Read an Excerpt
Song of the Silent Snow
By Hubert Selby Jr.
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2003 Estate of Hubert Selby Jr.
All rights reserved.
Fat Phils Day
I USED TO GET out of Sunday School about 10:30 or so and wake up some of the other guys and we/d wait on the corner for the crap game to start. We had one every Sunday no matter how cold or how lousy the weather was. And Fat Phil would be out by 8 with his shine box and get everyone goin ta church, from the 9 oclock Mass to the 11:30. He/d stand on the corner and look poor and neglected and he/d make out like crazy. If anybody asked him how old he was he/d knock off 3 years and say 10 and tell them he had to help support the family. He had some line and the churchgoers really ate it up. Anyway, after he finished shinin shoes he/d come down to 3rd Avenue and get in the game. Usually me and Fritz would play until we only had a dime left and save that for the movies, but sometimes we/d win a few bucks. But this Sunday Phil got on a hot roll and was cleanin everybody. Danny, a halfassed hustler from 43rd Street, usually came around and bet wrong, but he wasn't there today so the rest of us had to keep goin against the Greek. If Danny was there we could have jumped on Phils hot roll, but he wasnt. Anyway, everytime Phil threw the dice he/d throw a natural or if he got a point he/d hit it anyway. After about 7 or 8 passes he was taking all kinds of bets and winning: gagging his point, the hard way, over and under 7, anythin anybody wanted to lay and he won. We tried everythin to get him off the roll, jonahin against, then with, gaten the dice, but still he/d win. And everytime he threw another pass he/d roar and yell shootit, comeon ya bastads, fade me. Im hot. Comeon comeon, whos gonna fade me—halfabuck still open and somebodyd throw the money down, he/d roll the dice and hit another pass and roar and scoop up the money an we tried gaten the dice every other roll but he still won and everybody was goin broke and we started slappinim on the head and takin the polish from his shine box and he/d run after it and come back and throw the dice and hit another pass and roar that he was gonna take us all to the cleaners and Booby gaveim a shot in the arm and toleim if he didnt crap out he/d break his head and Phil still won but now he didnt laugh so loud and everytime he picked up the money we kickedim in the ass or rappedim off the head, but he couldnt lose. He hit 4 for a point and Sal madeim take an even money bet that he wouldnt do it the hard way and Phil almost cried but he put his money down and threw the dice and two twos came up and Sal toleim he/d break his shine box over his fat Greek head if he didnt crap out and he said hed pass the dice and Sal toleim he/d play until he crapped out or we/d killim and he picked up the dice and threw another natural and we were really punchinim now and he almost cried but still scrambled after the money and we kicked his ass, ya fat sonofabitch. Comeon fellas, leave me alone—rap—comeon. Gimme my brush—rap—please—another pass—stopit guys. Comeon willya? And he covered his head waiting for us to fade him and he hit a point and when he picked up the dice we rapped him and kicked him and he stopped pleadin with us and started pleadin with the dice come 7, please a 7 and he threwim again and again and it finally came up 4-3 and he jumped up and yelled SEVEN! There ya are, a 7. I lose, I lose. A 7—7! and he grabbed his shine box and ran like hell.CHAPTER 2
HE FOUND A PLACE at the middle of the bar and ordered a drink, smiling at the bartender. The bar wasnt too crowded, yet, but he knew that soon people from nearby offices would be coming in, and then the dinner crowd, and others for pre-theater cocktails. The bartender brought his drink and smiled, How are you tonight?
O fine. Just fine. Harry picked up his drink and looked around to see if he was there yet, but he did not see him anywhere. But that was to be expected, he never got here this early. He tasted his drink, then put it down. He wasnt too interested in drinking, though he did not mind a few once in a while. Actually he had drunk more in this past week than he had at any time in his life. Maybe in his entire life ... or at least in a year. But this was Friday and tomorrow night was his date with Rita so he had to talk to him tonight. It was now or never ...
