Norwood

Free Norwood by Charles Portis

Book: Norwood by Charles Portis Read Free Book Online
Authors: Charles Portis
to New York. He sat in the smoking section in a green padded seat that faced crossways and took up both armrests with his elbows. He bought some coffee in a paper cup with handles, and a heavy cakelike doughnut that stuck in the throat. It had an unpleasant spicy taste. “You want the rest of this?” he said to the man sitting by him.
    â€œNo, thanks.”
    â€œI didn’t put my hands on it.”
    â€œThanks but no.”
    Norwood placed it in the chrome ashtray between them. The man glanced down at it. In a minute or two he did it again. “I didn’t see any other place to put it,” said Norwood. He picked it up and put it in his empty cup and held it. His hands were cold. Too much smoking? He flexed his fingers and made the joints pop. A bow-tied man across the aisle, not much himself but maybe some pretty girl’s father, was watching him. Norwood stared back. The man looked up at the light fixture on the ceiling to calculate its dimensions and efficiency. There were no girls on the train, no women at all, only these clean men. They bathed every day, every morning. He caught another one looking at him down the way. He was a mess, no doubt about it. The sole of one shoe was flopping and he had B.O. pretty bad. His red beard was beginning to bristle and there were patches of flour like dirty snow on his back where Eugene had been. One day Eugene would let somebody have it with that .32. Get a face full of hot powder himself, with that loose cylinder.
    He had some more coffee at a stand-up counter in Penn Station and the people there looked at him too, but not for long because they had to get back to their newspapers. He picked up his change and looked at it. “Hey wait a minute,” he called to the girl. She had black hair piled up high and dark tiger eyes. She came back and gave the counter a quick wipe with a blue sponge that had one cornflake riding on the stern. She looked at the dime and nickel in his hand. That was right. People watched furtively over their papers. This guy with the hat was going to start something.
    â€œWhat is it?” said the girl.
    â€œI guess you didn’t hear the radio this morning,” he said.
    â€œI don’t gitcha.”
    He pointed at the fifteen cents. “The weatherman said no change today.”
    â€œOh fer Chrissakes.”
    Somebody on the other side of the plastic orange juice vat said, “What did he say?” and somebody else said, “I couldn’t hear it.” They all went back to their papers. Whatever it was, it was over.
    A friendly airman third class found Joe William’s number in the Manhattan directory and Norwood tried to give him a quarter but he wouldn’t take it. He brought his bag and guitar into the booth with him and dialed. The phone started to ring, then made an unsatisfactory noise and a recorded voice came through to say the number had been disconnected. He got his dime back and dialed the operator. After a short discussion she passed him on to a supervisor.
    â€œThat number has been disconnected, sir,” said the supervisor.
    â€œYeah, that othern told me that. Do you know if he’s gone home or what?”
    â€œWe don’t have that information.”
    â€œI thought he might of left word with somebody in case somebody needed to get aholt of him.”
    â€œNo sir, we don’t have that kind of information.”
    â€œI guess you can’t keep up with everybody, can you?”
    â€œNo sir, we can’t.”
    â€œUh-huh. Well. Goodbye.”
    â€œGoodbye.”
    He washed up in the men’s room but it didn’t help much. What he needed was a bath and a shave. His hair was stiff and in places it hurt when he mashed down on it in a certain way. This was no place to shave, worse than a barracks head. Traffic and flushing and people combing their hair behind you and not enough flat surfaces around the bowl to put your stuff on. The faucets had strong

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