The Checkout

THE CHECKOUT
By Thomas J. Hubschman
(c) Thomas J. Hubschman

I got the idea from something that happened a couple years earlier when I was home on leave from Fort Dix. My mother said my Aunt Helen was coming to visit that weekend and would I mind sleeping one night in a hotel. I said sure thing–we Greeks are nothing if not hospitable. Besides, I liked my Aunt Helen. She used to buy me silver cap pistols, and she smelled like an ice cream parlor…

That young woman over by the window, the one with the computer and the nice legs. That’s how they connect to the Internet, isn’t it. In a place like this. Or an airport. You see, I’m not entirely out of it… Do people still say “out of it”?

Anyway, the St. George Hotel was just a few blocks from our apartment over a Syrian bakery on Atlantic Avenue. Brooklyn Heights was no great shakes then, just after the War, nothing like what it’s become. But the St. George was still a respectable place.

I had sixty dollars in my pocket, a month’s pay. I had no idea what a room cost in the St. George. When the clerk said forty dollars, I figured he was talking for a week. I told him I only wanted it for one night.

“Forty dollars,” he said in the same Southern drawl as a guy in my unit who once offered me a blowjob if I shined his shoes for him.

“Look,” I said, “all I have is sixty dollars, and that has to last me a month. Don’t you have anything cheaper?”

There was a young couple standing right behind me–honeymooners hoping to save a few bucks by staying in Brooklyn instead of one of the pricier hotels in Manhattan. Either that or they had come for the pool. The St. George had this big indoor pool that people traveled all the way from Jersey to swim in.

Anyway, the clerk could see I was holding up business, so he said, “I can give you a checkout for twenty.”

“A checkout?” I said. “What’s that?”

“People check out early. You get the room for four or five hours. Take it or leave it.”

I took it, though I felt like shoving the little silver bell on the reception desk though his forehead. Here I was fighting for my country–well, the war was over by then, but that wasn’t the point, was it?–and all I could get for twenty dollars, one third of a month’s pay, was a bed for four or five hours.

What did you say your name was? Do me a favor, Terry. Go get me a mocha light with extra sugar. And get something for yourself, too. My treat. I insist…

I know what you’re thinking: I don’t look like someone who needs any extra calories. My doctor says I should use a sugar substitute. I said, Doctor, am I going to live forever? No, he says–you’re laughing but that’s what I said. So, I said, then why deprive me of the one pleasure that’s left to me? That’s what I said.

Well, three years later I was out of the army and earning the princely sum of forty-five dollars a week, enough to raise a family on in those days. I had a pretty soft job in one of the big insurance companies over by Madison Square. Nobody died from overwork. We spent half the day at the water cooler and the other half hanging out in each other’s offices. Most of the girls were married or had regular boyfriends, and the rest weren’t exactly beauty queens.

After work I wandered up to Midtown–Times Square, mostly. Back then that neighborhood was full of pimps and prostitutes. But there were other interesting characters as well: sidewalk preachers, three-card monte dealers, all sorts of scammers that took advantage of the tourist trade. I enjoyed watching them fleece the greenhorns, as long as it didn’t involve anything more than a few George Washingtons. I never got suckered myself, though I confess I did occasionally succumb to the charms of one of the young ladies who made themselves available to gentlemen like myself on a tight budget…

Did I mention I was still living with my mother? An apartment, even a furnished room, would have cost me a week’s pay every month. I had few expenses, but I liked to dress well and go to a Broadway show every now and then. Besides, my mother appreciated the few bucks I gave her each week.

I liked to pass by the big nightclubs in that area. You never knew who you might see pulling up to the front door of the Copacabana in a big limousine. I saw the governor there. And let me tell you, that didn’t look like his daughter on his arm in a low-cut evening gown.

One night I decided to screw up my courage and have a look inside. I asked the maitre d’ if there was a bar. He said, “Yes sir, right this way.” Like I said, I dressed well for these excursions even if I usually did nothing but walk around.

