YOU CAN READ
THE FIRST HALF
OF THE BOOK
YOU CAN PRINT IT
READ IT IN BED,
FOR MAXIMUM PORTABILITY
ON THE BEACH
IN THE TUB,
YOU CAN BUY THE
PAPERBACK EDITION AT
has had far, far too much to drink. The wise thing, as soon as Jack
finishes his lobster, would be to say his good-nights, get into a cab with
Belinda, and head for home, but he’s a drink or two beyond reason, and
he seems to be having such fun, they all seem to be having such fun, they
all seem so clever and talented, that Matthew doesn’t want the group to
break up. He wants them to come back to his place. At a couple
of points in the evening he has almost spilled the beans about being B.
W. Beath, and he knows, somewhere in the back of his mind, that if he persuades
the whole gang to come to his place for a last drink, he’s sure to tell
them, and then he’ll stand out even within this superior group.
“Listen,” he says a little too loudly, “as soon
as Jack finishes that lobster, let’s go back to my place for a cognac.
I just bought a great CD of old Coleman Hawkins stuff. ‘Body and
Soul’? Perfect for cognac sipping. And I want you to see my
place, and my view.”
Objections are raised by Effie and Richard: it’s
late, the kids are with a baby-sitter, and so on, but Jack is eager, and
together he and Matthew persuade Effie to call the sitter, find out if
the girl can stay overnight, and come along for one drink.
THE MAKE THEIR WAY outside in four styles of wobble; only Jack walks
with certain steps. The fierce wind, funneled by buildings, makes
them hug themselves. Cabs are waiting at the door, since Flynn’s
is a perfect spot to find fares to downtown hotels. Jack steps up
to the first one, opens the door, motions Effie and Richard in, and calls
out to Belinda and Matthew, “Come on. We can all fit. Belinda
can sit on my lap. Come on, come on.” He’s waving, puffing
“I don’t think they can take more than four,” says
“That’s right,” Matthew says. “He’ll give
us a hard time.”
“Why should he care?” says Jack. He slides
in and pats his lap. “Come on, Belinda. Matthew can sit in
front.” Belinda grins and shrugs and settles herself on Jack’s lap.
Matthew opens the front door. The cabdriver, a woman, says, “I can’t
take five. I can’t do it.”
“It’s not far,” Matthew says. “And it’s so
cold. Can’t you just take us?”
“But they’re already in. Just go, okay?”
“Look, it’s not my rule. I’m telling you,
I can’t do it. One of you has to get out.”
Matthew looks back through the plastic partition.
It’s all laughs and good times back there. He has the impression
that they aren’t even aware that the cab hasn’t started moving. He
knocks on the plastic. Everyone looks at him.
“She can’t take five,” he shouts. “Maybe Belinda
and I should—”
Jack makes a rubbing motion between his thumb and
forefinger, and he mouths the word money. He looks at Matthew
as if he should know that money’s the answer.
Matthew has never done anything like this.
He has never offered a bribe for a favor, for special treatment, never
tried to get a rule bent, never even slipped a maître d’ a folded
bill to get a table. He wonders if it works, if it will work now.
He takes his wallet out and looks into it. How much?
He pulls out a ten. He looks at the driver.
“Here,” he says.
She takes the bill, flips the flag down, puts the
cab in gear, and drives off. Matthew feels absolutely wonderful for
about a block and a half, but then he begins to wonder whether he could
have gotten her to take them for five dollars, and then he begins to wonder
about paying the fare. Should I tip on top of the bribe?
What’s the etiquette here? The driver asks about the restaurant,
whether it’s still “as good as it used to be.” She must think
I’m a tourist. Matthew comes close to telling her that he’s B.
W. Beath. When they arrive at his building, he adds a dollar to the
BY THE TIME Matthew has brought out cognac and liqueurs, he has the
feeling that each of them has come to the independent conclusion that coming
here was a bad idea, but none of them wants the evening to end on a wrong
note, so they are all making a big effort to try to enjoy it.
He stands beside Jack at the windows, looking out
at the lights.
“You have a great view, Matthew,” says Jack.
Matthew wonders whether there is a social comment lurking in that remark.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” he ventures.
“Sure is,” says Jack. “Must be the best view
of the get-toe available. You ought to invite the black folks
up, let ’em see how good they look from a distance.”
Matthew laughs uneasily. He wonders what Jack
thinks about the whole question of race now that he’s a rich black
“What’s with the hole, Matthew?” asks Richard.
