she takes off her glasses and begins to chew reflectively at one of the earpieces. Whenever someone is ready for another beer Gladys slides off her stool, gets a Falstaff or Pearl from the ice box behind the counter, and goes over toward the table quite tranquilly, wondering out loud how big earrings should be and swishing along in her open sandals and flowing Spanish-style skirt. But along the way she sometimes undergoes a sudden private crisis: perhaps she has a violent recollection of some threatening moment in her past, perhaps she just remembers an old irritation. But her casual idling talk abruptly becomes explosive, and gripping the beer bottle at the neck like a dagger she begins talking furiously to the window fan or Charlie’s wide back or the spreadout newspaper screening the old deaf man. No one seems to pay her any mind, and the mood eddies and flows away, leaving her standing there in the center of the store like a well-wisher puzzled at the sudden departure of a ship, the beer bottle in her hand descending slowly to her side in its useless and unseen farewell. JOE: he comes silently into the store and walks behind the counter, speaking to no one and seeming to watch the conversations across the room with a detached, unconcerned air. For some reason you wonder if he has ever killed a man, for he is somehow too mild and silent and opaque. He suggests something pathological. He either stands there behind the counter, not looking directly at anyone but nevertheless quietly alert to all the needs of the customers at the tables, or he moves about doing small managerial thingslaying a pencil closer to an order pad or making brief unnecessary wipes with the counter rag. Occasionally he comes from behind the counter and unobtrusively removes beer bottles from the tables. He gives the impression that he is purposefully and decorously not listening in on the table conversations, and you wonder if this attitude is fakeif he isn’t catching it all as anyone else would. And then it strikes you: he really isn’t listening because he isn’t interested. All along he has been deceiving customers into believing that he was discreet and professional-acting when actually he just didn’t care about them. This puts you to wondering again if he hasn’t killed somebody once and is going straight nowmaybe living under an assumed name here on the coast and being quite willing to let other people alone if they will do the same for him. Surely so quietlymoving and so detached a man as he has had a past and a passion. YoU try to visualize those outbursts of fury that inevitably must get out of his control at times: perhaps Gladys is his wife and perhaps every now and then he uses his pocket knife to cut her up good on the wrists for some disobedience, or blackens her face with his small white fists. You can see him at home some night, catching her sneaking beer after he has told her to lay off : catching her at the ice box and slamming the door on her hand and holding it shut with, his knee while she screams and he slaps her. Then after it is all over perhaps he goes along quite peaceably for a while, very much the efficient, small-time business man, making necessary corrections in the grey ledgers when Gladys rings up the wrong amount for beer, wiping the tables carefully and thanking the customers genuinely and courteously for the Alka-Seltzer and razor blades they buy. Surely the customers think highly of Joe and always have a good word to say about him. He stands behind the counter, his hands resting lightly on the oblong chewing gum jar. He seems ready for something to happen, poised like a decoy in a bank holdup. His hair is neatly barbered in the old John Held style but with no greasy shine or slickness. It. is very full and parted close to the middle and is _utterly black. His face is chiseled and pale and somehow seems vaguely foreign. He is not handsome but only because he seems too wooden, too much like a mannequin. And his body it is almost too spare, and his clothes almost too neat. It seems as though he might not have certain glands functioning properly. Perhaps he has never been able to sweat or cry. THE OLD DEAF MAN: he sits at a table reading part of last week’s Sunday paper. He wears a small ivory earphone, with a wire coming down from underneath his olive-drab engineer’s cap. He hias wide suspenders hitched to stiff and starched khakis that fall straight as the face of a cliff down his legs when he stands up: he seemingly has no rear end at all. His face is brown and shrunken and leathery, and he has steel-rimmed glasses. Now and then he lays the newspaper down on the table and gives a huge, conspiratorial grin as he shares with himself some secret mirth. After a while he gets up, eases his chair back carefully, rolls his newspaper into a neat bundle, and tiptoes over to the counter where Gladys is reading. He stands behind her stool a moment before softly reaching across her shoulders with the newspaper and slamming it into the face of her comic section. Then he steps back, laughing silently at the back of her head. Gladys does not bother to turn around. He goes over to a row of dusty shelves beside the counter and squats there on his hunkers, looking at the used, dusty pocket books that are stacked in among the canned goods. He studies the shelf, then rises and tiptoes from the store; in a few moments he returns from a shack across the street with five pocket books of his own. He exchanges them for five on the shelf, walks over behind Gladys again and hits her lightly on the head with the books, and then steps back, again hoping and waiting for her to turn around. She does this time and makes as though she is going to hit him with her glasses. This is what the old man has been hoping for, and he doubles over in glee. In this hunchedover way he leaves the store with his pocket books clutched in one old gnarled hand, still shaking his head from side to side with noiseless laughter. And there are these, also: IRENE: who has been in front of the window fan all afternoon, facing the counter and drinking her countless beers. She is a big Okie with a bland brown shining forehead and huge white buck teeth that are so very white and so very buck that they seem to be false, made out of paraffin. She has cropped black hair, tinged at the ends with grey. Periodically she leans her great bulk back in the chair like_ an asthmatic hippo rearing up out of the water for air. Looking at her, you wonder if she was born by “normal processes or simply proliferated there in the chair, perhaps from spilled beer, and was incubated into enormity by the constant generative whir of the window fan. CHARLIE: not a true florid type, but big and talkative. He would talk even more if he felt less awkward with April 4, 1963 11
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