I ordered a drink that cost four times what it would in any ordinary bar and tried to watch the floorshow, though you needed binoculars to see the half-naked girls doing their stuff on the stage, they were so far away. But I saw no point paying a king’s ransom for a bottle of cheap champagne just to sit at a table. I was only reconnoitering.

I finished my drink and figured I’d head back to Brooklyn when I noticed a bar right across the street called Murphy’s. What caught my attention was a couple nice-looking girls entering the place that could have fit right into the chorus line of the show in the Copa. I figured, what the hell, I could drop a couple more dollars without having to go hungry till my next paycheck.

I took a seat at the far end of the bar where I had a good view of everyone in the place. The two girls were sitting at a table by the wall where there were two or three other tables similarly occupied. I was still trying to decide which of them most appealed to me when the bartender came over and wiped the bar in front of me–you know how bartenders do–and asked, “Would you like to make the acquaintance of one of those show girls, sir? I’d be happy to ask her to join you.”

I thanked him but said, no, I was rather tired and didn’t feel like having any companionship just then.

“I understand, sir,” he said. “Perhaps another time.”

You see, I had an idea, and I wanted to give myself time to think it through.

The next day after work I headed down to Greenwich Village to a place habituated by horse players. I had on my best suit. I never skimped on clothes. I learned that from a corporal in my unit, a salesman in civilian life. “Appearance is everything, Sammy,” he told me, standing in front of the latrine mirror and adjusting his tie for the nth time–we were getting ready to go out on weekend pass. His cordovan shoes looked like mirrors. I spent hours trying to get my shoes to look like that till he showed me how he did it with a piece of chamois cloth he only used for that one purpose. “Appearance and diction, Sammy. You gotta have both. But you’ll never make a sale if you don’t have one other thing, too,” he said, checking his profile from both sides and tapping the top of the little pompadour that was all the Army allowed us.

“Sincerity. If they don’t think you’re sincere, if they don’t feel you believe every word you say one hundred fifty percent, it don’t matter how good you talk or how sharp you dress,” he said, running his hand down his tie–he wore these bright broad ties, sometimes with naked girls on them. “If you ain’t sincere, Sammy,” he said, catching my eye in the mirror where I was copying his careful inspection of himself, “take it from me: you’re a dead duck.”

This is good coffee. Expensive, but good.

Anyway, I got to that bar early–the one in the Village. I ordered a scotch-and-water. I always ordered a scotch-and-water. It set a tone, said who I was, or at least who I wanted people to think I was.

Pretty soon a man in a pinstripe suit comes in and sits down a couple stools away. He takes a quick look at me, then he throws a few pieces of paper down on the bar. “Another hunnert dollars down the terlit,” he says–just like that–and of course I knew right away what he was referring to. “How’d you make out yourself?”

I took a long sip of my drink–the worst thing you can do is speak without thinking first. “Barely broke even.”

He finished his drink in one gulp and got up, leaving the betting slips on the bar. I waited till he was gone, then sidled over–I was a bit slimmer in those days–and put them in my pocket. Then I headed uptown to Murphy’s Tavern.

I sat down in the same place as last time at the very end of the bar and ordered another scotch-and-water. The same tables were occupied by the same showgirls, or if not the same ones, they could have been sisters or first cousins. I spotted the one I was interested in, a leggy redhead–I’ve always been partial to redheads. I put my hand in my suit jacket and took out the little pieces of paper and threw them on the bar in disgust. Of course, the bartender knew what they were and became even more respectful. “Sir,” he whispered as he freshened up my drink, “if you’d like to make the acquaintance of one of those show girls…”

I didn’t even raise my head, like I was too down in the dumps about my losses to care about anything else. But I said, “Why not. My luck can’t get any worse. The little blonde all the way in the back.”

A couple minutes later he was introducing me to Sally. I invited her to join me for a drink. She accepted, of course, and I made a display of sweeping up the betting slips from the bar. “I don’t know why I bother to play the ponies,” I said. “I hardly ever win enough to cover my losses. But,” I said with just the right note of sadness, “that’s life, isn’t it?”

