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December 10, 1938 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1938-12-10

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Page Four


dazed and I half-dragged him, half
walked him to the door through th
miscellaneous fights starting up.
Outside we stood in the doorway be
forg we ran, trying to see which wa
was best to go. In the instant, abov
the buildings the great flames of th
mill fires went up and went down again
The skies burned. Then blacknes
crushed down on the tips of stacks an
furnaces just silhouetted behind th
warehouses. A police siren whined and
someone shifted gears too fast and w
We stumbled toward the freight yard
through an alley, behind stores nc
Around ash barrels and incinerator
grates. We heard the sudden reluctan
grunt of cars compacting and, as we go
closer, the busy chug of the switch en-
gines. I got Muscle through the hole
in the fence and werhid in the shadow
of the toolshed near track 18.
We waited.
"Hurt?" I whispered.
"No. No. All right. Just candled
for a second."
He didn't answer.
"How'd the fight start? The great
big mans pick on you?"
"A queer," he said aloud. "He comes
'p to me and propositions. Just like
that. So I hit him."
"Holy cow! So that's what he was."
"Yeah. A queer. Can you imagine?
A queer coming up to me. I coulda had
that babe any time, the one at the bar.
Any time, and this faery comes up to
"Everybody'seems to like you," I said.
"Yeah, Im popular, but I'm hard to
get," he said. "I could have had that
skirt any time," he added amusedly.
A lantern swung in a wild arc beside
the westbound freight and the solid
figure of a man was outlined in the
drifting steam. It was the yard man
giving us the high sign.
"Tight? Tight hell. You're drunk.
Or it's the bump on your head."
"Drunk!" And he spat disgustedly.
"And why not?" He looked over at the
fellow curled in the darkness who had
beennwatching us like a cat. He made
me nervous.
Muscle shouted at him. "Where you
from, punk?" He looked as if he didn't
hear. "Where you from!"- Muscle
boomed above the car wheels.
The fellow stirred. "You talkin' to
me? Where'd you get the punk stuff?"
"Oh don't get tough. I ain't goin' to
eat You." Muscle added cheerily, "Don't
think I couldn't."
"Up New York State. What's .it to
"Lippy, ain't you. Tough and lippy:
got spirit. That's nice."
The new fellow moved closer to the
soft light now coming in the door as we
got farther and farther from town. He
was just a kid with a long curving nose
and hair was smooth and straight back.
When he saw Muscle was kidding he
glowed with surprise and swagger.
"Sure I'm tough. You gotta be tough
to get anyplace these days."
"Ain't it the truth?" Muscle said.
"What place are you going?" I asked.
The kidrstarted at hearing me. After
Muscle first spoke he hadn't paid any
attention to me.
"Oh," he said. "Yeah. Yeah. Chi-
cago maybe. Getta job. Something
steady. My God there ain't a chance
-fora young fells today. You got no
idea how hard times is."
"Yeah, Mister Hoover?" I said. "Who
said I don't know?"
"Aw gee. When you got a girl and
you wanna get married like a young
fella should, settle down and quitchas-
ing every bitch he sees "
"Aw, gee," Muscle said. "He's gotta
"Yeah," and tle kid grinned all over.
"Aw. And you wants marry her."

The kid's big popeyes and his droop-
ing mouth were all cowlike and happy.
"Now ain't that the nuts" Muscle
was disgusted. "If the kid ain't found,
his soulmate. Like the queer tonight
thought maybe I was his soulmate.
Don't I lookit though?"
"Aw forget I ever said anything," the