He really did not know what he was afraid of. It was just a simple request and he could either say yes or no. That was it. He couldnt understand why he was having such a hard time asking. Why he felt so embarrassed. He had been coming here to Jack Dempseys every night this week trying to ask him and somehow he just never got around to it. He would go home and think about it and realize how simple it was and make up his mind to just walk over to him, smile, and ask him, and that would be that. And all day at work he would continue to tell himself that there was nothing to it and look forward to the evening when he would ask him, but then as he stood at the bar, waiting, mentally rehearsing, something inside of him seemed to freeze and he could not walk from the bar to where Jack Dempsey stood greeting people. He knew his request was not unusual, that all he had to do was walk over to him and smile, Hi champ, my names Harry Lewis.
Hi Mr Lewis. How are you this evening?
Great. Real great, champ.
I was wondering if you would do me a favor?
I can try. What is it?
Im going to be here tomorrow night, for dinner, with a particular young lady and I was wondering if you would call me by my first name, you know, make a good impression.
Of course—he was smiling at Harry—I/d be delighted to, Harry.
Theyd laugh and Harry would go back to the bar feeling elated and then on his way home he would play the tape of him and Rita walking in and Jack Dempsey putting his arm around Harrys shoulder and greeting him like a long lost brother. He was a little surprised that the tape had not worn itself out.
Every day and every night this week he played that tape, over and over, and still he was standing here waiting. But he could not wait any longer. His date was tomorrow night. He looked around ... still nowhere to be seen. He looked at his watch. Another fifteen minutes or so. Tonight what I/ll do is just go over to him as soon as he gets here. Not take any chances of him getting caught up in conversations.... Yeah, thats the best thing. He nodded his head and finished his drink and ordered another.
He was vaguely aware of bits of conversation around him as the bar started filling, but he directed his attention more and more at the door, smiling as people edged their way to the bar. The more crowded the bar became, and the more people slapped backs, laughed greetings and bought each other drinks, the more isolated Harry felt. I must be the only one here alone.
And there seemed to be more people than usual, many more people ... and more laughter, louder talk, more ... more ... more energy. Something. He could feel it. It made him nervous and edgy. He looked around the bar as discreetly as possible and no one seemed to be looking at him directly, but he had to admit that it was only logical that they would be talking about him as he was there alone, obviously not part of the in crowd. Maybe they thought of him as some sort of interloper or Johnny come lately ... or just some kid who happened to pass by or—Harry suddenly felt hemmed in by the people around him. It was weird but he almost felt like running, well not literally running, but leaving. But he knew he couldnt. He had to see the champ, tonight! His body seemed to become more and more tense and he felt increasingly aware of what was going on in his head, and the combination confused him and forced him to inch away from the others in the bar, and then, when he saw Jack Dempsey walking toward the door, he felt propelled in his direction. Ah ... a, a Mr Dempsey, could—
Hi. How are you? He stuck his hand out and smiled.
Harry shook his hand and his head bobbed up and down a few times. Ah okay, a fine ... a just fine. He tried to smile but his face kept creasing into a grin. A, how are you?
Top shape. Couldnt be better.
Harrys head commuted bobbing as he fought his grin into a smile. I was wondering if I could ahh ... you know ... if I could ask—Harry could feel his face going through all sorts of pinched contortions and he fought desperately to stiffen himself so he would not fall flat on his face ...
Can I do something for you?
Harry almost screamed with relief as he nodded, then almost screamed in despair as he realized he could not stop his damn head from bobbing up and down. He finally grinned it into submission. Harry took a deep breath, Im going to be here tomorrow night for dinner with someone and I would appreciate it if—
Dempsey smiled reassuringly, You want to make an impression on a girl, eh?
Harry refused to allow his head to bob and grinned as little as possible. Yes.
No problem. Whats your name?
