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May 11, 1940 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1940-05-11

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Page Five

by. Jay McCormick

S OME people work days, and some
work nights. For both kiids the
world goes along steadily. They eat
meals, they work, they loaf,-they sleep.
When they get up, they have break-
fast, and then whether they like it Or
not, they have someplace to go, so they
go there. When they 'get through work
they are tired and hungry, so theyeat,
and later on they sleep. They envy
people who do not work.
Whenever someone asked Sean why
he quit school he laughed and didn't
look right into the other person's eyes,
and said he'd been afraid he'd have
a nervous breakdown. Then the other
person laughed too, and never noticed
the tight cords gulping on Sean's neck.
"Pretty soft," they all said.
And Sean always grinned, and said,
"Yeah." He sounded lazy when he said
it. He had a nice grin, a friendly Irish
grin, ,and it didn't matter whether or
not ,he was no good, nor whether he
meant it. In his pocket his hand would
be sticky with sweat, and the fingers
would pick- little balls of fuzz off the
seams and drop them inobtrusively onto
the ground.
Then they said, "Gnna get a job?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe, if some-
thin' turns up," Sean would say. "Goin'
back up there in the fall though. May-
be I'll just rest."
"Rest? Jesus Christ, what from?"
"Nothin', I guess. Just lay around,
maybe put on a little -weight."
"Well, I just wish to god my old man
would-" they said, or "Boy, if I ever
had a chance to sit on my-," or "Six
months to do nothin' but loaf, baby!"
So they would look at him, and shake
their heads, and say again, "Pretty
soft for you, boy."
"Yeah," Sean would say, apologizing
with his friendly Irish grin.
W HO could he tell? Not the family,
or they wouldn't let him go back
None 'of the others, they'd just laugh.
Going to school was dances and foot-
ball games to them. And even if it were
more than that, it certainly wasn't as
tough as being out in the world work-
ing. He'd see, they always told him.
These were to be the happiest days of
his life. Once he was out in the world
working, he'd see it then.
Even the professors said it. "You
people who come to college to learn,
spend your parents' money, make them
undergo sacrifices to put you through
school, and then complain about having
to do a little work." They were very
sarcastic about it, the professors. They
glared through their glasses. They had
been through it all.
Sean always felt sick when they said
that about parents sacrificing. Maybe
some of the kids didn't know what it
meant, but whenever his check came
a couple of days late, he knew i wasn't
carelessness at home. His father said,
"No, I don't want you to work, you've
got plenty to take care of just going
to school." His mother worried about
him losing weight. He was the only
The marks were not bad, that first
year. There were a few A's, some more
B's, and the rest C's. But he had always
been good in school. "Don't worry about
your grades," his father said. "It takes
awhile to get used to the place." His
father had not gone to college. Neither
had his mother.
"Don't stay up all night," his mother
said. "Your health is more important
than anything else."
The second year the marks were
worse. He had started writing, and
more and more he had found himself
on the night before an examination
with an unsatisfactory poem written,
but no work done for the course. He
had stayed up more nights the second
year. Even so, he had not done well.

Illustration . by Betty Crockett

He could not tell his mother and father
that he had written poems. There were
only low grades to show them and his
face, which was thinner and had dark
circles under the eyes. His parents be-
gan to think it was too much for him.
They thought it was nice for him to
be writing, a nice hobby. Once he
had a poem printed in a college maga-
zine, with his initials at the end of it.
He sent a copy home, and his mother
wrote him and said she was so proud,
his father was carrying the magazine
around to show it to people, they were
both so proud, but not to let his writing
keep him up all night and hurt his
health. "You have so much to do," she
wrote, "you need rest, and plenty of
food. We're pulling for you here." His
father sent more money for him to buy
meals with. Still he lost weight.
Bad grades. Ife worked hard to
raise his grades, worried about them.
He wasn't sure that his writing was
excuse enough for him to have bad
grades. And all the time his parents
made the excuses for him. He felt so
much like a heel that they should be
worrying about him, excusing him. He
began to worry when he went to bed.
He lay in his bed on the nights when
there was nothing big to do, and worried
about the nights when there would be
something big to do, and whether he'd
be able to do it. He couldn't sleep.
And on a cold night in February he
sat in his room alone and tried to study.
Everyone else in his rooming house was
in bed, and the furnace was turned
low, and Sean began to worry not about

