By Day Dobbert
Twelve-and-a-half hours after taking the oath, Denis Jones was knocking back his second beer of the day at O’Malley’s, a dingy working stiffs’ tavern on Avenue “B,” around the corner from his dump on East 6th. He’d stumbled out of bed earlier, but a pounding head had defeated him, and he’d fallen back onto stinking sheets. Christ! Had he sicked up in the middle of the night? The too bright morning sun blazed through windows which hadn’t been washed in memory. He’d sat for a while on the edge of the mattress, staring blankly at his battered Olivetti across the room; like Denis it had seen better days. Something was rolled into it but not by him.
Last he remembered he’d yanked out a page of his ‘masterwork,’ balled it up and tossed it into a corner. Then he saw what was there now—the mindless rubbish he’d scrawled on the back of a place mat, very drunk, in Antonio’s the night before, after Kati and Zac had forced something with garlic into him; Antonio’s, the place where the bocce balls drove him nuts.
“By this oath writ August whatever in this so-called year of the Lord 1960 at who knows what unseemly hour, I do, pledge, affirm and solemnly swear on my mother’s head and putative pater’s privates to eschew all manner of inebriating liquids henceforth and forever. D. Jones, Esq.” Jesus! What a buffoon he was. What a bloody horse’s ass. A second page, written on the back of one of his discards, was unmistakably in Kati’s hand:
“Fortunately you have just passed out, thus rendering you unable to do anybody any harm, at least for the next few hours. In case you have been operating in a blackout, let me “affirm” that you very nearly got a perfectly nice, albeit very tight young man, killed by your drunken bravado. Do not, I repeat, do not telephone or ring my bell. You are reckless, you are dangerous, I can’t take any more. K.” Denis groaned. He remembered Kati and Zac pouring him into a taxi, hauling him up the four flights, taking off his shoes. He remembered the “nice young man.”
His miserable two rooms were closing in. He had to get out, get a beer. The thirst was killing him, and the fucking jim-jams—insides like jelly, legs like lead. And the dirty sun.
“I’ll take another.”
“Hair of the dog?… You sleep in your clothes?”
“Joe, just give me another.”
“Little early in the day, Denis.”
Denis looked up at the clock behind the bar. Cedars wouldn’t be open. The Kettle of Fish would, but he knew he’d never make it across the park. Mommies with baby buggies; Frisbees; pretty, unattainable girls walking their dogs; old guys playing chess; hopefuls setting up oils and easels; young lovers holding hands, imagining, God help them, it was forever. Sunday in Washington Square.
Forget the White Horse, way the hell west on Hudson. He didn’t want to run into good old buddy Zac. Or those holier-than-thou intellectual snobs from the “Voice.” He was fed up with it all, the aura of the Welsh bard lingering on—and his namesake Bobby, the songster. Besides, Kati’s place on Charles was en route. And that was out. Over and out.
“How’s the girl? Great hair? Legs that never stop? Big glasses? Classy?”
“You screw up?”
“Ah Joe, fuck all.”
“So, there’s a construction site next to a joint over in Chelsea, and one great mother of a derrick, three-four stories. Well, there was a guy, athletic type, boozing at the bar, getting an early start like the three of us—me, Kati, Zac. One thing led to another…I bet him he couldn’t climb to the top of the the damn thing…told him I’d go first…I went up, came down, he went up like a monkey, then froze…had to go back up and talk him down.”
“Lucky you didn’t kill him.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Lucky you’re not in jail…. How’s the novel going?”
“Why don’t you write about mountain climbing stuff. You did that, didn’t you? Climb mountains? Beats derricks…. Go home, Denis, wash up. You don’t smell so good.”
Denis paid his tab and headed out.
“Give her time Denis, let her miss you,” Joe called after him.
The s.o.b. who lived above Denis, the one who beat on his wife and kids was exiting their walk-up. He shoved past Denis, muttering something in Spanish and kicked at a kitten cowering behind a garbage can. God, Denis thought, I hate this town. He plucked the kitten up and walked across the street to Carmelita’s deli.
“She too little, can only take milk. I got Carnation in can. You wan’?”
“Yeah, give me a couple.”
“I give you box too. You jess put paper in. She what they call calico, mean she a girl.”
After setting out the milk, Denis cleared debris from the kitchen counter, a wooden slab which doubled as a lid for the tub. He dealt with garbage, empty bottles, overflowing ashtrays, grimy clothes and sheets. Finally he gathered up the tossed remnants of his ‘opus,’ methodically shredded them, and scattered the pieces into the kitten’s box. Then he took a bath. By the time he’d finished, the kitten had emptied her saucer and had scrambled onto the mattress. Big eyes looked up expectantly. Denis guessed he’d call her Cali.
I give you my oath Cali.” Denis said. “Nobody’s ever going to kick you again. I give you my oath.”
And then Denis began to think of the integrity of the mountain—of uncorrupted snow and sapphire sky and silence. He inserted a fresh sheet of paper into his Olivetti, and typed “Climbing Denali,” and began to cry.