That last bit was something I added on the spur of the moment. It must have sounded genuine, though, because out of the corner of my eye I saw her smile as if to say, “How true.”

Sally was from Iowa–where else? She wasn’t a showgirl yet, but she expected to be one soon. Just like all the others. They went to auditions–she called them “cattle calls”–every week, sometimes more, and hung out in Murphy’s because they couldn’t afford rooms of their own. They slept in the rooms of girls who were working at the Copa or one of the other clubs. But they had to be out of them before the girls came home, especially if they had “company.”

She’s been doing this for a couple months, and so far no one had hired her. But she had an audition the next day at the Latin Quarter that she was “seventy-five percent certain” would result in a job offer.

I said I was sure she was right, but what made her so certain?

“The cards,” she said, giving me a look like I had just doubted what year it was. Her drink, something that looked more like an ice cream soda than something alcoholic, was almost gone. “I go to a fortune teller over on Times Square. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. But this one’s different. My friends Beverly and Mona go to her, and she said they would both get job offers that same week, and they did!”

I nodded with appropriate wonder. “She must be a very skilled fortune teller,” I said. “You’re lucky to find someone that reputable. Some of them are charlatans, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” she said like we were discussing the high price of lamb chops or how hard it was to get cross-town during rush hour. “I was very lucky.”

I asked if she had eaten dinner yet. “I was thinking of having a bite myself,” I said. “I was too busy at the office to eat much of a lunch.”

I didn’t have to ask twice. From the way she studied the menu after we moved to a table, I suspected she hadn’t had a real meal in days, maybe weeks. “What kind of work do you do?” she said, her mind clearly on lobster and porterhouse steak.

“I work on Wall Street. Stocks and bonds. Boring stuff, but it’s a living.”

I punctuated my careless tone with a flourish of a silver cigarette lighter that used to belong to the husband of that favorite aunt I mentioned a little while ago. I held the orange flame beneath the tip of the Herbert Tareton I had just offered her. She put her hand on my own to steady it, but then held on to have a better look at the lighter. “Geez, that’s a pretty piece of goods.” I snapped the lighter closed and let her examine it more closely. “‘AJM.” You got your initials engraved on it. That’s pretty swell. What do they stand for?”

“Arthur Jeffrey Morehouse,” I said without batting an eye, though her question in fact took me by surprise. I had forgotten about those initials…

“Wow,” she said, handing back the lighter like, you know, she’d just as soon not do so. “I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Morehouse.”

When the bartender first introduced us, I figured her for nineteen or twenty. But now I revised that figure down by a year or two. The cops were very liberal about how they interpreted the law in that part of town. But one thing they didn’t stand for was grown men taking advantage of underage girls.

“How long have you been in show business, Sally?” I asked after our steaks arrived.

She cut a big hunk off her porterhouse and stuffed it in her mouth. “A couple, three years,” she said, reaching for the sour cream and lading half the bowl on her baked potato. “Um, this is good.”

I decided she might even be as young as seventeen.

We talked about movies and movie stars, a topic I didn’t have to prompt her much to go on about. She talked a blue streak about the private lives of all the big stars–Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth, you name it. Her voice started to blend in with the sound of the cutlery and the other voices in the bar–it was pretty full by this time. I hardly had to pay any attention. Anyways, I was starting to give serious thought to an idea that had been bouncing around in my head ever since I laid eyes on that redhead.

You remember how I told you about that time I had to get a room in the St. George Hotel so my mother’s sister could use my bedroom? Then, you’re probably way ahead of where I was as I sat watching Sally “Duprés,”–actually, Sally Immamdt–masticate her ten-ounce porterhouse. My Aunt Helen’s visit had happened a couple years earlier and wasn’t something I had much cause to recall until Sally mentioned the hit-and-miss sleeping arrangements she had with the other girls. The room that clerk in the St. George gave me was no bigger than a broom closet, and the sheets smelled of the previous occupants, who might have been “checkouts” themselves. But now that the memory had been jogged, the wheels in my noggin were turning nonstop.

