I discovered this short story as a WPD file dated 26 April 1999, meaning he wrote it with WordPerfect over 20 years ago.
Jerry Bee had worked with Milo in an investment firm until very recently when he chucked all that and bought into a chess parlor on the corner of 98th and Broadway. He was a passionate player, and figured to spend his days at the game while earning money at the same time. As he quickly learned, it was not so easy to make the money. The membership was by nature a conservative lot. They didn’t drink much, and they did not nosh when they played. Renting board was not lucrative. The only chance to keep up with his investment was to host Grand Master warmups and workouts.
Other parlors had a corner on the international finals when they took place in New York, but some of the former challengers to the champions liked the low-key atmosphere in Jerry’s place. It was a big open room with high ceilings of stamped tin. Windows on two sides looked out over upper Broadway, and down 98th to the West Side Drive and New Jersey. The roar of traffic was a white noise that aided thought. The oiled tile floors muffled your steps and gave off an aroma of the past. This room had been a chess and backgammon center since the end of the last century, and by tradition nearly all visiting chess players of any class up to the really big brains had passed through its doors.
At the moment he was negotiating with a TV network to present a tournament of female champions. He might bite a chunk out of his mortgage if it works, plus, as the sponsor and host, there was the perk of power contact with lots of women. So he pulled strings and chugged a continuous line of words down the telephone lines, while in the meantime, he spent his days happily shoving pieces around the board, and his evenings chasing the women inexhaustibly pouring into the upper West Side from all parts of the world.
There’s a good supply of cheap entertainment at this time in the neighborhood. Cuban and Chinese food, The Thalia with foreign films at ninety-five cents. The two table Russian restaurant off 94th street was slightly pricey, but you could buy a girl a hearty, aphrodisiac meal served by a sad count whose mistress harangued him from the kitchen. There was gay prancing to be enjoyed down at 72nd, and the open vegetable markets were a veritable mine of slightly hysterical ladies whose lucklessness in love showed in all their manner.
It was at the market on 83rd that he had met Miriam. At three a.m. he had the urge to buy some fresh fruit. She was on the sidewalk feeling the tomatoes while the aproned employee kept an eye on her. She wore a blue skirt, tight on her butt, worn shiny from age. Her blouse was too flimsy for a fall night, though the open neck showed interesting slopes of flesh. She did look as though she might take to her heels at any moment, hands full of produce. When she edged herself around the peck baskets of melons and squash, actually entering the shop, the clerk relaxed a little and allowed himself a good leer. I was then Jerry noticed she wore no shoes. What he had thought were those little ballet slippers so many girls liked was the soot of the New York streets. She was barefoot and if she had any money, he couldn’t figure where she carried it. Maybe in the high pockets, as his mom had called it.
She spoke to the clerk, her accent French. She fetched a bill from under the waist of her skirt, handed it the guy, and he looked at her face while he unfolded it from the size of a postage stamp. His expression showed both curiosity and repugnance.
She turned her gaze directly to Jerry, who was himself holding bananas and cherries ready to be weighed.
“I always buy two tomatoes, just in case I have company,” she said. “Usually I don’t, so I eat too many tomatoes.” He took her and the two tomatoes home with him, and she stayed for a week.
She has an apartment, he told me. But she doesn’t seem to have anything she has to do, any reason to go there. As for clothes, she would just wash what she was wearing and walk around in the nude until they dried.
Jerry occupied an apartment down the corridor from Milo’s, and we met there a few times for drinks and conversation. He was at the time involved with a young French girl, but she had begun causing embarrassment in the lobby, cursing the doorman when he refused to let her into the elevator.
Why don’t you introduce her to me? He glared for a moment, then cracked a clever grin. I thought you’d never ask.
So Jerry introduced me to Miriam over a drink. He had a date with another girl, and let Miriam know it. He was counting on me to keep her from breaking dishes, he told me later.
His wife had left him when he quit the job she married him for, moving with their child into an apartment off Riverside Drive where she set herself up to give piano lessons and further her own studies. She had not enough talent, nor enough persistence to go much beyond what she knew when she left the university, but it suited her image of herself, and she always had the daughter as an excuse for never succeeding.
I’ve elected to omit the last paragraph in the document since it seems disjointed from the rest of the story, as if Patrick had begun another piece and forgot to split it into a separate file. It’s quite explicit, but if you want to read it, send me a note.
Patrick Meadows 1934 – 2017.