kid said and he sounded so lonely and
e the way he curled up I thought he wa
going to cry. "You guys are just bum
that's all."
y "You got me wrong, punk," Muslek
e said seriously. "Don't get sore at me
e I just don't go for this soulmate stuff
. that's all. Women don't get you no
s where."
d The kid looked at Muscle for a while
e "Say," he said, "you got a cut on your
head, ain't you?"
e "Yeah, but it ain't much. I just got
a bump."
s "I got some water if you want." He
held up a milk bottle,
r"Say, Muscle," I said, "I'll fix your
t head."
t "I don' wanna," Muscle said, but the
kid put the bottle on the floor between
'us and the moon rising outside lit it
"Naw," Muscle said. "I wanna talk
about soulmates. You look at the kid
and he wants to get married. Why? Be-
cause he thinks he wants something and
she wants something and they think
they're going to get past by being mar-
ried. but if you ask me, they'll keep
right on wanting and wanting . . . .
That's why they get families and kids.
"Forget that stuff, punk, it ain't getting
you nowhere."
"Aw what do you know about it?"
the kid said. "You don't know what a
decent girl is, I'll bet. I'll get me a
job and to me it's worth something even
if it ain't to you."
"Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts," Muscle said
and he rose and clasped his hands above
him, stretching. "I really and truly feel
good," he said, leaning in the half-open
door, then he went to the end of the car.
There was straw there and clean ma-
nure smell. He fumbled around back
there and I tried not to think of any-
thing I was so tired.,
"Hey, you guys!" Muscle shouted.
"Find something?"
"Jesus Christ yes."
The kid and I went back to him. He
was holding a snatch and its yellow
flickering splattered his face. "Well,
don't tell me we got a treasure," I said.
"We sure have. Look." He held
something large up out of the straw and
lowered the match. Before it went out
we saw it was a man and his face had
one side swollen until it didn't look like
a face and the mouth was ripped at the
corner and the flesh hung down. The
other side was untouched with just a
struggle of blood on it. The kid half-
screamed, gurgling as if he'd swallowed
his tongue.
After. the first shockMuscle stared
down at the dead man contemplatively.
"God damn," he whispered.
"For Christ sake, let's get out of
here," I said.
"What for? He ain't going to eat
"Good God, you know what they'd do
to us. We'd burn just like that."
"Relax, punk. Relax." He sniffed.
"He don't smell good, does he?"
"It's liquor,"
"He ain't a pretty sight at all."
"Let's get out of here. You know
what they can do to us."
"Throw us in the can."
"We can't prove nothing. They'd
burn us."
"Oh relax. It ain't nothing. You
can't jump out the train now anyhow.
It's going too fast. Sit down. Take
some of the straw. He don't need it."
"Quit your goddam kidding," I said,
but it was true. We were moving too
fast; jumping would have been suicide.
Muscle made us sit down near the
door again and the three of us lined up
against the door, backs to the wall,
waited for the train to slow up some.
The moon was high outside and
streamed in, shifting like a searchlight
when we swung around'a curve, short-

ening and lengthening as the car
swayed. The wheels spread a steady beat
over our silence and that milk bottle
teetered in the moonlight.
Muscle spoke first. He seemed to
continue some conversation he had been
having with himself silently. "That's
what's wrong with guys. Most guys."
The kid trembled beside me, looking

back at the end of the car, then outside.
s "What are you talking about?" I
s asked Muscle.
"Oh, take that guy bacl5 there. He's
dead, ain't he? What are we scared
"Oh, I'm not looking for any hang-
ing, 'specially my own."
"Naw. You don't get me. I mean.
you take that queer tonight and this kid
here and that dead guy. They all sort
of stand for something."
"I don't know about the kid or the
queer, but the dead guy stands for us
burning and I don't like it. Let's jump."
Muscle stared at the milk bottle oddly
as it tempted equilibrium in the dancing
"Gimme a match." he said tensely,
and I handed him my box. Pulling an
old pipe from his pocket, he held it
carefully for me to see. "Guess I'll
smoke. You still can't jump, punk," he
added casually.
"Well, there's no sense in hurting our-
self, I guess. But I'm getting ready,"
I said.
"Aw, take it easy," he said and with
extreme casualness he went on, "You
know, it's funny how you never know
what's in the other guy's mind, isn't it?"
"What do you expect? Even the mind
readers are wrong."
"I got something figured out, kiddo,
and maybe the kid there thinks I'm nuts,
but I think I understand guys like him
and that queer."
"What do you expect? Those guys
are born that way, that's all," I said.
"That ain't all either. They're born
that way, but that ain't all."
"No," I said. "They're different all
right: that's why we call them queers."
"But we're all different. Not queers,
I mean, but different and it's like a
thread that's running from him to me
and you to me and the dead guy and
the kid and his girl . . . only there ain't
no thread really."
"Listen, you guys," the kid broke in,
"I think it's slowing up."
I jumped up but Muscle grabbed me.
"Aw shut up, you. I'll tell you. You
wait. You'll kill yourself." The cold
danger of Muscle's tone stopped the kid.
Then Muscle turned back to me and he
talked softly, "It's like that queer was
trying to tell me something and I didn't
want to listen . . or I couldn't." He
faltered, then blurted out, "Me, I gave
up telling people things when I was a
"You sure wouldn't believe it tonight,
my fran'," I said.
"Sure, I know. But I wanna ask you
something. You know how it is in the
fall with people burning their leaves,
how they smell?"
"Hang on to the kid there; he's ner-
vous. When I said burning leaves, what
did they make you think of? Right then
I mean."
I realized that even in this time wait-
ing to jump from the car, him mention-
ing burning leaves had made me re-
member something.
"Well, it's this way," I said, "my
home town's in a valley and the moun-
tains are just like walls around it and
in the fall you get up in the mountains
and look down. You can't see the town
hardly because.of the smoke. It's like
a cloud sort of settled in the valley only
a couple of church steeples stick up out
of it and maybe in the evening around
six you can see electric lights just dim.
If you want to know, that's what I
"Yeah?" Muscle said. "Me, I get
something different, me and my old man
sitting on the side of a dirt road. My
God, we're all different, ain't we?" 1
"Yeah, so what?"
"My old man was like that; he wasf
all the time looking for a soulmate. I1
don't know for sure, but I think so."