“Hole?” Matthew says. “What hole? This
hole? This hole represents the unstinting efforts of our management
company, Ingalls and Nelson, known affectionately as Ignore and Neglect,
to discover the source of—ah—” He’s embarrassed to say it.
The idea that his apartment stinks is as embarrassing as the idea that
“Leaks?” asks Richard.
“Yeah,” Matthew says. This seems less painful
to admit. He glances at Belinda. She looks surprised.
He shrugs. The idea that his friends now think his apartment leaks
begins to embarrass him, but not as much as their thinking it stinks would,
and not as much as, say, having to admit that he has begun to leak,
that he’s started dribbling after urinating, like an old man. “Let’s
not talk about it,” he says.
“Okay,” says Jack. “Let’s have a drink and
put on some music and put out the lights and look out over the city and
watch the cops hassle my people.”
Matthew pours and Belinda hands the drinks around.
The story of Jack’s missing lobster is told again. Richard mimics
Jack’s looking for it under the plates of food. Belinda asserts that
she and Effie could have talked the people at the next table out of one
of theirs. Jack snickers and rubs his hands together and vows to
get even somehow in his commercial. Matthew chuckles and says, “Don’t
worry, I’ll get even in my review.”
“Are you writing restaurant reviews?” asks Effie.
Matthew looks over at Belinda and grins. “Shall
I tell them?” he asks.
“Up to you,” she says.
“What do you think? They’re not going to spread
it around. Why not?”
“I don’t know, Matthew,” says Belinda.
“Maybe I’d better not,” he says.
“Well, you have to now,” says Effie. “Whatever
it is, you have to tell us now.”
Matthew looks to Belinda again, gives her a questioning
“Matthew,” she says, “I don’t have anything to do
with this. If you want to tell them, then tell them.”
“Oh, it’s no big deal,” Matthew says. “I write
for Boston Biweekly. Restaurant reviews. ‘The Epicurean
Adventures of B. W. Beath’?”
“We read that!” say Richard and Effie almost simultaneously.
Matthew could hug them.
“Oh, I can’t wait to see what you say about Flynn’s,”
“I can’t wait to see what you remember about
Flynn’s,” says Jack.
“Maybe it is time to call it a night,” says Belinda.
She’s looking at Matthew. He realizes that
he had fallen asleep for a moment.
“They keep you parked in that damned lounge so long,”
No one responds. They begin to go. There are visits
to the bathrooms, the getting of coats. Matthew gathers glasses,
begins cleaning up in a desultory way. Effie helps and takes the
opportunity to whisper to him, “That was a nice thing you did.”
For a moment Matthew has no idea what she means.
He runs through the events of the evening. Was there some little
kindness that he’s forgotten? Around the corner from the kitchen,
where they’re out of everyone’s sight for a moment, Effie kisses him, quickly,
impulsively. It isn’t much of a kiss, but it is a kiss, and when
she pulls away and looks at him, something lively flickers in her eyes
and she repeats the kiss, just another peck, but a kiss. Matthew
remembers what she means, why she’s kissing him, and he’s ashamed, but
he hazards a return kiss anyway, and she accepts it and squeezes his arm.
He’s glad that he’s been so regular at the health club.
Then suddenly everyone’s at the door, and then out
the door, waiting for the elevator. Belinda’s leaving, too, and Matthew
doesn’t ask her to stay. He’s not too drunk to know that he’s too
drunk for sex. He might as well save himself the humiliation of failure.
She blows him a kiss and says she’ll call him in the morning, and they’re
gone. Matthew weaves in the doorway for a moment, and then he shuts
and locks the door and goes to bed.
He lies on the bed in his clothes for a minute,
but then he’s disgusted by the idea of falling asleep drunk and dressed.
He sits on the edge of the bed and pulls his things off, tosses them onto
the floor. He pulls his wallet from his jacket and takes the bills
from it. He counts them three times and decides to believe the third
count: fifty-seven dollars. He puts the money on the bedside table.
He promises the memory of Effie’s heart-shaped face that he’ll take it
with him on his way to the health club in the morning and give it to the
beggar who stands at the corner every morning and asks, with downcast eyes,
“Anything today? Anything at all?”
However, when morning comes he will have the vague,
unsettling feeling that he made a fool of himself. He’ll remember
Hester Hooker, and the idea of distributing money to the poor, and he’ll
be embarrassed. He’ll put the bills back into his wallet, and when
he sees the beggar, he’ll keep his head down and pass without pausing.
THIRTY SECONDS OF
PLAYED BY COLEMAN HAWKINS
YOU CAN BUY THE CD AT