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Manhattan Transfer

think what to order tonight my head ached so. It doesn’t matter.”

“Would you rather be Cleopatra? She had a wonderful appetite and ate everything that was put before her like a good little girl.”

“Even pearls. . . . She put a pearl in a glass of vinegar and drank it down. . . .” Her voice trembled. She stretched out her hand to him across the table; he patted her hand manfully and smiled. “Only you and me Jimmy boy. . . . Honey you’ll always love your mother wont you?”

“What’s the matter muddy dear?”

“Oh nothing; I feel strange this evening. . . . Oh I’m so tired of never really feeling well.”

“But after you’ve had your operation. . . .

“Oh yes after I’ve had my operation. . . . Deary there’s a paper of fresh butter on the windowledge in the bathroom. . . . I’ll put some on these turnips if you fetch it for me. . . . I’m afraid I’ll have to complain about the food again. This lamb’s not all it should be; I hope it wont make us sick.”

Jimmy ran through the folding doors and his mother’s room into the little passage that smelled of mothballs and silky bits of clothing littered on a chair; the red rubber tubing of a douche swung in his face as he opened the bathroom door; the whiff of medicines made his ribs contract with misery. He pushed up the window at the end of the tub. The ledge was gritty and feathery specks of soot covered the plate turned up over the butter. He stood a moment staring down the airshaft, breathing through his mouth to keep from smelling the coalgas that rose from the furnaces. Below him a maid in a white cap leaned out of a window and talked to one of the furnacemen who stood looking up at her with his bare grimy arms crossed over his chest. Jimmy strained his ears to hear what they were saying; to be dirty and handle coal all day and have grease in your hair and up to your armpits.

“Jimmee!”

“Coming mother.” Blushing he slammed down the win-