"I wanna get outta here," the kid f
whimpered hysterically.t
"My, my. You aint scared, kiddo? My,C
my." Muscle teased him. Then he snar- t
led. "Aw get your mind off him. He's
dead. You got too much imagination.r
Guys like you shouldn't have so much
imagination. It ain't good. You see," he c
said to me, "the old man started going

around with this girl in our home town.
He had a long time growing up and get-
ting old, I guess. My old lady got fat and
cranky over him and he started in on
this girl. You listening?"
"Yeah. But I dont know what for.
Let's get the hell outa here."
"Ain't you enjoying this like I am,"
he jeered. "Whyn't you jump? Scared?"
He took my arm in a crushing grip,
"Whyn't you just sit here listen to me
while I talk?" He shook my arm and
went on with his story. "You see, I used
to think he was Jesus Christ the second,
hero stuff, so one day I tell him about
the burning leaves." Muscle lit his pipe
and tossed the match still burning back
toward the dead man in the darkness.
It went out at the height of its flaring
arc. Just then the teetering bottle fell,
rolling and bumping and banging back
and forth until it finally tumbled out
the door.
"Well," I asked, "What'd he say?"
"Oh, nothing, just nothing. It was
like he didn't know what I was talking
about. I remember it clear as day."
"That's too bad."
"Aw hell. What do you expect?", He
grunted, "Soulmates! And this punk
here'll go killing himself chasing a girl,
living up to what he thinks she is, fight-
ing to keep a job and what for . . .? A
lousy apartment in Philly or Chicago or
some lump of concrete like that."
"Aw, what d'you know?" the kid blub-
"Shut up, kid," I said. "For Christ
sake let him finish. Go on about your
old man. Get it over with."
"What do you mean?" Muscle said.
"Oh, about the girl and him."
"Oh, I told him about the leaves and
he didn't say nothing. But once I saw
them, him and the girl, together once
walking though before she give him the
gate and he lit out. Walking along some
road out of the woods near our town. It
was a long time but I still remember.
She looked so damn happy." Muscle
looked sidelong at us and added sheep-
ishly, "Young and far away. I like that,"
he said defensively. "The old man was
talking but she wasn't listening. He left
town right after and she married some
guy about a year after. We never saw
the old man again."
Muscle lit his pipe again and watched
the match fly brightly to the floor.
"My God, isn't there enough trouble
without you throwing lighted matches
"You're nervous, son. Your nerves
is shot, my boy. What you need is a
good, long rest," Muscle said sagely.
"Goddam you anyway. We gotta get
out of here, you big slug. Seriously," I
said, "I'm scared."
Muscle still held my arm. We went to
the door, hanging on as the car swayed.
The whole country was in moonlight.
You could see the farms laid out, the
fields furrowed and the hills checkered
with the first shoots of the new crops.
Once the train sped past a dust road
with two ruts that were white and
straight in the moonlight until they
climbed a hill and disappeared. I
thought about the kid and that dead
guy and suddenly felt awfully lonely.
"God damn, god damn, god damn .."
Muscle whispered hoarsely. "I don't
really want to go," he said. "I really and
truly feel good. Do you get me?"
"Well, to hell with you. We got to,
that's all."
"All right, all right," he said, then as
if he were driving himself to speak, "But
say, there's something more I want to
tell you. Want, get me, not got to.
Understand?" I nodded and looked out.
"Oh for Crissake," he said and stamped
his foot. He tried to light his pipe and
his hands shook evenmore than just
from the train. Carefully he threw the
lighted match back at the straw pile and
it went out in midair. "Wait a minute

for me," he said and he went back into
the dark, out of the wind, I thought, to
get his pipe lit. The kid came up to me
"What are we going to do? I'm going
nuts," he said. "It's slowing up, ain't it?"
"No," I answered. "But were getting
out, Muscle or no Muscle."
"Come on." the kid said just as I

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