how he was doing, but about why he was
doing, and at two o'clock he started to
shiver, and his fingers twitched, and he
was sick to his stomach. There was a
telephone downstairs in the dark hall,
and keeping his voice low he called
long distance and told his frightened
mother that if it was all right he'd like
to quit school and come home.
For a week after he got home he had
slept and eaten and tried to explain how
it was, but he hadn't been able to ex-
plain, and after the first week he hadn't
been able to sleep. He wished he could
go back and lick it, the school, yet he
knew inside that he was afraid to go
back. He would go back. He would
show them he wasn't a coward. He
didn't gain any weight.
T WAS MAY. Sean woke up about
eight o'clock. He had slept since
noon, the shades in his room letting in
a yellow light that had been darker
each time the noise of the kids playing
in the alley behind his house woke him
up. It was dark now, not quite dark
outside, but his room was dark and he
felt cold as he sat on the edge of the
bed tasting the cigarettes he had smoked
before he slept. He reached up to the
top of his bureau and found a smoke,
then he got up to grope for a match.
The house was quiet, his folks were
probably out on the front porch swing-
ing back and forth slowly, talking very
quietly. They tried not to disturb him
while he was sleeping. God, what a
mess life was. He lit the cigarette and
began dressing in the dark.

The cigarette tasted bad. His empty
stomach growled, but he wasn't hungry,
He wondered what he would do tonight,
Suddenly he felt dizzy and sat down oN
the edge of the bed, his head between
his knees until the ringing stopped,
Then he felt sick, and cold wet with
sweat. He had to eat something.
For a second there in the dark roost
he thought he was back at schoQ,1
"Mom," he called. There was nuo
answer. He went through the hall lb
the head of the stairs. "Oh, Mom"
There were footsteps on the porch ant
the screen door banged. That was he'r,
"Could I have some coffee maybe?
Just coffee, I don't want anything t
eat." He looked at the wall where itb
stairs turned and went down to thu
living room. She was going to say-
"Don't you want some food, Sean? I
can fix you some-"
"No, never mind, Mom. Just coffd
if it's o.k. I'll get somethin' to ea
"All right." Now she was going o
to the kitchen. He heard the switch
click, and a little rattle of pans as sh
got out the percolator. He was such
a rotten son of a bitch. They worried
about him. If he hadn't quit. If h's
could die, and know they wouldn't ears
so much.
He went into the bathroom. Brush-
ing his teeth he gagged, but nothing
came up. In the soreness of his throas
he could taste sweet sick cigarettes. H'I
looked at his face in the mirror. Hf.
shook his head at the reflection.
"Quit feeling sorry for yourself," the
told it aloud. He felt his bsesrd witis
one hand. Who would he see who would
care how he looked? He put the tooth-
brush back in the cabinet, stabbing im-
patiently several times before the littsn
hook went through the eye in th'
handle. He took a final drag on the
cigarette stub, scorching his lips, an' I
threw the butt into the toilet, flushing
it down.
Back in his room he raised the shades.
It was almost dark outside, but just
enough light came in to show the ot.
lines of his bed, his bureau, his book-.
case. On the top of the bookcase a
pair of weak, useless bookends he had
made five years ago in the shop zefi
school. He reached up and felt of thebi
rough, poorly planed edges. He had
never been able to do anything with hi
hands. The bookends wouldn't hok
books. Above them, on the wall :ha
could see the square gray gleam of glaa
over his high school diploma. His folkd
had had it framed for him. He couldnI
read it in the dark, but in one corner h
knew it said "With High Distinction.".
His eyes felt hot, and he fought back
two burning tears, leaning his hea
against the bookcase, his hand sti
holding one of the bookends. "Oh,
Christ," he whispered. "Oh, Christ,
I'm such a flop."
Before he went downstairs he wen
back to the bathroom and put cold wate
on his face and eyes, and practised
smiling before the mirror until his chi
stopped quivering. Again he shook hi
head at himself in the glass. "You'rld
weak," he said.
A poached egg on toast lay wordlessly|
at his place at the dining room tabl,
In the kitchen his mother hummed as
she walked back and forth, running
water from the tap and closing cupboar'
doors. Spearing four squares of toast
and egg at a time, keeping his mout
full of sticky pulp, chewing and swa-
lowing as fast as he could, he got thi.s
whole thing down. Even so he could
taste it, yellow on his back teeth, coat-
ing his tongue with tasting slime. Hi
stomach heaved, and he got up from
the table to get a drink of water.
"Your coffee'll be ready in a minute,
(Continued on Page Nine)

EDITORS .............................. Harvey Swados, James Allen
FICTION EDITOR .................................. . ..,Hervie Haufler
ESSAY EDITOR ................... David Spengler
POETRY EDITOR ................... . ................. James Green
REVIEW EDITOR...............................Edwin G. Burrows
PUBLICATIONS MANAGER........................Seymour Pardell
Arno L. Bader, Wallace Bacon, Herbert Weisinger, J. L. Davis,
Howard Whalen.

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