Harry. Harry Lewis. I really appreciate yo—
Always like to help someone out. He put a hand on Harrys shoulder, Anytime Mr Lewis.
Harry could feel himself grinning up at him.
I've got to go. See you tomorrow night.
Harry watched him walk away and just allowed his head to bob ...
Then he was outside. In the air. It felt good. O God it felt good. He wasnt grinning. He hoped. He could see clearly. Head must not be bobbing. Face feels strange ... he chuckled. Must be relaxed. He was walking. Stopped. Looked around, Where am I???? O yeah. Okay. He slowed his pace. Plenty of time ... plenty of time ...
Saturdays always took care of themselves. No thinking and almost no planning was necessary. He simply did the things that could only be done on Saturday such as the cleaning, the laundry, shopping, and the odds and ends that pile up during the week. The laundromat was just around the corner and he went to one store while the clothes were washing, and another while they were drying, but waiting for the machines to be available took up most of the time. That was when he caught up on his magazine reading.
When he got back to the apartment he straightened it up a bit and puttered around, listened to a little music and watched an old horror film on TV. It was not until late in the afternoon that he started to think about his date with Rita. Soon it was time to get dressed and leave.
Rita smiled as she opened the door, Come on in. But dont go too far or youll be out the back door. At least you would if there was a back door. Rita chuckled and Harry laughed. I just have to put on my coat and I/ll be ready. I used to live in a larger place, with a roommate, but I decided I would rather have something like this and have privacy.
Harry helped her on with her coat. I feel the same way. I like to be free to do what I want when I want ... and with who I want.
She went to the door, Be careful, Im going to open the door. She laughed.
They stood on the corner waiting for a cab. I thought we/d go to Jack Dempseys for dinner. I havent been there for a while and I suddenly had the urge to see if its still the same.
She smiled, Thats fine with me. I dont think Ive ever been there.
Its been quite a while since Ive been there, but I think youll like it.
Harry made a conscious effort to relax as they entered the restaurant. There was a party of six in front of them and though Jack Dempseys voice could be heard they could only get a glimpse of him. The Maitre'd came over and escorted the party to their table and suddenly Jack Dempsey was standing in front of Harry and Rita.
Jacks face brightened and beamed, Harry, Harry Lewis, how are you? Jack patted Harry on the back and shook his hand, How have you been?
Just fine, champ. Moving right along. You know.
Yeah. I know.
O Jack, I/d like you to meet my friend Rita.
Pleased to meet you.
Youre looking great, champ.
You know me Harry. Jack called the Maitre'd. Henry, Mr Lewis would like a quiet table out of the way.
Henry nodded, Of course. This way please.
See you, champ.
They sat and Harry opened his napkin and felt like opening his arms. He felt expanded and expansive.
Rita smiled, I didnt know you knew Jack Dempsey.
Well, we/re not exactly bosom buddies, but ... you know.
I think thats terrific. Im really impressed.
Harry smiled and nodded in acceptance of the compliment. Hes really a very nice guy you know. I mean a regular guy.
I like the way he speaks. I guess I must have been expecting some sort of rough—she shrugged her shoulders—certainly not such a nice, gentle man.
Yeah, the movies have tended to stereotype certain—
Would you care for a drink before dinner?
Harry looked at the waiter for a second ... Yes, I think so. I/ll have a dry martini, very dry. How about you?
Yes that will do fine.
When the martinis came Harry sipped his ... Thats good. I dont like to taste the wine, or even smell it. He smiled. The dryer the better.
I dont think Ive ever noticed. She picked up her drink, Well heres to you, champ. They both chuckled.
Everything went smoothly. They enjoyed the food and each others conversation. There did not seem to be any embarrassing lulls in the conversation, or any lulls at all for that matter. They both contributed to the conversation and they went from one subject to another, listening, talking, both feeling relaxed in the others company.
When they left the restaurant Harry waved at Jack, So long, champ.