“My teachers all said I was a very talented child. They always gave me the best parts in school plays. I could sing and dance, too. I’m what they call in the business a “complete package.” When I’m a Broadway star, I guess I’ll laugh about the times when things were kind of rough for me. Maybe I’ll even write my biography like some of those Hollywood folks do.”

“And go to Hollywood yourself.”

“I might,” she allowed with a little toss of the head like Bette Davis. “But first I’m gonna be a star on the Great White Way. Then, when they offer me a contract to do a couple three movies, I’ll consider going to Hollywood. But only if the scripts are right. I don’t wanna take any roles that would cheapen me.”

I told her I thought this was a very good plan. “I look forward to seeing you in a Broadway production. I’m sure you’re going to have a very successful career.”

“You are?” she said.

“I’m not in show business, Sally. But I know a couple Broadway producers, and I’ve met a few Hollywood executives. It’s part of my job to deal with those kinds of high rollers.”–I don’t have to tell you she was eating up my words with the same appetite she had lit into her beefsteak with–“The one thing all successful people have in common is a strong belief in themselves. Without it you’re a dead duck. If you have it, the sky’s the limit. And I could see right away, Miss Immamdt, that you have it.”

Her perfect teeth looked like they had just finished growing in the day before yesterday. “Yes,” she said. I do.”

I know what you’re thinking. But I had no intention of taking advantage of that young woman. After dessert–you should see the hunk of chocolate cake she put away–I asked her to excuse me because I had an appointment the next morning with an important client.

“Thank you for your delightful company,” I said, offering my hand.

She was so surprised by my sudden leave taking, she just sat there for a couple seconds. Then she said, “Oh, sure. Likewise. I mean, thank you. Anytime. Anytime at all.”

I had bigger things in mind than a one-night stand with a starry-eyed kid. I knew we were being observed all evening by the girls at the other tables, and everything I said to Sally would be reported back to them. Especially that redhead with the nice gams. She was no teenager. I figured her to be two, three years older than me. I’ve always been attracted to older women.

All this may strike you as a pretty roundabout way of going about things. But you have to remember, this was 1947. You didn’t just go up to a woman and ask her to bed down with you–not a respectable woman. And I wanted to give my plan every chance of succeeding. The Army taught me the value of careful planning. A man could get his ass shot off if he didn’t think things through before going into battle, even the strictly mock battles we engaged in at Fort Dix.

The next day I stopped by a small hotel just off Times Square. Not the one those show girls stayed in–a quiet, respectable place where the auditors from Albany used to stay when they came down to look over the books at the company where I worked. Overweight guys in sloppy suits and bad haircuts, you could spot them a mile away even before they opened their mouths… You’re not from upstate, are you? I don’t mean any offense. That’s just how they were.

I inquired about the rates and asked if it would be alright if I waited in the lobby for a business connection I was expecting. There was actually no need for me to ask permission. In those days anyone could sit in the lobby of a hotel even if they weren’t staying there, and they frequently did so. I was simply drawing attention to myself so the clerk would remember me.

I read a few pages of the
Journal-American, then made a show of looking at my watch. I got up and asked the clerk where the public telephones were located. A couple minutes later, after a call to nowhere, I returned, shaking my head. “Bad luck,” I said. “My client’s flight was canceled. I guess I won’t be needing this,” meaning a fresh container of coffee I had picked up in the hotel coffee shop when I went to make my “phone call.” “It’s yours if you want it.”

The clerk–he was probably earning fifty cents an hour–thanked me twice.

The next evening it was the same routine, except I added a couple donuts and I didn’t make a pretense of waiting for anyone. I just flopped down on one of the plush, if a bit threadbare, arm chairs and began studying the box score for the Dodgers game that afternoon.

