Jack Coey is a seventy-two-year-old grandfather of two who has experienced most of life’s events, and survived them not only, but without hurting anyone else which he would say was a good life. Writing satisfies him like nothing else and he works as a cashier to eat and writes to love.
He had one line in the third act; he would come on stage and say, “The army advances,” and stand there while an actor made a flowery, ornate speech about honor and courage, and then, exit with the other actors. They paid him thirty dollars a week, and there was much boredom about waiting to go on, and standing around during rehearsal, and all that, but his father got him the job, and he knew of no other twelve-year old boy making that kind of money. It was not much fun either every night getting into costume and makeup, but he learned early that was part of the craft, and he enjoyed the surprise and disbelief he would get when he told adults he was an actor. He would not realize until he was older, but he was learning the lesson that life is a mixture of pleasure and pain. The show would play towns in New England – Albany, Putney, Oswego, New London – medium to small towns always with the promise they could go big time to Boston or New York if the money people saw the show and wanted to back it. He wasn’t sure about all that either, but he sensed the thirty dollars was important to his father, so he worked at what he did. His father had a big part in the play and was always harried and petulant about something going wrong, and the son sensed his father wasn’t having much fun, but he did enjoy the attention from the women, and the boy wasn’t sure about all that either.
They lived in a hotel room together. The curtain call every night was at ten minutes to eleven, and it would take him maybe ten minutes to get out of costume and makeup, and the stage manager would walk him to his hotel room while his father spent time with “his audience.” He would get into his pajamas and lie on the bed with the lamp on until he got drowsy and turn the lamp off. Sometimes he would be woke by the stumbling, bumping, and cursing of his father well after midnight. His father stank of booze. His father snored loudly and kept him awake. He would get out of bed with the dawn. He would sit on the toilet reading a magazine or book with his father’s snoring and tossing and turning in the background. He read scripts and imagined how he would stage the play or cast what actors in what roles. His father would call out a name, “Amelia” or “Christina,” and he wasn’t sure about all that either. He started keeping his clothes in the bathroom so he could dress if he wanted to while his father slept. He would sneak out and walk the halls or go down to the lobby and sit in one of the chairs reading a newspaper. He was hungry too but had to wait until he father woke around noon. His father was grumpy, and he never could figure out why if he enjoyed being with “his audience” so much was he so miserable when he woke up?, he wasn’t sure about all that either. It seemed nuts to him, but his father made it clear without saying so, he was not to ask any questions. Sometimes he wondered if living with his mother would be any easier and realized he would never know because he didn’t know where she was even. He thought for a long time about asking his father about her, and one time, when he was in a good mood, he did, and all he did was mutter, “That bitch.”
One time, he had a funny experience when he was sitting in the lobby. There was a boy and girl with their parents on the other side of the lobby, and the boy was about his age and his sister was a few years older. He watched as the mother combed her daughter’s hair and the father helped his son tie his tie, and all of a sudden, he wanted to cry so bad, and he had to get up and walk away, and he wasn’t sure about all that either. Sometimes when he was sitting in the lobby, people would stare at him, and he liked to think they recognized him from the show. He fantasized about signing autographs. If he got bored with the lobby, he would walk the hallways.
One time he was walking down the hallway from his room, when a door opened and a woman was standing in it. She looked to be about fifty, plump, with red disheveled hair, smoking a cigarette. He thought she was an actress. Her makeup gave her a clown-like look. She said hello calling him “sonny.” He said hello back, and she asked him if he could do her an errand. She would pay him a dollar. He agreed and she told him to get her a pack of cigarettes from the corner store. She handed him two dollars, and he stuck one in his pocket. She told him to come right back, and as the door closed, he heard another voice. He went to the corner store, and told the clerk he wanted a pack of cigarettes; he looked at the boy, and asked if they were for him; he laughed, and answered of course not, and told him about the lady in the doorway; he sensed that he embarrassed the clerk somehow, and he wasn’t sure about all that either. The clerk handed him the cigarettes across the counter. He went back to the door, and knocked, and had to knock a second time; when the door was flung open, and a man with disheveled hair in a bathrobe stood there. He could hear her voice in the room somewhere, and the man was angry and grabbed the cigarettes out of his hand, and he saw her briefly until the man pushed her back in the room, and slammed the door, and he could hear him ordering her to shut up and get back into bed, and he wasn’t sure about all that either. He walked slowly down the hall feeling bad for the woman and angry at the angry man. He wondered why men were so angry with women? It was a mystery of his life. He had this faith that as he got older, he would gain in understanding about some of the stupid stuff adults did, but he wasn’t sure about all that either. He walked back to his room, and his father was sitting up in bed, waking up. He looked at his father and his hair was tousled, and his eyes were red. He sat in a chair while his father went into the bathroom. He could hear his father vomiting. His father came back out, and handed him a five-dollar bill, and told him to go get some breakfast for himself.
