She was a nice little girl, simple and true, and tremendously frightened of sex. I told her it was beautiful. I wanted to prove this to her. She let me prove it, but I was too impatient and proved nothing. She sighed in the dark.
“What do you want out of life?” I asked, and I used to ask that all the time of girls.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Just wait on tables and try to get along.” She yawned. I put my hand over her mouth and told her not to yawn. I tried to tell her how excited I was about life and the things we could do together; saying that, and planning to leave Denver in two days. She turned wearily. We lay on our backs, looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad. We made vague plans to meet in Frisco.
That night in Harrisburg I had to sleep in the railroad station on a bench; at dawn the station masters threw me out. Isn’t it true that you start your life a sweet child believing in everything under your father’s roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life. I stumbled haggardly out of the station; I had no more control.
All I could see of the morning was a whiteness like the whiteness of the tomb. I was starving to death.
All I had left in the form of calories were the last of the cough drops I’d bought in Shelton, Nebraska, months ago; these I sucked for their sugar. I didn’t know how to panhandle. I stumbled out of town with barely enough strength to reach the city limits. I knew I’d be arrested if I spent another night in Harrisburg. Cursed city! The ride I proceeded to get was with a skinny, haggard man who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health. When I told him I was starving to death as we rolled east he said, “Fine, fine, there’s nothing better for you. I myself haven’t eaten for three days. I’m going to live to be a hundred and fifty years old.” He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac. I might have gotten a ride with an affluent fat man who’d say, “Let’s stop at this restaurant and have some pork chops and beans.”
No, I had to get a ride that morning with a maniac who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health.
After a hundred miles he grew lenient and took out bread-and-butter sandwiches from the back of the car. They were hidden among his salesman samples. He was selling plumbing fixtures around Pennsylvania. I devoured the bread and butter. Suddenly I began to laugh. I was all alone in the car, waiting for him as he made business calls in Allentown, and I laughed and laughed. Gad, I was sick and tired of life. But the madman drove me home to New York.