I followed the same routine the next three evenings–coffee and donuts for the clerk, the same fellow worked Monday through Saturday–with all little harmless conversation if he wasn’t otherwise occupied. Then I sat down and read my newspaper in full view of the reception desk so he could see I wasn’t up to anything illegal.

Meanwhile I continued my visits to Murphy’s tavern. Most nights I had dinner, sometimes by myself, sometimes with one of the girls who called the place home in lieu of a room of their own. Everyone but the redhead. Not yet.

After a couple weeks–and a good chunk of change, I was skipping lunch and rationing my cigarettes to economize–I decided it was time to put my plan into action.

“I have a cousin coming to visit,” I told the hotel clerk. “She’s only going to be here overnight. In fact, she’ll be arriving late in the evening and has a seven a.m. train to catch. Is there any chance you would have a room free for five or six hours?”

“No problem,” he said. “I can give you a checkout. She could even stay till nine or ten if she likes.”

“A ‘checkout’?” I said. “That would be ideal. Thank you for offering to let her stay later, but as I said, she has an early train to catch.”

You may think I was assuming too much, that the woman in question would readily agree to what I had in mind. But not so. I knew I had no more than a sixty-forty chance of success. No general goes into battle assured of victory. But he must believe victory is possible. Otherwise, why risk life and limb?

The next evening I arrived at Murphy’s Tavern a little earlier than usual. Otherwise I conducted myself exactly as I did on previous evenings. I had a drink at the bar, engaged in some light conversation with the bartender to whom I was now a regular and, when it came to tips, generous customer, and only then told him I wouldn’t mind having some company for dinner. “The redhead this time,” I said–casually, just as on previous occasions I had said, “The little blonde,” or “The tall brunette.”

This time I selected a table far removed from where the showgirls congregated at one end of the spacious dining area. A few moments later the woman I had chosen to dine with and, hopefully, for something afterwards, appeared at my table. She was even taller than I had thought–I like tall women. She was wearing a white dress with a full skirt such as was popular at the time. “Joe says you want to ask me something,” she said in an accent I couldn’t place right off the bat.

“Won’t you have a seat?” I said, half-rising from my chair–like this… well, you know what I mean. “I was wondering if you might like to join me for dinner,” I said. “As you’ve probably noticed, I dine here almost every evening, and I hate to eat alone. My job is rather taxing. It does me good to share the company of a charming woman such as yourself.”

This was more or less my set speech, although I did add that bit about my job because I sensed she was not going to be as easy to win over as the others. Or maybe I had a case of nerves now that I was on the verge of my big moment.

“What makes you think I want to eat with you?” she replied without batting one of her long eyelashes. She had no makeup on, so I had to assume they were real. “You think I can’t afford a decent meal? Let me tell you something, mister. I don’t need no charity, thank you. What the other girls do is their business. I seen you wining and dining them. Some of them ain’t hardly old enough to cross the street on their own. I don’t know what your game is, but I ain’t interested.” Only, she said “innerested.” She made a quick turn that made her full skirt flair out and pranced back to her table, swinging her hips like she was on stage.

You might think my reaction was outrage or at least disappointment. But you would be mistaken. I was fascinated. You could even say I was smitten. I was also excited by the challenge she was offering.

I told the waiter to take away the dishes and cutlery he had just laid. I finished my drink–took my time–then stood up, aware of course I was being carefully watched, even if the redhead, Rita, had turned her back to my table.

When I reached the door, Sally Immamdt ran up to me.

“Don’t mind Rita,” she said, “she’s just having one of those days.”

“I understand,” I said, adjusting my fedora like I was leaving a funeral parlor.

“The rest of us girls think you’re a swell guy, and we sure hope you don’t stop coming here.”

I wasn’t halfway home before I had figured out how I would deal with this new turn of events. But I stayed away from Murphy’s for the better part of a week. I wanted them to miss all those fat steaks I had treated them to. I knew they would blame Rita for my absence and would be telling her to behave better the next time I showed up–if I showed up.