He left the room and walked down the hall and heard strange noises from the lady’s room. He walked down the two flights of stairs to the lobby and out the front door. He walked into a diner and sat at the counter and people looked at him. The waitress came to him and asked if he was by himself, and he said his older brother would be along, but he would like to order. She took his order and walked away, and after a time, the others stopped staring at him. She brought his eggs and potatoes, and a man sat next to him, and asked him what his name was, and he didn’t answer. The man smiled at him and asked him if he liked candy. He kept eating. The waitress came to take the man’s order, and he didn’t know what he wanted. He felt the waitress’s eyes on him, but his head was bowed to the plate, and he didn’t look right or left. The man whispered if he was alone, and he said nothing. He put the five-dollar bill on the counter and the man picked it up and tried to give it back to him. The waitress came over, and asked the man if there was a problem, and he smiled back, and told her “of course not.”
She held out her hand, and the man handed her the five-dollar bill, and she handed it to him, and told him, it was on the house. He asked her if she could break it so he could leave her a tip, and she told him not to worry about it. She told him to be careful, and he nodded his head, and the man innocently smiled. He got down off the stool, and everyone was looking at him, and he walked out the door, and ran down the street to the alley and up the alley to another street. He went back to the room, and his father was lying on the bed. He sat in a chair and they were silent.
Two days later, he was walking down the hall when her door opened, and she stood in it, smiling at him. She looked rested. She asked him if he could do an errand, calling him “sonny” and he told her he would have to come back. He told her he would come back in the morning, and she said she needed cigarettes now, and he told her he was on the way to the theatre, and she was surprised, and asked him what show he was in, and when he told her, she asked about several of the cast members. She said her name was “Miss Molly” and they would know her. He really had to go to make curtain. He thought about her on his walk to the theatre, and she seemed to know a lot of men, and he wasn’t so sure about all that either. He wondered if she was part of his father’s “audience.”
The next morning when he was going down the hall for his breakfast, her door opened like she’d been lying in wait for him. She handed him a dollar bill and told him to knock on her door when he came back. He was annoyed with her, but she was friendly enough so he would do the errand and get rid of her. The clerk at the store got red in the face as he made change for the cigarettes and he wasn’t sure about all that either. He went back to her door and knocked, and when she opened it, he saw Nat Coombs lying on the bed behind her. Nat yelled at her to close the door, and she asked him to come back in half an hour and she waited until he was down the hall a ways before going back into the room. Nat was in the play, and he was pretty sure he was married with two daughters, but he wasn’t sure about all that either.
As he sat at the counter and ate his eggs, he thought about Nat, and couldn’t figure out why if a man had one woman, he needed another one? Wouldn’t it be easier to have one? He decided that’s the way he would do it, he would have only one and only if she died or something would he go get another. He finished his breakfast and went back to Miss Molly’s and knocked on her door. She asked him to come into her room, and he hesitated; she smiled and promised him no one was in there. He walked slowly into the room and couldn’t figure out why a mirror was on the ceiling. Miss Molly studied him, smiling. There were a couple of other mirrors, and he figured she spent some time looking at herself. Her room smelled of perfume and cigarettes, and there were a couple of bottles of whisky on a table. She asked him if he would like to sit, and he didn’t know the answer, so he said nothing. He saw she had many bright colored dresses all hanging in a closet like at the theatre. He asked her if she was an actress, and she smiled more, and said, “sort of.” He looked at her and saw two eyes of sorrow in a kindly face. He smelled perfume. She asked him if he ever went for a walk in the park, and it took him a moment to realize what she was asking, and he answered, “no, not really.”, and he saw his answer disappointed her in someway, and he felt bad about that. They stood in silence, and he was anxious. She asked him if he might one day go for a walk in the park with her, and he said, “sure.” He told her he had to meet his father.
Two mornings later, he was sitting in the lobby when a doorman came rushing in shouting that a guest had jumped from a window, and he wasn’t sure about all that either.