He smiled and waved back, Have a good night.
Well, what would you like to do now Rita?
Did you have anything special in mind?
Harry shook his head, No. Im loose and open.
Rita had an almost impish smile on her face. Well, theres a horror film festival at that theater on East 12th. I think theyre showing Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein tonight.
Hey, no kidding. Thats terrific.
There was a sound of glee in Ritas voice, Would you like to go?
Love it. I always did like Elsa Lancaster.
They both laughed and held hands as they walked to the corner to get a cab.
The theater was filled with aficionados and there was a feeling of excitement. Harry and Rita settled into their seats, enjoying the movies, and each others company, sharing their enjoyment and thus increasing it.
When they left the theater they both automatically, and almost simultaneously, took a deep breath, almost sighing as they exhaled. They looked at each other and laughed.
Like to go around to the Cedar for a nightcap?
No, I dont think so, champ. Im not much for drinking. If you dont mind?
No, not at all.
Why dont we pick up a cheese cake, or something, and go up to my place and I/ll make a pot of coffee.
Sounds terrific. Im all for that.
Harry put his arm around Ritas shoulder as they walked leisurely down the street.
When Rita unlocked the door she told Harry to be careful, dont go too far, youll bump into a wall.
Harry chuckled, I can always go out the back door instead.
Youd better wait until they build a stairway.
And a door.
Rita laughed. In the meantime give me that and make yourself at home. She took the cake from him and went into the kitchen. When the coffee was brewed they sat around the table eating the cake and drinking coffee.
Hmmmmm, this is good coffee. Whats the secret. Mines terrible.
Simple. Never clean the pot.
Harry almost choked as he laughed with a mouthful of coffee, trying desperately not to spit it out.
Youre terrific, absolutely great for my ego. You laugh at all my bad jokes.
I didnt know they were jokes.
Her coffee cup was at her lips when she started laughing and she held it tightly with both hands as she lowered it to its saucer. Maybe we should declare a truce and wait until we/ve finished the coffee before making any more cracks.
Okay—Harry raised his right hand—scouts honor. But you know, its hard not to be a little silly with you.
O ... Rita raised an eyebrow and smiled.
Now dont start. We just made a pact. What I mean is—he shrugged—that I feel so relaxed. You make me feel so ... so ... at home.
Rita smiled appreciatively. Thank you. Thats a very kind thing to say.
Well, youre a very nice person—They smiled at each other unselfconsciously, taking pleasure in each others smile, and their own—And your idea of going to the flicks was a stroke of genius.
Well, to tell you the truth I was scheming all day how I could get you to take me there.
Well it sure didnt take much talking.
Rita stopped smiling and frowned slightly. Im sure that when they made those movies they were just trying to make a movie and nothing else, but I cant help reading things into some of them, especially the Bride of Frankenstein.
Harry leaned back in his chair and stretched out his legs, Like how?
Well ... well like every time man interferes with nature he creates a monster.
Harry nodded, I know what you mean. One of the most touching parts in that flick, for me, is when John Carradine stumbles around saying, Friend, friend ...
She nodded, He didnt want much, did he? Just someone to share what he had with. Funny how simple it seems sometimes to be happy and yet how easily it all gets confused.
Harry nodded and smiled and watched the way her eyes sparkled when she spoke and got excited, the way her mouth opened wide when she laughed, how all of her seemed to be happy with each laugh and just about everything that happened.
They continued talking easily, chuckling, smiling, and laughing their way from one subject to another, sometimes taking time out from the amusements to discuss something serious, each one finding they had respect and interest in what the other was saying, feeling uninhibited and speaking honestly about what they believed, enjoying both the smiles and the frowns of the conversation. Then Rita glanced at her watch, Wow, look at the time. No wonder Im feeling tired.
Excerpted from Song of the Silent Snow by Hubert Selby Jr.. Copyright © 2003 Estate of Hubert Selby Jr.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.