Finally I decided the time was ripe. I took special care with my clothes–a black silk tie to go with my best blue suit.

“I’m afraid my brother, Captain Clark Morehead, First Cavalry Division, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, Purple Heart of course, has… passed away,” I said when the bartender asked the reason for my black tie. “From a wound sustained on Iwo Jima. It’s a mercy he was finally taken. His suffering was… If you don’t mind, I don’t really want to talk about it, Joe.”

The bartender was so impressed, he refused to let me pay for my drink. A few minutes later he delivered a pitcher of beer to the table where the showgirls were sitting. When he got back, he said, “Shall I set you up at your usual, Mr. Morehouse?”

“I don’t have much of an appetite, Joe. I think I’ll just sit here quiet-like for a while and head home.”

I had already noted some commotion over where the redhead was seated. A moment later she stood up and, after a little push from one of the other girls, started in my direction. She stopped just a couple feet away, but I pretended to be lost in my thoughts.

“Listen,” she said. “I heard about… your brother and all. And I just wanna say I’m, you know, sorry.”

I nodded slowly–like this–my eyes lowered.

She turned as if to go back to her table, but then seemed to change her mind. “About the other night. Maybe I was a little hasty. You see plenty of stage-door johnnies in this business, so naturally I thought… Well, anyway, I’m sorry if I was rude or anything.”

I nodded again, this time more gravely. I knew she was hoping for more of a response, but I let her wait a while. Then I turned slowly toward her, my eyes glistening…

How do I do it? It’s a trick I learned to do by pinching myself hard.

“Thank you, miss… I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know your name.”

“Rita,” she said, eager to make up for her bad behavior earlier. “Rita Matthews.”

“Thank you, Miss Matthews,” I said straight into her baby-blues so beautifully shaded by those dark lashes. “Thank you very much.” Then I put on my hat and got up to leave.

The establishment had a large window to one side that let passersby look in on the dining tables, but just a little porthole onto the bar. When I stepped outside, I stood just to one side of the big window like I was not aware I could be observed by anyone inside. It was a cool evening. I was wearing my cashmere topcoat, but I hunched up my shoulders like I was chilled to the bone and pulled down the brim of my hat like Humphrey Bogart.

I wasn’t standing there two minutes when I heard the door open behind me and felt a small hand gently take hold of my arm. “Excuse me, Mr. Morehouse, but I couldn’t help seeing you standing out here. Are you sure you wouldn’t want to come back inside? You’re gonna catch your death out here in the cold.”

I knew right away it wasn’t Rita. I knew she wasn’t convinced yet of my sincerity. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Eisenhower didn’t take Germany on the first try. “That’s very kind of you, Sally,” I said, staring at the front of the Copa across the street where the doorman was holding the door open for a tall blond in a green strapless gown. “It’s just something that takes getting used to, even though we’ve been expecting it ever since we got that telegram from the War Department three years ago. You go ahead back inside before you catch a cold. I’ll be okay, sweetheart.”

She stared back at me like she was going to burst into tears. Her hand was still on the arm of my cashmere topcoat–I was praying there wasn’t any ketchup or mayonnaise on it. She stood up on tiptoe and planted a big kiss on my cheek, then she darted back into the bar.

I hung around for a couple more minutes, then headed downtown for a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs in a little restaurant on Mulberry Street, a hangout for mid-level Mafia types. The waiters always treated me like a king. That’s what dressing well will do for you. And the food was excellent and dirt cheap.

Of course, I had to postpone taking advantage of that checkout in the hotel where I had made friends with the desk clerk. “A last-minute change of schedule,” I told him. “But she may stop over on her return trip. I’d be very grateful if I could still take advantage of your offer if she does.”

The clerk assured me the offer stood any time I wanted it.

Two days later I returned to Murphy’s Tavern in an old sports jacket without a tie. I also made a point of not shaving. The bartender greeted me like an old friend. He asked in a very respectful tone if the funeral had gone off well.

