it always seemed up to luck. So aimless his thinking went for a while as he dazedly walked up, down and across the city; his net path just had to be northeast.
“Are you Jimbo?” Asked a smoky voice somewhere in the sixties on the east side of Lexington.
“No.” Wilson said plainly.
“You look and walk like Jimbo. Come here a minute. I want to tell you a story.”
The voice belonged to a disheveled but subtly handsome older man, probably fifty-something, but by appearance sixty-something. The street has a way of accelerating lives. He had shaggy grey hair about fourteen inches long; thick, black eyebrows; a respectably full but tobacco-stained beard, and respectably straight but tobacco-stained teeth. Wilson followed him through the alleyway and they stopped at a concrete landing five, eight-inch-high-steps-up from the ground.
The man successfully put his blackened hand out for Wilson to shake.
“I’m Feeyohder. I like to tell what I know. Here’s something. There was a man, overwhelmed by the sad stagnation of his life. He did things, sure, but got nowhere. He worked in an office; some would call him a suit. He lived in Connecticut.”
“One day, he realized that the easiest way to change things was to radically change himself. Know what I mean?”
“Not specifically, but yes.
“So, what he did was…I always have trouble getting this part out when I’m hungry…”
Wilson thought for a minute. Normally, he’d have just walked away, but this Feeyohder had him compelled. Maybe this investment would prove worthwhile.
“Okay. Here’s twenty.”
“Not what I meant, boy! Let’s have a meal.”
They stopped at a café and sat down.
They silently sat for about ten minutes, waiting for the food to arrive. Wilson studied Feeyohder’s face furtively; he was envious of all the man’s structural features, but at the same time couldn’t resent him for it. There was no eye contact during this time, during which Feeyohder seemed out-of-body.
“Here’s your egg sandwich, handsome! And here’s your oatmeal, sir.”
They ate for a bit, and then the older man continued.
“So, he had to change himself to move forward. No hobbies, no special skills, not a fuckin chance of making a unique, significant, lasting impression on paper. He could write, though, not so well at first but he wrote and wrote and wrote and read and read and read and he found moments. And assembled them best he could and submitted them.”
“What did he write about?”
“He had flashbacks to his childhood—mostly pleasant, vivid flashbacks. He became addicted to these visions and smells and sounds and associations, and thought that the more he wrote, the more he’d remember. It didn’t work that way. Once he ran out of childhood memories and combinations thereof, he presumed his creativity dried up. So he sat in his office, depressed again, doing nothing, until finally he got fired.”
“What happened next?”
“I’m so sorry.”
“That’s what people say.”
“That guy is dead, I’m in his body. My only regret is that I should have quit first, and then started writing—living—in earnest. This life is an artist’s dream. I see a lot. I do a lot. Any timidity I have about approaching people is offset by the chance we’ll change each other. Just the other day, I tried the same thing that worked on you with some pastel-wearing, bellied gentleman and his response impressed me much.”
“What did he say?”
“All I remember is impressing upon him and then being impressed upon; the words were only a small part of a great whole, ineffably great.”
“Can I see some of your writing?”
“We’re writing a story and storing our memoirs. What’s precious about this writing is we can’t fully appreciate its reach; I can’t know how it ramifies you, and you then the world, but I’m sure it does, and you do! The only thusness is that there is no eternal thusness; everything’s coming and going, becoming something new all the time.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
Wilson couldn’t reply.
“Good; you keep thinking. You can pick up the check next time, friend, but not here. Our money isn’t accepted here. They appreciate our work.”
“Could you write your thesis down for me?”
“I did. You’re on the level, and I know what that looks like. Thank you for everything; you can’t know how much you’ve done for me. So long, Jimbo!”
“But what have I done for y…”
Feeyohder walked out and stormed jollily uptown.
Excerpted from the same novella as “His Pragm’ic Way.” Mullally is the thinker in that piece.