“It did, Joe. Full military honors, of course. Twenty-gun salute. Of course, none of that really made it any easier for my mother or his wife and kids”–I decided on the spur of the moment to add a wife and family. “But they bore up bravely.”

“He had a family, then? Ah, that’s hard, Mr. Morehouse. That’s very hard.”

“It is. But the war had to be fought. At least he gave his life in a worthy cause. I just wish,” I said, pinching myself, “I just wish I was born a couple years sooner so I could’ve killed a few Japs myself.”

“You served your country as best you could, Mr. Morehouse. Don’t go blaming yourself.”

I allowed that maybe he was right and wiped a tear from my eye–the one exposed to those tables of young women. He asked if I’d had any dinner yet, and when I told him I wasn’t hungry, he said I must eat something. I had an obligation, he said, to keep up my strength.

I let him lead me to my usual table but told him to remove the other place setting because, I said, I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. He said I musn’t take to brooding, but I told him it was just for a day or two and that I was aware that life must go on. I didn’t especially keep my voice down during this interchange and, sure enough, I was hardly seated before, out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the girls get up and start walking toward my table. From the sway of her hips, I knew it was Rita.

“Mr. Morehouse”–she was wearing a pale blue version of the full-skirted dress she had on the last time I saw her–“I just want to say again how sorry I am about your brother. I know it must be a terrible loss for you and his family. If there’s anything I can do… ”

Well, you know those were the words I was waiting to hear. I gestured toward the empty chair across from my own. She only hesitated a second.

“I’ll be perfectly honest with you, Miss Matthews,” I said. “I thought I would bear up better. We’ve been expecting it for three years now. It was just a matter of time. His mother knew it. His wife knew it. There wasn’t a day I didn’t wake up and think, Is this the day? But you know how it is. You hope against hope. You try to believe that somehow he’ll pull through, even if you know better. You pray for a miracle. Then when it finally happens, instead of thinking, It’s finally over. He’s at peace now. No more excruciating pain. Instead, you think, Why him? Why Clark?”

I was so convinced by my own performance, I didn’t have to pinch myself. Which is why I didn’t see her reach across the table and put her hand on my own. It was a soft, small hand. I reminded me of my aunt Helen’s, the way she used to comfort me when I fell and scraped my knee.

I’m so sorry, Mr. Morehouse,” she said.

“Thank you, Miss Matthews. Thank you very much.”

Right then, I knew the game was won. But I kept a tragic expression on my face and told her she had accomplished something none of my other friends or relatives had been able to do: I finally felt like I could take some nourishment. I said I hoped she would stay and join me. “Otherwise,” I said with a sad smile”–like this–“otherwise I might have a relapse.”

She smiled back as if to say she understood the courage that was behind my little attempt at levity and gave my hand a squeeze of encouragement. “Sure thing, Mr. Morehouse. Sure thing.”

Suffice it to say, that night I managed to take advantage of that checkout. Which shows you the importance of careful planning. But, I see by my watch it’s time for my medication–sugar diabetes–so you’ll have to excuse me.

What became of Rita?

We had five or six good weeks. But I think right up to the end she was convinced of my sincerity. I softened the final blow by telling her my job was transferring me to the Middle West. I said I would write her as soon as I was settled. I don’t know if she really believed me. But she wanted to believe, you see. That’s how women are.

I was sorry to have to give up Murphy’s Tavern. But it had served its purpose. Of course, I had other campaigns after that, including a big blonde who used to date Alan Ladd. I kid you not.

But that’s a story for another day.

  1. Although you got this idea from a real hotel visit, I can only hope that the essence of it truly is imaginary. However, I fear that I can tell a few stories of my own from Rita’s perspective. I appreciate that not all Rita’s are as fortunate as I in the learning process, nor I suppose are all Mr. Morehouses. Still, I know of no other way to grow beyond the innocence of youth – male or female – save through experience.

  2. I expect Rita will indeed learn as a result of experience like this. I doubt Mr. “Morehouse” will, or cares to.

    Thanks for the read, Terry.

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